Friday, December 6, 2013

How to Prevent Intra-Party Conflict

Let's get a few things straight.  Conflict between characters isn't always bad.  If the Paladin is constantly chastising the Rogue for stealing, the wizard turns out to be a traitor, or the barbarian keeps slaughtering the Bard's patrons, it can make for some excellent roleplaying.  However, when inter-character conflict turns into inter-player conflict, gaming groups can fall apart.  Although it can be deadly, preventing inter-player conflict isn't actually that difficult, provided the conflict actually comes from the game (nothing you can do if two players naturally don't like each other).  Let's look at intra-party conflict from three perspectives:  The GM, the Instigator, and the Victim.*

As the GM

When starting the game, you have to set guidelines.  For new groups, or players that don't know each other well, you should probably prevent all inter-character conflict whatsoever.  The best way to do this is nip it in the bud.  Before the campaign starts, let players know the rules:

"Just so you guys know, I want to minimize inter-character conflict for this campaign.  That means that I will not accept evil characters or characters that you think will be difficult for the other players.  Feel free to make loner-type or anti-social characters, but make sure they will actually care about what the party thinks of them.  And definitely no backstabbing or stealing loot."

If you have already started the game and an issue crops up, then you have a more difficult task ahead of you.  Players will often defend their decisions by claiming "It's what my character would do."  Although this may be true, it is certainly not a justification for causing problems.  You have to let your players know that this type of behavior is simply not acceptable:

"I understand that this is what your character would do, but it's causing problems for the other players, decreasing everyone's enjoyment, and making our gaming sessions a lot less fun.  Let's see if we can tweak your character so he's still fun for you to play but isn't an issue in our group.  I'm sure that we can find a healthy balance."

Hopefully that should get the point across.  If the player is a good guy, then he should understand and make the proper adjustments.  If he has been playing the character a while then he may get attached to the way he works, but help him understand that everybody will be happier with some changes.  If need be, help him roll up a different character.  If the player is completely ornery and will not listen to your suggestions then you may have to kick him out of your group.  A player who values his own story above all others is not somebody you want mucking around in your world.

As the Instigator

I'm going to keep this short and sweet. Preventing intra-party conflict as the Instigator is as easy as asking one simple question:

"Hey, I think it would be cool and interesting if my character would do this.  However, I recognize that it might cause some problems for your character.  Would you be okay if my character did it?  I totally understand either way."

If the player says no, guess what - you are not doing whatever you wanted to do.  If you feel that it is some action your "character would take," then that's totally understandable.  It just means you have to change your character to one your friends would enjoy playing with.  Are you sacrificing the integrity of your character?  Yeah, probably.  But in no way is the integrity of your character more important that the enjoyment of your fellow players, or the cohesion of your gaming group.

As the Victim

First ask yourself this:  Are you really the Victim?  Or are you causing problems of your own?  In most conflicts, both parties act as Instigators.  Read the Instigator section, then come back here.  I'll wait.


Okay, if you are really an angel and are the victim of another player's abuses, then you are in a tough spot.  You have two options.

The first, potentially awesome, potentially blow-up-in-your-face way is to roleplay.  Try and let the issue roll off your back (as the player at least), enjoy the developing character conflict, and roleplay your character.  The rogue is stealing loot?  Time to send him a message with a cursed item.  The paladin is being a goody-two-shoes?  Let him know what happens when he tries to stops you mid-rage.  Wizard is actually evil?  Kill him of course!  While this method can be fun, it suddenly turns you into the Instigator, and thus (possibly) the problem.  It can be great, or it can simply escalate the situation.  Be careful.

The second, safer, and probably better option is to talk to the instigator.  Let him know that the way he is playing his character might be fun for him, but it is not fun for you:

"Hey, I know you like playing your character this way but it's really causing me problems.  I've been enjoying sessions less and less, and I think that without the inter-character conflict I would have a lot more fun.  Do you think you could roleplay your character in a slightly different way that doesn't put our characters at odds?"

If he doesn't listen, then bring it up with the GM and other players (and point the GM to this post).  If they don't listen, and you really aren't enjoying yourself, then it might be time to find a different group.

* If you have been gaming with a group of close friends for over a year, then all of these suggestions start to slide.  You (hopefully) know each other well enough that you can work these things out directly, and get some great roleplaying out of it.  However, if you are new to a group or not too close of friends with the guys, be sure to read this post carefully and act accordingly.