January 24, 2009

Sabotage From Within: When PCs attack PCs

I take any chance I get to make my title sound like a Fox TV special.

As a DM I'm very grateful to have a group that seems to have a lot of initiative these days.  I've been playing this campaign for 2 and a half years, and since I have given them a lot to work with they have, in return, given me a lot to work with.  From there you get great combinations of strategy, creativity and humor to make a great game.  Sometimes, though, it can possibly put everything at risk.

For about a week or so, one of my players had thought of a great plan to sabotage at least one fellow PC, if not the entire party.  Now I'm not the kind of DM to say you can't sabotage your fellow players.  However, the consequences are something I don't hide either.  So when this player brought up the idea to me, I let him know it would at least result in an alignment shift for him, and probably a ton of other not so nice things if his fellow players discovered what he was doing.  After a week of going over the plan and making sure every angle was covered, the prospective traitor decided to wait a little longer.  Unfortunately the turns of events prevented the plan from ever being acted, but it got me thinking... is sabotage ever good?

I'm not talking about DM inserted sabotage character that helps the plot.  I'm talking about PCs deciding on their own to sabotage a fellow PC, if not the entire party.  When you think about it, following an act like that through is a big risk.  As a player character you are expected to be part of a team that works toward a mutual goal.  In a campaign you hop towards mission to mission hoping to save the NPC, get the gold, and kill the bad guys.  If you do that with the same people over a long period of time, there's a lot of trust that the party will stick up for one another.  What happens if you ruin that trust and consistency?

My biggest fear, as a player and as a game master, is making a character unplayable.  I've experienced it too.  Let's just say if you're under the employ of a queen, you shouldn't be stealing from within that kingdom so blatantly.  Making a character unplayable is heartbreaking, especially when you've invested so much time and energy in them.  And if that character was the only connection to something important for the rest of the party, a lot more is lost than just "the tank" or "the spellcaster".  

There is also the sense of trust in a group.  We all know how relationships between people can deteriorate over time if trust is lost.  Things are never the same and it takes a lot to get trust back.  Imagine doing that with you and four of your closest associates.  While on the battlefield.  If you're not sure the cleric is going to heal you if you get hit by a fireball, how much are you going to help your party out?  As interesting this is in a story setting, it's more tenuous when playing an RPG, and even more so if you're playing that RPG with friends.  

I don't want this to discourage the idea of sabotage amongst PCs.  In certain campaigns this can work quite well.  Or if a player hates his character and wants a creative way to get rid of him.  Or when it's a one shot where the PCs are strangers to each other.  In the right situation sabotage is a great story device to play with.

My morbid curiosity wonders what would've happened if my player went through with this very original back stabbing plan of his.  In the end, though, it's probably better for my campaign that he didn't.  Kind of bittersweet, don't you think?

1 comment:

  1. Nice! But how did I miss this post for two week?

    That kind of backstabbing action can be very destructive to the player group as well, not just the characters. You were wise to impose the "cost" of the alignment change and more, because this helps to push the backstabbing player back in the direction of cooperative play (Wow! It's game theory in role playing!).

    I think backstabbing among players has to be very carefully managed or might lead to hard feelings. I've been sitting in with an RPG group recently, and the GM is deliberately trying to set up player-vs-player strife in a rather ham-handed way, and it doesn't seem to work for anybody. My response is that (from the role playing perspective) my character may want to backstab another character, but as a player I will not do so. My task has become to role-play reasons to let the other character live, and take my "revenge" at some later time.