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

Thinking about the type of player unwilling to accept setbacks, it generally seems to be a personality issue rather than a game experience issue. If I had to generalize, I'd say that players that have played a lot of shared-world modules or one-shots are less happy about failure, possibly because in short games there isn't really enough time to suffer a meaningful loss, recover and then succeed. But my experience has been that some people just hate setbacks, and, apart from gently encouragement and OOC assurance that they will not get permanently hosed by surrendering, running away or whatever, you just have to live with that expectation
 

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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
As frustrating as it is, @DND_Reborn already gave the best solution in my opinion:

Ah, yes, the "charge and never fall back" issue!

Just keep killing them and spending the time making up new PCs. Comment how it is so much more fun to actually play instead of just making up PCs. Maybe they will learn that keeping their PCs alive should be objective #2 (after having fun, of course).

Dungeons & Dragons is a game. And like many other games, it has multiple "win" conditions and multiple "lose" conditions. You don't play poker assuming you can win every hand. You don't play chess with the expectation of always beating your opponent. You don't go bowling and expect to fill your score card with strikes every single night. No football team is always undefeated forever. Etc.

So the only thing I would add (and I see that others have added it as well) is that "killing them" is just one Lose Condition. They could be captured, turned into werewolves, robbed and left for dead, rescued by an insufferable thunder-stealing NPC superhero who takes all the credit, etc. I'd start out with smaller, less-severe consequences and then gradually make them more painful over time, so that they understand that (1) failure is always possible, (2) it's often unpleasant, (3) it's unpredictable, (4) failure isn't a punishment, and (5) the game will go on even after defeat/failure.

This one last one might be my own baggage: the players need to understand that you aren't going to be "reshuffling the deck," and they aren't going to "teach the DM a lesson" by doubling down. Believe it or not, there are players out there who will effectively hold the group hostage with the threat of game night cancellations or even a campaign-ending TPK in order to get what they want. I've only had to deal with that kind of stubborn "play my way or I'll take my ball and go home" mentality once, and I ended up losing two players over it.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
Dungeons & Dragons is a game. And like many other games, it has multiple "win" conditions and multiple "lose" conditions. You don't play poker assuming you can win every hand. You don't play chess with the expectation of always beating your opponent. You don't go bowling and expect to fill your score card with strikes every single night. No football team is always undefeated forever. Etc.
Right...but 5E by default is very specifically setup to make the challenges the PCs face...shall we say rather easily overcome. Sure, the referee can crank up the difficulty. And there's a few famously hard encounters in one or two modules. But the default assumption is 6-8 medium encounters (which were the easy encounters in the playtest) per day with short rests after every two encounters and regular access to long rests. And not hitting the suggested 6-8 encounters per day (or the equivalent) just makes the game that much easier for the PCs to steamroll. The PCs have to get to zero hit points and fail three death saves before they die...while monsters die at zero hit points. A 1st-level party of four PCs will have an average of about 42 HP and at least four attacks, plus healing options...while a CR1 monster (a "medium" difficulty encounter for a party of four 1st-level PCs) has about 30 HP, one attack (maybe two), and no healing options.

So it's in no way two roughly equally trained professional football teams squaring off with a roughly equal chance of either side winning. It's a professional football team vs the pee-wee league. A grandmaster chess player vs someone with a 500 rating.

5E is setup so the players win. 5E trains the players to expect to win all the time. So when they don't, they very reasonably think something's wrong with the game or the referee's being a jerk.
 
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payn

Legend
As frustrating as it is, @DND_Reborn already gave the best solution in my opinion:



Dungeons & Dragons is a game. And like many other games, it has multiple "win" conditions and multiple "lose" conditions. You don't play poker assuming you can win every hand. You don't play chess with the expectation of always beating your opponent. You don't go bowling and expect to fill your score card with strikes every single night. No football team is always undefeated forever. Etc.

So the only thing I would add (and I see that others have added it as well) is that "killing them" is just one Lose Condition. They could be captured, turned into werewolves, robbed and left for dead, rescued by an insufferable thunder-stealing NPC superhero who takes all the credit, etc. I'd start out with smaller, less-severe consequences and then gradually make them more painful over time, so that they understand that (1) failure is always possible, (2) it's often unpleasant, (3) it's unpredictable, (4) failure isn't a punishment, and (5) the game will go on even after defeat/failure.

This one last one might be my own baggage: the players need to understand that you aren't going to be "reshuffling the deck," and they aren't going to "teach the DM a lesson" by doubling down. Believe it or not, there are players out there who will effectively hold the group hostage with the threat of game night cancellations or even a campaign-ending TPK in order to get what they want. I've only had to deal with that kind of stubborn "play my way or I'll take my ball and go home" mentality once, and I ended up losing two players over it.
So, GMs teach players lessons in game, but players can not teach GMs lessons in any similar fashion?
 

You don't play poker assuming you can win every hand.
The poker comparison seems like it might fit here, but slightly different to the quote above.

I think RPG players who never run away are like poker players who never fold.

How do you teach a poker player that sometimes its best to fold, when they believe every game should be played to the end? What if they believe that folding is a sign of failure/weakness/whatever?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
The poker comparison seems like it might fit here, but slightly different to the quote above.

I think RPG players who never run away are like poker players who never fold.

How do you teach a poker player that sometimes its best to fold, when they believe every game should be played to the end? What if they believe that folding is a sign of failure/weakness/whatever?
Consequences. In poker they'd run out of money. In D&D their character would die.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
As frustrating as it is, @DND_Reborn already gave the best solution in my opinion:



Dungeons & Dragons is a game. And like many other games, it has multiple "win" conditions and multiple "lose" conditions. You don't play poker assuming you can win every hand. You don't play chess with the expectation of always beating your opponent. You don't go bowling and expect to fill your score card with strikes every single night. No football team is always undefeated forever. Etc.

So the only thing I would add (and I see that others have added it as well) is that "killing them" is just one Lose Condition. They could be captured, turned into werewolves, robbed and left for dead, rescued by an insufferable thunder-stealing NPC superhero who takes all the credit, etc. I'd start out with smaller, less-severe consequences and then gradually make them more painful over time, so that they understand that (1) failure is always possible, (2) it's often unpleasant, (3) it's unpredictable, (4) failure isn't a punishment, and (5) the game will go on even after defeat/failure.

This one last one might be my own baggage: the players need to understand that you aren't going to be "reshuffling the deck," and they aren't going to "teach the DM a lesson" by doubling down. Believe it or not, there are players out there who will effectively hold the group hostage with the threat of game night cancellations or even a campaign-ending TPK in order to get what they want. I've only had to deal with that kind of stubborn "play my way or I'll take my ball and go home" mentality once, and I ended up losing two players over it.
I disagree. Killing their characters and then commenting how much fun it is to "actually play" seems quite disfunctional and passive aggressive to me.

I think that having a conversation with the players is a much healthier and more mature approach.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
5E trains the players to expect to win all the time. So when they don't, they very reasonably think something's wrong with the game or the referee's being a jerk.
So, GMs teach players lessons in game, but players can not teach GMs lessons in any similar fashion?
I disagree. Killing their characters and then commenting how much fun it is to "actually play" seems quite disfunctional and passive aggressive to me.

Well that escalated quickly.

I'm not trying to make a statement about player agency. I was responding only to @p_johnston, about the one situation they described in their first post. As I understand it, their players will only accept total victory or death, and it's disrupting the game. That's the person, and the situation, that my advice was intended for. @p_johnston said they "try to give players an out or a way to fail forward" and the players aren't responding, so my advice was to gradually and gently adjust their expectations.

It's weird that I have to actually write this last part out, but: I am not trying to lecture anyone. Someone asked for advice, and I gave it, based on my own personal experiences. That's all. I wasn't casting stones at anyone.
 
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Fanaelialae

Legend
Well that escalated quickly.

I'm not trying to make a statement about player agency. I was responding only to @p_johnston, about the one situation they described in their first post. As I understand it, their players will only accept total victory or death, and it's disrupting the game. That's the person, and the situation, that my advice was intended for.

It's weird that I have to actually write this last part out, but: I am not trying to lecture anyone. Someone asked for advice, and I gave it, based on my own personal experiences. That's all. I wasn't casting stones at anyone.
I wasn't suggesting that you were casting stones. I just think that it was bad advice for this person and situation (as well as in general) and responded as such.

There's nothing wrong with killing characters per se. But I don't think that making passive aggressive commentary after the fact would improve things. If anything, I think that it would build resentment towards the DM and make things worse.

I meant no offense to you (or the original poster who suggested it) but rather was merely arguing against that advice, because I genuinely believe that it would do harm, rather than good.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Well that escalated quickly.

I'm not trying to make a statement about player agency. I was responding only to @p_johnston, about the one situation they described in their first post. As I understand it, their players will only accept total victory or death, and it's disrupting the game. That's the person, and the situation, that my advice was intended for. @p_johnston said they "try to give players an out or a way to fail forward" and the players aren't responding, so my advice was to gradually and gently adjust their expectations.

It's weird that I have to actually write this last part out, but: I am not trying to lecture anyone. Someone asked for advice, and I gave it, based on my own personal experiences. That's all. I wasn't casting stones at anyone.
No stones from me either. The sports and chess analogy doesn't hold. Sorry if pointing that out bothered you.
 

payn

Legend
Well that escalated quickly.

I'm not trying to make a statement about player agency. I was responding only to @p_johnston, about the one situation they described in their first post. As I understand it, their players will only accept total victory or death, and it's disrupting the game. That's the person, and the situation, that my advice was intended for. @p_johnston said they "try to give players an out or a way to fail forward" and the players aren't responding, so my advice was to gradually and gently adjust their expectations.

It's weird that I have to actually write this last part out, but: I am not trying to lecture anyone. Someone asked for advice, and I gave it, based on my own personal experiences. That's all. I wasn't casting stones at anyone.
It was just a question. Who you specifically were talking to was not clear by quote or body of posting. The post was rather general which a few of us ended up asking for clarification and/or left comments. 🤷‍♂️
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I saw a livestream on Twitch a couple years ago that had an interesting way of doing it. I don't remember which live-stream it was, unfortunately...otherwise I'd link it. It sounds like something that Brennan would do on Dimension20, but I don't think that was it.

Anyway.

I don't remember the circumstances...I think he was trying to disarm a trap? Let's say it was a trap; it might have been a death save or a counterspell, I don't remember. Anyway, the player rolled extremely low and everyone at the table groaned. "That's it, we're all dead now," etc. Well, the DM paused a moment, until the clamor quieted down and everyone was listening. "What does that failure look like?" he finally asked the player. "You tried and failed--so tell us what happened next."

"Um..." the player didn't know what to say. "Well I rolled pretty bad, so...I guess it probably exploded then." And the DM took his cue from the player, describing an explosion and calling for save throws. And the game went on.

Maybe try something like that? Ask the players to describe what they think failure looks like, and go from there?
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
It was just a question. Who you specifically were talking to was not clear by quote or body of posting. The post was rather general which a few of us ended up asking for clarification and/or left comments. 🤷‍♂️
Fair enough; I could have been more clear by including a quote of the actual message. Sorry about that.
 

p_johnston

Explorer
Thanks everyone for all the advice. It did help put some things in perspective and a few posts really helped me see it from my players perspective.
So update for anyone who is interested we met on Sunday and spent around 30 minutes chatting before the game. I expressed how I was feeling and gave several example that I gave here (making sure that I gave examples including several different players so that no one person felt singled out). The conclusion my group came to was that were just bad at communicating sometimes and too accommodating. It was pointed out by my players that in most scenarios it's that one person gets a bit in their teeth and everyone else tends to just go along or not clearly voice any objection they might have.
Solution we came to was that whenever any of us notice that happening (me included) or feel uncomfortable that person can say "hey let's pause a minute" stop the game and we'll have a discussion out of game to clarify how everyones feeling and insure everyone is ok with what's going on. Don't know if it's 100% fix but hopefully it turns out well going forward.
Thanks for the help guys.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
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.
If that's what they want/like from the game, why would I want to take it away from them?
 

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