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To clarify: By something that isn't supposed to be killed I mean things that are out of mortal's power range.

As far as I can tell this isn't a system specific problem. I experienced the same thing with Call Of Cthulhu as well as World Of Darkness as well as D&D with a variety of people. I always seem to get a player who plots to kill Cthulhu or Cain or Lady Of Pain.

I don't want to pull the 'Stop talking about it or I'm kicking you out' since it is rarely done during the session time. It usually comes up after a gaming session.
I tell them no and the rest of the group tells them it is impossible as well. This does not stop the player from arguing about how it should be possible despite everyone telling them how their plans won't work. I feel that after each such conversation my players feel less attached to the game.

What I wish to ask is how can I deal with this argument that seems to crop its head up no matter the system nor the group without threatening people?

To answer the comments.

It is impacting my game in the sense that after the game the person in question starts talking about how he has a new plan to kill X and the groups focus shifts from talking about the next session and discussing the cool moments in the game to explaining how his plan will not work which makes everyone miserable.

Also the player in the other question does this too but it is not specific to him. I just recognized the pattern happening over and over again with different situation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @RobertColumbia I think you are misunderstanding the question. There are a number of games where somethings aren't statted, and aren't killable. This problem seems to be in the category of Q: Can you kill the wind? A: No But a PC want to try to kill the wind anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 22 at 16:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why not let the player confront the entity and carry out his plan? Then the other players can pick up his remains with tweezers and put them in a tiny urn to show to the next character that this player creates... \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Hollands Jul 23 at 8:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is there no way to set up a "lesser bad" that the player could vanquish with their plan and have them think it is the big bad during the event? I mean throwing away a player's guided effort is kinda rough. \$\endgroup\$ – lucasgcb Jul 23 at 8:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ interpersonal.stackexchange.com/q/22483/32 possibly related \$\endgroup\$ – Zaibis Jul 23 at 14:13

13 Answers 13

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I have a personal favorite line I give to players who are trying to argue about this:

If you encounter [insert unimaginably powerful being here] in-game, you're welcome to try your plans.

And if they persist...

Y'know, honestly? I'm not interested in arguing about this. Feel free to plot and plan all you like, if you encounter [PC's future cause-of-death] in-game, you're welcome to try your plans. At that time if I, as the DM, figure your idea would work...then cool! But I'm not going to tell you, cuz that would be spoilers. Just...bear in mind...if your plan wouldn't actually work against that creature as established in the lore, your character is not likely to survive the attempt.

As you have stated, this player is not actually disrupting the game itself with their planning and plotting--so it seems to me that the main thing you want is to terminate the arguments. The simplest way to do that is to not argue.

As soon as you engage this person on their myriad ideas to shoot them down, you're prolonging the discussion. This is a similar effect to the "Don't feed the trolls" policy across the internet in general. By engaging with them, it feeds the argument and makes it go on longer. You don't have to use my line...but when you do not want to engage in a debate, dismissing it is frequently better than engaging with it.

Once done...you have two basic options.

Option A: Simply make sure the party doesn't encounter one of these beings. It's all theorycraft at that point and thus harmless. And by refusing to engage in the debate (and getting the rest of your players to do the same), it's essentially diffused.

Option B: Should the player encounter that being and try their plans...let things play out as they ought to. Player's character gets eviscerated, eaten, locked in perpetual orbit around a point three seconds to the left of the future, mazed, or otherwise thrashed. Expect protesting and whining, and having to put your foot down as the arbiter of the rules.

A line I dropped in that case was

[Horrible murder machine] has lived for eons--do you really think you're the first person to try that?

Player wasn't particularly happy with me, but I moved things along, they rolled up a new character, and we carried on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, this is my approach too, and a specific example of a larger policy I tend to use which is that all investigations and attempts need to be done from the PC's perspective in the game. Other discussions between sessions are just with me as a person who isn't about to give them more information that their PC doesn't already know. In-play investigations can only reveal what their PCs can learn in-game from observation, or ideas and opinions other characters in the world might share or have written down. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Jul 22 at 18:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Played with a DM back in the AD&D days, and whenever a player stated they were attempting something that the DM had already decided was not going to happen, he would grab a fistful of dice, drop them back on the table instead of rolling them, and then announce the predetermined result. Eventually the player got the point. \$\endgroup\$ – EvilSnack Jul 23 at 3:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ "this player is not actually disrupting the game itself" ... oh but he is. If he is truly "making everyone miserable" that is affecting the group, which is affecting the game. \$\endgroup\$ – CGCampbell Jul 24 at 15:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CGCampbell by "the game itself" I mean "He is not interrupting play." Obviously he's affecting the group which is why I offered a solution instead of just saying "It's not a problem, carry on with your life." \$\endgroup\$ – guildsbounty Jul 24 at 16:52
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A revamp of Session Zero should resolve this

I don't want to pull the 'Stop talking about it or I'm kicking you out' since it is rarely done during the session time. It usually comes up after a gaming session.

You've got a bit of an expectations mismatch. What you need to do is to revisit Session Zero with everyone before the next play session starts. You believe that you have the support of all of the other players. This is a classic example of using the tool for handling small group dynamics to reach consensus. Voting is one such tool.

But before you use a small group vote1, if you think that the player will listen, you can try to get them to stop bringing this up away from the table by telling them directly, in private, roughly this (use your own words):

I really don't want to talk about this away from the table. What else do you want to talk about?

And if that doesn't work, then proceed with the vote.

You are the GM:

  1. GM: OK, let's get on the same page. I am not running a game where Cthulu/Lady of Pain/Cain (or whomever) can be killed. Attempts to kill them will always fail. No dice rolled, no skill combinations, no cool moves. {This entity} is as permanent as Gravity is here on earth. Do we have any questions on that?
  2. Players, 1 through X: Offer opinions/discussion.
  3. GM: OK, let's vote on this.
  4. Vote.
  5. If as you say, the other players are on your side, you then tally up the votes.
  6. GM: OK, the vote is 5 to 1 that this is the game we are playing. Now let's play. I will not entertain any further discussion of this topics, since it has been decided here and now.

    If they ever bring it up again, you must remain firm.

    "Sorry, we voted on this, no. That's a closed issue. What else do you want to talk about?"

And stick to your guns.

Your problem isn't whether or not this thing can be killed. The problem is that this player does not accept your ruling as a GM and is also not accepting the consensus of the other players at the table.

Your other problem? Your group's inability to establish a small group consensus.

For further tools used in building small group consensus, read here.

Caution

If the vote goes against you, the GM, then you need another session zero to figure out what game you all are playing. Work out an agreement with the other players. If you have the entire table wanting to kill the unkillable, and that isn't the game you want to run, don't run it. Ask someone else to GM.

Experience

Lots of experience in sticking to my guns after making a decision as GM and using voting to resolve disagreements in small groups (in game situations and out). And a few experiences where a GM stepped down when the group consensus went in a different direction. (Common observation by GMs in cases like this is something like: "I don't get paid enough for this aggravation.")

The conversation typically goes something like this:
"Neat idea, it doesn't work that way in this game world. No, this isn't negotiable. Another GM may like that, but not this one."

I've also seen loads of DMs and GMs do the same thing. Eventually, say No and back it up while getting the support of the other players. It's a thing that each GM now and again needs to do.


1 This was added to the answer thanks to a very helpful discussion with @guildsbounty. It is a little unclear how long and to what length "away from table" discussions have gone on, or tend to go on in this case, so the "give the benefit of the doubt" recommendation as a prelude to firmer measures may fit this situation. Only you, knowing all of the players personally, can gage that.


Has this approach (small group voting to establish a norm) worked for me?

This came up on meta, the question of whether or not using voting as a way to solve a social disagreement in a small group has ever worked for me.
Yes. I've been doing that since Boy Scouts.
Have we done that in a TTRPG?
Yes. In the vast majority of cases it clears the air and off we go.
There is of course the notable exception of our group (college age) putting to vote a difference of approach that killed the Traveller campaign dead on the spot. (In retrospect, maybe that group was already dysfunctional and we just didn't realize it).
As with any problem that is rooted in the social dynamics of a small group, it will depend heavily on the people involved. Per the caveat section above: you may learn some things about your group that you didn't know when you use this approach.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jul 23 at 12:51
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I want to heavily advice you to not do what KorvinStarmast's answer is advising. For different reasons, but first I want to point the most important thing out:

since it is rarely done during the session time. It usually comes up after a gaming session.

I might be wrong about this specific person. But in general there is a fair chance, that this person actually doesn't intend to kill something that isn't supposed to be killed. They aren't not respecting the setting you as the GM are describing, the fact that this person rarely comes up with this within gaming time is a hint on this.

I am seeing here an X/Y problem. A question that might have found better suite on IPS as I think here is an interpersonal problem the source, rather than an same table/RPG related problem.

Let me explain why, as I could pretty much be this person you are referring to.

I am someone, I enjoy having discussions. I enjoy sharing my fantasy with others, even if I am very well aware that my fantasy leaves the realm of what will be able to happen, I do this just because I enjoy sharing my thoughts. Now you (and probably the others of the group) understand it as direct proposal of actions the groups characters should take. You put it down by proving why it doesn't work. And think it should be dealt with by that, but then this person just comes up again with other weird ideas. That is, because no one told them "We don't want to have this kind of discussions!" You just proved them wrong by joining their discussion. But if that person does it for the sake of having a discussion, or even more, what it might be in my case.... EXCITEMENT, they enjoy the world and setting being described and can't do anything but let their fantasy circle around it and imagine what all could be possible in that world... Then they might not realize that the disproval of their theories indicates that the whole discussion isn't welcome.

So before you take any passive aggressive actions, make sure they understand that no one likes having this discussions (or better, before check with your group if they disprove him cause they don't like discussing it, or they just enjoy the discussions but disagree with him). And if it THEN doesn't stop, further actions could be considered.

I feel obligated to point this out. As if I was that person, and was just enjoying the setting and was really excited about it what made me have all this ideas about how the one could kill god X or what ever.... and I was sharing it and the reaction would be a session zero being called in where I without any warning got confronted with a vote, judging about my personal behavior how to express my personal excitement, I would feel like I was being put on trial... I would feel hurt... so hurt that just considering it makes me sad while writing this. And I would be upset. So please ask yourself, you guys really want to risk hurting and upsetting someone who actually is enjoying the game and eventually excited about it but possibly expressing it different from what you would expect, just to avoid being direct and asking them to just stop it as it is makes you have a harder time getting in to the mood of embracing the setting?

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    \$\begingroup\$ (Just a side note: we handle all kinds of IPS questions here, so long as they are about, or arise from, or impact a roleplaying game, because the social/interpersonal aspect of RPGs is inseparable from them. Such questions have been on topic for nearly a decade. It’s not necessary to suggest people go to another SE, and some of the membership quite dislike seeing such suggestions, since it incorrectly suggests they’re off topic.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 23 at 16:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSideDie I did not suggest at all it being off-topic here. My point just was that this specific problem might be viewed from a RPG seperable perspective and that that everyone here focused on the gaming aspect, while in the core that possiply isn’t the problem. I dont think it is wrong here. I just think on IPS that aspect possibly had received more clear highlight. Didnt wqnt to step on anyones toes. \$\endgroup\$ – Zaibis Jul 23 at 19:57
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I've run and more often been in games where certain entities are just unkillable either because it just can't be done by anything the players have access to, can't be done at all, or the lesser case where the infinitesimally unlikely success would mean the end of the game. (Depending on your implementation, think "Killing Dworkin," in an Amber game.)

Contrary several of the other answers, I don't regard this as necessarily a Session Zero concern. (It can be if you want it to, I just don't think it is necessarily so.) I think it's actually a bad idea to put this up a vote.

What I've seen done, and done myself, is a two-tier approach:

  • Tier One: Impress the information on the players through the NPCs. If enough NPCs in a position of knowledge and power declare something to be impossible, and describe the reasons why ("Dworkin is one with the Pattern, killing him destroys everything. Even Brand didn't do that, he just damaged it/them,") it usually sinks in. Usually.

  • Tier Two: Impress the information on the players directly, as with other extreme, fundamental misapprehensions about the game. "Look, This is not fair or right. I cannot let you continue to operate under the impression that this thing is possible. It's not. It's not a matter of finding a way to do enough damage or to bypass their protections, or some other matter of mechanics. This isn't about mechanics, because there is no mechanic to do this. You're not playing in a game where this is possible, and it's not open to negotiation. The best case outcome is your character's death."

    (At heart, Tier Two is not unlike the speech I give to Pollyannas (polly-hobos?) who find their way into a dark and gritty campaign, or to murder-hobos who are playing in a game where the forces of civilization will hunt them down and kill them for egregious behavior: "You are not playing the game you think you are, and you are picking a fight you can not win. And possibly dragging the other characters into it against their will." Being really blunt and up front about that is vital.)

In my grumpy dotage, I tend to cut to Tier Two pretty quickly. I really don't want my players laboring under bad beliefs about the game, and mostly players are receptive if you don't overdo the bluntness and pole vault into rudeness or abuse. But I'm sorry to say I've seen that fail, too. It does not end well. It's usually suicide-by-GM, or the player leaving the game by mutual consent because they're not going to get from it what they really want to get.

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Since it's not happening in session time, this isn't really a gaming problem. You have folks who enjoy arguing for the sake of arguing, and happen to choose impossible tasks in a game as their preferred argument.

If you don't like hanging out with argumentative people, don't try to win unwinnable arguments, stop inviting them to your house. The problem with arguments of the form you describe is that, being an imaginary world, they can always imagine some way of doing what they want to do, they just have to ignore the fact that they're not the sole arbiters of how the world works. You can't win this argument. Don't have it.

If you don't want to kick them out immediately, the list of approaches to try would be something like:

  1. Explain that in your game world, these creatures are simple facts of the world, on the level of elemental forces. Sure, you can fight them, but it's like fighting the Sun, the wind, gravity, electricity, etc.; there's no practical solution available to mere mortals. If they want to run their own game, they can do it their way, but it's a conversational dead end in your game. Then change the subject.
  2. Point out that argumentative navel gazing isn't fun for anyone else. For the people it is fun for, ask they deal with it on their own time.
  3. (In private) Make point #2 more directly, and note that you can't keep inviting them if they're going to ruin things for everyone else. Yes, it's a threat. But a threat is better than ejecting them without warning.
  4. Stop inviting them to the game. Feel free to explain why if you like.

Note that you can do #3 in the form of #4 if you prefer to avoid threats. Tell them you're not inviting them back, explain why, and leave the ball in their court. If they promise to stop and request an invite back, go ahead and offer it to them if you like. It's the same result as a threat, but one in which they have to take the initiative to change their ways.

I'm sorry there isn't a better way to handle this. People are harder than games, and sometimes the answer is "stop hanging out with people that prevent you from enjoying yourself."

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Let them try, then kill their character.

The reason that these characters are out of the PC's weight class is because they're supremely powerful beings that the PCs can't hurt, and can easily one-shot them. So, if a player insists on trying to kill them, let them try, since trying to kill them is possible within the game - it's succeeding at it that isn't.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you think the GM should warn the player beforehand that they can't win the fight ? \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Jul 23 at 8:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PierreCathé If the player is trying to kill a godlike NPC like Cain, Cthulhu, or the Lady of Pain, and it's not a game like Exalted where the players are supposed to be able to kill gods, I think that a reasonable player should realize that they shouldn't be able to win that fight. \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Jul 23 at 8:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure, but at this point I'm not sure we're talking about reasonable players ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Jul 23 at 8:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you're going to try this, might I suggest it be a "meta-quest"? End a session in a faire. Make copies of the characters sheets & inventories. Then, start the next session with the players finding a "Fortune Teller" who gives them the opportunity to "live a possible future". Suddenly, they are elsewhere, several levels more powerful (with gear and abilities buffed to match) fighting through the god's minions. The session ends with the god no-selling their most powerful attack, them "dying" in 1-hit and waking up in the faire, and gaining XP for realising they can never hurt the god \$\endgroup\$ – Chronocidal Jul 23 at 12:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chronocidal This is a great idea imo and could be an answer \$\endgroup\$ – Toadfish Jul 24 at 18:57
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Well, I have encountered with similar problems before. One of the key reasons of this problem is, some players think that they are a key character in the game or any action you took against their action will end the campaign and that makes them think that grants them some immunity/invincibility. If a person wants to assassinate a high-rank officer, tell him that is nearly impossible because of high security, and if he insists, then let him try and get killed. He will start with a new character with no reputation, limited money and worse items, standard handicaps of new character.

This is not a punishment but the hard way to learn the life in your campaign. This is not a Hollywood production and good guys do not always win or each heroic-looking action may not succeed. If they try to do a hard-to-succeed action, then they have to consider the consequences.

Also, in my opinion, such things should be argued in-game between the characters, not by the players.

As the game-master and players; you should argue the style of the game or a specific action is suitable for the character (alignment issues etc). But arguing about what to do or what not to do in the quest should not be argued by players but should be argued by the characters of the game and thus are completely belong to in-game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "This is not a Hollywood production and good guys do not always win or each heroic-looking action may not succeed." That depends on the table \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Jul 23 at 15:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PierreCathé you are right, but if the players knows this and feels this, then they can take advantage of it. In hollywood, you know the protoganist will survive even the toughest events but Game of Thrones teach us that event the most important characters may die at an unexpected time. \$\endgroup\$ – FallenAngel Jul 23 at 15:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Relevant meta: Don't signal your edits in text. Instead, you should edit your answer to read as if it were always the best version of itself; anyone interested in older versions of the answer can always view the revision history. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 23 at 21:01
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There are lots of good answers here already, but I want to chime in. As a DM for over 35 years, I've run into these types of players that want to do things that impossible/game breaking/grabs for power. The way I deal with it is to just not give them the opportunity, it's really that simple.

For example: The character wants to kill the Lady of Pain. Ok, great, that's an awesome goal. Here's how I would deal with that.

Player: I'm level 20 now, I'm going to go kill the Lady of Pain.

DM: Ok great, where do you go looking for her?

Player: Well I guess I need to get to Sigil.

DM: Ok, how do you do that?

Player: I get Bob to planeshift us there!

DM: Ok, you're now in Sigil. What do you do now?

Player: I look for the Lady of Pain!

DM: Ok, give me an investigation check.

Player: I roll a 25!

DM: Ok, you ask around and nobody has seen the Lady of Pain in years.

Player: Ok, I just wander the streets until I run into her.

DM: Ok.

Rest of Party: We're going to back to our quest, good luck buddy. (party promptly planeshifts back to their world, leaving their friend in Sigil.)

DM: Ok, the rest of you get back and resume your travel to the Mountain of Certain Doom.

Player: What about me?

DM: You're wandering aimlessly around Sigil. I'll let you know if and when the Lady of Pain ever shows up.

So, you've not said no to the player, but you're still denying them their absurd obsession by not letting the narrative go their way. Remember, as a DM you are no compelled in any way to serve up players' requests on a silver platter. Sure, they can ask and tell you what they want to do or what they want to happen, but the story doesn't have to go that way, especially if it's something completely outlandish to the theme of the campaign you're running.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like this answer is a bit condescending to the player (you could just tell them at the start that they won't find her instead of making them jump through hoops and leaving them stranded) but the advice of not giving up control of the narrative is good. +1 Also what do you do when the player realises they messed up ? \$\endgroup\$ – Pierre Cathé Jul 23 at 12:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't feel it's condescending at all. When I'm DM a campaign, and I have buy-in from most of the players, any players that aren't on-board with the campaign are simply going to alienate themselves from the rest of the party. You're right, I could easily just tell them "No, you're never going to encounter the Lady of Pain". Instead I prefer a show-not-tell approach, I'll give the player some rope, let them briefly explore their special snowflake quest, and let them hang themselves. Once they realize the futility of their thing, and realize that I'm ignoring them, they give up. \$\endgroup\$ – fiend Jul 23 at 13:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fiend You just said you don't feel that's condescending, then rationalized it by providing more condescending attitude. "Once they realize […] that I'm ignoring them, they give up." \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Jul 23 at 16:57
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It is impacting my game in the sense that after the game the person in question starts talking about how he has a new plan to kill X and the groups focus shifts from talking about the next session and discussing the cool moments in the game to explaining how his plan will not work which makes everyone miserable.

Just because a discussion is informal, doesn't mean it's not important. The crux of the problem is that discussing the cool moments in the game is invaluable feedback, and talking about the next session is critical to planning it, for all the participants; there's no better moment for this discussion than when everyone is still gathered together, just having played a session.

It's not a problem with the specific topic the person keeps talking about, but that it's getting in the way of discussing other things. They could give up talking about how to defeat the invincible opponent, and instead talk about quantum mechanics, or how hard it is to find a good parking spot, or anything else, and you'd still have the same problem. It would be less of a problem if they simply left the moment the formal game session ended, but then you'd still have an absence from an important part of the group process.

So I'd suggest trying to get across to the person that just because the discussion is informal, doesn't mean it isn't important, and that they should respect it as part of the overall game session, as a group activity.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a key point. The problem is not about what the player wants to discuss so much as it is that his discussion is preventing the group from talking about something they enjoy more. It's all about finding the right time and place to talk about something. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 24 at 5:51
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Speak the devil's name and he will appear

Nothing says you can't kill something like said thing turning up and kicking their butt. The thing about gods is that they're gods.

They'll only try it once.

DM: Cthulhu appears. Make a saving throw versus madness every round at -8 penalty

Players: Whoops

DM: As you step through the door, you see a sign "Welcome to Sigil". When you turn around there isn't a door behind you.

Players: Whoops

The whole point of big bads is they are big and bad. They don't need to turn up when the player is ready. They can turn up whenever and in the end, the DM is the biggest bad of them all.

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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Why are you arguing with them?

There are two scenarios.

  1. they haven't tried to do the thing, they are merely discussing it, in which case as the DM you shouldn't be telling them whether it will work or even your opinion about the plan. Unless you have an NPC mouthpiece they are asking but then it should be their opinion only. As Matt Mercer loves to tell players "you can certainly try"

  2. They tried it, got curb stomped and don't like it, in which case you tell them you can discuss it after the game so you are not wasting everyone else's game time. After session you tell them your justification for the decision and let them take it or leave it.

If they won't leave it alone and keep bringing it up. Then they just want to argue, an that is a different question, one that usually ends with someone leaving the group.

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I would reconsider if the thing is killable if it isn't and a PC want's it dead. Why do they want it dead? What would they gain from making it dead?

Gods can be killed, but probably not by non-gods. If a PC wants to kill a god they need to know what it would take to do so. Achieving godhood is almost impossible, therefore killing god-x is also almost impossible.

Before a PC wants to kill creature x I would ask them the following questions: What do you gain from it? Does the reward justify the risk? Have you seen the list of those who failed at attempting the same thing and happened to be way stronger than you while doing so?

If you can make a campaign around player Y trying to kill baddy X then sure, go for it. It will take a long, long time but as long as everyone is having fun, why not?

Also, a few days after killing The Deep One, our heroes are plagued with nightmares. Some time after that they start sprouting tentacles. Diablo 2 has a similar plot line and is a great example of how to continue the story after the heroes have won.

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Don't fear the planning.

Personally, I believe that as a GM you should never fear the PCs planning something, or setting themselves an end-goal in the campaign. In fact, you should rejoice at the fact. Long-term plans give your players focus and makes them 'buy in' the campaign.

Make it too troublesome

However, I do think I understand your dilemma. There are some monsters/creatures which should always be too strong to kill, and if your players ever attempted it, they would fail horribly. Sometimes, you'd rather avoid a TPK and not have the BBEG fight the party. In that case, you should NEVER take the option of fighting the BBEG away from the players, but rather take away one of the things that the players need to battle him, even though they want to. I'll give you some examples, and you should figure out how to best do it for your campaign.

Luckily, these are also the hurdles that need to be overcome for any great BBEG.

  • Reach: First of, the BBEG is always a 'final boss' or big enemy general, so it would never be at easy reach of the players. He would always be in either a different continent, behind a whole army of minions, or at the very end of the dungeon. A different plane of existance or a hidden place unreachable by mortals, in eternal slumber would also work wonders.
  • Motive: This might be counter-intuitive, but ussually players have a reason for wanting to defeat stuff (unless they are all murderhobbos, but that's a different problem altogheter). Maybe the BBEG is... bad, or hoarding a great reward... take that away, and the players will just go 'meh', whatever.
  • Gravity: This refers to the players being powerful/annoying/important enough for the BBEG to even bother fighting them. Would a god interrupt his busy day to go smite every single mortal that curses it? No, of course not. Would a powerful lich go out of his way to fight a bunch of wannabee adventurers? Not likely. Would a general rush across the field of battle, abandoning his troops and orders to kill off one or two grunts? Hardly. Having the BBEG simply ignore the taunts and challenges of the party, or having him toy to the extreme with them, even to the point of killing and reviving them as a joke is plausible.
  • Hope: C'mon, we all know that if they don't think they have a chance to win that they will fight it. So the first thing is to take away that hope of winning. If they decide to embark on a quest to revive Kh'thulu in order to kill him, allow them. But during their journey have stories prepared to telll them of the horrors they will face. Get NPCs to push the atmosphere of the campaign towards the hopeless doom that it should be. Have, as the players progress, the sky turn crimson, the earth shatter and demons come loose, and have heroes that dwarf them in power and status come out and meet them in a desperate attempt to stop their madness.

Set the right atmosphere

However, if your PCs aren't taking your BBEG seriously, it might have something to do with the mood and character you're portraying for it. When talking about important NPCs, I generally try to set the mood of the whole encounter, starting by describing the room and the stance/actions the NPC is currently doing. If you want to make the players get the hint that the NPc should be taken seriously, have them roll a WIS saving throw upon seeing it, and on a fail, drop down to their knees and cower in horror.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that by including the Lady of Pain in the set of example creatures, we're not just talking about BBEGs here. The Lady of Pain is an entity strong enough to bar the gods from Sigil (the "center" of the Outer Planes), but aside from discouraging (with extreme prejudice) any worship of herself, excessive violence (e.g. intrusions of the Blood War), etc., she's largely hands off. She's basically just keeping Sigil independent of ultra-powerful influences, by being the even bigger ultra-powerful influence. She's more an elemental fact of the setting than a potential opponent; not evil at all. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowRanger Jul 22 at 16:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ This post is talking about the BBEG, but the question is about entities like Cthulhu. This answer seems to misunderstand the question. The question is about, for example, starting a game of CSI: The RPG and the player of a beat cop making plans to kill God. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 22 at 16:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: I mean, technically, Cthulhu is a potential BBEG, since in the original Call of Cthulhu story, the protagonists do end up (temporarily) defeating it. But yes, in most games, Cthulhu is not intended to be directly opposed/defeated. Contrast with the Lady of Pain who, to my knowledge, has never even been given stats (the rules are basically "If she's displeased with you, leave Sigil immediately; if you fall into her shadow, you die from a million cuts or get mazed, and she can kill you in an infinite number of other ways if you want to get clever about avoiding shadows"). \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowRanger Jul 22 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Though apparently there are people who insist on trying to stat her... \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowRanger Jul 22 at 16:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think using “BBEG” may be unhelpful for this post. That is usually used to mean the villain end boss of a campaign, which is usually meant to be defeatable by then. Using it to mean something else significantly obscures the post’s meaning. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 22 at 18:21

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