Player PvP in D&D is something that every DM will experience at some point. It could be a problem player, consensual RP, but it will happen eventually for almost every player and DM out there.
Player PvP in D&D is caused by something. Usually out of game, but it can be in-game. The only good PvP is consensual between all parties involved.
Player PvP happens for a reason, and that reason is extremely important. It can make PvP a good experience or a group shattering one. That is why we need to make sure pvp is a good experience instead of a bad one.
Types of player vs player actions.
There are a few different subsets of PvP that we will go into. Here they are in escalating order.
- Dueling for fun.
- Subtly plotting a minor prank.
- Stealing from another player.
- Planning to harm the other character through others.
- Personal plans to harm the other character.
- In-game roleplay PvP to subdue a character. (not mind controlled)
- Roleplay to the death PvP.
- PvP with real-life consequences and reasons instead of in-game ones.
You might not even consider some of these as PvP actions, but they are pitting one player against another player.
First, we will go over the different types of PvP. Then we will go into the different reasons for PvP to occur. There are only 2 reasons, roleplay and real life. Next, we will cover how to spot the early disaster signs. Lastly, we will look at ways to help make PvP good or not an issue.
Before we get into these PvP actions there is a rule that needs to be addressed. “No PvP at the table.” This rule has a few problems, but can be good.
The rule of no PvP is a great way to stop players from engaging in pvp. If that happens then when the players get rowdy the DM has a great reason to step in and just not allow it to happen. There is a problem with this rule though.
If you engage the rule of no PvP at the table then what does that mean? Does it mean that players can not argue or lead to any interactions? Does it only apply to combat? You need to iron out this rule a little bit more or it can cause issues.
If your goal is to stop PvP combat, then you can state that combat is only allowed if both parties agree to it. You can go further and state that any roll against another player, even a slight of hand, is up to the person being pick pocketed. They decide if this is possible and thus a new layer of PvP is denied.
It is important to get this sorted out in session 0 or asap. As you can see, there are already a bunch of different levels of PvP. You need to consider how to deal with each level of PvP differently, so let’s go into each level of PvP and discuss how to deal with it.
Dueling for fun
The nicest form of player PvP in D&D is a friendly duel. No one is going to die, and this is just happening for some roleplay reason.
Due to the nature of this PvP, the players already know that it is a friendly duel. They will not take it personally and the worst that could happen is that a person looses a little pride.
I have never heard of a time where the DM tried to stop the players from dueling for fun if they aren’t doing it in the middle of a dungeon, so it shouldn’t have almost any problems.
Always allow this, and if there are problems then it is most likely something else. The problem will actually stem from another issue below, but this rarely happens. If the players are dueling to the death, look towards the ‘roleplay to the death’ section.
For player PvP, just don’t let the players die on accident for any reason.
Some players will have issues with other players pranking their character. For example, if 1 person decides to hide a player’s precious item they will most likely be upset. If they are not, then everything is fine but having another player take an item or embarrass their character can be a bit much.
If you think that this is ridiculous, then you won’t have any problems with this kind of player pvp in D&D. Others will have problems with it though, and these groups generally just want to play the game mechanically. Not all groups, but this seems to be the case.
If there is a problem with minor pranks then the easiest thing to do is talk to both players. Discuss and figure out the differences between each player and come to a compromise. This shouldn’t be that hard, and if it is then the DM should institute the ‘no PvP’ rule by saying players cannot negatively impact other players intentionally.
This is the most common for of player PvP in D&D. Most pranks happen when players are roleplaying and it is done in good fun, but there can be negative consequences.
Stealing from a player
We have graduated from hiding to stealing objects from other players. Hiding is just putting them in an annoying place or with the intent to return rather soon while the item isn’t used. Stealing is far more seroius.
Stealing is one of the most mild form of player PvP in D&D, but it is also one with the most potential for repercussions. If the DM steals something from the group, they will chase that goblin to the ends of the earth for their 22 gold! It was theirs! No one can take their stuff!
This is an illogical reaction, but players will follow a thief to the ends of the earth. Consider how this will impact the group when the culprit is right there in your party. It will most likely cause tensions and can actually destroy the D&D group. It has happened before and will happen again, so how can you deal with this?
The no PvP rule had a clause about this earlier in the article, but making someone tell the other person if they are allowed to roll for sleight of hand might be a bit much for you. Instead, the players should discuss what is happening out of game.
Before you think that this is a bit much, consider what will happen later. Metagaming will happen and tempers will rise. It will eventually come to a confrontation that could destroy the group and no one wants that. This is why you should have a brief discussion about the action as it is happening. Make sure to have both parties involved interact and be understanding of the situation.
If 1 person has an issue with this, then it needs to be stopped or the game will blow up. Theft shouldn’t be too big of an issue and is sometimes required to help another player. Just make sure that the theft is only a surprise in roleplay instead of surprising the player.
Using others to harm a characer.
This for of player PvP in D&D is where things start to really get muddy. We talked about how metagaming will happen in the section above, but this is taken to a much higher level.
The player who is having plans put against them will know out of game what is happening most of the time and will most likely start to get more and more frustrated as time goes on. This is because their character is being attacked, but despite knowing about it out of game they can’t do anything about it.
If the character does find out how they are being harmed, there is a chance that they will figure out the other player was doing this. In game, or in real life if the betrayal was set through personal messages to the DM instead of making it table wide.
I would personally state that if this is allowed at your table (most allow it) to have your player who is harming another secretly inform the DM. Do not discuss it openly or the other player may get angry and just let that knowledge fester. It is rare to find a good sport about this type of PvP since it will actively cause disunity in the party.
The best scenario is to not let the informant let the party know the player plotted the scheme. If you can kill the informant do that instead of revealing what the player has done.
Just play it off as something that an NPC is doing. It is much better to pass it off as part of the plot instead of letting the player get caught. That is, unless they are constantly screwing over the party. Then they might need to be taught a lesson or the party will be destroyed.
If you are going to reveal the player, you should look at what to do in this next section.
Personal plans to harm other characters
This is when it becomes personal. If a player plans to harm another without using a third party there is no chance that they will not be discovered in the end. Sure, a player might try to deflect and pin it on someone else but that is extremely unlikely.
In order to pin the problem onto someone else the player has to have thought ahead. Most likely this will not happen and even if they have other players are unpredictable. They might uncover the plot in a way that the offending player didn’t account for and even with the DMs help will have their plot exposed.
This type of player pvp in D&D is almost equal to coming to blows. If that is the case there can be some compromise but in these instances players are actively pre-meditating on how to harm another player and are doing it personally. There will be no trust after this, so it is likely that the party will dissolve or the offending player will have to leave.
Dealing with the aftermath of this can either go 2 ways. Your players react as above and the whole game is in jeopardy. The second option is to deal with it in a roleplay setting AND players are somehow okay with this betrayal. Or at least will make the offending player repent.
The second scenario takes care of itself, but for the first you are in deep trouble as a DM, player, or group. There is only 1 way to assuredly avoid party destruction. Make sure both players talk to each other before the plot is ever put into motion.
Both players need to be onboard in order to make this work. If a player learns beforehand what will happen, they might agree to it. If a player learns about misgivings as they impact their character, they will be dealing with a bombshell and wont like it.
This is the only real way to avoid party destruction when players directly trying to undermine another. It also clears up if this attack on the character is done on a personal level or an in-game level to lessen the chance of any misgivings.
If either player doesn’t want it to happen, then I highly recommend to not allow it. If it is allowed, then there will be problems when the plot comes to fruition.
Subduing a character
Now we are at the point where actual blows are drawn. Players are fighting for one another, rolling for it, and possibly killing one another. The good news here is that this type of player pvp in D&D is not going to give any hard feelings.
Players might be a little mad at the DM. Especially if it was fixed, unfair, or made to intentionally destroy the party. If the party perceives your actions as unfair, then there might be a bigger problem at play.
Players could try to subdue a character for any number of reasons. That character is blackmailed, friendly dueling, they are mind controlled, or just forced to duel. In any of these instances DO NOT LET ANY CHARACTER DIE! You might be in a group that would be okay with this, but even if death is on the table dying this way is pretty bad for most players.
Aside from not letting a player die, it should be done in a way where it is obvious that the player is not the one making the decisions freely. They are coerced and the party should know it at a glance. This will allow a good resolution and a growth for character relationships in the end. Just don’t be too ridiculous and permanently harm any character.
Roleplay to death!
When you have roleplay player pvp in D&D it should never result in death. Something should stop it and the players should come together. The only exception to this is if it is at the intended end of the campaign. Otherwise, it will most likely be the end of your campaign.
You might say that PvP is okay in session 0. You might even mention that you will take a completely hands off approach as a DM early on and your players will agree.
The truth is that despite all of this if a player dies by another the group will fall apart. Someone will leave, or the whole group will dissolve.
I cannot stress enough how bad this is for the group and the game in general. D&D is a group game. You need everyone to play and everyone will not work together after this.
Allowing PvP to the death is just a bad idea and the only solution is either to find a new group or hope that everyone is actually okay with it. The chances of everyone being okay with it even if they say they are is extremely low, so don’t count on it.
This is purely death in game and people are understanding, but it is still bad and can get even messier.
PvP due to real life
Did you think a high chance of group dissolution was bad? You still haven’t encountered the worst kind of player PvP in D&D.
If your players are killing, fighting, or causing issues for each other and they try to justify it with out of game reasons, this is personal and it needs to stop. If it is not stopped or fixed, someone will get hurt and your group is 100% of the time going to have at least 1 player drop.
In good scenarios the problem player drops, but it isn’t always clearly defined who has to or will go. When players attack each other for personal reasons, your game is screwed.
There is not much I can help you with at this point. The only thing that you can do is talk to the people involved and try to get them to see eye to eye. The likely hood of that is low but not impossible. This is the only thing that you can do and it is worth giving it a shot.
If you cannot make both people work together or at least solve their differences you will have to drop a player or find a new group.
The good news is that there are plenty of warning signs.
Most DMs brush these aside and think nothing of them. A player is arguing with another again, that is just normal. Players are seething a little bit, but it might be roleplay.
In these cases, don’t ignore the signs. Just talk to your players and then figure out what to do. Do not let hatred fester in your group and have a plan. Preferably, act on that plan before it boils into a confrontation between the two players. If you act early you might save the group.
Player PvP in D&D can work, but there are many different levels of player PvP to deal with. You need to identify and understand what you are dealing with. Most likely you are dealing with the minor instances of player PvP that we all deal with.
Player PvP isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You just need to make sure that both parties are okay with it, talk, and don’t have character deaths result from player PvP.
If you have a single-player really trying to harm others they might be a problem player and require a different touch. To figure out if you have a problem player read this, but I hope that you do not. I hope that it is just some kind of misunderstanding.
Player PvP in D&D is far more complex than many people give it credit for, but just blatantly saying ‘no pvp at my table’ requires more context.
Even without that rule as a DM you need to think of how far your players can act against each other. Consider when to stop it and when to let it happen. Player PvP happens in every game. Just don’t make it escalate and destroy yours.
I hope that this has helped you deal with player PvP in your games!
Until next time this has been Wizo and keep rolling!