I've been playing Pathfinder with friends for about a year and a half now, and I tell other friends that haven't played D&D how much I enjoy it. I piqued their interest in the game and offered to DM for them.

I have two new players that are engaging in my NPCs and combat very well! However, I have a player who's playing a Cleric, and tells me that killing people is against his religion, which I understand but, he has spells do damage to people and he requested a weapon.


I prompted to my players an organization that will help them get around my homebrew world easier and allow them to easily get quests, like bounty hunting, dungeoneering, city protection, etc. It would also allow me to easily generate story, but my players just aren't interested. The cleric isn't interested because he fears the organization's bounty hunting will go against his character's religion. I'm afraid that my player's religious background is going to affect future ideas of mine, and I'm not sure how to work around it.
How do I work around players whose backstory goes against the story?


My prep for the game was mostly the mechanics of the game, how to roll dice and make a character and create a proper character sheet. I went over the backstories with my players a week before we started. My other player, a monk, said he had no backstory and that I could work with whatever. He isn't a huge issue. The cleric explained his backstory and why he became a cleric, but didn't clarify he would be a pacifist.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is it only playable races he has an issue with harming? Does he have the same qualms about killing animals or monsters? Either way I think you could make the bounty hunting thing work by specifying that the targets can be apprehended dead or alive. \$\endgroup\$
    – Luck
    Sep 24, 2019 at 16:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @luck He had no problems with killing monsters and a few rats! It seemed like "intelligent life" was what he had a problem with killing. I am explaining to them that it's cool to do a bounty without killing! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 24, 2019 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Relevant meta: “Update: here's how it worked out…” Where does it go? Rather than editing such an update into the question, you should either leave it as a comment on the answer whose advice you took (and accept it, as you have) - or, if you took the advice of a combination of answers or of none of them, you can detail what you did and how it worked as a self-answer to your own question. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 25, 2019 at 6:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast thank you for letting me know this as well! Everyone on this website has been very helpful so far and I will make sure to use your advice in any of my future posts :) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2019 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your question is general but I think the answer will vary depending on the specifics. In this specific case I think you should look up the history of conscientious objectors, in particular Desmond Doss (url below). There are lots of examples of people whose beliefs prevent them from killing who still served in the military and these can serve as good examples in the situation with your player. Read this:- en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desmond_Doss \$\endgroup\$
    – Eric Nolan
    Sep 25, 2019 at 14:05

4 Answers 4


Get on the same page

Your literal question asks about problems with one specific character background, but you later suggest several of your players are expressing a lack of interest in the plot.

If there is a lack of interest, especially from several players, it may help to step back and have a group conversation about the type of game you want. Once you have explicit acceptance, or better yet enthusiastic buy-in, the lack of interest and any problem that is originating from a subtle lack of interest, is likely to fade.

Make requirements for a new character

As the GM/DM it is perfectly reasonable to put restrictions on the backstory of characters, especially if you make them clear before character creation.

I frequently start new campaigns with a quest giver that will provide the initial quest for the characters and I require the PCs to establish some sort of relationship with the quest giver in their backstory that would make it reasonable for the quest giver to demand an initial favor immediately.

Your case is slightly different, but if you want to center your campaign around an bounty hunting organization it is quite reasonable to demand that the players create characters that are willing and able to be bounty hunters.

Reasonable self-imposed character restrictions can create interesting drama

Sometimes it helps to let there be some tension between the character concept and the premise of the game. That can help create drama.

In your particular case, a bounty hunter that refuses to kill could be interesting. There are bounty hunters in real world America right now and they very rarely kill and can only justify it with reasonable self-defense/defense of others when they do. Obviously, in a DnD type-setting many more bounties will be of the "dead or alive" kind, but even then a completely non-lethal bounty hunter could work if it is built with subdual in mind. Or perhaps it is a support character who helps out the others that are more willing to use lethal options when appropriate. It could also be interesting to see how far they can be pushed before they start compromising that religious code more.

As an anecdote, I played a completely non-lethal elemental adept in Shadowrun for a while. It created some tension, but it worked out because my character was tightly optimized on subduing and supporting spells and didn't object too much when the others killed during the missions.

Of course, such restrictions should be cleared with the GM and possibly even the other players, first for best result. A certain amount of tension between character and premise, handled in a way that doesn't keep the spotlight on only that one character too much, can add drama and aid in fun. A complete mis-match between the two or a restriction that keeps the other players out of the spotlight is a real problem.

  • \$\begingroup\$ My other player isn't a problem! He's willing to fight and do whatever. My cleric is really the only one I'm needing to work around with backstory. This organization I created doesn't just do bounty hunting, they can can do little things like helping a town or specific NPCs with non-lethal actions. I will explain to them your advice though! I do think it would be interesting to have my players follow through with bounties without killing, it would be interesting. If they continue to refuse to join, I will try to work around this with finding new quests to give them. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 24, 2019 at 16:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sadcardboardcat Two observations: firstly, it's generally considered polite to wait 24 hours or so before accepting an answer to give people at work or on different timezones a chance to answer. You might get better answers too. Secondly, try to be grateful for a new player that is engaged with the game and actually wants to roleplay a character. As Timothy says, there may be some good RP opportunities there. Thirdly, welcome to the site. Oh wait, that's three things... \$\endgroup\$
    – richardb
    Sep 24, 2019 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @richardb Thank you for letting me know! I'll do that in the future! Also I'm really grateful for the participation from my players, I just wanna make sure that they're happy with my story and I'm not stepping on their characters boundaries. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 24, 2019 at 16:40

Show him an example of how this religion fits into your world

Disclaimer: I've only played D&D 5e, but I think my answer should still apply to Pathfinder.

This is a new player who is playing a cleric. By the sounds of things, he is unsure of what is appropriate conduct for someone of his religion in your world. I'm going to assume that we're talking about the character's in-universe religion and not the player's in-real-life religion, since that's a whole different issue.

A good way to show this player how their character and their religion fit into your world is by introducing NPCs that follow the same religion/worship the same god. For example, you've mentioned bounty hunter and city protection jobs, but are these things affiliated with this character's religion? If not, maybe they should be.

Introduce an order of clerics and paladins that openly follow the same religion/god as this Cleric PC and then show these NPCs defeating something "bad" - I don't know, some orcs or something - to show that there are threats to civilisation that are best met with violence. Also show them doing less violent things, such as making sure the people are OK afterwards, maybe even healing anyone who got hit by an orc before they "came to the rescue"; this shows that they are here to help, not just fight orcs.

They (or one of them, at least) might even recognise some insignia on this PC that shows they are of the same religion and can then go over and greet this PC, introduce themselves, and mention that they're setting up shop in this city and could use any assistance bringing peace to this place (which is under attack by orcs, apparently - obviously replace some of these details with whatever would fit in your homebrew universe).

I haven't personally tried this as a DM, but I have seen it being used by a DM of mine; there was a relatively new player playing a religious character, and he wasn't quite sure how to "be religious" except by repeatedly praising their god, so the DM had some other NPCs who were of the same religion (I think this might have been a coincidence, since I think that's the plot he had in mind anyway, but it still worked out well) who were able to provide the player with an example and give the character a little direction, since now they had a religion-related reason to engage with the plot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Nathan thank you a lot for giving me ideas on how to implement this! I have a homebrew world, so I'm able to add anything wherever and use it to work around my players. They really haven't interacted with the world or met a lot of people, so I will start introducing things like this to them in later quests! I want to give my cleric his space to play the cleric how he wants, so I'll do what you're mentioning and give him some examples of what clerics do! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2019 at 13:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sadcardboardcat I'm glad this has been helpful :) \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Sep 25, 2019 at 13:05

You don't work against such players, you work with them

I understand that your cleric player is against killing (sapient) creatures, but is he against hurting them too? Your organisation can request their target to be taken "dead or alive", so your cleric can go hunt without breaking his religions' tenets.

as point 2, you can try to negotiate with the player (out of game) to modify his religion slightly, so that it allows killing in self-defence, which would make combat easier to justify

  • \$\begingroup\$ All answers should be supported by citing evidence and/or experience. Have you used your suggested recommendations (or others like them), or seen them used? How have they worked out? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 25, 2019 at 8:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThisIsMe I don't want to work against my players, I apologize if I've phrased it like that anywhere, I want to work with and around how hes planning on playing. Seeing as this is the first campaign I've ever been DM for, I want to make sure they're having fun. Also, I can run by him self defense in combat, and how if he plans to play like a pacifist I would hope he chooses not to allow himself to get beat up or something. I also really like the idea of the "dead or alive" thing, a few people have recommended it and I'll try it out! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2019 at 13:04

One thing comes to my mind: Hacksaw Ridge (2016) movie.

If your player based his background very well based on the Pathfinder world and its deity's lore (sorry I'm not familiar with it, only DND a bit), then do not restrict his choices.

Instead you can challenge his belief in story, maybe making it his personal story arc. For whatever reason he has to join the adventuring party, he has to make a choice how he resolves conflict when he meets combat. Maybe after a serious confrontation he will change his opinion about killing or give up adventuring (and make a new character).

You can warn him that your world is not suited for pacifists, just don't say "No, you can't play that character".

  • \$\begingroup\$ Oh yeah I don't have a problem with him playing the character, it just didn't come up when we were making his character that he would be a pacifist. I want to challenge my players choices and make them figure out what their moral choices are, but I also don't want to say "don't play this because it doesn't fit in my world." It's only the start of the story and the campaign! So, I have some time to throw more serious confrontations at them. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 24, 2019 at 19:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Markosz, welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for more information. We are looking for answers that are supported by rules or experience and it appears this answer has neither. Your suggestion to make it a character arc is actually a good one, but you need to add some support that it would work in an rpg setting rather than a movie. My experience as a DM tells me it would be difficult to pull off without player buy in. I suggest you edit your answer to add support and seem less like an idea you just came up with. Good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Sep 25, 2019 at 1:36

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