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Realistic Consequences vs Gameplay

I was running a game last week in which half of the party handled a tense diplomatic situation very poorly. Going into the meeting, they knew the ruler was unstable and severely punished any dissent in his land - having heard from various NPCs and seeing it firsthand.
The party got a private audience with the ruler and things were moving friendly enough, when a player (probably bored with the negotiations and playing the "but I have a low Charisma card") decided to trump the party's hand and yell out something to the effect of "you're crazy and don't deserve leadership here." For this affront, the ruler yelled for his guards to come and arrest that character. In response, another party member tried (and failed) to grapple the ruler and put a knife to his throat to take him as a hostage.
The other two characters left the room and proclaimed their innocence. With some good roleplay (and great dice rolls) they were able to convince the ruler and his guards that they had no part of the attack and were allowed to leave.
The two other characters (the would-be assassin and the instigator) were taken to the public stocks to await trial that could end in execution (or at the very least, expulsion from the land).
That night they were given several opportunities to escape the stocks, but the would-be assassin failed and the instigator said he would rather die than let this corrupt man stay in power.
What's a DM to do? Let it play out how it would in reality (execution) or break verisimilitude and reward murder-hoboism and let them escape with a deus ex machina? Meanwhile the players not involved in the coup attempt are being punished as the spotlight focuses on the two scoundrels - since their characters aren't wanting to be involved with the escape attempts.
I did speak to the players after the game. The instigator apologized for "ruining the campaign." (Even though I tried to tell him that the campaign hadn't been ruined, merely that he has made the characters' situation more difficult and there would be consequences.)
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
So just thinking, here:

You have two players who chose ... poorly, and their characters are in a bad spot, and you have two other players who made arguably better decisions and aren't in that bad spot--and the latter players aren't interested in helping the former out of that bad spot. This isn't unreasonable, since those characters's lives have been complicated up enough, and those players at least understood the situation of the Mad Ruler well enough not to push his buttons.

If the players whose characters aren't in the stocks are serious about not helping the character that are in the stocks, and the outcome for the characters that are in the stocks seems likely to be an execution, I'd maybe see if I couldn't schedule a session with just those players to see if they could get their characters out of that--no point in forcing the other players to sit through that. It doesn't sound really plausible, but maybe they'll think of something; and if they don't they can have shiny new characters for the next session with the other players.

I wouldn't necessarily just give them a pass, but I might see if I could find a couple slim options they could maybe grasp at. Depending on level, PCs can have a lot of resources. And if they die, they die--bring on the shiny-new.
 
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atanakar

Hero
They didn't kill the king or spill his blood. I wouldn't kill them. But I would send them at a forced labor work camp for x number of months. Give the players temporary NPCs (not new characters) to play with. Let them recover their PCs after the period has passed. It's up to you if you want to make solo sessions while they are in the work camp. But I wouldn't.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
The instigator's motivations seem a little opaque to me. He apologized for "ruining the campaign", but at the same time, his character doesn't seem to have a real desire to escape. He needs to back out of character, figure out what he wants to happen "as a player", and then get his character there.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
The instigator's motivations seem a little opaque to me. He apologized for "ruining the campaign", but at the same time, his character doesn't seem to have a real desire to escape. He needs to back out of character, figure out what he wants to happen "as a player", and then get his character there.
Allowing for the possibility that he wants a new character, of course.

I figure the "motivations" here are that he's used to playing in campaigns where violence or the threat thereof was the solution to everything, and he found himself in a position where the character he'd built for that sort of campaign was in a situation where he was useless, and the player was bored.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
Allowing for the possibility that he wants a new character, of course.

I figure the "motivations" here are that he's used to playing in campaigns where violence or the threat thereof was the solution to everything, and he found himself in a position where the character he'd built for that sort of campaign was in a situation where he was useless, and the player was bored.
Of course. He does sound like a classic "Butt Kicker" player (to use Robin Laws' categories), but he must have some interest in deciding what happens next. That might certainly be "It's time for a new character"!
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
This is an out of game problem. There's an issue with these two players being willing to engage in the game presented and this needs to be discussed out of context of the game rather than finding ways in game to address the situation. Why did these two players think their actions were appropriate/necessary? What was their play goal, here? What did the other players think about this, and why did they not have a similar problem? I think you need to have a table discussion before trying to figure out what happens in game.
 

the Jester

Legend
Actions have consequences. You established what those consequences would be, and two of the pcs spat in the eye of those potential consequences. If they don't suffer those consequences, you will have undermined yourself thoroughly- they won't have any reason to believe that consequences are ever real. Execute them, or be prepared for them to manhandle any ruler they meet, break any law they are told about, and pee on the altar of any temple they enter while expecting to get away with it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
They didn't kill the king or spill his blood. I wouldn't kill them.
"they knew the ruler was unstable and severely punished any dissent in his land"

Leniency does not sound like the way this king would go without really good reason. Grab the king and put a knife to his throat? No, you're not getting off easy.

If you don't want to kill them outright - is the world such that there's a Cleric in service to the King that can cast Geas? Don't make it a death sentence, make it a, "you will directly serve my interests, publicly and dangerously, or die".
 

I've encountered players that sound a whole lot like this. For whatever reason, there's a certain type of player, that when presented with a figure of authority, cannot help but insult and abuse them. It's related to the Instigator player type - they like to do stuff just to make stuff happen, good or bad. But I think it's also a way at pushing at the boundaries of the game, like trying to find the limit to the map in a videogame. They want to see just how much they can push at the world without it breaking.

What I try to do with these sorts of disruptive behaviors is ask the rest of the table "do you let your comrade do this" or "does your fellow adventure speak for you." Yes, that's stomping on the disruptive player's freedom of choice. But D&D is a group game, and some decisions have to be made as a group, not held hostage by one or two disruptive players.

My way forward when I can't head it off with the aforementioned techniques has generally with these folks is generally to ask myself three questions: What are the consequences of their actions? What is the way forward from this development? How do I make it still be fun for everyone (including myself)?

What's a DM to do? Let it play out how it would in reality (execution) or break verisimilitude and reward murder-hoboism and let them escape with a deus ex machina? Meanwhile the players not involved in the coup attempt are being punished as the spotlight focuses on the two scoundrels - since their characters aren't wanting to be involved with the escape attempts.
 

Without knowing details of the campaign, it's tricky to provide some advice. If the despot was intended to be ousted, this would be a good spot to start/introduce a rebellion that frees the two idiots characters. If the despot was supposed to remain in power as an ally, then these two are probably gonna have to die (even if they somehow escaped, the party couldn't be an ally to the despot anymore). If neither matters, then you have more options.

If it were me, I'd have a nice public execution (giving the other players one last chance to decide to save them), as actions should have consequences. The players made their poor choices, and should have their characters pay for them. I'd worry about the instigating player, however, to make sure this isn't a pattern.
 

Big Bucky

Explorer
“You come at the king you best not miss”

this isn’t a problem it’s a gift. An attempt on the insane despot’s life in broad daylight and the would-be Kingslayer refusing to recant under penalty of death? I would kill for that kind of scenario (heyoo!)

The PC is willing to die for a just cause so oblige them. Is the crazy king going to pardon
them for an attempt on his life in broad daylight and in front of his own guards. No he would execute them and probably mount their heads on pikes as a warning to others.

Your job is not to keep the PCs alive. It’s to present a realistic and consistent world. Do what you think would happen if this was real life.

and by the way, what would happen to the town when there is an attempted coup against the tyrant? Will they see your player as a hero and martyr? What about when he says his only regret is he has but one life to give in the fight against tyranny before the blade separates his head from his body? Will this be the impetus for an uprising? Will the people beg the heroes finish the job and take their place on the throne? What an adventure hook they’ve given you.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Aleena died for your sins.
“You come at the king you best not miss”

this isn’t a problem it’s a gift. An attempt on the insane despot’s life in broad daylight and the would-be Kingslayer refusing to recant under penalty of death? I would kill for that kind of scenario (heyoo!)

The PC is willing to die for a just cause so oblige them. Is the crazy king going to pardon
them for an attempt on his life in broad daylight and in front of his own guards. No he would execute them and probably mount their heads on pikes as a warning to others.

Your job is not to keep the PCs alive. It’s to present a realistic and consistent world. Do what you think would happen if this was real life.

and by the way, what would happen to the town when there is an attempted coup against the tyrant? Will they see your player as a hero and martyr? What about when he says his only regret is he has but one life to give in the fight against tyranny before the blade separates his head from his body? Will this be the impetus for an uprising? Will the people beg the heroes finish the job and take their place on the throne? What an adventure hook they’ve given you.
Yes. Exactly this (and I was even going to use the same quote).

Attempted assassination is, if anything, worse than assassination; if you succeed, you might have a plausible approach with the successor. But there is no way a ruler is going to let someone try and attack him and get away with it.

If the players try to escape, play it out; but there are consequences to their actions- and this is looking like, unless something changes, an execution. There are worse things in life than to die at the hands of a tyrant (which may be something for the surviving two party members to mull over as well).
 

Numidius

Explorer
The sentiment and inconsiderate actions of the two arrogant pc's should resonate in a lot of people in that kingdom. I would let consequences happen that involve the situation/setting/factions all around.
 

uzirath

Adventurer
I agree with others here that the consequences should be real and lasting. This doesn't necessarily mean that the PCs need to die; that depends more on your table culture. Personally, I would have an OOC discussion with the players (including the less headstrong two) to see what they want and then consider how much you are willing to adjust the campaign. The consequence could be a public execution, or the Geas idea from @Umbran, or escaping with a (high!) price on their heads, or causing the nascent rebellion to be stomped out as the ruler unleashes his secret police, etc.
 

Numidius

Explorer
I'm not fond of OOC discussions. I prefer to resolve things IC.
As per the type of public punishment, pit them against a couple of minotaurs in a coliseum... and see if their comrades join in the fight to help them. Or, a royal rumble against a dozen of other disrespectful citizens that are already in jail . Who survives is free. Only one ;)
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I'm not fond of OOC discussions. I prefer to resolve things IC.
I can understand that, but if the player decided his character was going to act that way because the player was bored or because the player just was expecting a different kind of game, it's kinda an OOC problem, so solving it OOC is likely to be easier and more likely to work than solving it IC. My takeaway from the OP was that this was a player decision, not something inherent in the character.
 

Big Bucky

Explorer
@Snarf Zagyg now I want to do Blades in the Dark hack of The Wire. Omar comin’!

As an aside, I wish we could get away from the idea that the GM kills the PCs. That’s not fair to put that responsibilty on one person. The GM presents interesting situations/problems/obstacles and describes how the world reacts to what the PCs do. If you do stuff that’s likely to get you killed you are likely going to get killed sooner or later.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
It's hard to tell what was the feeling of the people around the table without being there.

If the initiator of the mess really disrupted the game because he was "bored", I would not invite him back to play. Think of it this way: if you join a game of football/basketball/whatever, do you think it's acceptable to start playing like an idiot because the game is not going according to your wishes? If you play, play decently until the end of the session as a respect to the others.

But maybe the player genuinely thought that his antics were going to spice up the scene. Or he really gave in to boredom, but later realized it was a mistake to overreact.

At this point I wouldn't mind to ask what they prefer to happen. It's ok if they agree that the party is broken and the two guilty PCs should be abandoned (although I don't buy this enthusiasm towards the "realism" of executions, and would rather simply leave them behind as NPCs, who knows what happens, they might even come handy later), in which case I'd encourage the two players to make new PCs better suited to the story.

It's also ok if they decide that they want to keep playing them, if the other two still care for them. Frankly, I am a bit suspicious of the other two players as well, because I have seen plenty of captured/arrested PCs through the years, but not being abandoned by the others... this is not the kind of "realism" I am looking for in D&D. I run the game with the assumption that the PCs care for each other because they are the heroes (or at least the protagonists), if everyone is for themselves then why bother... it's the "realism" of the remaining 99% of the world population i.e. the NPCs.

If they choose to continue, I wouldn't mind to come up with some external help. Which by the way happens all the time in most movies, novels and such.
 


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