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I feel like my players often self sabotage. Often we'll experience moments where the session will come to a complete pause as the player characters argue over what to do. At this point I've started to keep the events of the session going as their player characters are arguing and this usually puts them in a bad spot. For example their PCs start arguing loudly to one another in a forest full of enemies that can now locate them since they couldn't be quiet. My players get along outside of game just fine they tell me they get frustrated too but their PCs view one another with grudges so they can't just agree, it would be out of character.

When I step in I'm ignored, and one of my players gets so fed up with it they leave their party to go off on their own.

This creates all sorts of conflicts because as DM I will now be creating two different paths that require me to go back and forth between groups. Which leads to lots of pauses as we switch back and forth.

I've tried campfire sessions. Sessions where they are forced to rely on one another. I've pitted them against a large common enemy and placed them in fun situations to try and build friendship.

I feel like I'm running out of options and ideas.

Being more assertive seems counterproductive but I get ignored if I am not. And the players don't appreciate being thrown into events created to try to build their support with one another. They just freeze up and get quiet.

Anyone have some ideas or suggestions?


To clarify further the problem is that the players hate the in game arguing that occurs between their characters. Not only does it sabotage their plans in game and lead to indecision but it makes them supremely unhappy. They are not enjoying it as part of the roleplaying experience they get frustrated with themselves, each other, the DM, and the game. This often sours the whole session for them which is why I am asking for advice on the best way to help them and why I actively try to derail the pc arguments in game by continuing narration.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are the characters arguing because they have in-character disagreements about what to do, or are these really out-of-character arguments between the players themselves? \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Nov 8 '20 at 23:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry for the lack of clarirication and thank you for asking! Its in character disagreements. Out of character they're just fine with one another. They made characters with very differing personalities that grate on one another. We have two very chaotics and 3 non chaotics. \$\endgroup\$ – Ara Nov 9 '20 at 1:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is the character generation process that yields these "incompatible characters" done in isolation or does the group as a whole create their characters knowing what others will be playing? (The quotation marks are because I think this question may apply here as well as maybe this one, but I can't be sure without more information.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Nov 9 '20 at 2:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ IMHO, you're giving in to the players. If one goes to form a new group, tell him that you can communicate with him by email, and let him know what is happening with his character. You're one gm, don't let them split you in two. If the area is dangerous, then the character going off alone is in a lot of, well, danger. \$\endgroup\$ – NomadMaker Nov 9 '20 at 18:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/73841/… \$\endgroup\$ – minnmass Nov 19 '20 at 2:34
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You've written:

Often we'll experience moments where the session will come to a complete pause as the player characters argue over what to do.

and then:

At this point I've started to continue the events as they're arguing and this usually puts them in a bad way.

My first recommendation is: don't "continue the events while they're arguing". If your group is under pressure and you narrate that they stop solving the problem in order to have a loud noticeable argument, that's not self-sabotage; that's DM sabotage.

(If the players turned to you and made it clear that their argument was happening in-world and was causing them to fail the adventure, you'd be forced to narrate that. But it sounds like your group isn't trying to deliberately fail the adventure, so probably they'd be happy to not have that happen.)

Instead, step in and force them to end the argument by choosing a plan.

Here's what I do for this. I say: "Okay, we're going to go once around the table and everyone's going to say what their plan is. Then we're going to go around the table again and everyone's going to raise their hand for each plan they approve of. The plan that gets the most votes is the one we do. DM breaks ties."

That seems to work pretty well for my groups.

The more general principle is the following: "Don't use DM power to punish your players for playing the game in the wrong way. If you have to use DM power, use it to make your players play the game in the right way. Everyone will have more fun."


Also, you've written:

their PCs view one another with grudges so they can't just agree, it would be out of character

and this suggests that you should invite your players to read our My Guy Syndrome answer. It's quite popular, and for good reason -- it has good advice.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for this suggestion Dan! Honestly this is something I've noticed that they struggle with a lot.. Making a solid plan or decision as a team. Of course the in character arguments only make this an even harder task for them. But you're absolutely right if I break it up to ask them specifically to state their plan not only is it accomplishing getting them to put their heads together but its also breaking up the ongoing argument. \$\endgroup\$ – Ara Nov 9 '20 at 2:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Definitely don't narrate that their out-of-game arguing actually means that their characters are arguing loudly in-game and it gives their position away." - didn't OP say that they are not arguing out-of-game, but in-game? \$\endgroup\$ – eis Nov 9 '20 at 12:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that "My Guy" syndrome applies to DMs in this case; "the forest hears your argument and ogres attack" is DM "My <s>Guy</s> Game" syndrome (assuming it leads to a bad game experience) \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Nov 9 '20 at 21:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yakk I think it's more a case of the DM trying to punish the players for playing the game in the wrong way (when instead the DM could be stepping in and making sure the players play the game in the right way). \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Nov 9 '20 at 21:21
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Have your players remake characters who would work well together

The root of your problem appears to be that your players have created a group of characters that is seriously dysfunctional, and as a result the in-character dynamics are making the game un-fun for you to run and them to play in.

As is well-covered in the question What is “my guy syndrome” and how do I handle it?, your players are sticking firmly to their interpretations of how their characters would behave, even though that means they're behaving in a way which isn't fun to play. It's not uncommon in players who believe in the importance of roleplay and faithfulness to character, and it can be difficult to shake them out of it.

Personally, when I am planning a game, I don't enjoy this kind of serious intra-party strife, so I head this problem off at the pass by telling my prospective players to collaborate while creating their characters - not just in the sense of ensuring that they have a balanced party composition mechanically, but also to create characters who already have some shared history and shared values that facilitate them working together (there are many games out there which make this an explicit part of the character creation process, even if D&D doesn't). Their characters don't all have to be in perfect agreement about every subject - that would be boring - but they should at least be on the same page in general, so that their points of disagreement are areas where they can conceivably find compromise if necessary, or areas where they can influence each other and see character growth.

Going a step further, I might set some constraint on character creation due to the premise of a campaign. For instance, I once ran a campaign where the player characters were all dwarves from an isolated fortress, formed into a party and sent out into the world by their clan elders with the task of finding their clan's lost fortresses and recovering ancient relics. The resulting party was still quite diverse within that constraint, but they all had enough in common that they could effectively work together without having huge arguments all the time!

In your situation, since everyone seems to get along just fine out of character, I would be honest with your players; tell them, explicitly, that you're getting really frustrated running the game because of this problem, and it seems like they're not having fun playing it either. It isn't any specific person's fault, it's just bad luck that the characters they independently came up with don't work well together. Either the players must reimagine their existing characters into versions which don't have this toxic dynamic, or - and this is possibly an easier sell for your group than "betraying" their existing character concepts - they can declare this party is a wash and work together to make a new group of characters who can, well, work together.

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Do Nothing.

You clarified the question to say that the players get along fine, and the PCs argue often. This is simply not a problem. They are apparently finding ways to keep going as a group, so it's not breaking the game. That they have a complicated intra-party dynamic is not a problem. Let them continue!

You are apparently able to use this conflict for story hooks (like enemies sneaking up on them while they argue), so the whole thing is a windfall for you.

That said, what are the potential problems?

1) Players are not having fun. Easy to solve: just talk to them. If they're having fun, great! If not, talk to them about playing their characters differently so they have a more fun game. If they don't want to, don't force them.

2) You are not having fun. Ask another question focused on this, because we need more info on what the actual problem is to address it.

3) You are playing D&D wrong. No, you aren't. There is no "right" or "wrong" way, so long as everyone enjoys it. There are all kinds of rules and guidelines to make D&D more accessible and help the experience translate to different groups, but they ultimately are there to help everyone have fun. If you already have that, they're superfluous.

In short: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It looks like it is broken, though: "They are not enjoying it as part of the roleplaying experience they get frustrated with themselves, each other, the DM, and the game." \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Schmidt Nov 11 '20 at 17:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ErikSchmidt it looked to me like they only got frustrated when he tried to “fix” the problem. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Nov 11 '20 at 19:43
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A possible solution to your problem: ask one of them to GM.

Your players are not gelling as a team. Since you wish to run a game where they, as a team, take on challenges, and they are just bad at team formation (as you describe them, yes, they are bad at team formation) you are going to keep being frustrated.

There's no point in GMing for a dysfunctional team unless you get a kick out of watching them self-destruct. (And that can, in some cases, be a bucketfull of short term fun).

If the problem is arguments, use an argument resolution tool

I've got another answer that touches on conflict resolution if they argue with each other a lot: "are we here to play or argue?" is sometimes a question that needs to be addressed.

You've tried to encourage them to play as a team and rely on each other. They have not responded to your efforts at helping them be a better team.

GM's are allowed to have fun too.

Since you have a group of non-team players, and you'd like to run a team game, you need to send a far stronger message. Inform them before the next session that one of them needs to take over GMing, since you are not having fun. You need to play for a while to recharge your batteries. (This has happened to me before).

See what their response is. If one of them picks up the challenge, great. Play and show by example how to be a team builder. Sometimes, teaching by showing works.

If none of them will, also great.

You can find a group whose tastes better suit your own. This is a game; you don't get paid for this. If you want to have fun with an RPG, find people whose tastes are a bit closer to your own. Free time is a limited resource: don't waste it being frustrated.

Experience that informs this recommendation:

Besides seeing a number of GM's fold up games over the years due to burn out or the players being too high maintenance for this hobby -it happens- I had to come to that realization, that "aha" moment, with a different hobby: golf. When I was just getting frustrated, I wasn't having fun. I took a few years off, and I now enjoy it again.

RPGs are a leisure activity: don't make them a source of stress.

You did ask:

How to Prevent Players from Self Sabatoging?

You've already tried to get them to work better as a team. They are not responding. Sometimes, you can't prevent that. They are individuals and each of them seems to march to the beat of their own drum.
It happens.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for this awesome recommendation KorvinStarmast. Honestly it really wears on me. My players express their frustration to me all the time and I listen and try to adjust best I can but its not ever enough. I put a lot into my sessions so it really smarts. I'll make maps, setup music, make art, and build miniatures. Usually they'll disregard a lot of this and everything derails with these arguments which is why I'm reaching out. I love rpgs A LOT and I love dming. But it feels like a lot of giving all the time and for not a lot of encouragement/success in return. \$\endgroup\$ – Ara Nov 9 '20 at 2:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ara I think that if you are in the hobby for long enough, you'll run into that at least once. Getting to just play sometimes does recharge one's batteries. Best wishes on things working out. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 9 '20 at 3:22
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Often we'll experience moments were the session will come to a complete pause as the player characters argue over what to do. At this point I've started to continuing the events as they're arguing and this usually puts them in a bad way. For example they're arguing loudly to one another in a forest full of enemies that can now locate them since they couldn't be quiet.

When I step in I'm ignored, and one of my players gets so fed up with it they leave their party to go off on their own.

I'm not sure if this section captures your whole problem, but it certain captures a lot. One thing that jumps out at me is that, while I strong sympathize with your "continuing events as they're arguing," I can't quite tell how you're implementing it.

That trick of "continuing events" is actually a classic method using time pressure to force the players into action, and is one I would ordinarily recommend. But, it's important to let the players know what it is you're doing. It's not quite cool in my book to make an arbitrary and silent decision to interpret player arguing as vocal PC arguing which gives away position. But it is entirely cool for you, as GM, to say very vocally to your players, "Hey! If you keep going like this, making a bunch of noise like this, your enemies are going to find you. And even if you keep it down, they are actively looking for you, and every minute counts. So get to a decision."

Making the announcement really serves two purposes: It serves direct notice to the players that they need to not do this, but it also softens any feeling of unfairness when and if you need to let the hammer drop. Without the warning, it can feel arbitrary and punitive; with the warning, it's just you enforcing the general world rules that you laid down before. And don't be afraid to drop that warning each time it comes up.

This works, to a degree, with the wayward players, too-- the GM voice description of why this is a bad idea.

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    \$\begingroup\$ you don't even have to warn them just say, "As you stand around loudly arguing in the forest X bursts through the underbrush drawn by the commotion" just make sure they know time is continuing and OOC arguing is being treated as IC arguing. \$\endgroup\$ – John Nov 9 '20 at 0:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Novak Apologies I didn't clarify properly that these arguments are completely in character disagreements and not the players themselves arguing among one another. I definitely am using the continuation aspect as a time pressure mostly because our sessions are only 3 hours long due to differing schedules and once every couple of weeks to boot. I think regardless however you're right that I should present a warning of sorts. It leaves them sore to not have one and maybe this will help lessen their frustration a little. Thank you for the suggestion! \$\endgroup\$ – Ara Nov 9 '20 at 1:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @John I totally get where you're coming from. I've done that a couple of times mostly because I like to let my players know that their characters actions have consequences. And I tell them this out of session as well because I want the campaign to feel grounded. I worry however that my hardfast way of implementing this can add to the frustration. \$\endgroup\$ – Ara Nov 9 '20 at 2:01
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Part of the fun of character development in all roleplaying systems is seeing your character and there relationships with others grow. However as with all things this can be expected to take time.

As per a couple of the answers here in party conflict can open up a wealth of storytelling possibilities and you should not see it as your role to step in and change things artificially if the players are enjoying this aspect of things.

But I would say potentially talk to the players as a group and maybe one to one to help them think about what they ultimately want there characters journey to be. Maybe ask them to think of some personal goals and discuss with the party why are they staying together, yes, conflict and distrust can be realistic aspects of forming a group but eventually they will need to start forming trusting relationships with each other or the natural path of the party will be to fragment. Also talk to the players and explain it is ok for them to change their characters personalities over time if they feel that their experiences would help this. The classic example here is the fellowship of the ring. At the start there is distrust between the party, legolas and gimli especially have a distrust of each other, but over time that breaks down and becomes a long standing friendship.

Maybe create a situation where the party have to designate a leader or spokesperson for a situation, putting them in a royal court or some sort of a council is perfect for this. The lead NPC king or committee leader sees that they can’t make a clear decision so instructs them to pick a single individual to act as a spokesperson for the group, or insists they make decisions swiftly.

But as with all situations like this I would suggest rather then feeling like you have to fix it in game talk to your players out of game and get them to discuss between themselves ultimately they may all be happy but, if your finding it frustrating it is ok for you to voice that and suggest they maybe start thinking about bringing the party together more as a party.

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