It's tempting to just let the PCs roll initiative and have it out. However, if player versus player wasn't discussed as part of your Session 0, then you need to put the kibosh on that strategy.
|1 V 1 me, bro!|
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
On the one hand, PVP does add a dash of (and I hate to use this word) realism to the game. It removes the illusion that player characters are somehow immune to certain threats, and that they can say or do whatever they want to the rest of the party without violence or death as a possible repercussion. The knowledge that the table doesn't allow PVP, for example, might be the reason the bard feels secure making jab after jab at the barbarian, because no matter how mad the tank gets, he can't just beat the musician to death with his own mandolin.
If you take away that security, then you suddenly have to deal with the real potential that your actions may come back to bite you. And that might stop you from, say, thieving from the communal treasure pot, or deciding to keep making suggestive comments to the sorcerer as his hand starts glowing with eldritch fire.
|Don't worry, we're not ignoring the other side of this coin.|
With that said, PVP isn't the RPG equivalent of, "an armed society is a polite society." Because there are also players who will use the, "my PC can kill your PC," threat as a way to bully other folks at the table. Because sure, the rest of the party might declare that they are officially no longer adventuring with Godran Red Hand because he's a violent loose cannon, but such a declaration doesn't guarantee you won't have the player try to fight the rest of the party to try going out in a blaze of glory.
Beyond these very practical arguments for and against PVP, though, there are other concerns. As a for instance, most RPGs are supposed to be cooperative affairs. The party comes together to raid the dungeon, stop the overthrow of the king, or to push back the demon horde. Not allowing PVP means that the characters have to work together to find diplomatic solutions to their own conflicts (or, at least, to agree to disagree on certain matters). If the party can just use violence, or magic, in a "might makes right" scenario, then that erodes the idea of cooperative play.
Then there's the fallout. It's depressing enough to lose a character because of a lucky crit from the DM, but that's something we expect to happen. You step to the plot, and sometimes the plot buries you. But when another player is the cause of your PC's death, that's another kettle of fish. Even if their actions make total sense in the context of both their story, and the plot, it's hard not to feel like you were stabbed in the back. It's even harder to keep those meta concerns out of your future play, even if you both have characters totally unconnected to that one time Dave killed your bard when he was sleeping. Even if players think they're mature, and they agree that it's, "just a game," there can be hard feelings when PVP is allowed to happen.
If You're Going To Do It, Get Consent
PVP should never be a surprise to anyone at the table. In fact, you should add it to your question list before every campaign you start. Ask your table if they want PVP, and why. If possible, make sure they vote unanimously on it (especially if it's a yes). This grants everyone protection from blow back in the event that one PC does willingly kill another, because it was something everyone consented to before the game got started.
And, just like any other situation where everyone gave consent, you should repeatedly check your table's comfort level as you go along to be sure they don't want to revoke that consent. Because PVP might sound cool in theory, but once your players get a taste of it they might find it's actually bitter and harsh, rather than sweet and exciting.
In the end, PVP is kind of like Sriracha. Some people love it, even when it does serious damage to them and their friendships. Other people might like it on occasion for a bit of spice, and some people will politely decline it entirely. Make sure you know what your table's position is before you give the go-ahead for an all-party death match.
That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully it clears up some things for folks who have had trouble with PVP, and haven't quite known how to put it into words. If you want more content from yours truly, then check out my archive over at Gamers, and follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help me keep Improved Initiative going, why not consider becoming a Literary Mercenary Patreon patron? As little as $1 a month helps keep the lights on, and