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This question already has an answer here:

I have been DM'ing for a few years, and due to my upbringing I prefer to run games that don't really allow for what I consider to be evil acts in game. For me, that means using basic common sense and not doing things a law abiding citizen wouldn't do in real life, so no murder, torture, etc.

While I haven't had to enforce this rule very often, there have been times when I've gotten into arguments over what actually constitutes 'evil', and the argument is generally that D&D is a game, and that I am trying to enforce my own value system on the game/players.

Here is the scenario that caused the problem. I created a town in a kingdowm that had increasingly oppressive and binding laws, until the populace got fed up and deposed the ruler. One of the laws that wasn't repealed, however, was the law against selling alcohol. My intention was for the party to solve this problem through using charisma checks in discussion with townspeople to vote to drop the law, thus enabling them to open a tavern as a business for passive money in the game.

The players essentially ignored this and turned into murder hobos, and ended up burning down a different village to get their alcohol. I asked them several times if they were sure, and then started a different encounter planned for later in the game early. I was trying to get them to correct their actions to reflect the house rule on evil, but that backfired and they ended up quitting on the game completely, and I have not heard anything from the group since then.

This was very disheartening for me, and I'm not really sure if I had done something wrong in how I approach the game. What can I do to help resolve, or preferably prevent, situations like this in the future?

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marked as duplicate by mxyzplk Jun 7 at 0:00

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is important to understand your motivations: why is "your heart" telling you to ban evil acts? Is it really simply to keep PCs from in-fighting or do you just want a game that displays your own sense of morality? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jun 5 at 12:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ The site's most popular question is likely relevant here. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 5 at 12:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was just about to ask similar thing @Rubiksmoose posted: what is your real goal? There is huge gap between " the rule was put in place to discourage messing with the party" and "due to my own sensibilities" and first thing first, you need to figure out which one it really is about. Second priority would be listing acts you consider evil and your players do not. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jun 5 at 12:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @akixkisu This doesn't really sound like an alignment question. This is a question about the limits of acceptable behavior within the game (and how to create/enforce those limits). It sounds more akin to "I told my players I don't want a game with torture in it, and then my players tortured someone." \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Jun 6 at 14:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ See Can we save this question about an evil house rule? for discussion about this question. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jun 6 at 16:05
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Set the stage and provide accountability

I've seen this potential problem at tables I've been a player at and I've tried to address it as a DM. From my experience, there are two things you can do to help manage this. One sets the stage and the other manages the experience.

Setting the Stage

The first thing I do when starting a new campaign is to have a Session Zero - or at least cover a lot of the aspects of a Session Zero with the players.

This helps lay the framework for the type of game experience that we're trying to have and it's where things like player character actions can be discussed.

Some of the things I cover are that I try to avoid player vs player activity (stealing, attacking, etc.) as I think in most cases it creates discomfort and distrust at the table. And for my games, that's not the feel I'm going for.

I also discuss that their actions will have consequences in the game world. The world is still a living place and the things done in it, if observed, will be reacted to by the world.

This is the part that leads into the providing accountability.

Actions have Consequences

Once established that their actions will have in-world consequences, they may think twice about killing the random friendly NPC. Or stealing from the shop.

In a recent game, one of my players tried to peak into a cart that was currently being held by the gate guards. They did not try and do it stealthily, but I did have them roll an ability check and compared it against my guard's passive perception. The players rolled terribly and they were noticed. The player characters were under contract from the guard captain and it was reported up and they ended up having some of their pay reduced.

It's not that I want to limit the players, but I want them to understand that this isn't a free for all. That the world will react to them. That not only makes it more of a 'real' environment, but it also makes the players think (hopefully) more about how they're going to interact with NPCs.

Will they enjoy it and will they learn?

The question here is whether or not the players also want this type of game. If they do, great! If not, then you have to come to a mutual agreement as to the game everyone will have fun in and what that means to run it. Or you can also decide that the mix of player desires and your desires don't mesh - and that's okay! The goal here is for everyone to have fun. If someone isn't, then you either have to adjust or move on.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So much this. If your players burn down a village to get alcohol, have any NPCs who hear about this react like they burned down a village to get alcohol. They have made themselves a high-end public enemy of the state...adventuring parties should be getting hired to take them out the same way you'd hire them to take out a rampaging camp of orcs. Guards should do everything in their power to repel these characters so their town isn't next. And, of course, 'defenseless' NPCs should be terrified of them. \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Jun 6 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah. You don't have a "house rule on _______" if you don't lay it out before you start the campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Jun 6 at 21:26
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What behavior is ethical and what behavior is not?

This question fuels philosophical debates since the beginning of human history.

  • Is it ethical to sacrifice a few for the benefit of many?
  • What amount of self-defense is ethical under what circustances?
  • What kind of punishment is justified for what kind of crime and who has the authority to administer it?

So far, there is no consensus about these questions. So you can not assume that your players will find the same answers to these questions as you do.

So if you want a house rule "no evil acts", you need to define precisely what acts you consider "evil". Can the players kill a person who threatens their life? Can the players kill a person who threatens the life of someone else? What if the person only intend to cause injury but not death? What about people who cause only material damage (thieves, vandals)? What about people who cause moral damage (slanderers, blasphemers)? And how does all of this translate to creatures who aren't human but have human-like intelligence, creatures with animal-like intelligence or creatures specifically described as non-intelligent?

These are all questions you need to find a consensus to together with your players.

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