Dungeons and Dragons is a very popular RPG and most people I've played with have learned the art of role-playing with it. It favors gameplay around a tight-knit party that tends to stay together working towards the same goals no matter what happens. Usually such party decides the course of action by having a designated leader or through consensus-based decision making where each possibility is discussed until everyone agrees upon a satisfactionary outcome.

There are also RPGs that lack the expectation of a strong party that sticks together no matter what, and where conflict and drama between the PCs is encouraged (Apocalypse World, for example). When playing these games with DnD veterans, they tend to play it like they would play DnD - do things together, as a team, even when this contradicts their characters' interests. It's still fun, but I feel they're missing out.

In games that support the PCs struggling with each other, I would like the players to explore their options accordingly, having the guts to oppose other PCs and embracing the drama when conflicts of interest appear instead of trying to smooth things out around the table as they're used to. How can I encourage players to steer away from the DnD-style consensus-based party and try out this more "selfish" style of play?

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    \$\begingroup\$ How much is your question about characters acting for themselves versus players acting for themselves? I have seen games where players worked together to plan out and realize some intense character conflicts (and some of the answers seem to be leaning that direction), but I can't tell from the question if that's the sort of thing you're gunning for or not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Edward
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 21:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have them play Paranoia \$\endgroup\$
    – MKII
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 9:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ How aware are they that the game expects them to work against each other? And are they on board with the idea? \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 10:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm wondering there. Do they make the discussions OOC or ingame? And if so do they always have really enough time for them ingame? OH and do you mean jsut that you dont want them to coordinate their actions always (thus also sometimes at least folow their own targets) or do you want them to really work against each other? \$\endgroup\$
    – Thomas E.
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 22:11

6 Answers 6


In the character creation process, give them (or guide them toward) goals that are overlapping and diverging although not necessarily diametrically opposing. (You can give them opposing goals, but that may lead to more conflict than you want, and set-up a win-lose dynamic.) Another way of saying this is to give multiple PCs stakes in the same NPC or in-game resource, but to make sure those stakes differ from PC to PC.

As an example, if one PC has reason to see an NPC dead, make sure that NPC has something or can do something that another PC needs. These aren't necessarily completely incompatible (in a violent campaign, the PCs can always kill the NPC after they get what they want) but they do start to impose an order on the PC actions, as well as some drama and tension that can be manipulated by GM/plot-induced time pressures or other risks, that make it clear that while achieving two or more of these diverging goals is possible, it is much easier and more likely only to achieve one of them.

If you do want outright opposition, that can be achieved, too, just by making these hooks directly opposed-- one PC wants an NPC dead, and that NPC happens to be a second PC's uncle, or childhood friend, etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Developing allegiances, motivations and interpersonal relations at character creation is always good to seed and promote role play. Ensuring not all of these align will engender conflict among the players. I nearly always use some mix at a convention to keep things lively, but then I create all of them ahead of time, so can produce all manner of love triangles and the like. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can also build such things into the game world, so that players can align themselves with them or not during play, though their own play experience, rather than just starting with them on their character sheets. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dronz
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 16:42

I'd recommend trying to organize a few sessions playing board games where players have more structured opposed agendas (Battlestar Galactica, Shadows Over Camelot and Dead of Winter are 3 that spring to mind). Then ask them if they want to try a similar idea in a pencil-and-paper RPG. It's possible they just don't want to play these types of games though, so they may decline, but at least you won't have to invest a lot of time setting up a campaign.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried this yourself? \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Wibbs not as such, my group had already played these games before trying a pnp version, so it's hard to say how they would have fared if they'd gone straight to playing the pnp game. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ What does "PnP" mean in this context? (I'm only familiar with it as "Print 'n' Play", which seems unlikely here.) \$\endgroup\$
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 18:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joe "Pen(cil) and Paper", I believe \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is the best answer. I find supplementing pnp games with board games when you want to change genres awesome. It gives everyone a break, and in this context can provide a bit of "competition" that is more player vs. player then player v.s environment. \$\endgroup\$
    – coteyr
    Commented Jun 3, 2016 at 12:43

This is something of an "auxiliary answer" because most of the question has been answered already, but I feel the need to add:

Some people just don't enjoy intraparty conflict, even on a mild level. They want everyone to get along and have a good time. These same people will not enjoy competitive or 'diplomatic' board games.

So when discussing this with people, make sure everyone is on board with conflict, or you're just going to make people unhappy by trying to push towards it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I mentioned im my question that most people defaulting to consensus-driven decisions are people with plenty of DnD experience and little other experience. I can't just ask them if they like intra-party conflict - of course they'd say no, they've only played DnD where it doesn't work, which can lead them to believe it doesn't work anywhere. It's the predisposition I'm trying to counter. \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 19:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not convinced it's that clear cut at all. I have a player in one of my groups who has NEVER played D&D, and who we STARTED with a semi-PvP conflicty type game, and she pretty much literally came out and said "I really want for us all to be able to get along." and the game just wasn't working for her. Not because she was "predisposed" because she didn't know anything else, but because she was "predisposed" because she doesn't like that stuff. Don't sell people short. Ask them. Treat them like they understand what they like. \$\endgroup\$
    – Airk
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 21:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri You can't ask them if they like it, but you can ask if they're interested in trying it. You don't need to manipulate them into trying it; I can't imagine that would turn out well. If you ask and they say no, shouldn't you respect that? \$\endgroup\$
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 23:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have to second @Airk on thaïs point : some people don't like real life drama and other might have bad experience with characters drama that translates to players drama. It's a gamble, you can have a fantastic game or your gaming group might shatter. Remember that one player might take it personally if all the others gang up on him. You will have to manage your group and your scenario so that rain falls evenly on everyone. \$\endgroup\$
    – MakorDal
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 6:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm one of those people Airk talks about. I might play along for the group, but it would be less enjoyable for me. I have similar behavior in computer games (prefer coop games to pvp), and in life in general. I can and do play competitive games with people, but usually only when there is some other goal I can focus on (like deckbuilding in CCG or just plain trying to play the best game I can with the given hand in normal playing card games). I especially dislike it if other people are very competitive and get emotionally involved in winning. \$\endgroup\$
    – HSquirrel
    Commented Jun 2, 2016 at 13:53

In my experience, we stopped with that "forced group thinking" when we were first exposed to games where characters can be diametrically opposed.

My first game of the genre was Steve Jackson's In Nomine. The setting was a one shot (adventure, not session. This spanned a couple of sessions) where there were multiple factions of angels and demons in a town fighting for control (the GM created a TON of archetypes for both sides and let us pick/customize our own).

Before the game we each had an appointment with our "boss" to be given our objectives. Since these objectives were extremely different and varied (some demons want to destroy & control, others seduce and charm), each player was "on his own" to figure it out. This quickly led to the player group (the "new guys" in town who,by reflex from our d&d days, stuck together) to split in their actions, and eventually fight. Since proper expectations had been set (this was a one shot, some people WOULD "lose" in game, but the intent was to make a good story not get every player to win), no one resented anyone

If you don't feel like changing your setting to force such differences, then the clever use of side quests and plot hooks will do it for you. You want your players to disagree and argue? What if the archvillain they are fighting turns out to be one character's long lost mentor he wants to redeem? (this can be setup from the get go even, telling the player "everyone will want to kill him. Not you though"). If you need mechanical rewards to get them to do it, extra XP/magical goodies can do the trick at first. Now, our group likes these sub-themes because they bring surprises and variety to the games.

It DOES require a bit more planning and forethought than the normal way... Because some players will resent not "killing the bad guy".


Make it clear it's not a party game

Right from the start and Out Of Character, be clear that intra-party conflict is not only a thing, but encouraged.

Setup conflicts during character generation

Ask leading questions when setting up relationships between characters. "What did Alice steal from you that you desperately want back?" "What did Bob do that has you so angry?" etc.

Get NPCs in there to mix things up

Have NPCs approach a single PC and start trouble; Is Chris's character interested in an NPC? Have the NPC try and seduce Dana's character.


Give the players secret side quests / objectives with attendant rewards (XP, magic items, etc).

Personally I think GURPS has better mechanics for this style of gameplay than D&D. In GURPS, characters are built with psychological/social/physical advantages and disadvantages which they are required to roleplay. Experience is awarded by the GM on the basis of how well the players stay in character as well as meeting their objectives, versus how many monsters they kill.

For instance, a character who took Pacifism as a disadvantage would be rewarded for finding a non-violent way to resolve a hostile encounter and penalized for killing, or possibly even permanently penalized with a new disadvantage (like a phobia) for a really egregious violation.

I like to use poker chips to award character points (XP). 1 chip = 0.1 CP. Good RP in an encounter awards a chip (or more), doing something out of character causes you to lose chips. It's a immediate feedback mechanism for encouraging players to stay in character.

Requiring your characters to take the Duty disadvantage is a great way to force conflicting goals on them, and is very appropriate to a feudal-type fantasy setting where characters would have sworn fealty to a leige-lord, guild, or religious order.

  • \$\begingroup\$ If the system is amenable to it, having some sort of physical medium to distribute is beneficial - it gives players a sense of "ownership" in an odd sort of way. However, I can't +1 this due to the punitive approach it includes. \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 17:27

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