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I am asking this question because I don't think it has been answered by any of the linked questions, and I am on the verge of losing the player in question.

Background Information

We are playing a text-based game via Roll20. The game engine is D&D 5e and I have been adapting the Mystara campaign setting to run Tales From the Yawning Portal campaign (with many tweaks and additional plot themes). We are presently in the nation of Karameikos, which is based on medieval Eastern Europe.

I will refer to the players in question as Sean and Colin. Sean is the player who seems to resent Colin. Sean plays Matt Mercer's Gunslinger archetype for fighter (we'll call him Sig) and also dabbles in alchemy. He seems to want to be a sort of Rambo style combatant, but also is quite happy with heavy RP and engages quite readily in all manner of RP scenarios. Sig is stretched thin as he has attempted to do a little too much and I have worked with him to reel it in. His background is intended to be a sort of Street Urchin who happens to be a savant with mechanics who has just invented the first gun in Karameikos. Colin is a Battlemaster Fighter (Colt) from the noble background who is something like a Lawful Neutral Paladin - he has honor and a respect for the "peasants" beneath his station, but he does not flinch at dispatching evil creatures nor does he suffer fools. He is patient, but doesn't respond kindly to having his honor questioned.

Event Number 1

Early in the campaign, Colin took exception to the Sean's choice of the Gunslinger class. He brought up a host of issues with all of the minor tweaks I had made for Sean - I allowed Sean to have a nerfed version of a gun from level 1 - which he was not proficient in (the archetype grants proficiency). This was more for RP and has only served to make him weaker. Colin also had issues with our attempts to make the alchemy crafting system more robust by exploring various homebrew options. He felt that Sig was being given too much power (we were only experimenting the the ideas, not trying to instantiate them, but the argument happened anyway). We eventually reached a satisfactory compromise, but the argument took its toll as Colin is a very skilled arguer and is aggressive and persistent when he feels he is in the right. Sean, by contrast, is far more sensitive and looking to relax by playing the game. The intense nature of the discussion was too hostile for him and he took personal offense.

Event Number 2

The group attempted to make nice with some kobolds while Colt protested. He reasoned that kobolds are evil and would either backstab them or come back later to be a plague on the land. The party largely ignored him which led to him starting combat in the middle of the kobold throne room. They (miraculously) defeated ~20 kobolds while surrounded, and then an argument ensued. Sig lambasted Colt for nearly getting everyone killed with his rash decision, while Colt smugly defended his decision saying "We survived, didn't we?" The entire party thought this was great roleplay... Up until Sig openly provoked Colt by repeatedly insulting his honor and nobility. Colt tried to give him ways out of conflict by warning Sig that he was crossing the line. Finally, when Sig would not back down, Colt smashes his shield into Sig until I ruled he had a concussion. Colt barely missed him with his sword before the rest of the party peeled him off and separated the two of them.

Now, I feel that Sig's actions here were directly fueled by Sean's growing resentment from Event #1. I perceive Sean to be having a direct problem with a certain "smugness" that he detects in Colin, not Colt, and cannot find a way to let Colin just be Colin without taking it personally...

Event Number 3

Eventually the party moved on without resolving anything. I threw an encounter or two their way that distracted them enough to force them to work together. Sig has developed an inexplicable problem with the slaying of kobolds (he is Chaotic Neutral, and his background would point towards him being self-centered), and this caused another clash with Colt. They found the nearly vacant kobold town near the throne room where they slaughtered all the kobold combatants. All the kobolds had fled save for those too old to do so, and I conveyed that message pretty clearly. Colt made some threats to the elderly kobolds, though he didn't seem like he would follow up on them. Sig immediately begin antagonizing Colt again, berating him for threatening defenseless kobolds.

Meanwhile, a member of the party who had been exploring elsewhere found a "Beholder" (really a gas spore) and ran to get the rest of the party. Sig was actually so concerned with these petrified kobolds, that he stayed behind to try to console them, leaving the rest of the party to do battle with this "Beholder". Sig didn't speak draconic and could not really communicate with the kobold elders, and so basically twiddled his thumbs during the combat. Due to Sean being a novice player, Sig also got into some trouble (wandering off, getting KO'd for going ahead) that we have discussed and solved.

Following this session, the players discussed (in character) tactics for moving ahead because we had 4 KOs in one session from people going before the tank. This became a huge problem for Sean - he harped again on Colin being controlling (going back to Event #1), and smug (Event #2), and now feels that he can no longer play the game with Colin. Sig essentially went down the same road of insulting Colt's honor again for murdering an entire community of kobolds. Now we've left it off that if Sig doesn't redact his statements... Colt is probably going to execute him at the top of the next session, and I don't feel inclined to stop him.

IMO, Colt is being roleplayed very well and is doing exactly what he would do in this situation. Actually, he has been extremely patient for a noble, and so I think Colin has done an exemplary job of attempting to play fair and cooperate. Sean, on the other hand, seems bent on exacting some sort of retribution for what he feels is a slight against him and his creativity. I don't think he is accurately portraying Sig, as Sig would have grown up in a feudal system where openly railing against the ruling classes would have one branded as a traitor and promptly executed. Sig would have learned that if he truly had an issue with authority, he needs to be silent and wait for an opportunity to destabilize the system (especially since he is a rather intelligent character). But I hope by this point it is as clear to you as it is to me that this isn't about Sig; Sean is using Sig's outbursts to veil a personal attack against Colin.

Now, Sean is actually a very cool and creative person and is the only one in my group I have actually become personal friends with. I would hate to let him go, but he is forcing my hand at present. I have spent upwards of 8 hours coaching both of them in how to communicate more appropriately with each other and Colin has definitely improved. Sean however doesn't seem to be willing to acknowledge what he is really doing. He seems to be triggered by Colin's behavior. I find that this is far too complicated an issue for me to resolve in the course of a D&D campaign... If he is incapable of not taking another person's personality personally (try saying that three times fast), then I don't know what choice I really have.

The Other Three Players

To clarify, the other three have taken a hands-off approach to this. They enjoyed the kobold-slaughter-inspired back and forth between the characters but not the players.

From what I have heard and surmised, it is getting old now. The rest of the players don't want the game derailed by constant bickering. That said, they also seem to understand why Colt has taken the actions he has - his view as a noble is to protect the lands above ground from the threats below ground.

We decided that the real mistake was the party ignoring Colt's protests to befriending the kobolds. Essentially, Colin offered that, had the party attempted to persuade him to hear the kobolds out (whether to case the stronghold for later tactical assault, kill the dragon and drive the kobolds away, etc.), he would have had more of a reason to tag along.

The way it played out RP-wise was that he was literally saying "We shouldn't do this - kobolds are evil creatures. They will lie and deceive to accomplish whatever their goals. We have no way to trust them. This is a mistake!" And then, finally when the kobolds solicited the group to retrieve the white dragon wyrmling, his battle cry was: "$#%! it you naive fools!" and he shield bashed the nearest kobold guard. This is still considered the most epic battle cry, and brought us many laughs.

My questions are: Am I missing something here? Is there a different way I can approach this situation that might work better or actually yield a solution? I really don't want to lose this player, but I can't keep having these arguments surrounding my game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 11 '18 at 21:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have accepted an answer, as this led to the solution of the problem at hand. I will say, however, for all those reading this now and into the future: The real solution was to have my players read this post. They all came over here and read through everything and it has not only solved the issue at hand, but encouraged everyone to be more proactive. We are looking forward to have a strong group as a result. Next game Sig is going to be killed by Colt and become an epic plot device. A new character is being introduced immediately (happens to be the perfect place to do that...) Thanks all!! \$\endgroup\$ – Joshu's Mu Apr 13 '18 at 12:39
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This situation may not be saveable, but here's an option

Sometimes, personality conflicts can't be solved. This may or may not be such a case and I commend you for your efforts on trying to act as the healer.

Don't try to solo this one. Recruit allies; the other three players

Given what you have already tried, and that you are losing fun due to this constant friction, it is reasonable that you call on the other three players (not characters) in your group to step up and contribute to solving the problem. All six of you are in this together.

Two players with diverging expectations and a personality conflict

Between you describing a little bit of My Guy Syndrome for Colin, and a little bit of "I am so special" for Sean, and your comment observations that the other three players are alternately amused and concerned ... there may be more parties to this friction than just Sean and Colin.

  1. There are, in total, 5 players in the group. Aside from Sig and Colt, the party also consists of an illusionist wizard, a college of lore bard (who makes a very effective healer), and a pact of the blade warlock. Everyone else gets along and has been watching these events with a mix of amusement and concern.

  2. If I'm going to lose one player, it will definitely be Sean. I would like to limit answers to anything that would allow me to retain both. Sean is already teetering on the edge of leaving the group, so it would be easy enough to just let him go.

Ask the other three players to help you rather than just act as a Greek chorus for the drama being played out before them. In discussing solutions to this problem with these three players in an "away from the table" session:

  1. You need to be clear that you want them to help Sean integrate better with the group, since losing Sean is the problem you are trying to solve. (Your aim is to keep Sean in the group).

  2. You need to be clear that you have exhausted your people handling skills, and that you need their help in reaching Sean from a position of a peer, since your role as DM brings with it some possible "anti-authority" issues.

  3. You need to be clear that DM's are allowed to have fun to, and that this group dysfunction is harming your fun. If they find playing at your table to be fun, you are asking them to "help me help you."

  4. You need to be clear that they need to be honest with you: if they are happy to let Sean go, then they need to be clear about it, and be clear about it to Sean. If their amusement that you noted is generally at Sean's expense, this whole set up can regress toward a form of clique-based bullying. I am pretty sure that you don't want that to happen.

  5. If they are interested in keeping the whole party together, then as players appeal to them to comment, rather than to just watch, when the see tension building up and to act to divert or preclude a player-on-player confrontation. Don't just sit there and take enjoyment in the other two getting into it again. The point is to defuse a budding player-on-player event.

Bottom Line

There are more peoples' fun at stake than just one: it's the fun of all six that is at stake. Appeal to them as stakeholders in the fun for a contribution to the effort, or, if point 4's answer is "we can play this without Sean, he's a pain" then that leads to a serial encounter. If Sean is that incompatible with this group, the group as a whole needs to be honest with him. Dumping this all in your lap is hardly decent, insofar as group dynamics is concerned.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate this answer and it is an avenue that I will now pursue. To clarify - when I say amusement, I mean that they are amused with Colt attempting to kill Sig because of his loud mouth. They are concerned (and perhaps even a little disturbed) by the confrontations between Sean and Colin. The in-game manifestations are great roleplay and very compelling story; it is the player confrontations that are bringing everyone down. In the end, I have shouldered this burden in an attempt to let everyone keep having fun. I will bring everyone in now and see what happens. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshu's Mu Apr 11 '18 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I hope this works out; I really dislike it when stuff like this happens at a table. (Seen it from both sides of the screen). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 11 '18 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @joshusmu You may be able to use the private message feature of Roll20 for the you and three player discussions. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 11 '18 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ The reason that this is not an option is that the other three players are rarely on. Sean and Colin are on every day posting to the forum and PMing me. I made a forum post and am summarizing various pieces of the argument as well as some of the answers here so that when the other three log on they have all the resources they need to form an informed opinion and help me reach a resolution as a team. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshu's Mu Apr 11 '18 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @joshusmu That's why I asked in a comment. How do you usually communicate with the other three? Email? Voice? Chat? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 11 '18 at 17:48
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This is Hard. It is really difficult to resolve intra-Party issues, and I don't envy this situation

Based on what I've read, I'm going to try to pinpoint some potential issues that seem to be occurring

Colin

  1. He's roleplaying too-deep (My Guy Syndrome) and seems to have a disturbing affinity for Combat as a solution to everything (Murderhobo)
  2. He seems to want to be the dominant figure in the party who decides what it does. This is evidenced by his breaking with the party's decision and slaughtering the Kobolds and his offense to Sean getting what he thought was "special treatment."
  3. The way he's Roleplaying Lawful Neutral... isn't. While alignment is a very opinionated topic with a lot of controversy, something that can be agreed upon is that Murder, especially Murder based-on perceptions of Race, is something that is definitely Evil. I would have ruled that Colt could take that action, but only with the consequence of an Alignment shift to Lawful Evil, and the rest of the Party would know it.

Sean

  1. Sean seems to want to be kinda special. This isn't a bad thing, but it provoked a fight with Colin that directly contributed to the next point:
  2. Sean seems to resent Colin's domineering character, and not knowing how to deal with that, is letting it break the game dynamic.

It's important to acknowledge that neither is in the right here.

Colin is imposing a domineering control over the Party, while Sean is letting his frustrations about this, and his resentment of Colin as a person, ruin the game for other players. Of course, this could all be fine with them.

Colin is breaking the unspoken rule of inter-Party Trust by violently attacking a Party member, and it seems like Sean has attacked Colin as a person. These are all bad things, and can't be condoned.

The Solution

Really, this problem can't be solved without the other player's input, because One-on-One has proven to be ineffective. Now, I don't know your party, but I would recommend calling a meeting. Give both Sean and Colin one minute maximum (time them, and cut them off when the time is up) to air their feelings, and then let the rest of the group talk about it while both Colin and Sean remain silent. Don't restrict the others to one minute: Colin and Sean have twisted the game to give themselves plenty of "air time" for their conflict, it's time for the other members to have a say.

Colin might find that the Party doesn't like being dominated and dragged and into conflict by Colt, and Sean might find that the Party resents Sig always starting a fight with Colt.

Then you take your turn to speak and air your opinions. Talk about how this is breaking the Tabletop Dynamic and ruining the game. Talk about how the player's role is not to drag the Party around (looking at Colin). Tell them that, if they have differences, they can settle them elsewhere (looking at Sean). And tell them that you won't tolerate this behavior any more in the future.

If they still keep fighting, then you will have to resort to drastic measures. You might have to kick someone or both of them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I don't know that I agree with Colin engaging in MGS, as I have stated in a comment on my question, I think that this post accurately summarizes the main transgressions on both sides of the argument. I think I may present a paraphrased version of this synopsis to the party in an attempt to bring everyone in with a full understanding of the issues at hand and the language to discuss it. Naming the problems is an important part of solving them... \$\endgroup\$ – Joshu's Mu Apr 11 '18 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ A single episode of killing kobolds is not genocide, but I very much appreciate your point on the murder-hoboism on display for that episode. Thing is, you are imbedding some assumptions into this analysis. (Easy for any of us to do) We really don't know how the rest of the party is reacting since we are only getting the story of Colin and Sean. It may be that the other three are fine with what Colin is up to; or they are not fine with it and have not yet found their voice. Not enough detail to be sure. As with my answer, I agree with your "get the other three involved" approach. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 11 '18 at 17:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I said "genocide" because I didn't really have a concise word for "killing a group of people based on crimes associated with their race," which is listed as a War Crime under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and is pretty-close to Genocide on the spectrum. And I'm not the sort to allow War Crimes as any but Evil behavior. \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Apr 11 '18 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeraphsWrath An adventuring party is like a small urban gang. They can commit a lot of murder, even racially motivated murder, but genocide takes an operation of a much larger scale. Sorry about going off topic with this, done. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 11 '18 at 18:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think I agree with Colin being "My Guy" or a "Murder Hobo". I think his restraint from killing Kobold elders is, at the very least, an admittance that perhaps his character went too far in the throne room. It doesn't sound like it's in his character to suffer a kobold to live, and yet he restrained himself and simply threatened the elders. Maybe he committed murderhobo actions, but he seems aware of it as a player, especially post-conflict. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov May 30 '18 at 21:18
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Your problem actually sounds like two problems to me.

Party Incompatibility

I have had a few instances where a player has desired to make and play an evil character. I won't prohibit it, but I make it clear to them that it will lead to an inevitable party implosion. We then survey the other players and decide if we're okay forcing that upon them, and have thus far always landed on no. With the right player makeup, it could be not only okay but even fun for the party to split down the middle and duke it out to the death. But in most campaigns I've played in, people get pretty attached to their characters, and there would be a lot of sour grapes in dying to another PC. I haven't found the right group to let try this yet, but it'll be exciting when I do.

Your problem sounds a lot like this one. Alignments/classes aside, you have one character that is inherently open to dealing with the devil and/or giving evil a chance to show it can be good, and one who is opening the Monster Manual, seeing "Alignment = Evil", and justifying his desire to kill it. I would argue strongly that neither approach is wrong, but it's a fundamental clash, they are incompatible. Just as with mixing good and evil, they can find some common goals and coexist for a while, but inevitably there can only be one. These characters, the way they are being played, are doomed to duke it out. Solutions include "ending" the campaign and retiring some/all characters, creating some event so that the party can naturally split and allowing your players to all make a second character for the now-split party to meet along these new paths, or just letting the fight to the death happen.

Player Reasons for Playing Differ

I obviously don't know these two people but can say with a great deal of confidence that they aren't sitting down at the table for the same reasons. Sean sees DnD as an outlet for his creativity. The books and the rules and the structure is all fine and well, but he wants to be what he wants to be, and isn't going to let what's printed in the PHB restrain him. Colin sees DnD as the most flexible game on the planet. He enjoys solving puzzles and dealing with unique situations and appreciates that he can do whatever he wants and the DM will rule on it, but ultimately he still sees it as a game. If he opens up the PHB to page 272 and sights "Rope Trick - up to 60 feet long" he fully expects the rope to be 60 feet long or less... to hand-wave that someone cast it on a 75 foot rope is unfair and unbalanced and detrimental to his experience. He wants to win fair and square, not because his DM let the party bend the rules.

Like many areas in DnD, I would argue neither attitude is "correct". This silly thing we do is purely for fun: there are no winners and losers in RPGs, just compelling stories and enjoyable moments. Remembering this and recognizing what is fun to your individual players will go a long way toward improving this, and every group dynamic.

My Suggestion

Have your group literally read this response to your question. See if they agree with my assessment. If so, allow everything I've said to diffuse the tension - nobody is in the wrong, you're just trying to get different things out of the same game and it's not meshing very well. Then chat among yourselves. See if you can find a homebrew that doesn't stifle Sean's creativity. If Colin finds it terribly unbalanced, give his paladin a +2 Greatsword heirloom he inherited from his grandfather to balance things out. Or maybe Sean could be persuaded to play a Wizard and see how creative he can get with Prestidigitation with the promise that a Wand of Wonder will appear somewhere in the campaign. Or, maybe, you don't come to a place where you think all three of you would be having fun, and that's okay. DnD appeals to millions of people for billions of reasons; if your reasons don't happen to overlap, then they don't overlap.

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That is tough. You have some interesting dynamics there and I feel like it's probably at the point of a no-win situation.

Sean might just have too much of a grudge against Colin at this point. I would probably talk with Sean at this point and ask him if he has an issue with Colin because it's coming through in the role playing. I'd talk about it in the context of everyone having fun, and that your perception is causing you to have less fun. This is about your perception of things, and isn't immediately about Sean and Colin, because they "might" be having fun with it.

If you've already done this, you don't have a ton of options from what I can tell. You've talked about talking with them and coaching them. I think the only thing I'd do in the future is when you have the first issue, which is an out of game/above the table issue, I'd set the guidelines, probably in the first session or ideally a session 0, say that homebrew is allowed, this will then set-up the expectation immediately. Also, it'll set the groundwork that as the DM you are the one who makes this ultimate decision.

Finally, I'd also set-up in session 0, in the future, that discussions/issues with rules, homebrew, etc. happen with you outside of the game. If there's an issue with another player, another idea, a rule, or something that is homebrewed, it is brought up to you and you only first, and you'll handle it, because that's part of your job as the DM. At this point in time, it might be too far gone and you might have to drop a player, but if you haven't set out some of these guidelines, do a mid game session 0 just to get everything on the table.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with your sentiments. A couple of points here: Sean and Colin are not having fun with the arguments. Colin is bewildered as to why there's an issue, and Sean is getting so stressed out he wants to quit playing. I actually did lay out ground rules in session 0 for homebrew - Colin was arguing about balance and the like, which we eventually resolved. And I had to repeat to Colin, probably about six or seven times, that while I don't consider myself a dictator, I do have the final say on what goes in the game world. Again, he eventually reigned himself in, which is all I can ask for. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshu's Mu Apr 11 '18 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, at that point in time, it seems like you've covered your bases and laid down the law, it's probably an unfortunate situation for you where you may need to drop a player. \$\endgroup\$ – The Scando Apr 11 '18 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ This was my conclusion as well. I was just really hoping that someone would have a magical solution that would resolve the situation. I have a lot of experience in moderating arguments and certainly possess empathy (probably too much), so my hopes weren't high. I still think Sean is a great person and even a wonderful player; he just doesn't seem to be able to let go of the past transgression that he perceives Colin as having committed. It's a shame. \$\endgroup\$ – Joshu's Mu Apr 11 '18 at 15:12

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