Sunday, January 3, 2021

Some Thoughts on Player vs. Player at the RPG Table


Some Thoughts on Player vs. Player at the RPG Table
Even though lately I've been fortunate to be more of a RPG Player, at my heart I'm most definitely a GM, and I tend to approach things from a GM perspective.

From a GM perspective I theoretically have absolutely no problem with Player vs. Player (PvP) combat and that bleeds over to my thoughts as a Player, but in reality I am hit with the full-force of what I can only call the "societal norms" that PvP is bad.....m'kay. Sure, you may be sitting around the table with friends, family, and/or strangers trying to have fun, and stabbing your fellow party members in the (proverbial) back really takes away from that shared fun.

I think the argument for PvP is the "anything goes, we're all adults here" mentality that kind of assumes that a) we're all adults here and b) we're all rational adults at that. The thing is, my personal experience with PvP runs about 50/50, at best, with the actual reasons for players attacking each other's PCs being in-game vs. out-of-character, and even then the in-game stuff often seems like an excuse for actual out-of-character issues.

I know I've related my 1st HackMaster kill which was my then Brother-in-Law's charismatic Bard being set upon by the clingy party Druid when he switched allegiances to the Big Bad Guy (BBG) in the final battle. Sounded 110% like an in-game reason, but in reality the situation was that my BIL wasn't into RPGs in general and was writing off the experience as a one-off.

Then there was the time, again HackMaster, where we were at one of the two "big" tournaments...we being four of us from our home group and a couple of add-ons. We had a problem player who just didn't play well with others. I won't go into details, but we later found out he had an illegal PC, and his actions eventually got him banned not only from our events, but from the convention itself for a couple of years. Before that happened, however, we just asked the tournament organizers if he could be removed from our table as he was not only dead-weight, but we didn't want him to play with us for reasons....

The organizer's initial response was that we should just handle the situation in-character and assassinate his PC. Of course being a tournament, that would have just hurt our point-total, taken up too much of our limited time, and we'd still have had to play with the guy up until then....and deal with the fallout after.


I really doubt my experiences are that far off with regards to PvP than a lot of other Players and GMs. I'm going to assume that these shared experiences are what help shape the aforementioned societal norms that dictate you just don't attack fellow party members......


Of course for some of us there is no "unless". Breaking these norms is just taboo and even if you can somehow justify or rationalize your "bad" behavior, you run the risk of being admonished, ostracized, or even being removed from the group. At a minimum, unless you've got some mental/personality defect of character (narcissism, psychopathy, etc.) you should feel really, really bad for breaking a taboo.

So imagine my thought process when I decided, kind of on a whim, to have my Magic User attack a party member. Yes, I had a rationalization......and it still makes sense to me, but fuuuuuuuuuuuck I really thought I might get myself kicked out of the group. These guys have been playing together for a while now, or at least it feels like they've been gaming together for years, if not decades. Me, I think it's been about a year now. Regardless I'm the newb of the group.

We're exploring these ruins and know there is a BBG somewhat secured in a big-assed room/chamber. We don't know what this BBG is, and based on the motifs and henchmen we've encountered I'm thinking maybe....maybe it is a Medusa. I'm sure now it isn't a Medusa, but not in-character, and definitely not at the time of this event. We have this Thief sucking on fumes hit-point wise and he volunteers to quaff a potion of Gaseous Form and seep into the room and scout things out for us. See if our efforts to contain the BBG are effective or not. My MU is tapped for spells, as is the Cleric, and it's been a bit of a slog, although we're probably much better off than I'm realizing. 

Anyway the Thief comes back and he's completely enamored with whatever this BBG is. Clearly he's been charmed and it's clear this is the BBG's passive effect, probably a line of sight kind of thing. I'm off to the side grilling the Thief to the best of my ability and all he wants to do is let the BBG out and make some introductions. I'm playing along a bit in character, but I'm thinking it's a matter of time before this goes sideways.

This is when I openly tell the GM I'm going to sucker-punch the Thief in an attempt to knock his Charmed ass out. The group is surprised, rightly so, and the GM's initial ruling is that I out-right killed the Thief with the attack......


So not my intention.

The GM walks it back, not sure if it was a rule/ruling or holy-fuck the MU just killed the Thief. Wearing my GM hat I suspect it was walked back 'cause it didn't make sense for the MU to bitch-slap the Thief to death. It wasn't a crit and I was clear about my intention. I think the whole thing was a bit of a shock.

We ended the session minutes after and the time between my declaration and the end of the Zoom call.....man did I feel like I just ripped a massive fart in church. Everyone was staring and judging and it was a matter of time before the GM reached out to me to have "the talk". I've been on the receiving end of "the talk" once before (but seriously, fuck that GM....I had already quit, so asking me to not come back was more like him trying to save face). 

Well, that talk never came and everybody seemed ok at last night's session, and maybe it is. I think I've survived and probably will survive this PvP session, but I don't plan on making this a regular thing....


  1. This is cool. I get to see inside your thought processes after we game.

    Honestly, I believe you're overthinking this situation. Honestly, my face looked off because I was scanning our list of goodies looking for something to break the charm. Or I would have sapped him while he was talking with your character. Really...it was cool!

    My PvP stories of late are from running the Swords & Wizardry game at my school. Middle School boys want PvP very badly, and they do not fit into your two reasons above. So, I set the rule that (since we used to play weekly, before Covid), no PvP until after Xmas Break. By then, they were a party and looked after each other. But, they still wanted an all out brawl at the last session of the year....even if they were fighting a BBG.

    1. I'm certain my thoughts of being judged was a projection of my guilt......definately overthinking it, which was kind of the point.

  2. There's a difference between what you did, smack a character that the players, at least, knew was charmed vs a character who is abusing the group's trust to betray the party. Even worse when it's a player rather than a character.

  3. As you said, PVP is fine if you game with people that you know are actual adults (not just large, old children). In such a group the players will be mindful of the other players and won't intentionally indulge in acts that ruin other players' fun.

    That said, trying to KO a charmed PC is NOT PVP in my book. Characters get mind controlled in many RPGs and trying to subdue/hold/sleep them is just good play.

  4. No PVP at my table, ever.
    Now, in your instance I don't think that can be classified as PVP.

    In every instance of PVP I've experienced, it's been an issue between players that the players can't handle like adults. And I'm not innocent. (We all were stupid in our youths at some point.)

    PVP very specifically disrupts the team unity of the group to address inter-player problems. Conflict is not necessarily PVP. For example, I played a character that I worked out with the GM would end up turning against the party. I was given a free hand to detail the actions my character would take against his former teammates. I couldn't do a good job at it because I actually liked the other players. Now, if it had been a group of people I didn't like, I would have no problem detailing the cruelties I would inflict. I've had religious arguments in character (remember when Conan and Subotai were arguing whose god was greater?) - conflict can exist with respect.


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