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When PC Becomes Adversary

Intra-party conflict. I’ve read dozens of articles about how to avoid it. Players get called names for engaging in it. Why? Isn’t dissension amongst a group of travelers or adventurers a legitimate source of drama?

You bet your ass it is. Let me give you one word from the fantasy RPG holy texts: Boromir.

I have two general rules to govern intra-party dissension:

  1. The conflict must exist between the characters — not the players.
  2. When the conflict becomes intolerable for the either the characters or the players, it somehow ends decisively.

Between the Characters — Not the Players

I don’t even need to expand on this if you’re playing in a game with grown-ups. The conflict should exist between the characters. If it becomes a conflict between the players or it otherwise starts messing with players’ fun, it should end.

Ending the Conflict Decisively

Depending on the characters and the tone of the campaign, intra-party conflict might just slowly linger in the peripheries, rear it’s ugly head and then dissipate or it may be a slow building conflict that eventually leads to a conclusive scene.

At some point, the players and GM may see the need to resolve the conflict.

It’s time to do so when:

  1. One player (or both) maintains that his character would no longer work with the other.
  2. Other players believe their characters would no longer tolerate the conflict.
  3. One or more players feels the conflict detracts from the fun of the game.
In most of the games I’ve run, intra-party conflicts were generally resolved with a PC death — some times multiple deaths. And combat is certainly a legitimate way to resolve those conflicts, especially if your game takes place in a violent society.
Combat — especially to the death — is probably one of the most effective ways to end party conflict decisively. Even in the “gain another life for a small fee” world of DnD, someone has to pony up and pay to have a character raised — and this is unlikely if the character died at his own party’s hand.
But there are many ways to resolve the conflict without death.  For instance, a PC could drop a dime on his adversary. He could call the police (if he’s a wanted criminal), call the local crime lord (if he’s a rogue thief), etc.
The adversary could be abandoned or “ditched” by the party, or he could simply be forced to leave the company of the party.

When PC Becomes NPC

In these cases of non-violent resolution, at least one player must give up their character and make a new one.
It’s probably a good idea for the GM to consult with the player to determine just what happens to this estranged former PC as he enters the cast of NPCs. Does he go off to sulk in isolation? Does he go back to farm life? Does he join the other side? Does he plot against those who did him in?
If and when this estranged NPC finally crosses paths with the party (inevitably at the worst possible moment, right?), you have the potential for some awesome role-playing, as the PCs are now interacting with an NPC with whom they have a real, experienced history.
How can that be a bad thing?

Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of DoucheyDM.com. He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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2 Responses to "When PC Becomes Adversary"

  1. fictiveNo Gravatar says:

    Here is the trouble with the Borimir example. Even though the DM stepped in and basically wiped Borimir out with a horde of orcs, the damage was done. The party split in three groups, and never got back together until the campaign was over. Fiction is one thing–you can keep the threads going; at the game table, that’s the death of the campaign right there.

    Not to discount the entire idea. I do suggest Borimir is not a good example.

  2. StuNo Gravatar says:

    But it was the halfling that decided to go off on his own. You can’t pin the party split on Boromir’s player!

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