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Field Notes

Creating Intra-Party Conflict

Or, Finding Joy in Fucking Another Character’s Wife

People are, shockingly enough, not the same, and the characters we create and play are no different, each with their own personalities, quirks, moral stances, seemingly-irrational beliefs, and other such defining features. Just as you might find yourself at odds with a passing stranger or your closest friend, so too might your PCs find fault with the bubbly tavern-keeper, the quest-giving elder, and yes, even their own party members. Intra-party conflict comes with risks, but if done well can create dynamic and meaningful interactions and lead to memorable stories to tell for years to come. 

Maybe try to avoid all-out PC-on-PC murder, though? Maybe. (JON.)

Clashing Personalities and Dirty Secrets

Those aforementioned defining features can draw out disagreements in myriad ways, sometimes obvious—a racist Nim will likely react poorly to an outspoken High Person—and sometimes much less so—an easy-going cleric might flip out at an analytical scientist after sessions of hidden buildup. Try to let your PC lead the way to those unexpected conflicts in play rather than making up-front decisions based on the party’s character sheets.

Secrets can add another layer to intra-party conflict, and are frankly a hell of a lot of fun to roleplay. These hidden motivations and defining moments should align with who your character is, but they can still be unpredictable. Perhaps the just paladin hides a criminal past; the megalomaniac values family bonds; the quiet outlander craves power to enact vengeance; the good-hearted soul knowingly endangers others. Or perhaps, hypothetically, the stoic, inhospitable asshole who cares only for law and order had slept with another PC’s ex-wife prior to the events of the campaign... as my character did during a playthrough of The Plunge. 

Talk with your GM about incorporating your PC’s secrets into the story and revealing them as a nice, conflict-inducing timebomb. Such secrets don’t need to be established at the start of the game, either. A few sessions into The Plunge, for instance, I messaged the GM Will with the idea that my PC (Lazarus) had previously had an emotionless tryst with the ex-wife of Jon’s PC (Johm). Will loved it. With the trap set, we poker-faced for months until the truth finally came out.

Quality Over Quantity

While something like a frantic one-shot might benefit from (and lend itself to) constant friction between PCs, that can feel tiresome in longer games where the party truly needs to work together (if begrudgingly) to achieve its goals. If in-character quarreling starts to impact your enjoyment of the game, ask your GM for help, and don’t be afraid to raise the issue to the full group. Chances are, you’re not the only one who feels that way.

Times may arise when, for the sake of cohesion, you opt to tamp down your PC’s reaction to a conflict: a threat instead of a punch, a private scolding instead of a public beratement. Keeping the lid on emotions can add subtle tension and can make them all the more impactful when they finally come to a head. Had Lazarus and Johm been at each other's throats the entire campaign, the big reveal wouldn’t have felt so shocking, but as-is, Johm was actually starting to like Lazarus for some reason.

Nothing Personal, Kid

Remember that you’re playing a character: how would they respond to the situation at hand? Your gut might drive you to a certain reaction—rage, bitter silence, the classic fetal-position curl—but how would your character handle it? Have they experienced similar conflicts in their past? Do they fear confrontation or thrive on it? How deeply do they hold grudges? How have their interactions in the game gone so far? 

Likewise, remember that everyone is playing a character; their PCs’ beliefs and actions may not align with their own, and their in-play behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect on their true self.

Boundaries and Vibe Checks

That said, respect and social awareness still play key roles, and the game table should be a place of trust and comfort. Ideally, during session zero and other less-structured discussions, you’ll learn about the group’s taste in content and intensity. If another player expresses dislike of or sensitivity to a certain subject, keep that in mind when in-game conflict arises and respect their preferences. (Had I been partaking in a game with players I’d never interacted with before or with someone who had just gone through a messy affair-fueled breakup, I might not have given Lazarus such a scandalous backstory event. Maybe.)

During play, note how other players react out-of-character to in-character conflict. If your PC is loud and grating, party members might understandably give peeved responses, but if the players themselves look frustrated at not being able to get a word in, you may want to modify your roleplaying style. 

If time allows, hang out with the group after the game and ask how they felt about the intra-party interaction. Did it make sense within the context of the campaign? Was anyone uncomfortable with how it went? Did it get too harsh or violent? This can open up a dialogue about the PCs’ unvoiced reasons and thoughts, and about the players’ preferences for moving forward. Listen to what everyone has to say and take it to heart; likewise, offer friendly, thoughtful suggestions when appropriate.

And remember, above all, to have fun and tell a cool story. Now get out there, fuck some wives, and try not to get murdered.


Nothing a little blood sacrifice can't fix.

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