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Recently my group's campaign in Anima: Beyond Fantasy took a turn towards a combination political intrigue/martial arts tournament that inevitably ended up resulting in PvP matches. The first of these matches went ok, as the rules of the tournament heavily favoured one of the combatants more than the other. The second PvP combat was dodged as a player dropped out rather than have to fight their opponent.

Then we got to a special event, the Naval Combat.

A few things went wrong here:

  • We used new, homebrewed, untested rules for the combat. This lead to a lot of confusion and a lot of 'I thought ...' 'But I thought...' style conversations
  • The players involved are bullheaded, rules lawyers, and competitive (I can say that, because I was one of them). This means that the combat saw some attempts to use tricks that had previously been held in reserve, or hadn't seen the light of day in quite some time, leading to more rules references
  • Anima is a particularly complex system, especially after being translated to english (none of the people at the table can read Spanish with any fluency), and with many edge cases. In normal combat this can be pretty easily hand-waved or adjudicated upon later, but in PvP combat any discretionary ruling by the GM will intrinsically favour one player more than the other.

The biggest issue by far, though, was that neither player was willing to give an inch (exacerbated by the fact that they knew their opponent had the same attitude). The combat was overly long, tempers flared, and everyone at the table was either zoning out or getting frustrated at the bickering and rules-lawyering.

How do you avoid this? Was this a perfect storm where any one change could have resolved the situation? Is there a prevailing factor that crops up in other situations that we could try to mitigate? Is PvP combat just a bad idea?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand that this might be opinion based, and will gladly accept closure if that's the decision reached. I do feel like there are GM techniques (or techniques that the entire table can use together) somewhere out there that can definitively help mitigate this kind of situation, though \$\endgroup\$ – lithas Mar 21 '16 at 19:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, I'm sure that it's not opinion based as much as any gm-techniques questions. Still I think that it would be better to narrow down question to one system. Because, IMHO, PvP is heavy dependent on mechanics and balancing. You may approach this question in general, system-agnostic position, but I'm not sure if it would be better. \$\endgroup\$ – RollingFeles Mar 22 '16 at 4:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RollingFeles I could replace System-Agnostic with the 'Anima' tag. Let me see if anyone else has any input on that decision \$\endgroup\$ – lithas Mar 22 '16 at 15:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ You could ask a similar but different question about PvP in Anima, and include the specific rules issues you see. Or even ask a series of questions about each specific rules question your group has. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Mar 22 '16 at 18:25
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PvP combat does not have to be a bad thing. I have run and played in many games where various forms of PvP have been enjoyable and interesting, and did not lead to the problems you are facing.

The issue in your case sounds mostly about rules questions, rules lawyers, and the lack of a solid authority on the rules. Adding competitive players and PvP to that mix makes a recipe for upsets.

So address those things.

  1. Unless none of the players care about exact rules (which is the opposite of your players), a game needs someone (preferably the GM) who is the authority on rules details, and who is accepted by everyone as the first and last ruler on what happens in the game, and what the rules are. Note those are two different but related things:

    • In most traditional RPGs, the GM should be clearly accepted by all players as the person who has the final say on what actually happens in play, regardless of the rules.

    • What the rules are, is different from GM rulings about what happens in the game world (perhaps in spite of the rules, see 1a, sometimes also called "rule zero"). It helps if the GM, or perhaps one or two other players have really mastered the rules, but if there is any disagreement about what the rules are, or who really understands them, in order for play to go smoothly in the case of disagreements, I recommend there be an agreed authority (typically the GM) to answer rules questions during play. The rules authority may hear an argument during play, but can also call for points about the rules to be held until after play is over, and his rules trump any arguments during play, except from the GM. So you all agree that the GM or an agreed expert gets to say what the rules are during play, and arguments about them are overruled by that person. If the PC of the rules expert is fighting another PC, it's best if you have another expert be the authority for that contest, if possible.

  2. If you guys really care about the rules so much, and want to be able to do PvP combat smoothly, master the rules better and agree on them. One way to do this is to play a number of throw-away arena combats that aren't part of a campaign game world, or involve non-PC situations played out for fun, so there are no high stakes and you agree to find the rules edges and figure them out.

  3. Since you're using translated foreign rules and no one really knows or agrees on all the rules, it could help to write your own house rules / interpretation of the rules, in English. Whenever a question or disagreement comes up, work out what the rules will be and write them down. This can be really helpful for many games that have rules holes, or where the group isn't happy with the rules in specific places.

In addition to addressing the issues with your group, for PvP in any group, I think it's very important to be careful about same page issues. Make sure that there is agreement about what sort of PvP is ok, or not, and what the procedure for it is. Some players don't want any non-cooperation between PCs. Some players hate their character to get hurt, embarrassed, or to lose any of their possessions. Some players will get into "betray the party" mode. Some players enjoy fighting other PCs, but some want to limit it to non-lethal blows, while others don't. Some players and some PCs hold grudges. Some players don't mind fighting other PCs, but expect to not actually be killed or maimed. All these sorts of expectations and potential upsets should be discussed, and it helps to try to make sure players are on the same page before each PvP situation happens, too.

Some of these distinctions can be helped by developing them as customs and laws and code of honor in the game world itself. Such as laws for fighting and duels, specifying what techniques can be used, when the fight is over, what the consequences of a fight are, and so on. (Hopefully your players won't also want to rules lawyer those, too... or will at least enjoy themselves when the do so.)

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