I'm fairly new to D&D and especially DMing. I've started a new campaign with 2-3 people and more may be joining soon, which might make this question entirely useless to ask if the new players behave differently. The current players are more prone to violence than I was expecting. 2/3 of them choose violence over all other options most of the time.

I home brewed an open-world map with some complex characters and motives for them to explore, as well as an ongoing civil war, all wrapped into a post-magic-apocalyptic environment. What this means is that violence isn't necessarily NOT the answer, it just makes the game boring as a DM to have all your characters hack and slashed to bits by a goliath and barbarian who are more interested in combat than storytelling.

One example is they tried to attack a shop keeper to steal his flintlock pistol that they can't afford to purchase. Luckily the bard of our group had just joined the game, and since I had already explained this shop keeper was an ex-member of a mercenary group, he held his own until the bard could cast a spell to befriend the shopkeeper and stop the fighting. Luckily the bard player has DM'd for previous campaigns and has more experience with D&D, so he knows to not attack shopkeepers and perhaps takes the game more seriously.

Violence seems to be the option they're most prone to choosing. While I don't want to power-game them into a corner by making guards constantly spot them, or make the shop keepers over-powered warriors, how can I help push them towards choosing alternative solutions to problems that don't involve killing everything in their path?

Should I have a discussion with them out of game about their characters actions (not ideal)?
What type of scenarios can I place them in to potentially develop their characters away from that?
Or
Is this all a non-issue and I should just let them make their mistakes and get slaughtered / outlawed?

I told them they could do whatever they want and this would be an open-world campaign.

  • Hi John, did you have a "session 0" with your group, where you discuss what kind of game you all want and what your expectations all are? I'm guessing not, but just in case, that will inform any answer you might get. – NathanS Aug 15 at 15:17
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    I had informed them that I was working on a world in my free-time and asked if they would be interested in a DnD campaign using it. They like the world I pitched, and so they had a basic idea for what type of character they'd want to play. When we finally got all together over the weekend, I gave them a brief description of the world, important historical events, etc, and they built finalized character sheets there. So it wasn't a standard "sesson 0" but there was some thought put into it. Still pretty rushed though. – J0hn Aug 15 at 15:28
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    Related, though perhaps not a dupe. – KorvinStarmast Aug 15 at 16:19
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    @KorvinStarmast I'm reading / skimming that question now, thanks for bringing it to my attention. – J0hn Aug 15 at 16:21
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    @DanielZastoupil The specifics of the case; that question was a wide open kind back when those were Ok to have on the site. Also, in this case there is a Player who is not so disposed, and there is a likelihood of others joining who aren't presumed to be as violent in their tastes. Related, not a dupe. – KorvinStarmast Aug 15 at 18:22
up vote 43 down vote accepted

Punish them!

Not as players, but as characters. They want to murder random shopkeepers in a fleshed out world, go for it! Don't just have your guards "spot them", they should be actively looking for a hulking monster and his pet psycho that are murdering good people.

These people are not heroes. They are murderhobos, and they deserved to be treated as such. Murderhobos can easily be utilized for good, as long as they're actually willing to have a good outlet for their bloodthirsty habits.

They can:

  • Get arrested, then get hired by the king.
  • Be "drafted" into a mercenary army against the undead.
  • Be put in a prison of murderous cretins, for them to exercise their rights as terrible people.
  • Cause the local "corrupt" lord to send out soldiers to take them down, creating a temporary obstacle for them to focus on.

If you want to tug at the heartstrings a bit, maybe the locals are terrified of their presence and have formed ragtag militias to stop the pair. They might murder a shopkeeper, but would they murder teenagers and women?

DnD is a game of consequence.

You didn't pick featherfall that day after sleeping in a sky fortress. You decided to use your last Barbarian Rage before the big boss fight. That shopkeeper was wearing more magical stuff than he was selling, and you decided to try and rob him.

Don't coddle them. These people made their beds, and now they have to sleep in them.

You should give them the chance to learn from their mistakes, but they first have to learn that they are making mistakes.

After they have learned from their punishment

Imagine they are like a semi going 70. Now that they are going on the right side of the street, you can giving them directions to go. If they won't stop or slow down, you can at least give them appropriate options to plow through.

Maybe once they have some respect as the most dangerous pair in the land, NPCs will recognize that they're only in it to murder things, and give choices that reflect as such. An NPC could tell them of the evil necromancer is far to the northeast. They suggest going through Goblin Forest to the north, or Giant's Pass to the east. They have a little more choice now, and will influence the world in slight ways, like if they have cleared up Giant's Pass (which was once a trade route, or something).

  • I really like this solution. They'll need to pass through a town where they almost killed one shopkeeper, and lied / stole from another soon (both lies and attempted murder are easily exposed) so I'll likely have the town set up a blockade or something of the sorts to have them denied entrance, forcing them to stay in the wilds for the night. – J0hn Aug 15 at 15:50
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    Being denied entrance to the town may not be enough to curb the behavior in future towns they visit. I would let them into the town, but have all the shopkeepers either refuse to trade with them, or charge 10 times the price for goods and services. This provides a chance for them to get violent and dig themselves in deeper, so you need to be ready to deal with that appropriately (and teach them a good lesson perhaps). However, this also gives you a chance to give them opportunities to make amends with the townspeople somehow. A night staying out in the wild may not be much of a lesson. :) – R. McMillan Aug 15 at 17:12
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    I agree that blockade might be a little light. Why not jail? A jailbreak sounds like a fun adventure - but might be a little more boring if they had to do it twice. That way, it's both entertaining and has an incentive effect. – Pink Sweetener Aug 15 at 17:49

Zastoupil's answer is 100% the way to go. Using this as an opportunity to create a plausible civil society will pay dividends: your players may tone down their violence when they discover it has costs, and they may take your world more seriously if it feels a little more real.

That's the correct answer. But here's a fun one: redcaps!
enter image description here From Volo's Guide:

In the Feywild, or where that plane touches the world at a fey crossing, if a sentient creature acts on an intense desire for bloodshed, one or more redcaps might appear where the blood of a slain person soaks the ground. At first, new redcaps look like tiny bloodstained mushrooms just pushing their caps out of the soil. When moonlight shines on one of these caps, a creature that looks like a wizened and undersized gnome with a hunched back and a sinewy frame springs from the earth. The creature has a pointed leather cap, pants of similar material, heavy iron boots, and a heavy bladed weapon. From the moment it awakens, a redcap desires only murder and carnage, and it sets out to satisfy these cravings.

If your PCs are on a killing spree, perhaps they cause an epidemic of these lil guys. It's not as rewarding, probably not even as effective as using your player's behavior as a rich worldbuilding opportunity (as Zastoupil recommends), but it is a whole lot easier. Have fun!

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    This is my first time hearing about these fabulous little creatures and I already have an idea how I can start utilizing them! Much appreciated! Feywild is something I need to flesh out in this world and these redcaps might be a good bridge to start that process. – J0hn Aug 15 at 15:36
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    golf clap Nice application of an in game/in lore consequence to the murderhobo problem. +1. – KorvinStarmast Aug 15 at 16:22
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    As a followup, you might have the party, presumably via the less murderous PCs, be hired to deal with the redcap problem (and have the contract include figuring out where they came from and preventing further incidents). Don't tell them where the redcaps came from; let them figure that on their own when they realize what all the locations have in common. And then figure out how to deal with the fact that they've unknowingly accepted a contract to hunt themselves down. – Ray Aug 15 at 22:50
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    @Ray Yeeees that is so good. Chasing their own tails! The players would have to decide if they come clean or cover their tracks... or frame someone else! – Pink Sweetener Aug 16 at 12:37

Ask them what sort of game they want, and tell them what sort of game you want.

Some people just want to play a hack and slash game. It's very relaxing to murder things, and that's a perfectly reasonable type of game. You don't, and spent time crafting personalities for your NPCs. That takes time and effort.

As such, you should talk to them. Ask them what sort of game they want, and tell them what you want. If they just murder all your work then a lot of your time is wasted, so you should know whether they are willing to play nice.

Talking about morality is also important. It's a common house rule in many games that you don't wantonly murder civilians for petty cash. It's worth talking about that.

You could impose IC punishments as others have suggested, but going to the source is a more reliable solution.

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    My NPC crafting is/was extremely basic for the past session, so I don't feel like I'm losing a lot of hard work or anything. I explicitly stated I wanted them to do whatever in this world, but I wasn't quite expecting murderhobos as they were described. So I just want to make sure I can still steer them into an enjoyable direction with some story elements and consequences. I think I'll avoid talking with them directly about it, since I'm viewing it as an IC character issue for now. I'll use out of game discussion as a last resort. – J0hn Aug 15 at 16:19
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    If you're going to have redcaps, towns forbidding them entry, and militias as a major element, there's a high risk of your game not being as enjoyable as it could be. As such, talking to them about whether they'd like a game where they are denied access to all civilized society and monsters rampage as a result of their actions is worthwhile. – Nepene Nep Aug 15 at 16:23

Disclaimer: This might be less in line with other answers, as I come from a way more hack'n'slayish game style and role play is only done sparse - much like right from the KoDT pages :)


First and most usual way: the solar cannon - or in your case guards, well trained shopkeepers and accordingly equipped shops. There's a reason that pawn shops and gas stations in some areas and other focal points do feature heavy security.

Then there's a more urgent question you may want to ask yourself:

  • Is this really a playable setting?
  • Is it a world my players want to play/live in?
  • Are they interacting with the proper part of your world?

Worldbuilding is often handled as making up a fairy tale story with a way more trusty and positive assumed structure than in real life (happily ever after already built in). While such a fantasy may be enjoyable when describing it, it's easy to forget all the mechanics that are needed to keep a world like that running.

That's why I like when players come in.

Essentially they are code testers, looking for bugs - or in this case plot holes. A shop without any security will draw thieves - at least as soon as real (and independent thinking) humans are involved. Part of role playing, from a players perspective, is to try other behaviours out than they do in every day life. It is their urge to try your setting. They are not actors following a script.

The same way you got an image about the world you create, the players have an image about the world they want to live in. A real game world will always be a combination of both: it is shaped by the background you set plus the actions the player take. Many of their actions were not imagined by you in the first place. To me that's part of the fun DMing - after all, if one just wants people to enjoy his view, he should rather write a book (or game material), but not run a game.

One lesson here could be selecting only players that adhere to your world view and play along. The other is adapting the world to your players needs (and actions). It needs reaction appropriate to the setting. If they rob a squash stand at a farm house, the farmer will be helpless. If they try the same even at a small village, the villagers will react less than friendly - if they got proper information. In the End, even just a few villagers are a good force.

Unless the PCs go all out war, they will end up send away at least, but usually well beaten up, maybe even including tar and feathers. In a large village, even going berserk won't help much. It's often forgotten, that simple weapon stats are mostly meaningless when confronted with a mob or a well coordinated guard force in a confined space.

Then there's the question about if the part of your world, the PC are in, is the appropriate one. Letting a bunch of high-maintenance low-manners mercenaries into a well off low-security upper class neighborhood may be good for some laughs, but almost never works out as intended. They miss knowledge of the inherent rules (and the smell) of that environment. In some ways it's the same question as about having hired the 'right' players. Adapt the setting or change the players.

In some way your comment about sending them to the woods already shows how to move them into a more appropriate location :))


As always, it comes down to communication which depends a lot on your playing style.

One doing a strict DM vs. Player and everything has to be done in character will of course have a harder time to communicate flawed in-character handling by the player. This is much like in real life, when action and words are not the way they are intended - it's hard for the one acting to spot the flaw. Much like someone believing to be a generous and lovable paladin, while voiceing him more like an arrogant jerk. While this may as well be like in RL, it's more often than not unintended and based on the players poor play of a character's traits. Long story short, a roleplay-targeted style makes it next to impossible to communicate on a meta level about how characters are played. This leaves two alternatives:

  1. Go along and accept a killing spree by not opening a meta level
  2. Do it like a director handling his actors between takes. Pause the game and tell exactly what's wrong and needs to be changed.

In the end, it comes down to what has been said about who rules the play. The players due to their actions, or the world builder by definition. With many interrupts and corrections the world builder's fantasy will come thru and players are just actors - sans the money and fame motivating them to comply.

In a more relaxed play style, where metalevel between players and play of characters are intervened, a DM may as well point out flawed handling and give players a direct choice to think again. In my experience, that will lead in the long run to a better handling and understanding of the players about their characters, even including changes in their characters traits without being forced by the DM. Even more, since the meta part is handled with all (or at least the involved) present, players will start to look closer on all characters, help each other and improve the way the characters are played.

This doesn't stop characters from going on a killing spree - just now they will be way more serious about the implications - and accepting reasonable in context reactions by the DM. If they are playing low life, their city environment will be much like above mentioned pawn shops, pre payed pubs and fenced off shop keepers. Not to mention the many nice ways alignmental magic and change of alignment offers.

Bottom line, PCs are not ruining a setting, but improve its design and features.

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    I think we share a very similar mindset. I work as a software developer so I understand bug testing and good system design. I consider my players as users in a system, and I need to design that system to be able to handle any input they throw at it. It's part of what I really love about D&D because they throw things at me I'm not expecting, but this post was about stepping back and getting some more experienced opinions. I appreciate you taking the time to write this up. I got a lot out of it and it put some of my own thoughts into words. – J0hn Aug 15 at 17:46
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    :) Thanks. I very much remember a campaign I did set up many (>30) years ago for our regular group. It was ment to be a journey toward a sleuth seting within a production company. Six Pack Industries. In this world they where one major suplyer for dungeons etc. After all, where do all these stahes of items guarded by ever similar monsters come from when not being mass produced and shiped out? Long story short, the original goal was never reached, but they found a nice foe to hunt - and open endless amounts of stored, right leveled NPC-sixpacks for XP. Players write their own story. – Raffzahn Aug 15 at 18:00
  • @J0hn - I like your software system analogy, but don't forget that you also talk to your users about what they want to use your software for and, ideally, also discuss how they're used to doing those things so that you can design an appropriate interface. Your players aren't using the world you designed in the way you expected, which implies that they have different interests in it than you expected. You really should take the time to talk to them about what kind of game you all want to play. – Dave Sherohman Aug 22 at 10:52

Tell them they have options

I keep a Discord server for mine that allows me to communicate house rules, corrections, out-of-game RP sessions for development or non-combat stuff*, and to communicate with them in a dedicated place for things like this. I won't force them to do things in certain ways, but pointing out that they may have other options open to them helps to lead to them actually using those options. As they hear of interesting paths I may have set up for those options, they are more interested to look for alternative ways of doing things. Last session of 5 hours only saw two real fights I think and one of them they were clearly losing!

Online RP sessions

The asterisk above mentions this. Using a discord server, slack channel, or similar, can allow you to have your players wander about town and interact with NPCs, the town, downtime, etc, in a way that is not condusive to combat.

A couple campaigns ago I used this to great effect and ended up creating NPCs based on their interactions with the world that entirely changed the course of a PC or two's paths.

Unbeatable Encounters

Some number of your encounters are supposed to be essentially impossible. If you sprinkle these in every once in awhile you will end up with a chase scene, a new quest, interactions with NPCs to defeat The Thing, or similar.

By putting your players on the back foot you are engaging their other game-senses to figure out how to get around this new problem. If your players aren't the most powerful thing in the world, it's time to introduce a villain that shows them they have a long ways to go. By the villain occasionally making a mockery of them or introducing obstacles; you also make that villain visible, important, and give the players a goal of "Someday we're going to be powerful enough to take that on!"

Puzzles

You can't kill a puzzle.. most of the time. This is a great way to encourage exploration, thinking outside of the box, and similar. Puzzles in this case can include conundrums like "how do we scale this cliff with those archers shooting at us?" "How do we get passed this pit?" "What do the Runes on this door mean, and how can we use that information to open it?"

If you do these well they will feel as fun as a battle without you basically doing any work. My most memorable was a low-level pit trap someone fell in, which they needed to be lifted out of in their heavy armor, and then people rigged a rope system to get them across and whatnot; entertaining and probably an absurd hour or so of effort for what I thought was a throw-away trap.

This is your job

Your players interact with the world based on your lead, in some sense. If you want them to do more than kill everything you need to put them in situations where killing things is not an option.

Terrain, traps, puzzles, unbeatable enemies, characters who interact with yours while clearly not being a threat. Consider the thief who gains their trust and requires checks to figure out he's slowly pilfering their stuff.

  • I like the idea of a discord server with areas they've been to being possible to interact with as a text-based game. How exactly do you handle them not being in a specific location though? Currently they're out in the wild after completing a "go kill this guy" task I threw together, so it would be difficult for them to interact with the environment between this session and the next since I have plans to have an encounter at the start. – J0hn Aug 15 at 15:45
  • @J0hn I would often "backtrack" in time and allow it to occur out-of-sequence if it mattered. Maybe it's an event from their past or maybe it's a task to build weapon-X while they're out of town. I didn't tend to have an issue with it though. I would also sometimes assume it was "after" the current thing they're doing, and so they get the benefit of that out-of-session thing when it would make sense in game. – blurry Aug 15 at 19:05

I'm guessing none of your PCs picked chaotic assassins, and you don't want to be negative over the fact that they keep whacking every NPC that crosses their path...

  1. Literally beat them to the punch.
    Example: black blah you're about to sneak behind the shopkeeper when a disgruntled elf slithers from the alley plunging a dirk into his back. He falls into your arms, his comrade steals the item your PCS wanted and to make matters worse a woman fom the inn has just chucked two drunks out and has only seen said shopkeeper flop dead from your arms...
    Then they can get run out of town or tossed in jail.
  2. Let them attack the NPC.
    They could even get that knife they wanted, only to find out the coveted item is actually cursed. Now they have to spend every other day being the opposite sex or that they find out the NPC is a trickster God, who curses them, until they perform some act of contrition. The curse can be any gold they touch turns to ash. Every time they're going to bash an NPC they don't need to bash about, as the DM, roll any dice you want behind the screen and announce they made their Perception or Intelligence roll - then announce an alternative action.
    Example: it strikes you, before you're about to strike the shopkeeper, that he might be a more valuable ally in the long run because of his various market contacts. So PC's Name, you want to offer to buy him a drink, and win that knife in a card game and have a good contact, or chance him recognising you're the thug that robbed him?
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I could suggest opposite than others are suggesting. Instead of punishing the players, enable them. Try building a world where all people have same mentality as the players. In such world, people would have hard time trusting each other. In such a world, finding peaceful place to rest would be difficult. And staying in one place will quickly invite different and stronger group to rob or kill the players. Same with trade. Merchants will avoid players, unless they know them very well.

There might be cities where people don't immediately kill each other. But those cities will have strong defenses and won't allow just anyone to enter. You first need to gain trust of the townsfolk and even then, you can only enter if you dissarm yourself and put on "magic limiters". But outside those cities, there won't be anyone to help the players or provide shelter.

This will have effect of players as they won't be properly rested and constantly on edge of hunger.

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