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In my campaign (4th edition Dungeons & Dragons, but I've encountered the same problem in other systems) we sometimes arrive at a point where the group should make a decision, for example "should we attack or negotiate?". While some of my players would prefer to handle those decisions at a group level, some other players don't want to spend time discussing. Then they "resolve" the situation by an individual action, like casting an aggressive spell that makes the negotiating option disappear.

As a GM, should I allow the player to perform such individual actions against the consent of the group? Or how would I encourage the players to rather come to a common decision without railroading any individual player?

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6 Answers 6

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As others have mentioned, this is a play-style issue that needs to be worked out amongst the group to avoid hard feelings, misunderstandings, and frustration. However, if despite prior discussions/agreements you find you're about to face conflicting character reactions, there are steps the GM can take to reduce players ability to dominate such scenes and pre-empt other players actions.

Give reacting characters a chance to intervene. When the characters are in a tense situation, and a player decides to take an action that would eliminate everyone else's choices, such as starting a fight, giving up a contested item or NPC, etc., allow the other players the opportunity to react first to that action. Keep the resolution of that action within the group. While other players may not get to do exactly what they planned from the beginning of the encounter, they will still be in control and using their actions to determine how the event plays out. When hostiles are confronting the PCs and the PCs start to fight or argue amongst themselves, it's not unreasonable from a plot perspective that other groups won't interfere, at least not immediately, until they see which way the conflict is going. So it's usually going to be believable that the PCs will have a few actions to resolve their differences before the opponents interject themselves.

Example:

Player 1: "I'm tired of this prattling. These guys are gonna get what they deserve. I attack the leader."

GM: "OK, hold off on your attack roll for a second. He looks like he's going to attack. How do you react?"

Player 2: "I grab his sword arm and try to talk him down."

Note: This is really a mitigation technique for your GM toolbox, for times when you don't have a firm social contract to fall back on. Also, keep in mind this is predicated on having mature players who can deal with interparty conflict and still keep things civil at the game table.

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Success would depend on player2's action, but how would it be better to determine if player2 is able to intervene? A dex roll or an initiative one? Given that I'd want to leave it up to the dice and not just allow player2 to go ahead and intervene. –  Celos Aug 21 at 7:24
    
I would say an initiative roll as someone is doing an action and the other is trying to intervene thus the order of actions is important and also if he is able to grab the weaponhand (or the character). That all normally has its full rules inside the combat rules (initiative rolls and grappling rolls for most systems). thus why invent something new if something already existing can be used to resolve if the interruption of the attack is successfull or not. –  Thomas E. Aug 21 at 12:43
    
And depending on the situation and the system, if Player 1's actions required a move, since you've moved into a melee paradigm between the two, Player 2 might get to employ whatever Attack of Opportunity rules you have to stop Player 1's movement and force them to engage Player 2 first... –  Zimul8r Aug 21 at 13:44
    
This is a good solution, comments asking for a dex or initiative roll may be more in line with the mechanics of the game, but they are going to sometimes mitigate the usefulness of this solution. Don't add extra rolls, just fiat that they are reacting quickly enough. –  Red_Shadow Aug 21 at 14:30
    
@ThomasE. I would think the party members treating each other as friends would mean what player 1 has to decide how to react to player 2's action before he can complete his attack, even if player 2's character doesn't actually have the ability to stop him. Once he's actively resisting being stopped, initiative rolls and the like would apply. –  Brilliand Aug 21 at 16:16

If you have a Deathstab McMurderBaron amongst your players who cuts his way through the encounters like a Great Wyrm dragon through a burrow of kobolds, talk to them. Ask for them about what they want from a game, and what you want to do with the game. If all players are on the same page as you, great! If not, you can do a few things:

  • Figure out what the player's motivations are. And no, "My Guy" syndrome is not acceptable. Perhaps they have a reason they are so aggressive in their encounters? If this is not a good reason, explain that some of the other players want to take a different approach, and if that player would be open to such an approach. They might reply with "my character has no skills in these things, and he wants to do things he's good at". The answer to this is simple: You need skill rolls for diplomacy and such, but you do not need to take points in role-playing.
  • Come up with a consensus on what you want to do with an encounter. Have your rogue sneak about, take out some sentries and enter an optimal position, upon which the caster delivers its nuke. Or have them take on an ideal position when the Diplomancer is doing its thing, so that when negotiations go sour you have the Diplomancer step back and watch the opponents get roasted.

Also, talk to your players. How much are they bothered by the fact that they have a player like that amongst their number? Are they miffed that their characters do not get time to shine or do they not really care?

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Good point about reaching consensus around the table rather than immediately applying the player's description into his PC's actions. Also, some systems allow PCs to "aid" in a skill check, possibly improving the odds for the one leading the attempt. –  G0BLiN Aug 20 at 16:13
    
Figuring out motivations is key, as you have mentioned, but I'd like to also add that the players themselves have to take some responsibility for this too. Do their characters get irritated when his character takes these actions? Perhaps they should resolve it as their characters would in-game. If they're totally fine with it then there's really not much a of a problem, but I'm guessing they'll be willing to intervene (and end up creating great character development opportunities!) –  thanby Aug 20 at 16:37
    
You can also suggest, politely, that McMurderBaron kindly let the party's Bard handle negotiations, as swords are not (usually) the best negotiating tool. –  Zibbobz Aug 20 at 17:24
    
You can also remind McMurderBacon that if he attacks first to do what he is good at, then the face of the party who has invested in skills does not get to do what she is good at. Just remember to throw him a bone every once in a while with a combat encounter without the chance for negotiation, like an ankheg ambush..... –  Red_Shadow Aug 21 at 14:35

The first answer to questions like this is always "Talk to your players." Are they bothered by this? If not, then it's not a problem. They may in fact be relying on Violence McGee as a running gag to get them out of their endless negotiations. That said, the fact that this is happening may point to some problems with your campaign design.

I ran the World's Largest Dungeon a few years ago, and I wound up with a similar situation to the one you're talking about. The Barbarian and the Wizard spent upwards of 30 minutes trying to negotiate with every single monster, and the Fighter just wanted to charge into danger. Out of character, everyone was getting pretty bored, and the Fighter's player was just straight up frustrated. Eventually I realized that the source of this problem was in the World's Largest Dungeon itself, and the way I was running it. It comes down to two things:

1. When Every Problem Can Be Solved by Violence...

In DnD especially, and especially especially in 4e, monsters are designed to be killed. Most of the mechanics in the system are designed to handle combat, so players are primed to solve their problems by killing whatever is causing the problem. And since character survivability in 4e is pretty high, many players - especially ones who are less interested in the roleplaying aspect - are less likely to want to explore other solutions. They came to the game to kill stuff with their encounter powers, and by god, that's what they're going to do.

Ways To Deal With This:

Basically, you're going to want to present them with challenges where killing either does not solve the problem, or solves the problem but denies them significant rewards. Perhaps the party is severely outnumbered, or perhaps they're facing a creature they have no chance of defeating. Perhaps they are negotiating with a king, the assassination of whom would get them in serious trouble. Or perhaps certain encounters provide additional material rewards (in the form of contacts or loot) if they are negotiated peacefully or stealthily.

But beware ... focusing too much on nerfing the combat solution will ultimately just bore your violent player if you don't consider the other side of the issue, namely...

2. When No Problems Can Be Solved Exclusively by Violence...

When my players in the WLD realized that the orcish barbarian could solve most combats by negotiating with monstrous races, they received a strong incentive to stop and talk to every single creature they met. I mean, if they got the same amount of XP no matter how they negotiated the encounter, plus didn't have to burn any spells, HP, or potions, and got useful allies to help them later in the dungeon, why not try to negotiate? Diplomacy quickly became a first-order-optimal strategy, and the Fighter suffered for it.

Ways to Deal With This:

Make sure to include encounters where the fighty characters get to flex their muscles, by occasionally denying the party the luxury of discussion. Maybe they're facing a non-intelligent enemy. Maybe they're being mugged or ambushed, and can't afford to stand around talking. Situations like this are unlikely to upset your more thoughtful characters because, especially in 4e, all characters are specifically designed to have a role to play in combat.

Basically: Design a wide array of encounters to give everyone's skills a chance to grab the spotlight, and see if that soothes your savage player.

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Maybe I shouldn't have used the "negotiate vs. attack" example, because that is just that, an example. I get exactly the same situation if the choice is between pulling a lever or not: While some players discuss the best course of action, one player rushes forward and pulls the lever. –  Tobold Aug 21 at 6:41
    
Ah, well, that changes things. I guess the answer can be generalized to be "make sure there is a balance between problems that can be solved by thinking and problems where there is no opportunity to think, so as to appease both types of players." But that does make my answer a lot less applicable. –  Tack Aug 21 at 7:25

I think you should not restrict the players decision in such a way as forbidding an individual decision (as long as they make sense). It feels pretty natural that while people are trying to discuss, some might cut short any negotiation, without the consent of their peers. Then all the PC will react differently and create an interesting situation (distrust in a group of PC can be good for roleplay)

After the session however, you should discuss with all the players and see if what happened suit them. Sometimes, having this kind of situation might be good in term of roleplay, PC can be more or less prone to letting the group decide. But if most of the players are totally against that and it ruin their gaming experience, then you have to find a solution because a group of players is better united.

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There can be character conflict in game, I have even had players with conflict between their own characters. While sometimes it may feel like a free-for-all, this is a turn based game and the characters need to act in turn in any conflict situation. I encourage communication between characters, talking within the team is free and does not have to follow initiative within reason of 25 words and actually a lot can be said in 6 seconds if everyone is talking over each other. The team should be encouraged to communicate amongst each other before and after these types of situations. Player interaction should not be dictated by the DM. The 'gods' don't come down and interrupt us to say Johny wanted a candy bar so you guys should back up and go to the store for him instead of going straight to the park. Decisions characters make inturn impact the entire team, but need to be made based on the character personality. The other characters can decide to kick someone out of their group or decide how they are going to deal with a character that keeps overriding group decision or options.

That all said, if you have a player that consistantly causes a problem for the group, perhaps suspending game play and having open discussion amongst the DM and players to try to come to a comfortable agreement for all.

If it is you as the DM that wants to encourage the team to follow differnet options, make it poignantly clear in the aftermath the lost opportunities, the missed benefits of not having made a freind, the negative consequences of the decisions made over to potential gain that could have been had. You just killed the only creature who could have taken you directly to the treasure room, now you have to follow an obtuse alternative route. An alliance with those non-hostile Orcs would have resulted in their assisting you take down their enemies, now the odds are agaisnt your team to reach their goal. There is now a bounty on your heads for killing everyone in that hostile wagon encounter instead of the reward you woudl have gotten if you talked to them before fighting and helped them make it safely to town with the Dukes son. If you want to encourage alternative options, give reward and penalty built into the experience. Of course if the palyers just want hack and slash, maybe they want to play a party of villans instead of a party of heros?

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This is a classic problem for many games... but not all games.

No Social Resolution System

So, you're playing D&D. It gives you rules for fighting, running around, light sources, a lot of things. When it comes to player characters solving arguments amongst themselves... you have nothing.

So what happens is that players become used to "Let's do X", "Let's do Y!" arguments taking forever, solving nothing. What solves something? Action. As you've noticed, this always favors impulsive direct action over NOT doing something.

Now, there are games which don't have this problem. Many games have social resolution as an option which allows players to negotiate with each other and group choices become more viable.

  • Burning Wheel has Duel of Wits - a social conflict system designed specifically because the designer got sick of people taking forever arguing in game.
  • Poison'd has "bargain" mechanics - there's mechanical bonuses you get by striking deals and a way of making people suffer for breaking them
  • Sorcerer makes social deals a single roll and breaking them gives you a dice penalty
  • Primetime Adventures treats all conflicts the same - including social ones

...and there's plenty more out there.

Once you have a viable social resolution system: 1) arguments end quicker because there's a system to force it to a conclusion, 2) players have more incentive to actually negotiate rather than risk getting a decision forced down their throat, 3) socially inclined characters tend to get a little more leadership, which is generally true in life.

Hacking it for your game

D&D's historical weakness is that when it attempts to give social skills, the results of a roll are often ill defined - which has led to people either declaring them completely useless, or ridiculous - "I convince the king to give me his kingdom! I hit a DC35!".

What you want to do is set up stakes before any roll. Make sure the stakes are reasonable for the characters and that the players are ok with it - if you lose the roll, your character is going to keep the agreement UNLESS something significantly changes the situation.

Players can make their arguments on each side, then roll the dice. If it's something which affects the whole group, players can vote to a side - give each vote an extra D20 to that side and take the highest.

Side A has 3 votes - roll 3D20, take the highest and add the appropriate skill. Side B has 2 votes - roll 2D20, take the highest and add the appropriate skill.

Appropriate skill isn't just social - "Knowledge: Animals" might make a lot of sense if it's directly related - "If we go back to town now, all we'll do is give it a scent trail to follow to the villagers." etc.

Contrary Gamers

There is a subset of gamers who do not want to play as a party, but they get fun from wreaking the party's plans and causing chaos. There is no rules or techniques to fix the situation. You can have a discussion person to person, but that's about it. They can either agree to play the same game everyone else is trying to play, or find someone else who is running that game.

"We're playing a game about a band of heroes, working together, to do this thing. That's the kind of campaign everyone else is here for. If you're not interested, thanks for your time, and I'll let you know if we decide to do a non-party kind of game in the future."

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