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I started a weekly Shadowrun campaign a month and a half ago, and two of my players' characters have decided they hate each other.

It started out with frequent in-character name calling which was fine and even funny, but it has escalated to them trying to get each other killed. I tried mentioning it to them, and they both promised to try and tone it down, but nothing has changed. I tried giving them a common goal as I saw suggested in another thread, where they had to work together to rescue a quest-giver they both liked, but that just made the fighting worse.

I would be happy to just let them roll with it until one of them manages to pick the other one off, but their fighting has started to dominate the game to the point that the other players are being completely overshadowed. They are actually both nice, chill guys that get along well in real life, they are just devoted to ideas they have in their heads about their characters.

Has anyone else managed to deal with this effectively?

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It sounds like your two players are having fun with this rivalry of theirs. It sounds like they aren't trying to be unreasonable. Given those circumstances, I wouldn't suggest that you try to defuse their rivalry in-game at all. On the contrary, why not see if you can bring the other players into it somehow and make it, at least temporarily, the focus of the game? Talk to everyone to make sure they're on board with the idea - and if the other players aren't really digging it, then maybe that will also drive home the point to the two rivals that they should tone things down for the sake of the rest of the group. But if everyone thinks it sounds cool, this could be one of the highlights of your campaign.

The trick is to involve the other PCs. They need to have some stake in the rivalry - maybe they want one side or the other to win, maybe they want everyone to get along, maybe they have some clever way to benefit from the situation no matter who wins, but they have to care for some reason. (And in fact, if everybody just wants everyone to get along, then that's a good sign that this isn't a great approach after all. You want this to be complicated and messy! And you want the players to care, not just the PCs.)

Let's say we have 5 PCs: Arthur, Bethany, Xavier, Yvette, and Zach. Arthur and Bethany want to kill each other. I'd start by framing scenes between one of Arthur and Bethany (but not both!) and some of the other PCs, just to see what they have to say to each other. Maybe Xavier, Yvette and Zach already have some stake in the rivalry, or maybe they'll form an opinion during the course of talking about it.

Alongside this, take whatever else is going on in the PCs' lives, whatever it is they care about or whoever it is they have relationships with or whatever, and tie it up to the rivalry. See if you can find or create a reason why Zach's ambitions are served if Arthur dies, why Yvette's NPC friend is caught in the middle, why both Arthur and Bethany might really want Xavier to owe them a favor. Tie it to the rest of the setting, too: What organization does Arthur have rank in that might be angry if he's killed, or conversely, that might fall apart without him? What ally of Bethany's might want to get involved, with or without Bethany's approval? (What ally of Bethany's might notice that Yvette keeps hanging out with Arthur, and therefore conclude that Yvette needs to be taken out of the picture?)

Make everything a precarious balance and your two rivals the lynchpins. If Arthur or Bethany dies, everything will topple one way or the other, and the rest of the PCs stand to either be crushed by the falling rubble or else to climb up the pile of scree and stand victoriously at the top. Once you have that, all you have to do is sit back, play honestly, and see what happens!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I am going to try this for our game Wednesday. Fingers crossed! \$\endgroup\$ – Lexorez Jul 14 '15 at 13:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ This worked in an unexpected way. I made a mission that was centered on their reason for fighting but had a common goal and asked some of the other players to weigh in. All the characters sided with guy 1, considering him to be the more sympathetic of the 2. Guy 2 decided to change tactics and didn't pick a single fight Wednesday. Success! Here's hoping if one of them decides to back-stab after all, they succeed on the first try. \$\endgroup\$ – Lexorez Jul 17 '15 at 16:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for making it part of the game. Where people are otherwise having fun, I always feel this is the best solution to any problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Dewi Morgan Jul 22 '15 at 8:06
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I've used or seen several approaches:

At the table:

  1. Resolve the Conflict
    Is the source of their conflict something that can be resolved? For example, competing claims to a barony could be resolved by giving the barony to one character.

  2. Resolve the Conflict Permanently
    If (1) is too mild, let one of the characters kill the other. It ought to be fair to both characters (don't let one become poisoned and die in their sleep). I have seen this multiple times in games. It is often a satisfying end to one character, who died in the pursuit of their ideal or mission.

  3. Reduce their Table Time
    If you want a softer solution, try ignoring the players when they are combative. Direct your attention back to the other players. Eventually they should understand that this isn't desirable. More often than not this is a first response, before moving on to others.

  4. A Common Goal
    You mentioned trying this already, but I want to include it as part of a more comprehensive answer. Sometimes giving players a common goal will help them become more party-friendly. The best scenario is that the common goal relates to their feud. For example, if the players are rival wizards fighting over an artifact they might be convinced to help each other if their wizarding order depends on it. Especially if they both lose the artifact if they don't!

Away from the table:

  1. Just talk to the players about it.
    You mentioned that they are both reasonable away from the table, perhaps its something they don't realize is negatively influencing the game. Explain that it might be fun roleplaying for them, but it is detracting from the rest of the table and isn't in line with the flavor of game you want to run. If the two are friends, it might be suitable to talk to both of them at once.

  2. Nuclear option: Boot them
    The worst case scenario would be to boot them from the table. Not every player (or combination of players) is suitable to every party. They might still be good people and players, just not for this game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for Wisdom. It seems like 5 was already something he did, but I'd advocate that he repeat that step at least one more time if it can't be resolved at the table. \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov Jul 9 '15 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer, would you consider 2a Enlisting the other characters to force a resolution "you guys are sorting this out right now or you can find yourselves some other guys to run with! We're walking!" \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Jul 10 '15 at 7:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ In the vein of common goal; you could provide them with a common enemy that feeds on their negative emotions. \$\endgroup\$ – Isaac Jul 11 '15 at 1:24
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Has anyone else managed to deal with this effectively?

We had a rather mischievous GM in a Cyberpunk game in school that talked with the two players once and after they would not stop their infighting, had two NPCs hire each of the characters in secret to kill the other PC with a timed device (an explosive cyberware part and poisoned food). Both characters succeeded. Both characters died. Both players then played a character more in line with what the GM wanted.

But your players need to be a special breed to take that treatment in stride. Those two were somewhat happy with the ending, I can easily imagine this going the wrong way with different people behind the characters. It's up to you to figure out if this would work with your two players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd like to avoid killing them off if possible, but that is an excellent way to do it if it comes to that, they would probably just laugh it off. \$\endgroup\$ – Lexorez Jul 10 '15 at 14:13

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