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

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
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.
Group dynamics are different but if it was my group I think I would go around the group and ask about the degree of setbacks when they lose/retreat that they prefer. Maybe with a few hypothetical scenarios and then use that as the starting off point.

But all groups/players are different and what might work for mine might not for yours.
 

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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
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.
Thanks for the example! A few thoughts, not to say anything you are doing is wrong, just that it might could be handled differently and that doing so might have a significant impact on your game.
  • The first encounter with the bandits was a no win scenario. Those generally go over badly. This one didn't, though it did incite the players to 'revenge' play which should have been fairly predictable.
  • The second encounter which happened to be player initiated, I understand the players desire to fight to the death before allowing that agency ending surrender to occur. One thing that might help is telegraphing what surrendering entails before asking the players to make that choice, (though there's really not any fictionally suitable options for bandits to do to adventurers that attack them - kill them, torture them, sell them to slavery, ???). A different option might have been allowing the players to escape while taking a hit to their reputation and establishing the bandit gang as wanting them dead might have been more player friendly setbacks that leave more room for the players to fall forward. This would also establish the bandits as a force to be avoided for the PC's at least until the PC's get more powerful.
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.
  • Misread this at first. I'm actually rather excited to see that some players value the NPC's life over their own PC's life. That's refreshing IMO. Great play here IMO. Only possible advice might be that having an NPC trying to kidnap a companion NPC is establishing the players either keep the status quo or take a loss. It can sometimes help play if such scenarios of status quo or lose scenarios aren't forced on players except as a clear consequence of something they chose to do or failed to do.
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).
  • This is a scenario where you are forcing a significant loss on the players. You set it up such that they couldn't realistically achieve both goals. If such a scenario had been part of a previous setback that would have been great! But setting it up outside a setback - i understand the response you received as you gave the players no good options.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
Has this player ever considered a retreat/loss to be a temporary thing, that you can always try the quest again?
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.
Unfortunately, the way this looks given what you've said you might end up having to single him out by excusing him from further participation in your game.
 

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
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.
I had interpreted it as implying by leaving the one character remaining in combat to fight and presumably die then it wouldn’t of triggered the same ‘escape’ mechanics of losing the ingredients for the rest of the party as the opposition was still engaged while they slipped away rather than giving chase.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
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.
Having a discussion sounds like a good idea.

My impression is that this player may perceive it as though you are trying to violate their agency, despite that you aren't intending to force a specific outcome. Which may be related to your earlier statement that you like to make combats difficult. I'm just guessing, but it seems like you want to challenge the party, but this player sees it as plot hammering.

For all their objections, that they enjoy the existing difficulty, you could try dialing back the challenge level for a few sessions to see what happens. Worst case scenario, they complain that the game is too easy and you go back to running it the way you did before.

You could also offer them some agency in their failure conditions. The next time they want to retreat, ask them what setback occurs as a result. Maybe even look at that one player and ask them specifically. If they feel like they have agency regarding the fail state, they might be less inclined to reject it outright.
 


nevin

Hero
So I've noticed a feature of my group, with some players being worse then others, that as a whole they would rather get their characters killed (up to and including a campaign ending TPK) rather than accept any sort of defeat or setback.

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.

I admit I tend to run harder games/battles in general but i also try to give players an out or a way to fail forward, but its hard to do so if it feels like they'll only accept totally victory or death.

Has anyone else had a similar problem or just any general advice?
talk to the players and figure out why. There are some players that are all or nothing. they'll die a lot. Some will back off after a few deaths some won't. But make sure it's not because you are making the game too dark and dreary. Some DM's have it in their head that the more the punish the players and make it suck the better it will feel when they win. In games like that players tend to get angry vindictive and then start playing to beat the DM not the BBEG's and that's just not fun.
 

nevin

Hero
Let them win?!

Just TPK them until they improve tactics. :D
probably the DM enjoys dfferent kinds of games than they do. I've seen games get completely derailed from the main plot because the Dm made things so dark and so deadly they would either refuse the main plot or get stuck protecting a town or village and not move on.

My friends love role play, you give us a village of doomed souls and our hero's won't move till they are safe or we are dead. Once it become's run and let people die for the greater good or stand and die at the Alamo we take the Alamo every time. Make sure you know your players. some players just play it like a computer game die roll another character move on. If that's what's going on either you'll have to modify your DM style, give them something that motivates them to behave differently, or just keep killing them. Being in charge of the game doesn't mean you are in charge of where it goes.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
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?
No it is a sandbox. With quick sand. I am always amaze when I set up a sandbox with the players; and they automatically go most difficult place and act like it was my fault. I said the king's grandmother was a retired adventurer with spit shine boots and mean rep. You the one who got froggy and slapped her.
Or Hey your first level. Try out the village of homlet but beware to north is giants, to the west the Hocus Pocus sisters. This also know as foreshadowing future adventures.
PC, Lets go check out the sisters.
DM, You have vision you will die.
PC, I am a pc.
DM, Your elf gets dropped in the soup pot. Maybe after you escaped the first time; you shouldn't have gone back and tell to sell the rest of group out.
Player, You don't know how to run sandboxes.
 

nevin

Hero
Problem is younger players grew up playing modern video games that put everything on rails. In video games they wall you off, give you warnings etc. These kinds of players assume if you mentioned it they should go check it out. They probably won't change so with those kinds of players I suggest less information and possibly (even though I hate em) rails. That may be what they are comfortable with and need. once the game in on track you can let them get more powerful before you start slowly removing them.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Problem is younger players grew up playing modern video games that put everything on rails. In video games they wall you off, give you warnings etc. These kinds of players assume if you mentioned it they should go check it out. They probably won't change so with those kinds of players I suggest less information and possibly (even though I hate em) rails. That may be what they are comfortable with and need. once the game in on track you can let them get more powerful before you start slowly removing them.
No I think @jasper is right & it can't be blamed on "modern video games" alone without awarding 5e itself the blame it's due for exacerbating any influence they might apply to such an extreme degree. Back in 2e & even 3.x it was possible for the GM to telegraph danger & get believed, but in 5e things are tuned so far that danger is more of an ignorable bit of set dressing for the PCs. Sure the GM can kill the players off if they ignore it, but doing so will likely require adversarial GMing analogs or being forced to slaughter every PC down to the last meeple while just not bothering to track damage or something.
 
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No it is a sandbox. With quick sand. I am always amaze when I set up a sandbox with the players; and they automatically go most difficult place and act like it was my fault. I said the king's grandmother was a retired adventurer with spit shine boots and mean rep. You the one who got froggy and slapped her.
Or Hey your first level. Try out the village of homlet but beware to north is giants, to the west the Hocus Pocus sisters. This also know as foreshadowing future adventures.
PC, Lets go check out the sisters.
DM, You have vision you will die.
PC, I am a pc.
DM, Your elf gets dropped in the soup pot. Maybe after you escaped the first time; you shouldn't have gone back and tell to sell the rest of group out.
Player, You don't know how to run sandboxes.
I really wonder how many people play Curse of Strahd and have the party go check out Strahd's castle immediately instead of gaining levels and looking for allies to help.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
Problem is younger players grew up playing modern video games that put everything on rails. In video games they wall you off, give you warnings etc. These kinds of players assume if you mentioned it they should go check it out. They probably won't change so with those kinds of players I suggest less information and possibly (even though I hate em) rails. That may be what they are comfortable with and need. once the game in on track you can let them get more powerful before you start slowly removing them.
I find this a problem too. Though with "younger" players counting as anyone born after 1990 or so. Video Games have had a HUGE overwhelming force on all the younger gamers. To them an "RPG" is only straight line "quest" to do a single, direct, easy goal. And nothing like a setback or a drawback exists in video games......nothing like a live RPG.
 


payn

Legend
This is really tricky. I see a playloop extreme that can form. The players will be paranoid to do anything with their characters until they have exhausted all avenues of research, recon, investigation, etc... They wont have their PC go to the outhouse alone. Was the bandit group a random encounter? Sometimes players have a hard time understanding a random bandit group that got the better of them, from the actual campaign adventure itself. They encountered these bastards, and they must be an intended part of the game to pursue. There is a world of difference between being protagonists of the story, and just being randos in a sandbox sim. I'd try to clear that up.
 

nevin

Hero
Aaaaand we're back to D&D being bitter that video games didn't want to go to prom with it.
no it's just that younger players that grew up with computers unlike us old cretins :) from the dark ages try to play DND the way they play thier video games. Most of the younger DM's I've played games with usually pull things straight out of those games. Just like we did and probably do from our books. But books are more open ended and fuller stories. with a few exceptions video games teach you to do everything in order step by step or die. Its not a criticism just an observation. The DM needs to know thier players and reward the type of behavior that they want and make sure they are willing to play that kind of game.
 

SakanaSensei

Adventurer
no it's just that younger players that grew up with computers unlike us old cretins :) from the dark ages try to play DND the way they play thier video games. Most of the younger DM's I've played games with usually pull things straight out of those games. Just like we did and probably do from our books. But books are more open ended and fuller stories. with a few exceptions video games teach you to do everything in order step by step or die. Its not a criticism just an observation. The DM needs to know thier players and reward the type of behavior that they want and make sure they are willing to play that kind of game.
Now hold on a second, I'm a Language Arts teacher and love me some books, but are you honestly trying to say that games like Outer Wilds, Breath of the Wild, or any number of open world games are somehow less linear than words on a page? Where every sentence is read front to back and the order doesn't change? This feels very "in my day we were better at critical thinking and these kids need their hands held or they go crazy!"
 


jasper

Rotten DM
Problem is younger players grew up playing modern video games that put everything on rails. In video games they wall you off, give you warnings etc. These kinds of players assume if you mentioned it they should go check it out. They probably won't change so with those kinds of players I suggest less information and possibly (even though I hate em) rails. That may be what they are comfortable with and need. once the game in on track you can let them get more powerful before you start slowly removing them.
Dude. The grandmother slapping story happened in 1E. The elf soup story happened in 2E. So video games are not the source of the problem.
Some people take foreshadowing as hey check this out. Some people just want to tick off the DM by jumping the adventure of the track. With the second don't play with them.

And why is my things in posting before I hit reply?
 


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