Immoral player characters in RPGs

pemerton

Legend
The following happened in my group's most recent Classic Traveller session:

Toru von Taxiwan, the leader of the NPC team on Zinion, had asserted command. During the night, the PCs Alissa and Bobby ("the robber") had tried to sneak into the NPCs' pinnace to take their air/raft but were captured instead: Bobby switched allegiance (a decision made by his player given Toru von Taxiwan's Leader-1) and Alissa had been taken prisoner.

<snip>

When morning came, the PCs other than Alissa and Bobby noticed that those two were missing. And a call came in on their communicator, from Toru von Taxiwan, announcing that Alissa and Bobby had been apprehended breaking into their pinnace. The PC Methwit (a diplomat/spy) did the talking, and placed all responsibility back on the Taxiwanians. The result of a reaction roll was 7 - non-committal - and I decided that Toru would try Alissa without extending her hostility to the rest of the PCs. Around this time , Alissa's player established that she had not been body-searched and so still had her single hand grenade on her person.

The trial commenced, narrated by me (as GM). Alissa asked Toru what the sentence might be, and was told up to 6 years imprisonment. Alissa's player asked about the circumstances of the trial - I said that Toru stood at the bridge of the pinnace while the others (3 NPCs, Bobby and Alissa) sat on the couches. Alissa's player then asked (as Alissa) to be allowed to speak in her defence. So she went to the bridge while Toru went to the couches. Alissa then used her psionic cloaking/blurring ability to obscure her reaching for her grenade: she pulled the pin and threw it at Toru. In the rules we're using a grenade does 6D to its target and 3D to adjacent characters. Hits and damage were rolled, and all the NPCs and Bobby were knocked unconscious more-or-less severely (but none was killed outright). The question was then asked, I think by one of the other players, whether the pinnace itself was damaged in a major way. So I looked up the vehicular combat rules (which I've written up, adapted extremely loosely from the rules in the Mission to Mithril double adventure), and called for the appropriate checks: the roll to hit was high indicating damage to the pinnace, and then the next roll indicated a hull breach. Alissa's player made the roll for Alissa to don a vacc-suit (I used the Book 2 explosive decompression rules), and then she pulled a survival blanket over the NPCs to try and stop them freezing immediately from the intense cold of Zinion's atmosphere.

Alissa broadcast a distress call on her vacc-suit communicator, and the ex-pirate PC Xander came to her assistance wearing his battle dress. The surviving NPCs, in orbit about Zinion in their laboratory ship, also enquired (via communicator) what had happened. "An accidental explosion on board the pinnace" was Alissa's reply. There was no more communication from the NPCs.

The players debated what to do next: Alissa's player as (the rather immoral) Alissa; Xander's player as (the rather amoral) Xander; Methwit's player as the voice of reason and consequences (which when I think about it was probably Methwit in character); and Vincenzo's player [the fourth player at the table] as the voice of morality and decency (his only character on Zinion was Tony, who had no strong views of his own). Alissa's player's other character on Zinion, von Jerrel, was no more sympathetic to the NPCs than Alissa, given that Toru wanted to have him punished and perhaps executed for the use of psionics.

Various options were canvassed, from reviving the unconscious NPCs and perhaps handing over Alissa, to launching the pinnace into space with the NPCs on board. In the end it was decided to load all the spare blasting dynamite into the pinnace and blow it up (with the unconscious NPCs, and Bobby). The roll to avoid demolitions mishaps succeeded, and so about half-an-hour after the first explosion the pinnace was blown to pieces. A message was broadcast to the NPCs in orbit reporting an unfortunate "secondary explosion", but no reply or acknowledgement was received.
Alissa's conduct seems to count as murder on any measure: she has broken into someone else's property without any good justification, and then when caught and put on trial has escaped by attacking and ultimately killing that other person and her associates.

When this happened, it was the object of discussion at the table. Vincenzo's player, in particular, was pretty outraged - not necessarily at the player, who is his friend, but at the conduct.

Some RPGers seem to think it is the referee's job to stop or police this sort of action declaration. Are they correct?
 

log in or register to remove this ad


pemerton

Legend
The character murdered a number of people (about five, I think). I hadn't even factored in the PvP aspect (the murdered PC, Bobby, was a secondary character in his player's stable).
 

payn

Legend
I do have a follow up question, did the PC that tossed the grenade know the potential of the fallout? Sometimes players choose actions they dont fully understand. As a GM in these instances I pause the game for a second and explain to the player what the character would know, and then ask if they still wish to proceed.

Assuming the player and character knew (the write up seems like nobody was quite sure at the moment of action) and proceeded with the action I wouldn't have stopped it as GM. If I was playing a moral character, especially one who cared about the secondary PC, I'd likely cut ties with the immoral character. I mean who wants to put themselves in danger with someone unreliable that will kill their mates in order to save their own bacon? Not the type of person I'd willingly ally with.
 

I think this is subject to the group and their play expectations, the game being played, and the desired tone of that game.

I generally don’t think it should be on the GM to step in and stop things like this, but I do think that they need to point out possible consequences when something like this goes down.

If the PCs are kind of mixed when it comes to morality and tension among party members is an expected part of play, then this kind of thing should be addressed in session zero.

If session zero clearly established that the group wasn’t into this kind of thing, then I’d probably step in as the GM. However it’s hard to imagine things getting to that point if the players weren’t interested in following such paths.

One of my Blades in the Dark games had a pretty strong rivalry among two of the crew members. Each was a leader of sorts, and each wanted to steer the crew in very different directions. I think they were clearly headed for a conflict that would have split the crew down the middle, but then outside forces kind of interrupted that conflict.
 

MGibster

Legend
Some RPGers seem to think it is the referee's job to stop or police this sort of action declaration. Are they correct?
This is an area a GM should tread lightly. On one hand, I have had campaigns grind to a halt because of the actions of one or more PC radically altered the course in a negative manner. But on the other hand I'm loathed to tell a player how to play their character. Ideally, a GM should put the game on pause and talk to the player. Does this fit in with the tone of the campaign? Does this action have wider ramifications that will alter the campaign in a negative (making it less fun to play) manner?
I do have a follow up question, did the PC that tossed the grenade know the potential of the fallout? Sometimes players choose actions they dont fully understand.
I've seen that happen from time-to-time in my games as well. In fact, one of mine involved a grenade! "He's got a toughness of 12 he'll be fine." I also see it a lot in D&D where Wizards are more than willing to catch allies in Fireball figuring they can take the hit. That kind of thing drives me bonkers.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Why on earth would the GM try to stop or council away the player from making such a declaration? That would spoil the fun, I think. It sounds like this was handled very well. When I GM, I'm careful not to say things that will influence a player's decision making. If it's a misunderstanding about the fiction, that's a different story. That is the GM's (and table's) job.
 

pemerton

Legend
I do have a follow up question, did the PC that tossed the grenade know the potential of the fallout?
The player knew that he was having his PC throw a high explosive grenade, yes. He even took steps - like establishing the distribution of people in the pinnace, and making sure that his PC got a chance to go to the front of the pinnace to state his case - that facilitated the use of a grenade.

As I think I posted, I was expecting cutlass action rather than grenade action. Throwing a grenade into a crowd of people in a civilian vessel when they're trying you for having broken into their vessel seems particularly ruthless to me!

The grenade itself didn't kill anyone (low-ish roll on the main target damage, and the system dictates 3D damage to secondary targets which will only rarely be fatal in Classic Traveller). But the hull breach in the context of an ice world created a high risk of death from exposure, and then blowing up the pinnace (using mining explosives) was a deliberate decision to kill everyone so as to eliminate the traces of the initial grenade use.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
The player knew that he was having his PC throw a high explosive grenade, yes. He even took steps - like establishing the distribution of people in the pinnace, and making sure that his PC got a chance to go to the front of the pinnace to state his case - that facilitated the use of a grenade.

As I think I posted, I was expecting cutlass action rather than grenade action. Throwing a grenade into a crowd of people in a civilian vessel when they're trying you for having broken into their vessel seems particularly ruthless to me!

The grenade itself didn't kill anyone (low-ish roll on the main target damage, and the system dictates 3D damage to secondary targets which will only rarely be fatal in Classic Traveller). But the hull breach in the context of an ice world created a high risk of death from exposure, and then blowing up the pinnace (using mining explosives) was a deliberate decision to kill everyone so as to eliminate the traces of the initial grenade use.
Maybe I'm not understanding the last part. Your account says that the players talked it over and it was decided that the pinnace should be blown up. Why are the murders just on her for those deaths? Wasn't it a group decision?
 

pemerton

Legend
Maybe I'm not understanding the last part. Your account says that the players talked it over and it was decided that the pinnace should be blown up. Why are the murders just on her for those deaths? Wasn't it a group decision?
The players talked about it. Two PCs - the instigator Alissa and the ex-pirate Xander - did it. (We already knew Xander was a ruthless individual. He didn't quit piracy because of moral qualms!)
 

pemerton

Legend
Well, if I captured someone trying to board and cease my vessel, id need an exceptional reason not to just space them.
The events all took place on-world. The NPC capturers were exercising their jurisdiction to hold a trial. The PC disrupted that trial by blowing it up with her concealed grenade.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
I'm missing something here. How was it that Allissa's player got to establish that she hadn't been searched when captured?
Where the *** was she keeping that grenade that it wasn't easily found?
Or are grenades in traveler really easy to conceil/overlook?

Imo the blame in this situation lies with the GM.
If you let the captive keep a grenade, you should expect it to get used.....
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm missing something here. How was it that Allissa's player got to establish that she hadn't been searched when captured?
Where the *** was she keeping that grenade that it wasn't easily found?
Or are grenades in traveler really easy to conceil/overlook?
In the previous session, when the capture occurred, I (as GM) had not mentioned anything about a search. In the session described in the OP, Alissa's player confirmed and reiterated this, and reminded everyone that she has a psionic talent that allows her to conceal things.

Imo the blame in this situation lies with the GM.
What blame?

If you let the captive keep a grenade, you should expect it to get used.....
Only if you accept the premise that the person's you've captured won't hesitate to murder to escape.
 

ccs

41st lv DM

ccs said:

Imo the blame in this situation lies with the GM.
What blame?
Well, up in post 8 you seem upset about the use of the grenade & the results that followed.
My point is that if you'd done your job that previous session & had the NPCs act logically - searching the prisoners/removing weapons, etc - then this whole murder-by-grenade incident wouldn't have even occurred*.

Btw, did the other players believe that their characters weapons were still present?

*Unless of course the player attempted to & succeeded at using their psionic power. Then it's a different story.
ccs said:
If you let the captive keep a grenade, you should expect it to get used.....
Only if you accept the premise that the person's you've captured won't hesitate to murder to escape.
Not necessarily. Sure throwing grenades at people is their standard use & really shouldn't come as a surprise. But I've been in plenty of games where players have used the resources available in all manner of creative & non-standard ways.
 

pemerton

Legend
@ccs

I'm not upset. As I posted in the thread that I quoted,
This session started a little slow, with recaps and wondering about the coming armada. Which made me worry that something (ie the armada) I had introduced to try and promote a bit of action might have the opposite effect! But it turned out I needn't have worried, because Alissa's player got things moving, and then the action flowed pretty solidly. I thought the players might make a bid to capture the NPC lab ship (worth around MCr 150), but they didn't. And I was a bit shocked by the ruthlessness - in the lead up to Alissa's grenade attack I was describing the melee combat abilities of the various NPCs and I thought that she was going to make a cutlass-driven break for freedom. So the grenade caught me by surprise. And then the subsequent murder and destruction compounded things.
On your other question:
Btw, did the other players believe that their characters weapons were still present?
Bobby wasn't armed. He joined with the NPC leader (Toru von Taxiwan) and ended up being a casualty of Alissa's actions.
 


TwoSix

Unserious gamer
There's nothing about Traveller, as a game, that suggests to me that "villainous" actions are outside of the scope of play; so I don't think the players have violated any genre constraints. As long as the overall table vibe doesn't have the expectation of more heroic play, I don't think there's a problem.

Now, it may be that the remaining character's opposing moral viewpoints make it difficult for the players to create a compelling narrative around the PCs continuing to work together, which may require some party shakeup. But I think that's up to the players to decide.
 

pemerton

Legend
it may be that the remaining character's opposing moral viewpoints make it difficult for the players to create a compelling narrative around the PCs continuing to work together, which may require some party shakeup. But I think that's up to the players to decide.
A further complication in this respect concerns Leila Lo, the ladyfriend of Vincenzo, the PC owner of the group's starship. the research vessel St Christopher. Leila Loa was formerly the owner of said vessel and a lead figure (and chief medical participant) in a bioweapons conspiracy that the PCs shut down. In the process of bringing the conspiracy to an end, by destroying its main base on the world of Olyx, the PCs had abandoned their original ship - the Type Y Yacht Maybe <Not So> Lucky, which Vincenzo had won in a bet (part of the backstory that emerged from his PC creation process) - and taken possession of the St Christopher. In the denouement to those events, Vincenzo gambled with Leila for title to the St Christopher and won. She remained on board as sometime pilot, chief medical officer, and his romantic interest.

In game terms, Leila lives on Vincenzo's player's position sheet, together with his two main characters Vincenzo and Tony, and various other secondary characters including - until his untimely death by Alissa's grenade - Bobby "the robber". But as a secondary rather than primary character Leila lives in a grey zone between PC and NPC. A little like an AD&D-era henchman, I guess.

In that spirit, it recently turned out that Leila has not lost her taste for bioweapons experimentation. To quote again from the post quoted in the OP:

In the previous session, the St Christopher had survived an Alien attack while in jump space (the attack being the result of the experimentation of Leila Lo, a space captain and surgeon and former owner of the St Christopher when it was part of a bioweapons conspiracy) before arriving at Novus.
It is currently established, as part of the outcome of those events, that another of these grey zone characters, the one-time mercenary interrogator Mitch who hangs out with Xander and sits on the sheets of Xander and Roland's player, is in Leila's surgery. And it is presumed though not actually yet established that as part of Leila's ongoing experimentation Mitch has been implanted with alien spores that will transform her into an Alien or something similar.

The only character in the PCs' group who really cares about Bobby is his brother Johnny, who is employed by Vincenzo as a driver and bodyguard. But Johnny is himself a grey zone character and so unlikely to be an instigator of (eg) a revenge scenario against Alissa (as opposed to, say, a pawn in my GM's hands if Alissa does something that suggests an immediate revenge-type response from Johnny).

On the other hand, Xander is a primary PC, handy with a variety of melee and firearm attacks, and the only character with battle dress and a portable energy weapon (PGMP-13). If/when he works out that Leila is experimenting on Mitch, there is quite a degree of likelihood of some sort of party shake-up!

EDIT: In case it's not clear, I the GM was the participant who decided that Leila was experimenting with Aliens on board the St Christopher: (i) because otherwise what's the point of having Aliens in the game!; and (ii) to introduce a bit of action.
 
Last edited:

I agree with others who have said that it all depends. The game, ultimately, is about the participants having a rewarding time together. My first order of business would be to make sure the players were on-board with this style of play. Does it still feel like a fun campaign to all of them? Can the PCs still generate dramatic stories that the players will find compelling? If so, no foul, game on! If not, I would have a frank discussion with the players to determine what we want out of the game and how to proceed to achieve that aesthetic goal.

A secondary consideration for me as GM would be thinking about how I've presented the setting. Sometimes players get into a murderhobo mentality where they assume that they will avoid consequences of their crimes simply because they are PCs. If I've presented a setting where a mysterious exploding ship like this would be carefully investigated (FAA, black box, etc.) and the culprits hunted down, then I would want to make sure that the players understand what sort of adventures are likely to come of this (maybe Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). If they were hoping to continue in a lighter "no big deal" style of game, then adjustments need to be made on one side or the other.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top