D&D General How to work with players who wont accept any setbacks/defeat?


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p_johnston

Explorer
So what do you currently do when those situations come up? Do you kill the PC? Do the players seem to resent that?

@p_johnston What were the circumstances surrounding this "your potion ingredients or your life" scenario?

I ask because one of the reasons I've seen players behave this way is due to the DM trying to subvert their agency.

From one of my own experiences, the DM contrived an encounter where he intended that our PCs would be captured. When, despite an absolutely overwhelmingly designed encounter, we actually managed to persevere, he contrived to have the enemy threaten an incapacitated PC with a poison he made up on the spot that instantly killed with no saving throw (this was 3e, where every poison had a DC, even if it was impossibly high). We refused to surrender, he killed the PC, and the players basically just rebelled and declared the campaign over.

I'm not saying you are doing anything like that.

However, as I said, I have seen that kind of behavior as a reaction to heavy handed plot hammering.

If that's not the case, then you may simply need to follow through. After all, death is one form of defeat, and if the player chooses that route then validate their agency and follow through.
To clarify we werent actually playing 5e. We were in 13th age in which the flight mechanic is at any time you can declare you flee and you suffer a campaign loss (something bad happens). They wanted to run so i told them what the campaign loss would be (potion ingredients). They were unwilling to accept this so everyone else fled into the sewers and the last guy got captured by the dragon.

Also this was just the most recent example that led me to seek help. There are a fair few other examples that i could also list.

P.s. also the fight the were fleeing was a semi random encounter caused by them choosing to harvest bone marrow (long story) at noon in the middle of a city moments after a very loud public fight. Also i personally think they could have won it just would have been hard.
 
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p_johnston

Explorer
So what do you currently do when those situations come up? Do you kill the PC? Do the players seem to resent that?

Some players have no issue with their PC dying for a cause, even a seemingly trivial one. If that’s your players then I wouldn’t worry. If they take issue then there’s a number of reasons it could be. Figure out the reason then an appropriate solution should come easily enough.
So the problem is no ones happy. They arent happy with the characters dieing. Im not happy with having to work in new PCs or having campaigns end.
 



p_johnston

Explorer
Take the hint and stop trying to defeat or hand out setbacks.

IF you are unwilling to do this, let someone else DM.

Don't try to 'teach lessons' or.
I don't try and defeat. If I wanted the characters dead I could kill them. I run hard combats because I find them more satisfying and fun as both a DM and Player. I never force them into combats they can't win and try to very clearly earmark when a foe is much to powerful for them up to the point of straight up telling them. If I find I have made a fight that they have no reasonable way to win because I messed up I'll happily admit it and walk it back.
What I try to do is have an alternative to "welp you lost everyones dead. New campaign."
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
I run hard combats because I find them more satisfying and fun as both a DM and Player.
Thing is, they seem not to.

They appear not to want to be presented with fights they can't win or potential opponents so powerful you have to explain to them.

It's the thing a lot of people do when they sandbox: they put in the horrible life-ender monster in a place and then say 'don't go there', when... maybe it's better to not have it there at all, eh?
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Me, I'd just run it neutrally and let the chips - and, sometimes, characters - fall where they may.
I think making a show of rolling in the open. Let the dice decide. If the players escape, then ask for a little break to think of what happens next. Maybe the players will get away with it, and that will be very memorable. And if they don't, well they all saw the dice.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
This came to a head last session when the party was more willing to have a character effectively die rather then give up the ingredients to make 2 potions they had gathered that session. This is just one example of many that has come up.
When I hear this, I wonder what has primed these players to respond so disproportionately that they cling to a small victory and escalate the stakes to be life or death?

In my gaming experience, that kind of behavior doesn't happen in isolation. My hunch is there has got to be some story there – either something from your game table, or their experience at other game tables, or something going on beyond what you've already shared.

For instance, if the game's stakes were set extremely high right out the gate or if a PC unexpectedly died without having a session 0 discussion about your style, that could lead to this sort of behavior.

I dunno, I'd want to know a heck of a lot more before giving you any advice.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Discuss it with them as if they were reasonable adults. Try to have an open discussion and ask leading questions, like "last session you ____ and it meant your PC died. What do you think should have happened?" Try to have an open discussion and avoid any kind of blame game. If that doesn't work and they'd rather die than admit defeat then they die.

Rinse and repeat all steps until you have a resolution. 🤷‍♂️
Seriously. This should have been the very first suggestion.
 

MGibster

Legend
When it comes to D&D, things seem designed for PCs to come out ahead. It's expected they have a certain number of encounters per day, and they're expected to win those. This leads to a situation where no matter how I describe an antagonist, one or more of the PCs will take his presence to mean he's there to be defeated. But there are those PCs who would rather their characters die than accept defeat or acquiesce to the demands of an NPC.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Talk to the group of players. Ask if they think the current tendencies are fun.

If so, no problem. Continue on as is.
I get the impression though that the OP doesn’t think it’s fun. If that’s the case, there is a problem, and the OP needs to communicate that with the players.
 

Many years ago back in 3.5 days we had some issues with this. TBH there isn't much you can do. We tried to talk out of game, we tried to humor him... in the end he just changed one day but it wasn't like a light switch it was gradual.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
To clarify we werent actually playing 5e. We were in 13th age in which the flight mechanic is at any time you can declare you flee and you suffer a campaign loss (something bad happens). They wanted to run so i told them what the campaign loss would be (potion ingredients). They were unwilling to accept this so everyone else fled into the sewers and the last guy got captured by the dragon.

Also this was just the most recent example that led me to seek help. There are a fair few other examples that i could also list.

P.s. also the fight the were fleeing was a semi random encounter caused by them choosing to harvest bone marrow (long story) at noon in the middle of a city moments after a very loud public fight. Also i personally think they could have won it just would have been hard.
This is really crucial information. You’re getting answers from people thinking that you contrived some kind of scenario to take the players’ potion ingredients by force, when the reality is that this was a specific mechanic of the system you’re using. I think you might get better answers in a 13th age discussion community.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
To clarify we werent actually playing 5e. We were in 13th age in which the flight mechanic is at any time you can declare you flee and you suffer a campaign loss (something bad happens). They wanted to run so i told them what the campaign loss would be (potion ingredients). They were unwilling to accept this so everyone else fled into the sewers and the last guy got captured by the dragon.
Hold up. All but 1 PC fled? IMO, that changes everything about the scenario. IMO when 1 player acts that out of sync with the rest of the party then most likely he was either extremely bored with the session or with his PC. He also could have felt the encounter was a 'gotcha' or in someway unfair and used his PC actions to showcase his dislike for a DM decision he felt that way about. It's hard to precisely put the finger on it without more examples or more insight into what the players say about play.

Also this was just the most recent example that led me to seek help. There are a fair few other examples that i could also list.
More examples tend to help pinpoint the problem(s).
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
So the funny thing is Ive straight up asked tgem before "do you want me to dial it back." And was told its fine.
So the problem is no ones happy. They arent happy with the characters dieing. Im not happy with having to work in new PCs or having campaigns end.
To clarify we werent actually playing 5e. We were in 13th age in which the flight mechanic is at any time you can declare you flee and you suffer a campaign loss (something bad happens).


A few thoughts.

It sounds like your players are good with the level of challenge you provide and that you are as well - as long as the challenge doesn't produce pc death. The problem in making the game challenging is that it's going to most always mean PC death at least for most games. However, it sounds like the game you are playing doesn't force death on players, that it's very much their choice. So why are they choosing PC death that you claim neither you nor they want instead of accepting the setback? If you don't know then that's the vital piece of info you need to find out and it starts with a conversation with the players.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
Well, sure, just let the characters die. If the players will just whine any time anything negative happens with the "ok, the character just dies", then just let them.

Though you don't "have" to kill the character....you can go the other way and force them to live. You can just alter reality.........but an even MORE fun way is to make the charcter powerful.
 

p_johnston

Explorer
More examples tend to help pinpoint the problem(s).
So some more examples from 5e.
1) party gets ambushed by bandits who outnumber them, are told by the merchant theyre gaurding to stand down welll cover any costs rather then have you die, fight anyways, lose and rather then kill them the bandits demand 50 gp and let them live. Later party tracks down the bandit camp and attacks them outnumbered 2 to 1. When asked to surrender refused and were killed.

2) party had an NPC companion. Fought someone trying to kidnap them (who explicitly was not going to harm them and was trying to incapacitate but not kill the party). Someone straps thier restrained character to the wheel of a car to try and kill the kidnapper and themselves in a fiery explosion.

3) party is given a choice between an expidition to gain more knowledge about their enemy or saving a characters mentor. Both are long distances and time constricted. Party decides to split up and ends up with multiple character deaths (which i warned them was very likely).

I have started to talk to the party but i think the greater discussion needs to take place face to face. Looking it over it is mostly one person with a little from a couple others, so at this point i just have to figure out how to approach it without seeming to single him out.
 

p_johnston

Explorer
This is really crucial information. You’re getting answers from people thinking that you contrived some kind of scenario to take the players’ potion ingredients by force, when the reality is that this was a specific mechanic of the system you’re using. I think you might get better answers in a 13th age discussion community.
So if it was specific to this scenario i would but my problem is a more underlying one. Ive seen similiar behavior in d&d for much longer the new system just helped clarify it. Im not worried about one bad session or incident. Im worried about a pattern of behavior.
 

p_johnston

Explorer
A few thoughts.

It sounds like your players are good with the level of challenge you provide and that you are as well - as long as the challenge doesn't produce pc death. The problem in making the game challenging is that it's going to most always mean PC death at least for most games. However, it sounds like the game you are playing doesn't force death on players, that it's very much their choice. So why are they choosing PC death that you claim neither you nor they want instead of accepting the setback? If you don't know then that's the vital piece of info you need to find out and it starts with a conversation with the players.
So talking to one of my players he described a feeling of "not wanting retreat to always mean a lose." And that he feels the consequences of retreating are campaign ending.

I tried explaining that unfortunately retreating does pretty much mean youve lost. If your on a quest and you run away then youve generally failed that quest. I also tried to point out i explicitly do try and make consequences bad without being campaign ending.

At this point it looks like its mostly just a mismatch of expectations and styles with mostly one player. He has a habit of when things go wrong (he doesnt like a rule or ruling, he gets unlucky) of just shutting down and not trying and i think this might be an extension of that. Talking to my players and reading the replies on here have helped me realize i mostly just need to chat with him.

Now i just need to figure out how to do so without it feeling like im singleing him out or attacking him.
 

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