Updated: Oct 25
“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” - Stephen King.
Hello fellow tabletop enthusiasts,
Let's talk conflict! No, I’m not just talking about hack-and-slash conflict, but I mean inner conflict.
We all know, from life experience, the news, and various media, inner conflict can lead to physical conflict. Building inner conflict is the foundation of tension in an adventuring party. A group of strangers (shockingly) doesn’t always get along!
If you’re a player, let’s explore this for your character. As a DM, you may use this for your own monster or NPC.
Conflict Equals Fun
Let’s face it, a party that agrees with each other all of the time would be boring. Monsters that always throw down their weapons because the paladin rolls a high persuasion check would become monotonous. (Note: not all combat encounters need fighting, this diplomatic route works sparingly).
We need conflict in our session! Whether it be an animated golem blocking the doorway to protect their creator, or by having the rogue create a fake map so they can try to claim the forsaken treasure for themselves.
For some brainstorming, I have a neat conflict example to share with the D&D 5e steampunk game I’m running. The party consists of:
Tykus: Dragonborn Fighter
Phoenix: Human Barbarian
Irwan: Human/Mutant Fox Rogue
Acorn: Halfling Druid
Melmac: Unknown Alien Race Bard Thing (Party NPC)
A moral issue occurred in my own game recently. The party came across a cave which happened to be a lair of a T-Rex and her young. As a DM, I illustrated the T-Rex as “unnatural” with a third eye on its forehead and two muscular tails. The mutant T-Rex attacked their cargo ship, making it sway back and forth as the party was resting.
However, its babies were more or less normal looking. The young dinosaurs approached the players on round two from the mouth of the cave, came within melee range, and didn’t attack. The players were outside the cargo ship and it was the fighter’s turn. Given the choice to attack the mutant T-Rex or a baby, he attacked a juvenile with his brutal 3 attacks (2 of which were with a lightsaber weapon). The little dinosaur died and let out a sad cry. He continued to attack ruthlessly with his saber and battleaxe.
Eventually, the party was victorious. After two of the players were restrained in the dinosaur’s devastating jaws, there was only a single baby remaining. At this point, the Barbarian (who is a heroic natural animal protector named Phoenix) came into the fray. Tykus dealt the last blow to the T-Rex, breaking out of its jaws and drawing the saber at the same time. The baby dino let out a sad cry, looking at its mutated, unconscious mother. The players had a chance to strike it. Thankfully, the party decided to let the sobbing dinosaur leave unharmed, even the ruthless fighter.
Interparty Conflict and the Effect on the Party
The party doesn’t always get along. Even when the town or the world’s at stake (or multiple worlds) there are bound to be some problems.
As for my game’s example, the Barbarian is resenting the Fighter’s actions right now. In the session afterward, there’s now an obvious tear in the party lineup. The two characters nearly had a physical altercation before being distracted by plot hooks. Once forming front lines together, Phoenix and Tykus are now distant from each other.
Other members of the party are having to take sides or try to be a mediator. Irwan, the investigator rogue, plays a bit of the party mascot (literally too, he looks like a fox guy). He feels split between his brother-like relationship with Tykus and Phoenix’s strong environmental values. Acorn the Druid understands Phoenix and has calmed her down and has befriended her. Phoenix herself has always been a bit of a loner, and she’s now doubting her reasons to travel with the rest of the group. Tykus is more concerned more with protecting assets their faction has loaned them (like the ship) as well the party from threats. Melmac isn’t great at handling conflict, but he is a solid listener.
Everyone in the party is shaken by the obvious divide. Since the party is on a jungle island, we've compared it to a game of Survivor as members talk to each other in private.
Conclusion & Advice on Inter-Party Conflict
For Players: Make your character(s) have some serious history. Have some personality and an eventful past that could ruffle some feathers, open a can of worms, and create conflict.
For Dungeon Masters: Do the same with your game. Give your monsters some mystery. Maybe not every chromatic dragon is evil. Listen to your players' backstories carefully and ensure to build them into the world. If characters lack backstory talk to them first. Also consider what could happen to them while adventuring (cursed items/artifacts, madness, curses, spells, etc) and how this could add depth.
This whole episode has made our game like our favourite T.V. series. Like any good plot, the villains are still scheming away. Characters never walk a straight line to virtue or one that’s without conflict.
I’m certain you have your own examples of party conflict in your game. Feel free to share and comment below!
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