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My players have become entangled in a murder mystery in 1748 Prussia (using the Götterdämmerung system), and are trying to work out who the killer is while trying to both stay alive and avoid suspicion being directed their way. The outcome of this quest is rather open since they could basically give up and just run for the hills at any second (with the risk of being blamed for the murders).

Everything is set up in such a way that if the players can get the killer arrested by the authorities, they will be rewarded with an amount of money and an improved standing with the local law enforcement.

Problems arise if the players should take the law in their own hands and go after the killer in the pursuit of revenge. A monetary reward is not suitable should they find and kill the criminal, since their vigilante justice is pretty much murder in its own right. A simple skill point reward is always given on the completion of a "chapter" in my campaign and increasing such a reward is not appropriate either.

How should I reward my players for completing a quest in a way it was not supposed to be completed? Is it simply a failed quest since the optimal target was to make the killer face justice in court, or is the vigilante way just another way to completion?

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Since the players are operating outside of the law anyway, then there's nothing stopping them from keeping the Evildoer's unclaimed belongings and treasure (which you cleverly shoe-horned into the scene). –  BTownTKD Jun 30 at 15:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Regardless of the system used, there should never be pre-defined win/lose conditions.

Your game should be about the characters and how they interact with the story you are setting as a backdrop. Thus, quests (or adventures or story arcs) should not have a win/lose condition predefined by the GM. The GM should be responsive to what the players characters do, whatever that is. A quest, or any other story arc, ends when the characters reach a conclusion that is suitable for them. That could be running away, killing everyone, or falling into despair and misery. As flamma kindly pointed out, the GM should reward players for fulfilling theirs objectives.

It is, of course, possible to have a list of predicted outcomes with rewards and punishments prepared in advance. However, in my experience this is useless but in the most common and uninteresting cases, your players will do something unexpected. The mantra "no plan survives contact with the enemy" applies here. Because I have a very limited time to spend writing game plots, I never bother with this. It has always proved to be an utter waste of my time that could be spend better elsewhere.

Lastly, having the "good ending" mean that the GM might push the players to said ending thus railroading the story where the GM wants it to go disregarding the players' wishes.

In your case, you have three potential endings all of which are good from a story point. It is how the players (and their characters) react to those that make the story interesting: Do they not care? Do they seek to upheld the Law, however corrupt that is? Or do they become avengers like Batman or The Punisher?

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That's just what we was going to answer. Only addition: reward your players for fulfilling objectives, but not your objectives, theirs. –  Flamma Jun 30 at 8:58
    
@Flamma: You make a very good point, answer edited. –  Sardathrion Jun 30 at 9:23
    
Rewards should be in line with the solution? As AXoren pointed out, every way has its consequences and in the end, the reward is simply for playing your character? –  Marcus Wigert Jun 30 at 9:31
    
This is probably not appropriate to lay down as a blanket, universal proclamation for every RPG. There are, quite feasibly, quests with pre-defined win/lose conditions even in systems I play or know of. I could set those predefined conditions based on an understanding of the players, but that both meets and violates what you're suggesting. I could also toss aside those goals if the players break from the what we expect ("we" being "my players and I, having discussed it beforehand"), but nevertheless start with predefined goals and be responsive. –  doppelgreener Jun 30 at 9:42
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@Zachiel I think that it would feel unnatural to create a character as a reward giver instead of making the players go seek a reward. IE. they take the law into their own hands and then tells the victims family, thus earning a reward from them. As opposed to being "recruited" by the family. –  Marcus Wigert Jun 30 at 11:47

The in-world rewards should be whatever makes in-world sense. If the authorities have issued a bounty for capturing the killer, then they can only claim the bounty if they bring him in alive. If the authorities have issued a bounty on him, dead or alive, then dragging back his bloody corpse will work just as well for collecting the bounty - but it will make it harder for them to remove themselves from suspicion, since it could look like they just killed him to cover their own tracks.

For the metagame rewards, I don't think I would give out "an inflated [skill point] award" regardless of how they resolve the situation, but that's largely just the way I do things. I don't set up "quests" for my players to complete, I try to give them as much leeway as possible to accomplish what they want in whatever way they want, then determine what fallout results from their actions and give out whatever XP/skill points/etc. seems appropriate after each session or chapter, preferably with a known and at least semi-objective system established in advance for how many points that will be.

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You can look to the classical Alignment Axes to get a good feel with how to handle this forked path that your players have gone down:

  • Lawful Good: Complete the quest the 'right' way by bringing the criminal to court.
    • Hefty monetary reward
    • Renown and elevated status
  • Chaotic Neutral: Complete the quest by any means necessary.
    • No monetary reward
    • Other criminals are now fearing vigilante justice
    • Unofficial reward givers (victim's family, etc)
  • Neutral Evil: Don't complete the quest, but assist the antagonist in escaping.
    • Connections to whatever criminal underground they were a part of.
    • Possible monetary reward from criminal.
    • Being evil feels fun sometimes.

If you just leave things off at "Oh, you screwed up. That's it. No reward." The players will feel cheated. But, if you give them something more than that, it helps you build continuity that makes them feel like they didn't waste their time.

Now, in some very rare cases, when the players do some truly stupid things, that is when you should punish them with a lack of continuity, in which their actions really didn't make a positive difference to the narrative.

  • True Neutral: Interfering with the investigation by the authorities because you wanted to fondle the victim's daughter at every opportunity.
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This is a very D&D centric answer and won't work in any other system/settings that do not use D&D alignments. –  Sardathrion Jun 30 at 8:36
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Just because games don't use the D&D alignment system doesn't mean you can't use them for guidance. If you can categorize actions into buckets of some sort (these actions are evil, these actions break the law), then you can figure out how they affect the setting and what kind of things would result from them. –  Axoren Jun 30 at 8:38
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The D&D alignment is simplistic and don't represent well human psychology. It can work for D&D, but don't represent well real human motives like the prussian ones. –  Flamma Jun 30 at 9:01
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I think you are on to something not as simple as "good" or "bad". The reward should feel natural and appropriate for the "path" the players walk. –  Marcus Wigert Jun 30 at 9:34

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