log in or register to remove this ad

 

General Dealing with Inter-Party Conflict

Retreater

Legend
I'm sure there are times we all feel confident in our abilities to DM and manage the table, even those of us who have DMed hundreds of sessions over decades. But then you have a session where things go wrong. Not that there are failed die rolls, or a vital clue is missed, or that there's a TPK. I had a session last night that broke my heart, disappointed my players, and created animosity between the friends gathered at my table.

What is done is done, and all I can do now is to try to repair the relationships within the game, try to forge ahead with the game. There's no use blaming people, deep diving into the module to see if I ran it correctly.

The situation was that the party was placed at a pivotal decision point. Characters could make a dark deal to get power to defeat the BBEG of the campaign, or they could walk away (having invested around a month of gameplay to get no reward or tools to defeat the BBEG). Due to real life reasons, we took a week off from the game, and in the interim I communicated with all the players for them to discuss how they wanted to approach it. Before we started the session, sensing there could be a division in the group, I recommended they discuss an overall plan and goal before we started rolling dice. They elected not to do so.

One of the characters took the dark deal. The rest of the party was divided. One chose not to be involved and left the area. One party member tried to subdue the guy who took the deal. The other party member decided to fight to kill. I told the players that I don't like PvP situations, but I wouldn't take away their agency if that's what they wanted.

In the end we have a campaign on pause: characters who refuse to adventure with each other, completely divided on how to proceed. In real life, I have friends who are frustrated with the decisions of each other. I have told them that we can reset the whole evening's game, make all new characters and continue with the adventure, alter the module to give them all a satisfactory solution, or play something else.

So what do you do in these situations? Any words of wisdom, any encouragement to this DM who is feeling down?
 

log in or register to remove this ad



Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So what do you do in these situations? Any words of wisdom, any encouragement to this DM who is feeling down?

I'm sorry. That's a terrible situation.

When I run games, there are two basic types; the first (very rare) allows for intra-party conflict, scheming, etc. In that case, if players want to backstab each other (even literally) they are welcome to. They tend to be short-lived, and almost always involve a different ruleset than D&D.

The second, common game requires player buy-in and cooperation. The reason I mention this is because you said you wouldn't take away their player agency. I agree that this is a strong principle, but when I am running a (co-operative) D&D campaign, there has to be an implicit agreement that the party will work together. Otherwise, it doesn't work. In those campaign, player agency does not include PvP or intra-party strife (other than for cosmetic RP reasons).

Personally, I would give the players time to cool down. Then I would do a reset of that encounter if they are amenable and really want to finish this campaign; otherwise start a new one.
 

I'm sorry to hear you're dealing with this. It's a rough situation to be in, and these sorts of things can sometimes just sneak up on a DM. An encounter that sounds like it could be really cool on paper sometimes comes to life in an unexpected way. But it is not just the DM's responsibility to make sure everyone is okay with how the game is going - that's on everyone.

Were I in this sort of situation, I would wait a little bit for people to cool down, and then talk to them all together. I'd start by stressing the need to for an adventuring party to work together (not that they have to always like each other), but also the reality of emotional bleed. I'd tell them that they all need to come up with a way for everyone to move forward together. D&D is a shared narrative. I'd try to facilitate them brainstorming some ideas. A reset may be necessary, but I'd fear that without the attempt at resolution, this sort of thing could fester.

I outright tell my players that they can't roll dice against each other. It tramples on agency, sure, but it heads off so many potential sources of strife.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Play something else.

This sounds like the culmination of that particular game. The Big Bad had its plan... the PCs got involved... and the party became irrevocably split. At this point I would just narrate for all of them the denouement of that fight... what happened to each of the characters after one of them took the deal and what happened to everyone because of that decision.

Then start a new campaign.

The other option of course is that if it was only a single PC who took the deal and the others all rejected it (and tried to abandon, fight or kill the PC that did)... then the single PC becomes an NPC (and potential new Big Bad) and the other characters try to fix what broke between them all. And it's only the player of the PC that took the deal that rolls up a new character to join the group.

I mean, that's the thing about big plotlines like this... as a player you have to be willing and mature enough to lose your PC if you make a decision that runs counter to what the rest of the party wants. It's the same thing when a player has to decide to have his PC make a final stand to allow the rest of the group (and/or NPCs) escape. You KNOW it's going to result in you not playing that character anymore... but the final story that character has will be one for the ages. You go into it with fully open eyes. Or else you suck it up and go against your better judgement to go along with what the rest of the group decides, because you'd rather player this PC more than following the PC's arc.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I'm sure there are times we all feel confident in our abilities to DM and manage the table, even those of us who have DMed hundreds of sessions over decades. But then you have a session where things go wrong. Not that there are failed die rolls, or a vital clue is missed, or that there's a TPK. I had a session last night that broke my heart, disappointed my players, and created animosity between the friends gathered at my table.

What is done is done, and all I can do now is to try to repair the relationships within the game, try to forge ahead with the game. There's no use blaming people, deep diving into the module to see if I ran it correctly.

The situation was that the party was placed at a pivotal decision point. Characters could make a dark deal to get power to defeat the BBEG of the campaign, or they could walk away (having invested around a month of gameplay to get no reward or tools to defeat the BBEG). Due to real life reasons, we took a week off from the game, and in the interim I communicated with all the players for them to discuss how they wanted to approach it. Before we started the session, sensing there could be a division in the group, I recommended they discuss an overall plan and goal before we started rolling dice. They elected not to do so.

One of the characters took the dark deal. The rest of the party was divided. One chose not to be involved and left the area. One party member tried to subdue the guy who took the deal. The other party member decided to fight to kill. I told the players that I don't like PvP situations, but I wouldn't take away their agency if that's what they wanted.

In the end we have a campaign on pause: characters who refuse to adventure with each other, completely divided on how to proceed. In real life, I have friends who are frustrated with the decisions of each other. I have told them that we can reset the whole evening's game, make all new characters and continue with the adventure, alter the module to give them all a satisfactory solution, or play something else.

So what do you do in these situations? Any words of wisdom, any encouragement to this DM who is feeling down?
Fundamentally, this is a design problem -- if the choice is having wasted your time or make an immoral deal, then animosity is almost baked in. This could have been avoided by recognizing the dead end and not presenting such a bad choice. Bad and hard choices are great, but only if they come up as part of the PC failing, not if the prep drives to it. But, as you note, this is water under the bridge -- at best a lesson for the future.

A second lesson for the future is to plan ahead and have a clear and clean resolution method for inter-party conflict. My preference, in D&D, is to say that you can do PvP all you want, but the target of your action gets the authority to narrate how it turns out. If you try to kill the PC of another player, for instance, that player gets to say what happens in that attempt. The second player can't narrate a bad outcome for the first player, because that just starts looping, but can narrate a failure or other happening. This lets players roleplay out inter-party conflicts without ending up in painful 'you killed my character/stole my gear' moments. But, again, advice too late for you situation.

Being you are where you are, it's a tough spot. There's zero reason to continue on a path that results in real world animosities. Best thing to do is step out of the game, talk frankly on what the players want out of this, and then retcon/move forward in a way that achieves that, at least partially. As it is, you've still got the PCs in a place where they make the deal or they're out their time and effort. Neither of these is attractive to players, who don't like being told they've wasted their time nor do they like being forced to make an immoral deal. So, let's flip these.

Without a "retcon", I'd talk with your players and then look at the material and see if there's a way to have the PC that's agreed to the deal have gained some understanding of the workings of the power and/or the deal that they can direct the other players to a way around it -- where they get the thing they need but are able to swindle it from the dark power. This leaves the rest of the PCs having achieved their goal, but the agreeing PC stuck in a bad deal. So, some way to mitigate the deal, at least temporarily, is needed. I'd make it so it costs the agreeing PC something, like a daily spell slot or other lose of inherent resource, to continue to resist the pull of the dark power. If you like, make it so other PCs can voluntarily perform the sacrifice in the place of the PC, so that the load can be 'shared.' For extra evil, have that resource be available to the PC at any time -- if they only do the power's bidding. That way it remains a temptation, especially in challenging moments, to accept the sacrificed power in exchange for further damnation.

A second option without a 'retcon' would be to keep the status quo if the players can agree to find a way to continue. Maybe remind them that good people often make bad mistakes, and friends and allies can be forgiving -- it's not always hate the bad choice and kill it. Then, if no one else agrees to the deal, have that come up pretty soon afterwards with a reward for following the moral course, despite it appearing there was no reward for it. This, of course, would not be offered to the agreeing PC.

I'd also give the party the option to do a 'retcon'. Explain that you didn't foresee how the situation was going to play out, so part of the mess is yours. Point out this is a game you play with friends (or friendly people) and that acrimony isn't the goal. With that said, open the table for the players to suggest ways that it could be reworked or redone that meets the group's goals. Be the moderator, but don't be the leader. Suggest, but don't tell. If you go this route, it's to get the players onboard with helping to fix the problem and, to do that, you need to not be the GM but another player, else it'll turn into you telling them what's going to happen, which may not fix or help the situation. Be open to changing the story to find an agreeable solution.

Regardless of which option you go with (these or something else), take the opportunity to discuss with the table how PvP stuff works at your table and lay out any changes of procedure clearly so everyone's on board the next time. This is important.

The last time this happened at my table it was due to having a new player to whom I didn't clarify what the rest of us already had agreed to on PvP. I didn't have any formal resolution system for PvP in place at the time, it was just agreed and largely unspoken table understanding. So, when the player had their PC cast suggestion on another PC to win a discussion on what to do, there was shock at the table. I ended the session, and we discussed it. Unfortunately, the player could not understand why what they did was something that wasn't okay with the rest of us, and, despite repeated efforts to get him to understand that we could move past this incident but it wouldn't be acceptable in the future he because increasingly upset that such restrictions were going to be placed upon him. Well, that made him a poor fit for the table, so we let him find a table better suited to his playgoals and parted ways. I certainly hope this situation goes better for you, but I definitely learned a lesson that these things need to be part of session zero and have clear procedures for resolving.
 

Stalker0

Legend
So I actually just finished a campaign where a party split during the climax over a big decision, and it was epic.

so I actually think this may salvageable if we can inject some true role play into this.

so first key question, if they take the deal what are the consequences? Does The BBEG die but some other threat get released?

assuming it’s something like that, I would do a couple of things.

1) roll back the scene slightly and tell the players (if this turns to violence thata fine, but I want to see some good strong role play first. And then whatever happens Happens.

so have the group get into it. They can desperately try to talk him down, make intense threats, whatever.

2) if it goes violent, then what you do is have the dark deal team (assuming this is where the fewer players are) suddenly get help from some dark beings that summon in (aka here to back team evil). If it’s the other way, have some holy knights or something help the light team. Your goal is to make it look like an even fight.

now it’s not the players just ganging up on one guy, it’s a big well balanced final fight...aka like captain America civil war.

3) a couple of key things to do before such a fight begins.

a) whatever side has the fewest PCs is the NPC side, and the players need to know that. As the dm while I’m sure you’ll try to be impartial, you simply can’t be perfectly, and the players will notice. But if you pick one side And let players know (everyone if there are situations where I have to make judgement calls I will side with the team with more PCs).

some may not like that but they will know the ground rules, otherwise it can get ugly during the fight.

b) make sure both side knows the stakes are real and important. This is it!

if Good wins, they stop the deal. If the bbeg comes they will stop it, together.

if evil wins, the deal competes, and some new evil emerges.

C) regardless of who wins, everyone shake hands at the end.


so doing it this way makes the end of your campaign a roar instead of a whimper...one epic fight that is winnable by either side, winner takes all
 

jasper

Rotten DM
No freaking resets. Everyone played their pcs the way they wanted too. One is dead. One is a minion of the evil overlord. One folded and walked away. Retreater Adventure Party 13 (Proud union members of Pcs Are Crazy) has disbanded.

Next week Retreater Adventure Party 14 will form. Will the Walk away lead it or just drop off his union report? Will Adventuring party go after the murder and the evil warlord? Or will they start a different campaign. It up to the DM and players.
 

Mort

Hero
Supporter
No freaking resets. Everyone played their pcs the way they wanted too. One is dead. One is a minion of the evil overlord. One folded and walked away. Retreater Adventure Party 13 (Proud union members of Pcs Are Crazy) has disbanded.

Next week Retreater Adventure Party 14 will form. Will the Walk away lead it or just drop off his union report? Will Adventuring party go after the murder and the evil warlord? Or will they start a different campaign. It up to the DM and players.

And if the group was cool with that - than no problem - moving on to the next set of characters.

Here, players were clearly not cool with the actions of their fellow players and the situation became an out of game problem. Just starting up again without taking that into account is asking for more out of game trouble.

There needs to be an understanding as to what happened and how to prevent hurt feelings going forward.

Question for the OP: Was the "dark deal" the win condition (for the scenario) or had the party done something to put them into a lose/lose-worse situation?
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Now you've got me curious exactly what the terms of the deal was. I can see other players getting upset if the one PC is incurring costs that will affect everyone or the people around they care about. Then, maaaaayyyybe trying to stop the PC from making the deal makes sense. But if it's entirely personal like selling their own soul? Wow - I can see the deal-making player being a bit ticked off about his so-called companions attacking him for it.

Either way, your players went into this under advisement to talk about it. If they chose not to avail themselves of that opportunity and clearly they have themselves to blame. If they round on you about giving them this situation, make sure you underscore that fact - they had plenty of time to discuss this and what it meant for the game.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I agree with @Ovinomancer that this is really a design problem based on what we know about the situation. So going forward, pivotal decisions and trade-offs that are presented to the party might be examined a little more closely to ensure that either choice is interesting.

The solution in the moment is really to just hash it out with the players, preferably in person or over voice chat, to figure out what to do next. As part of that discussion, it wouldn't hurt to discuss how to resolve these sorts of things in the future without it resorting to hurt feelings. In my groups, for example, the table rule is that you say "Yes, and..." to your fellow players. When a reasonable course of action is put forward, you accept it and then add to it with your own ideas to make it better. Around the table it goes as long as necessary until the decision is made, fleshed out, then executed. This means everyone gets to have their say, given a certain starting position, without any game-delaying (or -destroying) player conflict. And the person who kicked off the direction of the decision this time lets someone else have that role next time a decision point comes up so that it's equitable.
 


dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
So what do you do in these situations? Any words of wisdom, any encouragement to this DM who is feeling down?
While I am sorry to hear about your distress, this is actually incredibly good role-playing IMO. Groups, like in real life, can have a falling out. Bands break up, set out on their own, etc.

All you can do is communicate with the players and find out how they want to resolve it and do your best to accommodate them. The one thing I wouldn't offer is a reset. You forewarned them to work it out before play began and they didn't. I firmly believe the choices in the game must have consequences.

Whatever you do, I hope it works out. Best of luck! :)
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
Choices are a good thing. The main point in getting together to play a roleplaying game is that the players get to make significant decisions. But one downside of this is that different players make different decisions potentially leading to a split in the party.

Imo the onus is on the players to either:
1) Accept the split amicably without anger between the players - let whatever happens happen.
2) Avoid splits by creating PCs who will go along with whatever the majority decides. The PCs need to prioritise the party over the individual.

I personally favour (2) with an exception for the final session of a campaign. It hasn't worked too well for me as a player because I almost always find myself in the minority when big decisions are made, however I still think it's the best approach if you're playing in a typical PCs-stick-around rpg and not a Gygaxian PCs-die-like-flies rpg. I'm also assuming you're not playing a story-oriented rpg with largely separate PCs where the players enjoy watching the other players' PCs' stories play out. In such a game (1) would be the desirable option.
 
Last edited:

aco175

Hero
You should be able to have character vs. character conflict, but not player vs. player. There have been times where the paladin blocks the portal and sacrifices himself to allow the rest of the party or civilians to escape- Hodor, Hodor... This may be noble and fine, but now that a PC wished to take the dark deal and gain secrets to defeat the BBEG is not?

Player problems are hard to deal with. I like @WayOfTheFourElements idea about allowing the cosmic world to split and have a party form where they take the deal and the same party where they did not take the deal all advance in some sort of alternate world and see how things play out.
 

Retreater

Legend
Since some of you are suggesting story ideas to get us back on track, I will give a couple more specifics, but these are spoilers for Curse of Strahd....

The party went to the Amber Temple. Instead of playing it as a murder dungeon, I presented it as a way to get information about Strahd's backstory and potentially find a way to destroy him once and for all. Kasimir, the dusk elf, was foretold by the Tarokka Deck as their ally against Strahd, and he also wanted to go because he thought there would be a way to restore his sister to life. The party's rogue, who had developed romantic feelings for Ireena (who had died earlier in the campaign), thought this would be a way to restore her as well. It was also theorized that if the party eventually defeated Strahd and used this power on him, it would restore him to a mortal man and break his curse - or make it so he could be permanently banished. When reaching the amber sarcophagus that grants the ability to resurrect the dead, both Kasimir and the party's rogue took the offer. The druid, thinking this was against "the natural order" tried to subdue the two; while the fighter decided it was an evil action and should lead to the deaths of the two; the ranger walked off and did nothing. The druid and fighter are worried that since Strahd became a dark lord by accepting the dark gift that the same fate is in store for Kasimir and the rogue. They would rather fight Strahd on their own merits without accepting evil help.
 

Nitpick - this is about "intra-" not "inter-" party conflict.

It's an unfortunate situation for which there is some blame for everyone - and mostly for the DM. If you're a lawyer questioning a witness you never ask a question you don't already know the answer to. If you're a DM in an RPG you never give players/PC's a choice if you're not prepared to accept it if they do - and that includes the possibility that every player/PC chooses differently than every other one and really throws the game into a tizzy. Individual PC's making a choice for a dark deal which has been offered, a deal that others VEHEMENTLY oppose not just for themselves but as an option for anyone else in the party - that's a landmine planted by the DM.

Now I'm also of the opinion that players have an unstated obligation to SEEK ways and means for their characters with wildly differing attitudes and opinions to nonetheless continue to work together. You may not have signed contracts to that end, but that's what the game revolves around. Don't look for all the ways to make any such bump as big of an issue as it possibly can be - looking for ways to MINIMIZE the disruption to the game overall is the mark of the better player. Of course ANY player taking a stand of, "It's my way or the highway for all OTHER players/PC's." needs to be disabused of the notion of the supreme importance of only their personal viewpoint, as well as to be reminded that this is a GAME which doesn't actually include a win/loss column and everyone can just calm the freak down and quit treating actions IN game (which haven't yet even caused hardships yet if I understand correctly) as personal attacks OUT of the game.

Best way to proceed is for the DM to step up and say, "I apologize. I messed up. I didn't mean to do it, but I put you all in a position to end up fiercely opposed to each other and that isn't what any of us want or need. So blame ME if you need to get upset with anyone, otherwise let's SORT THIS OUT before you all blow it out of proportion."
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
So many here seem to want to blame the DM. I say the DM here is to be praised for doing such a fine job of sailing the party into a hole without, perhaps, the PCs or the players realizing what was happening till it was too late. (and that's not sarcasm - I really am saying the DM did well here)

As for the conflict, there's two separate issues.

In-character: let 'em fight. Anything goes. Be a neutral and impartial referee, and otherwise just put yer feet up and watch. :) If it ends up splitting the party, so be it: the answer there is to then run two groups A and B, with each player who needs one rolling up a new PC such that they each have one in each group. Then either run twice a week, or run one group (chosen by coin toss or die roll?) for an adventure then put it on hold and run the other group; and alternate.

Out of character: have a long talk with each player about divorcing his-her real-world feelings from those of his-her PC(s). Jocinda and Falstaffe might despise each other and even try to kill each other in the fiction, but that shouldn't affect how Joanne and Ted interact with each other at the table or out of game. Maybe this also means telling some (or all?) of the players to not take the game quite so seriously, and even if playing in full immersion to always remember that your character isn't you.
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top