There is always a lot of advice about how you never want PCs to actually come into physical conflict with other PCs, how that will ruin your game and you should take any meta-game action necessary to prevent it.
Well, that’s complete and utter crap. Here’s a gaming anecdote about some awesome PC-on-PC violence from an old AD&D 2e Forgotten Realms game I ran.
SPOILER WARNING – this is full of spoilers for the 2e Forgotten Realms adventure “Bad Neighbor Policy” from “Four From Cormyr.”
In general I prefer gritty, low magic campaigns like Greyhawk or even Warhammer Fantasy. But for a change, our group said “Let’s play a high level high magic game!” This clearly meant the Forgotten Realms, and since I was a crazed D&D DM I had every product put out in the 1e/2e days, so the PCs munchkinned themselves out with high level (10 or 12 or something) powerz and magic items and everything and I prepped a Realms game, which though it went off track, ended up a thing of beauty.
We ran something else forgettable first, but soon began “Bad Neighbor Policy,” in which the PCs are travelling to the Orvaskyte Ruins out in the swamp for one reason or another. But first, there’s a random interesting location on the way – the “Inn of the Undead,” an inn run by two hot women. The first, the scenario claims, is “a voluptuous blonde” and the other is a “tall, attractive woman with a luxurious, tousled mane of fiery red hair.” They are also vampires, as it turns out, and there’s a 12th level necromancer who hangs out with them.
One of the PCs decides, true to form, that he’d “seduce that hot blonde chick who owns the place!” She says, “Okay… Come upstairs after closing and we’ll take a bath together.” “Well that was easy,” he thinks. The PC comes upstairs with her, doffs all his armor and weapons and gear and gets in the bath. Then the other woman, the redhead, comes in too, and the blonde says “I thought I’d ask my sister to join us, if that’s all right.” The player, nursing a woody by this point no doubt, is all like “Woo, threesome, I win!!!” They disrobe, get into the bath with him, and and then the fangs come out and ENERGY DRAIN ENERGY DRAIN ENERGY DRAIN ENERGY DRAIN the poor bastard is a vampire himself. I laughed and laughed and laughed. It’s scenes like that which make all the BS you have to deal with for being a DM worthwhile.
But it gets better. The necromancer’s there for no stated reason except an “alliance” with the vampires. So I decide they’re doing some experimentation trying to make the ever-popular vampire that can walk during the day. There was some spell they published around that time, I think it might have been in the Spell Compendium, where if cast on a vampire, their powers wax and wane over the course of the day but the sun doesn’t kill them. So the dead PC gets that spell permanenced on them by the necromancer as part of his undead rebirth. I also decide that the PC has to rest in water not in earth because of the circumstances of his death. Success, a new weird variety of vampire!
Anyway, the PC wake up as a daywalking water-sleeping vampire and doesn’t let on that anything’s wrong. “I’m evil now right? I’m gonna turn them all into vampires!” The party, upon hearing that he looks “pale and drained” the next morning, just responds “Yeah, I bet. Let’s get going.” The PCs travel out through a day or two of swampland to the Orvaskyte Ruins, where they really have a hard time of it what with dragons and cornugons and whatnot. Half of the PCs are unconscious or otherwise disabled after the final fight – so of course the vampire PC picks that time to strike, paralyzes one PC and drags another off into the swamp for vampirification. The frozen PC gets free and drags the other PCs into the convenient shrine that undead can’t enter in the ruined keep. (That shrine is actually in the adventure; I didn’t plan any of this.)
So then what unfolds is pure beauty. No hold barred combat between the vampire PCs and the living PCs. For three weeks the players come over and eagerly take seats in separate rooms, and I scuttle back and forth as they try to outsmart and overcome each other.
The living PCs didn’t understand how things were working exactly with the vampires being active in the day – even without their vampire powers, they were still 10+th level Forgotten Realms characters and put down quite a whupping! The PCs try to hole up in the shrine, but the vampires snipe at them and summon critters to go in and disrupt their sleep, so they’re not getting spells back. They try to escape through the swamp, but the vampires catch up and attack and they have to retreat back into the shrine.
My favorite part was when the living PCs ventured out during the day and used spells to track down the dead PC the vampires had carted off and stuck under some roots in an icky swamp pond to turn. One of the vampires is lurking nearby in a tree and summons a bunch of giant crocodiles into the pond. The PCs come up and one, thinking for some reason that they’re safe during the day, dives right into the muck without a second glance. All those crocs latched right on and started spinnin’. “OH JESUS NO!!!” he was screaming as his hit points disappeared. I had to devise a quick hit location chart to determine what part of him a given croc was attached to. The rest of the PCs panicked and Lightning Bolted the entire pond killing everything; all the crocs and the PC floated to the top and they pulled him out to see if they were in time to heal him but he was gone below the torso. Everyone screams. Retreat to shrine, cast Raise Dead. The living PCs had one Raise Dead a day which was very helpful. Sometimes the vampires would catch a living guy and turn them; sometimes the living guys would catch a vampire and Raise Dead them. They kept this up for hour after hour, session after session.
Finally after a couple sessions of this the remaining living PCs made a successful break for it, but the vampires were faster and got back to that inn first. One of the PCs, a monk, was suspicious of the inn as “That’s where all the trouble started!” and stayed outside, clinging to the roof to peer into windows. Another was disgusted by the whole thing and just marched in to get a room. When he went upstairs and closed the door to his room, the initial vampire PC was standing behind it with bared broadsword. The monk peeped down just in time to see the inside of the room’s window suddenly become completely coated with blood. More screams. In the end, a couple living PCs retreated under cover of magically created fog while the vampires plotted a daywalking vampire apocalypse to take over Sembia.
The campaign ended there (it was supposed to be short anyway), but everyone had a grand time. People fight hard against DM-run monsters. But they fight HARD against other PCs. It was a very meaningful test of abilities for everyone – the DM couldn’t pull a punch if he wanted to, and each opponent wasn’t one of many faceless critters being multitasked by the DM, each one was backed by a clever and bloodthirsty player’s undivided attention. Each session, I kept asking “Do ya’ll want me to wrap this up?” But each time, they were excited to get there and continue one of the most exhilarating fights for their lives they had seen in a game. I was surprised with how long it went, I would have expected one side to get a numerical advantage and then just roll over the other. But each side could safely retreat and when things started getting bad they fought harder – using one-use magic items, desperate tactics, and more to avoid being wiped out. I was really proud at some of the stuff “my players” came up with when the chips were down, I saw balls to the wall crazy kickass things happen I hadn’t seen before or since. It was really a memorable experience for everyone.
After that, I would often bring in a “guest star” – some other gamer not in a given campaign – to run a major villain at the climax of an adventure. “Here, you’re this guy, here’s what you know, you have free rein to defeat them any way you can.” You could tell by the “Oh, shit” looks on the PCs’ faces that they realized they needed to step their game way up when that happened. The villains were always extra clever and brutal and self-preserving (and therefore realistic) when they had a dedicated brain behind them.
And sure, the simple “PCs shouldn’t hit each other” advice is all well and good for the 13-year-olds and emotionally maladjusted out there, where people are just acting disruptively or whatnot. But in a game for grownups, it has its place.