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D&D 5E "Punishing" Player Behavior

delericho

Legend
I'm another advocate of discussing acceptable behaviours in Session Zero. Thereafter, anything* that falls within the agreed boundaries is fair game, and has logical consequences. Stepping across the lines that have been agreed isn't allowed - if the party agrees "no PvP", then your character can't do it. Sorry.

* With the obvious exception that if we stumble upon some real-world trauma, or even simply discomfort, then we need to stop immediately.

One other thing: I no longer allow secret actions at my table. The player characters are the protagonists of the story, but the players are also the audience. So if you want your rogue to steal from his buddy the fighter, you have to declare that action out loud in front of the group. (The player of the fighter, who is oblivious to all of this, is expected to act accordingly.) I've found that doing that cuts out pretty much all of the worst behaviours.
 

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Li Shenron

Legend
I don't think it's about punishing but about representing the effects of PC's actions and the reactions of the rest of the fantasy world in a reasonable way.

Acting like a murderhobo and expecting no pushback is not fundamentally different from pretending your heroic PC should be able to snap the villains without encounting resistance. If you just want to satisfy some repressed desire of yours, you don't need me to run the game.

If, on the other hand, the players are genuinely interested in role-playing something else than heroes, I expect them to be also interested in the challenges of it.

PvP is a very different matter. I veto it completely (meaning that I don't even need to narrate the consequences, I flat out rule that your PC isn't doing it) because I know it leads to nothing good.
 



Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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 completely and rather vehemently disagree.

If dissolving the party is what would happen next then that's what should happen next. If the Paladin would draw her sword and use violence to defend the child from the party, then that's what she should do.

Trying to finagle OOC workarounds like you suggest is a gross violation of the integrity of roleplaying those characters true to what they are.
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.
Sometimes that "way through" involves one or more PCs leaving the party, or getting killed by the party, or whatever. So be it.
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.
I've been in some immensely entertaining games where this was the case, and others were doing the arguing. Also some immensely dull ones, ditto. It depends who's arguing, and over what, and why; and how entertaining they can make it. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
And I'd just as soon as not foster sociopathic behavior in any games that I run. Especially for new players. If the tone that I set at the table isnt fun because they want to be murder hobos or sociopaths? I'm perfectly fine NOT playing with those people.
People play the game in order to do things they can't do in real life. This sometimes includes doing unpleasant things they can't do in real life. Not a problem, as long as it stays in character.
 

A DM should never set out to punish a player. Punishing players just creates an antagonistic relationship and motivates them to try to get around the punishment and do what they want through cleverness or power gaming. Do you want players who deliberately try to wreck the campaign? DM punishments are how you get that.

Note, though, that this is not the same as saying that actions shouldn't have consequences. They absolutely must! But those consequences should either be a natural reaction in the narrative or an out-of-character sidebar about behavior and expectations. A blatant hand-of-god by the DM to punish the player is artificial and disruptive. The NPCs not giving a PC a free pass just because they're a PC is not the same thing. And believe me, most players can tell the difference. The ones who can't, well, they're the ones who need a stronger OOC line of communication.
 

ShinHakkaider

Adventurer
People play the game in order to do things they can't do in real life. This sometimes includes doing unpleasant things they can't do in real life. Not a problem, as long as it stays in character.
I'm okay with that sort of thing to a point. But I've had my fill of sociopaths early on in my gaming years, if casual murder and assault is someone's thing and especially if they don't expect consequences? That's a problem. and those are people that I don't want to game with much less be around.
 

Ixal

Explorer
I wonder what kind of campaigns people are playing when the game world reacting to the actions of the PCs (also known as consequences) is seen as something exceptional or even passive aggressive. Of course a criminal PC must face consequences if he gets caught to keep the game believable.
 

I'm okay with that sort of thing to a point. But I've had my fill of sociopaths early on in my gaming years, if casual murder and assault is someone's thing and especially if they don't expect consequences? That's a problem. and those are people that I don't want to game with much less be around.
I keep hearing this from people and just feel so lucky. I have never once, in all my years of gaming in many states with many groups, ran into real life sociopaths playing D&D. Maybe an immature person here or there, but never a true mean one. I am lucky.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I completely and rather vehemently disagree.

If dissolving the party is what would happen next then that's what should happen next. If the Paladin would draw her sword and use violence to defend the child from the party, then that's what she should do.

Okay. I have played that way and had a lot of fun but there were also frequently bad feelings. To me it doesn't really matter whether the folks I am playing with should have bad feelings, only that they have them - so having some consensus method to moving past those moments and then role-playing that works for me.

The thing is, the OOC decision by the group might be "this is a hella fun scene, let's keep going!" and that'd be fine too.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff
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.
I'm not talking immoral, I'm talking player (not character) being a jackass and spoiling your or other people's fun -- in that case, engaging with jackassery leads to more jackassery.
 

Campbell

Legend
I'm not talking immoral, I'm talking player (not character) being a jackass and spoiling your or other people's fun -- in that case, engaging with jackassery leads to more jackassery.

This all day. Often by responding to player behavior that is outside the group's social contract through the game's fiction results in giving the griefing player exactly what they want. It also punishes the whole group.
 

If you're ok with the behaviour then just roll with it and apply logical consequences. If the player's behaviour is likely to have campaign ending consequences point that out.

If you're trying to change player behaviour through punishment then you're wasting time. Even assuming this will actually work (and it's a big assumption), it's going to take a considerable amount of time. Why wouldn't you just talk to the player out of the game and fix the problem now rather than 6 months down the track (if you're incredibly lucky).
 

FreeTheSlaves

Adventurer
Our current game is about to crash and burn due to player shenanigans. You know the behavior; spotlight hogging, 'why would my character be part of this party?', inattentive play, 'I wanna play eevil', session 7 'which die do I roll for my greataxe?', arguments over whether to travel north-west or west-north.

Thing is, they all recognized the mistakes and are making amends - but too late. A key player, my daughter, is burnt out: 'This is not the heroic adventure you described to me.'

When I have to pull the plug there's going to be a lot of disappointment. It didn't have to be this way.
 

Zardnaar

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.

Yeah that's an I boot you from the game situation.

Covered in session 0 don't play a lone wolf.
 


Necrozius

Explorer
I don’t think having in-game consequences of deliberately negative character behaviour is necessarily passive-aggressive. When a PC is a known bully to NPCs in a village, there will be an impact on their reputation. Getting caught committing an obvious crime will draw the attention of authorities, meagre as they might be.

Believe it or not there are players who appreciate playing in a cohesive world (despite being fantastic).

The game has to be fun for the DM too. If I don’t want to run a game about murderous sociopaths, I’ll explain this is session zero. Players can cross the line for the DM too. I’ve had players really get into their intimidation checks, yelling in my face and browbeating ME, not the character. Or having to narrate how much NPCs are cowering, frightened or even crying while the PC assaults and/or harasses them. It gets unpleasant, and I can’t help but feel that this sort of behaviour, which typically isn’t tolerated or well-regardes in real life (or in media) should be consequence-free in a RPG setting.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Many keep hammering on about session 0 like that is where everything is resolved as if no one joins the crew after the campaign has started? New players aren't suddenly introduced into an existing game?

Really the session 0 comments are not as helpful as some like to believe.
You can still have a session-zero-style talk with a player coming in, in the middle of a campaign.

Also, I get the feeling the OP was talking about players new to the hobby overall; I think they're probably less likely to join a game already in progress and more likely to need space and/or help figuring out the boundaries of appropriateness.
 

Campbell

Legend
I share a level of cynicism about Session Zero. Having a discussion about group expectations is important, but it needs to be an ongoing dialogue that happens not just when things go wrong, but also when things are going strong. It also should be a two way street.
 

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