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I am running a campaign in 4e, in which everyone is very very new, including myself. I have played a bit, but this is my first time DMing.

I have a Warlord PC who does not work with my overarching plans. His backstory also makes no sense as to how he would be level 1 — he's supposed to be a 40 year old veteran of war and the player insists it remain that way.

I've basically come to the conclusion that his character has to die. I have asked other friends who have played more, and they agreed with me. Their advice was to kill him mercilessly — like, he steps on a trap and is sent down a slide to fight a high level minotaur all by his lonesome.

My question is, as a new and hopefully long-lasting DM, how do I kill off a character? Do I make it fair? Is it better to instill the idea of hopelessness? Or am I overreacting and should let him play?

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Is the problem that his history does not match his XP? If so, you could always embarrass him instead of just kill him. Have several of his old squad mates show up and share a few drinks with the group while telling stories about the eternal rookie who just could never seem to learn anything. –  Wolfman Joe Aug 18 at 19:45
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To be honest, it is generally stated in most literature that the adventurers are lucky to be level 1 or higher at all and most people in the game worlds never see that high. It is harder in 4e because of character scaling to picture this in implementation, but it may have just taken the character 24 years of battle to realize the steps to move to "level 1 Warlord". Warlords in particular are going to be prone to this because they are consummate leaders. –  Aviose Aug 18 at 20:32
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I'd recommend changing your title to something to the tune of "How can I deal with a character that does not fit in my campaign?" rather than specifying killing them, for two reasons. 1) Killing off a character is one solution, not the underlying problem. meta.stackexchange.com/a/66378/266816 2) The fact that your asking how to kill your a PC is probably why the question is getting downvoted. –  DrewS Aug 18 at 21:08
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If your friends suggest you kill a character because he's creative and not a puppet of yours I welcome you to this community and hope you benefit from our experience. If you plan to stay a DM for a while..don't kill characters. A DM/GM's role is not to kill. –  MrJinPengyou Aug 19 at 0:49
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It is interesting to note that in some earlier editions, the level title for a first-level fighter was “veteran”. –  Robert Fisher Aug 19 at 15:18

8 Answers 8

up vote 56 down vote accepted

Short answer: You do not.

You say that he does not fit in with your plans as a DM. But the thing about being a DM is NOT that you tell a rigid story that your players walk through: instead you put them in a series of situations, see how they react and frantically try to fit your story to it. I understand that your story is your baby and the PCs all try to spike it to the floor like a bunch of murder-hobos would do with an orc baby, but that's how it goes.* One of the most difficult things as a DM is to let go of what you want to do and instead act on what the players do.

Not to say that there are no alternatives to your problem.

Talk to the player. Murdering a PC just because they "do not work with your overarching plans" is a downhill highway to getting a pissed off player. Instead, talk to them. Discuss this problem with them (though please LEAVE OUT THE MURDER PART) and see if you could reach some kind of compromise. What is this reason this Warlord is a 40 year vet and still only level 1? What is his actual story? Again, do not bring up killing them: the character is as much the player's baby as the story is yours.

Roll with it. One of the most interesting things as a DM is dealing with the bizarre stuff your players come up with. See what they want to achieve (especially the player in question), and try to match your story with this.

Talk to the players. The most difficult one. For the players, roleplaying is about experiencing a story, not being told one. They want to take part of it instead of being along for the ride like a rollercoaster. Ask them what kind of direction you want to take the game in, see how this matches your kind of story, and try to match it. If it works, great! If not, I'm afraid you'll have to compromise.

(* This is not to condone the murder of babies of any kind. Killing babies is a Bad Thing.)

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"... experiencing a story, not being told one." is a great way to put it. –  MadMAxJr Aug 18 at 19:52
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Yeah, if players wanted that they could read a book –  Phil Aug 18 at 22:30
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Relevant to "One of the most difficult things as a DM is to let go of what you want to do and instead act on what the players do.": When planning a campaign, should I know what the ending is before we start? –  SevenSidedDie Aug 19 at 0:18
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+1 for not advocating the murder of babies. –  Sandwich Aug 19 at 5:52
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+1 for most Roleplaying Games and this Situation. But I also have DMed some great stories, which required certain characters and others were out of the question for my desired setting. - I also have played and DMed almost complete open-world settings, as well as very tight railroaded storylines... Both have their merits, and call for a fitting amount of comprimise between DM and Players –  Falco Aug 20 at 11:14

Being a Killer GM is just as bad as being a Murder-hobo player

The only real way to frame this answer is to show it in a similarly inglorious light and hope to highlight why your initial instinct is wrong. As much as players have a responsibility to make their characters interact with the world you create; as a DM you also have a responsibility to actively integrate those players PC's backstories into that world.

Being level 1 does not restrict age or experience

4th edition D&D PCs are already heroes and exemplars of their respective races and professions right from the get go at level 1. Unlike some previous editions where a level 1 character was roughly equivalent to a common NPC, 4th edition characters start out as heroes and adventures, albeit on a small scale in early heroic. Age has no mechanical bearing on the game whatsoever, so its perfectly reasonable that the level 1 Warlord is a 40 year old grizzled veteran of many wars who has reached hero status and joined up with some equally powerful characters to do some good in the world.

Many of the official 4e backgrounds and character themes are similar to that of the player

Retired officer and veteran sergeant are the immediate examples that spring to mind, both feature characters with a few years under their belt and the mechanical benefits they receive tie directly into this. Other character themes and backgrounds equally speak of a vocation or experience that happened before the Character became a level 1 PC.

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The problem is not the character. That's just a symptom of the problem.

Either:

  1. The player chose to make a character that didn't fit with what you communicated
  2. You failed to communicate sufficiently what the campaign was supposed to be about

Notice that in either case, the fictional character isn't really the problem but one of communication and things at the table between you, and that player.

Killing off the character doesn't solve the problem - either there's a social contract issue on the part of the player or there's a social contract issue with regards to how you communicate - and the solution is to discuss it and work out what kind of game you want to run and what kind of character fits with that.

If the player is doing the "let me make a weird character that is totally left field" then the answer is "Hey, we agreed to play a game about X, how does this fit in?"

If the problem is you didn't communicate well enough, then the answer is, "Actually, the campaign is trying to be like XYZ, and your character doesn't fit with that. Is there a way we can modify the idea to better fit with it?"

There may be the result that the game you want to run and the game the player wants to play are completely different. Thank them for their time and point them to any other groups you know that might be running a game in that fashion and let them know you'll contact them if you do start running that style of game.

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I agree with you actually. I did not communicate well. It was kind of just started one night, and wasn't given much time to prepare. That is my fault. I will take that advice to heart. –  DismalLabTech Aug 18 at 23:18
    
Usually for pick up games I'll go to a game that locks in the details (pregens, situation, etc.) so there's less room for miscommunication on that point. (or, sometimes, I'll write pregen scenarios ahead of time so I can pull them out on short notice for my favorite games). –  Bankuei Aug 19 at 1:01

There are two aspects to your question:

1. Character fit for your plans

You haven't said much about how this character doesn't fit with your overarching plans. Depending on what that exactly that mismatch is, you have one of three problems:

  1. You've insufficiently communicated your game world to your players. Since the game is full of imaginative options, it seems very likely that a mismatch will occur. To avoid this, set the guidelines before characters are conceived. In one game I played, I created a wizard in order to fill that role in the party, only to have the game start with "arcane magic is punishable by death in this world". Whoops, there went my time coming up with that character -- I hadn't signed up for that burden. (On the other hand, if that had been explained beforehand, I might have created a secret wizard intentionally.) Work with your players.
  2. Your plans could be more flexible after all. Remember, this is a collaborative story. Make situations, and see how the characters react, and grow the story from there. Maybe a character that wasn't supposed to fit is actually perfect for breaking a cliche and making something new.
  3. You and the player want to play a different game. This happens sometimes. This falls partly into communicating the game world, but also communicating the style of play and overall things that you enjoy. Maybe there really isn't a place for what the player enjoys in the game you want to run; in that case, either you'll need to find a compromise together, or else... well, there are other gaming groups.

2. Cognitive dissonance over the experienced level 1 player

If this is your main gripe, my advice is straightforward: let it go. Even in editions of D&D where 1st level isn't super-powerful, class levels are still rare. Most experienced soldiers aren't PC-classed fighters, let alone a warlord. From the class description, I think it's pretty easy to see how years of experience might help one grow into that role. He enlisted as basically a kid, maybe the youngest of a large family, used to following rather than leading. But, he's been through things, he's learned things about people — and monsters. He's always been bright, but it's taken years to develop the self confidence to lead — and his charisma has grown as he's aged... Or, one of a dozen other such explanations. Ask the player to come up with one — this kind of thing is RPG gold.

Since you are playing 4e, particularly remember that this game system is not meant to logically model the "physics" of the universe. The classes, abilities, and everything are meant to support the narrative structure of the group's imaginary cinematic adventuring experience. Trying to force these things onto a whole consistent universe is bending the system. On the other hand, saying "I want to play a 40-year-old war veteran with combat leadership abilities... looks like warlord is the class for me" — that's basically doing it right.

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Nice first answer. Welcome to RPG.SE! –  SevenSidedDie Aug 19 at 1:29

You would be overreacting.

The reason players gather together to play is, of course, wanting to have fun. This should be true for every person in the gaming group including the game master and it should be everyone's responsibility to work towards this goal. If people are entertained they keep coming to games and they positively contribute to them. If not, all sort of social dynamics happen, including acting passive aggressive.

Unless you have already decided you want this player to stop playing with you guys and provoke him until he leaves (and I hope it's not what it's happening - if so just tell him to leave and it will save lots of drama), killing his character "because he refused to make it my/our way" is a bad thing to do. It clearly tells the player that he has no control over the narrative (isn't D&D supposed to be a collaborative game where you tell the history of your character in a fictional world?) and that if he wants to play he should do what you think is OK.

RPG history is full of similar episodes where a player, wanting to have fun with their friends / willing to keep playing until the fun part arrives / wanting to get the same positive experience the other players seem to receive, starts roleplaying by guessing at what the DM wants, instead of making the fun and interesting decisions that people often do when cultivating their own ideas.

Many other answers talk about the D&D 4e paradigm of "heroes at level 1" or how to ask this player to get in tune with the rest of you, so I won't repeat it myself. I'm more concerned that you understand what the consequence of this deliberate killing-revenge could be and why it's not auspicious: by planning his character's death you take a social problem and mask it with game mechanics, turning it into blackmail — "if you do it again, I will take away your fun." I guess you can see why this is not a good thing to do.

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Killing them off is just asking for problems. They like what they're playing and they probably don't have a problem with it. Throwing him into an unfair combat with the express intent to kill the character might not be your best option.

Ultimately you want this player to play a character that is more in the guidelines of what you expect at the table. You should probably discuss this with them directly to address the issue.

Forming a mob opinion against the player isn't going to help them feel like a part of the group in the long run.

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Personally, I would not kill a PC on purpose. In my current campaign, there is a cleric of a god whose desire is to be the only god on the world, which involves total extinction of every non-believer. There is also another PC following a different diety in the party. Instead of telling the first player that he should play a different character or follow a different diety, or killing him off on purpose, I built a story around the conquest of his diety's army and it turned out to be interesting and fun.

But as to your question, you seem to be determined to kill of the PC. So how to do it?

My best advice is, no matter what, make it interesting and challenging. Give the player the feeling that he had a real chance of surviving. The best way to achieve this is constructing a situation or encounter where you, the DM, are not sure yourself whether he will be able to survive or not. I would not recommend to put him in a death sentence scene on his own. Have the other PCs involved, but have the main threat focus on him.

Again, the most important thing is to give the player the feeling that he had a chance to survive. Otherwise he might be highly demotivated in the future, if the feeling that the DM might kill off any character at any moment persists.

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I go further. In most games I gm, the players have an express guaruntee that their PC will not be killed without their consent (and then heroicly). Of course, other horrible things can and will happen, but they will be able to play that PC until they chose to stop or the game breaks up. –  TimothyAWiseman Aug 18 at 20:20

As others have said, killing him is probably a bad move (and in general, trying to railroad your plot too much will probably be frustrating for your players at other times). I'll focus on one part:

I have a Warlord PC who does not work with my overarching plans. His backstory also makes no sense as to how he would be level 1 — he's supposed to be a 40 year old veteran of war and the player insists it remain that way.

Then work with the player to solve this; maybe offer him a couple ways he could make it fit, for example:

  • His character used to be a powerful wizard (war veteran and all that), but had a terrible accident that made him lose all his power (he can figure out the details), so he made a deal with an ... Entity to get some of his power back. And now he has to start anew.
  • He's from an influential family and most of his "war veteran" experience was in the back lines, as a non-combattant officer - a loudmouther amrchair tactician. Until the tide turned and his family lost it's prestige and influence, so now he has to get his hands dirty and is realizing how out of touch he is... fortunately he still has the help of some of his family's "friends".
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