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I am the GM of a group of 5 players, I know them as I usually play other games with them. Here is the composition of the group:

  • a Barbarian (B)
  • a Paladin who worships Tyr (P)
  • a Rogue (R)
  • a Cleric who worships Kelemvor (C)
  • a Warrior (W).

The characters are all humans.

In this campaign, they do not know their past, nor each other or why they were summoned. After some exposition, they learned that they have to cooperate to escort a VIP somewhere. In the first night of their trip, I prepared a small encounter disguised as a barfight.

So here is how it played out

A drunk guy blamed B for spilling his beer (even if she did not). W tried to calm things but B wanted to slap the drunk dude. R caught her before touching him, and the drunk dude lunged and engaged the fight. P and R decided to keep the VIP safe and watch the scene from afar. B just punched the dude directly. W then took the drunk by the collar and proceeded to take the guy out of the place, but B kept attacking him even as he was already held by W and put him to 1hp (I played it out as being unconscious). C stayed on his chair the whole time drinking his beer, until another drunktard attacked B with a stool. For hitting his friend, C used a cantrip twice (sacred flames) on him, and B entered a Rage and put the second drunk into negative hp, thus making him roll for death saves. R rushed to save the dying guy and I ended the session after P, R and W asked themselves if they should leave the other two for such behavior.

P asked me if she could go to the nearest guard to denounce the attempted murder.

Now, on the first session, I have two people who might be abandoned for their murderous intents and even jail time for B.

How can I get to make them cooperate or just tolerate each other?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like C, and that might have been me in this scene were I in your group. But in a bar he'd not have used Sacred flame, but rather more likely a grapple or a command to send someone fleeing .... however, your question "how to keep players working together" does not seem to fit your problem. They never started working together in the first place. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 18 at 19:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this is relevant to the question, but just for completeness, is your "Warrior" a Fighter? There's no Warrior class in 5e. \$\endgroup\$ – DM_with_secrets May 19 at 12:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Aliases (Bob) or full words (Barbarian) are easier to read than single letters (B). \$\endgroup\$ – raithyn May 19 at 14:43
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Have you just asked?

Gauging and setting expectations is an important thing to do for your game, especially right at the start. Before they even create their characters, I usually give my players a little heads-up like this:

This will be a game about a group of heroic characters performing heroic feats for gold, glory and benefit of the world they inhabit. When you create your characters, bear this in mind: your characters should be eager to adventure and willing to stick together. Since they're heroes, they'll also be stronger than the average member of the society. Feel free to stretch these as much as you like, but this is how I expect the characters to be played out ultimately. If you make a character who hates everything, it's on you to come up with why they don't hate working with the rest of the group.

or some variation thereof that matches the desired experience. And it works, because people will generally try to participate in group fun well, and letting them know what is the expected behavior makes it easier especially for beginners who may have a very chaotic view on the hobby based mainly on exaggerated memes.

The Same Page Tool is a popular list of discussion-starters for agreeing on these types of issues before the game. Personally, I recommend frequent around-the-table discussions about the expectations and wishes surrounding the game, because the preferences of the group may drift from what they feel before the game starts.

Setting the tone and expectations is something we usually do prior to even creating characters, because it's much easier to create a convincing and fun character when one knows what is expected of them, and likewise avoid characters they'd struggle to role-play in ways that would mesh badly with the rest of the group.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes! "You meet each other in a bar" is a great way to start a Player vs player fight. "You're each hired as guards to protect a caravan" provides them with motivation to cooperate from the get-go. \$\endgroup\$ – Mooing Duck May 18 at 23:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for this answer. This kind of thing can also be done after Session 0, but its harder. One of my players f.e. just made an edgy loner character without my knowledge (she was claimed to be sassy and a rogue) and I messaged her after the first session about the importance of buy-in, that she should work towards attaching the character to the rest of the group and I would be happy to work something out with her. Changing characters is a possibility, as are re-dos or worst case making different characters. \$\endgroup\$ – psycoatde May 19 at 8:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 For referencing the Same Page Tool. I use this with every campaign I start, sometimes even when I'm not DM. \$\endgroup\$ – Izzy May 19 at 13:23
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The existing answers suggest getting your players on the same page before a campaign, which is great advice, but I think you can work with the current situation in your campaign; it's the first session, everyone's still getting a feel for their characters and the tone of the campaign, something like this doesn't seem out of the ordinary.

Use your VIP as campaign glue

See the Angry GM's article "Glue: The Binds that Tie Your Campaign Together". It's mainly focused on campaign structure and continuity, but the strategies listed toward the end under the heading "The Right Glue for Your Project" seem like they could help you move forward with this campaign.

By what you've described you already have the strongest type of glue set up, a common goal for your party. If I were the VIP expecting to be protected by this band of adventurers I would be upset that they've put me in a dangerous situation so quickly, but also that half the party is considering selling out the other half over a personal disagreement. Before the party does anything drastic it might help to remind them they have something they've all agreed to work towards - again, this is early days for the campaign, sometimes this stuff slips players' memories. Feel free to give this reminder as the VIP himself or straight up as the GM.

Another strategy the article suggests is an external employer or organization which provides external behavioural guidelines. This also looks like something you already have in whoever gave the party this escort job; use it! Someone who hires bodyguards may feel entitled to a certain level of professionalism for their money, and can set boundaries on what they allow the party to do or, worst case scenario, threaten to take their business elsewhere.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I really hate that linked article, but you beat me by 10 minutes to the good part -- they still have a job to do. A paying job. \$\endgroup\$ – Owen Reynolds May 19 at 2:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 19 at 5:25
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Ideally, Before The Game Starts

A lot of the heavy lifting of getting players and their characters to work together in a 5e game is done before the game really, formally starts. Four common tools and techniques for this are:

  1. Holding a Session Zero, which is a GM-directed discussion about the expectations of a game, before the game starts, and often before you the GM have finally decided on exactly what time of game you'll run. Two good links include this question and its answers, and this other question and its answers.

  2. The Same-Page tool which is a slightly more formalized way to go about the same process. (The link is to another good Q/A on this site, but contains the link to the original Same-Page tool within it.)

    I personally prefer the first, more free-form but GM-directed discussion approach to the Same-Page tool, but they are both very popular.

  3. A separate, widely-used technique is to guide the players through the character creation process, and insist that they form characters who can tolerate each other, have reasons to work with each other, and ideally know each other. (For a group this size, I usually mandate that each character know at least one, preferably two of the other character, and every character should be connected to every other character through those relationship links. I.e., not a group of two character, none of whom know any of the other group of three characters.)

  4. Presenting a unified threat to all the characters. This is the only one that can be introduced after the game starts without any difficulty.

Unfortunately, It's A Little Late

Three of those four tools and techniques are best applied before the game starts. Of them, the one most suited to happening after the game starts is the Session Zero, although it will be misnamed because it is coming after your Session One. But it can still help. The Same-Page tool, in my experience, is a little less useful after the fact, but you can still give it a try.

Note that in both cases, you may run into problems where one or more of the players may need to change their character concept because it no longer fits with what was retroactively decided-- these players are not likely to be thrilled, but some players are amendable to this if it happens early enough in the game, before they get attached to the character.

Note that there are also at least two ways to look at your problem: It's a problem that your characters are not backing each other up and/or are taking wildly different approaches to their task. It's also often (but not always) a problem for a GM to have one or more murderous cretins in the party, as the barbarian is in danger of becoming. Best to think through where you stand on both of those issues.

The third tool, weaving the backgrounds together, is difficult after the game has started, and is restricted to things like having NPCs in common. ("Wait, you know Thunder Thorsson? Thunder Thorsson is my brother-in-law!") And it's slow to build up without the active participation of the players.

The fourth tool, a unified threat, is the only one on that list that can really be introduced after the game starts without undue difficulty. (A random bar fight is not a unified threat.) In this case, the obvious unified threat would be a concerted attack on the VIP NPC. But sometimes this can fail dramatically if the PCs still have wildly divergent approaches to handling the threat or are more invested in bickering with each other.

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In this case, railroad them. Have the VIP's assistant ream them out: She'd fire you morons if it was her decision, but the VIP doesn't like changes and considers you all a package deal. So clean up your mess, make nice, and if there's any more trouble you're all fired. You'll have to pay back the advance, and the bar damage, and the assault charges she got dropped -- they'll be back on. Any of you idiots have a problem with that?

New characters always feel weird. Like you want to walk up and say "I'm a player character. I somehow sense you are too, We've never met, but we should trust either other with our lives!" They're strangers, so they're acting like strangers. They're messing with you a little, as well, breaking your plot to see how you'll fix it. It's your job to give an in-game reason why they have to stay together. As you wrote, they already know they want to play together. It's not a problem with the actual players.

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Are they really not working together?

I mean it was a bar fight, not a huge threat to life and the mission.

Two people stayed on the VIP they were there to guard. Good, that was their job.

The others dealt with the bar fight and were never in any danger so they did what you'd hired them to do!

Honestly if you want your characters to bond together the problem wasn't the characters. It was the encounter.

Give them an encounter that threatens them all - and they'll all respond.

Do that a few times and they'll get used to working together.

But what do you do now?

Let them play it out.

The Paladin denounces them for murder. The city guard just laugh. "Two drunks decided to pick a fight with a bunch of adventurers? Bloody idiots are lucky to be alive. We'll throw them in a cell to sleep it off".

And then before things can get any more heated between them give them an urgent reason to work together.

Have a real attempt to assassinate the VIP. Or have it revealed that the drunks were actually evil cultists creating a diversion or whatever you need to urgently give that paladin a chance to move on to other things.

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Why did this happen?

When approaching this kind of situation, I like to think about why the problem occurred, before thinking about solutions.

  • B was attacked and kept hitting the threat. Then a new threat appeared and B fought them too. From their perspective, it's better to expend a rage now to conserve HP, and maybe they just like fighting.
  • W and R initially attempted to defuse the fight, and when that failed they decided to wait it out with P and the VIP. They didn't feel there was a threat, and they weren't particularly involved in the fight. R then rushed back to save the NPC.
  • C was passive, but once they sensed a threat cast some cantrips.

It seems to me that since the threat was only to some members of the party, other members didn't think it was a big deal. Players may have rightly judged that they wouldn't have been able to defuse the situation, and so direct action or complete apathy was needed.

Since this is the beginning of the game, you can't expect players to jump in to defend each other and act tight-knit, because they aren't. Every player basically acts on their own best interests. It didn't benefit P/W/R to jump into the fight, and now they don't think B and C are beneficial at all.

What can be done?

I think tackling that self-interest directly will benefit your party the most. If this was a movie, B and C would be kicked out of the party (C would be mad at B for this), while P, W, and R continue the mission. The trio would then run into trouble, too many goblins for them to handle, only to be saved by B and C. This would teach them the value of B and C. This would teach them that if B gets into a fight, they need to be proactive about defusing it.

However, this isn't a movie, and party splits usually aren't fun. But you can utilize the lessons learned.

Suggestions

In order to mature self-interest into party-interest, you need to give appropriate incentives and threats.

  • Make it advantageous to stick together. Have the city guard look for the party, they had been seen together so they are hunted as one. P/W/R will be hunted regardless.
  • Create some challenges where B and C can really shine, this will highlight the value of them in the party. You want P/W/R to think "we can't abandon these two, we need them!"
  • Particularly, cultivate interpersonal relationships between characters. C already tried to protect B. If the characters feel closer, then this behavior will be more common. Give your players opportunities to build bridges.
    • Avoid putting players in positions that encourage them not to work together. In your original situation, only B was attacked. While B could have handled this in many other ways, the rest of the party basically opted to do nothing. Next time have a gang of ruffians attack the whole party.

Things that I do not suggest

Often when we GMs have problems, there's a desire to fix them by telling the players to do things differently. We have a vision for how the game should be played, and if it isn't followed, then that is wrong! However, I don't think this leads anywhere good. B acted that way because of the situation they were in, and P/W/R did the best they could too. For most people, doing the best they can is the most fun. Telling them to act sub-optimally or to do things that aren't fun for them doesn't usually give people good feelings.

This problem is about ingame PCs making choices in the situations you created for them, not about players not getting along. Solving ingame problems with metagame solutions generally sucks.

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The main problem at the very beginning of the game is players will be very alien to the world and events around them.

They are like humans taken from earth and teleported to a bar on mars. They do not know the inhabitants, their ethics and their attitudes against foreigners. They do not know what to do at all.

Second problem is; just skip the rest of the party, they even do not know themselves. What kind of a charater is he/she plays? This problem is more on morale and behaviour than statistics of their character.

There are some good examples and solutios above, I just skip them an tell one of my ways to band the party togehter; The DM Itervention

I used to play the very beginning of the game as half game/half cinematic. At some parts of the firtst game, as a DM, I just intervene the game and roleplay some critical parts of that session as players characters.

The players knows this is like a cinematic. Things happened to characters when I intervene are things that should be happen for the story to start. They will not be responsible for the acts of their characters when DM intervenes. This way they got a glimpse of how the story should start and what their characters expected to do (doing the expected left to the players though). Also they had some idea about the other PCs and the surrounding world.

Also the player interaction with thier surrounding is limited and they may not achieve success in some actions which they will handle so easily.

One of my game start of a few year ago campaign is like:

The players wake up in a prison cell. There are 5 PCs + 2 NPCs in their cell. A heavy smell of incense covered the whole area making them dizzy and weak. PCs came from different towns and places and they do not know each other.

Players try to bend bars or cast spells but soon understands the incense make them dizzy and cause failure in their attempts. One of the NPCs may give idea of ther weakness if required

The guards come to take them and walked them through the corridorrs to the outside

If any of PCs may try to fight gurads or try to take their weapons, one of the NPCs will act with them too, who is then be killed by the guards. The players realize that the gurads are not easy bite and they are so dizzy beacuse of the incense. some PCs may have some minor injuries but that will not cost them more than a few HP. It as impossible to do anything against the guards for now.

They are taken to a garden like open space. There is a big fire pit at the centre and they see some dead bodies around the fire! The incense is also rising from this fire pit. There is a group of clerics chanting, dressed in dark colors, wearing a symbol they do not know. Then they recognize there are 6 more prisoners on thier knees, hold by clerics. A new chant started and blades appear at the hands of the clerics, slashing the throats of the victims. A taller cleric at the centre raise his vioce and pray for his god. The PCs had the feeling the last part of the chant is beginning.

The players are still dizzy and unable to think or focus. If any player wants to do something, then the DM tells he knows he should do something but he neither have the strength nor the consciousness to do so.

The clerics move the PCs and NPCs (ones who came with them). The remianing NPCs try to struggle or run and the clerics kill them too. There are now only the clerics + PCs + 1 NPC (they do not know). The clerics move them to the pit and raise their blades.

The PCs are still dizzy and do not have the full control of their characters.

They see the last NPC raise her voice and chant to her (good aligned) god. A strong wind blows and the incence smoke is dispersed while the PCs feel their heads got clear and they regain their full strength. The fighter/warrior/barbarian (or one suitable PC) of the group takes the knife from his capturer and frees himself. Knocking his guard and run to help other PCs. They struggle with guards and all PCs got free. Then they realize the evil clerics are fighting with the NPC cleric. The NPC cleric shouts to the PCs that the ritual is broken and it should start from the beginning. The Evil Cleric leader kills the NPC cleric but also got wounded and escapes from the ritual area using his spells.

At this point, the players gain the full control of their characters! Now they shoud find a way to escapse from this wicked place, finds out who the cleric is and what he tries to do and what to do to stop him.

Some key points about the game start is:

  • There is no NPC alive around so they may use teleport to escape.
  • They have not see any other person alive in the corridors, so they do not have to enter the prison to check if is there anybody alive. But they can check the place if they want. (Good aligned characters like Paladin may want to check)
  • They are sure the evil Cleric leader escapes somehere else because he is wounded and will not risk his life by hiding in the prison.
  • They are now in full strength. But for escaping the place and finding out what is happening and stopping the evil cleric, they need different abilities. Making the players feel this during the cinematic session will help the party bond easier.
  • Deciding to escape or search for other prisoners, or how to escape this place will help each player learn more about the other PCs. This way the players will have an idea about the behaviour and ethics of other PCs.

The Player Reactions: Phe players know this part is just the prologue of the game. There is no harsh action done by PCs while they are under the control of the DM. (Like paladin acts against his beliefs etc). This was a good way to start the game and bond the party for them too.

On the other hand, this is a good way to introduce the players to the game. The “party meets at the tavern and (somehow) be freinds and aggrees to travel together” part is handled automatically. Also the players did not have any problem in taking the quest in the right way and act as expected. This is important, because the quest should start somehow and incidents that would fail to start the quest should be discarded. What happens if Frodo denies to carry the ring to Mordor? The party should accept the quest. Then the way how they will act is up to them.

Also being in a such situation motives palayers to act together with other PCs they do not know because they are all in the same boat!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer would be better if you added something about how your players reacted to this situation - for example, were they all happy with the way you ran this? Were any of them frustrated that they couldn't intervene earlier? Did the PCs work well together afterwards? \$\endgroup\$ – DM_with_secrets May 19 at 12:00

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