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I'm having trouble keeping my group's barbarian from attacking the bard

I'm the DM of a game consisting of a bunch of guys from school and a couple girls. I have some serious problems with this and among them is the fact that the Dragonborn barbarian keeps attacking and bullying the bard. A couple of the other players join in on this in and out of character.

To combat this, I implemented what I call a neutrality pact to protect the bard and cut down on the shenanigans. In this pact, all PCs must agree to never intentionally attack or otherwise harm another PC or they die immediately. Naturally, some members of the party, particularly the barbarian, don't like this new rule and want a different system. So far, I am not willing to agree to this.

How can I make and enforce a rule that would prevent inter-party/inter-player fighting at the table while keeping all the players happy?

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Rubiksmoose, JP Chapleau, SevenSidedDie Mar 7 '18 at 16:42

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why is the barbarian attacking the bard? \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Mar 6 '18 at 19:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ What age group are your players? From the question it sounds like you are all in high school. Does the Barbarian get along with the Bard in general outside of the game, or is this a continuation of their normal relationship? \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Mar 6 '18 at 19:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose I don't think it's pure PvP....they're talking about bullying as well. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Mar 6 '18 at 20:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @guildsbounty I agree, but that is something that OP needs to help us determine if that is what they are asking about. I can only give an example of what I think they are actually asking about here. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 6 '18 at 21:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ When you say "bullying" is this in-game or out-of-game bullying or both? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Mar 6 '18 at 21:16
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You need to talk to your players

If this is happening both in and out of character, then this is clearly an out-of-game issue that must be handled out-of-game.

Before going into this, I strongly recommend reading this article on the Five Geek Social Fallacies. You shouldn't be tolerating awful or abusive behavior, just because it's being done in a gaming setting.

So, how do we start?

This is not a Rules issue, it is a people issue

If players are being intentionally antagonistic towards one another, and they aren't all having a good time with this (hey, PvP is fun sometimes), then this is a problem. This is NOT a problem you can solve by enforcing ingame rules, because that won't actually fix anything.

"We don't like Player A. But the DM won't let us Attack Player A directly. So we just won't protect Player A and will try to get their character killed in other ways. Like pulling back when the monsters charge, or not healing them, or chucking a rock at an ogre then Stealthing."

If the Barbarian wishes harm to come to the Bard...they will find a way to do it. If you start forcing rules on them all you will get is bitterness, and a never-ending loop of players circumventing your rules, or just rage-quitting. And the process leading up to it will make everyone miserable.

The Chat

You need to sit down and have a hard discussion about what is actually going on. D&D is a social game that is intended to allow a group of people to all get together and have a good time. It appears that your Barbarian is not on board with this idea. You need to find out why.

Does the Barbarian's player think his character just doesn't like the Bard's character? (See: My Guy Syndrome) Does the Barbarian's player dislike the Bard's player for some reason? Is the Barbarian's player just a bully?

You need to talk about this like adults. What's going on, how do we resolve it? Because this is not okay as it is. D&D is intended to let us have fun together, and the Barbarian is making the Bard miserable.

The Ultimatum

If the Barbarian refuses to stop, you have a bad player. You have made it clear that he is making another person miserable with his actions, and he didn't care. So the resolution is simple: "If you can't play nice, you can't play. Goodbye."

Nobody likes to have to expel a player from their game...but it's better to get rid of the one bad egg than for them to ruin the game for everyone else (including you).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I want to add something: they may only be piling on out of fear of being attacked by the barbarian. In a campaign a while back, there was one player who was just a bully, and before the DM ejected him, half of the other players were siding with him just because they didn't want him mad at them. \$\endgroup\$ – Nic Hartley Mar 7 '18 at 5:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. Remember the geek social fallacies plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html - If someone's being a d-bag, kick them out. \$\endgroup\$ – Miller86 Mar 7 '18 at 9:37
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It's not unusual to have a "no pvp" rule. I use a rule like this at my table and it works okay. On two occasions I've had people who really had a problem with the rule, so I asked them to leave my table, and the other players thanked me later.

It is a bit unusual to say "no pvp or you die immediately". Why do you need an "or"? If someone tries to pvp, you just tell them they can't do that.

More broadly, I'm a fan of this article by Bankuei:

Imagine if you sat down with your friends to play “Cards”… one of you is playing Poker, another is playing Hearts, and the last person is playing Go Fish.

You’re all playing cards, right?

It’s not going to work. No one is going to get the game they want. The problem is that no one agreed to a common set of rules and no one is organized with each other. The common group activity that makes anything a game, doesn’t exist.

You don’t see this with cards because everyone understands you have to be playing the same game for it to work.

But you see that in roleplaying all the time.

“OH GOD POWERGAMERS.” Wait. That’s like going, “OH GOD GO FISH” at a Poker table. It’s a discussion that shouldn’t even have to happen- someone wants a different game – why are they playing this game with you?

Some of your players want to be playing a game that is about pvp; others, presumably, don't. These are two very different games. It's a good idea to make sure everyone is on the same page about which game you're playing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer, but a game can contain PVP without being about PVP, which I suppose would be a third category in your closing paragraph's taxonomy. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Mar 7 '18 at 10:40
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You already have your answer

You wrote it yourself.

To combat this, I implemented what I call a neutrality pact to protect the bard and cut down on the bullshit. In this pact, all PCs must agree to never intentionally attack or otherwise harm another PC or they die immediately. Naturally, some members of the party, particularly the barbarian, don't like this new rule and want a different system.

Advise them that they can DM a game like that. You won't. There isn't much more to this conversation, apparently, given the situation that you have described. You don't like bullying at your table. You have established that you won't put up with it.

What more can you say? All you have to do is retain the courage of your convictions. Have as many out of character/away from the table discussions with the barbarian as necessary to see if you can get him to buy into your values, but hold to the rules of engagement for your table.

  • Make sure to mention to that player, and any of the others, that bullying behavior at your table makes you uncomfortable, unhappy, and makes the game un-fun for you. Make it clear to them that even if they are unaware of it, that is what you see going on. (Some folks aren't aware of that until it is brought to their attention, others are and don't care).

As an aside, there is a TTRPG axiom that is handy for times like this:
Bad gaming is not better than no gaming.

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I would say your rule is a good first step. Unless it's fun and willing for both players then player combat is not going to do anything but ruin someone's fun.

But the fact that multiple players are joining in "in and out of character" is even more worrying. If one of your players is being bullied by their fellows then they are going to eventually quit - it sounds like there is a strange dynamic at play that must be dealt with, out of the game. Talk to your players and see if the reason behind this conflict can be resolved, and maintain your rule about no inter party conflict. If that requires intervention from a godlike being within the lore then so be it, if that helps your players to follow it. But I think this problem is stemming from something outside the game.

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Setting Expectations

It sounds like a lot of what your concerns are primarily caused by different expectations amongst your group for what the game is and how every one wants to play. Normally, I'd suggest running a Session Zero before the game begins, but as you've already started it may be a good time to pause and do one. You may have players who don't want the type of game that you or other want to run and the risk of losing them is real. But it's better to lose players who won't enjoy or want to participate than keep them in and make the entire game miserable for everyone.

The Session Zero is a team when you lay down the groundrules of your game together. Let everyone discuss what they want and hash out the problems there. If no PvP is a desired trait by you as the DM and by the majority of others, then make it clear that's going to be the rule. If others don't want to play like that, then you have a path to show them the door.

My Guy Syndrome

Even without PVP, there are players out there who just want to be ornery, annoying, or aggressive. And who did it under the guise of 'character design.' Those people are generally falling under My Guy Syndrome, and this question helps to address that.

But what if it continues?

This is where things get tricky. If you've gotten through a session zero and dealt with My Guy but the problem persists, then you've got to sit down the player(s) 1:1 and discuss what's going on. It's possible that they weren't comfortable voicing concerns in the Session Zero as a group, but are willing to discuss it privately. This is more of a personality issue than a game issue, but they do blend together. And talking is how we generally resolve those issues. Give them a chance to explain why they are doing what they do and then try and work with them to create a game and character that everyone enjoys playing (all characters AND the DM.)

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In my campaigns, I like to implement a rule that all player-versus-player combat must be consensual. This means that both players have to agree out of game that their characters are going to fight. If either person doesn't wish to engage in PvP, then the PvP doesn't happen.

If two players are fighting, and one is having a blast while the other one is having a terrible time, then no net "fun-value" was gained from that interaction, and so nothing is lost by preventing it. If two players agreed to PvP and were both willing to accept the consequences, though, then (in theory) it adds "fun-value" and is worth spending time on.

For practicality's sake, here are the specifics of how I implement this rule:

  • No attack rolls or initiative rolls can be made until both players agree that their characters are going to fight.
  • A player can withdraw their consent (and thus end PvP) at the end of any round, before the next round begins.

I can think of a few creative ways to abuse these rules, but if someone consistently abuses the rules, other players will simply know not to PvP with them.

I like this rule, and I think it's a good way to stave off unnecessary out of game conflict, but ultimately I agree with guildsbounty and Dan B's answers. There's no room for a bully at the gaming table, and it's important that group-members don't have conflicting play styles.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While I agree with the general rule, I disagree with the specific implementation; those who can work together don't need the specific rules, and those tempted to abuse the system will easily work around them. It also doesn't address non-violent methods of PvP (ie inter-PC theft). \$\endgroup\$ – Danny Cuppen Mar 7 '18 at 6:54
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There is a social contract that exists for D&D - it sounds like one of your players is breaking it.

The contract is basically: we are all nerds, let's get along. Be nice to one another.

There is no problem with a PC murdering another PC, so long as it is part of the game (You killed my father! The bounty on your head was too high for me to resist.). PvP is generally only OK in an evil group, and only if all of the players involved are OK with it.

The problem here is one of your players does not like another player, and is bullying them.

Get rid of the bully, explain to them the social contract of D&D. Tell them what you think they are doing (bullying). Let them know that it is socially unacceptable, and they can either stop it or stop coming.

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Implement a Rule of Karma

For every bad thing that happens to your Bard from the players, as GM have something good happen to him. When your Barbarian acts up, give him a meaningful look and say "Ok, that's one" and make a point of showing the players you're writing something down. He does it again, say "Ok, that's two." These are Karma points your Bard is receiving.

As the game progresses, spend those Karma points to have something good happen to your Bard. "Hey, a treasure box. Bard, do you see anything you like? The Ring +2 looks nice. Ok, I'm spending two of your karma points. It is a Ring +2 that only works if you're a Bard."

If this doesn't fix it, put the points directly in your Bard's hands. "The Barbarian just evaded the blade trap by narrowly making his dex roll. Bard, would you like to spend a Karma point to force the Barbarian to reroll?"

Continue to up the voltage until the players get the point.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Attempting to resolve interpersonal issues with in-game rules...especially ones that allow players to antagonize each other or 'get revenge' on each other is going to cause a social explosion. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Mar 6 '18 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, maybe it's the group I game with. This would work with my crew. Start off with mild compensations for the antagonized player. Better treasure, permit them to make beneficial rerolls for their own character, that sort of thing. If that doesn't stop it, let them ding the other players back a bit for the abuse. Maybe I should have taken into consideration these are high-schoolers before I wrote this. My crew is a little more...seasoned, shall we say? \$\endgroup\$ – BoredBsee Mar 6 '18 at 21:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BoredBsee If you've had experience that this approach has worked with your group that would be really good to include in the post. It looks like plenty of stackizens are skeptical that this is a good approach, but your experience could teach us something valuable! \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Mar 6 '18 at 22:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, I've been playing RPGs since the early 80's. Same for most of my crew. I'd guess more experienced players would take to this approach better than high school aged players. I have seen pvp in high school get very heated - so yeah you guys, this advice may not be the best for this given instance. My group would love it, YMMV. \$\endgroup\$ – BoredBsee Mar 6 '18 at 23:40
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You can look into some implementations of such a rule in MMO games. The most advanced and complex (in good meaning) that I have ever found is in EVE Online, so here I offer you my vision of it (within my range of knowlege, I can miss some info).

All star systems (game zones or locations, as you prefer) have their constant Security Status in range from -1.0 to 1.0. By this parameter they are devided into 4 groups:

  • High Sec are from 0.5 to 1.0
  • Low Sec are from 0.1 to 0.4
  • Null Sec are from -0.9 to 0.0
  • W Space are always -1.0

If you attack anybody in High Sec system, you get a Criminal status (allowing anybody to attack you freely) and get a local security force after your head within 5-20 seconds (depending on SS in this system) from whom you have no legal ways to escape (and thus you do lose your ship without exception).

If you steal or attack somebody's belonging in High Sec or attack anybody in Low Sec, you get a Suspect status (allowing anybody to attack you freely, similar to Criminal) only.

Also if you start a fight (except against Suspect or Criminal) near jump gates (they transfer you from system to system), you trigger gate turrets (2-6) to attack you and inflict serious damage.

In Null Sec and W Space nobody cares what you do or what is done to you, you are on your own against everybody else.

Above that all, every player has their own Security Status from -10.0 to 5.0. Starting fights (except against Suspect or Criminal) lowers this value greatly (for sure in High and Low Sec, definetly not in W Space), grinding hostile NPC increases it slowly. If you have low enough SS (depending on current system's SS), gate turrets and NPC guards will attack you by default.

To conclude all mentioned above and to apply it to your game, I can say following:

  • if player attacks somebody in city or another safe zone, they gets not instant, but soon and inevitable payback from other players and local guards
  • if player attacks somebody in city surroundings, they for some time can be "called to peace" by other players without gurds' involvement even if they come into city
  • in wildlands everybody are for themselves. If a player is weak in pure combat, it is their party's duty to protect them from any threat (it is cooperative game, is it not?)
  • if player attacks others much, they gets city guards' "close attention" and "careful treatment" once appeared within vision range This rule set do not remove PvP from your game, but it makes players to think twice before they take such a risk as attacking others where they are not supposed to, and to lose something of a big value if they bite more than they can chew. What to call a safe zone and what to not is up to you.

I hope you can take something from this into your game to make every player happy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't seem all that relevant to a small group of like 5-6ish players where the DM desires to prevent PVP altogether between members of the party. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 7 '18 at 16:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Generally we ask that you have playtested homebrew content as a solution to the asker's problem (see this faq). This may work great in Eve, but how can we be sure it works here? \$\endgroup\$ – Conduit Mar 7 '18 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've removed that comment as rude/abusive. We expect tried and tested solutions, yes — you are welcome to contribute or not as you please however. Ttfn. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 7 '18 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Arctomachine Calling people names — you called someone “narrowminded” — is against our acceptable use policy here, and standard response to comments that violate terms of use is deletion. See the help center. Mods' jobs include enforcing policy. You now have two moderators informing you of the policy. As a new user here, we will make allowances for being unfamiliar, but we expect that once informed by a site mod it will be followed. Note that your next comment would not have been removed, except you included the insult “selfish” in violation our acceptable use policy. Please read the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 8 '18 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please read our rules. Your responses are doing your account damage because you appear to not have read the basic terms of engagement here. Among other things, the assumption of good faith is required by the rules. Explicitly saying you assumed bad intentions in you latest comment is yet another violation of our rules. These are not effective defenses of your actions as being acceptable, because you haven't read our rules yet. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 9 '18 at 15:37

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