PC antagonism done right


  • Admin

    Hey folks! Please remember this is the constructive (<winkwink>) section so let's pretend to be mature, civilized people. :)

    I've been sorta kinda hijacking threads about this for a while and maybe it's better if we have a thread for it. So this is my objective: How do we do IC conflict between characters right? I don't necessarily mean bad guys - although that's possible - but handling concepts which are thematically supposed to clash for ideological or practical reasons.

    Here are my assertions regarding PC antagonists going into this:

    • It's a good thing IC. It creates dynamic, shifting political environments where different factions can prevail. Everyone getting along perfectly all the time is boring.
    • It's a good thing OOC. It lets people create RP by playing off against each other, be driven to recruit new players into the game to play their allies, compete for IC goals and support a wider variety of roles.
    • It very often turns to drama. Common accusations (people collaborating OOC, cheating, etc) can be difficult to prove, and paranoia can lead to toxic environments. Staff need to dedicate resources handling complaints instead of running the fun parts of game.

    Now, we get the kinds of games we reward. In most games there is nothing positive about having opposition to your IC actions in any conceivable way other than the joy of roleplaying. But that's not enough for everyone - clearly. At the same time games offer incentives for all sorts of other collaborative things which also fall under the 'joy of RP' umbrella (allies +vote each other more often, for example). So conflict is always a net negative and conformity is always a net positive - by inadvertent design.

    In my mind the main problems here are:

    1. Mitigating the negative impact having an antagonist has on an individual
    2. Reducing the positive impact OOC factors - metagaming on Skype for example - can have on the game
    3. Letting staff stay as fair and transparent as possible without impacting on their ability to keep certain things from players (metaplot secrets, for example)

    So, what do you think? For starters do you agree with the general premise of having PCs antagonistic to yours being a good thing or do you believe it's a lost cause, and games should stay purely collaborative?

    Either way, what can we come up with to do something about the problems I listed? Do you have other ones to add?

    On a tangent, I would like to not need to depending on 'good, mature players' for things to work as what kinds of players we get either can't be systematized or falls outside the scope of this exercise. Ideally we can design systems where great players thrive, okay players improve, and bad players are marginalized.

    Any takers?



  • I believe that having any kind of antagonist at all requires active, interested, and creative staff. That is a must. Sure, one can run NPCs in their PrPs, but for a truly game-mattering antagonist staff have to be involved.

    That said, the key to any antagonist is that they are capable of winning and losing in a way that doesn't result in things ending AND provides for more RP around that situation. For example: Taking prisoners, escaping at the last moment, considering those he fights beneath him and leaving when he has the upper hand, et cetera.

    Killing a PC is a sure fire way of making everyone hate that PC, OOC and IC, whether warranted or otherwise, and thus should be reserved for certain situations - like when the character keeps pressing on in spite of all sense, or when the player wishes to leave the character and wants a decent end.

    Those are just some initial thoughts to muse over, I'm sure I'll think up others.


  • Admin

    @Tinuviel said in PC antagonism done right:

    I believe that having any kind of antagonist at all requires active, interested, and creative staff. That is a must. Sure, one can run NPCs in their PrPs, but for a truly game-mattering antagonist staff have to be involved.

    Notice that in the context of this thread an 'antagonist' doesn't need to be a bad guy. For example if you're playing a Crone and I'm playing a Sanctified we should be able to have a very adversarial relationship without it devolving into OOC unpleasantness. The objective is to somehow make this happen. Or to at least make it more likely. :)

    That said, the key to any antagonist is that they are capable of winning and losing in a way that doesn't result in things ending AND provides for more RP around that situation. For example: Taking prisoners, escaping at the last moment, considering those he fights beneath him and leaving when he has the upper hand, et cetera.

    Alright, so a good first step is to ensure death is a truly final solution and not a first inclination. Other than thematically (a decree from the old-fashioned Prince threatening nasty retaliation to anyone who destroys another) how can this be systematized? How do we make players and characters want to keep their adversaries around instead of just putting a knife into their eye socket?


  • Coder

    @Arkandel said in PC antagonism done right:

    So, what do you think? For starters do you agree with the general premise of having PCs antagonistic to yours being a good thing or do you believe it's a lost cause, and games should stay purely collaborative?

    Antagonism makes for good stories, but in a MU* environment I think it's a lost cause. Mostly for the reasons you mentioned, but it's even more than that. Let's pretend that there's a totally mature player who won't start OOC drama, needs no encouragement to play antagonism, and is an awesome RPer. I don't want that person playing my character's antagonist, I want them playing my friend. Because 95% of MU scenes are social in nature, and who wants to hang out with their antagonist? Antagonists are best metered out in small doses, and that runs contrary to what you want to be doing with your awesome RPers.


  • Admin

    @faraday said in PC antagonism done right:

    Antagonism makes for good stories, but in a MU* environment I think it's a lost cause. Mostly for the reasons you mentioned, but it's even more than that. Let's pretend that there's a totally mature player who won't start OOC drama, needs no encouragement to play antagonism, and is an awesome RPer. I don't want that person playing my character's antagonist, I want them playing my friend. Because 95% of MU scenes are social in nature, and who wants to hang out with their antagonist? Antagonists are best metered out in small doses, and that runs contrary to what you want to be doing with your awesome RPers.

    I see your point. But if we reverse it, do you still think it's a good tradeoff, and why?

    So let's say all of the great players are playing your friends. In fact everyone is friendly to each other. Now, obviously you can have as many scenes with these guys as you want - there's no reason not to - but what are you going to be playing about?

    If all challenges come from the environment then the game is stagnant in the absence of someone playing its elements. I would argue it's why sandbox games haven't worked out, for instance; there simply weren't enough STs around to provide everyone with things to do, so while small pockets of activity (i.e. those with a pocket ST) could thrive, a critical mass of players couldn't be sustained - and MU* floundered.

    On the other hand one can thematically arrange for reasons to play with your antagonists. Council meetings, uneasy truces in the face of even greater adversity, Elysium politics, etc. Yes, absolutely, you probably won't be seeing that great person as often as if you were buddies, but there'd be that much more meat to it when you do. ... IMHO, of course.


  • Pitcrew

    Obviously, I don't think it's a lost cause. I want a game where political play is active and players can be in conflict with each other. To that end, this is where my thoughts are:

    1. An open and transparent OOC atmosphere, where character motivations are clear and clearly separated from players, and where players are nudged towards seeing disagreement as healthy.
    2. Make sure that conflict is driven by character motivations and setting and that character driven conflicts are reinforced.
    3. Providing disincentives to what is normally seen as winning. (ex. Your faction is in charge! Yay! But now, any time you try to do something shady, there's an increased chance the IC newspaper is going to find out about it and splash it all over the front page)
    4. Providing incentives for disagreements, rivalries, and what is typically seen as loss.
    5. Create a dynamic environment where characters can expect to go through both high and low points as a natural part of playing the game.
    6. Proactive staffing that is regularly checking the pulse of the player base, and stepping in on potential OOC conflicts before they become issues and encouraging frustrated players.
    7. Clearly defining actions you do not want to see and actions you do want to see and rewarding/clamping down on those actions as necessary.
    8. Since players are going to talk OOC, encourage the talking and plotting to happen on game where players can be nudged in a healthy direction if possible.


  • @Arkandel said in PC antagonism done right:

    @Tinuviel said in PC antagonism done right:

    I believe that having any kind of antagonist at all requires active, interested, and creative staff. That is a must. Sure, one can run NPCs in their PrPs, but for a truly game-mattering antagonist staff have to be involved.

    Notice that in the context of this thread an 'antagonist' doesn't need to be a bad guy. For example if you're playing a Crone and I'm playing a Sanctified we should be able to have a very adversarial relationship without it devolving into OOC unpleasantness. The objective is to somehow make this happen. Or to at least make it more likely. :)

    Sure. But at the same time, anyone that is antagonistic is seen as a bad guy. If I'm playing a Crone (never) and you're playing a Sanctified, the fact that we believe wholly different things - or whatever the difference is - can and will be seen as one being the bad guy for the other.

    In either case, staff input is important as ultimately their guiding of the game will determine who is an antagonist to whom, why those two parties are antagonists, and so forth.

    That said, the key to any antagonist is that they are capable of winning and losing in a way that doesn't result in things ending AND provides for more RP around that situation. For example: Taking prisoners, escaping at the last moment, considering those he fights beneath him and leaving when he has the upper hand, et cetera.

    Alright, so a good first step is to ensure death is a truly final solution and not a first inclination. Other than thematically (a decree from the old-fashioned Prince threatening nasty retaliation to anyone who destroys another) how can this be systematized? How do we make players and characters want to keep their adversaries around instead of just putting a knife into their eye socket?

    Easy. Well, I say easy simply because we're speaking on theoreticals. Practically it might be an issue, especially with so many of us set in our ways. One rewards behaviour that they want to encourage, and penalises behaviour they want to discourage. It's like taxes. The government taxes cigarettes ostensibly because they want to discourage smoking, but they don't tax charitable contributions because they want to encourage that behaviour.

    Thus, we reward people taking alternate avenues rather than killing, and we penalise those that kill.



  • How about having a designated friend make suggestions to staff about or even RP an antagonist?

    They don't play the antagonist character always. They know more about what you would enjoy.

    They have a stake in both antagonism driven drama, and in keeping the action alive.



  • @Misadventure And for those of us that don't have friends?



  • IMO, many antagonist MU players play it like a trope. They put on a goatee and an eyepatch, say ya cunts! a lot, and antagonize other characters, but still assume this weird stance that they shouldn't suffer any ICC for their behavior unless it's a consequence they approve of. Players of antagonist characters tend to get upset when socially or politically they become uninvited, avoided, etc.

    To make matters a little worse, some of the my story society tends to avoid difficult characters on an OOC level, which bleeds into IC.

    Here's my playbook for playing antagonists:

    • Keep it IC. Always.
    • Disclaim. If someone pages you to ask, explain that it's all part of the show.
    • FOR FUCKS SAKE, BE WILLING TO ICLY SUFFER NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES. The whole point to playing an antagonist is to adopt the role of devil's advocate, a low level villain, a pain in the ass, a bad guy, etc. If you're making a character designed to generate conflict, it is a MUST that you are willing to give the people you're antagonizing a victory.

    There's two sides to every fight. If one player refuses to roleplay their character as having lost at all (I.e. despite being fuck-pummeled in a fistfight, the loser laughs and walks it off), then not only is it poor rp, but it's cheesy and shows a lack of ethics. Ethics is important to playing an antagonist, and when the other players know that you're ethical and fair about it, they're far more likely to get in on the fun.

    Oh, and also?

    • Be realistic. No one is 100% antagonist. Somewhere deep inside is a reason for said antagonism. Antagonists need allies, friends, people they confide in. Antagonist players need to leave the option open for some level of being tamed. Logan started fighting for mutant rights after being a raging dick to Cyclops. The angry beast can make friends, love them, protect them, even if it's in this big ugly shell of a guy who says ya cunts! a lot.

  • Pitcrew

    @Tinuviel @Misadventure

    What you could do, is allow PCs to designate another PC as a 'rival' and then give them bonus XP when they are in conflict with each other. This can be paired with small in-game nudges to rp with their rivals, and given public kudos to a pair of players who are really taking advantage of the system.

    @Ghost said in PC antagonism done right:

    IMO, many antagonist MU players play it like a trope. They put on a goatee and an eyepatch, say ya cunts! a lot, and antagonize other characters, but still assume this weird stance that they shouldn't suffer any ICC for their behavior unless it's a consequence they approve of. Players of antagonist characters tend to get upset when socially or politically they become uninvited, avoided, etc.

    I disagree with your basic premise that people need to 'play an antagonist.' I think in many games factions are in natural conflict with each other. Players from opposing factions can easily play the antagonist for each other while both being the 'good guy' in their own mind. The role of staff should be to reinforce this.


  • Admin

    @Lisse24 said in PC antagonism done right:

    1. An open and transparent OOC atmosphere, where character motivations are clear and clearly separated from players, and where players are nudged towards seeing disagreement as healthy.

    How, though? I agree, that'd be great, but what do we do to make it happen?

    For example have a system where players - in exchange for XP - post open journals revealing their characters' actions on a weekly basis? They don't have to do it, it'd be voluntary. Is that close to what you had in mind?

    1. Make sure that conflict is driven by character motivations and setting and that character driven conflicts are reinforced.

    Same question as above - how?

    1. Providing disincentives to what is normally seen as winning. (ex. Your faction is in charge! Yay! But now, any time you try to do something shady, there's an increased chance the IC newspaper is going to find out about it and splash it all over the front page)

    I think the key to this is providing systems where interesting choices are made. For example... you lead a barony. You also want a larger army but someone has to work the fields since that's where your money comes from - and armies cost money. It'd be great if you could afford a glowing sword for yourself, too but those farmers need physicians to look after them. So where do you draw the lines? Is your land an authoritarian one (so you're playing a 'bad guy' because it gets you things you want) or do you forego military power?

    In my opinion one of the main hurdles in MU* is we can have our pie and eat it. It's more fun when we can't.

    1. Providing incentives for disagreements, rivalries, and what is typically seen as loss.

    I offered an idea in your thread about long-standing feuds granting XP over time. I think it's a good one, although the implementation might actually decide that.

    1. Create a dynamic environment where characters can expect to go through both high and low points as a natural part of playing the game.
    2. Proactive staffing that is regularly checking the pulse of the player base, and stepping in on potential OOC conflicts before they become issues and encouraging frustrated players.
    3. Clearly defining actions you do not want to see and actions you do want to see and rewarding/clamping down on those actions as necessary.

    Again... how? Those are worthwhile goals, but how do you make them happen?

    1. Since players are going to talk OOC, encourage the talking and plotting to happen on game where players can be nudged in a healthy direction if possible.

    I suspect this one will be really tricky. Look at MSB - even when we have no stakes at all (no characters affected by the topic at hand) things get... heated sometimes. Do you think having the game's direction and plot open for OOC conversation somewhere (on a wiki?) will be a net positive?



  • @Lisse24 I don't like the idea of a 'designated antagonist'. if someone sees my PC as their PC's antagonist, but my PC doesn't give a shit about their PC... then what? And what about when antagonisms change, as they often (and imho should) do.

    Secondly... to be antagonistic is a choice. Just because you're Catholic and I'm Protestant doesn't mean we have to be antagonistic even if our organisations are supposed to be.



  • @Lisse24 said in PC antagonism done right:

    I disagree with your basic premise that people need to 'play an antagonist.' I think in many games factions are in natural conflict with each other. Players from opposing factions can easily play the antagonist for each other while both being the 'good guy' in their own mind. The role of staff should be to reinforce this

    I don't think that you're wrong. I'm speaking more about the people who choose to roll up a character with that edgy, mouthy, punchy badass series of tropes. Faction based games provide built in antagonism monitored by staff. On a more granular level, though, you get characters designed to be difficult to get a long with, perhaps even in their own faction. It was those antagonists that I was more pointing my thoughts towards.


  • Coder

    @Arkandel said in PC antagonism done right:

    So let's say all of the great players are playing your friends. In fact everyone is friendly to each other. Now, obviously you can have as many scenes with these guys as you want - there's no reason not to - but what are you going to be playing about? If all challenges come from the environment then the game is stagnant in the absence of someone playing its elements.

    Sure, that relies on having something in the environment or NPCs to react to. But I've seen that work successfully an awful lot more often than I've seen people play healthy IC antagonists (outside of short-term 'bad-guy' type plots). And I'd personally rather a game stagnate and die if I don't feed it enough than have it blow up spectacularly due to OOC drama. YMMV obviously.


  • Admin

    @faraday said in PC antagonism done right:

    But I've seen that work successfully an awful lot more often than I've seen people play healthy IC antagonists (outside of short-term 'bad-guy' type plots).

    Exactly. I've seen the same thing - probably all of us here have. Historically having a healthy OOC relationship with IC antagonists has been an exception and not a rule.

    But the reason I made this thread is to ask... could it be because we've been doing it wrong? Can we make it right? Or better?

    I mean your IC friends in games give you so much even just counting system benefits. You exchange +votes/+reccs way more often, they can buff you in games like Mage, exchange +task support on Arx, lend you their well-statted Haven and Herd on Vampire, share pack bonuses on Werewolf... that's before we even count scenes.

    What have antagonists ever done for you other than stand in your way? :)

    I mean this could be a fool's errand but I think there's a non-zero chance if we revisit this and come up with a system that sets the pieces up differently than how every-game-ever has been handling this kind of relationship, possibly inadvertently, we can get different results as well. Dunno. Maybe?


  • Pitcrew

    @Arkandel said in PC antagonism done right:

    @Lisse24 said in PC antagonism done right:

    1. An open and transparent OOC atmosphere, where character motivations are clear and clearly separated from players, and where players are nudged towards seeing disagreement as healthy.

    How, though? I agree, that'd be great, but what do we do to make it happen?

    I'm mentally playing around with a couple of ideas like allowing characters to pick certain characteristics/personality traits/beliefs, and then gaining XP when a RP-partner certifies that they were in conflict due to that characteristic.
    On a more wholistic side, encouraging conflict is going to require a lot of staff presence on channels, in pages, etc. to just let players know that disagreeing is OK and that disagreeing doesn't mean that the other person is bad.

    1. Make sure that conflict is driven by character motivations and setting and that character driven conflicts are reinforced.

    Same question as above - how?
    See above. factions, dynamic environment, etc. etc. etc. Getting into details would require a 10 page treatise, sorry.

    1. Providing disincentives to what is normally seen as winning. (ex. Your faction is in charge! Yay! But now, any time you try to do something shady, there's an increased chance the IC newspaper is going to find out about it and splash it all over the front page)

    I think the key to this is providing systems where interesting choices are made. For example... you lead a barony. You also want a larger army but someone has to work the fields since that's where your money comes from - and armies cost money. It'd be great if you could afford a glowing sword for yourself, too but those farmers need physicians to look after them. So where do you draw the lines? Is your land an authoritarian one (so you're playing a 'bad guy' because it gets you things you want) or do you forego military power?

    In my opinion one of the main hurdles in MU* is we can have our pie and eat it. It's more fun when we can't.

    YES. Exactly. Players need to make choices. They can have the spotlight, or they can be a criminal. They can control territory, or they can hold office. They can attack another person's political standing, or they can keep their factory running. Limited actions/choices are key.

    1. Providing incentives for disagreements, rivalries, and what is typically seen as loss.

    I offered an idea in your thread about long-standing feuds granting XP over time. I think it's a good one, although the implementation might actually decide that.

    I liked that. See what my previous post:)

    1. Create a dynamic environment where characters can expect to go through both high and low points as a natural part of playing the game.
    2. Proactive staffing that is regularly checking the pulse of the player base, and stepping in on potential OOC conflicts before they become issues and encouraging frustrated players.
    3. Clearly defining actions you do not want to see and actions you do want to see and rewarding/clamping down on those actions as necessary.

    Again... how? Those are worthwhile goals, but how do you make them happen?

    5 is difficult and will depend on the game. I'll happily involve you in those discussions if you'd like to help create said game.

    6 and 7 are what they say on the tin, I'm not sure where the confusion is?

    1. Since players are going to talk OOC, encourage the talking and plotting to happen on game where players can be nudged in a healthy direction if possible.

    I suspect this one will be really tricky. Look at MSB - even when we have no stakes at all (no characters affected by the topic at hand) things get... heated sometimes. Do you think having the game's direction and plot open for OOC conversation somewhere (on a wiki?) will be a net positive?

    I actually think having channels and maybe even OOC rooms where players can meet and talk and work on things is the proper way to handle it, but again - if you have ideas and want to help with a game, I welcome that.



  • Whatever a game does, they need to be upfront about it. It's like a consent/non-consent policy. This shit is important for players who're deciding whether or not they want to play somewhere. I strongly dislike PvP to the point where I'll generally avoid games that emphasize it, but I can tailor the design of my PC to minimize my need to engage in it (and generally prepare myself for something I'm eh on) if I'm aware it's a thing. If I'm not aware OOC, I can't do this.


  • Pitcrew

    @Tinuviel said in PC antagonism done right:

    @Lisse24 I don't like the idea of a 'designated antagonist'. if someone sees my PC as their PC's antagonist, but my PC doesn't give a shit about their PC... then what? And what about when antagonisms change, as they often (and imho should) do.

    Secondly... to be antagonistic is a choice. Just because you're Catholic and I'm Protestant doesn't mean we have to be antagonistic even if our organisations are supposed to be.

    But I was actually thinking of your char on Arx, while writing that!

    And yeah, I don't think having a designated antagonist should ever be required, but just by having the command you're sending the message "hey! conflict can be fun! You can work with someone to create conflict and have a grand old time!" Sometimes, having the option to do something is as important as actually doing it.


  • Pitcrew

    Just as a shout out here, @Kestrel did an amazing job playing an antagonist on The 100, for all that the game was short lived. I'd be curious to hear her thoughts. She was ICly hostile, had her own agenda, was able to bend at the right moments both in story and OOCly, as well as being very nice OOC and willing to communicate. But in character? Totally in it for herself and willing to fuck people over to survive. Our very own Murphy.


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