D&D General Roleplaying Powerful Beings versus Smart-Aleck PCs


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jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
The reason I'm not looking for mechanical solutions is that I can give the players can disadvantage on social checks or whatever, but it's still going to destroy the NPC.
 

Assume that PC wont bend or bow in front of any being, especially if the DM expect it!
Heil old Asmode! will be throw without hesitation.

PC will look fearless to a powerful being and that may create some interest and value.
being may need the PC because they are different from the yes man that surround them usually. So know the character, it’s goal, motivation, agenda, needs. Why he bother to meet the PC? No character should be omniscient or omnipotent in DnD.
 

Filthy Lucre

Adventurer
1.) Make sure you've discussed the tone of the game with players - that makes a big difference in terms of expectations and how they understand the game over all.
2.) If you did #1 but one player continues to be disruptive, probably need to talk to them about it OOC.
3.) If you make a threat, you HAVE to carry it out. Nothing erodes authority/seriousness more than a threat being made, ignored, and then there are no consequences. They don't have to be dire, but they could be extremely complicating - maybe even campaign altering.

4.) If all else fails, your PCs just don't want to have a serious game and you have to decide if you're willing to DM a non-serious game.

In the next session, they're due to meet an archfey whom I want to come across as powerful and mysterious. I fully expect the players to be snarky to her, so I want to be prepared for that. Any suggestions on how to deal with this situation?
Demonstrate power via indifference. Rather than demonstrate their power by force, just have this powerful being dismiss them and disappear. Whatever help they could provide is no longer accessible to them and they need to deal with a situation without a powerful ally or useful information.

You cannot control what the PCs do, so you have to accept that maybe something you wanted to happen (a positive meeting with this being) won't occur because the PCs choose for it not to occur.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
To be clear, I'm not asking for active "genuflection." I just want to know how to keep my NPCs from being destroyed. Is that so unreasonable?
I mean... maybe?

IF this is how the players enjoy playing their characters, slapping them for it or telling them to stop having fun is going to encourage acting out in other way or just deciding not to talk to powerful characters if they're going to have to stop having fun to do so.
 

Mort

Legend
Supporter
The reason I'm not looking for mechanical solutions is that I can give the players can disadvantage on social checks or whatever, but it's still going to destroy the NPC.
.
Take the character's (not the players!) charisma when snarky comments are made. Some people have a true gift of delivering insults in such a way that people are laughing WITH them and it actually promotes the person's agenda. I have a business partner with this gift. He can say something to a client/potential client that I KNOW would get me punched in the face but with him the client is laughing and agreeing to whatever proposal my partner is offering.

One other thing to do here is to ask the player directly - what is your intent with that last comment, how do you intend/expect the NPC to respond? This will also clue the player in that maybe they're being overly rude/snarky.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
In the next session, they're due to meet an archfey whom I want to come across as powerful and mysterious. I fully expect the players to be snarky to her, so I want to be prepared for that. Any suggestions on how to deal with this situation?

(ETA: Since some have asked for more details on the archfey: the PCs are searching for the source of magic that's infusing the local countryside. They're going to find out that it's due to this archfey's lair being adjacent to an underground river. They're not expecting to meet her and aren't seeking anything from her. If things go well, she might have a quest for them and/or offer them the opportunity to make a pact with her, i.e. take a level of fey pact warlock.)

An archfey who wants to use the PCs as their pawns (on this quest) will have some small amount of patience for the human foibles, and will inform the party when they are at the edge of patience.

"I am not of your kind. Your petty ego posturing is of no interest to me, and if you continue such, you will cease to be of interest as well."

"Little mortal, do remember that you are in the demesne of an archfey, and you are near to breaking the laws of hospitality that protect you. You have an opportunity here. I advise you choose your words to make the best of it."

Depending how powerful you make your archfey, simply taking the voice of the offending PC, and putting it in a small laquered box, to be returned when the interaction is complete, may be appropriate. A truely annoyed archfey would have the box act as a loadstone for some time, as punishment for the impertinence. Remove Curse ineffective so long as the character is in the feywild, and has not apologized with appropriately florid language.
 
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jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
IF this is how the players enjoy playing their characters, slapping them for it or telling them to stop having fun is going to encourage acting out in other way or just deciding not to talk to powerful characters if they're going to have to stop having fun to do so.
I don't want to slap them or tell them to stop having fun. I just don't also want to have to resign myself to not ever having any dignified NPCs, if possible.

ETA: I get the feeling that I'm coming across as asking how to stop my players from being snarky, and I'm trying to do the opposite. I'm assuming they will be snarky.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
My NPCs are there to be destroyed. I don't care about them as they're not real. My players are real and I care about whether or not they are having fun and, if they want to mistreat an NPC, more power to them.

Having said that, actions have consequences. Treat an NPC poorly and it's reasonable to narrate how they aren't inclined to help you. Having a structure as in the DMG for handling this gives the players something to consider when deciding on an approach, and a means for the DM to consistently adjudicate and improvise.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't want to slap them or tell them to stop having fun. I just don't also want to have to resign myself to not ever having any dignified NPCs, if possible.

ETA: I get the feeling that I'm coming across as asking how to stop my players from being snarky, and I'm trying to do the opposite. I'm assuming they will be snarky.

Yep. Let them be snarky, for a bit. But part of being an adventurer is knowing when to get down to business, too.

An archfey who isn't threatend by them, and does not feel them important enough to smack down, can be a vehicle for that. They can figure out when to cut the malarky, or not get the benefits of being respectful on occasion. They lose an opportunity, not their lives.
 


toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
I fully expect the players to be snarky to her, so I want to be prepared for that.
Happens to us all at one point or another. It's been my experience some players do it to simply test what kind of game the DM is running (e.g. the Mummy movies where the main character smarts off all the time) and/or because they believe it will make the table laugh and enjoy the game more.

However, it's easy to forget to divorce our personalities from our characters when we're sitting around eating doritos, sipping soda, and going off-topic by discussing the latest movie we watched. Would a character really smart off to the Emperor of All-I-C, knowing it's execution if they do? So, can you have both respect and mouthiness in your game? Absolutely.

Option 1: have a (late) Session 0 and discuss you, as the DM, really want to work on separating character from player to make for a more immersive game. Discuss examples such as roleplaying fear and horror, or awe, and the difficulty of doing that when you're sitting around the table munching on snacks. See if players will take on the mantle of greater immersion into the game by taking more times to think "what would this character, who has emotions, has feelings, can die and can suffer consequences, do in response?"

Option 2: say nothing and work this in-game by changing tone. Give the line "is that you or your character saying that?" when presented with a really snarky statement that would provoke a reaction. And if they say character, impose a natural consequence. The harshest consequence will actually be removing the opportunity / adventure line. The Emperor was offering 10,000 gold for the return of his ward, and snarky player mouths off wanting 20,000 and to make it snappy. The Emperor sighs and dismisses them. Later, they hear through town the head of the ward was sent by the raiders back to the Emperor along with a note "the Ragamuffins live free of tyranny."

It's not the end of everything, of course. DMs know if players miss a dungeon or adventure, it can be morphed into something else. For example, you might create a new adventure in which the PCs feel bad and join with a merchant alliance to infiltrate the secretive terrorist organization, or even join the rebels.

Option 2 can be tough if you have a pre-written or linear campaign. Many DMs fear going off-script because they'll lose the story. If PCs don't take the Strahd line of Ravenloft seriously and laugh at his obsession with Ireena (e.g. "get yourself a real girlfriend, that's lame man"), the game is simply less enjoyable because it's probably not how characters stranded in a shadow world of tortured souls and shades would tend to roll.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
You said you didn't want mechanical solutions, but perhaps just a mechanical framework presented to the players will tell them how they might need to behave during the scene.

If they approach / find the archfey because they need something from them... then just explain to them the mechanical framework (almost like a announcing a skill challenge) that the players will need to win in order to get the fey to give them what they want. Once the players know that there is a "mini-game" involved (one whose rules you don't even need to tell them about necessarily)... they can still then roleplay however they want-- but they now know their actions are scoring or losing them points in the background. And the easiest way for the players to know whether or not they are getting what they want is how you play the archfey's reactions to how they are being treated.

I find that when there's a "game" involved (along with a win condition), players tend to be more apt to try and win and less inclined to just fool around. If it's just interaction for interaction's sake, they oftentimes think they're going to get what they want eventually regardless of the interaction, and thus they don't take it as seriously. They see the interaction are more just fun "fluff" to color the scene, but not crucial to the results.

But if you tell them that there is a game playing out in the background of the scene to "win"... they might be more inclined to do what @iserith mentioned and look to figure out the archfey's BIFTs, or just what they need to say to give them points in this conflict... even if they don't know how the conflict is playing out necessarily. Just an idea.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
You said you didn't want mechanical solutions, but perhaps just a mechanical framework presented to the players will tell them how they might need to behave during the scene.

If they approach / find the archfey because they need something from them... then just explain to them the mechanical framework (almost like a announcing a skill challenge) that the players will need to win in order to get the fey to give them what they want. Once the players know that there is a "mini-game" involved (one whose rules you don't even need to tell them about necessarily)... they can still then roleplay however they want-- but they now know their actions are scoring or losing them points in the background. And the easiest way for the players to know whether or not they are getting what they want is how you play the archfey's reactions to how they are being treated.

I find that when there's a "game" involved (along with a win condition), players tend to be more apt to try and win and less inclined to just fool around. If it's just interaction for interaction's sake, they oftentimes think they're going to get what they want eventually regardless of the interaction, and thus they don't take it as seriously. They see the interaction are more just fun "fluff" to color the scene, but not crucial to the results.

But if you tell them that there is a game playing out in the background of the scene to "win"... they might be more inclined to do what @iserith mentioned and look to figure out the archfey's BIFTs, or just what they need to say to give them points in this conflict... even if they don't know how the conflict is playing out necessarily. Just an idea.
Yeah, and I find being explicit up front when there's a challenge before them as opposed to a scene just being for exposition dumping sets the right expectations for play. It's really about making clear the stakes.
 

Actual advice:

Chuckle along at the amusing smart aleck comments. No need to be super serious right off the bat!

Then when a lull comes, say to the player(s): "Ok. so what does your character REALLY say?"

Odds are good that once they have the initial knee-jerk defiance out of their system, they will switch to "How can I get the most gain out of this NPC?" mode. THEN you can start the interaction "for real"*


... and if they don't? Fry em, OR lean into the farce. That's your call and both are equally valid approaches. But either way, they had their chance.


* For certain imaginary values of real.
 

S'mon

Legend
I usually have a good internal aspect on the NPC, so they do/try to do what seems appropriate. Unless the NPC is a massive jerk, I rarely see PCs mouthing off, though. Maybe because non-jerk authority figures are polite and respectful to powerful adventurers - heck, most non-jerk authority figures in most milieus are polite to everyone!

I have had PCs in my Odyssey of the Dragonlords campaign say mean things to various powerful NPCs, including the drunken war god Pythor, Commander Gaius the villainous head of the Order of Sydon, and an affable centaur warchief. Pythor was bashful as his daughter scolded him, Gaius used some brutal put-downs on the PCs insulting him, eg:

Elpis — 20/11/2021
Elpis smirks a little "What ruffled that kitty's cage so badly?" she glances over at her companions and nods to (the others) "These terms are kinda insane and I don't think we're all inclined to agree with them."
Gaius glances at Elpis. "I would expect nothing less from such weaklings as you."
Gaius: "I hear you are the one who refused to swear the Oath of Fellowship. You are the fatal weakness at the heart of Versi's scheme. The flawed thread that will undo her plans, and ensure Lord Sydon's victory over his wayward child - and over the Five."
Kyrah: "You really are an enormous naughty word, Gaius."

The centaur chief was puzzled why the centaur PC Artemis kept insulting him - he had been on the other side of a recent conflict, but had behaved honourably, even cheering the PCs when they recently won a victory, and he was obviously a good guy to be friendly with. So was I puzzled, and the other players too - I think maybe Artemis's player had had too much red wine and wasn't really following events too closely... :)
 
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Vaalingrade

Legend
I don't want to slap them or tell them to stop having fun. I just don't also want to have to resign myself to not ever having any dignified NPCs, if possible.

ETA: I get the feeling that I'm coming across as asking how to stop my players from being snarky, and I'm trying to do the opposite. I'm assuming they will be snarky.
I mean, the more dignified you play them, the more the PCs are going to want to knock them down a peg.

At that point, I'd say don't play them too full on their own hype and begging to be snarked at. Don't bait them, snipe back if it's something they would do, and be prepared for them to lose their dignity anyway because PCs. Better than losing their life or the campaign for a fictional, ultimately unimportant (yes they are) character's dignity.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!
The PCs have come into the presence of some being of great power--good, evil, or neutral, anything from a local noble to an actual deity. It's a serious situation where, realistically, there would be severe consequences for inappropriate behavior. But players are players, and they're going to have their characters mouth off to this powerful being.

I figure this must be something a lot of DMs deal with. How do you handle these situations? How do you keep the whole thing fun for all concerned without sacrificing the impressiveness of this important NPC? Is that even possible?

Note: I'm more interested roleplay solutions than mechanical ones. Obviously, as the DM, I could easily say "The guards haul you off and execute you on the spot for rudeness to the emperor," but I don't think that would be fun for anyone.

I've tried a few solutions with varying levels of success:

  • Jeny Greeneeth in Ravenloft may have been the most successful. She'd just smile sweetly and say, "Don't be impolite, dear. I'd hate to have to rip your guts out unnecessarily." But that may only have worked because the PCs needed her help.
  • Later in the same campaign, Rahadin wouldn't let the PCs into Castle Ravenloft unless they surrendered their weapons and swore an oath to behave peacefully. The players assumed they could talk their way around this, but Rahadin told them they could either agree to the terms or leave. So they went along with it, but I think the players were unhappy at feeling forced into a corner.

In the next session, they're due to meet an archfey whom I want to come across as powerful and mysterious. I fully expect the players to be snarky to her, so I want to be prepared for that. Any suggestions on how to deal with this situation?

(ETA: Since some have asked for more details on the archfey: the PCs are searching for the source of magic that's infusing the local countryside. They're going to find out that it's due to this archfey's lair being adjacent to an underground river. They're not expecting to meet her and aren't seeking anything from her. If things go well, she might have a quest for them and/or offer them the opportunity to make a pact with her, i.e. take a level of fey pact warlock.)
So you've basically told/trained your Players to expect that their PC's won't suffer any serious consequences for their actions.
Got it.
;)

Seriously though...
;)

I'd definitely reverse gears with the whole "The Demon Lord is very VERY cross with you, mister! He's going to write a STERNLY worded letter to your King!" attitude. In short... I hope the Players enjoy making 1st level PC's.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
Oh yeah, on the list of Ravenloft stories, I should also mention how they can never show their faces in Vallaki again because when the burgomaster sent a guard to fetch them, they zapped him with hypnotic pattern, pulled down his pants, and left him standing in the street that way...
 

BrassDragon

Explorer
Some practical advice:
  • Use another NPC, a peer to the players, to frame the relationship and gently model the desired player character behavior e.g. 'This crime lord has a long memory and I've heard... stories. Please show respect if you can, maybe bring a small gift.' Alternatively you can have the peer NPC react to the players being weird, instead of the big cheese e.g. 'By the gods, my family lives on the queen's lands. Could we please focus on why we need her?' The reason this sometimes works is that it moves away from a direct challenge (where players will just keep one-upping the powerful NPC) and introduces are more complex dynamic.
  • If you're not naturally snarky or quick with your repartee, stop playing out the scene in first person but switch to the more distant third person voice. 'After your remark, the baron's face hardens and he goes quiet. Only his advisors are willing to engage with your petition and they suggest the following baragain...' This takes you out of the firing line as a DM and re-focuses the players. Remember that one reason powerful people are, well, powerful is because they have countless flunkies and specialists to handle unpleasant tasks, like engaging with your player characters.
  • Invest one of the player characters in the relationship. It's not just a random town mayor, it's the bard's sponsor or the barbarian's former lover etc. Powerful NPCs should rarely come out of nowhere, whenever you can, hook them into the player character's backgrounds and establish some kind of feeling or relationships before they come face to face.
On top of that, it helps to have a mindset that no NPC is vital or that the story can only flow from or through certain NPCs. Let the players genuinely burn bridges and lose their connections, and introduce important story elements in other ways, preferably by letting the players work harder for it. If you get into that mindset and make it second nature, it's much easier to take button-pushing players in stride.
 

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