Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How do you handle PVP?

So, this is going to be a quick post (the main post for today is the play update below) but I am interested in discussion this week. That said, today I want to talk about Player versus Player in RPGs. Now, this is a touchy subject for some people, some people have bad experiences. I know a lot of GMs who just flat out ban it from their games. But it is something that can, and will, happen eventually. Something you should know how to handle. So lets talk about it. Read on for more (including the real original beginning to this post)

A couple days ago I ended up talking to Jason Marker about Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and some other games that we are either in, have been in, or just caught our fancy in some way, shape or form. What the conversation really brought to light for me though was just how differently Marker's group handles their table craft from my own, and in turn, how that changes how PvP happens.

At the table(s) I play at, the group is fairly open on an OOC level. Most of us have bonded over some of the games we've ran, mentally challenging things that really gave us a sense for how the others think and play. We don't go into other rooms for secret meetings all that much, instead just trusting the other people at the table to keep their IC and OOC separate. It works for us, and we have a lot of fun. It also means though, especially with the RP discussion we do at the end of session, that PvP is usually seen coming by all sides nearly a mile away. When it does come to play, it is very quick, involves no OOC drama (or very very little) and can be brutal. Mostly though, as it is seen coming it can be avoided if one person doesn't want it. So when it is done, it is gone into openly with people knowing what is happening.

On the other hand, Marker's group is much more - dare I say - classical in their approach. They pull the GM aside for secret chats, pass notes, and keep each other in the dark. They all know each other very well, have been playing together for years, and handle things with maturity, but PvP when it happens is not done with everyone knowing what is going on. They have fun doing it this way, it works for them, and you get a more 'genuine' reaction out of the player and character to it because their mind hasn't had time to work out proper responses to what is going to happen to them.

Now, we both agreed that PvP should be organic. Meaning you have a reason IC for it and it is not just about being a dick to someone. But aside from that, the approaches are very different. So I'm curious, how do you handle PVP in your games? Do people get to know? do you keep it secret? What way would you recommend someone knew to GMing to handle it when it came up? Any particularly awesome stories about when PVP in a game of yours went off amazingly well and to the enjoyment of all?


  1. I feel that PvP should be handled differently depending on the game system, and the type of game being played. For example, even in our relatively more OOC open group if we were going to be playing Amber for instance Everything would be secret. Why? Because secrecy is part of Amber. For the same reason even for a more classical group in Houses of the Blooded you'd have to have a more open way of doing PvP because there is no way to OOC have a secret strike because of the system.

    I have one great example of PvP before I started playing with you. This was while I was running a GURPS game inspired by the comic The Red Star. Brutal world, deadly system, and some Angry characters. Due to skill sets the sorceress's Hailer bodyguard got called to do something else in a fire fight and he left behind a young trooper with the means to guard her. When the fire fight started the trooper, instead of guarding her ducked and hid causing the sorceress to be horribly wounded.

    Cut to almost 2 months later OOC, about 1 week later IC. The party is moving through some haunted woods, and the Lt. wants to know what is going on, and asks for volunteers to scout. The Hailer volunteers and points to the trooper and voluntolds him. The trooper is consistently failing every single notice roll he possibly can, which plays into the Hailers hands perfectly as he sends the trooper out ahead. Throws a telekenetically aimed and powered spear through his back, mercy killing the poor injured trooper with a machine-gun to the back. The player who played the trooper never even knew what hit him because the Hailer had planned and rolled everything out before the session 2 sessions before and just waited for a proper moment and slipped me a note, and bang.

  2. PVP doesn't happen often in my games. But I would say that a lot of that has to do with the fact that I play a lot of Star Wars, where the players are the 'good guys'. Good guys don't typically go around stabbing eachother in the back. In this type of game, however, we have had some 'pranks' pulled by characters on others. In those cases, I find it is best to keep it as secret as possible until the prank is pulled. Much funnier to reveal that way. An example of this was the old "nair in the shampoo" trick pulled by one character against another.

    At the same time, I've actually used PvP to set up some drama in my campaign, by secretly recruiting one PC to spy on the rest of the team. He was working with Alliance Internal Affairs to try and root out a suspected traitor in the group. In this case, I had secret meetings with the player in question which kind-of raised the suspicion level of the whole group out of character. Which was good, since I was trying (at the time) to generate some paranoia about a big upcoming meeting with the Alliance brass. I'm proud to say that when everything came to light, folks were still surprised at what was going on behind the scenes.

    In a short-lived D&D campaign I ran, I had an instance of straight up PvP action, since some of the folks involved were evil. In this case, one guy took a dislike to a henchman of one of the other characters and planned to kill him. By fluke of the dice, however, the would-be murderer fumbled and killed himself in the first attempt. A new character was rolled up—and quickly developed the same dislike of the henchman. Another attempt at murder was botched, resulting in THIS character being paralyzed. At this point, everyone at the table (including myself) began to suspect that this NPC henchman (a lowly thief) was protected by some curse. So, in this case, everything was out in the open—common OOC knowledge. It just worked better with that game and that group.

    So I guess it really does depend on the setting and your own personal preferences.