Interparty conflict is a spectre that almost every Gamemaster dreads at the table. If handled badly, it can lead to hurt feelings, group break ups and in severe cases it can lead to loss of friendships. I honestly don’t blame most GM’s from banning it outright in their games.
However, I do believe it has a place, and if handled correctly it can add depth and impact to a story, that the gamemaster couldn’t have managed on their own.
I want the PC’s actions to matter. There needs to be consequences for actions, good or ill. How frustrating is it when you go to a game and find out the game is scripted so much that the characters are there as little more than footnotes? Likewise what fun is NPC theater for the players? To me NPC theater is nothing more than storyteller masturbation The consequences don’t have to be world changing, but they need to change the way the environment interacts with the characters. Likewise the PC’s need to be the stars. It’s easy and a common pitfall for ST’s to put a NPC with the party, that is far more powerful than the characters, but it’s always a trap.
One of the things I always do when setting up a game is determine who the major powers are going to be. Sometimes its as easy as determining which published npc’s or entities to use. Shadowrun and Cyberpunk are great settings for this as there are a plethora of options to choose from. Pick a couple of corporations and go from there. Likewise L5R has built in genre antagonists as do many other systems.
D&D is a bit harder to set up in this manner unless you’re setting using published settings. The pro and con to using those is the players already know much of the lore of the setting. While this can definitely be an advantage, it can be just as much as a liability. The Zhentorum are the bad guys, and your players know this. So attempting to paint them in another light, oft times is pointless. Obviously you can twist things etc, play off of the player’s expectations ad nauseum. I personally found after doing just that multiple times in the Ryoko Owari setting for L5R, that I ended up putting almost as much work into it as I would’ve had i just started from scratch. So why not just start from scratch?
I’m an infamous tinkerer. I like to take published settings and turn them on the head. I also love to world build and design settings for my players. One of my most successful campaign settings was an alternate timeline Rokugan for L5R. The players were all tasked with resurrecting an extinct clan, and their ties to each other was an Imperial Historian had traced their ancestry back to the minor clan in question. It led to a 3 year campaign that left my players talking about it for years to come.
It’s been difficult recapturing that essence. In someways it was the perfect storm when it happened. We all had time, I had energy and the players really got into the game. Unfortunately campaigns have been rather hit or miss (mostly miss) since then. Most lasting only six to nine months.