This is the third installment of a series titled Warstories, which consists of short post meant to inspire discussion and dialogue amongst DM’s. Warstories deal with the many different issues that come up in a D&D game from time to time, and tend to affect Dungeon Masters in particular.
I had an unfortunate situation to deal with in my game recently: inter-party conflict. It wasn’t the type of verbal cheap shots that are sometimes traded at the table, nor was it a simple argument about whether to kill or not an NPC. It was an all out “I’m dropping a daily, action point, and dropping another daily, and if he goes down I coup de grace him” type argument.
Now, you could say that as a DM, I shouldn’t have let the problem they were having escalate to the point of PC murder. I agree to an extent, but I feel that a DM needs to have a certain “hands off”approach in regards to how the party interacts with each other in order to maintain the feeling of free will. Could I have brought in some town guards in the middle of the fight in a darkened alley? Maybe. But that would be too much of a “hand of God” approach to the situation. I felt I had no choice but to let it play out at the table and let the chips fall where they may.
After the game ended, and both ended up dead, (the PC who killed first was then killed by another party member in retaliation during one of the encounters of the night) I stayed up thinking about it for a bit and realized a few things. One, it’ll take a strong group to come back from this. Even though it is a game, tempers were flaring, and insults were traded amongst the real people behind the PC’s. That can’t be a good thing, as some of the chemistry in my group is already a little flimsy at best. Second, no matter what, meta-gaming and the issue of trust will play a role with whatever new PC is introduced by the affected players in this mess. Of that I have no doubt, and I’m not looking forward to that. Third, I need to be a dicky DM and stop things before they escalate. The laissez-faire attitude cost some people a good time last night, screwed my plans for the evening, and left people feeling like they wasted 3 hours of their evening when they could have been home with their kids.
D&D is a game of heroic fantasy, and killing your party members and sneaking around the party doing your own things are not heroic acts. That’s not really the type of game I’m interested in running, not when my D&D time is so limited due to real life. So how did I handle it, after the fact? Well, my PC’s got an email from me basically calling them out and saying that if that’s the game they’d like to play, they can find another DM, because I’m not running that. I have zero interest in balancing a party’s dislike for each other, whether fictional or real. It’s not my thing, and I won’t do it or tolerate it anymore. When a player heads towards that, he or she is being disrespectful towards the DM and everyone else at the table.
There are, of course, groups that enjoy this stuff. Good for them, this doesn’t apply to you if you enjoy running games like what I’m describing. So I ask more experienced DM’s, how have you handled such situations? How did your group deal with the aftermaths? Was the table the same afterward? I look forward to your comments.