I recently started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic. Those familiar with BioWare’s other games in the last 5 years or so are no doubt used to their conversation system, in which sometimes “good” and “bad” choices can be made. There are in-game effects for these choices, in addition to simply making the NPC you are talking to angry or happy. In the KOTOR and Mass Effect series, you get what are effectively light side/dark side points. In the Dragon Age series, your companions’ loyalty to you is affected by whether they approve of what you do. The Old Republic uses both of these systems, and is differs from BioWare’s other games in that (in group settings) there are multiple people who may make diametrically opposed choices. It settles this at random, and the outcome it chooses is “canon” to your adventure (but you get points/loyalty based on your choice, not the one the computer picked).
And that, my friends, is how I jettisoned an engineer and his crew into space against my will, and subsequently got chewed out by his friend that had served with them for a decade. This is why you shouldn’t adventure with evil people with doilies over their eyes. This is also, purely by coincidence, why I am going to talk about intraparty combat.
Usually It Sucks
I have tried my best, but I cannot think of any instance in which I have had party members fight with each other and had a good time. Admittedly, I have experienced a couple fights between party members that we all look back on and laugh, but in the moment tempers were flaring and uncouth words were being used.
My least favorite of these are usually the “you did something evil, and I am sworn to fight evil, so now I have to fight you!” lawful stupid battles. Over the years, there have been several occasions in which I have wanted to pour chloroform into a dicebag and hold it over a player’s mouth for this.
Occasionally, you’ll get two PCs (and/or players) with two very different ideas about how a situation should be handled. Both as a DM and a player, I try everything I can to get people to roleplay this stuff out. In a real fight, people tend to change their mind when they get hurt enough. If it’s a PC, people tend to fight to the death for their beliefs. There are situations in which this could make for cool roleplaying, but (let’s be honest here) there is also a pretty high likelihood that a PC will get rolled up who is the previous PC’s brother who hates the man who killed his brother.
In my opinion, violence when the situation could be roleplayed further is boring. If orcs are charging you, axes raised, then yes — stab stab kill fireball. There’s not much chance to put your mark on a story here other than determining whether it ends because you die. If you’ve got a nonviolent way to get the job done, explore it. Roleplaying it out gives your character a chance to solve the situation in a way only your character can, whether it’s through diplomacy and relating experiences particular to the character or through the clever use of magic to cause a distraction while you signal your teammates to sneak out with the prize (avoiding the battle entirely). For me, the times our party has done something like this make far better memories than the 5% chance someone has of rolling a 20 and causing a number to be decreased by more than normal.
The Continuous Power Vacuum
I’m not sure if it’s just the people I’ve played with or if this is a more general thing, but I’ve noticed there hasn’t ever really been a party leader in any of the groups I’ve played in. If everybody is being mostly rational and cool, everything works fine — but there is room for someone to go rogue despite what anybody else thinks or wants.
I have to wonder how many times something like this might occur in a real combat situation with military units involved. The fear of court martial or imprisonment might be an effective deterrent to killing other people you’re supposed to be fighting alongside. The roleplayer in me finds a situation where you realize you’re playing for the wrong team and have to figure a way out before they make you do something you’ll regret fascinating — but, at the D&D table, this is like throwing an entire bag of monkey wrenches into the works.
If you’d like to try putting your players in a more structured environemnt, The Last Legion (DDI subscription required) is a paramilitary organization devoted to hunting monsters and other threats to civilization. I use it in my campaign, but I sort of turned them all evil and had them hunt the players. I regret this. It took a bit of the sting out of the court martial threat.
A Long, Drawn Out Battle Between Good And Evil
I’ve been smack-talking fighting with your teammates for this whole article, but I do have a secret desire — to create a situation in which PCs fight and it is somehow awesome.
I went the whole “roll up a bunch of PCs and have a tournament of champions” route back in high school. It was OK, but my dreams are a bit gnarlier.
A few years ago, I played in a somewhat unusual campaign – two parties (one “good”, one “bad”, two groups who didn’t know each other in real life) were in the same world and our actions affected each other. Eventually, we’d all meet, a giant battle between Good and Evil when we all got to 20th level was what we were all looking forward to. My teammates and I were trying to figure out a way to get our DM to let us create a giant Mazinger Z-style robot we could stomp around in to crush our opponents, simulating all his powers via magical effects. Also the robot’s legs would be stuffed with powerful undead creatures. It would have been metal in several senses of the word.
Sadly, it never happened. It was such a cool idea, I just wish it had all worked out better. This particular concept interests me because now we’re not talking about a bunch of random stats thrown together. We’re talking about two groups full of well-developed PCs and a story potentially full of them foiling each others plots and wrecking things important to the other. Revenge shall be served, probably ice-cold. Justice will be done. Storylines will be completed in a way nobody will know until the very end.
Of course, as we found out, this kind of thing is crazy resource-intensive for one DM, but I can see potential for two DMs to team up and compare notes after each session.
I Pity The Fool
My other crazy PC-battlin’ idea is much shorter-term, and I think it would be an interesting idea to run at a convention.
When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows was The A-Team. For those of you too young to remember the goodness of 80’s television, it was about a group of mercenaries falsely accused of a crime who ran around the country helping people from random bad guys while running from the military police. They did so in two primary ways: using military weapons in such a way that nobody ever got shot and explosions only knocked people off of balconies leaving them unharmed, and by rigging together strange contraptions that would send the bad guys packing somehow. (My particular favorite was when they made a cannon that shot heads of lettuce.)
I would like to run this idea in a couple sessions. Each team would get a session in which they are placed in a situation where they have an upcoming battle and no weapons. They’d be in a place with a bunch of resources available to them (a town, perhaps), and the resources could be anything from building materials to household items to whatever the DM decides in the moment provided it’s relatively ordinary. They’d also have access to the people around them, and (depending on how much time they have to plan) they could set these people up manning traps or give them very rudimentary training on how to use whatever weapons they’ve crafted.
The planning session would be timed, and the team would only have what they made to use in the battle. Then the other team gets their turn (at another scheduled timeslot). Then, in a third session, they fight!!! With lettuce cannons!!!! (You better believe I’d make it possible to make a lettuce cannon.)
I haven’t quite figured out why the two opposing parties would be fighting yet or why they both wouldn’t have any weapons, but I suppose this could be handwaved somewhat in the name of good fun. Upon further thought, I think this would be fun to do (and make more sense) in a situation where it’s not against other players and instead against some DM-conceived threat. The thought of fighting off a horde of invading goblins with a lettuce cannon has me kind of giddy, to be honest.
The DM, obviously, would need to play things pretty fast and loose. Weapon proficiencies might need to be fudged, and physics are kind of negotiable. I’d say if it would have flown on MacGyver or The A-Team, it should fly here. The Mythbusters didn’t exist then. They have no power here.
Just Keep It Fun
As usual, the point of the game is to keep it fun. If you’re DMing, encourage your players to work together unless it would be awesome if they don’t. If you’re a player, play along unless you’re pretty sure it would be awesome if you don’t. And by “awesome”, I mean “awesome for everyone”.
I’d be interested in hearing more fun “between PC’s” combat ideas. I think the ones I suggested would work to a certain extent simply because everyone would be on board already, but I’d very much enjoy hearing battle-tested and proven-fun ideas.
Now go forth and kill each other. Or don’t. As long as it’s fun.