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D&D 5E "Punishing" Player Behavior

Dragonsbane777

Explorer
As stated above, during Session 0 players learn:
  • No PvP or conflict with other PCs (stealing, etc)
  • No evil or CN alignments (alignments are descriptive, so your LN PC might be changed to LE and removed)
  • Group play is required

Simple.
 

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Mort

Legend
Supporter
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.

I've found "I was just playing my character..." or "I was just doing what my character would do..." are the rallying cries of the jerk player.

The truth of it is that the player establishes the character they are playing - they have to wilfully choose to play a disruptive character. So the whole "I was just playing my character..." rings false.

Now, if the group has fun messing with each other and getting in each other's way - great. But it should be a group decision to allow that sort of thing, not one player trying to impose his fun on the table.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I don't punish players for PC behavior. I set out rules for my players, explain that it's a team game and let people know that certain behavior won't be allowed. It's not fair to me or the other players to have a disruptive player at the table. I'm sure there are other DMs that allow intra-party theft, evil PCs and so on and if that's what the player wants to do that's the type of DM they'll have to find.

I can't be the right DM for every player. Like others, I want heroes, not anti-heroes. If that doesn't work for you then you'll have to find a different group. I've had people quit my game because of this, I've left games for the same reason. Life is too short and my time is too valuable to spend it playing a game I don't enjoy.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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:

No.

That's the common wisdom for dealing with experienced players, who know and are actually abiding by the table agreement, but making questionable choices in game. If they know what they are doing, and aren't cheesing anyone off, they get logical consequences.

If they are new, or they are ruining fun for other players, you don't do passive-aggressive things like having consequences in game and hope they learn. You talk to the player out-of-game about the expectations of play. You should be reinforcing whatever you went over in Session Zero that they didn't seem to get. You did have a Session Zero, didn't you?

We have words. We should use them.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Some time in the early 2000s:

[Scene: A fight breaks out in a tavern and is wrapping up]

DM: He falls down bleeding from the blow.
Player A: I chop off his head, pick it up in both hands and PUNT IT!
Rest of the Table: <jaws drop>
Player A: Okay, maybe I don't do that.

That was the last time I was at a table where this was an issue. Even my current newbie group, while doing all the cute things new players do when trying to figure out the game, have basically stuck to the heroic mold - even when being sneaks or thieves there is usually a group agreed greater good behind the action.
 


Mort

Legend
Supporter
This is not an absolute. I am not sure if you meant it to be. But it is all context.

There are few absolutes- so sure.

But, generally if the player is playing their character in a way that's been accepted at the table (either through session 0, known table convention etc.) then this comment isn't necessary/doesn't come up.

This comment generally comes up when the player has done something to anger/annoy someone/multiple someones at the table.

So yes context matters. But the only context I've seen this phrase come up (in over 30 years) is when the player using it has been behaving like a jerk.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
The "I'm just playing my character" brings up to me an approach to role-playing I try to encourage (to various degrees of success, and the degree to which some players were unable to follow me there has led to parting ways):

If you come upon a situation where the rest of the party wants to (or doesn't want to) do something or you want to do something they don't agree with and you defensively want to react to it by saying "I'm just playing my character," try working backwards. Start with assuming that your character will (or won't) do it (depending on which breaks the deadlock) and then figure out the reasoning necessary to keep that choice "in character" to the most degree. If that can't work for some reason (the rest of the party wants to sacrifice an innocent child to keep a demon at bay but you're playing an LG paladin or something), then the discussion should move OOC to find a way the characters can move forward without dissolving the party.

I am not saying conflict and disagreement needs to always be avoided - but when it becomes a cluster of acrimony or a way too long argument at the table, find a way through, so we can keep playing.

Edit to Add: For some players the argument is the playing, but I have a limited tolerance for that style - esp. if it happens too often. The last 3E game I ran had too much of that (endless in-character arguing) and I wasn't all that disappointed when that game had to end - but at least they weren't arguing over murder-hobo-ism but rather minute in-character political differences and motivations for choosing adventures to go on.
 
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jgsugden

Legend
I think that "realistic response" actually makes the situation worse -- you are actually rewarding the player with spotlight for doing shitty things.
Worse and better are relative terms, defined by your objectives.

My objective, as a DM, is to create a great experience for my players where they all feel engaged, immersed and enthusiastic. You can have amazing stories that involve a really bad person. Major archetype stories require the hero to start off as less than a hero (redemption, for example).

My session zero includes the requirement that the decisions they make as players and characters can't be offensive to another player. A PC can be offended, but not a player.

If you're going to do things against the interest of another PC, the players need to have precleared it. This includes things like the party rogue stealing from a town as the entire party may take a hit if the rogue is caught. However, I often hear from players that it is fine for the rogue to do whatever the player wants their PC to do, and when things arise out of immoral, unethical and illegal activities by a PC - we can usually fold that into a good story.

I also ask the PCs to think about goals or stories they want to explore and give me some insight into them. If a player just wants to be an %$!#@ for 20 levels, I encourage them to consider that there is more they can explore and then I give them opportunities to follow a more enriching storyline. However, I do not force them to do so, except to the extent necessary to keep them from upsetting another player.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
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.
Was that supposed to be "greased" or "geesed?" The latter being far worse. :p
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.
The first step is to talk to the player and explain things. If the behavior continues after the issue is brought to his attention, you boot him. At that point there's no excuse for the behavior.
 


There are few absolutes- so sure.

But, generally if the player is playing their character in a way that's been accepted at the table (either through session 0, known table convention etc.) then this comment isn't necessary/doesn't come up.

This comment generally comes up when the player has done something to anger/annoy someone/multiple someones at the table.

So yes context matters. But the only context I've seen this phrase come up (in over 30 years) is when the player using it has been behaving like a jerk.
Fair enough. I guess we just have different experiences. I have heard the phrase twice (that I remember) in my time playing. They were:
  • The 4e published drow campaign where the player waited until the very last session and then murdered his party. When asked why by the other players (they weren't really mad), he proceeded to lay out all the little clues and other actions he did. Then ended it with: "That is what my character would do."
  • The other was a male barbarian slapping women (including his wife's character who was playing) on the ass. After the hundredth time of his PC slapping an NPC, he saw a smack on the forehead from the DM. He stated: "That is what my barbarian character would do." And he was right. Then the DM said, oh I know and agree, but can we just say it is now implied that you will always do it. And he absolutely agreed because the joke had run its course. Then his wife's character started slapping other PC's butts, as in good job. Then, later, as our campaign ended on the last session, the DM had a whirlwind of NPCs he and she had slapped on the butt make a surprise appearance. And at the glowing "You saved the world" presentation, they all got to slap the PCs on the behind - as per tradition. It was funny for that particular table.

So I understand your point of view, and if those are the cases you have seen, you are absolutely right. But my experiences tell me differently.
 

Just about every time I "punished a character" in the past, I should have just had a conversation with the player. I should have said "no, you can't take a character you'd been playing in my campaign, run solo adventures for yourself to power-level and load up on magic items, then keep playing in my campaign" instead of setting up an adventure to level drain them and ensure they lost their paladinhood. When that same player repeatedly tried to bully other characters and attack them at a drop of a hat I should have...oh wait, I would have still booted him from the group at that point.
 


Coroc

Hero
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.)
Well there you answered the question with your comic. Sometimes (i do not exclude myself there) you tend to test the boundaries. A good DM will give you an OOC warning for that.
E.g. "You are in a Duergar town with 20.000 inhabitants, you canot start killing them even if you are level 20 and they are level one.
If this is ignored, the second step is punish instead of kill, bash the PCs into negatives gag and bind them (with extra precautions for classes who can do misty step shenanigans and the like, eventually permanetly hamper such skills an then they can try to escape their new profession - slave labor in the mines.
If something is obviously absolutely blunt e.g. the party assasinates the king although the DM warned them that the guards are looking extra tough and the attending head cleric of the kings faith and his court mage look quite capable too, then it is all out. A TPK is in order then.
 


payn

Adventurer
The "just playing my character" works in a few ways. I have personally known a few lying, thieving, dinks in my time. I dont know them anymore because I stopped associating with them. So if my PC suddenly finds some other lying, thieving, dink PC to be too much trouble, they will simply abandon them to their own devices. "Just playing my character" to not associate with problematic characters.
 

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.
I'd add two other angles to the "why do players murderhobo" hypothesis:
1. It's the most fun option available. If the main quest is boring or they can't explore due to railroading, players will start getting disruptive.
2. If the npc's are all jerks, the pc's will become anti-social. I see this a lot for some reason. Note to dm's: your lovable jerk npcs probably aren't lovable. They're just jerks.
 

payn

Adventurer
I'd add two other angles to the "why do players murderhobo" hypothesis:
1. It's the most fun option available. If the main quest is boring or they can't explore due to railroading, players will start getting disruptive.
2. If the npc's are all jerks, the pc's will become anti-social. I see this a lot for some reason. Note to dm's: your lovable jerk npcs probably aren't lovable. They're just jerks.
This. I remember a thread on the adventure path Carrion Crown about killing sheriffs. The campaign takes place in the pathfinder's version of Ravenloft. Most towns are dubious, if not downright suspicious of strangers. They got reason to be. However, in this thread folks kept talking about every sheriff being a jerk for not letting the PCs do whatever they want and forcing their hand in killing them left and right. It was a very odd perspective.
 

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