Ash and Gary Oak
Goku and Vegeta
Wedge Antilles and that weird kid from Tatooine
Rivals are an excellent way of driving the characters in a story to better themselves and push themselves to bech gt theome greater than they already are. The hero often has a riva to lol I’ll okl that he uses to compare himself to, this serves several purposes.
One, it serves as a metric of power. In pokemon, Gary is your metric of power. You clash with Gary several times, and it gives you a feel of whether or not you are progressing along power wise by level in the world.
Two, it serves as a behavioral comparison. Vegeta is an asshole, and while they are rivals in power, we know that whatever the choice they are facing, Vegeta’s plans will always be the asshole plans, and thus the not-heroic plan.
Third, it emphasizes the feeling of a living world. The players are not the only adventurers/space marines/investigators that exist in the world, and yet in the typical game, we never see anyone else doing what the players are doing. Sure, we may see “the wreckage of a doomed expedition”, but never actual adventurers.
All of that said, actually implementing rivals is a tricky business. See, rpg gamers are programmed like sharks often times, and each encounter/object/npc is weighed with the basic metric.
“Is it food” IE, is this something that I can get a reward from? Will this thing make me stronger?
And “Is it a threat”. Threats are either destroyed or fled from.
Dungeons and Dragons adds one complication to the metric. By granting experience points, all threats that are strong enough to be destroyed are automatically considered food, because they make the player stronger. This everything becomes either food or flee, exactly like a shark.
Rivals, on the other hand, are intended to be neither food nor a threat. This may confuse players used to the traditional game patterns. Like a shark, something that is not not food and not a threat is ignored.
Amusingly enough, this is what happened in my last game. In the classic tavern setting, I put a band of fellow adventurers. They were obviously fellows because they had explicitly fixed a problem the players had created earlier (namely, siccing a flumph on a high class eatery) and the barkeep had given this information to the player. The conversation went like this.
“You move flumph?”
“Why yes, we found it in…”
“You kill it?”
“No, that poor…”
(clears throat) “Well, we got it a room here at the…”
(player walks off to find the room)
Very frustrating for me, the Storyteller, who had put a little effort into fleshing out actual characters to make for interesting conversation. They never even got the man’s name (His name was Sir Chaz Chadwick), just the briefest of descriptions I insisted on putting in before they started talking.
The challenge becomes adding characters that are neither food, nor threat, because the players will kill anyone they think might keep them from “winning.” The best way to win a race isnt to run faster, it’s to destroy the other racers, right?
More tragic video game logic.
You have to break that conditioning.
One thing I do is always set the rivals about two levels ahead of the party. That makes them enough of a threat not to be food, but also not enough of a threat to be fled from.
The other thing I do, and will emphasize more in the future, is having them talked about by other NPCs. I’ve done this in the past, the NPC they are working for said outright he strongly considered hiring the other party over them. They might have made the connection if they had talked long enough to get a name.
One thing I don’t recommend is having them compete for the same goal. At that point they will kill your rival party, because murder hobos will murder.
How do you know if your players are murder hobos? Offer them a house. Hobos don’t have houses. If they sell the house and buy more stabbing equipment, then you’ve got murder hobos (because stabbing), and treat them accordingly.
All of that said, if you end up, by some miracle, with roleplayers in your group, rival parties can make for interesting, deep, and rewarding gameplay mechanic.