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The Short Version:

An evil PC is killing town children during long rests. The town authorities have decided that they need him (and the rest of the group) to handle a big problem anyway. Several other PCs don't trust him, don't want to work with him, and have threatened violence against him if he doesn't stop killing innocents. The evil PC has given every indication that he will not stop, and the DM is committed to everyone playing whatever character they want without antagonism between group members. Several players are unhappy because it seems that their role-playing is being sidelined for the benefit of the evil PC's player. What options are there for the players (other than leaving the group) or for the DM (other than PvP)?

The Long Version:

I've recently joined a new 5th Edition D&D group at a local game store. It is a fairly large group (between 5 and 10 players), a majority of the players are completely new to the hobby, and very few people in the group know each other outside the game. Additionally, the DM is an old-school player, but this is the first time he is DM-ing.

The group has about equal parts goofy meme characters and "normal" characters (both types using standard rule-book builds); however, there is also one player who is playing an edgy, evil home-brew character. That player is completely new to the game, but he is older (in his forties) and is real-life friends with the DM since before the game started.

This edgy, evil character has not done anything to harm any party members, but he has done some other gruesome things. Specifically, he has graphically tortured enemy combatants for information, and recently, he was outed to the group by the local town authorities as abducting, killing, and disposing of children in the town at night. [His home-brew character is not an elf but has the 4-hour trance feature from elves and is presumably using the other 4 hours of long rests to do this sort of stuff.]

Once the killings came out, several characters in the group had a problem with it. We had an in-universe meeting with the town authorities and the party members to discuss it, and we were also informed of some big, bad stuff threatening the town that we would need to work together to defeat. During the meeting, we were also told that this character was doing these things because his god requires a "heinous act" and blood sacrifice every fortnight.

This meeting was ultimately not enough (as I will explain in a moment), and immediately preceding the next session, the DM told us (in polite, indirect language) that the evil character is here to stay and that he's tired of this conflict.

At least three characters in the group feel that the big, bad evil outside of town is at best a band-aid solution. The edgy, evil character has been unapologetic about his actions and has given no indication that he will stop killing innocents. In fact, he implied that sacrificing enemies like goblins would not be "heinous" enough. From a role-playing perspective, several characters in the group feel that they cannot trust the evil character, and on top of that, those PCs have already threatened violence against him in-universe if he doesn't stop.

However, the DM has forbidden PvP and has not allowed antagonistic actions within the party to surveil the evil character. Moreover, the NPCs who (one might think) should really care about the killing of children in their town have been borderline dismissive of it.

So here's the issue: Several of the players at the table feel like their hands are tied and that they cannot actually role-play their characters. However, except for this one issue, they all really like the DM and his game. So it seems as if they are being put into a position to either not role-play or leave the game entirely. It would be one thing if the evil character's player and the DM seemed willing to play ball, but it sort of seems like the latitude for role-playing is really one-sided. If the evil character brutally tortures and kills NPCs, the only people who could ever suffer any consequences for their role-playing are the other PCs who try to stop him. The evil character doesn't even seem to bear the burden of his own actions from other NPCs.

What solutions are there for players who don't want to leave the group but still want to role-play? Are there options for the DM - who wants everyone to be able to play the character they want to play without intra-party conflict?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already and see the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Jul 3 at 16:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/q/169984/23445 - your situation is much more "problem player" than "I don't like the player," but your GM is reacting as though it's the latter. My answer there rpg.stackexchange.com/a/174019/23445 may be helpful in this case. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tim C
    Jul 3 at 20:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ does your game have a safeword/X-card/safety tool ? \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Jul 3 at 23:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @John No. Although, I don't think that content moderation is the issue here. No one that I have spoken to is opposed to in-game brutality per se. Instead, there's a sense of frustration that evil actions on the part of a party member do not have any in-game consequences. \$\endgroup\$
    – Geoffrey
    Jul 3 at 23:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Friendly reminder that answers belong in answer posts, not in comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oblivious Sage
    Jul 5 at 18:59

7 Answers 7

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Are there options for the DM - who wants everyone to be able play the character they want to play without intra-party conflict?

Not really. This sort of radical anarchy introduces unsolvable problems in gaming just as it does in real life. If Player A really wants to play a child-murdering torture-guy, and Player B (and possibly others) wants to play anything resembling a hero who protects children from murderers, then there is a fundamental, irreconcilable conflict at this table. Someone, either Player A or Player B, is not going to get what they want.

Moreover, the GM's two goals-- everyone gets to play whatever character they want but there is never any PvP-- are also in fundamental conflict with themselves, because the character that Player B wants to play is one that involves PvP against Player A's character.

In this situation he must necessarily choose one over the other. And he's done just that-- he's prioritized no-PVP over the will of the players, and prioritized Player A over everyone else. Any claims to the contrary are rubbish.

If your GM were willing to prioritize otherwise, what he could have done (and still can do, although it's best done before the game starts) is hold a Session Zero and set some bounds-- with player input-- on what types of characters are acceptable. At this stage, that would likely mean Player A ripping up that character and starting from scratch. But from your description, it does not seem like the GM is interested in this.

What solutions are there for players who don't want to leave the group but still want to role-play?

Not ones I am hopeful for. You can all talk to the GM and point out the arguments above, and similar ones in different answers, hoping to make him see that meeting all of his goals is fundamentally impossible and that, indeed, he is not meeting all of them even now.

If that works, your options would then be to proceed with the PvP solution, or take a further step and try for that belated Session Zero and end up with characters that don't want to kill each other.

But from your description, it doesn't seem like your GM is interested in either of those, and it doesn't seem like you're interested in the second one.

So, no, if those solutions don't do it for you and the GM, you're basically left with finding a new game.

But I have a question for you. Not one you necessarily should answer here, but just to meditate on: Why do you want to play in a game where the GM is willing to indulge and enable his buddy in role-playing that sort of extreme anti-social/criminal behavior in the first place?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have a suggestion that I don't think is a complete answer on its own but you might consider adding to your own; if multiple players all dislike this game and they already have a time and location to meet then they have almost everything they need to just start their own game. Have a player DM (pick up a published adventure if need be) and leave the evil PC and antagonistic DM behind. New game > no game > bad game. Lots of folks leaving bad games don't have the "new game" option, but it sounds like OP does. \$\endgroup\$
    – mkdir
    Jul 4 at 15:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mkdir Kind of implied, really. But I get the strong impression that the querent wants to fix this game, not start a new one... which is harder than I personally want to push that frame. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Jul 4 at 20:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough, though (as you note) it really seems like this DM isn't going to resolve this in a useful way. I guess I lean to helping people realize they can leave. But your answer is fine! \$\endgroup\$
    – mkdir
    Jul 4 at 20:48
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Your DM is stripping the players of agency

It is a fundamental right that each player decides what their character wants to do. When one player has his character act in a way that is opposed to what the other characters could agree with, because "this is what my guy would do", then the first measure is to talk with the player about it, and ask him to stop it. The game is for all to have fun, not just for him. Murdering children is sick, and it is normal for the other characters that they do not want to associate with that character, if their characters have good alignments. (And, also if the players do not want to play a game where this is condoned).

Normally, if he is unwilling to change, then he will have to live with the consequences of the other characters reacting to that, either throwing him out of the group or killing him outright. Your DM does not want to restrict his buddy in what they choose to play, and even goes the extra mile to support his actions by having the NPCs go along. But at the same time, he is forbidding all of you to play your characters, and to stop this behaviour. This one player ruining everyone's fun gets to have agency. All of you do not. That is not OK.

Unfortunately there is no solution other than letting the DM know you do not want to play like this and leave his game, if he does not change. This guy is not the only DM out there. In the worst case, you all can form a new group, and one of you can DM it. Let the other DM play with his buddy who enjoys child murder fantasies.

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You can't have both of these things.

You state:

the DM is committed to everyone playing whatever character they want without antagonism between group members.

While a laudable goal, this is sadly an emblematically naïve approach to DMing. Real basic, 101 level error - he probably skipped the first few days of class. What ought to be Lesson Zero of DM school is that no two players ever have fully compatible desires.

Either:

  1. Everyone plays whatever character they want, or
  2. The character of each player helps to minimize group conflict.

The situation is obviously a concrete proof of the fact these two elements contradict each other.

It's not clear to me how to impress upon your DM the importance of learning this lesson, not only at the table, but in real life. But, maybe Socratic dialogue will work to tease out the realization in them.

An Example Dialogue

Note that you mostly just ask questions, and allow the DM to arrive at his own conclusions.

"Hey DM, you want us all to play whatever characters we want, right?"

"Yes, that's right, as long as there's no antagonism between players."

"Sounds great to me." [Be sincere, it's really important not to get snarky at this juncture. - author] "But, I'm curious what you mean by antagonism?"

"Oh you know, stuff like attacking other characters, stealing their stuff, PVP. That sort of thing."

"Ok great, I was thinking that you meant we couldn't do things that made other players upset, and want to leave the table. But you just mean characters, not players, right?"

"Um, no, actually if you make other players want to leave, I would count that as antagonism."

"Oh, really? Because the Dark Sir Evil McOrphanMurder has made all of us want to leave for a while now. And you and him could probably run a fun adventure on your own together, but all of the rest of us are extremely antagonized by his antisocial behavior."

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You need to sit down and talk with your DM NOW.

You said this is his "first time he is DM-ing" and this is one of the pitfalls new DM's fall into. They think they want player to be be free to do whatever they want, but they don't want that, they want to play D&D and play like this will have the opposite result. you can't start players with no boundaries, because this game is built on a social contract most people do no understand, no boundary play is something you earn from players over years of built up trust. Worse he is taking away player agency to preserve agency for another player, players can only take this as DM favoritism thus favoritism and removing their agency, two things guaranteed to make play un-fun.

If the game is not fun for most of the players the DM needs to know this desperately. Not as a confrontation, which will put him on the defensive, but to help him realize he is turning people away from the game. The more players that tell him this at once the better. He needs to know several of you are unhappy and don't want to play, and if he is unwilling to change he is going to lose players, they may even be turning people off the game entirely if this is their first experience.

Your game desperately needs a safeword/X-card, a way for players to say I am not comfortable with this in the moment and it needs to stop or I leave. Everyone has things they just are not comfortable with in their game, and it sounds like your problem player is hitting several of them.

Only after your DM has realized how severe the problem is can you move on to a solution to the problem; there are several questions on this site about things like this you can point your DM to.

Here's a quote from Matt Colville's The Wangrod Defense, Running the Game #76, a wonderful video about this specific problem that could help your DM.

... But however you do it, at the end of the day, if a toxic player tries to defend themselves by saying "I'm just playing my character", a simple response is "We are all just playing our characters, but you're the only one making other people unhappy."

Coville also has a great video on player agency.

But in the end if your DM is unwilling to recognize the problem you need to find another game, and I recommend taking as many new players with you as possible -- let them see this is not a normal game.

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There are several answers that deal with handling the social contract with the DM. I agree with them, and you really should resolve it with the DM. However, there is an option available to the characters.

Vote them off the island

In real life, we often interact with people we don't like, or people who we deem objectively bad. We, for the most part, don't resort to physical conflict. You don't invite them to events, avoid locations they frequent and in more extreme cases leave when they walk in the room. We can even have the frank discussion that "We don't want to hang out with you". These are all tools available to your characters without breaking your DM's rules.

A slightly different, but applicable anecdote.
In the game I DM, one player wanted to change rogue sub-class from arcane trickster to assassin, I told him ok, but he needed to RP it. He gets approached by an assassin guild and offered a job to prove himself, he botches it - is seen multiple times as he seduces his mark and then brutally murders him, before being seen leave covered in blood. A few weeks later when the party return to town, there are wanted posters everywhere. He has to explain to them what happened. In what was the most enthralling session I have ever taken part in, the characters discussed at length how to proceed, at the end of the session, they told him to leave or they would turn him in. His player re-rolled, but there is the possibility he will return when he has atoned.

What I didn't realise at the time is that this was really an In Character Session 0, the characters talked at length about what was and wasn't acceptable to them, and what points they were willing to walk away from the party on.

If you've had the conversation with the DM, and that hasn't worked. Then, maybe, demonstrating to them that this is really how your characters feel and are willing to walk away from this player and even the town which doesn't care about their missing children will make them see the error of their ways before you decide to leave the group.

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Join to the dark side, because they have cookies DM favor

The problem player has made it abundantly clear that they want to play chaotic evil and

act with arbitrary violence, spurred by their greed, hatred, or bloodlust. [...] (Basic Rules)

The DM has made it clear that he supports this kind of play-style. It is likely that this is the kind of game the DM is intending to play, but we can't be sure because he failed to get everyone else on the same page or having a session 0. This is likely because your DM is also a first time DM.

What solutions are there for players who don't want to leave the group but still want to role-play?

You can either try to convince your DM and the problem player to change their ways, or leave the game because no D&D is better than bad D&D, or accept that this is an evil campaign now and play along.

Since RP is one of your primarily concerns, you can probably come up with an in-story justification that is just as solid as "God wills it", with the long term goal of your characters eventually redeeming themselves by overcoming their evil ways, for example:

"Having witnessed the heinous acts of [problem player,s PC] and the total indifference of the world around to the atrocities has corrupted the formerly good characters and turned them to evil."

Have your characters behave the same way the problem PC does. Killing indiscriminately, sparing neither the innocent nor important story NPCs. This will likely play out in one of two ways:

  1. Everyone is on the same page now playing the same game. Inter-party conflict has been resolved. Great! The story will unfold and maybe one day many sessions later your characters will earn their redemption.

  2. The party's senseless and arbitrary violence will utterly derail the campaign. Your newbie-DM will learn that allowing all the PCs to go on a non-stop rampage makes it impossible to progress the story. Therefore he will seek ways to stop this kind of behaviour.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You deserve downvotes for having opinion different from the consensus. Cant see where you wrong, though \$\endgroup\$
    – Sanctus
    Jul 5 at 10:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer kind of hits the nail in the head. Some player or players in the table will have to adjust their characters, or make new characters (or leave the game). These PCs can't be in the same group. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 5 at 12:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ While you're right that the GM's two goals are fundamentally irreconcilable, the passive-aggressive approach suggested by your second numbered point is not ideal. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jul 5 at 22:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe don't get me wrong, I don't encourage the players to take route number 2, I just think that it is somewhat likely to happen eventually. But if general opinion is that removing that part would remove the answer, I can make some edits \$\endgroup\$ Jul 6 at 18:45
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I like @Phil's answer but would add: What would your characters do with a homicidal maniac that they could not attack? They would probably at least avoid him. It plays by all the GM's rules and the others can play their characters faithfully. Don't like some one but god(GM) says you can't harm them? Ignore them, avoid them. Don't share information with them. Leave town while they aren't looking. And for goodness sake don't heal them or share resources. You could even take a more active approach. Warn all the NPCs about them so the GM has to be the one having the NPCs act out of character. Or even take turns following them around at night and raise the alarm if they start to act up. Unless the offensive character is somehow essential to the groups survival or otherwise required for the mission, just stay in character and shun them. I'm very curious what you GM would do with that.

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