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I was just wondering, is it possible for one or more people to abandon/betray the rest of the party in D&D? Like, if they're offered a deal by the antagonist that they're obviously meant to say no to, but say yes to, can they act as powerful villains now and go around slaying the good guys?

I know that some GMs would just say it's impossible in a good campaign, but in general, would the GM be OK with that?

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Welcome! To the extent that it's not too broad, I think this question may be a duplicate of rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/14206/…. We can't answer for your DM, but some allow PvP and others don't, and those that do often have guidelines like those in the linked question to keep it in check. –  mxyzplk Jun 22 '14 at 16:13
K thnx that's a big help –  user14781 Jun 22 '14 at 16:15
We did have one case where a party member was affected by a cursed item which turned him against us, and he slit all our throats in our sleep. (We didn't know until it was too late.) It worked out OK in that case (we weren't planning on going any further with those characters anyhow) but in general, I think it would have a strong chance of making the play sessions less fun, and of hurting real-life relationships between the players (who conflate the betrayal of their character with a personal betrayal), so I would not generally allow that as a GM, unless I was sure the players could take it. –  PurpleVermont Jun 22 '14 at 16:55
I feel like D&D edition matters for this as well. 4e vs 3.5 or AD&D would all have different design approaches as well as different community views. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Jun 22 '14 at 17:56
When you say if they can act as powerful villains, are you talking about splitting the party between good and evil characters and playing both games, or about making those characters NPCs and rolling new characters for the deserted players? –  Flamma Jun 23 '14 at 7:44

7 Answers 7

The short answer is, “Yes, it is possible.” That’s an almost-meaningless answer, though, because just about anything is possible in a Dungeons and Dragons game, if your DM/group goes for it. The rules are fairly flexible, and on top of that, the DM is free to change, add to, remove from, or ignore the rules as he or she sees fit (and, ideally, as the rest of the group will most enjoy).

Different groups have very different opinions on this sort of behavior. There are obvious merits (adds drama and tension, may be fitting and appropriate for a given circumstance, etc.) and obvious problems (adds drama and tension among the players, most DMs are not going to be able to simultaneously provide for both the traitor and the rest of the party if they go separate ways, etc.), and it’s the sort of thing that a group should discuss ahead of time.

When in doubt, it’s very OK to say, out loud to your fellow players, “OK, honestly... I think my dude would take that deal. He’d backstab all of you to get what the BBEG’s offering. If I actually do that, is it going to improve the game or make it worse?” Getting the group’s opinion can be valuable here. And if the group says that they think taking the deal would mess up the game, well, that’s when you have to Make the Tough Decision to Decide to React Differently.

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What does BBEG mean? –  starsplusplus Jun 23 '14 at 13:38
@starsplusplus: Big Bad Evil Guy. –  Ellesedil Jun 23 '14 at 13:38
@Saffron Note I only suggested it after the group has asked you not to do it. –  KRyan Jun 23 '14 at 16:06
@Saffron Yeah, "to [you]," that's what D&D's about. Hell, me too, if we want personal perspectives. But that's not everyone, and you don't have a right to ruin the game for anyone else. Plenty of groups play that way (cf. suggestion to discuss it ahead of time), plenty of other groups will allow it in the right circumstances (cf. suggestion to ask before doing it), but in some groups, it's just absolutely verboten. If you've discussed it ahead of time, and gotten negative responses, and you discuss at that time, and people still feel it's going to ruin the game... you should not do that. –  KRyan Jun 23 '14 at 17:23
Or, you should work it in a way where it becomes more palatable to the group. Perhaps the character that betrays the party will become a new NPC henchman for the BBEG and be the primary antagonist against the party for a while. At that point, a lot of plot opportunities open up. Perhaps some family/friends/religious members make it a point to redeem the character. Or, the party has now made it a point to extract some revenge. There's definitely opportunity to make it fun for everyone without making it fun for only yourself. It just might take some OOC negotiating. –  Ellesedil Jun 23 '14 at 17:35

Anything is possible. Not everything is a good idea. When one player character betrays the rest of the party, it almost always ends the campaign. Sometimes it just ends the character.

If you don't want to end the campaign, or your character, but you really want to do this, consider the following options:

  • Talk to the GM about making your character an NPC villain. You lose control of your character when the planned betrayal happens, and the GM gets to play him from now on. You get to play a new character.
  • Talk all the other players into playing a band of villains. If they agree, you can then convince their characters to do so in the game.
  • Talk to the players about betraying their characters in a way that does not end the campaign.
  • Be ready to abandon the idea if the GM and other players aren't interested.
  • Try playing something like Paranoia, or Fiasco, where betrayal is integral to the game.

In all cases, don't let the betrayal be a surprise to the GM.

In summary, obey the Rule of Fun. Will this betrayal make the game more fun for everyone, or less fun for everyone?

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Is it possible? Yes. It's a role-playing game. There are no rules against it, so unless the DM says no, you can do it.

Is it a good idea? Usually not. The most immediate reason is that players tend very strongly to take things like this personally. This is technically a violation of IC/OOC separation, but it is almost impossible to avoid, especially when taken by surprise. This can be mitigated, however: the most effective way is simply to negotiate everything with the players beforehand. As long as they can see it coming, many players -perhaps even most- actually find stuff like this interesting, and will often be willing to work with you. But it is imperative that you not surprise the other players with something like this, even if the goal is for their characters to be surprised.

However, even if you can get buy-in from the other players, there's another problem: the logistics of handling multiple parties working at cross purposes. Once you've betrayed the party, you've essentially formed your own separate party, and that is almost impossible to handle within a single session. The DM has to switch focus back and forth between the two parties, often for extended periods, and this just isn't fun for whichever players are "out of focus" at the moment. That's not so bad if it only happens once in a while, for only short periods, but you're talking about a permanent arrangement. It's a lot easier if you run two different sessions, one for each party, but then you're not all playing together anymore.

The bottom line is that while betraying the party can be good role-playing, it is usually not good game-playing. You can ask the DM and players for buy-in, but you shouldn't assume that they will accept, and you shouldn't try to take them by surprise. Even if you do get buy-in, you should be wary unless you know that this table has handled betrayals well before: some people turn out to not do so well as they had liked to believe they would.

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Last time a player betrayed a party I was in, the DM had to prevent us from killing him after we utterly and completely DESTROYED all his plans. It was the end of the campaign, but... it was much worse for that character than had he not betrayed us. –  PipperChip Jun 24 '14 at 19:28
I guy I know once gave me this explanation for taking personally another players' betrayal of the party: "I'd be fine with some forms of betrayal. Like you said, it makes a good story. But there's a difference between changing the game board and taking someone's playing piece away." It stuck with me. –  GMJoe Jun 25 '14 at 3:53

We ran a campaign with 6 people, and back stabbing was a part of the storyline almost the entire time. It got to the point where if you wanted to back stab someone, or become a part of the plot, all you had to do was ask the DM. So from my point of view and experience, it is never considered an 'unfun' thing. It is entirely up to how the DM wishes to play it out. Sometimes to set up scenarios you need to motivate your players, and when you have one of your players working with you towards luring the party into the next plot twist, things become more exciting and work out much better.

This went two ways, because once your character becomes the bad guy, you no longer adventure with the party, and you often end up handing your character sheet to the DM. We would do this if we couldn't make it to the next scenario, or if we wanted to roll a different character to adjust party balance. There was even a time when the DM came up to me and said, hey would you be interested in a back stab scenario? It was a part in the story where we were each given clues and we had to work together to solve this puzzle, and my clue would inevitably lead the party into a long passage way in the sewers where I would back stab them by slamming the door shut behind them, and they would be stuck in a giant boulder crusher (The floor falls down into a grinder).

To answer your question, absolutely. It if your gm is open minded, absolutely everything is possible, and every scenario can work towards a more interesting story!

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Yes, certainly it is. One way that you can integrate this into your story in a controlled manner (i.e. in a way you as DM can manage) is to give each character a secret mission from the outset that they have to play towards without revealing to the rest of the party.

For example, let's say you're off exploring an ancient tomb (a simple beginner's scenario), they you might give players objectives such as:

  • you secretly work for the local strongman in town and he wants you to steal a certain item of loot and get it back to him

  • you are secretly an assassin and your job is to kill a certain party member without raising suspicion

And so on... By doing it this way, you'll already have all these sub-plots planned out so there will be less surprises for you as DM. You can also craft your missions in such a way that the player has to either use subterfuge or get away with their treachery, so that they will really need to develop a strategy rather than blatantly go around stabbing other PCs in the back. Plus, your characters will have a story reason for their treachery rather than just because they can.

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Possible? Yes. Fun? Probably not unless you can do it right.

I once DMed a game that I would describe as semi-coperative, the players all were given a major objective, but they all came from different backgrounds and had different (and often conflicting) minor goals or preferred methods/outcomes. There was a pretty decent amount of lying, backstabbing, trickery etc, but the majority of the campaign they were mostly on the same track. That made it a lot of fun.

If your character is fighting the party in direct combat, that is fine. But if you or them are forced to flee and it stops being played in initiative order, you will need to play in different rooms with the DM running between. Not really much fun for the guy on his own (you).

So if you are going to betray them, either do it subtly, to a degree that their characters would continue adventuring with you, or ensure that you succeed and get all of them killed in a single session. This will allow the DM to turn your existing character into a Boss fight without having to completely prepare a new campaign and allow your group to roll new characters.

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Depends on the betrayal I suppose. We had a halfling thief who stole from the party at every opportunity. As a player I knew, but they made sure it was never clear to the characters that this was happening. They filched treasure before we even knew we found it. Anything good, easily hid-able vanished before we even knew it was there. They were kind enough to leave the coppers and other chaff for us. After a while it became a joke where everyone (players) knew that we wanted to shake the pockets of the halfling out, but our characters had no clue. So depending how it is done and played it is possible. It does depend on mature gamers to allow this behavior though to not allow their characters to know what they should not.

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You are a better person than me for seeing the fun side of the selfish-rogue PC. That behaviour really annoys me, because it plays off incremental damage to the group (each incident individually not enough to cause a rift) versus the cost of a big showdown. I'd be OK with it I guess in a game where character wealth and equipment was not a big deal. –  Neil Slater Jun 23 '14 at 21:46

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