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I am running a campaign in The Dark Eye, the Year of the Griffon to be exact.

Due to having quite an abundant downtime by having taken initiative quite early

like 48 hours after most orks left the city to collect taxes in the country

the group had about 2 and a half months of downtime. That in itself is not a problem. Yet my group did spend the downtime in ways that start to make me think carefully: The siege-engineer did recruit all the carpenters and masons to fix up the walls

something that should/would happen anyway about now in the campaign, so he is just early on that front

while the Maga did start to research a variant of Greek fire. That luckily took her most of the time... But exactly there lies the problem:

My players are all students, some of them with at least a good degree of chemistry and physics knowledge (including the Maga, who has 2 semesters of chemistry behind her). As a result, they tend to come up with ideas that make incredible sense in themselves... but the rules for TDE explicitly state that some stuff is simply not possible. For the most part, they did swallow that gunpowder simply can't be made due to "it's just like that" and that the recipe for fireworks is not only highly complex but also so arcane, that nobody knows it.

YET this makes them try to figure out how to use the little Greek fire they managed to produce up to now (4 flasks) much more efficiently - as in getting more area of effect. While they did not yet test it, they had ideas like

  • How about training a dog to carry a jar of greek fire into the orc camp and then shoot the jar from the walls with a flaming arrow?

On ideas like this I did say up to now "I did look into that topic in the books and I will have to make a ruling as there are no rules written yet. I have a vague idea how to rule on it, but would you mind stopping to speak in hypotheticals and bring this up in character through action or prompting that in an officer's meeting?" Pretty much I try to go by In Character Action = In Character Consequences and Not Said = Not Done.

The idea to weaponize the results of a failure on the alchemy I could squat luckily: "You don't exactly know how you made it create the poison gas it made... you could try to recreate the experiment though. Do you want that?"

Up to now, the only three things they did act on based on sentences like those was to build up some siege engines for defense (a trebuchet, 2 catapults, repairing one ballista), re-inventing greek fire (which did blow up the Maga twice already for it is so dangerous to work with as established in the rules) and digging ramparts1 around the city wall (ongoing, they are about 2/3rds done) and will be finished by the end of the months.

just in time for the ork army to march up and encircle the town.


Safe for the inevitable lack of surplus downtime to pour into such stuff and resources that will come during the upcoming summer to winter,

How can I discourage the players from directly adapting ideas from modern warfare methods (like gas, using chemical waste (dioxin) or trained dogs with bombs) and instead staying in the established canon, that puts greek fire at the pinnacle of chemical warfare and lobbing corpses as the pinnacle of biological warfare?


1 - Yes, they made Ramparts, not moats.

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This pattern is sometimes called "play before play": attempting to determine play outcomes ahead of time, instead of by actually playing to determine the outcomes.

This pattern can appear for many reasons; in this case, the players are using it to avoid the risk entailed by playing to find out if their ideas work, by trying to establish an agreed outcome of their ideas in the relative safety of out-of-game discussion.

The solution is to divert players back into normal play by addressing the characters. "You're not sure if that will work until you try it. What are you doing right now?"

This:

  • Refuses to answer their play-before-play questions
  • Gives them a means to get their answers
  • Refocuses them on the in-character approach to solving problems

Play before play is a common pattern that needs a quick, repeatable fix. Telling them that their character won't know without doing it and asking what their character does do is effective and quick.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can't play-before-play also mean that they want to know how the game models this thing before committing to it? Sometimes, doing whatever seems useful just to discover that the game introduces unexpected consequences is hardly enjoyable. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Feb 13 '18 at 20:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel I don't know that there's a difference between calling it "risk" or "unintended consequences". Either way, this GM wants those things and other limits to be explored, discovered, and mitigated in-game. There are ways to mitigate risks (known and unknown) in-game, but metagaming is always easier… As a result, allowing risk mitigation in the metagame eliminates the motive to do it in-game. For many RPGers, that removes a richness of play that is important—as it seems to be for this GM. (TL;DR: I think that's a legit play style difference, but not universal.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Feb 13 '18 at 22:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I think the key thing is the "unintended consequences" are due to risks that weren't evident to the players but would have been clear to the characters. So when it goes wrong, it feels like "but my character definitely should have known that - they wouldn't have acted that way". How far the meta-questioning goes before it strays from "finding out what my already knows about this" to "trying to test a situation without the consequences" is hard to judge. But I'd definitely suggest there is at least some area where these questions aren't wrongly trying to avoid in-game consequence \$\endgroup\$ – Bilkokuya Feb 14 '18 at 17:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bilkokuya The problem I presented is "What would you rule if my character would do (idea A)", which is out of the context of the game. I am totally ok with questions like "Does my character know about (idea A)". \$\endgroup\$ – Trish Feb 15 '18 at 9:13
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This is a player problem, not a game problem

And as such, it should be handled outside of the game. Sit down with them and have an out-of-game discussion about how your current game is going. Ideally, schedule it at a time different to your usual sessions, or make it clear that today you won't be playing. The idea is to make sure your players aren't currently too invested in defending their in-game decisions by separating game from conversation.

Discuss the problem, but don't accuse

Lay out your concerns that your players' decisions can be / will be / are breaking the bounds of your current game. Maybe mention that you're worried they'll spoil their own fun by using too-advanced tactics. Ask for their buy-in to scale down their tactics to better suit your game.

The trick is to make it clear that it's not really about any one person being "wrong", just that their chosen attack angle isn't working within the system you're playing in. And that being said...

Consider changing games

It sounds like your players like bringing real-world tactics into their game. As part of your conversation, maybe talk about potentially switching to a different game that would support and reward that kind of creativity. If your players are into advanced, modern(ish) warfare tactics and you're not opposed to running such a campaign, you may find you enjoy it more!

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