8
\$\begingroup\$

Background

Up until recently, I ran a 5E game for five players: a sorcerer, two wizards, and two warlocks (all level 3 humans). All five are familiar with 5E. This is my first attempt at running an ongoing campaign (I would consider myself as a relatively new and inexperienced GM). In my homebrew setting, all magic had been outlawed due to a coup attempt on the crown about 20 years ago by the different academies and organizations devoted to magic. Everyone elected to play a spellcaster and in some way was working towards reshaping society's view on magic in order to convince them that it could be used for good - not just for evil - and should be made legal once more. This common motive helped to cement the five player characters, who were all strangers to each other (aside from the two wizards who were played by brothers in real life), together into a party with a united goal.

We had no formal session zero, but much of my intent was explained beforehand personally to each player. We also had a discussion of the major session zero expectations for about half an hour before kicking off the game. At the start, I let everyone know that I was running a game with a good mix of combat and roleplay, but that there would be a significant amount of political intrigue as time went on. Each warlock had their own patron's motives and requests to consider. The wizards were approached by an underground magic guild dedicated to supporting the casters that were actively trying to restore legal magic to the kingdom. The sorcerer was an operative of an organization from a neighboring, rival kingdom that was working to destabilize the first kingdom from the inside in hopes to weaken the forces of law that prohibited magic. None of the players nor the player characters knew the details of the others' involvement with these organizations/patrons.

In an attempt to make the campaign more personal in the early levels, I constructed goals or side quests for each of the four groups (wizards, warlock 1, warlock 2, sorcerer) in the form of tasks or quests. The wizards were to break a caster from the underground guild out of prison and smuggle him out of the city undetected. The first warlock was tasked to find an enchanted weapon (a rarity when magic is illegal) for his patron, and the second was tasked with slaying a magical monster (also a rarity). These all went over well with the group.

The sorcerer's side quest really caused problems with the group on both a character and a player level. The task given to the sorcerer by her organization (and by me as the GM to the player in secret) was to sabotage or destroy the contents of a caravan of supplies for the first kingdom.

The Problem

I communicated to the sorcerer's player that the goal of the mission was to sabotage or destroy the contents of a caravan, and to make it look like an accident if possible. The player turned around and communicated to the party that the sorcerer had received a task to sabotage, destroy, or ambush a caravan. Later, I gave more specific details about the size, contents, and guard detail to the sorcerer, who communicated that to the party as well. The warlocks responded neutrally, but the wizards both expressed that this was a bad idea. They, not knowing the sorcerer's backstory and only knowing the sorcerer's criminal background features, assumed that the organization the sorcerer was working for was criminal as well, and did not want to become criminals themselves by involving themselves in murdering a caravan full of guards (which is what they interpreted the mission as). The warlocks both said that they'd support the sorcerer and do the mission if the entire party went along with it, but didn't feel that it was a good idea otherwise.

As an aside, I designed this mission with a large number of guards in the caravan (which I communicated to the sorcerer's player) in order to encourage creative, non-combat approaches. I gave the players a good 4 to 5 days in-game and a couple of weeks out-of-game to come up with an approach to dealing with this, as well as an NPC recommending some locations on the road where it would be easiest to cause complications to the caravan.

One wizard's player responded very strongly, saying that their character would never involve themselves in something so criminal, and that to continue, the player would scrap his current character and make a Lawful Evil character so that everyone would be able to continue having fun and be able to agree to ambush and destroy the caravan. The player himself still didn't want to go through with the mission, but expressed that he was willing to look past that for the sake of the party and the game.

Simultaneously, the sorcerer's player expressed that since he wasn't receiving any support from the party and that since his character would never not attempt to do something her organization assigned to her (out of gratitude for getting her out of prison), he would also scrap his character and make a different character so that the party could move forward. I let the sorcerer's player know that if the mission wasn't completed, there wouldn't be very drastic consequences (giving him an out), but he insisted that his character would never abandon the mission.

Shortly after, the wizard's player expressed that playing in this campaign setting with such morally-ambiguous choices wasn't something he was comfortable with or enjoyed, as well as that he wasn't getting enough rest on the weekends when we played, and thus quit the game. The player's brother (the other wizard) also quit, mostly because his brother was the reason he was playing.

I was prepared to accept one or both players re-rolling new characters, but the wizard's player communicated that he had been considering quitting for a while, then decided to. I am still in the process of deciding whether or not the sorcerer's player will actually make a new character or not, now that half of the party is gone.

The Question

In short, two player characters cannot agree on a course of action, and are thus offering to re-roll new characters so that their motives can be more in line with the rest of the party's. I as a GM would like to avoid this if possible.

Numerous other issues aside, how might I be able to keep this situation (players unable to resolve their differing motives and reacting poorly) from happening again in the future, in a setting where the characters' motives might not align all the time, or might even be opposed?

Bonus question: What did I do wrong as a GM and how can I prevent it from happening in the future?

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/q/37103/43856 \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 20 '18 at 16:37
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Could you write a brief summary of the question, and only then describe the background? For now it is unclear why do you need to "handle" PC's motives at all. Usually it is up to the player. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jun 20 '18 at 17:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor I'm not sure what exactly you're asking for. Is the overall question unclear? \$\endgroup\$ – Viishnahn Jun 20 '18 at 17:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Viishnahn the description is basically a wall of text, there is no brief summary, and the title is vague. \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jun 20 '18 at 18:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ The long conversation that spawned here has been moved to chat at the prompt of some flags. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 20 '18 at 19:23
15
\$\begingroup\$

The thing done wrong was not accepting the re-roll offer

If the offer is still open, take the sorcerer and wizard players up on their offers to reroll characters if you want this game to go forward.

Why should I do this?

It appears that you were deliberately trying to create some intra-party friction (similar to how Adventurer's League uses Factions for organized play) and that this one mission was bound to create friction based on how you had set it up. Why you needed to get the friction to come to the surface early is unclear, but that's the side effect of the faction quests that you presented.

The other thing done wrong was not perceiving an expectations mismatch.

While I personally like what you were attempting to do insofar as role play is concerned, getting a party to work together with opposed motives is a tricky thing to pull off in this particular game. I've rarely seen it done well (it can be done). I've more often seen it kill off a party and a table.

One of the things you are working against whenever you try to do this is the fundamental structure of D&D 5e as a game. It's built as a team game where a group of people with different skills and talents together overcome challenges, solve puzzles, discover things, and take on adventures.

Most groups of PCs go through four phases: these phases of making an effective team are forming, storming, norming and performing. (Small group dynamics, 101) Your two brothers and three others set up is a classic example of this.

By your having inserted deliberate friction into the team this early on in the campaign, your team of PC's never got past the forming and storming phases. The disagreement on this mission was a reasonable prediction. The offer of "we'll roll up a new character" is as good a solution as you'll get if you want this to move forward.

That your players offered you this solution is a bright shining green traffic light: they recognize the expectations mismatch, and they are offering you a way to keep this campaign alive. Go with their suggestion!

Recommendation

Take them up on their offers! (That wizard and the sorcerer). Have them roll up two new characters so that this party can continue on in their adventures in your world. As DM, put in the work to help them fold their back story into your world so that it aligns with the general theme you already have, and that is mostly acceptable to your players so far.

What could I have done differently?

  1. Not create irresolvable character motives in the first place.

    The tension and conflict that you had within the campaign structure may work in writing a book, or a movie or a video game, where the author controls all characters and the narrative. It does not translate well to tabletop RPGs where other people control the protagonists (player characters). The sorcerer was, from your description, more or less maneuvered into a conflict with his new adventuring partners by authorial structural decisions.

    From a design perspective, the mission your sorcerer had would have been better assigned to an NPC whom the players meet/ally with due to something else. This would free up the team to accept, or not accept, participation as a team.

  2. The sorcerer's initial mission needed to be more attuned to the general team building that early adventures are meant to establish, rather than in direct conflict with team player goals.

    You mentioned in a comment that you were trying to pull off what Matt Mercer does (apparently) effortlessly. What Matt Mercer and his experienced group of players can pull off doesn't happen overnight. He's been at this for a while, and I'll also point out that the show Critical Role is first and foremost a show meant to entertain. It's not a primer on "How to DM 101." (Though I'd love to play at his table).

  3. As a new DM, it's simpler for you to begin a campaign with the basic structure in mind of "a team doing things" and as your players' team forms, storms, norms, and performs, you later introduce the topic of possible differences in player character goals. Crawl, walk, jog, trot, sprint.

  4. What you can try to do differently is make sure that you get all of your players to buy into what level of interpersonal tension or friction they can accept before you embark on the first adventure. Unless you get buy in from the players, the "I didn't sign up for this" reaction is predictable.

\$\endgroup\$
3
\$\begingroup\$

I would question the wizard in what about the mission that they found "something so criminal". Especially considering:

The wizards were to break a caster from the underground guild out of prison and smuggle him out of the city undetected.

And they had no issue performing this criminal act.

To me, it sounds like you set up the caravan scenario incorrectly.

Perhaps if the guild told the sorcerer that the supplies were "instruments of torture", or "used to weed out spell casters" it would be still seen by the party as a whole that they are all still working toward a common good. Also emphasize that the less bloodshed, the better. This is to look like a natural accident and if it looks like an ambush there would be too many questions and draw attention to the wrong people.

Now, once you have them hooked on the common goal, you are free to make the supplies whatever you want. It could be weapons, food, clothes, or even potions (why would a king that forbids magic be importing magic potions?). But the characters won't know until they try to sabotage the caravan.

It is in that moment that the characters can make their choices. Do they poison the food supply or let it go? "Accidentally" set fire to the clothes? What if the real thing being transported is a spy from the second kingdom? Or the daughter of the king? It would not be unusual for the rival kingdom to give misinformation for the players first mission to see if they can be trusted.

So away from the table, find out why the players balked at one crime but not another. If it is a matter of perception, then re-work the presented goal to be more agreeable.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your thoughts are great and well-received! Unfortunately, I've already discussed the entire mission with them as an attempt to mitigate the trust damage and fallout that resulted after that session. I'll consider your suggestions going forward though. \$\endgroup\$ – Viishnahn Jun 20 '18 at 17:39
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Can whoever down voted this, please explain why? Especially considering the questioner thought it was "great and well-received"... \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Jun 20 '18 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't vote either way, but I'll offer perspective on the part of the answer that does not help this problem. The confrontation about "you did this crime, why won't you do that one?" DM to Player. That misses two points: the two kingdoms are opposed and the wizard seems loyal to his homeland; the second crime has a different motif than the first. Arguing with the player over a player choice is easily seen as "DM vs Player" which makes this situation worse. "Players make choices" is a core RPG premise. Your points on how to better set up the robbery to fit story are excellent. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 22 '18 at 12:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast, per the question, no one "knew the details of the others' involvement with these organizations/patrons." So unless the sorcerer specifically called out their organization's reason, to undermine the first kingdom, I don't know if that plays a role. Additionally, the wizards, "did not want to become criminals themselves by involving themselves in murdering a caravan full of guards". So off table, the DM should ask the players why the non-violent mission was interpreted as a) deadly, and b) more criminal than a jail break to learn how to present things in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Jun 22 '18 at 16:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Miva, killing caravan guards and running a jail break are two different motifs and two different narratives, and I think that "getting into an argument with the wizards" for this particular problem may be what attracted a down vote, since the disgruntlement was already there. Arguing with them over their own in-character choices adds fuel to the fire. And as I said, and will repeat, I really like how you presented the better idea on how to set up the caravan raid. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 22 '18 at 16:14
3
\$\begingroup\$

I don't think this is as bad as it sounds

This sounds to me like my guy syndrome more than a problem with the campaign or backgrounds. You have people who are working towards the same goal (At least short term, and as far as the others in the group are aware), but their reasons for getting there are the source of conflict.

The problem you have is that they don't all know they are working towards the same goal, and the wizards assuming nefarious purpose.

Solution

Your sorcerer player can explain that they are working towards the same goal as the wizards, the relaxation on the laws of magic, and that this quest is part of that goal.

They then need to convince the wizards to trust that their masters know what they are doing, and that carrying out this mission will work in the wizards favour.

Maybe even convince the wizards that they cannot achieve their goals without the aid of the sorcerer and their nation.

The fact that the sorcerer is from a rival nation could be a sticking point, and depending on what you have already told the party may need some expansion, but the reason for the rivalry could be as simple as the other nation being reliant upon magic and thus the rivalry is natural. It doesn't have to be one kingdom intending to raze the other to the ground, and even if it is the sorcerer doesn't have to say that!

"My superiors want to get our great nations working together again so together we can stand strong against real or imagined external threat. This means working to remove the ban on magic and then diplomacy can resume"

It doesn't have to be true, just something the sorcerer uses to befriend the party. The extent of the lie can be revealed and explored later, once the party have more reason to stay together and have thoroughly bonded. At this point will the sorcerer betray his friends for his nation?!

Alternatively

It is a bit rich for the wizards to think that a prison break is fine but waylaying a caravan in a non-violent manner is a criminal act. Someone (In character or out) can call the wizards on it and they really should be able to reconcile the act somehow.

In this scenario they ignore the rival nation aspect because the acts themselves are not in conflict; I will help you if you help me etc.

Alternatively 2

The sorcerer could realise that the wizards and their plan is even more advantageous for their nation and report back that helping the wizards is the way forward (Even if a double cross is on the cards later due the the national rivalry). Their nation could then provide quests and information more in keeping with what the wizards will find acceptable.

Alternatively 3

One I just thought of for this edit is that the wizards could actually realise that the sorcerer is plotting the downfall of the nation and use their positions to find out about the rival nations plan. Then when their magic saves the nation from the plots of the sorcerer they will be national heroes and have a good platform to sell how good magic is.

In this scenario they would follow through with the minor plans in order to uncover more of the plot, and would help come up with plans that reduce the cost to loss of life.

Final note

This sounds like a wonderful world you have crafted and your players need to be trying hard to get into the heads of their characters and find reasons to convince each other to help, or at least find less reasons to object if they want to live in a world with the kind of intrigue you are implementing.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast thank you, I missed that critical bit of information (Long question)! I will edit something about it. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jun 21 '18 at 12:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh bravo on the edit. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 21 '18 at 13:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri Thanks for the insightful and helpful suggestions! I've already decided on a course of action and have discussed it over with the sorcerer's player (the sorcerer will be leaving the group in favor of a less antagonistic party member). Thank you for the words of encouragement, and I might just steal some of your ideas for future plot points :) \$\endgroup\$ – Viishnahn Jun 22 '18 at 1:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.