Last post I mentioned a conflict that arose between party members during a recent session of Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate (HERE). In a world and genre of feuding sects, shifting alliances and ambitious heroes, I think a certain amount of internal party conflict is to be expected. Several years ago we published an RPG called Crime Network, where players were members of the mafia working their way up the hierarchy. That was a system built around party conflict. While Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate isn't such a game, the presence of some internal conflict has made it easy for me to apply many of the lessons and approaches we used in Crime Network.
There is quite a bit of cross-over between the wuxia genre and crime genres. The world of martial heroes and sects can, at its worst, resemble the world of competing mafia families or inner city gangs. Obviously there are key differences too, but when I watch films like Killer Clans, The Bride with White Hair or even Butterfly and Sword, it is hard not to think of the kinds of violent conflicts you have between gangs, outlaw motorcycle clubs, etc. While this is mostly directly outwardly against rivals, sometimes the violence turns inward. Perhaps it is because of this similarity that I've prepared for many of my Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate sessions the way I prepare for Crime Network sessions.
My prep for Ogre Gate isn't identical to Crime Network. There are a lot more investigations, quests and dungeon crawls than you are going to find working as a soldier for the Martino Crime Family. My mafia sessions are all about the characters and organizations. They are conflict adventures driven by the motivations of the people and groups involved. When I prepare a Crime Network campaign, I simply drop the players into that situation and see what kind of reaction I get. There are elements of this to my Wandering Heroes campaigns as well. For example a big part of my prep involves mapping out all the different sects so I can get a quick sense of where they stand on key developments. Another important part is coming up with all the members of those sects who matter and creating a network of NPCs.
Once the game is in motion, if conflict emerges, I don't shy away from it. It is great if the party gets along and shares an agenda, but it can also be enjoyable to see what develops out of conflict. In some games this might be viewed as the end of the campaign, as an implosion, but I find, at least for me, in wuxia it merely leads to more possibilities (I would argue it can in just about any kind of campaign, but that is a topic for another day). I think the key when you are GMing such conflicts is to hold yourself to highest standard of impartiality possible. That doesn't mean you'll be perfect, but you have to strive for it.
As a rule of thumb, when player versus player conflict occurs, particularly if combat is involved, I run things 100% by the book and look up every rule if there is any doubt at all about the details. I also explain my rulings more clearly to people so they understand risks and how I intend to proceed. It is a trade off because it does take a little more time, and it can shave off some of the drama, but it really does help contribute to the sense that things are being handled fairly.
It is pretty important here to gauge your players. We're all human and when PCs start fighting people can take it personally or get too aggressive and competitive. I try to read the mood in the room and if anyone seems upset or I'm just not sure what they are thinking, I will pause to deal with that. I've found it helpful after sessions where there is party conflict to ask questions and be open to the responses you get because it gives you better information going forward (for example you may have thought someone was upset but they were really just excited and getting into character, or you might have mistaken anger for passion in another instance).
Party conflict doesn't end the campaign, it just causes it to pivot (to varying degrees). Initially that can frighten a game master. It can throw a wrench in what you have in store or force the you to try to corral the party into a unified whole again. I've come to see party conflict as reducing my workload rather than increasing it. Conflict creates something new, it adds to the campaign. It may be messy, it may require scores be settled and a new order be established in the party, but it sets a path. The role of the GM in this instance is to clearly see what path that is, to elaborate on the ramifications. That may mean other groups or characters get involved, it may mean you need to start thinking about where the conflict will take the party next (geographically, politically, socially). This is where sects really come in handy in Ogre Gate. Once word of an internal conflict gets out, other martial heroes may take notice and capitalize on the division.
A lot of folks are wary of party conflict in RPGs, and with good reason: it can turn into real hostility between players and have a negative impact on the game group as a whole. It can also be difficult with some adventure structures or styles of play. For this reason, some might opt to avoid it when running Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, which is fine. I think people need to run the game the way that works for them and their players. But I would advise against dismissing it out of hand because you might miss out on some interesting developments that expand your campaign.