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This is a question calling for tried and tested methods for facilitating entertaining CvC intraparty conflict.

Although Player versus Player (PvP) seems to be the accepted term among a large proportion of gamers for conflict within the party, this term can cause enough confusion that discussion of the outcomes of intraparty conflict can become unproductive. Some groups ban friction between the people at the table outright and either intentionally or unintentionally include friction between characters as well. This question chooses to differentiate between two types of intraparty conflict: Player versus Player and Character versus Character. This question will not concern itself with PvP, unless some aspect of CvC might lead to it.

  • PvP conflict is here defined as two or more players at the table being in actual conflict with one another for in-game or out-of-game reasons. This is personal for those involved, with real-world emotions, for the purpose of resolving an interpersonal problem.

  • CvC conflict is here defined as two or more characters in the game being in conflict with one another for in-game and in-character reasons. This is an aspect of the story, with roleplayed emotions, for the purpose of drama and entertainment.

If the goal is to maintain intraparty interactions with a healthy and natural amount of friction, disagreement, horse-play, romance, and so on:

1. What can be done to encourage it?

2. What warning signs will manifest before it mutates into something unwelcome (such as real disagreement or scene-stealing)?

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Good question. Just one thing: I wouldn't necessarily define PvP as "a personal issue". It's mostly a term from CRPGs where you play a zero-sum game where there's "winning" at the expense of the other. Not necessarily an emotional problem. –  lisardggY Mar 19 '13 at 5:58
    
@lisardggY I understand that such a definition could exist. In this question however, PvP is to be interpreted to mean an actual problem between the players - not pure competition. –  Runeslinger Mar 19 '13 at 9:45
    
The Amber RPG offers some good advice, especially on the Game of Thrown meta plot. –  Sardathrion Mar 19 '13 at 10:48
    
CvC is wordsmithing. I think that because of the proliferation of mmo rpgs that pvp means one player controlled PC (or more) vs one other player controlled PC (or more). conflict-resolution and problem-players are the tags currently used to describe issues at the table (but not within the game). –  Joshua Aslan Smith Mar 19 '13 at 21:28
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@JoshuaAslanSmith - Yes, it is. The question clearly separates the elements of conflict of interest and provides the distinction to make referring to it within that answer easier. –  Runeslinger Mar 20 '13 at 2:24

5 Answers 5

up vote 30 down vote accepted

A note: While this is a system-agnostic question, certain systems (ex: DitV, FATE, Paranoia) are much better at handling this than others (ex: Any D&D system). Some games are even focused entirely around CvC conflict (En Garde, Everyone Is John, etc). For the purposes of this response I'm going to assume that in this game the party is all on the same 'team'.

As usual, my first recommendation is that you make sure everyone wants to play the sort of game you're after. Sit down with your players (as a group or one-on-one) and see how they feel about the idea of inter-party conflict. The beginning of a campaign is a FANTASTIC time to discuss changes in tone like this, especially if you start one in a system that encourages inter-party conflict. Encourage openness here. If they all seem to want to try it, continue. Otherwise, I recommend you back down, because trying to make this sort of game happen with the wrong group of players is an excellent way to hurt peoples' feelings.

Now that we've got everyone on board, the first thing to do is explain to your players that it's OK (and in fact, encouraged) for characters to have arguments, disagreements, romances, etc. Many players, especially in mono-gendered groups, will likely feel uncomfortable with the idea of pursuing another character in a romantic fashion, so you may wish to leave that off the table until they get a little more comfortable with these forms of role-playing. Again, if players seem reluctant, back off.

But if your players are up for some conflict, a good way to start off is by encouraging PCs to keep secrets and make autonomous personal choices.

Secrets

There are two types of player with regards to secrets. The first type prefers to know only what their characters know, to be able to plot on their own and pass notes with the GM. The other kind prefers to be completely open out-of-character and only keep secrets in character. Naturally there is a third type wherein no secrets are kept, but we're assuming against that for this exercise. Try to get everyone to use the same system. In my experience, it is easier to get everyone to have a good time and cooperate to make shenanigans fun when everything is out in the open for the players, but the characters keep secrets from one another (ex, you might tell the ranger, "You see the pixie messing with the paladin's blanket!" in front of the entire group, and leave it up to her to decide how to proceed). This helps to make everyone feel like they're in on the joke, and allows characters who are being tricked to have fun 'playing dumb' and going along with the gag. This is definitely the safer bet if you're afraid of people's feelings getting hurt.

Encourage the players to leave 'hooks' in their characters, especially ones that lead to something they may want to avoid telling the other party members. "I'm looking for my long-lost father" is an OK character hook, but "I'm looking for my long lost father who I last heard was involved with the Evil Empire" is more along the lines of what we're after. Regardless of how interesting you find your players' hooks, be sure to bring them into the campaign in some way. Work with your players to make their stories and hooks work with your setting. Feel free to entwine the characters' back stories, especially in ways that create conflicting interests and goals. These back stories, and the way they bring the character's personal journey into the focus, will help not only to create conflict, but to make the PCs and the world feel more alive and fleshed out.

What you will (hopefully) start to see is a divergence of party objectives (assuming your party is not entirely composed of Lawful Good Paladins of the Righteous Truth, in which case you may wish to re-think your campaign goals). Previously, the entire party's objective was to 'win', but over time, keeping secrets and personal goals should naturally branch characters into a number of side objectives (don't let the party find out about my stealing from our employer, redeem my father even though he killed my friend's son, hide my alcoholism, etc). Now that we've decoupled the party objectives a little, we can sprinkle in some moral choices.

Autonomous Personal Decisions

As you're designing encounters, feel free to leave situations which are morally ambiguous, or in which the party is likely to be divided. If the paladin goes along with the party's decision to loot a tomb, or if the by-the-books cop has no problem with the party's decision to lure the big bads into a large open area filled with civilians for the big shoot-out, feel free to ask them if that is what their character would do. Likewise, feel free to encourage the pixie to play practical jokes, the scoundrel to be a scoundrel, and offer the hitman the occasional 'job' to help pad his bank-roll. Allow your players some autonomy from the group's decision. While splitting the party can get very messy, it is OK for characters to do their own thing every now and again, or for some characters to sit out from a plan they aren't comfortable with.

If someone does something remarkable, awesome, or highly in-character, award role-playing XP. Did the high-strung businessman just express his concerns with the brutish thug's methods? That's worth some role-playing XP. If the thug reacts in character, feel free to toss him some, too.

So now we're all acting of our own accord. How do we keep things in control?

Again, everyone needs to understand the difference between the PCs and the players. Make sure the group is clear on that.

When somebody starts shenanigans, look around the table. Is everyone laughing, or is someone uneasy? If players are uncomfortable, especially if a player feels like she's being picked on, it's time to either talk it out as a group or drop this play style.

Finally, make sure everyone has their time to shine. Backstory missions are awesome at making people feel important, especially in small groups. Make sure everyone gets a turn at doing something their character cares or feels strongly about. Make doubly sure that each player feels like he or she is contributing both to the story and the party. And finally, ask for suggestions, comments, etc. after the session. This is a great time for the players to bask in how awesome they were, or to point out parts of the game they loved (or hated!), what you should do more of, and what you might want to lay off on. Try not to take things too personally; if a GM reacts well to criticism, players will feel free to be honest, and everyone will have more fun in the long run.

Most importantly, have fun with it! Laugh with the players when the entire party is embroiled in a terrible snafu, or when the halfling gets caught shoplifting and spends a quarter of the session running from the cops! We're all here to have fun, so go with it!

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+1 for "getting the buy in" and an excellent reply –  Rob Mar 19 '13 at 8:59
    
You've set the bar for responses pretty high with this~ –  Runeslinger Mar 19 '13 at 9:47
    
Thanks! I'll probably come back later after exam week is over and try to do a little formatting to clean these wall-of-text answers up! –  Melon Mar 19 '13 at 16:59

I have no advice to getting romance conflicts inside the PC group. It's something sad for me, but I have never seen in my many years of experience two PCs falling in love (or any other kind of romance relationship), PCs to NPCs yes, but none between PCs. The only exceptions happened between people who were already a couple.

But my games are full of CvC political conflict, so I'll go to talk about what I do know.

Divide and Conquer

The key to conflict is PCs having different views, and also different objectives. Please refer to Melon's answer for excellent advice on it.

NPCs interaction can be great for this purpose. Don't consider only what NPCs think about the group, what do they think about each PC? Try to give the NPCs unique feelings and views about them. What if a lady falls in love on the PC that saved her, but distrusts the rest of the group and wants to separate them from his loved one? Or a manipulative bastard could try to trick the group deceiving a PC that for one reason he think is dumb. Or maybe a NPC thinks one character is greeder and he can buy him to do what he wants, or simply establish dirty business. Or a character can gain access to a sect based on his unique condition (race, religion, nationality, sex, merits).

If the NPCs introduce conflicting goals, and the players view gain from following them, you'd had succeed.

But keep it a community

But if you do that, the character's group should have strong motivations to keep together (unless you want a campaign in which there isn't a group, but that is another question).

When conflict arises and a character feel betrayed by another, what would keep him from leaving the group?

There must be something that unite the PCs. Something much more important than the plots and conflicts you have introduced to them. Something that would motivate the characters to finally put aside the conflicts and work on a common goal (the good ending).

This can be an oath, family bonds, sect or organization membership. Whatever it is, must be very important to the PCs.

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I remember at least two times it actually happened to me to have inter-PC romance between two who weren't a couple (in one case, one of the two was coupled with another player), but yeah, it's pretty uncommon. –  Duralumin Mar 19 '13 at 13:43
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There's a running joke that me and another players characters always wind up together. Always. Both of our significant others are in the game, and remarkably chill about it. –  IgneusJotunn Mar 19 '13 at 14:40

Reward Individual Goals at odds with each other

There's a lot of games that do this well, and they do it by having characters with cross goals that get XP/hero points, etc.

Now, the trick is that if you want the characters to mostly cooperate with a little bit of friction, you make sure they have enough goals in common with smaller stakes ones at cross odds. ("They both want to stop the rebel Baron, but one wants to imprison him, the other wants to redeem him.")

Provide resolution options appropriate to the kinds of conflicts you want

Many games with good social conflict rules do this well. If you can argue it out, cut deals, etc. - basically do something BESIDES murder each other as a way to overcome impasses, these do better.

Games without any social conflict options often do terrible at this, as people end up resorting to magic/combat to solve things, and then the CvC conflict is simply out and out murder, less because of the initial problem, but more because of the intent/means used to get it. That is, the fact someone tried to murder you becomes the core conflict rather than whatever started it.

Establish this goal at the beginning

Let players know what level of conflict makes sense for your game. Players who think everyone's supposed to work together and suddenly encounter conflict end up confused and may over react. Players who think "well, I'm just playing MY GUY" and destroy any space for cooperation also set up a problem. Let the players know and they can work up conflicting goals that fit to the appropriate level.

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Slipping notes

A short partial answer on a technique...

In some cases where there was legitimate cause for real intra-party differences we allowed players to secretly communicate with the GM. For this a player would write something on a slip of paper and hand this to the GM.

This really only serves to allow players to 'secretly' communicate with the GM, i.e. to communicate without the other players knowing the content of said communication. The fact that other players still realize, that there is some hush-hush communication going on, can actually create a certain amount of general suspicion in the group, which can be beneficial to the atmosphere if that is what you are going for.

Overall, I feel this kind of secret communication between a player and the GM lessens suspension of disbelief, as the other players (which might or might not be affected directly) will not have to separate between character knowledge and player knowledge. Because they actually do not know what schemes the other player and/or his character are plotting.

Example:
In one particular situation a character who was fairly greedy and obsessed with all things shiny handed a slip of paper to the GM upon which he expressed his wish to steal/hide a certain artifact which the characters found in a grave. The party decided not wanting to disturb the spirits of the grave and deemed removing the artifact quite dangerous, so headed along thinking to leave it behind.
The GM made some hidden rolls for the greedy characters thievery skills (against the perception of the other PCs), and the greedy character was able to nick the item unnoticed. Which of course turned out to be cursed, putting everyone in danger, etc. pp. :)

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Welcome~ It would be great if you could flesh this technique out. –  Runeslinger Mar 22 '13 at 11:10

Short answer: Make them all evil.

Longer story:

My playing group is taking a break from the main storyline, and I decided to introduce my players to Pathfinder - as several of them are brand new to roleplaying, and have not even played any D&D based system before. But because of the particular sense of humor of my group, I decided not to do a standard group. Instead, they're all kobolds and goblins in an Army of Evil. They have been chosen by the gawds (Mythic rules) in a contest of a hundred minor minions for the gawds' amusement, and thus are level 1, tier 1, mythic kobolds and goblins. They have crummy stats, and several are finding more fun in how their stats are low than what they're good at.

I then wrote out a list of 7 or 8 'quest lines' for each of the characters and passed them out. Many of the quest lines are neutral, or even encourage them to work together. And several of the quest lines put them into direct conflict with each other: A contest where only one can win. Or quest lines which directly involved messing with the other contestants. They are aware, ICly, of these quest lines, in the form of visions given them by their patron gawd or demon lord of tasks that their (p/m)atron wishes them to perform.

So they are evil. They are weak and pitiful creatures. And they are against each other - but they also need to work together or the forces of good will wipe them out. PC vs PC, but teaming together all the same to conquer the kingdoms of light and avoid the orcish lieutenant that will box their ears if they get out of line.

And they're having a lot of fun.

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