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D&D 5E "Punishing" Player Behavior

Fauchard1520

Explorer
If you've ever DM'd for new players, you've probably run into some poor gaming etiquette. I'm talking about stealing from the party, murdering allied NPCs, and other general acts of murder-hoboism. The common wisdom is to impose logical consequences: the NPCs become hostile; bounty hunters come after you; you get geased and have to pay your debts to society via questing. These are all workable ideas, but I'm not sure they're always appropriate.

I think it's important to take a step back from knee-jerk need to “punish” player behavior. Especially when you’re dealing with new players, I think it’s better to encourage creativity than crack down on misconduct. When players are in the “testing boundaries” stage of their gamer development, a little restraint can go a long way. Imagine if, the first time you tried to rob a shop in an Elder Scrolls game, you had to retire your character rather than pay a fine. I doubt I’d have ever finished Oblivion.

When you encounter a new game, pushing the boundaries of what’s allowable is only natural. In video game terms you try to glitch the map, check for invisible walls on cliffs, and see if you can actually harm the NPCs. The same impulse applies to the tabletop. But whether you’re in the digital realm or the analog, the novelty wears off. You eventually settle down to play. So if you’re running for such a player, I say to give ’em time to get it out of their system. We’ve all been there, and it can even be fun if you let it.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
 

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Realistic consequences don't always make a fun game. Especially for new players, who need a higher frequency of dopamine than your average addict. :ROFLMAO: Talking about things before game is always a good policy, though sometimes even that's too much infodump for a new player. Agreeing to a short period of patience and guidance from veteran players is my go-to play for newbies.
 



Mort

Legend
Supporter
If you've ever DM'd for new players, you've probably run into some poor gaming etiquette. I'm talking about stealing from the party, murdering allied NPCs, and other general acts of murder-hoboism. The common wisdom is to impose logical consequences: the NPCs become hostile; bounty hunters come after you; you get geased and have to pay your debts to society via questing. These are all workable ideas, but I'm not sure they're always appropriate.

I think it's important to take a step back from knee-jerk need to “punish” player behavior. Especially when you’re dealing with new players, I think it’s better to encourage creativity than crack down on misconduct. When players are in the “testing boundaries” stage of their gamer development, a little restraint can go a long way. Imagine if, the first time you tried to rob a shop in an Elder Scrolls game, you had to retire your character rather than pay a fine. I doubt I’d have ever finished Oblivion.

When you encounter a new game, pushing the boundaries of what’s allowable is only natural. In video game terms you try to glitch the map, check for invisible walls on cliffs, and see if you can actually harm the NPCs. The same impulse applies to the tabletop. But whether you’re in the digital realm or the analog, the novelty wears off. You eventually settle down to play. So if you’re running for such a player, I say to give ’em time to get it out of their system. We’ve all been there, and it can even be fun if you let it.

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
1. I agree with those that establish expectations including boundaries (no PVP, logical consequences from actions etc.)

2. I find that players tend to murderhobo when they realize there is a distinct lack of consequence (and often benefit) to doing so. As in if it's the easiest most direct solution - that's what they go to. Explain that there are consequences (session 0) or show there are consequences (during play) and players will instead get creative and find other ways to solve problems/overcome challenges.
 

MGibster

Legend
I try not to think of it in terms of punishing player behavior as that leads to an adversarial mindset. I'm an action has consequences kind of DM but those consequences can be good or bad. Sometimes both. I like to remind my players on occasion that I will never punish them for making decisions I didn't expect. There might be in game consequences to their actions but I'm not (usually) going to get mad at the player.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I just tell players up front that their characters are supposed to be heroes and not crooks.
And when your players want to play crooks? Or a mix?

When it comes to this sort of thing I'm a proponent of anything goes, as long as it stays in character and doesn't get to the table. Here, it helps if (most of) the players already know each other well enough to know what to expect. But I don't generally tell players what their characters are "supposed to be" (well, other than adventurers maybe) and would be annoyed were a DM to tell me that as a player.

Never mind that a new player's "testing things out" phase often produces some of the most entertaining gaming ever: they don't yet know what they "can't do" or "shouldn't do", and so they just try anything.
 

I don't believe in punishing players. Presumably we are all adults who want to have a fun evening. I make sure during the session 0 that our expectations are clear, and that we are all on the same page. This means in my case:

-No pvp or stealing from your party.

-You character is a hero *. He doesn't always have to be good, but he isn't evil. He doesn't murder innocent people. And in the end, he will try and do the right thing. Like Han Solo, he may say he doesn't care, but he's there to save the day when it matters. So please create your character with this in mind.
(*Unless we are playing an evil campaign)

-Play in ways that bring fun to the whole table and don't hog the spotlight. Give others a chance to play too. Try to play with your fellow players, not against them. Play as a team.

-Any ruling from the DM is open for discussion. I am an arbiter, not a dictator. I can make mistakes.

-Try to be there on time and bring some snacks every now and then. You are guests in my home, but don't leave me with a giant mess. If you need to cancel, let us know in advance. Real life comes first.

Those are the rules that you agree on when you play with me. If you break them, we will have a talk.
 
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TheSword

Legend
The obvious issue with the oblivion analogy is that in that computer game if you get caught for stealing, or attacked by guards, the only person it affects is yourself. Your unilateral decision doesn’t end in dragging the whole party into a situation they would rather not be in through no fault of their own.

PvP or being openly antagonistic to NPCs in a way that’s out of sync with the party or their play style is an out of game problem. The maxim don’t deal with out of game problems in game, is a good one. It’s hard to justify in-game solutions rather than an honest conversation.

Logical consequences should just be a thing at all times, not something that gets brought out when a player has narked off an NPC. It improves the game world.

In short using logical consequences as the solution for out of game behaviour like players stealing from other players is a bad idea that can easily lead to resentment. Unless that’s what the players want.
 

TerraDave

5ever
Over the years, if the action is problematic, I just give some meta hints, and the action is usually adjusted.

I have sometimes used a karma type mechanic to reign in the worst behaviour. But in practice, even just some nudging can solve most problems.
 


Stormonu

Legend
Hard no to stealing from other PCs or killing other characters. That's usually discussed in session 0, but I have no uses for players who won't co-operate in what is essentially a group game. Take your lone wolf PC and go elsewhere, I'm sick of it.
 

The obvious issue with the oblivion analogy is that in that computer game if you get caught for stealing, or attacked by guards, the only person it affects is yourself. Your unilateral decision doesn’t end in dragging the whole party into a situation they would rather not be in through no fault of their own.

PvP or being openly antagonistic to NPCs in a way that’s out of sync with the party or their play style is an out of game problem. The maxim don’t deal with out of game problems in game, is a good one. It’s hard to justify in-game solutions rather than an honest conversation.

Logical consequences should just be a thing at all times, not something that gets brought out when a player has narked off an NPC. It improves the game world.

In short using logical consequences as the solution for out of game behaviour like players stealing from other players is a bad idea that can easily lead to resentment. Unless that’s what the players want.
Yeah this is pretty much exactly my approach to this too.

I've dealt with this sort of thing a fair bit - much less so after about 20-22 but back in the day plenty. And yes you don't treat out-of-game problems, which almost all of this is, as in-game ones. Like the munchkin in my group back when we were teens, who grew out of it, he was very excessively aggressive with NPCs (though not in D&D weirdly), and it was entirely an out-of-game problem. If I'd dropped huge consequences on the party every time he did something dumb, it would have made the game no fun for anyone.

And yeah re: logical consequences, within reason. I mean, if I'm running D&D (and this is my personal style), there's certain expectation of high adventure rather than depressing reality, so as logical often gives the DM a pretty large amount of discretion, I tend to think "What would happen in a Fritz Leiber story?" rather than "What would happen in a realistic middle ages setting?". I mean, I think the key thing is to pick a tone and stick with it - nothing is worse than the game being REH-ish thrills and boasting and so on one minute, and suddenly it's KJ Parker the next, because the DM is annoyed with you. If it's KJ Parker all the way, well first off enjoy that misanthropic game without me, but second off, at least it's consistent, people can have expectations. Which is I think the point you're making re: not just rolling out logical consequences when the NPCs are annoyed/DM is mad.
 

Session 0 should set the tone of expectations of players. With new players I'm a bit lenient, often pointing out the potential problems for unusual actions. If they push into those actions though, however, they'll suffer the exact same consequences as any other player.
 

And when your players want to play crooks? Or a mix?
If they're actually interested in roleplaying as criminals I'd have no problem coming up with an appropriate campaign. "Heroes, not crooks" is meant as a reminder that we're not playing Skyrim and just because you can do anything in a tabletop game, it doesn't mean you should.

"A mix" is right out unless the players are experienced enough to handle the inevitable intra-party conflicts in an entertaining manner.
 



amethal

Adventurer
It doesn't really come up in my games, because I rarely game with strangers.

The last time I was a player in a new group my PC explained that he always included a stout length of rope amongst his equipment "in case it turns out we have a thief in the party".

When running a game I'm in favour of having logical consequences to bad character actions, but in practice I'm more likely to say "If that's the sort of game you want to play then you'll need to find another DM".
 

Roll with it is how I generally handle it. Especially stealing. I just take the wind out of it by saying, "Ok, you sneak up behind so-and-so and lift the whatever." No roll. No fan-fair. Then I move on with the story. Later, it might come back to bite them if it was a PC they stole from. During camp I will mention they notice that something is gone, then they can deal with it. The consequence is purely from another PC, not me. If it was a NPC, I just let it go.
Murder is generally another thing. It all depends on the situation. Sometimes I will do the same and not even let the player roll dice. Just and, "Ok, you slit his or her throat." Then the same thing will occur if the PC's are not in agreement. It is a group (and 99%) of the time cooperative game. If you fall outside the cooperation (unless the story backs it up), then the table should deal with it in game.
No one should be mad outside the table though.
 

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