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Recently in my campaign, the party was hired to deliver a shady package to a mysterious spy. Of course the group opened it and found a rare and powerful gem with the eternal soul of Tiamat inside. One person in the group wanted to still complete the delivery for the money, and the group got in a big argument over it. It ended with two members of the group considering murdering the character who wanted to complete the delivery.

The fight is both inside the game and outside of it. An in-game fight is out of the question (the two are our tank and healer). The gem is gone (sealed away) but the two are still after him. I defused the first fight by having a spirit in a book they found comment that they had record time for resisting the gem corruption. However, the two are still mad at the one guy.

How do I defuse the situation between and the tension between players?

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First off, something this big should be handled in the group's social contract. At what point is PVP allowed?

An example from my experience:

I played a very blunt human in a D&D campaign and butted heads with an elven Bladesinger. Basically the party was mostly elves and when one would do something foolish, my character would make a joke at that character's expense. Of course, the bladesinger got increasingly offended at this. It kept escalating until swords came out.

First, talk it out

The first thing that should happen is to let the two players/characters talk out their differences. This is likely to be a long process. I suspect your characters have long since passed this point.

Next, let the argument happen

Once talking fails to persuade, someone's going to start yelling. First off, as GM you can cool the argument a bit by letting a wandering monster hear the ruckus and come to investigate. Especially if the "wandering monster" is a group of bandits. People yelling and arguing are likely to not hear them sneaking up for the PC's valuables (and this gem sounds like something that will intrigue many bandits). This is a delicate balance for the GM, you want the PCs to argue and express themselves but if the rest of the group looks bored it may be time for something to happen. Don't immunize the players from the consequences of their own actions, even if it is yelling. After either a fight, or the bandits get away with the loot and the PCs track it down (and fight for it); hopefully cooler heads can prevail regarding what to do with the gem. If not:

FIGHT!

I am not sure what is in your group's stated or implied social contract. However, PvP (player v. player) is not allowed at all. Period. However, PC v PC can be allowed as long as both players understand that it is the two characters brawling. My group is a little laid back on using both player name and character name at the table. However PCvPC is an exception to this rule. Only refer to character names while the fight is going on, this helps to reinforce that it is the characters fighting and the players are acting in a dramatic scene.

Once the fight ends, the first thing both players need do is to shake hands, then one or both should leave the table for a few minutes. A bathroom/snack break is a great thing to do at this point. If both players are pros at this, they realize it was CvC and not PvP, if there was a bit of frustration (especially for the loser of the fight), this break lets the player cool down a bit and regain balance.

Aftermath

In my case, after we fought we both got winded/knocked down and were laying next to each other on the ground, and I then said in character, "I was not criticizing all of Elvendom, nor disrespecting [a third character]. I was commenting that a noble character was doing a foolish action." The other player's character then told me why he took offense was because "What a moron" was interpreted as disrespecting the entire race and the character specifically. As we got up, we recovered our gear and made a few snippy "parting shot" style comments that clearly was not nearly as heated as before the fight.

Your two characters may have a series of conflicts over this gem, or maybe one fight which proves to the both that both are resolved in their opinion. And that is a starting point to some great dramatic discussions and roleplaying, IMHO.

Or not...

However, if your players are not comfortable with PCvPC and it is established in the social contract, then let matters go as far as they can, and when hand touches sword, DM you need to yell "BREAK" or "CUT" or something to stop everything right there. Player's tempers may flare in an argument, but the DM is also the referee in terms of not only the game's rules, but also the group's social contract.

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Take a break. Talk out-of-character. Brainstorm about, "how might we resolve this so that everyone has fun?" Remember it is about the PLAYERS having fun, even it that means the CHARACTERS compromise on what they "would" do. This might also be relevant reading: What is "my guy syndrome" and how do I handle it?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Fwiw, our group had a pretty big fight about this item which resulted in a character, and eventually a player, leaving the group -- learn from our mistake! (It didn't help that our DM had made one character think he would be killed if he didn't deliver it.) \$\endgroup\$ – PurpleVermont Apr 28 '15 at 14:30
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Talk to the players

Ask the other players whether they think it would be fun if some of the characters murder some of the other characters. If everyone thinks this an interesting way for the story to go; have at it.

I'm guessing this is not the case, since you don't seem to like this direction.

Focus on goals and motivations

Unless all the people in your party are dangerously unhinged lunatics, I'm pretty sure "murder everyone I've ever worked with" and "solve all problems by killing" are not on their list of goals and motivations.

As a group of players, sit down together and quickly list each character's motivations and goals (in relation to this situation). Do they want to deliver the item for money because their goal is "Get rich", or because their goal is "Always keep your word"? Do they want to keep it because their goal is "Hoard powerful trinkets" or because it is "Keep evil away from where it can do harm"?

The outcome of this situation will depend a lot on what their motivations are.

Once all the motivations are on the table, proceed to:

Brainstorm a solution together

As a group, come up with a solution that satisfies all of the motivations in play. This might take a bit of creativity, but usually there is something that will make everyone (somewhat) happy. This also requires players to not take a hard line but be willing to comprimise a bit sometimes. They are supposed to be real characters, after all.

Roleplay the outcome

After the group has figured out how to continue, roleplay the scene where the character reach the same conclusion the players have already reached, and continue from there.

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Our party has had a few conflicts between players and characters, and I think the most important thing to figure out is which sort you have.

Players or Characters?

As soon as gameplay seems to be devolving into a disagreement, put things on hold for a moment and work out who is actually disagreeing. Tell your players "hang on, let's back things up a bit - are you guys disagreeing in-character, or out of character?" In some cases this is enough; the reminder that you are not your character suffices to detach the emotion from the situation. If not...

When the players disagree

If it's the players, it's time to take a break. Get them to air their views, explain why they want to take their course of action. Beware of "my guy" syndrome - ie. "it's what my guy would do". It's not just about being able to give reasonable justifications for why the character would do something. At the end of the day, D&D is a game, so the player should also have a reason for why they want to play that way. If it's going to make the game less fun for other players, point that out, and ask them to explain - to you and those other players - why they feel they should proceed that way. In the end, the in-character reasons should bend to the real-world stuff. In other words, if it's "what my guy would do" but it makes the game not fun, then it's your responsibility as a player of the game to find reasons to not do that, and instead do something fun. Suspension of disbelief and the game's social contract come into play here.

The idea is to get your players to a point where they all understand that it's up to them to move the story on here. Move the focus from two halves of your group working against each other to each get their own way, to the entire group working together to find reasons why one lot of characters get their way. Some players have problem working against their character. Remind them, you are not your character. Your character's failures don't mean you're "losing". If the game stops being fun, then you're losing.

As DM, work with your players here to support the options they come up with. Once they agree on a way for one set of characters to get their way, you get to the other situation.

When the characters disagree

When you're in a situation where the players are in agreement but the characters are not, then this your chance for some great gameplay. Play it out, and look out for ways to reward the players whose characters "lost" for being good sports about it. One of the most common ones is bonus experience for the roleplaying. D&D 5e adds inspiration dice for this exact purpose.

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Well the easiest opt-out is to have an early encounter with the spy. However, the group would probably feel cheated by this solution.

I'm not sure how you are playing it, but is the gem simply a container or more of a prison where Tiamat can still have some influence (whispers in the mind etc)? If the latter, you can frame the story as the gem is corrupting the two other members (think Matt and dagger from Shadar Logoth or The One Ring). Of course this doesn't solve the problem of a fight breaking out, but it adds more dynamic to the situation than simple greed (and might make other players want to play the mission more of a battle of wills with the gem).

Now I don't know the composition of your group, but if worse comes to worse ask your players if their characters would actually do this action instead of just being a player-choice on the whim decision (a problem I've had with my players a lot lol).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I have already tried the "Corrupting influence". I'll update shortly. \$\endgroup\$ – Tobias Fizzlewig Apr 28 '15 at 13:44

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