Trouble with an Overzealous Player

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So me and my players took a small break from dnd over the last part of the year and before that were deeply invested in a pathfinder game. But with the new year we've decided to come back home and give 4e another shot. Now all my players and me have been gaming with each other for the better part of three years now, wether it be video or tabletop etc. And i feel like ive honed my skills quite extensively on running things. However i have one player who has put a wrench in my games that id like to put a stop to this time around.

Hes not horrible to game with or overly loud or obnoxious, quite the contrary we all have a blast sitting around and playing. the problem is how he handles situations and npcs. His gung ho im always right vindictive style has forced me to cut somethings out of my games i really want to keep in them. For instance, there is no chance i can ever have a traveling merchant on a road for them to encounter because hell simply kill and steal everything the man has.

I can't drop in subtle encounters like a traveling caravan, or carriage that has been toppled over, or even someone who requires some aid because while the other players are jumping in to see what exactly is going on or how to fix/aide those hes in the back raping the women and pulling gold teeth out of the mules. (im exaggerating obviously) but i cant seem to break him of this.

My current idea was of a Fame/Infamy system. Which essentially would setup how townsfolk and people view each individual player and the group as a whole. Essentially the higher the fame score the more warmly they are recognised, while the higher the infamy the more they are scorned or more bandits/mercs they will encounter. I was thinking of boosting and lowering depending on actions. for instance if they find some ancient relic sent out for them to retrieve by the church and turn around and fence it, it will raise their infamy. If the character is constantly attacking roving merchants to rob them itll raise their infamy. While the reverse will obviously raise their fame.

This is just the current idea ive had. But anyone have any other thoughts?  
In-game punishments, even logical ones, are chancy at best and often only serve to exacerbate the situation.

A conversation between two mature adults is what is needed. Be direct. State your issue directly to the player out-of-game and ask for his help in resolving it. Tell him what style and tone of game you'd like to play. Ask him what style and tone of game he'd like to play. Meet each other half way or part ways. It's not an easy conversation sometimes, but it's honest and mature.

Try also not putting such a murderous personality in towns or the like. Nobody cares how bloodthirsty anyone is in the Cursed Temple of Bones. As well, and no offense, there isn't much compelling action to be had with traveling merchants and such. He's telling you indirectly that he's looking for action and some narrative control. I don't care for his method of telling you, but there you go.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Have you talked directly to him about the problems that he's causing? He might not realise how hard he's making it for you. Alternatively, start a brand new campaign and ask all of your players to roleplay a style of character they never have before. I.e. tell mister nuisance to roll a good paladin and hope for the best. Perhaps even send him good karma rewards when he acts in character, over time hopefully this positive reinforcement will make a difference

I can't really think of anything else to suggest, but I do hope you sort out your issues  
If you have an issue way the player plays then you need to talk to the player about your issue.

Finding ways to dance around the issue in-game has a very small chance of solving the issue.

Your best chance is to talk about the situation directly.

Just tell the player how you feel and work on it from there.
Have You thought about not inviting him to the game?
Aside from what everyone else has mentioned (talking to him out of game), you could always treat the world like it's real. If he kills someone in the middle of the street, more than likely the townsfolk will call the local guards or militia to take care of the menace.

Also, the other players should, theoretically, be the first ones getting on his case, not you. And not saying that you shouldn't but I bet if you bring it up to the group they'll quickly realize that his game-breaking is adversely affecting them. 
Lol.  Waylaying helpless merchants, your basic highway robbery & pillage.  His PC is a total unscrupulous shady mercenary charactor.  Imagining what goes on at your table makes me laugh.. You describe a  serene forested pathway the players are walking on, and a rickety wooden merchant wagon strolling along pulled by a scrawny donkey.  Other players, "hidy-ho old merchant.  Where are you headed to old chap?" Unscrupulous player jumps in front of the wagon, drawing his weapon.  "Aha!  You fool!  No guards for your wagon? This isn't your lucky day!"  Player runs the merchant through.  Then runs the donkey through.  Other players are like...eh wtf, as the unscrupulous player pillages the wagon looking for goods, and pries open the dead donkey's mouth looking for gold tooth.

Hahaha.  Overzealous player.  I luv how you describe him.  You and your other friends are patient, understanding folks.

I'm curious how your other players deal with him.  I'm assuming they just roll with it? Or do they try telling him..."Look bro...you cant just kill, ****, pillage everyone we come across.  I mean seriously. Wuz up with that?"  Player answers with a straight face, "Eh...what I do wrong?  This fool had no guards.  Its easy pillage!"...As you the DM bury your face in your hand with a sigh.
Hahaha.  Imagining that scene played out at the table also makes me laugh. I want to join your table!

Sorry sorry.  i just really got a laugh when I read your post.  Your idea of infamy/famous scale is good.  You know your players.  If your players buy into it then by all means use it.  But what if it backfires? What if your friend wants to top the infamy chart you created, since there is a scale to look forward to and fervently works harder! Lol.  Its obvious he has no intention of being a knight in shining armor.  Seems like your "over zealous" friend is a laid back guy.  Just how he views his charactor and having fun, and it seems it don't interfere with other friends at the table having fun.  It seems it is just limiting your adventure plots and hooks.

You know your friends.  if talking to him to cut it out or tone it down can fix it, but you think that may burst his bubble of fun, then...maybe thats not the best route.  If he can have fun either way, then just tell him.  Thats easy fix.  But if it was that easy you probably would have done it and wouldn't be asking in forum.

You are probably a very intelligent guy.  Gonna suggest something off the norm. Try resorting to "social engineering" in game and engineer a set of circumstances with a predictable response in mind from your "over zealous" friend.  This requires your bit of understanding of your friend, but you know him so it shouldn't be too hard to figure out. As the DM you have the previlege of controlling every detail of the environment, just not players actions...but even that can be "controlled" without the player realizing it.  Railroading someone is so blatant and poor form, and easy to do.  Getting the player to do what you want without the player even knowing it?  Now that's art.

Now...with this in mind, and your awesome dm power to control the details of the environment, think...what set of circumstance needs to be present for your swash buckling friend to decide on his own accord to assist that princess in need...and not resort to pillage & **** on first sight. Lol.  Your friend makes me laugh.  




My suggestion would be to simply 'adapt.' You make it seem that he's no trouble outside of the game, it's just the way he plays his character. That's not so much a problem as it is a test to your impovisational and reactionary skills. Most of my gorup enjoy killing NPC's that they feel may have something valuable or they simply don't like. I adapt. If I feel like adding in a special NPC event and I fear some of my players may just kill him, I add somethign to deter that; I make him strong, I make him diplomatic, I give him something for leverage, I give him protection, etc.

I plan consequences. Some rash decisions my players have made have brought on sorry consequences or difficult boss battles. This had actually caused the player who plays the most destructive character to be more diplomatic at times, havinglearned from his mistakes.

If the player isn't being disruptive, then there is no fault. Hopefully my advice can be of help.
I can see how it would drive you crazy as a dm, when i was a player I saw something like this happen and the best advice is really to sit him down and talk it through.

The dm in my earlier games had some fun with it before sitting him down so if you choose to adapt with your infamy system, which i will be stealing by the way. Give him some soft targets, but as guards and kings or barons take notice hide guards in the wagon where they are not seen, or near a broken down wahon hide archers in trees. Any way to make it more challenging also bar them from entering citys and towns so they must survive in the wild.

If the other players cant handle it they also may help you talk some sense into him.
adaptation and treating the game like reality make sense to me

travelling merchants are being murdered? all of them travel with armed escorts now, perhaps the PCs could be given such a job, and in doing so the consequences for betrayal are heightened

there could be a poster on a wall with the PC's face and a reward that all other unscrupulous types are out to collect on

the merchants guild could have a posse on the look out for mr. overzealous

maybe some of these will act as incentive to at least get the other players to curb him a little, if not get him to curb himself
they're the ones that should be trying to bring him in line

if the player likes going over the line, he would probably welcome some interesting consequences, some proof that the world has adapted to his style and that his maniacal behavior is affecting the living NPCs
Guys, dealing with out-of-game problems with in-game consequences is a very passive aggressive away of dealing with issues. It's inadvisable and these very forums are littered with stories of campaigns wrecked by the escalation this approach can cause.

It's pretty clear that this is a matter of mismatched expectations, likely due to not having a solid Session Zero prior to starting the campaign where everyone comes to a consensus as to what kind of game the group is playing. The player is simply playing a different game than the rest of the group. This is therefore an out-of-game problem that must be dealt with maturely by discussing the matter directly with the player in question.

Nobody is saying that a character's actions shouldn't have consequences (though I would err on the side of "fun" and "interesting" rather than punitive). But as DMs we really need to be able to address these problems directly with players rather than try to get around the issue with passive aggressive tactics. It may be that when the OP addresses the problem that the player in question he finds the player is all for in-game consequences for his actions. And that would be just fine as long as it's fun for everyone else at the table, too. Point is, you got the players' buy-in and support before you started having the town guard show up to quash his fun.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Such actions without any consequences should not be allowable in a game world and the DM should not let a player simply walk over everything with impunity. These types of actions will inevitably catch up with them.

Now some will quickly disaggree with the suggestion of ingame consequences, but I am not talking about punishment but preventitive measures on the DM's side of things.

(In truth you have let it come to far and something like a high powered Paladin coming to hunt him down for his crimes will not adress your problem.) You need to first adress this with the player and the group that his actions are in effect sabatoging the game and consequently the group.

Consequences to the player's actions is not and should not be punishment, but rather a natural progression as the world responds (good or bad) to the player's actions. Cealring a mountain path of goblins should increase travel and trade and bolster the local economy (more goods show up in the local market, stuff that otherwise might not be available become common)  

Likewise murdering and robbing merchants will result in slowing the local economy, as there are fewer merchants traveling there may be fewer goods available in the market and at a higher price. merchants and others start traveling with armed escorts, and there is an increase in patrols. To pay for the patrols the locals might add tolls to roads and bridges.

That doesn't include the chance of being caught. Even if they aren't brought to justice, a reputation of murdering and robbing and being violent criminals will seriously hurt them.

This is best used if you establish this at the very beginning, it's already progressed to the point of being only punitive. There is a point where the player is the issue and needs to be addressed, the advice on how to make the world give consequences is really directed at the DM, who often is part of the problem.

The DM sometimes unintentionally encourages this kind of behavior in a video-game effect, where there is no real consequences for the PC actions. Ie player is in store, alone with shop keeper. Kills shopkeeper, robs him, put up closed sign and locks the door as he leaves. And that is the end of it. While this works in a video game, it doesn't in a pen&paper game.

So yes talk to your player, by all means, but realize that you might be part of the issue. the above murder of a shopkeeper may well be the result of a larger pattern that the DM created and started at level 1, glossing over offenses with superficial responses (His barfights are all against lower level peasants, never a higher powered person and if he kills someone the guards never show up or it is glossed over as "self defense" etc)

He kills the merchants and robs them because Why shouldn't he?  It's the same reason why in Skyrim I sell all my loot to a merchant until he is out of coin, save the game and then kill the merchant and then reload the saved game to reset the merchant's gold again. Because there is no reason why I can't do it.

I am not talking about punishing the PC or boring consequences, be as creative and interesting as you can, let them get away with shinanigans even, but do not ignore the PC's actions! Otherwise you will eventually find yourself dealing with the exact issue you have now.
Such actions without any consequences should not be allowable in a game world and the DM should not let a player simply walk over everything with impunity. These types of actions will inevitably catch up with them.



I agree in in-game consequences, as long as the player(s) understand that as well.  Some players may see it as a punishment.


Consequences to the player's actions is not and should not be punishment, but rather a natural progression as the world responds (good or bad) to the player's actions. Cealring a mountain path of goblins should increase travel and trade and bolster the local economy (more goods show up in the local market, stuff that otherwise might not be available become common)  

Likewise murdering and robbing merchants will result in slowing the local economy, as there are fewer merchants traveling there may be fewer goods available in the market and at a higher price. merchants and others start traveling with armed escorts, and there is an increase in patrols. To pay for the patrols the locals might add tolls to roads and bridges.



Not to mention an increase of prices for certian items spike due to lack of items to be found.

That doesn't include the chance of being caught. Even if they aren't brought to justice, a reputation of murdering and robbing and being violent criminals will seriously hurt them.



I did something similar in another gaming system.  The issue that did come up is that the player accused me of turning the rest of the group on him.  That was not my intention but the other characters soon got tired of being grouped up with his activities.

This is best used if you establish this at the very beginning, it's already progressed to the point of being only punitive. There is a point where the player is the issue and needs to be addressed, the advice on how to make the world give consequences is really directed at the DM, who often is part of the problem.



This could be a group discussion as well.  Let all the player weigh in.


I am not talking about punishing the PC or boring consequences, be as creative and interesting as you can, let them get away with shinanigans even, but do not ignore the PC's actions! Otherwise you will eventually find yourself dealing with the exact issue you have now.



I still thinking talking first is good but I like this advice.

And now I'm watching Super Troopers because you used the word shenanigans.

In-game punishments, even logical ones, are chancy at best and often only serve to exacerbate the situation.

A conversation between two mature adults is what is needed. Be direct. State your issue directly to the player out-of-game and ask for his help in resolving it. Tell him what style and tone of game you'd like to play. Ask him what style and tone of game he'd like to play. Meet each other half way or part ways. It's not an easy conversation sometimes, but it's honest and mature..



This.  THIS THIS THIS.
I agree with not punishing players for their actions. Especially never punihsing out of game actions with in game punishments, that's just silly. I do however agree with punishing characters for their actions. By that I mean in the most fun way possible. Punishment is such a strong word so it makes it look bad when I say it like that.

I once set up this dragonborn blacksmith in this secret forge, he was menacing as all hell, even the room he was in, it was pretty obvious. I put it there just as a hidden bonus, the forge would allow enchantment of an existing item. The players found it while storming a castle to save a friend. When they found the passage the smith there really didn't care that they were stormig the castle, he just had his work to do. I know my players like to kill and attack things, no matter if they're good and bad, I put him there for a couple reasons. I fully encourage my players choices and playstile, I get a kick out of it, and I find ways to play off it too to improve the experience, but I used this guy as a way of saying "hey killing things is fun, but sometimes they bite back, hey maybe sparring somethings cna be rewarding too."

Whether it worked or not wouldn't have mattered I wasn't going to say "stop killing my characters guys." now I make characters thinking "How are they gonna kill this one, can't wait to find out."  Somehow the leader of the group picked up that this smith was a badass, and the fact that he didn't seem to care that they were attacking the castle intrigued them, so instead of just attacking like they were attacking everything else he tried diplomacy. In the end they got a secret ally, enchanted items and avoided a boss fight with cool mechanics involving the forge I was curious to test, and learned that they can get alot out of trying new things, and that their choices can have rewards or disadvantages.

It didn't change that they like killing things. but that's not bad.
adaptation and treating the game like reality make sense to me

travelling merchants are being murdered? all of them travel with armed escorts now, perhaps the PCs could be given such a job, and in doing so the consequences for betrayal are heightened

there could be a poster on a wall with the PC's face and a reward that all other unscrupulous types are out to collect on

the merchants guild could have a posse on the look out for mr. overzealous

maybe some of these will act as incentive to at least get the other players to curb him a little, if not get him to curb himself
they're the ones that should be trying to bring him in line

if the player likes going over the line, he would probably welcome some interesting consequences, some proof that the world has adapted to his style and that his maniacal behavior is affecting the living NPCs


Now this is "Cause & Effect" and I agree with this.  Some DM's may view this as straight "in game punishment" but that is only true if the DM punitively & vindictively makes it into such, instead of a simple reality of cause & effect in the DM & Player's world setting.  I don't think there are any players who want to play in a world where they can cause anything and  no effect occurs.

Now talking to a player like two mature adults is always a good thing to resolve any potential disagreements or conflict on the game table.  Most definitely.  Absolutely.

But not all things fall under that catagory, such as a player's "style" of play or roleplaying a particular evil charactor, especially when it's not interfering with the other players "style" & their enjoyment.  

Also consider this.  No matter how a DM may "sugar coat" a conversation about his unhappiness with the players "play style" and suggest a change of his behavior, it is still a "critism" and not a "praise".   And to the player that may be an "out of game punishment".

For something like the OP's situation or any similar situation, a proper use of "cause" & "effect" is not only good, but expected... I'm sure even by Mr. Overzealous Pirate.  He should take lessons from Captain Sparrow on how to be a unscrupulous, pillaging Pirate with "poise" & "class". Tongue Out
The other obvious question here is 'where is the rest of the party while he's doing this?'

I mean, seriously, if the DM didn't take the guy aside and ask him what the (bleep) he thinks he's doing, my character would stop him, violently if necessary.  I mean, seriously, who is going to travel with an utter psychopath like that?
Apparently the other players lol.  If we were to see a video of what goes on the OP table, I think it be roaring funny.
i don't think i gave a thorough explanation of the situation. Though first let me begin by saying yes i did allow alot to go scott free in my dming when my group first got together after a long hiaghtus(?) but have since honed my campaign and game running skills to fall back against such behavior. Now as far as cause and effect go i have followed through with the in game consequences and officially his behavior has brought the game to an unplanned ending in a tpk. 

I do try the good old consequences in game but they never seem to work. I guess im just not that overly creative right now and am still learning the tricks and tips. Ill admit im not the greatest but we do have fun and thats what its about right. As far as the other players go one of the largest and most prominant problems is hes the only one with the balls to jump up and take a leadership position. No one else seems to have the personality. And his ideas are great dont get me wrong. Some of the stuff hes come up with i would of never thought of.

Ultimatley i know its not an overarching problem with not being able to introduce lone merchants or roving groups of civilians etc. But i truly believe that adds to the immersion of the game and most of my players do say they like a very real world. I dont know i just seem to be stuck in a bind. 
I have a similar dude in one my playtest games. He plays an evil character kept in line by his love of his good aligned sibling (also a pc)
It's his first time playing D&D and I'm into whatever, so we gave it a spin. It got carried away, but one of the other players was roleplaying too and put him down. It was just a silly playtest so whatever. He says he plans for his character to eventually have a change of heart whenever I give him a plot hook to do so. In the meantime, the players just have a wilcard. They like it.

That said, in most games it would be disruptive and dumb. Best you can do is tlk to the other players first I think. It's awkward, but less so than just approaching him first. Be sure to know how your players feel before telling him to adjust. You MIGHT be in the minority. Even if you are, you should get to have fun too, so still talk to him... you'll just have more perspective on where the fun is getting held up.

It could be that he'd just rather do a dungeon crawl or a morally ambiguous game.  
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Since we're dealing with this issue before the PC has had a chance to even kill one innocent merchant -- in this game anyway -- there's no reason to resort to in-game consequences.  Talk with the player before starting, and tell him that it's your desire as the DM to have some random NPC encounters that don't end with crossed swords.  Likewise, as Iserith suggested, you will need to meet him half-way on the type of game he wants.  I would also spell out that no one in this game exists in a vacuum, so if he goes around killing random folk, guilds, barons, mercenaries, etc. will try to find out what's going on and eliminate the problem.  
I am completely of the opinion that punishment of a PC for a players decisions only makes situations worse, and can ruin a campaign.  However, consequences of actions are not punishment if they make sense in the game world and are handled with impartiality by the DM.

I for one really like the idea/concept that MrCustomer brought in for example.  It is not punishment to the PC or player if the local economy is affected by the things happening in the world. 

For example: If the players were thousands of miles away from city X, and had nothing to do with city x, it would still be reasonable to assume that if bandits were raiding the merchant caravans leading to and from city X, then its economy would suffer.  This probably would not affect the players in the campaign and it wasn't necessarily a result of their actions in any way.  This would just be a fact of the way the campaign world works.  So it is not a punishment if the "Bandits" that were raiding the merchant caravans were actually the party.  The economy of city X would suffer from any intereference with its trade routes.

So this could then make it much more difficult for the party to get much needed equipment as it is now scarce and what little of it there is may be outside of their price range.

As a consequence of the trade route interference I agree there would also be an increase in security for trade caravans, and probably only the most experienced and worldly traders (those with the resources and good sense) would attempt to traverse said trade routes.  This again would just be logical in most campaign settings, and could, as MrCustomer mentioned bring about the possibility of "guard the caravan" jobs for the adventures, and possibly draw other skilled adventuring groups into the area for work.

That's just the one example laid out by MrCustomer and again by myself.

Other things in the world could and should be affected by the actions of the PCs.  This is one way to make their adventures exciting.  If nothing they ever do seems to change anything, well that's just boring to me.

So be creative.  Think about how the world reacts to the things they do.  Don't punish the PCs or players, but have your world react reasonably to their actions.  Also, try to make the reactions add to the experience not take from it.  Yes murdering/raping/pillaging could easily cause a "hunting party" to be sent out to deal with the culprits, but getting caught and thrown in jail, or killed is probably not the most fun solution for the PCs/players and can very easily be seen as punitive.  Instead try to come up with hooks & ideas that will grab the attention of your players, especially the Overzealous PC.  Give him something that he cares about and wants to do.  This will mean that you should talk to him OOC and ask him what his desires are for his character.  Where do you want him to end up by the completion of this campaign?  Does he want to be King of some land?  Does he want to be a God?  Get him involved this way and present him with things that will help him achieve his goals.

Another thing to mention is the other players.  Are they having fun with the game or it the Overzealous PC ruining things for everyone?  Communication between you and the players is key to having a successful campaign in my experience.  If even one person is not having fun, then communicate with them.  If more than one person isn't having fun then maybe communicate with the whole group so that as a group you can come to a consensus to make it fun for everyone.

The last thing I'll mention is to be flexible.  Remember that even the best laid plans can and often do go in directions that nobody expected.  Don't worry about following a particular story line.  Go with the flow and see what story develops.  If you get stuck because of something the players do and you have no clue where to go from there, communicate with them about it, and maybe take a 15 minute break from the game so that you can figure out something that would make sense based on their actions and would be FUN for everyone.

All right that's enough of my rambling.  I hope that some of this will help.  I know that things others have said on this forum have helped my game already so I wish the same for you.
Impartiality is in the eye of the beholder. No matter how neutral and impartial you think you're being, it doesn't really matter. You have zero control over how the player perceives the consequence. If the player perceives it as punishment, you may get pushback which can take many forms, the most common of which (it seems) is escalation as the player tests just how far the DM is willing to take it. There's really no need for this to happen.

Using the collaborative approach to DMing mitigates this problem somewhat. Rather than impose consequences unilaterally (and here, I'm assuming the player has bought-in to the notion that the world will respond with consequences for actions and that those consequences are fun and interesting, not punitive), bring the player in on it.

"You just killed the caravan master and his guards and stole some goods. Obviously, this won't go unnoticed and consequences may follow. What do you imagine will happen in the wake of this act?" If the player says, "Nothing," well, then you know that anything you throw at him will likely be seen as punishment or simply not fun for him. But the player may surprise you and create consequences far more severe than you might have imposed yourself because said player will find it interesting: "A bounty is placed on my head by the merchant company that sponsored the caravan. I need to watch my back from now on." An interesting result... and the player has bought into it wholesale and given the DM some fodder for future complications.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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iserith, player input is fine, but you've essentially taken awya any element of suprise or mystry from the game. A bounty being placed on the characters for example may have nothing to do with punishment at all, but simply be a plot hook, completely unrelated to their actions be right or wrong.

To them you would now be punishing them, when in fact it is just a clever plothook. Your establishing that the DM needs permission to run plothooks.

And would you ask the same question to them about defending a merchant from some thugs harassing him (since it turns out they were from the thieves guild demanding protection money)

Esentially ruining your plots by exposing them to the players in advance and asking permission.

And then there are things your player Doesn't know. What if the players meet an NPC to them as "a dark brooding human who seems to know your names" the players decided to simply rob and murder him, and damned if he isn't the a powerful NPC (moreso then the players) with his friends standing nearby?

So do you ask the Players information and divulge these details to them? "say guys, you are about to do somethign extremely stupid and attack a high powered NPC in front of his friends, shall I play this out or fudge it and pretend hse was a low level grub all along?"

Or did you need their permission to have NPCs of a higher level then they are in the first place?  "sorry Mr. DM, but I don't recall us approving this NPC with us"

My opinion is that if you attack a powerful NPC like this, then you are likely going to die as a result (well other options of capture or being left for dead etc are there too)  but there is no way you are leaving unscathed.
"You just killed the caravan master and his guards and stole some goods. Obviously, this won't go unnoticed and consequences may follow. What do you imagine will happen in the wake of this act?" If the player says, "Nothing," well, then you know that anything you throw at him will likely be seen as punishment or simply not fun for him. But the player may surprise you and create consequences far more severe than you might have imposed yourself because said player will find it interesting: "A bounty is placed on my head by the merchant company that sponsored the caravan. I need to watch my back from now on." An interesting result... and the player has bought into it wholesale and given the DM some fodder for future complications.



This is essentially what I was trying to say, only with the caveat that a player who would say "Nothing" sounds like the type that just wants a sandbox to create mayhem consequence free and thats not the type of gamer playing at our table.

I know the players at my table well enough to know that they would anticipate and welcome consequences for actions as described by the OP. Generally they wouldn't do anything like that because they embrace a more heroic nature, but tabletop gaming does lend itself toward instant gratification and if they found some reason to "misbehave" they would understand it is the sort of thing that the laws of the world they inhabit would retaliate against and they would not perceive realistic consequences as punishment, I would do my best to make it interesting.

I suppose a lot of the time on these forums where I don't agree with the whole 'consult the players on everything' is because I already have a good understanding of what they want and expect. I ask them plenty of general questions so I don't have a need to rehash it for every specific event. I would advocate this approach when familiarity with players is an option and go for more sharing as iserith and centauri suggest when the players are less familiar.
iserith, player input is fine, but you've essentially taken awya any element of suprise or mystry from the game. A bounty being placed on the characters for example may have nothing to do with punishment at all, but simply be a plot hook, completely unrelated to their actions be right or wrong.

To them you would now be punishing them, when in fact it is just a clever plothook. Your establishing that the DM needs permission to run plothooks.



This is a common objection I see. The thing is, it's just not true, even though it would seem to be on its face. Unfortunately, I can't really explain it to you as it is fairly experiential. But there are plenty of surprises using this approach, even for the DM. I'd even go so far as to say that the surprises we have trump any I've ever managed to pull off when it's simply all coming from me as DM. Just last night, we were blown away by some of the things that happened. 

I don't use plothooks because I don't write plots. I write locations or situations based upon established fiction which comes out of the collaborative storytelling process. In this process, the players write their own hooks with the DM's help. The fun thing about players writing their own hooks? They always take them. Every time. The DM doesn't need "permission" to run plothooks. But the players don't have to bite and that, on some level, represents wasted effort on the part of the DM. I'd rather have their buy-in from the get-go.

This is really all about buy-in and collaboration. I'm not walking away from the creative process. I'm engaged in it on every level with my players. Where I'm not sure they'll like something, I get their buy-in with leading questions that frame their answers in the context of my input. This way, I'm sure that the content we're creating is something everyone enjoys, including me.

And would you ask the same question to them about defending a merchant from some thugs harassing him (since it turns out they were from the thieves guild demanding protection money)



Yes, I would. The answers they give me provide insight on what they will find interesting. Give them that, and you have instant engagement with no guesswork.

Esentially ruining your plots by exposing them to the players in advance and asking permission.



I do not believe it is in the best interest of the DM to write plots. Or for the game. I can't ruin a plot I don't create. Nor can the players.

And then there are things your player Doesn't know. What if the players meet an NPC to them as "a dark brooding human who seems to know your names" the players decided to simply rob and murder him, and damned if he isn't the a powerful NPC (moreso then the players) with his friends standing nearby?

So do you ask the Players information and divulge these details to them? "say guys, you are about to do somethign extremely stupid and attack a high powered NPC in front of his friends, shall I play this out or fudge it and pretend hse was a low level grub all along?"

Or did you need their permission to have NPCs of a higher level then they are in the first place?  "sorry Mr. DM, but I don't recall us approving this NPC with us"

My opinion is that if you attack a powerful NPC like this, then you are likely going to die as a result (well other options of capture or being left for dead etc are there too)  but there is no way you are leaving unscathed.



The chance of this is mitigated somewhat, again, by leading questions. I give them some information to frame the NPC and then ask a question about the NPC that suggests he's not someone to be trifled with or is well-connected or whatever. "A dark brooding human approaches you. It's Lord Malvent who has no small reputation for being a tough character. What did you hear happened to Ol' Rufus Redcreek when he crossed Lord Malvent?" Let the players fill in the gruesome details. That's more impactful than me simply saying, "He's brooding. And has some dudes with him. With swords." I've gotten the players to tell me why their characters know he's nobody to screw around with. Instant buy-in. If they go against that detail by attacking, they're going against their own contributions. (And if they do, hey, free choice, right? Let the dice fall how they may.)

If the dark, brooding NPC is there to deliver a plot hook, well, not a problem for me because I don't write plots and don't need plot hooks. There are no quest-givers in our games.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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I like what Chainsawhand is saying here.  I also have a good feel for what my group likes/dislikes.  We do communicate a lot both in and out of Character, but I don't sit there every session pre-game and say to them "ok, here's what's gonna happen for this session....".

Now I know that no one is saying to do that, that was just an extreme example.

I think the problem comes in more when dealing with people you don't know as well.  For example if you're running a one-shot game at a Con or something like that.  The other situation is if you add a new player that you don't know as well.

This is why I think it is important to have a Session 0 with your players.  Before you start a game discuss with everyone that you want to run a game and this is what you were thinking of.  Ask for their input as well and take it to heart, using this opportunity to fold their ideas and contributions into the campaign.  Also, it gives a great opportunity for everyone to come to an agreement on ground rules. 

For example, IF everyone agrees (before the campaign starts) that if someone decides to just up and kill Joe the Tavern keep/Tim the farmer/Phil the merchant/etc, that character is probably gonna get in some serious trouble, then if/when that happens it won't come as a big surprize and it would be punishment.

If a new player wants to join the group I would then sit down with them and let them know that "These are some rules that the whole group agreed upon."  I'd ask them what they think and if there's any of it that they have a problem with.  Most people at this point would either decide that it sounds good and would be more than willing to go along with the group and have a fun time.  Others might decide that the group isn't right for their style of play and decide not to join in.  Either way the Session 0 and/or individual talk for a new player/players can really prevent issues further down the line.

As I say a lot, I believe Communication is the key.
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