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Thread: Ask a GM [04/27/2009]: Players Becoming Enemies

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    Ask a GM [04/27/2009]: Players Becoming Enemies

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    thegrandsage asks,

    Do you think it is "bad GMing" to allow a player character to turn on his friends and become a bad guy. A lot of my players love the idea and see it as adding realism to the game, since not all people get along in real life and anyone can be swayed to evil. But a GM i know stated that allowing this or in-party fighting is bad GMing. What do you think?
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    I don't think it's bad GM'ing per se, but I think it's dangerous because intra-player conflict is often damaging to the long term health of a group of players.

    Is it realistic to let people form antagonistic roles between characters? Yes. Not everyone is going to get along, and even those that do can have a relationship go sour. That is life, and turncoats are a part of it. So having room for it in a game that likes to have a sense of realism and no artificial boundaries is all well and good.

    The danger comes from how people handle it outside of character interactions. If people can't separate the emotions in game from reality it can lead to bruised feelings. Even between people who normally get along. Heck, it happened to me in a game where nobody turned on each other.

    I was playing a fighter who was very mercenary and practical. He had family debts to care for and always went for wealth options. At the end of a small campaign arc, the party was dividing the treasure and my fighter was given first pick of the loot pile. He chose a shield that he could use that also had religious markings from the party cleric's church.

    The cleric asked the fighter to reconsider and the response was something along the lines of "I won first pick, and chose this. I intend to sell it and use the money to support my family so if you would like it you can make the first offer."

    Long story short, the cleric wanted it without paying and we had a huge in-character (or so I thought) argument in character. It got far enough from hand that I realized that my character would not give ground (also was stubborn) so I had him give up the shield and walk away from people who could not maintain honorable return standards. End of that characters participation in the party.

    After the session ended I talked quick with the GM about a new character idea and was just focused on that. When I got outside I found that the player of the cleric was waiting for me and was hurt by the character tension. He thought it was real. I thought we were (both) roleplaying in grand fashion. He wasn't. I was hurting his real feelings without intention.

    Allow it to go further and have people becoming huge enemies in game... only increases the odds of things getting worse outside the game. Sometimes people can handle it; other times they can't. Best to know before you allow it to happen, and to make it clear that it can before it does.
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    Grimwell

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    Would I call it bad GMing to allow a player character to turn on his buddies and become the bad guy? Not at all, but I'd recommend that you tread very carefully. Whether or not this can work in your game really depends on your players. If they are the sort that tend to take it very personally when there is any sort of inter-party conflict, then it probably isn't a good idea. If they are a mature bunch that can keep in-game conflict in-game and not allow it to become personal, then having one of the characters double cross the party can add a very interesting twist.

    Beyond whether or not your group can handle party conflict, there is still another important consideration. If you have a bad guy in the party who is going to ultimately betray the group, you guarantee that someone is going to "lose." So, I'd recommend that you thoroughly discuss the idea with your player and come to an understanding that if everything actually goes well, his character's plans WILL be thwarted. Depending on when this happens in the campaign, it may mean that the player has to create a whole new character after the betraying character "parts," ways with the group. If he's on board though, and you don't think it will turn into a big out-of-character fight, then why not? Forge ahead!

    This very topic was discussed back in December on a Fear the Boot episode as well. If you are considering allowing a player to play this kind of "adversarial player character," then you might find this episode insightful as well.
    Robert A. Howard
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    I also agree that it isn't actually bad GMing. There is usually some sort of tension even in the best of parties. Just want to make sure that what takes place at the game table, stays at the game table. Even in our "Tsojcanth" game, there has been tense situations between different characters. Just adds some more depth to the game. You really need to guage your players and be ready to step in if things start to go a bit too far.

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    I'm with Grim on this one too.

    I don't really think it is bad GMing, but I think if it isn't highly controlled it can get out of hand fairly quickly.

    This is the reason why I like Star Wars's dark side point system. It is a gauge of how closely the PC is to becoming evil and often, either in game or out of game, you can take steps to rectify the situation.

    Another thing to consider is roleplaying, a good roleplayer in an evil game or of an evil character SHOULD be evil, that is just good roleplaying. Which is the problem, often times the PCs are fighting against evil so the delineations between good and bad get drawn and the player of an evil PC can find him/herself facing off against their once companions.

    Like Grim said, it should be made clear that all this is happening in-game and not in the real world play vs. player.

    I think it can be done, I just think it needs to be handled carefully.
    "I'm afraid it is you who are mistaken. About a great, many things."

    "It is not the rules that make or break a game, it's the GM and the players."


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    I wouldn't call it bad GMing. However, having allowed this to happen in past campaigns, I wouldn't recommend it. Everyone gets attached to their characters to some extent, some more than others. While it does promote a sense of 'realism' for interparty conflict, it's too easy to degenerate into personal grudges and out of game arguments. On the other hand, if all player's understand that it is something that will be allowed, and they are mature enough to leave it in fantasy land, it can lead to some pretty entertaining situations. I had a Star Wars campaign, in which I allowed a player to have his character go off the deep end and become a sort of Dr. Mengala type villain. That character is a beloved villain to my players to this day, one they love to hate.

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    No, I don't think this is bad GM'ing at all. In fact, I think it is good GM'ing. If the character turns bad and it is done entirely within the world of roleplaying then I think it is perfectly played. The problem here is, it sounds like alot of people do it because they think it is a "cool" idea. Well most villains in real life don't usually rob a bank because they think it will be, "soooo cool!" There is usually a set of circumstances that leads them down this path. Within a party if one character is clashing (completely within character personality, not player personality), with other character personalitie(s), then it is a valid option. If a character has a certain mindset and maybe the villain they're going after shares this idealism, then it is just good roleplaying for the character to turn from the party.

    The problem posed from there though, is does the player still have control over this character? or does it become an NPC, and the player has to create a new character? Thats the question I ponder over in this situation the most. I think honestly that if this player gets to keep control over the character then it is not right to tell them from the start, "You're going to lose. This character will be killed. You realize that right?" Does the good guy, or good group always win out in real life? Of course not! Suspense doesnt come from knowing good will always prevail in the end. And it is not really fair to punish this player for playing their character well. The issue in letting the player use the character comes from the fact that he is sitting right next to the rest of the group in a session. So its kind of hard to separate worlds.

    I think what I would honestly do if I were a GM in this situation is turn the character into an NPC, let the player create a new character that is the same level as the rest of the party, and then when the old character/NPC/baddy shows up tell the player what the NPC is going to do and let the player get into character and use it until the encounter is over, while the GM or another player assumes control of the new character in the meantime. This spices up the story, and rewards good roleplaying.
    Last edited by Panthro82; 04-27-2009 at 04:15 AM.

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    Good answers guys, lots of valuable advice in here. I especially enjoyed reading Panthros, who's approach is somewhat similar to my own. However, here's the part where we differ.

    In my campaigns, if a player goes bad, they retain full control of the character. I give them the privilege of sitting next to me, and they can whisper their personal actions if they need to be kept secret from the party until they happen. (IE delayed actions, or some army ammassing during downtime) However, their big evil deeds, such as slaughtering the nun of Pelor or something like that, or backstabbing one of the characters to keep their secret quiet, is open for all the players to know. Of course, this demands the players keep that out of their characters heads unless they find out somehow IC.

    And honestly? If the bad player is clever enough, skillful enough, and devious enough to outwit and defeat the entire party on the resources allowed to the group? Let him, it's a hell of an adventure and everybody in my groups have always relished the experience. Heck, I've had a few neutrals surrender and pledge fealty to the evil one, the good ones were killed and replaced with new characters, and the entire game shifted from save the world for the money and glory, to save the world so we can conquer it afterwards while it's weakened.

    Granted I hear there are players who can't handle that kind of situation, but it's happened in... 6 games of mine (and is presently happening in one game in which I'm the player of the evil character) and it makes the game so much more enjoyable to have real competition. Just make sure everybody's a good sport.
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    inter party fighting = more GM oppoutunities

    Bad GMing? This is a role playing game and the characters are in a role. If the characters say are practical jokers and often take it out on their fellow members are the other not going to get upset after a while, and possibly retaliate? Two Chraters fight over a magical item, the rogue is contantly trying to PP the other member's pockets for it, or etc. These are only a few examples. but I belive the nature of a role playing game is just that a role play. If the characters do not favor one another then it is the GM's task to Master the Role playing, as a would he/she an encounter, an intricate dealing with an npc, an arch foe that constantly harasses the players.
    Many things can be done by the GM to thwart the infighting while staying within the parameters of his own adventure -
    Two characters are fighting, they fail to notice the approach of XXXXXXXXX where they are caught flat footed etc. / Thier poor demeanor causes neg modifier reactions to npc encounters, a key NPC may refuse to fight on their side or offer aid, while they are squabbling etc.

    I feel it just gives the GM more to work with, yes it can be a pain at times taken too far, but it up to the players how they interact with each other and the world around them.

    In Summary - It just gives the GM more opportunities to add glitz to the personal interplay of their game. If you don't like it in your game then, IN GAME teach the players why it is bad, but never force them via house rules.
    Freedom, is only survival in this decaying wasteland we call life.
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    I think the most important thing to watch is the player turning on other players, not what the characters do. Allowing on player to destroy another players fun is bad GMing. This can happen regarless of what the characters in game do. Having in game inter-party conflict was both good and bad in my games and it had more to do with the players attitude, not the characters actions.

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    It depends if it furthers the story or not in my opinion. Plus the fact that once the Character goes from good guy to bad guy ofter he becomes an NPC rather then a PC. If this is played out slowly with a final climactic moment of choice it might be a good thing. However if it is rushed and done poorly it shouldn't even be considered.

    So if you have a great roleplayer in your group and he discusses this with you instead of doing it on the spur of the moment I'd say give it consideration it just might make the campaign that more memorable.
    "Those who earn the title great do so only by having power and NOT abusing it."
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    I think one of the biggest things to watch with this is the players motivation. I had a player who wanted to turn Sith in a Star Wars campaign once. I let him do it and even went as far as to have individual gaming sessions with him before the groups normal sessions to further his story after he betrayed his group into captivity and fled. Everything went well until the group defeated him in a spectacular battle and his character was retired from the game. He was even fine with the character being retired since him and I had discussed it before I allowed him to become evil.

    The problem was that once he had tasted his evil powers he just wanted to betray the group again and again which the other players did not really like. Fortunately for us my gaming group consists of 2 friends I have known since we were in kindergarden and their siblings so real world anger was easily forgoten with us but I think allowing something like this can set a dangerous precedent and allowing it too often can rob the fun from players who want to play a virtuous hero.
    Struggle Against the Empire Character: Deak Alder


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    Bad GMing? No. As others have said, it is a serious thing, though. When handled well (as some have done without even thinking about it), then it can be spectacular fun and fodder for stories for years to come. On the other hand, it can result in loss of interest in the game, loss of an otherwise good character, and loss of the story (speaking as a GM, once nobody's happy with the game, it's hard to salvage a plot no matter how much you might want to).

    I think a main factor in how smoothly this can go is how well other players have their characters play along. I was in a group once where one player consistently took their character's actions to a dark place. He would consistently play one character off the others, spread lies and false rumors, and when it all came back to him play the wounded innocent and say, "Why does everyone hate me? I haven't done anything to harm you." After several rounds of this, the entire group (in character) set the character down and told him that it wasn't going to fly anymore. We, as players, were sick of his machinations derailing and distracting from the plot. I think it wasn't until then that the player realized that his actions were making it hard for the rest of us to have fun. Shortly thereafter we retired that campaign. I've heard that the player picked up the same characters again to run in a game of his own, but I'm not sure how that's going.
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    Looks like most of my response - that it's not inherently bad form - has already been said. I will add that it very much depends on the specific game premise and tone; Paranoia, for example, sets up the characters for this at any given moment, but it's a design goal. It's sorta like a tabletop Othello, where the Troubleshooters are Iago to the Computer's Othello.

    (Hmm, that'd be ... yeah ... <Sascha scribbles notes, cackles maniacally>. Ahem.)

    Even for games not written with backstabbing and betrayal in mind, the big Reveal has potential for an awesome session The key is clear communication of goals and intentions, between the player(s) and GM.

    "Is a Keyser Soze lurking in your Shadowrun team? Will your Force-sensitive foundling grow up to be the next Dark Lord? Will the Jayne sell out the crew, or parts thereof, for the reward? These questions - and many others - will be answered in the next episode of Soap."

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    Very rarely have I met and DMed for a group of players that could handle this, and at the same time wanted and agreed to it.
    -Etarnon
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