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I have recently taken over running a Dnd 4e campaign where the party is constantly trying to kill each other, even in the middle of encounters. Despite reading the rule books, I cannot find any advice on what to do when all of my PCs are trying to kill each other. I have tried creating major distractions (sandstorms and big boss and other fights) and it hasn't worked at all—they were still killing each other whilst fighting about thirty goblins.

This has been going on for about a year now. The old DM I'm taking over from (since he has other commitments now with university) never managed to stop it in his eleven months of running the campaign. I used to be a fellow player with this group but I got bored of their non-stop murderous squabbling.

Any help would be appreciated, as I would like it to run smoother without ditching my whole party and finding a new one.

EDIT:
I have spoken to the group and they have said that would TRY to fight as a group as little as possible from now on but they have asked for more combat as they said that the eladrin and teifling's fey steps were getting annoying. Now I know the source of the problem and it all sparked off from there. I would Like to thank everybody who posted Comments and answers.

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Welcome to the site! Please take a look at the tour and the help; they're a useful introduction to the site. Do you have any details on why they are trying to kill each other? Did something happen to get them angry at each others characters? –  Tridus May 2 at 19:23
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Hello. Even though @Hey-I-Can-Chan's answer is okay (I'm not talking against it at all), it's usually practical and recommended to wait at least a day before accepting an answer (unless your question is about something very factual), to see a wider range of replies. (Yes, a still open question encourages people to give you answers. An already answered one... not so much. Usually. :)) –  OpaCitiZen May 2 at 19:44
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Time for them to play Paranoia –  Rob May 2 at 21:36
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Like @Rob says. Maybe these players just aren't interested in playing buddy-buddy, so try playing a game system designed for them to kill and be killed! All hail friend computer! :) –  Brian S May 2 at 21:43
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What system are you using? I'm guessing some edition of D&D, but even there, the edition matters. (AFAIK, 4E is much less suited to PvP combat than earlier editions.) And, as Rob notes above, there are even RPGs (like Paranoia) where such behavior is perfectly normal and desirable! –  Ilmari Karonen May 3 at 10:54

10 Answers 10

Switch to Paranoia.

Paranoia is an RPG where the players are expected to backstab (and occasionally frequently frontstab) each other. If you die, just pop out one of your backup clones. This way the players can play the game they want to play without hurting (and in fact improving!) the overall session.

Then talk to them.

If you want to run a serious game, the best thing to do is sit everyone down and make it clear that you want to run a serious game. The players might be okay with it, but never realized that you really wanted to do this. Alernatively, they might not be okay with it, in which case forcing them to cooperate is just going to make everybody involved really unhappy. That's when you need to find another group.

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Paranoia is limited to 6 clones, but it can happen that the computer creates more due to a "bug" ;) –  BЈовић May 5 at 7:24
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@BЈовић The Computer doesn't make mistakes, traitor. Report to the Processing Center for reprogramming. –  Hey I Can Chan May 5 at 11:35
    
I have spoken to them as my edit describes –  user181782 May 6 at 17:58

You want them to stop trying to kill each other without ditching them as a group. The unfortunate truth is that you have to be willing to ditch the group, if you ever want them to change. If you're willing to put up with it, why should they change? They're getting what they want.

So, take your ball home until they want to play in a way that you can also enjoy. Sit your players down and read them the riot act:

I'm not interested in a game where the party is tearing itself apart. Stop trying to kill each other. I won't run the game again until you commit to a party-based game.

If they really want player-versus-player action, look into some wargames. Look into different RPGs where that's part of the design. Keep these as occasional "blowing off steam" games.

Just remember: if you're bored and frustrated with a game, stop playing. Life is too short to play bad campaigns, and bad campaigns will keep happening so long as you shy away from ending them.

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Make Time for Character-versus-Character

I'm guessing these are your friends. I'm guessing this your first experience attempting to run a role-playing game. I'm guessing this is their first experience playing a role-playing game. The initial attitude of many players is to test their characters' mettle against other player's characters. That's totally okay. Let them.

Set up an arena night or two. Put all the characters in a big pit and let them beat the crap out of each other. This lets the players figure out the game's mechanics and shows them what sort of calls you'll make as the gamemaster. That's useful and empowering.

Once that's out of their systems, then try starting a story with those same characters, with everything from the arena night fixed and forgotten.

If they still just want to kill each other even after a half-dozen arena nights, try wargaming with them or a running a gladatorial campaign and quietly find another group with which to role-play.

By the way, a gladatorial campaign wherein the characters are initially pitted against each other but non-player character opposition is slowly introduced will give them the opportunity to recognize that sticking to together versus those beyond their group is winning in a role-playing game.

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The problem is it has been going on for about a year now and the old DM has other commitments (university) and he was never able to manage it in his eleven months of running it. I used to play with them but I got bored of their non stop squabbling with swords. I like the idea of the arena. –  user181782 May 2 at 19:37
    
Forcing them into an arena is incredibly lame, especially since it's not needed: just let them stab each other anywhere they happen to be! Why the arena? –  Lohoris Jun 22 at 20:50
    
@Lohoris By "set up an arena night" I mean setting aside a separate, doesn't-impact-the-campaign evening of competitive mechanical slaughter rather than letting the players who want to do that do so in the midst of the DM's planned adventure. If you find the concept of an area campaign lame, I don't know what to tell you, except it seems many would disagree. –  Hey I Can Chan Jun 23 at 1:15
    
"Put all the characters in a big pit and let them beat the crap out of each other" –  Lohoris Jun 23 at 8:12
    
@Lohoris I don't understand what's proven by quoting what I wrote. Yes, I wrote that, and I followed it with: "Once that's out of their systems, then try starting a story with those same characters, with everything from the arena night fixed and forgotten." If your objection is that players should have the right to kill other players' characters during the campaign regardless of the consequences to the campaign, that should be your answer. If you object to an arena as that's a poor staging ground for virtual player-versus-player combat, just pick another environment. What's the problem? –  Hey I Can Chan Jun 23 at 8:33

Let them

If your party is intent on fighting themselves, then one option you have is to develop a campaign where this makes sense in the big picture. Reams and reams of excellent fiction have been written about people who hate each other with a burning passion, but are forced to work together for some reason. Now your players have themselves a dilemma: if they kill each other, everybody loses, but they still want to get one over on the other guy. They have to play it smart, and they have to play it interesting.

There are obviously systems which are not tailored for this (such as D&D). So a change of system may be in order, if that's something you're comfortable with. Systems like Fiasco and Burning Wheel build motivations and goals into character creation which set up lots of stewing conflict. Systems which have actual rules for social interactions also are more effective here, simply because you can do more than stab each other in the face when there's conflict.

If you're not willing to change systems, then come straight out and ask the players why they're killing each other. It would be best to announce this at a session, and then have the players submit their reasons individually (email perhaps). Make it clear to them that you're only interested in running the game if they can play their characters like real people and not complete psychopaths (meaning they need to have a reason for trying to murder each other). Once you have these reasons, focus the campaign on those. Maybe the characters will keep trying to kill each other, but maybe they'll realize they have to work together to get what they want, and then stab the other guys in the back later (but at least it's more interesting that way).

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Actually, one of the most enjoyable and easiest AD&D campaigns I ever ran was like that: n chaotic neutrals who'd fight at the drop of a hat, played by a bunch of guys who were great friends in real life. Totally uninterested in playing through anything complex; I'd've had to use iron tracks to get them through something like that. So all I ever did was give them a trivial mission - really, in some cases as simple as a puzzle box - that they finished in about half the evening, with n-1 goodies in the haul, and let the fun commence. –  MadHatter May 4 at 16:30

I have recently taken over running a campaign where the party is constantly trying to kill each other, even in the middle of encounters... This has been going on for about a year now.

If this has been going on for a year, and IRL everyone is still getting along, and the only person who is bored or dissatisfied is you, then I'm not seeing what the problem is. The other players have found a style of roleplaying they enjoy; if they didn't, they wouldn't have continued doing so for a solid year.

One of the major features of all games -- not just RPGs -- that make them enjoyable is games provide a social space in which normal rules of behaviour don't apply, and that's fun. Poker requires you to lie to your friends and take their money for no good reason. That's behaviour that would be considered deeply antisocial in any other setting, and that's why we invented poker.

Now, to address your specific situation, I would note that there are three possibilities:

  • The players have successfully killed each other many times over the past year. A good question for them would be: are you really roleplaying this? If a character of mine were hanging out with a bunch of bloodthirsty idiots who consistently demonstrated hostility towards me, my character would leave the group; there has to be a really, really good in-story reason for the group to stay together. What is that reason? An in-story reason for characters who hate each other to consistently stay together presents many interesting opportunities for genuine roleplaying.

  • The players have been genuinely trying to kill each other but not succeeding, because the GM has been fudging the rules to keep them alive. If you want actions to have consequences, stop fudging the rules and see what happens.

  • The players have been insincerely "trying" to kill each other, but holding back. There must be some reason for their behaviour. Again, encourage the players justify their actions; if they're actually murderous then they should stop at nothing. If they're not, then they need to justify that behaviour.

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All the answers so far seem to have a tone of "you're right, they're wrong" to them. Even the ones that start by saying "As long as they're having fun, what's the problem? Let them kill each other." follow it with a list of suggestions for teaching them the "right" way to play by requiring valid reasons for wanting to kill each other and/or continuing to hang out with people who are trying to kill you.

So I want to add:

As long as they're having fun, what's the problem? Let them kill each other.

Period.

The only issue here is that you're playing with a group who wants different things from their gaming than you want from yours. The solution in this situation is the same as the solution for every other case of mismatched expectations: Talk about it - as equals, not in a "you guys need to grow up and start doing things my way" kind of way - and see if you can find common ground. Ask them sincerely about why they enjoy playing the way they do and explain to them how you prefer to play.

Don't deliver "my way or the highway" ultimatums, particularly because they can probably play without you a lot more easily than you can play without them. Don't tell them that they're doing it wrong - if they're enjoying themselves, then they're doing it right. Try to avoid complaining about how the way they want to play ruins the way you want to play (or anything else that can sound accusatory).

The goal isn't to convert them to your way of playing or to "fix" their broken playstyle. The goal is to get everyone's preferences out in the open and see whether there's a good compromise playstyle that will make everyone happy.

And if there isn't, and you're the odd man out, then you have to decide whether you're willing to play their way or if it means that it's time for you to walk.

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I upvoted...but be aware that it may only be a few members of the party that are actually actively doing and enjoying this and as a result everyone ends up dragged into it whether they want it or not. In that case the fun of everyone should not be sacrificed so a couple of people get to be jerks. –  Tim B May 3 at 13:58
    
Yep, absolutely! Which is why I said to talk to everyone and find out what everyone wants. Skipping that conversation and simply accepting the status quo definitely does risk accidentally catering to a couple jerks while thinking you're the only one who has a problem with the situation. –  Dave Sherohman May 3 at 14:47

I'm kind of stuck between posting an answer or a comment, but I don't have enough rep for a comment, so here's an answer:

I'm going to agree with Eric Lippert, in that I don't see what the problem is. All you say is that they're trying to kill each other, but what's wrong with that?

Is it metagaming, in that the characters are trying to kill each other due to things the players are doing? If so, then have a talk with them about player knowledge vs. character knowledge.

Is it making fights too difficult because they're harming each other? If so, then either make the fights easier or advise them that their lack of cooperation is going to get them killed. If they don't listen, then let it.

Is it causing friction in your real life friendships? If so, then you have larger problems and they should probably be solved by real-life conversations, not DMing.

Are you having to break the rules to keep them alive? If so, don't. If they kill each other just make them roll new characters.

You mention "non-stop murderous squabbling". Who's squabbling, the players or the characters? If it's the players, tell them to quit the tabletalk and focus on the game. If they're arguing about real-life issues, that can be solved on their own time. If they're arguing about in-game issues, tell them to argue in-character. Then it might make more sense when they get frustrated and try to kill each other. If it's the characters squabbling, then, once again, what's the problem? Next time they get caught up in arguing, just have some ambushers interrupt the argument and attack them. If they die because they fight each other in the battle and ignore the attackers, then their characters got themselves killed. Make new ones.

I played in campaign once where two of the characters didn't get along at all and would try to stab each other on a regular basis. Whenever it seemed like one would leave the party, the DM introduced some new threat that required us to band together. When we stopped for an extended rest, we had to figure out a watch rotation so there would never be one of them on watch while the other was sleeping, because they might kill each other in their sleep. It was great. We all had a lot of fun with it. Eventually it was no longer tenable and we had to get new characters, but if we hadn't let it play its course then those players wouldn't have really been role-playing their characters. The old characters actually ended up becoming NPC villains.

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As ditching the group is not an option, here are a few ideas about how to solve this problem that you're describing. I hope that any of this will be for any help…

Change the type of the campaign

A nice solution, especially if it doesn't seem like they're ever gonna stop with this is to simply change the campaign. There are rule-systems and games that are tailored to deal with this kind of behavior. Some of them promote killing each other (like the great Paranoia), while others just change the rules and arenas in which it will take place (Vampire: the Requiem can deal with player conflict quite great, especially since most of it is deal below the radar or one comes into problems). Other possibilities include gladiatorial campaigns where the PCs will have to fight each other for their survival. For an extra dose of irony, go for Best Friends.

If the players ever get bore of destroying the lives of each other, those rule-systems also tailor other types of campaigns, which are far less character-conflict centric (yeah, even Paranoia, if you go for the extra-straight type of game). So this can be a nice bridge to bring them back to more normal games. Vampire is especially good for this, as it is a mainstream game, which promotes under-radar activities but doesn't require it and can be quite good for both conflict heavy and group-centric kinds of play.

Talk with your players

My go-to solution is to have a conversation with the players. Talk with them, understand why they're acting this way or the other and explain to them what your problem with the situation is. It may seem quite silly, but it is one of the best ways to change the characters'/GM's perspective about topics and it is great to illustrate and through this to solve the problems that bug the participants' minds.

Present an enemy who is willing to take the credit

As I understand, each one of them wants to be the killer. This is great for you, because that by presenting an enemy who is far more powerful than each one of them alone, he can use their conflicts to steal the credit for killing characters. Make sure that your players understand that without joining forces he will be the one responsible for their killing, that he is going to steal those kills from them, and there's a huge chance that they're going to combine forces in order to kill him/her before this enemy kills them and steal the kills.

It is also a common trope of many great stories; the people who can't stand to be near each other have to combine forces in order not to perish. It will give this story a more epic feel and if you will present it rightly, they will feel like they're part of a movie.

It all serves a dark purpose

Another option is to give them some hints, which grow bigger and bigger, that this intra-party fighting is serving the purpose of some villains. Then make the players hate those villains (by kill stealing, for example) and you've got something in your hands. By making them understand that this fight helps those they hate, there's again a huge chance that they're going to stop fighting each other and start to focus on other matters, like killing those kill-stealers.

Prove to them that other types of play are fun also

Make a deal with them, "you will try for a session or two not to kill each other, not to fight each other, and to try to enjoy some of the things that I'm gonna present to you. I'm sure that you're going to enjoy some of those things even more, like murder mysteries, or interrogations or conversations with NPCs or being a part of a huge story or even a romantic subplot. If you won't like it, I won't push again, but if you will do, you will surely thank me later…" Then prove to them that it is more fun. Give them one head-blowing kind of a session and they will look at those times of fighting with disdain, feeling glad that it is beyond them.

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Just because I haven't seen it as anyone else's top answer: If the kind of campaign they want to play isn't the kind that you want to run, maybe you're the wrong DM for the group and should drop them in favor of another set of players.

You may be god, but if people are determined to ignore your edicts there's not much you can do but go find another tribe that's more cooperative.

And you can't fix Chaotic Stupid.

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I have a lot of experience with this type of thing. One of the Pathfinder groups I used to (key words: used to) run had very little interest in following goals and much more interest in screwing each other over. Now, there's a difference between 'fun pranks on party fellows' and 'malicious intent to cause harm to party fellows', and this group was decidedly the latter. The weird thing was, they're a group of friends out of game yet they all consistently ganged up mostly on one guy (who was admittedly playing a orc and living up it by smashing first and thinking later, often smashing party members too, not to mention trying to 'forcibly claim' the half-orc female player in the group).

Some groups love chaos, and that's how it'll be. None of these players were anything but 'chaotic neutral' since any other alignment would've "forced them to act" in ways they didn't want (their words); i.e. not stabbing each other. They had no interest in plots that didn't have MASSIVE shiny rewards at the end (so 'political intrigue' storylines were out, unless they somehow involved a bank). I set up a world for them with backstory and stuff; it was pretty much ignored and bulldozed by their infighting. The whole thing culminated when one party member (a caster of some description) taunted the orc player into a rage and started a fight in the middle of a small village, and successfully framed the orc for starting it. The village guard imprisoned him, and since this was a matriarchal society which looked down upon 'male thuggishness and violence' (which I had made abundantly clear to them before this started) they dressed him in pink for the night and had him play 'tea party' with the local children. The orc's player never really appreciated that, and somehow the group never got back together for another game.

tl;dr: If your group is anything like mine, nothing will really make them change, unfortunately. Some people enjoy roleplaying for different reasons, and for this group it was clearly a way of taking out latent aggression against each other. Ironically, it was almost always 'payback' for stuff they'd done to each other in the past, so I knew it would never end.

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