Rewarding inter-party conflict

D&D is at its core, a social/cooperative game. Now that sounds cliché, but what it means is this: A large part of the players’ motivation (not the characters, necessarily), should be to…

  • strengthen the bond of the party
  • support each other player’s character-concept in game
  • weave your story alongside the other characters’
  • work together towards your goals

The exception to this rule comes when tension or opposition within the party results in dramatic/role-playing rewards. In order for the latter to work, remember, both PC’s need to be on the same page. Let’s take an example…  The party of 4 PC’s arrive at their destination, at the Fell Keep. The rogue recommends they pay a passing merchant to smuggle them into the potentially hostile city. The wizard opposes him,

“No way, that’s illegal. No one has directly attacked us yet, so we’ll walk in through the front door, as normal.” says the wizard
“Last time we tried that, we were mugged, then beaten by the guards.” says the rogue
“These are different guards, it may not happen that way.” says the wizard
“I’m not willing to risk it, it’s too dangerous.” says the rogue
“Then I’m going in alone, through the front door.” says the wizard
“I’m leaving then, this is foolish.” says the rogue
“Fine then, leave. The last 3 traps you tried to disarm sprung anyway, we don’t need you.” says the wizard.

~End Scene~

Note that the other 2 party members keep silent. Subconsciously they realize this has become a player vs. player conflict, there is no role-playing reward at the end of this tunnel, and the atmosphere is hostile. They don’t want to get involved. And understandably so. They’re here for character conflict, not player conflict.

Let me repeat. There is NO role-playing/dramatic reward for this conflict. If we look at the resolution (the rogue leaving and the wizard barging in), it’s the basic equivalent of each player “taking their ball and going home.”

This conflict is a player vs. player conflict, at its core. It isn’t an RP conflict, in-game.

 

Remember our 4 player motivations? Let’s see how this scene matched up…

  • Did it strengthen the bond of the party? Obviously, this conflict weakened the bond. 2 PC’s are parting ways, neither satisfied with the scene, and 2 PC’s are alienated as a result. Frustration ensues, to say nothing of the in-game consequences.
  • Did it support each other player’s character-concept in game? Noooope. Instead, the rogue is made to feel useless. Sure he fumbled the last 3 traps, but it was only because his fingers are still broken as a result of his torture, in the dungeons of Thay.
  • Did it weave your story alongside the other characters? see section 1.
  • Did you work together towards your goals? This is a truly dangerous keep, doubly so for the PC’s. They’ll need to be at their best (not crunch-wise, but cooperatively.) None of this is pictured above.

So what are some alternatives? Maybe the rogue suggests a compromise. “Very well, we won’t smuggle ourselves in, but why not at least adopt disguises? Cover up visible holy symbols, and walk in appearing as traveling merchants or mercenaries. We can lose the disguises after we’ve taken the temperature of this city.”

As for the rogue’s inability to disarm traps, it could always be addressed in-game. In a way that supports the player’s character concept.
“Listen, Nimble-Jack, we’ve all noticed what happened with the last 3 traps you tried to disarm. The last one almost killed Smigby the Gnome. What in the hells is going on with you?” says the wizard.

“My fingers never really healed after what they did to me…back in that dungeon. I fear I need something more powerful than a healer…” says the rogue.

“And there are others still trapped down there?” says the wizard. And so on.

Let me give you a perfect example of good conflict, taken directly from our very own campaign.

Picture a scene in Melvaunt. The party is bearing down on Aurilin for information, regarding the artifact she is looking for. There is legitimate conflict here.

On one hand, Aurilin (Therese) has been sworn to a degree of secrecy regarding her homeland and this artifact, along with its powers/history. On the other hand, the other party members are being asked to risk their lives to aid her, and follow her into the west. Lirorym (JJ) feels he should know what they’re after, and why. Aurilin knows she can’t do this alone, she needs their help – but she needs to balance that with the promises she’s made to her order. At the core, she needs to give the party a reason to trust her, especially in light of her suspicious interactions with Daumar, the green-eyed assassin.

Prime character vs. character conflict. Rich roleplaying/dramatic rewards. Onward.

 

A tense conflict ensues, with the party members pummeling Aurilin for information about this artifact, and her quest. She deftly evades for a time, redirecting, pushing back. In the end, she does offer them limited, relevant details. At this point, JJ says something powerful. Lirorym mulls these details over, then says…
“That’s all the information we need. We’ll help you. Stop, you don’t need to tell us any more.”

The conflict was resolved, and JJ scored a perfect 10 for Lirorym and Aurilin. Character concepts are supported, the party bond is strengthened, and the characters agree to work together. As a team, the story moves forward.

JJ made the right call. If he and the rest of the players had wanted to, they could have made a different choice. They could have drawn a line in the sand, continued pushing Aurilin. “No way, we won’t follow you until you tell us everything. There are no secrets in this party,” they might have said. In the end, Aurilin would have had two choices.

  1. Submit, and tell them everything:  Well done! We put Therese in a pickle, as a player (this is a player vs. player conflict, at that point). Nice job, team, we got Therese to abandon her entire character concept today. She’s frustrated, and we’ve eliminated any opportunity for her to flesh out that sub-plot. I’d call it a win, right?
  2. Refuse, and part ways:  Therese draws her own line in the sand. “I swore an oath, I can’t answer all the questions you’re asking. Not yet, any way. If you won’t accept that answer, I’ll part ways with you. I’m taking my ball and going home.”

These options speak for themselves. Instead, JJ nailed it, & everyone gets onboard.  Mission accomplished.

 



About

Max makes his home behind a DM screen, limiting contact with the outside world. He has his meals delivered, pays entirely in d4's, and communicates through a network of carefully positioned homunculi. He lives a satisfying life, but secretly hungers for more. In the meantime, Max feeds his appetite with all manner of fantasy literature, PC & Console gaming, board games, & of course Dungeons & Dragons. With a penchant for DMcraft, he prefers 3.5 edition to 4.0, and is impressed with the changes introduced by D&DNext. Max was introduced to 2.0 AD&D early on, and prefers not to dwell on it (THAC0, anyone?)


'Rewarding inter-party conflict' have 2 comments

  1. February 23, 2017 @ 4:51 am C

    As a new player (only two sessions in), I have a question that I would love some advice on. When you have a player, let’s call him Sheldon, who makes decisions that go against the rest of the group, how should the other players handle it? For example, we were hiding out in an abandon house in an overrun town and Sheldon wanted to go a shop to browse. There wasn’t anything we needed for our mission, Sheldon’s character had virtually no sleath or way to disguise himself, and the rest of the party wanted to continue to hide. Sheldon went anyway, didn’t end up buying anything, didn’t learn anything new, but may have given away our position (we ended the session there so it has yet to be revealed).

    This isn’t new behavior for Sheldon. I assume the party will need a discussion about going against the rest of the party at minimum, but as a player, how do you handle other players who aren’t willing to resolve conflict with compromise? I understand that I also need to compromise for the sake of the story, but the fun of it gets sucked out of the game fast when some players are forced to make compromises on their choices of their character while other players aren’t. Is there a point where the DM should step in, narratively or not, and try to get Sheldon to be more flexible?

    Reply

    • February 26, 2017 @ 6:25 am Max

      Hi C,

      Thanks for the question, and it’s a huge question indeed! The tools you have at your disposal to solve this problem are certainly different as a player than as a DM, so I’ll throw out my thoughts from a player perspective first.

      Some players get destructive when they get bored at the table, simply put. Sheldon may not be engaging with the story, or with these individual scenarios, and so to entertain himself he’ll throw a wrench into the works. Keep one thing in mind. The ONLY real currency at the D&D table is spotlight. To clarify – each player desires a certain degree of attention, their time on the stage. Players don’t seek gold, XP, or magic loot just for the sake of it. They want to spend that gold on interesting items, use that magic loot in interesting ways, play with their class abilities on-stage. One way to help may be to deliberately shine more spotlight on “Sheldon.” Though it might seem counterintuitive (should the squeaky wheel get the grease?), ask yourself – would Sheldon be stomping out the door to go shopping if he felt like he were an important part of the scene? For example, a simple few lines of dialogue may help.

      “I notice (insert Sheldon’s PC name)’s fidgeting next to me, and I turn to him. ‘not your preferred approach, is it? Would you rather be out there, facing the enemy man-to-man? Aye, well the time for that may be sooner than we think.”

      If that isn’t enough, you might embrace his idea & tie it to the narrative. IE, “You want to go shopping at a time like this? I’ll tell you what, if you simply can’t sit still you might as well do something useful.” And send him on a reconnaissance mission, etc.

      In my experience, the most skilled RP’ers are the ones who continually turn the spotlight onto their fellow characters, embracing their character-concepts, etc. The Dungeon Master should be in a position to address Sheldon’s behavior in a similar way. After all, spotlight is his primary resource.

      If none of this works, you might consider brainstorming with the DM or other players, in the form of a brief huddle in-person or online. Ask each other, “how is everyone enjoying the game so far?” Is there anything you’d like done differently? What would you like to see more of? Try and identify each players hot-buttons/areas of interest and deliver those to each other as players. If Sheldon’s needs are met, you might find him a more enjoyable party-member.

      Of course if none of this works, it will be time for the DM to step in and have a side conversation (these sorts of things are rarely handled best in-game. In-game solutions tend to come across as punitive and fun-sapping.) In truth, this particular game may not be the best for Sheldon. He should have an opportunity to step out and await a better fit, or voice his own concerns.

      Good luck, I hope some of this is helpful – let me know if you have any other thoughts, and PLEASE keep us updated on your campaign!
      ~Max

      Reply


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