Want to see how the 20 Questions posted earlier work with some real-world examples? Here are two characters from a Mutants & Masterminds campaign I played in. I chose these because they are practically designed for inter-party conflict. Because we worked through a cooperative process, we as players were able to play out the characters arguing and fighting and keep the whole game fun for everyone.
For this example, I’ll key in on a few critical questions rather than run through the full set. Should make for easier reading.
1. What emotion best describes your character? Stern.
2. What emotion does your character evoke in others? Either inspiration or frustration, depending on whether they like leader figures.
4. What is your character’s goal in life? Justice.
5. How does your character believe this goal can be accomplished? Fighting injustice and especially tyranny head-on.
10. What are your character’s means? Captain Zero is super-powered, able to absorb all forms of energy and convert it to physical strength. He is extremely willful and determined. He is a charismatic, disciplined leader capable of pushing people to great things. He is capable of surprising tact when necessary.
13. What is your character’s comfort zone? Captain Zero prefers the order and discipline of military life, and likes to lead from the front. He prefers action to talking, and in either case likes direct resolution.
17. What role does your character fill? Captain Zero is the leader and tank. He leads the charge, takes the biggest hits, and rallies the troops. He is also the party’s solid ground and often the moral compass.
1. What emotion best describes your character? Arrogant.
2. What emotion does your character evoke in others? Usually anger, sometimes fear or intimidation.
4. What is your character’s goal in life? To be on top.
5. How does your character believe this goal can be accomplished? Mostly swagger and intimidation. Aries is a bully.
10. What are your character’s means? Aries is physically one of the strongest super-humans around, and immune to conventional weapons. He is imposing, lacks fear and inhibition, and can occasionally use surprising cunning. He is also the “child” of Doctor Impossible, one of the most powerful and influential businessmen in the world.
13. What is your character’s comfort zone? Aries prefers freedom. He likes to indulge vice, especially smoking and drinking, wants to have power over those around him, and likes to come and go as he pleases.
17. What role does your character fill? Aries is the group’s fire in the gut. He will say what others won’t, buck needless authority and challenge foolish decisions. He also ironically tempers the group against conflict by instigating it in small, manageable bursts. It is critical to group cohesion that his outbursts are small and short so the group isn’t mired with in-fighting and tension, and so he doesn’t hog the spotlight.
How It Works at the Table
Aries and Captain Zero are practically bred for conflict. How can they possibly co-exist in the same group? The secret is with up-front information.
The two players involved (full disclosure, I played Captain Zero) worked through this process and spotted the obvious conflict well ahead of time. We talked about how we could use the flare-ups for constructive drama, and what boundaries were needed to keep the group from getting derailed. Captain Zero kept a level of aloofness and distance, not overly meddling in the team’s off-duty time. Aries was more concerned with having his ego assuaged and having his vices fed than constantly arguing.
The GM also ensured we all had clear reasons to be part of the same team. This was equally critical to prevent either Aries from running off or Captain Zero from kicking him out. The team was established under Doctor Impossible as a benefactor, who also had personal authority over Aries to keep him in check (used only in dire circumstances).
One incident stands out. The team had come back from a botched mission and Aries was livid with Captain Zero, criticizing his command. Zero naturally bristled and ordered Aries to back down. The two pushed each other’s buttons and Aries stormed off, intent on packing his bags and leaving. Aries’ player and I talked it over. The simplest course was letting Aries vent at a bar and come back later, but I had an idea.
Captain Zero was actually a good leader despite being so rigid. This was the time to show it. Zero confronted Aries and berated him for his childish behavior. Is this what the best does? Zero played to Aries’ ego, calling his temper an act of retreat and cowardice. The other player saw the opportunity and had Aries stand up to the Captain. Of course standing up here meant staying on the team to show how tough he really was.
The key here was that both players spotted the conflict and discussed it. Either of us was willing to let our characters essentially back down for the sake of the game, without breaking character. Zero could have appealed to Doctor Impossible. Aries could have blown off steam and come back. We happened to find a third path.
Keep it Civil
Communication is key. Going through an in-depth process will help weed out those trouble spots ahead of time. Sometimes they can be smoothed out at character creation, and sometimes they’re something the group can manage. You can also use something like the 20 Questions to build backdoor exits to conflicts, like Aries’ vices. If we couldn’t resolve the fight, we had in-character ways to get out of it.
It also pays to be smarter than your character. Put another way, give your character a foible or three on purpose, things you know better about. Zero was very rigid. Aries was arrogant. We as players may have had those traits, but not to the same degree. I knew when Zero was acting like an ass. It became part of the fun. It also let me dial it back if it interfered with the game.
Have you ever experienced rewarding inter-party conflict? Have you ever weathered the darker side of PC fighting? What tips have you learned?