In my last Pathfinder session, one of the PCs was hit by a confusion spell from an unseen enemy and began attacking the rest of the party. As it turned out, this PC had only joined the existing groupÂ in the previousÂ session under somewhat mysterious circumstances.Â Given the situation (and numerous failed Sense Motive checks) it wasn’t a stretch for the PCs to feel that they were betrayed. They descended on her like frenzied dogs and the player was soon creating a new character.
I’m normally not a fan of intra-party armed conflict unless the situation really calls for it. Nothing destroys a good adventure like a player overreacting to some slight and forcing the whole party into a bloody royal rumble.Â Usually, I’ll order the affected players to calmly settle their differences or walk their PCs off into the sunset and bring in new characters (the above scenario was a special case, especially given that it was during a combat scene).
This got myÂ Gnomish juices flowingÂ a bit. Normally, there’s an unspoken rule that the PCsÂ will follow the adventure. Usually, the intra-party troubles come from a minority (one or two players) that want to deviate from the adventure. This naturally puts the GM on the side of the majority.Â What if, however,Â circumstances actually put the GM on the side of the minority?Â Should he insist that the majority be recast,Â or should he still side with the majority in such a case?Â
Today’s hot button is this: The party gets into a dispute and you side with the minority. Should you demand that the majority be recast, or should you accept majority rule and ask the minority to make more compatible PCs? Do the facts matter in your position?
I really don’t understand the concept of the GM playing arbiter in a majority/minority split. Yes, sometimes there’s a particular character that just doesn’t fit with the overall party. But a 4-2 split on what to do next? That’s conflict that has to be played through.
I wouldn’t dream of asking nearly half the group to create new characters — nevermind the majority. Most players will tend to view “success” in a roleplaying environment as the development of their character. Taking the character away should be a rare occurrence.
Your players are (or should be) peers. Let them work it out — the most you should do is give them a time limit and make sure everybody’s voice is heard in the discussion.
For the record, I reject the assumption of the question, that the only result of intra-party conflict is for one side or the other to make new characters. In general, there should be better ways to address the situation.
However, since this is a theoretical situation in which there is NOT a better alternative, I think it depends on what your definition of “an adventure” If you define it by the most technical sense as “what an adventurer does” then there’s never a case in which a party of adventurers splits and only one group goes on “the adventure”. Rather, both groups go on different “adventures”.
The question then becomes: Which adventure does the group as a whole find more compelling? The answer to this may be the same as your original division but it may be different for any number of reasons. It’s this answer that should guide the group’s decision.
Another thing to consider is how permanent the split is. Sometimes parties of adventurers split because of different goals or moral complications, or any number of reasons. When each group gets done with what they’re heading off to do, if they were to run into each other, would they be willing to team back up? If not, why not? How likely are circumstances in which they might be and what kind of timeframe do they require? Can you work in, role-play or fast forward to or past those circumstances?
Before this goes wildly off-track…
I never said that intra-party conflict shouldn’t be played out. I said that I’m not a fan of intra-party ARMED conflict. I have no problems with PCs arguing or giving them time to settle their differences.
Essentially, my question is what to do once the group hits the point of no return and there is going to be a split.
It seems to me not so much a question of “do you stop the conflict once it begins?” but rather of “do you fudge at least one Sense Motive check before the situation goes off the rails?”
Certainly, many GMs would agree that it’s a wise decision to fudge the die roll when the party utterly miss an important, plot-affecting clue. So why *wouldn’t* a GM fudge a die roll when the characters arrive at a wrong (but understandable) conclusion that’s going to force one or more players to utterly abandon their character concepts in favor of completely new ones?
I’ve said many times before that the GM’s role is not as “game world god” or “judge and jury” or even “referee,” but as a host, whose job is to ensure that everyone at the “party” has a good time. If the rules of the game have gotten in the way of that, the GM should most definitely step in, roll up his proverbial sleeves, and bend those rules.
I definitely see where you are going with this. Sometimes the group just aims for the conflict. I had a character get killed by the group in the last World of Darkness Vampire game I played in. In character, the group had valid reasons to off my character (he got infected with, and was getting good at using, vicissitude, which they believed was a soul stealing creature from beyond), but out of character it was annoying to have my well crafted and enjoyable character offed.
I believe that the players need to come to an understanding of what is going on before venturing into character killing party conflict, but that’s just an opinion. While my character died, it was actually an awesome story moment. If we’d sat and talked about it, it would have killed the atmosphere of what was going on. It was a bit annoying to have it happen, but it was also fun to play out.
So where should the GM side in a situation like this? Majority or minority? It all depends on the situation, I think. I think the GM should definitely take steps to prevent situations like this, and to determine what the motivation for getting into the inter party conflict is. If its something in the game that can be fudged or tweaked, then go for it. If it is just going to happen one way or another . . . play it out to the best possible ending. If that means a character death at the hands of the party, take a pause, figure out how to minimize the impact and get back to a good place.
The GM should never side with a minority, or a majority for that matter, and I agree it is something to be worked out through play. Also, if you have characters with weapons, there is always the risk of intra-party armed conflict.
The trouble with unspoken rules is that you assume everyone knows them. How are you sure? What circumstances were set up that made it clear that the adventure was to be followed?
My feeling in the example cited is that you had a random action result in major consequences. Actions always have consequences. Any clerics in that group of frenzied dogs? How do the gods feel about the action that happened? The dead PC have any relatives looking for her? Any magic users who might have noted a spell being used? Any townspeople asking questions about “Hey didn’t 5 of you leave here?” Not to mention the possibilities of being haunted by the ghost of the unjustly killed.
Treat the circumstances. Heat of combat, outside influences, and they fratricided a member of their party. Did the unseen enemy get away? Now that enemy has leverage on the party.
This all may take away from the adventure you were going to play, but you and your players need to decide what is the more interesting course? You can continue the adventure, but keep this event hanging over them, or make them decide that a side quest for penance and restitution is the way to go. You also now have a very neat antagonist for the party to use down the road.
What do the players think about what happened? After all, they decided the course of action. How does the player with the dead character feel after being ganged up on after following through according to the circumstances they were placed in?
There’s more to the situation you described than changing out characters to fit the adventure line. I am firmly of the opinion if this is a campaign, events don’t occur in a vacuum, and actions have consequences.
That’s an interesting question, and I think it gets to idea of inter-party conflict in general. I think it really depends on out of character discussion and what the group wants.
The GM, to me, is a player like all the others, just one with perceived power since he’s the GM. S/He’s not strictly God so much as s/he is referee. He doesn’t necessarily go with the majority/minority as much as he tries to make sure everyone’s happy, help people compromise.
I mean, let’s take an example from one of my own games. We had two characters who kind of inherently hated each other, and if they knew each other’s secrets ICly, they’d literally kill each other on sight. OOCly, they did know, which lead to slowly escalating conflict between the two of them.
The GM encouraged this, particularly when it was revealed his planned plot involved a trio of legendary relics that would bring victory to whichever side got them. Which lead to even MORE infighting between these two characters, while the rest of the characters got caught in the middle. The whole thing kind of ended in fire and we discontinued it. And in this case, I think it was because the GM tried to impose an inter-party conflict on a party that, for the majority, didn’t give a damn.
After a few bad instances of following rules and game world logic [treating the game world as ‘real’ and allowing these things], I’d stop/break the game immediately and talk things over as players.
If, as players, they can’t decide what the outcome should be, then there’s no reason to torture the world with the events. If everyone agrees what the outcome should be, then you can move on to describing the outcome. If nothing else, it makes sure that everyone gets on the same page– which doesn’t always happen if game world events are followed.
To the original question, I think that rather than just recasting, one should find a way to make the characters tolerate each other. Characters represent the sum of player investment in a campaign, and forcing them to give up their PCs should be avoided.
This seems like a weird case to me. My rules lawyer is doing some analysis here: Did everyone get a Sense Motive check? Was the DC 15 (because of the limited range of behavior, as described in the Dominate DC)? Did the characters also receive Spellcraft checks to identify the effects of a spell already in place (probably DC 24)? Did they get Spot and Listen checks to notice the hidden caster? If a caster capable of using Confusion is after them (Bard 5, Wizard/Cleric 7, Sorcerer 8), aren’t the PCs somewhat close in level – close enough that they ought to have an easier time with this?
On top of that, how much suspension of OOC knowledge was going on here? Did the players know what was going on but withhold that from their PCs, short of the successful checks? Even if it was determined that the PCs didn’t know it was Confusion exactly, it seems that in most D&D-type worlds that people know about compulsions in at least a general way and thus may have had reason to suspect what was going on. There are also details about the circumstances which are important. Did this happen while they were in the middle of a fight with bad guys? During a trek? While everyone else was sleeping?
A lot of this may seem like wasted analysis because the fight already happened, but it gets to an important question: How did this happen? Does “fault” lie with someone? Did everyone do something completely reasonable – including the GM?
Rather than treating such a fight as a point of know return, I’d consider a ret-con. If I’d not been fair to the players (No chance to detect the caster, no chance to guess at a compulsion, etc.), and the conflict wouldn’t have occured without that unfairness on my part, I’d see it as my responsibility to fix the situation rather than putting the burden on the players. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be as crude as, “This didn’t happen,” but maybe it has to be. Other ideas would be having the PCs find traces of spell components, tracks from the caster, hear about the same M.O. from this caster, etc. Give them a chance to work together to move past this.
The circumstances came to a head because of the confusion spell. The confusion spell put everything on a track that couldn’t be stopped. If anything, the GM should drop hints that the PC was under a spell and that the situation smacks of magic/influence/etc.
I see the GM as a coach encouraging the players to go one way or another like a guided tour. When they run off the tour route, you probably need to change the tour and redirect them into a less chaotic situation.
@Sarlax – Don’t overanalyze that situation. Playing that scene out wasn’t a problem for me (and yes, our rules lawyers worked overtime on that one…the affected PC had Confusion cast on her. She was also the only PC with a high Sense Motive score. As her first act, she downed the cleric. The only other spellcaster in the party wasn’t in the room at the time and arrived too late).
In my case, as a general rule, I usually tell PCs that are about to come to blows that, if that’s the case, then it’s obvious that at least one of them doesn’t want to be part of the group anymore. I’d rather remove that PC and get back to the game rather than put the game on hold while players (and yes, I intentionally didn’t say “PC”) inflict themselves on each other.
Usually, when I make that call, the PCs will calm down and talk out their differences or, on occasion, one will leave the group.
The question I posed was hypothetical; normally, if a majority of the PCs want to do something else, then the campaign dissolves. In all other cases it’s been one PC that has issues with the rest of the group.
Also, while I realize “would you side with 2 against 4?” sounds weird, but what if it’s siding with 1 against 2?
This is quite the hot button issue Walt.
PC conflict happens from time to time, perhaps as part of the story arc. For example, a Jedi character falls to the Dark Side and can no longer function in the group (their goals are now divergent). If the player that fell has his PC’s redemption story in mind, one that will eventually see him return to the light, I might be inclined to allow them to play that character out. If the Dark Side is where they want their PC to be permanently, then the PC becomes an NPC and the player can start fresh with a new PC.
Player conflict, on the other hand, is a bit different. If two players are taking their own conflicts into the game by having those issues show up in their PCs (over and over), the game needs to stop and the player’s issues need to be discussed. There are no satisfying “in-game” solutions for players that are having “out-of-game” conflicts. As a GM, I won’t be taking sides (unless one player is particularly obnoxious). I would discuss with the group and hopefully we can reach a solution. It may require a player to leave the group, or it may require that they “play well with others.” It may even be, “play well with others or leave the group.” I’d certainly give both parties in a player conflict the chance to reform.
I’m very pleased that this hot button issue has become much less common the older that I have become. Maturity and mutual courtesy/respect go a long way towards avoiding these types of situations. I don’t see it happening in my current group (thankfully).
Hopefully that made some sense.
I mentioned that I try not to take sides.
In the case of your scenario, I would expect people to create and play PCs suitable for the game concept that was agreed upon to begin with. So in this case, I would have probably steered them during character generation. Like,”Sorry Bob, you can’t create a Ninja for this particular game because the group is playing Northland Barbarians.” I’d likely suggest a rogue that could do some of the things Ninjas do but still be a part of the barbarian tribe that the other players are creating PCs for. I’d make sure that the two clerics in the party don’t choose diametrically opposed deities. Of course this is less problematic when you have all decided that the game will be about good aligned or neutral aligned PCs.
So much of this hot button topic can be solved thru the social contract or game contract set up prior to character creation. The blueprint of what the game will be about and who the PCs are going to be.
Sorry, I just had to add to what I already said! 🙂
This sort of looks like two completely seperate issues are being tackled at the same time here. The first issue (the one that applies to the example given) is really unfortunate character deaths. Unless you’re playing in a game where it’s generall accepted (there’s that “unspoken rule” again) that characters won’t be allowed to die, or at least that they won’t be allowed to die if they themselves haven’t done something dumb enough that they deserve it, then there’s no reason to play that scenario out any way other than the way your group did. The party didn’t have some large argument and decide to execute the player that disagreed, they just misinterpreted what was going on, and as a result of an unfortunate string of rolls, a character ended up dead. Nothing really seems terribly out of place to me here (although in my own campaign, my weakness of character may have forced me to fudge a roll somewhere along the line, to prevent disaster).
The second issue is when the characters (or the players) have a disagreement, and cannot settle it peacefully. I tend to let these situations play out the way that they’re naturally going to, which is that the minority of characters will either accept the will of the rest of the party, leave, or (albeit rarely) be slain. The idea of “following the adventure” really isn’t something that tends to influence these situations much, because the campaign that I run is fairly open ended, so if the group decides to walk away from the prepared story for a while, I’ll either put that story aside to be adapted for a different party, or I’ll find some way of hooking the players back into it later on. Usually by the time the group has gotten wrapped up in a major story arc, they’ve figured out how to function together effectively, and there isn’re really much of a danger of melodramatics.
If you managed to make any sense of that, you get an extra experience point!
One implicit assumption in the question is that the conflict developed because the PCs have been designed in such a way that they can’t cooperate. But is that what happened here? If not for that circumstance, how well would the PCs have gotten along?
The standard (<4E) D&D example is the paladin and the rogue. Can the paladin tolerate the antics of the rogue without violating their code? What happens when the rogue wants to multiclass as an assassin? This is probably a case in which PCs are genuinely incompatible.
In our Mage game, our group would go “off-track” as our PCs debated philosophy and ethics while there were bad guys waiting for an ass-kicking. One player was the pragmatist, another the moralist, another the rebel, and the last the man of unusual but rigid principles. We argued a lot, but I always had fun. Still, we became so entrenched in roleplaying our characters’ divergent views that “progress,” in the sense of following the plot, was occasionally impeded.
In the Confusion example, there’s not enough information to say with certainty, but it sounds like the problem doesn’t arise from fundamentally incompatible PCs. It seems like the problem came from each PC behaving in a reasonable way in response to a strange situation. The Confused player followed the rules of his condition, and the other players, suspending game knowledge, reacted as if the Confused one had betrayed them. This isn’t about an irreconcilable difference between PCs, but a group of people suddenly being killed by the guy they just met.
It’s because of that kind of situation I wouldn’t force character removal. Each player was behaving in a reasonable and justified way, and their characters (weren’t necessarily) fundamentally opposed. It’s only a because of bizarre, GM-created circumstance that it happened at all. Yes, the players came to blows, but it doesn’t sound like they fought because they couldn’t get along. If it’s sufficient to remove characters because of intra-party combat alone, will this happen every time someone is Confused, Charmed, Dominated, or hit with an illusion?
Sarlax, you did it again, lol.
The anecdote that I started the article with is not an example of my Hot Button question. It was merely the catalyst for a tangential thought (big words for “it made me think of a different circumstance”).
@Alnakar – This is probably why you see two issues.
@Sarlax and BryanB…I agree with you that establishing the social contract (I think Telas’ head just exploded with my Forge-ese) goes a long way towards minimizing these conflicts, but a lot of it also has to do with player attitudes in a particular circumstance.
There’s no implicit assumption in my question that the PCs were designed to be incompatible. In most cases that I’ve been privy to, it’s a circumstantial difference that has spun wildly out of control.
@BryanB – The Dark Jedi scenario is a good example. A PC that started out as a team player just went into a direction that puts him at odds with the group and potentially the adventure. To turn it into a hot button example, what if the majority of the PCs decided to follow him to the Dark Side? Is it time to scrap the campaign, or do you finish it with the remaining PCs and have the “Darksiders” make new characters?
@Walt Ciechanowski – Perhaps I partially misunderstood your drift yesterday. That is an interesting situation you point out. If the Jedi went bad, what would the other three do? How do I, as the GM, deal with the situation if one of the other PCs says, “Yeah, the Republic needs to fall, I’m with you.” I would have two PCs wanting to keep to the heroic challenge of saving the Republic and two PCs wanting to go in the opposite direction.
With three vs. one, it becomes obvious what to do. But when it is two vs. two, then the choice is not clear. I suppose we would have to stop the game for a moment and discuss what we want. In this particular game, I might have to fall back on the original concept of heroes saving the Republic and side with the two PCs that hold to that. It isn’t an easy choice.
It is unlikely that three of my four players would want to turn on the Republic, based on their back stories and their characterization thus far, but you raise a good issue.
If the group is 3-1 then three carry more weight. If the group is split 2-2, then we have a whole lot of negotiation to do as players. Ultimately, if the players can’t agree on this, it might be time to change games to something they will agree on. We are in it for fun after all and if half the group isn’t enjoying the game…
Going with the “Two Jedi want to save the republic, Two Jedi have just gone to the dark side and want to destroy it” example, Here’s what I would suggest-
Stop the game for a minute. Discuss what happened. Ask the players, not what they want from the situation or long-term, but what “adventure” sounds like the most raw fun at this second. Go with the majority or your gut here. It’s not long-term. The answer to that question (whether it’s continuing to defend the rebel base on Backwana, or if it’s escaping the rebel base and delivering the location and plans to the Empire) is what you’re going to do for the rest of the night. Until you get a chance to address it later, give the players whose characters won’t be appropriate, 10 minutes to rough out some extras into characters (on the fly reprogrammed droids, the rebel base defenders, etc…) and hit the game with a WTF ray (a ship attacks, there’s an explosion, whatever) as an excuse for the group to scatter. Group1 goes one way, Group2 goes the other, and they never meet each other for the rest of the adventure. Finish or ad-hoc the rest of the adventure. end early because:
After the game, it’s time for more jabberin. Discuss why the groups are no longer playable together. Ask if anyone is willing to simply scrap their character and re-roll. Ask what it would take in their character’s lives for them to switch sides on the issue. Try not to let anyone be a stubborn ass on the issue. Make it clear you’re defining options, not choosing a path. Good Jedi 1 says “my character has always had a crush on Evil Jedi 2. He could probably seduce her to the dark side fairly easily.” Evil Jedi 2 says “I’m really hevily invested in the light side. It would take something massive, like accidentally killing a roomful of kids to turn me to the dark side.” Evil Jedi 1 says: “I’m going for a story of failure and redemption here. My guilt over letting NPC get captured by the Empire has driven me to the dark side to seek revenge, After I get revenge and find that it doesn’t make the pain any better, I’ll probably get drunk off my ass, and seek to right my wrongs” Evil Jedi 2 says: “Eh. I was just going evil with EJ1 cause I’m sick of this character. I want to play an awesome robot! Pew Pew!”
Now, no one has to abandon their character (unless they want to). All you have to do is decide what PATH to follow. Are the good guys going to turn Evil, or the Evil ones turn good? Once you decide what path is right and who’s going on it, all you have to do is make it happen.
You can take as long as the group likes to bring one side about to the other’s way of thinking, but keep in mind, one group is playing “their characters” and the other is playing “extras”. You can alternate, get all of it out of the way by fast forwarding and highlighting the good parts, or whatever you want, but in my mind, keeping it breif is best.
So, next session, we start with the EJ team having escaped the base with the plans, which they’re going to leverage to get an audience with Grand Moff Squonk, who is the NPC EJ1 wanted revenge against, and the GJ team realizing it, and setting off after them to stop them from selling off the base’s location. You do some fast forwarding and stop just before the following juicy scenes: While GJ team has tense negotiations with the imperial blockade surrounding the planet Tarief, where Squonk currently is, and eventually have to deal with some light fighters, EJ team has gotten in to sell Squonk the plans, instead confronting and killing him and his guards. Next, both teams split up, team EJ because EJ1 is despondant and want to get utterly blasted out of his head, and team GJ to find team EJ faster. GJ2 finds EJ1 and confronts him in the cantina, they have a great RP scene with EJ1 too drunk to actually hurt GJ2, instead drunkenly sobbing and begging for forgiveness, realizing that his revenge was hollow…. EJ2 finds GJ1 and seduces her, Seduces her good too! She’s just about to “submit to the dark side” *wink wink* when imperial guards bust in the door! They’ve found one of the villians responsible for Squonk’s brutal murder! As the imperials cut down EJ2, GJ1 escapes, a small seed of the dark side planted in her mind…
GJ1 heads to their rendevous at the ship, and finds GJ2 watching over a passed out EJ1. They share stories (most of them, anyway) and everyone gets to keep their character (or get to play a cool robot, pew pew!).
@Matthew J. Neagley – You kind of lost me in that final paragraph but I think I got your point. 😀
@ everybody: Thanks more making me think more on this!
This post started as an idle musing over what to do if player hot-headedness or stubborness split the party and the GM was sympathetic to the minority view. On reflection, it’s most likely moot. If the majority wants to go in a direction that the Gm does not, then the campaign is basically over.
Bryan’s scenario (and adapted by Matt and myself) is a more likely one. If the group is split down the middle, where do you go from there?
The Dark Jedi example can be cut and dry…if the GM is using the “Dark Side = NPC” rule, then the Jedi and any tagalong PCs just wrote themselves out of the group. It’s not that easy in other situations.
I agree with a lot of the comments that, whether majority, split or even significant minority, it’s probably time to have a good out-of-game discussion on the future of the campaign.
I think the only issue in the scene you described is having a weak bond between the PCs. Granted, the circumstances were extreme, but unless the now-defunct PC’s player knew he was getting into some kind of one-and-done game, the fault has to lie on the DM. I know because it happened to me a couple of times!
All in all the players will probably remember the scene for a long time though.
So is this kind of mishap a bad thing or a good thing?
Your example sounds like a memorable session to me. Were the players enjoying themselves? Mine probably would have.
My players are currently making it difficult for me as a DM to progress the story. I really thought we were a stronger team, and everyone seems to be pretty excited about the current adventure we’re running (Wrath of the River King), but the majority of the group is running new characters as a sort of spin-off party from the last adventure, and they’re really having a good time forcing me to work to get them to bite the plot hooks. Because it’s a relatively inexperienced group, we’ve been hand waving a lot of the key plot points as a meta way of progressing the story, but they’re starting to get their RP chops and they’re having too much fun bouncing against the rails. Would be fun for me if I was ready for it, but I expected the hand waving to continue for the foreseeable future so I haven’t been prepped for it.
In the last session, they were going abandon a story-vital NPC (a recurring friend character who was currently paying them to protect her!) to a pack of bugbears because their new PCs weren’t particularly invested in her like the old ones were. Then when she survived, they wanted to roleplay her anger at having been left to the wolves. All this occurred during the heavily improvised, hand waved bridge between the previous adventure and the current one. Since it was just a bridge, I had assumed the players would take it easy on me with regard to their suspension of disbelief so their characters could get to the next adventure, but that assumption went out the window when they all looked me in the eye and told me their characters weren’t going to cooperate.
What do you do? You follow the fun. If there’s a game-stopping conflict of interests, I think pausing the action and having an out-of-character discussion of where the story and the characters are going is important. My group at least will put a lot of stock in the DM telling them, “if you continue with this course of action, you will throw this campaign into chaos and the quality of our game will suffer for it. Find some in-character way to justify resolving this or we’ll have to find a new adventure.”