Save vs. Player vs. Player

    “I’ll let the thri-kreen know we’re back so we don’t startle them,” the dragonborn female explained as she slipped past the wardens. The tunnels were cool and dark and Kiveya, the daughter of a dragonborn merchant, was eager to finish this trek and return home. The Wardens thus far had tolerated her presence, but the hostility was palpable from certain individuals. It was because of her father. They didn’t trust him – for reasons she didn’t know – they wouldn’t discuss it with her. It didn’t matter though, she got the goods she came for and she’d be out of their hair as soon as they got back to the city. Striding ahead, Kiveya began clicking and trilling in the thri-kreen language, calling out her customary greeting into the silent tunnels ahead.

    “That’s a good idea. Billy, why don’t you join her? You speak ‘kreen too don’t you?” piped up someone in the back of the group – it sounded like Melwyn. Kiveya snorted derisively and looked back over her shoulder, “You guys, he doesn’t actually speak ‘kreen! He lied about that.” Rolling her eyes, she turned her attention forward again, frowning at the significant lack of response to the groups’ presence. The hive tunnels were eerily silent.

    She heard his booted feet behind her, but she never expected what happened next. She started to turn, opening her mouth to speak – to remark that something was wrong up ahead – when cold steel bit into her scales and explosive pain blossomed somewhere in her lower back. The scream that ripped from her throat was shockingly loud – overwhelming the cries of confusion and surprise from the rest of the Wardens. Billy slashed across her unprotected back again and Kiveya staggered away from him. She stumbled. Knees and palms barked sharply against the rough stone floor, she barely realised she had fallen. The noise of scuffling feet and shouting voices came from behind her, strangely muffle and distorted. Kiveya collapsed, spasming weakly in a slowly growing pool of dark blood.

    “BILLY! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” Morwen’s shout echoed down corridors.


What followed was chaos. Billy was turned into a rat and then yelled at by his superior officer. Kiveya (my character) was healed but not happy. She was eventually put in a headlock by the goliath fighter to keep her from ripping out and wearing Billy’s entrails as jewelry. There was a lot of angry name-calling and accusations of betrayal by various parties. Feelings were hurt and even one member of the group quit in utter disgust of the unfolding events.

… and we all had a TON of fun!

You see, while the exact circumstances weren’t planned, Billy’s player and I had come to an agreement that our characters were at odds and if the roleplaying opportunity presented itself, then one of our characters would spontaneously take advantage of it to escalate the hostilities between our characters. After “joking” all evening about a secret signal for the entire group to turn against my character, Billy finally struck first and was rewarded with a critical hit on his surprise attack – the result was magnificent. The conversation at the table went something like this:

Myself: Oh, I know Billy doesn’t speak thri-kreen!
Billy: Oh that is it! I attack her! [rolls] Natural 20!
Everyone: [laughing, they all clearly think Billy’s Player is joking]
Myself: Holy crap, seriously?
Billy: Oh yeah, Billy’s serious, he’s sneak attacking.
Everyone: [laughing dies] Wait… what?
Myself: You are serious… [enormous grin] Okay, what’s your damage?
Billy: [math] and extra damage from my encounter power [more math]
Myself: Awesome, I’m bloodied!

We rolled initiative after that, the DM treated the first attack as a surprise round for Billy. Billy won initiative so he got to attack again, used an action point, and reduced me to negative hitpoints. After healing me, the rest of the fight consisted of the party trying to keep us from attacking each other by various means. Enjoying ourselves immensely, Billy’s player and I shouted insults and accusations across the table, roleplaying our characters to the hilt. Having concealed my class from the group the entire time, it’s finally revealed my character was a (reflavored) vampire, thus heaping more suspicion on my character as I needed to steal healing surges from the others to keep Kiveya alive and fighting.

Eventually the leader of the party negotiated a cease-fire and Kiveya compromised down from tearing Billy’s heart out personally to settling on him being arrested and taken back to her home city be charged with attempted murder. She is, after all, the daughter of a wealthy and influential noble who loves his daughter more than anything (seriously, I took “Well Loved” as my background!) so Kiveya is confident she’ll have no problem having Billy strung up for his crimes.

Player vs. Player rarely works as well as it did that night. The reason this session turned into an epic win was because the key people involved were already in the know. We had a mutual understanding and an agreement on how far we could take things – he actually had permission to kill my character if things went that far. I agreed not to kill his character if it came down to it. The DM was aware of our plans and approved. The rest was luck and good roleplay.

Usually when I see PvP at a D&D table it fails enormously because someone wanted to surprise someone else: the player thought the other player would pick up on the hints, or they thought just surprising them would be more fun. A DM orchestrating PvP without telling the group ended up with a table full of awkward hostility, not sure why everyone was taking things so personally! It’s hard to resist the urge to have everything be a surprise – it always seems like such a good idea! Unfortunately, I’ve never seen it work well that way.

PvP is often upheld as the Unholy Grail of Never Attempt This Or You Will Regret It. I disagree by merit of last Monday’s D&D game. PvP can be done and it can be great. It should not be over-used, and it should be pre-planned to some extent by all individuals – not spontaneous. You don’t necessarily need to tell every person in the group – but you do need to inform the targeted individuals in advance. Approach the actual roleplay carefully, gauge reactions. If half the group is surprised, they’ll look to their teammates for their reactions. While Billy and I were relaxed, smiling, and sitting back in our chairs calmly watching instead of being tense, frowning, and sitting forward then everyone at the table knew things were okay. From there, everyone can realise its all part of the plan and have a good time.

So has anyone else been in a PvP situation? How did it turn out?

14 thoughts on “Save vs. Player vs. Player

  1. In a long campaign I ran, my group found themselves in a wasteland area and came across an old abandoned camp site and the charred rotted remains of 5 bodies. This was all that was left the last group of characters that had tried out the adventure and failed due to an incident of PvP.

    the best example though was one of background PvP all done in cloak and shadows, that eventually lead one of the players to retire to his study and take his own life rather than face the shame of what had been exposed about him by another PC. A sad end, but very poignant and beautifully role played.

      • Different players but the mostly knew each other and were good friends out of the game, so there was a fun bit piss taking going on when they realised what had happened.

  2. Haha, love it! Well orchestrated.

    I haven’t had anything like that happen, however two players (not their characters) were pretty close to drawing swords on each other in one of my games.

    A mage duel would be cool to see, though…

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  4. In a 7th Sea campaign, we did an entire evening of nothing but Player vs Player. The GM wanted to tell the backstory of an occult item and we changed our characters to the soldiers and the priestess who were charged with bringing the item safely to its destination. However, there was a traitor in the group, as it quickly turned out. People started to die (there were more characters than players, so no-one was left out) and the characters turned against each other. It was glorious. In the end, we were all dead.

    I’ve seen really PvsP turn out really bad, with players leaving the group and such, but I totally agree that it can be done right and then it’s a lot of fun.

  5. I’ve really messed up with this. I was running a Vampire: the Masquerade game, where conflict within the party is generally a little more expected. For various reasons, two characters had a very different opinion on what might be the correct thing to do with a mystical dingus. One thought it very important to hold on to it (with no supporting evidence, incidentally… the player just thought it was a good idea). The other knew it essential that it be forced back into the only thing that could hold it, a ship that was in the process of sinking. Since the hold-on-to-it player was quite dominating during all aspects of the game, and the other quite timid and averse to conflict, I privately encouraged the latter to take matters into her own hands, culminating in her driving a vehicle into the other character sending the dingus, character and all down with the ship.

    As Storyteller, I thought this was a brilliant and dramatic tale of betrayal and desperation, and I was happy to see bossy player not dominate for once. That, I see now, was a stupid mistake, and in bossy player’s place I would have felt very let down. I really should have run through it all with both players, and made it clear that PvP conflict was approaching. I certainly shouldn’t have let my personal feelings towards the behaviour of the players influence me, but we all learn from our mistakes, right?

    • The group expectations make or break the outcome. Like you mention Masquarade expects a little more in conflict than most games, but if you felt like you let the player down in some way – your instincts are probably right about that. Did things end up ok between those two players?

      • Regrettably, not so much. I think there may have been other issues with their friendship besides this incident, but it took a long time to get past it. They’re still in contact now, but not really friends. I’m really glad that your own story panned out so well. I haven’t really encouraged PvP in my games since, but might rethink that if I take onboard your suggestions of discussing it thoroughly beforehand with any involved players.

  6. My only PvP experience is the first story we tell anyone who joins our playgroup.
    Mid way through a long campaign our party was traveling through the underdark. We where escorting an important NPC when another Drow walked up to us and started talking to me in drowish telling me to hand over my ‘slaves’ (party) to my guild since he outranked me. I tried to talk and bribe my way out but the DM was trying to get my character to betray his people and the drow insisted on taking the key NPC. After a lot of roleplay and my party trying to sneakily use shapeshifting to switch our arcane trickster for the NPC I sided with the other drow and we took down my party easily with poison. The cleric almost escaped but I rode him down on my mount and critted him to within a few hitpoints of death at witch point I said “And that’s how you roleplay lawful evil”
    The party was then taken captive and subsequently escaped whilst I rolled up a new character and my old one became a recurring villain.
    Everyone thought it was hilarious although the DM later said he hadn’t even considered me turning on my party but he did a great job on the fly.

  7. This happened very naturally in our Warhammer Fantasy campaign. It just felt right, given the types of characters we were playing, and the unfolding of events.

    I think it’s extremely important that players (and GM) talk about their characters and character motivations. It really does need to be a group effort for inter-party conflict to be successful and rewarding.

  8. Great article. Communication is certainly the key — at the very least if planned, the participants should be agreed on what’s likely to take place. After the fact, there might be some need to hash out what happened and clarify group expectations.
    My first party as DM, I was not prepared for the annoyance of the Chaotic Neutral Rogue. Sure enough, he swiftly began acting against the interests of both the PCs and the players, to the point that we had to institute several rules about how the game would be run. The worst was, he was very thoughtful and meticulous about what actions he would take to ensure he’d not get caught… he really played up the character, and I respected that.
    On his last session with us, as we came to a close with the PCs camped out preparing for a massive climactic battle, he hands me a note saying what his character would like to do. It involved destroying an item precious and critical to each player, planting explosives to go off in the morning, and stealing pretty much all their gold. I was dumbfounded. So were my players.
    That got hand-waved away, and I ended up writing an account of the rogue’s attempted chicanery. In his haste to write out all his devious actions, he forgot that most of the party were elves with trance-state sleep… in other words, they immediately saw it coming. I went into great detail in the account, giving the rogue a fair shake in fighting the whole party. Then I described his terrible downfall and judgment at the hands of some wrathful gods (particularly the one revered by our paladin, who the rogue hated).
    That was five years ago, and one of the party members sent me the account a few weeks ago, with the message “I still read this and laugh every now and then.”

  9. I’ve had a few incidences of PVP, or near PVP…

    I tend to not limit alignment choices, but tell players very clearly that if they choose evil and antagonize the party excessively, I won’t step in as DM if the rest of the party turns on them.

    In one of my first games I had a player essentially playing a blood-crazed lunatic. They were a re-flavored lycanthrope druid who was little more than a beast, having given in nearly completely to her animal side. She would frequently threaten the rest of the party (although never actually came to blows with them) and tended to do aggravating things like kill and eat their horses. A few players plotted to slip her silver in her food or other such methods, which we were all aware of out of character. In the end, her death was a little less interesting. Never being much of a team player, she opted to run into an orc-infested citadel while the rest of the party engaged the orcs outside. I am not entirely sure if the rest of the party consciously forgot about this, or deliberately allowed her to put herself into the situation. Either way, the citadel had to many enemies in it, and they promptly killed her. Nobody in the party was particularly keen to revive her as she had alienated them so much. But out of character most people liked how the character was played and we often still talk of her fondly.

    In a game I am planning to run I am actively encouraging betrayal and mistrust in the party (letting them know before hand). It’s a game set in Skull City years after the end of the Tomb of Horrors Super Adventure concluded. Basically the players secretly align with one of the factions of Skull City who have certain aims that they should help further above all other commitments, including loyalty to the party. I am hoping to weave in those alignments over what is otherwise a standard evil campaign to push players to debate between ‘breaking cover’ and revealing their true allegiances are remaining incognito within the group.

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