When is PvP not a dick move? It isn’t always a bad thing and has its place. Here are my thoughts.

When is PvP not a dick move? It isn’t always a bad thing and has its place. Here are my thoughts.

When is PvP not a dick move? It isn’t always a bad thing and has its place. Here are my thoughts.

In a game last night, a player and I exchanged blows. Here’s how it happened:

I came into the second session of a mini-campaign, where the party had rescued me from being sacrificed by a cultish group. Of course I had a reason to at least follow them around now, but no real connection. My character was the Master Minstrel, and a long past love had become, or was already secretly, a sorceress of some kind in a battle later in the session. In a heated exchange between our party and her minions/demons, I engaged her and attempted to have her take me back as her lover, pvertaken by my passionate personality and her being an old flame and all that.

Sparing the specific details, our fighter ended up injuring both of us with a significant spear attack. My character was distraught at the thought of this old flame being hurt, and so turned on the fighter at her command. Only one or two blows were exchanged, and this exchange caused my character to become confused on what he wanted, as love was affecting his morals and reason. The character finally realized what was most important here, and that love was blinding him. He finished off the sorceress and the party saw him as a traitor, somewhat. Something akin to a child that has disobeyed his or her parents, it felt like.

Here, though PvP had entered the session, it felt completely in place. My character had no allegiance or loyalty to the party, but it opened the door for two bonds to be created with players, where I now felt that I owed the party proof of his loyalty. This battle broke him down and drew him closer to his new party, teaching him how “love hurts” and what “true loyalty” is in the process.

Although it was an odd exchange while it was happening, it felt so right after it was all said and done, now that the battle was over and the party was off to their next adventure. Joicy Love was now a part of the group, but had a lot to prove.

What are your experiences or thoughts on PvP in your games? When did it work out for your party and the story?

18 thoughts on “When is PvP not a dick move? It isn’t always a bad thing and has its place. Here are my thoughts.”

  1. As long as the actions are telegraphed between PLAYERS and everyone is on board with it, it is totally awesome drama!  It is when a Player is getting screwed over expectantly that it leads to drama among the players and is not so good.  

    So, if you were really communicating with the other players: “Hey, I know my guy is off the deep end here… I expect some retaliation and it might get him back on line.”

      This means breaking character and talking in the meta a bit and some groups don’t like it.  But in my experience, meta table talk is a good thing.  

  2. A trick I learned, I think from John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded LARP, to pull the other player aside for a second, check in with them about how the conflict could go, and then come back and play it out for the others with both people’s buy in.  It’s worked well for me in DW in the past.

  3. Not a DW game, but still PbtA — I once had a Hocus in an Apocalypse World game that had a sordid history with a Gunlugger. They had several near miss conflicts throughout the campaign (pretty much whenever they were in the same room together, things would get heated).

    The Hocus was eventually excommunicated from her cult, and sent out to live with her true followers. Fox (The Gunlugger) found them, and a series of unfortunate events (and poor impulse control) led to a Mexican stand off. Lost (the Hocus) tried to talk everyone down, but ultimately failed, and Fox (and her partner) started killing people. Lost took a bullet to the head, and died in the arms of her lover.

    Behind the scenes, there was a lot of metagame conversation happening. I was feeling directionless with my Hocus, and wanted a change. The Gunlugger’s player was committing to the role, but had a lot of misgivings about killing another player’s character. After a lot of discussion, we decided it would be best for everyone (and the story) if she killed Lost, and I wrote up a new character. I don’t think PVP could have been handled any other way — there was no animosity between us as players, and we were working together towards a common goal (even if the conflict was simply a result of us committing to our characters’ desires).

    The result: the people who loved Lost started a manhunt for Fox, which cost her the love of her life — but she pulled through, and finally got away from a life of violence. I wrote up a Skinner that was a complete pacifist, and he made amends with Fox (a choice I made specifically because I didn’t want to spend the rest of the game hunting down Fox, or caught up in a conflict). He ended up being one of my favorite PCs.

    I’ve also had experience with PvP born from interpersonal conflict (player bleed), and that never ends well. It ruins relationships. The only way you should ever enter PvP is when everyone is having fun, and a constant dialog is maintained to ensure things don’t get out of hand.

  4. I’m going to disagree with everyone.  PvP is great in a game that has rules for it (Burning Wheel).  The reason it failed here is that it wasn’t your character that made the decision to betray the group (even if momentarily), it was you the player.  There was no interaction with the game rules ergo not your characters action, but your own.  You could have rationalized any action, but your rationalized one that harmed the party and the other players.  Your character didn’t do anything.

    What should have happened was your character rolling a defy danger + wis.  10+ means you realize she isn’t the woman you thought her to be, 7-9 you half heartedly help the party, 6 or less you help the sorcereress.  Or the GM could have made a soft/hard move against your character when you failed an attack instead of asking for the defy danger right away (I attack her with my rapier…=5….GM…you realize you still love this woman, roll a defy danger yada yada).  The sorceress could also have had “lure lover” instinct, or a “beguiling” tag.

    The other players should also have been able to “talk you out of it” with dice rolls of their own.  They could have rolled parlay or tried to intimidate you to help the party.  What happened at your table was just a meta-conversation between players at the table over how they want the game to go.  The moment no dice were rolled for important actions is the moment you all stopped playing the game.

    What happened to your party is what can happen to players who come straight from D&D to narrative RPGs.   luke crane ‘s  Burning Wheel should be a primer for all rpgers who want to try their hand at inter-party conflict.

  5. Hmm, I’m not sure why you say it wasn’t the character’s actions. The character was torn between this new party that rescued him and the love from this past flame that overtook him in the middle of all of the commotion. I simply looked at my playbook, attempted to follow my alignment/passion (hopefully in a way to not just fuck things up) and followed what this passionate character might do.

    Now, I never use that excuse to “do what I think my character would do” to perform an action that the party would really hate, but I find it important to remember what your character’s traits and personality consists of to follow what might really happen in a game. In the end, it drew me closer to the party and gives me a real reason to continue with them.

    Also, I don’t necessarily think a move like that would be beneficial. It takes all agency out of my character’s motivation and beliefs. If I’m trying to resist a charming spell, sure I get it, but not to determine what my character’s morals or beliefs are.

  6. Then your characters morals and beliefs are always yours to control so any disagreement at the table is always about you, Damian Jankowski (no offense), Heavy narrative games (pendragon, burning wheel) realize that the player is not always in control of his character.  You the player may not always control the character’s morals or beliefs, because if you are always in control you aren’t really playing to find out what happens.

    Beyond Dungeons and Dragons


    mandatory watching for anyone who wants PvP to be a part of their games without ruining their games.  What I think was missing from your session was utilizing a social combat mechanic.  If what is on your character sheet doesn’t have any interaction with the core rules of the game, then that thing on your character sheet isn’t part of the game.  If you aren’t using dice to resolve bonds and alignment, then its no different than having alignment and bonds in a game of Monopoly. 

    In your game the other night your character was on a railroad.  There was no actual chance for him to actually betray his party (right?)  It was a railroad as railroady as any written module.  Your character (you) created a bit of role-play drama, but the result was always known (your character would realize what was important to him).  That isn’t actually very interesting and if the other players didn’t know what the railroad was, they would be angry you attacked them, and if they did know in advance, then it would be a boring distraction.

    When you roll dice, its exciting!

  7. No offense taken. This is a great exercise that makes me re-evaluate my own beliefs on this topic.

    I can always evolve my understanding of different concepts so I will definitely take a look at the video you posted.

    You, as a player, are playing your character, so you, technically, are in control of what they do – I don’t disagree with that. If my character was to speak with an NPC and propose an idea, rolling a DD or some other move to determine the outcome of that proposal makes sense to me. You interact with the world, and rolling dice will help to determine the outcome of that pursuit because that changes the world.

    However, I would not ask a player to roll to determine what he believes is right or wrong in that scenario. I would allow that character’s beliefs to evolve based on the outcome of an event and not force his character to evolve in a particular direction.

    That is still playing to see what happens. Your character may fundamentally change based on an interaction with the world, but it is going to be a conscious change in the character and player simultaneously. The world is not going to suddenly make me believe one thing or another just because that’s how I rolled. That completely negates any agency my character would have in a situation, and that does not sit well with me.

  8. It should probably have been in context of your characters social mechanic stats (alignment, bonds). There is a reason alignment in DW is very strict and precise as to what it gives you 1 xp for.  Your alignment does not presumably say “betray your party at some point” (in fact even the evil alignments don’t give you that option) and I also assume you did not have a written bond with the NPC sorceress.  

    If you had a bond with the other players fighter that said, “I will betray the Fighter at some point in the future”.  Then everyone knows the score.  You get XP for playing a bond, the player of the fighter knows and can write his bond appropriately to get XP as well and the attack, while not known in advance, is agreed to by both players.

    Baring an alignment sentence or bond, your characters action should have been a defy danger as a result of a GM move based on the sorceress’ instinct/tags (aka quasi magical mind control).

    The fact that you got no XP for that act of role playing (no bond resolved, no alignment followed) is the system of the game itself telling you your PvP was out of bounds.

  9. Cooper Walden So your point is that unless there is a social mechanic that resolves a PvP situation specifically, such as a bond created to lead a character in that direction, or a dice roll that determines how a player should act, PvP should not occur?

  10. You mentioned that your character is “passionate”.  I would recommend you make alignment and bonds matter to your role-playing.  Don’t keep alignment and bonds separate from the type of role-playing you want to explore. Perhaps this:

     Alignment: Chaotic.  “whenever you act emotionally and erratically at the whimsy of your passions, gain 1 XP.”  

    Bond: The Fighter is an unchivalrous and cold hearted killer, I will stop him from slaughtering beautiful women, no matter the crimes they commit.

    Now, maybe you don’t resolve that bond there with the fighter right then and there (maybe that new bond is created after he kills the sorceress).   You decide to role-play only a half-hearted interruption of the battle (a small exchange of blows before realizing whats truly important).  In this case get 1 XP for erratic behavior and a new bond.   Role-Playing accomplished!

    These things are probably discussed around the gaming table.  Is this a type of game/RP the group is comfortable exploring?  It’s no different than discussing before a campaign if the group wants a Pirate theme or a dungeon crawling theme.  You don’t want to surprise other players with the theme of the game or railroad them into a style only you might be interested in.

  11. Cooper Walden Just read your edits. My alignment was followed to pursue the old flame. So that mechanic was present. I had no bonds written yet, because I joined into the second session with the party, and thus had to develop them. I had to somehow create bonds with players during this session. This is a problem that arises with new players jumping into existing games, I believe. It may have been a good idea to do so before we started, but it was a 2-hour session and I believe the GM just wanted to get the game going.

    The woman’s “control” over me was a history of love in a relationship that they once had together. It was not mind control nor a spell of any kind, so I’m not sure why you would attribute a mind control move to the situation.

  12. So I watched the first link you posted there, John, and I do think the biggest thing I will take away from that video is to have that conversation either before hand or, at least, at the time of a conflict.

    I will admit that, although most of my beliefs fall in line with what was said in the video in regards to coming to group to be part of the group instead of for yourself, not hiding behind your “character doing what they would do” even if it affects the party, etc. I did not take into consideration how the party felt with what I did.

    Now, I believed that the outcome would work, and I did it with good faith and intentions to actually connect myself to the party rather than be adversarial, but there might have been those that found it to be just that – against the core values of the group. Especially as a new player coming to the group! I will definitely be more attuned to that virtue of the gaming relationship when it comes to adversarial situations.

  13. If I think the player is just doing it to be disruptive or they are giggling or laughing when they do it, this is usually also followed by “but my character!” type excuses, if I think that’s the case, the character has an burst blood vessel in their brain and die as soon as they roll dice against another player and I ask them to leave.

    My free time is limited and I’m not going to let someone ass-hat ruin a hobby I’ve put time and effort into to act out some power trip fantasy.


    If I think the conflict arose organically through good role playing, I let the players discuss how best to handle it. If they are mature enough to do that it’s a good indicator I’ll never have to ask them to leave my table.

    Not trying to focus on the negative but this is my policy as of a memorable time I didn’t stop a player and they ruined a game over childishness. One guy had fun and me and three others did not. If I let that happen again as a GM I put that on me and would feel bad about it.

    Nip disruptive “PvP” in the bud. Any player of quality will be grateful you did. Odds are you are not the only one thinking “what a jerk”.

  14. One small point of this problem is that DW really has no mechanics to handle this besides Witt violence. In AW or MH you have moves for that. Parley calls out specifically that it only works on NPCs.

  15. In my games PVP like any other interaction is supposed to be a scene. We discuss each such scene before it begins or during the in-character conversation establishing the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ so that everyone is on the same page. Talking to your players as if they were both actors and scriptwriters in the play you all take part in is the basis of a good DW game. I always treated DW as a way to tell a story and the experience is very different from a regular DnD game despite some superficial similiarities.

    I can remember one instance of tis where th player wanted to immiediately fight another character because of an insult that grew out of one of the bonds, but we discussed the scene there and then, and after the bard (who was insulting the ranger) understood the rangers motives, it played out nicely and the ranger decided to let it go in line with the goals the party was pursuing.

    There’s always a scene and a list of potential effects to bear in mind. Players get to decide (in PCvPC both of them do) what the result of the scene is. I never allow one player to silently kill the others in their sleep with a series of successful rolls when I play DW, because it feels against the spirit of the game (at least that my reason – one could say that it’s also against the rules really).

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