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I've facing an interesting issue as a DM and don't know what can I do from my position to solve the problem. My players always argue with each other and are always disappointed by the other side, up to the point that they don't want to play any more. It seems like a social skills problem, but I still need something to do.

Let me provide some background and provide some examples. We are playing the Princes of the Apocalypse campaign and we are at the beginning of it. It is my first time DMing something big and all my players don't have much experience with TTRPGs.

My playteam consists of 5 people: a couple consisting of a man and a woman (28 and 24 y.o.) whose characters are not connected in-game, a couple consisting of two women (21 y.o. both) whose characters are connected in-game by a contract, and my GF (30 y.o.) with a character who is a lone stranger. We've faced many situations but the scenario is always the same in general. Let me provide an example.

When the group returned to the city from an adventure, there was a huge cavern that opened in a central plaza which uncovered a dungeon beneath the city, and some people fell down there. It was a risky game, because the PCs were not in good condition (they hadn't gotten a long rest before) and I described the situation and roleplayed some NPCs to give clues that it was very sudden thing, and that they could risk their lives and get into the cavern, otherwise everything that was hidden inside could disappear during the night and they wouldn't get any interesting information from it.

After some discussion the players divided into two groups: the first one wanted to rest before visiting a dungeon, the second one wanted to get down ASAP because of fishy things locals hid there that could disappear during the night. I don't know if it matters, but the couple consisting of a man and a woman wanted to rest first, and the other players wanted to get in.

After some arguing (nothing criminal, just trying to convince each other not to do stupid things) and chaotic decisions, both groups got down to the hole but the "safe" group was visibly disappointed — they did it just for safety to avoid any deaths inside the party.

The groups visited some rooms, found some interesting things and understood that it was too dangerous to stay here and the position of the "safe" group solidified up to the point that they decided not to go further because it was super-unsafe. But the other three players got here, the battle started and two of them got down. The "safe" group helped to win the battle and all of them returned to the local inn to rest.

After the game finished they continued to argue in our local chat that the "courage" group does what they want to do and never listens to any word from the "safe" group. One group is scared of their characters' deaths and wants more tactics and thinking-before-doing-things while the other group wants more action and says that "a lot of thinking is boring and will slow down the game to the point it won't be interesting any more".

As a DM I don't see any way how can I influence the way they make decisions, because I have a position that I'm not a direct player and can only affect them via NPCs and other things in the world.

Could you recommend something to me and my players?

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I've seen something like this happen before. If some or all your players are enjoying some of the game, but find dealing with the other players frustrating enough that they're starting to get reluctant to attend sessions, there's an important question for which you need to find the answer...

Why are arguing?

Not "what are they arguing about," as you already know the answer to that. Rather, you need to work out why your two groups of players are regularly forming contrary positions.

As some of the other answers have pointed out, players arguing about what to do next is normal. However, if your players are arguing past each other or always ending up forming the same sides when there's an argument, or if both sides seem confused as to why the other side doesn't agree with them despite claiming to have listened, it is likely that your group has mismatched expectations about the game.

Something similar happened in one of my campaigns: There were two groups of players who would have long, frustrating arguments in which they would disagree as to what to do next. Each side would put forth their arguments, listen to what the other side had to say, weigh up the pros and cons of each proposed course of action, and then want to do completely different things.

Eventually, I discovered the actual cause of the argument: One group assumed the campaign would consist of modular adventures in which few-to-no decisions would have long-term consequences that might affect subsequent adventures, while the other group assumed the entire campaign was one big adventure in which every tiny decision could have unforeseen long-term consequences that might not reveal themselves until later in the campaign. Thus, the former group tended to think in terms of short-term benefits and to underestimate the likelihood of bad decisions coming back to haunt them, while the latter group was more prone to long-term planning and highly risk-averse.

It was a tricky problem to identify, as people don't tend to mention the unspoken assumptions they're basing their decisions on. After all, the nature of unspoken assumptions is that you don't think to question them unless something makes it obvious they don't always apply - and getting into an argument about an apparently-unrelated topic doesn't.

Getting back to your situation, I imagine your two groups of players are listening to each other in arguments (even if one or both groups claim otherwise; if they weren't, you'd have a very different problem), so I suspect that they have different assumptions about how the game works. I can't be sure exactly what the point of difference is - you know your players better than me, after all - but here's a list of possibilities that spring to mind:

  • How likely it is for players to die when they head into "dangerous" situations. Many games and adventures use "it's dangerous" or "beware the monsters of the forest" or "none who venture into the depths have ever returned" as code for "adventure lies that-a-way." Thus, it's possible that one group of players is assuming "it's dangerous" means "loot and glory awaits" while the other group assumes it means "our characters have an unacceptably low chance of survival."
  • Whether, when the GM dangles an obvious plot hook in front of the party's collective nose, the party is expected to bite. Many groups have a gentlemens' agreement that if the GM gives them a thread to follow, that they should follow it, because the GM hasn't prepared alternatives. It sounds like you're perfectly happy for your players to ignore potential adventure leads, but your "courageous" players might not be aware of this.
  • How adventurers are expected to act. You may have one group who assumes adventurers are expected to be brave, heroic types who gladly brave danger for the sake of what is right, while the other group assumes adventurers are magnificent bastards who gleefully seek their own advantage by hook or by crook. (I like to call this the "paladin versus thief" problem, as many players expectations about how main characters act are often set by the stories they've read - and stories where paladins are the main characters and stories where thieves are the main characters tend to operate on very different moral and narrative logic.)
  • How much the group should care about character death. At some tables, when a player character dies, the party holds a funeral, bemoans their passing, and goes on a world tour to inform everyone the deceased PC knew of their unfortunate passing. At other tables, the party checks if there's a high-level cleric available and the player rolls up a new character. Which is to say, your players might have different expectations about how lightly character death is treated at your table.
  • How protected the group is from questionable moral decisions. In some campaigns, if the players decide to prioritize their own safety over that of villagers who've fallen in a hole, the GM will take pains to mention that the villagers are mostly uninjured and get out on their own. In others, the GM will take pains to point out how the villagers perished in agony, and could have been saved if only the PCs had promptly come to their rescue. In still others, the GM will just move on, and neither they nor the party will think much about the consequences of the decision unless it turns into an argument about alignment. In other words, different campaigns follow and encourage different moral logic, and players may expect different standards.

What to do...

Assuming you're able to identify a difference in expectations, the first step should be to tell your players what that difference is, and what they should expect in your campaign. Telling them what it is will give them a tool they can use to resolve arguments when they come up in play, and telling them what they should expect in your campaign will give them they tool they need to realise when their own arguments are flawed - both of which they presumably lacked, or the arguments wouldn't have been frustrating in the first place.

Personally, I recommend against trying to accommodate both groups by adopting an expectation that's a compromise between their expectations. Doing so will be stressful for you, and almost certainly result in both groups getting frustrated because neither of them will have a clear idea of what the right expectations are. (In other words: Don't make the same mistake I did... But that's a story for another time.) Instead, just pick one group of players, and say their expectation is the right one. This may seem unfair, but at least some of your players will be happy - and it's likely that the other group, once they actually know what their expectation should be for your campaign, will be fine with adjusting their expectations - especially if it means they can enjoy a smoother, less argumentative gameplay experience.

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Consider eliminating character death

Towards the end you suggest that some of the problems come from the fact that part of your group is very worried about character death. As the DM, you have the power to eliminate character death entirely.

Mechanically, there are a couple of ways to achieve this. The most straightforward is just to change the rules so that in combat events that would lead to death simply stop at unconscious and events that would otherwise result in a TPK result in everyone either being captured or waking in the wilderness/dungeon perhaps with some gear missing.

Another way to achieve it is to simply assure them that deus ex machina, possibly literally in the form of divine intervention, will always prevent character due to either divine favor or the character's destiny.

I actually do this in some of my games. It has the positive aspect of encouraging people to invest in their characters. It has the negative aspect of making the game much less gritty and lessening the risk of combat (though I do make sure there are consequences for a loss in battle, but they stop short of death). Personally, I think the positives outweigh the negatives which is why I do it, but it definitely has negatives.

In your specific case, it might take away one of the friction points between your players.

Consider disbanding.

Obviously, this is a last resort. But no role-playing is generally better then bad roleplaying.

A certain amount of arguing isn't always a bad thing. Some people enjoy arguing. And it shows that everyone is taking the game seriously. But if the arguing is ruining the fun and you can't fix it as a group, then perhaps some of your players do not have a compatible style.

That is fine. Someone that wants a very gritty campaign will probably not want me as a GM since I tend to eliminate death and expect the players to be epic heroes by the end. Some people just have incompatible play styles. And in that case, it may be best to disband the group and do other things with those friends. You can then find other people with compatible playstyles for roleplaying.

Arguing by itself is not always a problem

You note that some of the players are considering leaving so its clear that they aren't having fun or at the very least that the fun is coming at a high cost in frustration. But its worth noting that for some players a certain amount of arguing is not necessarily a bad thing in itself. A limited amount of polite arguing can be enjoyable for some personality types and signals that they are invested in the game and taking it seriously.

As it stands now, your situation clearly needs to be addressed, but its worth noting for the future that not all arguing is automatically bad.

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I suspect your 'safety' group isn't familiar with how amazingly hard it is to die in D&D 5e. You might want to go over the rules for falling unconscious, making death saving throws, stabilization, and recovery. But that might not help much, sometimes you have to just experience it to realize that your characters are a lot tougher than they look.

That said, the only thing in this scenario that bothers me is the accusation that the courage group "never listens to" the safe group. It seems clear to me that the outcome of the situation pretty much was the courage group eventually listening -- they did more adventuring than the safe group wanted but less than the courage group wanted, and that sounds like a compromise to me.

In this specific scenario, there was a time pressure that meant going fast had a major benefit of better loot. Does the 'courage' group still push hard even when there's no meaningful pressure to do so? I would expect to have players pushing their limits when there's a good reason to do so, and when there isn't, I would expect them to back off and allow the 'safety' group to have their way. If they aren't doing that, then I think maybe they are being pushy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yep, "pushy" group seems like obsessed with exploration and new things and whenever there is a possibility that something interesting is around the corner they will go there even if there are reasons to wait and prepare. I think it will eventually lead to death of some of them, and I'm okay with it, but they affect the "safe" group and this create a conflicts which I want to avoid. \$\endgroup\$
    – Denis
    Aug 11 at 22:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Incredibly hard to die (and stay dead) in 5e. Not only are you given a last chance through death saving throws, but anyone with healing can pop you back up from unconscious with even just +1 HP. Notably, Healing Word is a 1st level bonus action spell that can be done from 60 ft. For a 3rd level spell slot, Revivify can undo a PC death as long as the healer survives combat. At the higher levels, the spellcasters have a greater and greater ability to ignore death. You can return someone to life who had been dead for days, or mulched into paste, or worse. \$\endgroup\$
    – Toddleson
    Aug 12 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ It may be 'difficult', but it's still possible and common enough to worry about. I played my first 5e session earlier this year, and my character died on session two (DM kindly ruled I was just 'mostly dead' and woke back up). It sounds like to the safe group this unlikelihood of dying isn't going to be sufficient to allay their fears. When players are really attached to their characters risk profiles can change too substantially for 5e death rules to offset. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nicholas
    Aug 13 at 18:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Toddleson It's worth noting, PotA is pretty deadly to high-risk PCs, especially at low levels. I've had 6 PCs die in PotA running it as RAW as I can, including three quarters of a party with a Grave Domain cleric. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 15 at 2:20
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I've had this situation, with planning heavy players. One thing is key.

Give them more information.

As it is, your players don't have enough info to make an objective decision about whether it's better to pull back and rest, or rush in and be quick.

Enemies, time pressures, traps- there's lots that scouts and scrying could find out about a place. That lets them find out whether to rush in or hang back.

Give the patience party and the rush party situations where they can win.

The patience party members felt like the rush party is winning too much. Set up situations where waiting is clearly the better decision. They have the wrong spells, spent resources, and the enemy isn't anywhere close to reinforcing.

If they rush in, have NPCs mock them that they made the wrong decision, so the peace party feels better.

From personal experience, this makes the patience players a lot happier. They have gameplay they can enjoy, and they get to be able to feel right or wrong about their decisions.

It also helps the rushing players because you can do the opposite and make situations where rushing is clearly better, and they can argue that- there's a treasure that will vanish in time, or the enemies are disorganized and will get stronger with time.

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A bit of a curve-ball answer:

Try to postpone scripted events that might cause a rift.

I am not familiar with the adventure you are running, so I don't know how much agency you have as the DM, but the example you gave sounds like something that should happen when the players are rested and able to fight, rather than when they are weary and tired.

You seem to have a safe group and an action group, but there's no reason why they should be in conflict, when you as the DM (might be) able to structure the story in a way where rare, action filled events only happen when the party is safe and has the resources to do them. If this is possible, then the two groups might merge into one again.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It does not matter how time pressure they have on them. In another situation they were completing a quest visiting a necromancer's cave. They spent all resources here (spell slots, hit points) and could have a rest but decided to argue if they should go to the necromancer (he was basically the last enemy here) or rest and go after that. Courage group won again and they just rushed into a room where I was forced not to escalate a conflict and roleplayed that necromancer is not an enemy, just some crazy man. Safe group was not happy with what courage group did. \$\endgroup\$
    – Denis
    Aug 12 at 10:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Denis "I was forced not to escalate a conflict and roleplayed that necromancer is not an enemy, just some crazy man." Why? Maybe the courage group keeps rushing in because they've realised stupidity has no consequences... \$\endgroup\$ Aug 12 at 17:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Denis it sounds like you are putting your thumb on the scale in favor of the action group. You are protecting them from their bad decisions which makes the safe group look like cowards by side effect. Why bother managing resources if nothing bad ever happens when you charge in unprepared and with your resources depleted? \$\endgroup\$
    – vsfDawg
    Aug 12 at 17:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Denis I had a similar situation myself, the group should have been more than a match for the necromancer, but due to failure to take any rests and a few back luck crits (from a crawling claw no less) they all but TPK'd here. I thought it would be a learning experience, but it wasn't until after losing %75 of the party a second time two sessions later, by biting off more than they could chew that the players started taking the dangerous sandbox-style threats seriously. They've achieved a more balanced approach now, but they still spend a lot of time arguing and going in literal circles. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 15 at 2:14

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