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You have a campaign that provides, by design, a high level of freedom for the players to pick the story threads, sides and whatnot for themselves.

In the long run, a conflict arises: some player characters wish to side with / follow X while the others want to side with / follow Y, which is the opposite of X. (An example: you're playing Star Wars with freelancers who after a year or two decide to join A) the Rebellion, B) the Empire. Please keep in mind that this is just an example, the question is not SW-specific. It could be Lannisters vs Starks, cultists of Cthulhu vs the good guys, whatever. Also, there's no definite moral supremacy on either side, despite what these examples suggest.)

How do you handle such a PC conflict without being too intrusive on the choices of some?

How do you keep the group together (if you keep it together after all)?

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8 Answers

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The main thing you need to provide - via in-game motivation, or via relationship game mechanics, or via metagame contract - is a reason/expectation that the group will stay together, whatever they do. (Unless you are playing one of those games that don't assume the players will be together or in agreement at all, like Amber or some of the crop of newer indie narrativist games, but I assume you wouldn't be asking this question if that were the case.)

Given that, I see no reason for the GM to play a role in it at all, unless things start going bad. The group should be able to work it out in the same way any group of people comes to any decision. How do they decide which door to take in a dungeon room? Let them work it out. I'm not a big fan of using mechanics in a case like this, looking back it can be very unsatisfying for role-players to say "Why do I serve the Lannisters? Uh, well, the dice said so back in the day." It lacks internalization.

They may need reassurance that you're happy to carry on the campaign no matter which they choose; they could be worried that there's a "right answer" you have in mind. If they are sneaking a lot of glances at you you may want to say "Whichever way you decide to go as a group, I'm prepared to run the game that way."

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Ultimately, I believe it comes down to this whenever elements of whatever kind seek to split a group. In the end, a choice of some kind must be made to remain together. Achieving this may entail some players generating new characters, or adopting troupe style play as Migo suggested. If characters which do not fit, or cannot evolve to fit in the game are being maintained - I feel the players do not wish to stay in the group. –  Runeslinger Apr 7 '11 at 6:41
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This sounds like the perfect opportunity to use a robust social conflict system — having the characters who are more invested in one side or the other of the conflict attempt to sway the rest of the group to rally toward their side. (I'm taking as given that the two sides are, as you say, on relatively equal moral ground as per the PC group.) Once a decision point has been reached, you as Game Master can give opportunities to those who didn't get what they wanted to help promote their goals through subterfuge and sabotage, which may have a mechanical effect on the actions of the main group.

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I've just thought of an unusual alternative:

Embrace your group as being PVP.

If there's character-character conflict (not player-player conflict - a very different thing), instead of attempting to make them play well together - go the other way entirely. Point out items that would provoke conflict and require role/roll playing to encourage PVP-centric action.

I'd experiment with saving-throws-vs-provocation, skill checks, and calling for initiative. :-)

I keep thinking of LoTR's Gollum - the aggro guide - as a prototype. Though usually thought of as an NPC, it might be fun to let a player-character act in that sort of role.

At least showing you group the effects of group-aggro play might change some player attitudes toward choosing characters that have irreconcilable conflicts with other party members.

BTW - your mileage may vary. I personally would never even allow player-characters with this much conflict to adventure together. But then again, in the old days I never allowed [Chaotic|Neutral|Lawful] Evil alignment player-characters in my adventure parties.

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Interesting example - Gollum/Smeagol had plenty of character-character conflict all by himself. :-) –  Sherm Pendley Apr 6 '11 at 20:58
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Characters fighting is tricky, because it DOES lead to hurt feelings. The one time my character got in physical combat with another character (our group tends to enjoy good arguments and screw-overs, YMMV), I made sure that after the fight ended, the player and I (and I used player's name, not character's name to help emphasize this) shook hands and I complimented his portrayal of his character's role (and he complimented mine). –  Pulsehead Apr 7 '11 at 13:14
    
+1 @Pulsehead - No doubt - that's why it couldn't be player-player conflict. My thought is that by moving it into PVP gamespace explicitly (with the agreement of all the players) it can be de-personalized. Not all people like PVP - and I'm one of them! –  F. Randall Farmer Apr 7 '11 at 14:29
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I want to stress that turning your campaign PvP, will increase tensions between players as well. I would only go down this path if the players are familiar enough with each other that they manage to separate character from player. If handled correctly, with players who can seperate character/player, this can be lots of fun as the players pit themselves against each other. But if they can't separate player/character, it may ruin the campaign and in worst case friendships... –  Jo-Herman Haugholt Apr 8 '11 at 12:24
    
+1 @Jo-Herman Absolutely. Player/character separation is a must. Make this opt-in and allow anyone to veto the entire idea in the first place. Online games often split PVP servers from PVE, and even then often require player-characters to opt-in or have some ritual or limit on low-level participation. –  F. Randall Farmer Apr 8 '11 at 14:24
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IMHO, the question you need to ask yourself, and perhaps discuss with your players, is why you want to mitigate the conflict at all? It might be a question of real-world logistics - for example, splitting the party could mean that each group would have to play at a separate table, or even on different nights, to avoid overhearing "privileged" conversation. If something like that is the case, I'd just talk to the players (out of game, of course) and explain that, while I agree that they're heading in an interesting direction with lots of role-playing opportunities, I just don't have the time & resources to manage what amounts to two (or more!) separate adventuring parties.

On the other hand, if the players want to role-play such a situation, and if you have the means with which to support and manage it, why not simply let them play it out?

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I think this is a good idea, don't assume group conflict is necessarily bad, but check with the group to make sure that they are on the same page with whatever you decide. –  sebsmith Apr 6 '11 at 22:23
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You could figure out if one of the two competing players (assuming one X, one Y, and a handful of "meh") is tiring of their character. If so, arrange that they leave the party and become a semi-NPC, meanwhile the semi-NPC's player can make a PC that is either a strong proponent of the competing faction, or one more "meh" player. After the conflict/war, the semi-NPC can either stay a semi-NPC, or return to the party.

If the group is evenly split between X and Y (or if both players strongly want to continue to play their characters), you can concentrate on plot hooks where being aligned with X or Y is slightly less important. For example, during the American Civil War, the Episcopal (Anglican for those non-US folks) church never split into North/South churches. You could have the characters try to keep the war from starting, act as secure messengers between the two organizations, or the characters could encourage the parties come to peace talks. If there's no moral "right" or "wrong", then it's a disagreement that can be mediated. Maybe at some point a rogue agent of X commits a war crime. Does the party try to defend X from the forces of Y howling for revenge against the destruction of [city]? Maybe the group having loyals of both camps would be the ONLY people that both factions would trust to investigate the alleged war crimes/atrocities... which can turn up that X committed an atrocity because his little brother was the victim of a questionable atrocity performed by Y. As you unpeel the onion, many plot hooks can easily pop up.

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Depends on a few things. And your question is not what else to do in terms of a split up, you specifically are asking about how to keep them together without constraining them openly.

Normally, due to my own % of Sandbox, I don't try too hard to keep a group together. I am fine with them going hither, thither, and yon. I like a big sandbox. And when you go with a lot of creative freedom in terms of chargen; you will have to deal with certain consequences. Much of the group dynamic is decided at the onset, so you must try to place some common threads here, or there is a higher chance of dissolution.

However, looking back over especially the last decade of gaming, I have not had one group split up. Used to happen once in a while, but after doing a quick retrospective, I realized I have been doing certain things to keep groups focused.

1) Stuff is deadly. All my games have a pretty high lethality, and this groups are less likely to strike out on their own if their chance of survival drops noticably without the rest of the group. The subconsious herd instinct is strong when PCs feel mortal.

2) Make them more dependent on each other socially. Groups, guilds, and organizations mean a lot in my world, and making it clear that some of their ability to get things done is based on their history and reputation as a group. I always make the fame/notoriety of the group be about double of the individual members.

3) No matter the level of sandbox and freedom, pick a few long term plotlines and make sure if the PCs embroil themselves, there are consequences if some group members drop off.

Hope that helped.

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Before my campaigns I have a one on one session with each player about their character. While working with them to come up with a background I try to slant things so that there are natural reasons for the players to get together. Things like shared interests, goals, culture, religion, or organization.

If my campaign resolves around a small groups, say five or less, I have no issue with them splitting up. I just alternate between the groups until circumstances bring them back together. I tend to run my games in a naturalist style so like in the real world having a bunch of people at your back is better than not having them. My players know that and tend to regroup within current or next session.

When it comes up I tell them it is ultimately up to them to decide to work together. If they go after each other I am not picking sides and the dice falls where they fall.

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This isn't a system agnostic answer, but Smallville was built from the ground up to handle main characters in opposition of each other. It's something that could be migrated to a FATE system as well, as the aspects could depend on other characters in a similar fashion.

The other simple solution is to have everyone create a new character, those who went with side A, keep their original characters, and those who went with side B create new support characters for the A group, and vice versa for the other group. Then you alternate sessions, or time spent, so 2 hours on side A, 2 hours on side B, or one session side A, next session side B.

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