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Let me start off by saying this is totally my fault. There's nobody to blame but me. Our regular group couldn't get together, and the one guy who could make it had said he was interested in learning more about the new BBEG, so I set up a dream session designed for that player only. For very good plot reasons, the BBEG wants one of the party members in particular dead, and had captured this PCs family to bribe him to kill said character. I knew he wouldn't do it because he's not that type of character.

Then another one of my players asked if he could join last minute, and I had no time to change what I'd planned at all, so I just went with it. I threw that decision in there for moral ambiguity, which is a staple of this campaign, and I wasn't expecting them to take the deal. However, the second PC seems to have taken it as a challenge. He made a counter offer to the BBEG and set up a deal to get a personal reward if he's the one who kills him. The kicker: he could've asked for a wish from this guy, because he's THAT powerful, but he offered to end another PC's life for a book on smithing katanas (of which he already has one). He's been texting me non-stop for weeks about how he's planning to not just kill the other character's player, but to flat out destroy his soul so he can never come back. I'm so stressed about this derailing this plot, which I've spent around 8 months planning for them, or breaking the friendships in the group, or dismantling the party, that I've been losing sleep.

How exactly do I approach this? Do I let him perma-kill another player? Do I tell him I'm sorry and give him the book if he just promises not to do it? Do I give the other player some sort of Deus Ex Machina escape plan? I'm at a loss.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Did PC B (the unexpected PC) make this deal with the bad guy in front of PC A? Are there consequences if PC B reneges? Could this dream session have been a for-reals dream? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 31 '16 at 12:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, he made the deal separate, but PC A found out almost immediately because B's poker face is horrible, and no, there are no consequences for either of them if they don't go through with it. Also, I called it a "dream" session, but it was all canon to the campaign I suppose calling it a mini-session or side adventure would've been more appropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – Colt S. Jan 1 '17 at 10:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ He's been texting me non-stop for weeks about how he's planning to not just kill the other character's player, but to flat out destroy his soul so he can never come back. That's all the clue you need to understand that you are dealing with a toxic player. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 4 '17 at 21:45
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Roleplaying games are rarely perfectly balanced even for their intended use of PvE. PvP balance is nonexistant. It all comes down to who has the most access to and the most incluence on the DM. That's no fun, that's metagaming to the extreme.

Take AD&D 2. All it needs for your PC killer is to say "Next night when all of them sleep during my watch, I slit all their throats". That's it. By RAW, that's all it needs to kill a party of sleeping, defenseless people. Not even a dice roll is necessary. There's no challenge in it. At all.

What I have seen done is that the DM let the PC kill the others, then gave him his reward and told the story how he was never happy with his reward and always paranoid and got killed by the BBEG's henchmen after the BBEG won because nobody opposed him. That's a pretty clear message from the DM to the players to not do this, or there will be no fun.

Personally, I'm a grown-up and I don't need such a time-intensive way of bringing simple messages across. Just sit down and tell people what you want and don't want from the game. Not wanting a game where the team plots and kills each other is perfectly fine. You said it was your mistake it started (1), so own up to it and correct the mistake. Sit down with the scheming player and tell him you are sorry and it was your fault he misunderstood your intentions. Nevertheless, you would like to change how this plays out. You can offer him a way out (like in turn betraying the BBEG and gaining a reward that way) or you can hope you have a mature group where people are motivated by having fun together without being rewarded for every step they take.

If your players want to have some PvP fun once in a while, suggest a boardgame. Boardgames are balanced around all players trying to get each other. They can be fun, too. And they don't ruin another persons time-investment.


(1) It takes a special kind of player to actually take your offer. Anybody at the table should know that killing another player character unfairly (and there is no other way in RPGs) will diminish another players fun. Not another characters fun, another players fun. Make sure you really want such a player in your group. Such a behavior is anti-social and you are trying to have fun with a social activity.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate the advice, I'm definitely thinking that may be the way to go. The issue with this group is it consists of a bunch of close friends, and we all see each other on a regular basis outside of game night, so kicking someone out of the group is a little more detrimental than some, and spreading that bad blood is gonna be fairly problematic. \$\endgroup\$ – Colt S. Jan 1 '17 at 10:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ColtS. The advice to remove the person definitely isn't universally appropriate -- your judgement is important. The advice to admit you messed up and step back on it doesn't have to come with disinviting the person. :) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 1 '17 at 15:54
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Summary: Because this is complicated. The Big Bad wants PC Abel dead. The Big Bad kidnaps PC Bob's family to coerce Bob into killing Abel. Bob refuses. PC Carlos cuts a different deal with the Big Bad, PC Carlos saying he'll kill Abel if, afterward, the big bad gives Carlos a book about making swords. (Seriously? I have to assume Abel and Carlos? Not good friends.) Also, Carlos's player is terrible at keeping secrets, so the other players know Carlos is gunning for (stabbing for?) Abel.

Talk to the players

The central conflict in my campaigns is the PCs against the universe, not each PC against each other PC. It sounds like the campaign in the question has a different central conflict—and that's totally okay—, but it sounds like this particular conflict isn't the kind of conflict that was supposed to be emphasized.

As the DM, you can go to your toolbox and try to change that conflict by altering the story, introducing other adventuring parties as examples of proper behavior, punishing the players or their PCs for not adhering to your vision, or whatever, but, really, here, I urge trying this tool: talk with the players about your expectations and theirs.

You may want to tell a story of heroic adventurers overcoming great evils. They may want to tell a story of backstabbing ne'er-do-wells that lie, cheat, steal, and murder their way into becoming those great evils. While those two sets of expectations can mesh, they don't often mesh well.

Here's what you can do. Explain that everybody's worked hard to get where they're at for the past eight months and—let's hope, anyway—nobody wants a player-versus-player incident to be the thing everybody remembers about the campaign. Explain that while you'd expected Bob to reject the deal, you hadn't even planned for Carlos to be part of that session, so when Carlos dealt with the Big Bad, you had to improvise, and you screwed up. (Go ahead and shoulder this—the DM's burdens are already vast so this won't add much.) So right now is as good a time as any to discuss expectations—not just with you in real life as the campaign's players but abstractly for their characters in the current campaign as well.

Hammer out those expectations. See what folks want. If everyone had in mind a campaign of backstabbing ne'er-do-wells and the campaign's designed for front-stabbing heroes, adjustments on both sides must be made for the campaign to continue without everyone hating each other. And if a player or two has adopted an adversarial playstyle, urge him to redirect his schemes at NPCs: this may not be as fun for the player as is one-upping the other players, but it means that, when a plan reaches its zenith, the player won't get his car keyed after the screwed player flips the table and leaves. (Note that if the player insists that it's his character—not the player!—who is causing friction, see "My Guy" Syndrome, and if the player always makes nasty characters that can't get along with the party, see here.)

Urge openness

It sounds like the PCs are used to concealing from each other their competing goals. While this is common in media from television to board games, this role-playing game GM's often seen such concealed goals lead to frustration and animosity. That's because, first, the setting is often primarily in the GM's head so that an utterly concealed agenda may fail to reach fruition despite all efforts because the GM doesn't even know the goal exists; second, the only folks who are as familiar with the campaign are the other players, and if the player with a hidden goal can't bounce ideas off them on how to achieve the hidden goal, the player is isolated… in a medium that's all about social interaction.

So have the players and the PCs share their goals at least with the GM, and, quite possibly, with each other. Make it happen in game if you want, discussing hopes and dreams, plans and schemes, over the campfire. I mean, really, the PCs will be camping together until they die—they might as well get used to talking to each other.

Cutting this down: Make the PCs' goals manageable

Below's a brief list of what folks want based on the question.

  • Abel: Wants to live.
  • Bob: Wants to rescue his family.
  • Carlos: Wants to acquire a book about making swords.

Realize that none of these goals mandate Abel's murder by a PC. The only thing mandating Carlos kill Abel is Carlos's semi-secret deal. Take away that secret—and, by the way, that could be a hilarious in-character reveal by PC Carlos—, and then everybody can work together to achieve all three goals.

In fact, were I a player confronted with such disparate goals, I'd recommend faking Abel's death (disguise a corpse and, so he can come along, keep real Abel in, like, a bag of holding wearing a necklace of adaptation) and arranging a meeting with the Big Bad. If the Big Bad keeps his promises—releasing Bob's family and giving Carlos the book—, everybody wins, and adventuring resumes. If the Big Bad breaks his promises, intelligence about the Big Bad's been gained and nothing's lost.

But, either way, the central problem—PC Carlos killing PC Abel—is neatly sidestepped, and the PCs (and their players!) are closer for the experience.

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Let's have some labels. PC A is the one the BBEG wants dead; PC B is the one whose family was kidnapped, but who still won't do the killing, and PC C is the one who's taken the job. It's not at all clear how C plans to destroy A's soul, but leave that aside. B is the key to getting the party out of this mess.

Presumably B knows about C taking the job? Why hasn't he told A and the rest of the party about it?

Your mistake as DM was in opening the door to PvP, without buy-in from all the players. Being sure that it wouldn't be taken up wasn't a very good safety net, as you've seen. You need to close that door, and make that clear to your players. You could do it before or after resolving the in-game situation, but doing it beforehand is probably better for getting co-operation from the players.

The possible in-game ways out of this problem include:

  1. The party shares the information, confronts C and persuades him to back down, pointing out that the reward he was offered can be obtained other ways - which gives them a new mission, to find it.

  2. C won't back down, in which case the party expels him from their company, he becomes an NPC in the service of BBEG, and C's player needs a new character.

  3. C tries to kill A in the presence of the rest of the party, in which case they restrain or kill him, their choice, and we're back at case 2.

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If the murder attempt happens, one of your players will be upset regardless of the outcome. If you want to keep the group together, you have to stop this out-of-character.

I recommend telling them that, after some thought, you've added a new house rule for the campaign and PvP is now forbidden. You should probably also tell them that the session that gave them the PvP quest retroactively never happened.

If you wanted, since the one guy is so excited about the murder attempt, you could offer to run a private session for him so he could get it out of his system, with the agreement that that session wouldn't actually affect the game.

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I suggest letting the PC be murdered, and make some sort of revival ritual of some sort or bring it up somehow. Like, the killer having regret dreams that are terrifying and won't let it sleep, so just have to revive him or he'll die of no-sleep. Like, make some divine creature make him regret and not let him sleep! :)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Vladimir, and welcome to the site. Please check out our tour to see how we work here. As the question describes, the player's plan is to not only kill the PC but destroy their soul and make it impossible for the PC to be revived. "You regret it later, so let's bring him back" is kind of a no-go at that point. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 31 '16 at 12:58

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