Human beings have been warring and butting heads with each other before we were considered homo sapiens. Conflicts happen whether it is over a land claim or over the last piece of pizza. In any case there is a possibility that two or more of your players will come into conflict inside or outside of your game. If you are a player or a GM in a game where a conflict like this occurs you might be struggling to figure out what you should do or how to react at the table.
The first question you need to ask yourself before any other action is taken is: "How important is this game to me?" A typical response may be that “it’s just a game” and therefore has no significance, but that is not the case for many people. I know many individuals who continued to play a game because it was an opportunity to play with friends they might not otherwise have time with. Maybe it's the one game a week they are able to play to get away from the struggles of life. Whatever your case may be you need to weigh your desire to continue playing.
I will be identifying conflicts that occur between one or more players as Inter-player conflicts. These conflicts have the chance to disrupt the flow of play and disrupt other players and the GM.
As a GM
If you are a GM who is dealing with an inter-player conflict then you have a few responsibilities. First and foremost is that unless the conflict happens to have something to do with you (outside of the game) or the game you should not try to resolve the conflict. This is strictly from the role as a GM. You are running a game, not a therapist's office. What you do outside of the table is your own prerogative. Second, you need to work with your players on coming up with a solution that meets the desires of all parties involved that impacts the game the least. You may have to pull the players aside to have a group discussion. Third, you need to maintain control of the table and make sure that the conflict stays outside of the table. When the conflict spills over to the table it risks upsetting players not involved in the conflict. As a reminder you must be unbiased in this situation. Playing favorites with players is a quick way to get yourself dragged into the conflict. You must remove your own emotions when working to resolve the conflict.
If the conflict is a result of the game then it is your job to intervene and resolve the conflict. For example, feelings get hurt because one player kills another player's companion out of spite or for the "lolz". Similar to finding a resolution to out of game conflicts you should talk to both of the players. If they claim that their actions that started the conflict were "in character" then it's possible that the character needs to be modified to at least function with the rest of the party. If the conflict was the player's' playing style then the expectations of play need to be expressed.
As a Player in the Conflict
If you are a player who has a conflict with another player then there are a few things you need to consider depending on the severity of the conflict. Can you stand to be around the person? I have some people that I cannot handle to be around. If this is the case between you and another player then you should discuss with your GM on a way for you and that individual to not be in the same game as each other. You may be pulled into a conversation with the person, if you want the issue at the table to be resolved then you must remain as civil as possible. This may mean that you might have to step away from the game entirely, expecting the other party members to step away is petty and can result in further conflict.
If you can handle being in the same room as the individual and leaving the game is too much for you, then you need to change your frame of reference when playing with that person. The best way to do this is to imagine them as their character and not as who they actually are. By framing it in this way you can dissociate the character from the conflict. You can also put yourself into your character's mentality, essentially looking at the person in a different light. If reframing your perspective is not possible or difficult to do then begin practicing self-discipline. You want to learn to not bring up topics that relate to the conflict, make sure to inform your GM of these topics so they can avoid putting them in their game. By bringing up anything related to the conflict you risk pulling other players not involved in the conflict into stressful and awkward situations.
As a Player outside the Conflict
If you are a player witnessing other players in conflict and feel uncomfortable or overly stress by the situation then there are some steps you can take. First talk to you GM. Most likely they do not know how you feel about the conflict, or even know about the conflict. Bringing it up to your GM can push them to take actions mentioned above.
It is not recommended to talk to the players in conflict without the involvement of the GM. Since most solutions will involve the GM to prepare in specific ways excluding them from the discussion will only make prepping more difficult for them. If your GM is poor at conflict management then stepping in to assist (only if you are comfortable helping come to a solution) on behalf of the GM could lead to a more satisfying solution. When taking this approach refer to the "As a GM" section above.
If you are not good at conflict resolution, your GM does not deal with the conflict, and it is causing you serious stress then you should reconsider sticking around. Even if the game is an escape for you it is more unhealthy to be in a game with this kind of drama and conflict. Work on finding another game or suggest that the group disband. There are plenty of ways you can find new games (a topic I should really cover later).
While I am not as familiar with this type of conflict I have heard of conflicts that have occurred between a GM and one or more of their players. This type of conflict is often related to the style of GMing that the GM has but is not always the case. Maybe the GM broke up with their significant other who happens to be one of their players.
As a GM
The first thing any GM should do in this situation is useful advice for outside of conflict resolution: LISTEN TO YOUR PLAYERS. As a GM you are there to create an enjoyable experience for them. If your players start addressing a problem with how you are GMing then you need to at least hear them out. You can't avoid interacting with the players, its in the job description. Be civil in discussing with your players their concerns. The players may not always be right, but don't assume they are wrong either. If they are telling you that you are playing favorites, take note of your next session in how much you focus on players and compare that to past sessions. Become aware of your GMing style. Once you are you can inform players before your future campaigns what to expect.
If the conflict is unrelated to the game, then there is little you can do besides detaching your emotions from the game. If you are unable to do that then one of you may need to step down from the game. Talk it over with the player in a civilized fashion, try to help find a new GM if you are the one choosing to leave. The last thing you want to do is disband the group because you have a problem with a player.
As a Player in Conflict
This is a tough situation to be in. It is common to think that the GM is the end all be all, that you are in their domain and they are the ruler. Hate to burst any bubbles of GM's out there who think that but that is completely untrue. The GM is nothing without players and they aren't always right. Even if the GM rules something specific, if all of the players agree that the GM is wrong then the GM should be abiding by what the players believe is the correct call. If you are feeling targeted then you need to have a discussion with your GM. Maybe they aren't aware of it, and that its a complete accident. If that is the case raising awareness to it may fix the problem.
Sometimes the GMing style of your GM is not what you were expecting. It may be possible for you to learn to live with the differences, just like playing a game with several bugs. However if it is a style that you are not having fun with and the GM refuses to change their style, then consider leaving. Do not waste your time on something that is not enjoyable to you, it will only hurt you further down the road.
If the conflict is unrelated to the game, then talk to the GM about the conflict in a civilized manner. Consider dropping out of the group for the sake of the other players enjoyment. If the GM is considering dropping out, help find a replacement for them. You should always be thinking of how to keep the gaming group intact.
As a Player outside the Conflict
This can be a tough seat to sit in. In reality there is almost no good way to assist the situation from outside the conflict. When it comes to conflicts with a GM's styles, do not get involved if you do not have an issue with it. When a resolution has been made, if you enjoyed playing with that GM consider offering to separate from the group to form a new group, or work with the current group to find another GM. While it may not be good to intervene you should work on keeping a game going even if it is not the original group.
While you should not get involved if the situation is making you uncomfortable and nothing is happening to resolve the situation, you should voice your feelings to the group as a whole. This keeps the communication open and begins the conflict resolution since discussing it with the GM is biased on one side and talking to other players only starts gossip.
So far I have discussed the various types of conflicts and the ways to go about discussing resolutions but I have not actually mentioned any of those resolutions. These resolutions are just examples and often not permanent, each situation requires careful planning and actual discussion to come to a final resolution. Do not take these as guarantees. These also assume that the group does not want to take a hiatus.
Split the Party
It is possible that during conflict resolution you need to have a few players take some time apart from each other. In that situation as a GM you could consider splitting the party, possibly even as far as playing on separate days (though this is hard to plan properly!) What this accomplishes is the need for two or more players to interact with each other until a permanent solution has been determined.
An example of how this can resolve into a permanent solution is that the party permanently splits, essentially creating two seperate games. This is heavily dependant on the GM's ability to run multiple games at once. The other party could also find another GM willing to take up that party and maybe some additional players.
If there is a GM-Player conflict then perhaps there needs to be a change of pace. Try your hand at switching up the GM each week. This can also give players an opportunity to try GMing themselves. While this might not suit every table it might give the GM and player some time to resolve their conflict or come to a permanent solution.
An example of how this can become a permanent solution is if you find someone is an enjoyable GM for everyone. Maybe one of your players is secretly the next Matt Mercer or Chris Perkins. Before moving to this conclusion you would need the potential new GM to be okay taking up the mantle of the GM.
Maybe the current campaign has too much baggage attached to it, players have associated characters with conflicts or the GM just needs to cool their jets and take a break from GMing. Stop the campaign you are running, or find a nice place to resolve it, and start up another campaign with a fresh batch of characters and/or GM. This is a team effort and should be agreed by everyone at the group. Allow conflict players to form characters that will mesh better for the given conflict. For some conflict this is not a permanent solution but it can also give new life to the table. Other conflicts this will fix the problem, especially if it was due to poorly planned characters that were doomed to clash.
The overall goal of what I have detailed is not intended to resolve any personal conflicts. Each conflict is unique and sometimes requires professional help, which I am not. These are merely ways for you to minimize the impact of a conflict to your game at home. Overall you should be civil and understanding that there are other people participating in the game. Don't be petty and let your conflict affect others experiences, it should be the main thing you keep in mind.
My hope is that my advice will at least create a better play experience for you and your friends at the table. If my advice helped or didn’t help you feel free to tweet at me or comment here on how this advice helped or didn’t help.
You can find me on twitter @your1_nightmare. If you enjoy the material on this site please consider supporting us through Patreon or with a PayPal donation! If you think I missed something or you would like me to cover something specific make sure to leave a comment or contact me on twitter!