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I am DMing a game where one player has never quite seemed happy. He regularly questions rulings and gets quite hurt when he tries to do things with his character and they don't succeed.

He is playing an Elf Rogue / Hexblade Warlock, but consistently tries to play the character like a tank, running to the front and attacking before any other party members. Many of the encounters I design have a high (difficult or near deadly) CR but include puzzle elements to allow the party to win them either by achieving their goal without killing all of the opponents or by using the environment to their advantage (one was designed to give them an advantage in pushing opponents off of a high ledge, another included grease bombs that they could set on fire). He has also died when facing large numbers of weak opponents, for the same reason (he runs into combat and winds up surrounded).

For clarity, every one of these encounters is designed to be winnable by the party, and all other party members regularly get through them, including an incredibly squishy wizard. The CR is set high because they have other things working in their favor (the ability to push enemies off the edge, for instance). I also typically provide a way for the party to save someone if they get into trouble (i.e., if one of the party members inadvertently falls off the edge, they'll get several opportunities to save and catch hold of something).

While the rest of the party tends to squeak through these encounters and have fun while they're doing it, he has died five times. For example, in the case of the party fighting a few powerful enemies along the ledge, he had the option to Hex enemies for STR, granting the party an advantage when trying to push them over the edge. Instead of supporting in this way, he ran to the front of the group — ahead of the two tanks — and attacked the lead enemy. Since he had no allies around him, he also did not benefit from Sneak Attack. He seems to have optimized his character for one very specific combat scenario, without ever telling me what he expects that to be or being prepared to encounter anything different.

At each death I've come up with a way to revive or reincarnate his character, but he is still upset. I have given him numerous opportunities to roll a new character that fits his play style, but he has rejected them. I obviously cannot tell him how to play his character, but I'm at a loss for how to make the game feel fun for him, as well as the rest of the party that seems to enjoy it as is.

After our third session, I sent out a very detailed survey to the party members asking them about what types of combat they preferred, NPC interactions, puzzles, etc., and the party seemed to enjoy this type of game play. This particular player was an outlier and asked for a more "sandbox" type of game, but also requested that they receive more clearly defined goals and quests / jobs (clearly these two things are incompatible). In general, I have opted to provide clearer goals while deliberately creating multiple paths to achieving them (combat, NPC interactions, puzzles/sneaking/heists).

When I have tried to guide his character and the party more closely, he has complained about railroading. I've included friendly NPCs in combat situations to demonstrate how the environment can be used tactically, have used NPCs to make tactical suggestions, (he complained about NPCs in combat and said he didn't like it), and have tailor-made a deep backstory and NPCs to explain his character's "recklessness" and repeated reincarnation. We've had discussions about the death of characters being just part of the game, and it being something he can have fun with, if he wants to incorporate it into his play style. I've even created a demon who visits him whenever he has a near death experience. None of it works, and he always winds up upset when his character dies, or is even incapacitated.

He does very little roleplaying and instead focuses almost exclusively on his stats and abilities. Put differently, how do I engage a player who is playing his character poorly?


Addendum: Thanks everyone for the fantastic answers to this! To put a button on this, after multiple conversations with the player in question, it turned out to be a combination of several of these issues. There was definitely an element of "My Guy" syndrome.

He also really wanted a totally sandbox game, as opposed to the more structured, quest-based game the other players in the party had requested.

Lastly, and most tellingly, he admitted that his interest in playing was primarily to experience a power fantasy. Obviously anything getting in the way of that, such as character death or any real consequences of any kind, are ultimately unsatisfying if that's the case. He's decided to step away from the game, but no feelings were hurt, so it was a good resolution at the end of the day.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you elaborate on what you've done to "guide his character"? It sounds like the "difficult or near deadly" style may not work with his playstyle - have you tried offering other types of challenges? Have you asked the player how these issues look like from his perspective? \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Sep 8 at 4:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you give us an example of his poor choices in combat? For example, does he at least try to find a way to use sneak attack, or does he literally charge in like a barbarian and swing hoping for the best? Does he cast any spells? Which ones, and when? Also, what subclasses is he? Is he a Swashbuckler rogue, who can kinda go solo to a degree? Is he a Hexblade warlock and/or does he have Pact of the Blade, which are kinda more tanky/melee focused compared to other warlocks? Knowing these things might help us know if/where he's going wrong in combat... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Sep 8 at 6:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've added some more context above. We've had multiple conversations about what he wants the character to be, and also had a long conversation about not diverting the game arguing about rules (he likes to nitpick whenever something goes against him). \$\endgroup\$ – BprDM Sep 8 at 13:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ How much experience does this player have? Both in general role-playing and in 5e specifically. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Sep 8 at 13:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a player, I’ve been there. It was mostly because I got bored and frustrated with trying to find clever or peaceful solutions for two hours. Rushing into battle didn’t make sense but at least it was fun. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Sep 8 at 14:37
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Give 'em enough rope, lose the safety net

This character is being enabled to fail by the DM, you, even with the best of intentions. You'd like for the player to enjoy a character concept that he's come up with. The problem is that his play style is suicidal, and as you note (1) his PC dies frequently, and (2) the rest of the players "get" team play far better than this player does.

You have tried coaching and counselling (Well done! I've discovered that coaching is a part of the DM role). At this point it is no longer your problem to solve: it is his problem, and - this is important - the party's problem to solve. The rest of the players have been carrying this player and his suicidal style.

Next time the PC dies, ask the surviving party members their plan

This next time, it looks like there will be no "repeated reincarnation".

I killed the very NPC who was responsible for bringing him back! And then had a sidebar conversation about how death was real and needed to be treated that way.

This puts the burdeon on the party as a whole to deal with a dead character.
Address them as characters and ask them:
What is your plan for getting {this PC} resurrected/raised/reincarnated?

If they don't have one, he gets to roll up / create another character whom they'll meet soon during the next encounter.
If they do have one (perhaps paying for that reincarnation spell) let the dynamic between the players - your problem player and the rest of the group - play out. For example: it may be that he needs to carry his own diamond for revivify (if your party has a cleric).

There are five players in the party, and they just reached level 5

At level 5, if the party cleric needs to keep a slot for revivify always prepared (thanks to this PC's suicidal style) I know that a condition I'd consider as a cleric player is something like this: "your character needs to always have a 300 GP diamond on his/her person. I'll need it to revivify you if you expect me to bail you out yet again."
Not sure how your other players view this, but that's one way to marry up the in-game and out-of-game communication at the table.

Choices have consequences

You mention that this player gets upset if they get incapacitated. That tells me that this player does not actually understand this edition's mechanics. Dropping to 0 HP and having an ally pop you back up (or getting that lucky death saving throw of a 20) is a part of this edition. (Some people call it yo-yo healing and don't care for it, but it's a part of the mechanics).

He has played D&D off and on for years, both 3.5 and 5e. He understands the mechanics thoroughly.

This player may be a slow learner, who also seems to not understand team tactics. This is not uncommon; I've seen that manifest in various ways over the years. If the character keeps choosing to behave as a fragile tank, the consequences are that the PC will often be dropped to 0 HP or die. The former is no big deal, with this edition's recovery mechanics. The latter is a bigger deal for both the player and the team.
Until the player accepts that, I don't think you'll see a change in behavior. In my experience across numerous editions, enabling play that does not fit what the team is doing is counterproductive in nearly every case.

Your last bit of advice to this player: be a better teammate

You can offer some general advice along the lines of

If you keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result, you may want to consider changing what you are doing to get a different result

The point of emphasis ought to be on teamwork.

You mention in a comment that

"His character regularly goes off on his own even during RP. So the rest of the party will be doing one thing, and he'll be doing something else entirely"

That's not teamwork, and it also an added burden on the DM. Make sure that you tell him that his behavior is making your job as DM more difficult. (One of a number of fine Q&A on dealing with split parties - there are a bunch of good inputs here on how to deal with this if it keeps coming up).

If he chooses to fit into the team approach to the adventures better, his PC will either stop dying or die less often. There's a lot of room for being 'down but not out' in this edition. Older editions were a lot more lethal in terms of "you are dead, make a new PC" than this edition.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This feels like really helpful advice. I was avoiding just having his PC die because he gets upset about it, but it has caused the problem to become persistent, and it creates situations where the other four party members are forced to carry more of the weight than intended. \$\endgroup\$ – BprDM Sep 8 at 13:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BprDM You can try some general advice along the lines of If you keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result, you may want to consider changing what you are doing to get a different result Best wishes, this kind of "tough love" can sometimes be received with resentment; so the focus on the positive "more teamwork makes for more success" might be the best path forward. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 8 at 13:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BprDM His character regularly goes off on his own even during RP There's another flag, how do the other players feel about that? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 8 at 13:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not like I dislike the other answers, but this is the first one I upvoted and felt like "Yes, This!" whilst reading it. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Sep 8 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BprDM You mentioned having a backstory and NPCs to explain the repeated reincarnation - if you decide to do this, it might help to take that out of the equation ahead of time (eg kill off a key NPC) and make it clear that the next time this character dies, no one's coming to help. That way you're not blindsiding a player who's expecting a free resurrection. \$\endgroup\$ – Michelle Sep 9 at 12:31
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In short: Talk to him and work to find a build and a play style that works for both of you. It may also be symptomatic of a larger issue.

I think you have three issues here. One, the constant death. The second is that the way the player wants to play in combat (henceforth the play style) and the mechanics of the character (the build) don’t match up, and that impacts the game in a negative manner. And the most important is the player’s attitude towards the game, which impacts everything mentioned here. (These are in order of easiest to hardest to solve, and I’ll address them in this order.)

Constant death and resurrection

First things first, this answer (pointed out to me by @BESW in chat) provides one way to deal with a character that keeps dying.

My own advice on this, which may be a bit harsh and should be taken with a few grains of salt, is that you should consider not resurrecting his character for a couple sessions. Obviously, it depends on how your groups treat death, but for my groups (which rarely otherwise have deaths except for similar reasons), a few sessions spent with rolling characters after every fight solved this problem by making them think about tactics and what they have to do to survive if they want to play that kind of build.

The play style and the build

You should talk to this player, as soon as possible and preferably not over texts (body language is always useful), about why he wants to play the character and what he knows about the build.

Specifically, you are looking to see whether he plays this combination for the flavor (is he taking levels in warlock to justify making a pact for power? Are the rogue levels because he wants to be a criminal?) or because of the mechanics (spell slots recharging on a short rest; sneak attack). Additionally, look to see whether he understands the classes and what they are good at in combat (warlocks are good at eldritch blast, along with having some melee capacity to back up spells; rogues excel at sneaking around, getting in and out of range, and then stabbing where it hurts), or if he chose them based on the out of combat use (spells; skill-monkey stuff).

Then, you two need to talk about how he can get the stuff he wants out of the build, while improving (not completely changing) his build to better match his play style (refluffing stuff as necessary if he’s more interested in the flavor of the classes).

From your question I can assume he won’t change play style and has some kind of attachment to the build. Therefore, work with him to change the build to the play style while still maintaining the important things he wants from the build now.

A side note: is the character’s personality why he rushes in all the time? If so it may be “My Guy” syndrome and you both might want to read that Q&A and apply some of it.

The meta-game, or the player experience

Frankly, I would not call this player a very good member of the group. You say the rest of the group likes the puzzles and roleplaying, while he would rather focus on stats. He also apparently calls you out on railroading, questions and contradicts you, and generally undermines the game. To me this sounds like a player who is purposely trying to make the game less fun, which is a deeper problem.

When I have players like that, the first step I use is always a private talk after the session. Ask him “hey, what caused this behavior today? It’s making the game less fun and I want everyone to have fun.” Then listen to him and work with him to address the cause.

I’d give him two tries but after that, if he doesn’t change, you can escalate to telling him, in front of the group when he does something like this, “hey, I talked to you about this. We don’t play that way here and it’s making the game less fun for other people”. Now, he has other people that have seen him get called out. This is when the group can work with him to help his behavior change.

After one or two public call outs, if he still doesn’t get the hint and change, then it may be time to consider whether you want to kick him out of the game. This should be a group decision and everyone should agree on what to do.

Overall, I’d say this problem of understanding the character wrong is a symptom of a larger behavioral problem and you should work on this as well as the death thing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, peer pressure can work (vis a vis the call out recommendation). It has {social} risks but it can work. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 8 at 14:22
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Ask him what he wants

Bardic Wizard has a pretty good answer, but I want to zoom out a bit: something about this situation doesn't seem right. By that I don't mean that it's not ideal (if it were, you wouldn't be asking), but rather, I'm having trouble reconciling your description of a player who 1) doesn't care about roleplaying and only cares about stats; 2) dies a lot; and 3) is totally unwilling to change his character build when given the chance.

Now, I'm not saying you're not reporting the situation accurately. But it may be that there was a misunderstanding or miscommunication at some point. Your question reminds me of this snippet from bankuei:

A player may choose to give their character an awesome sword skill for any of the following reasons:

  • They want to get into sword fights as a focus of play
  • They really don’t like sword fights, but putting a lot of points there means it will be over quickly when it happens.
  • They expect the game to be lethal, and are afraid if they don’t put points into sword skills, their character will die.
  • It fits the concept of their character but they don’t actually ever expect to use it that much.

Notice that one involves wanting that kind of conflict, and the other three basically don’t want that conflict at all or in a real way.

So I'd start at the beginning, being as direct as possible: "What do you want out of this game? So far it seems like it's not happening, and I'd like to see if we can fix that." It might be that he finds combat dull, and charges in because he thinks it's the best way of getting it over with quickly. It might be that he spent a lot of time on mechanics because he's worried about the lethality of the game (apparently rightfully so, at least for him), but he's actually more interested than you thought in roleplaying, and needs some tips in how to get started (and how to stay alive long enough to make it to that part). It might be that he's really into optimization and wants to build a combat monster, and is just bad at it and doesn't realize that other choices (during character creation AND tactically during play) would help him achieve that.

It might even be that he's never really thought about it and your question will prompt him to realize he, himself, was wrong about what he'd enjoy (more common than you might think), or that he wants something fundamentally incompatible with the group's playstyle. Or who knows, maybe he's just a stubborn jerk bent on destroying everyone else's fun. But it's hard to know any of that without first asking him straight-out what he thinks the problem is and what he wants things to be like, and trying to work with him on that if it's reasonable to do so.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great point. Part of the issue from the very beginning with him is that he hasn't really known what he wanted the character to be. It started out as a Gnome Rogue who used disguise to make himself look like a human child to rob people (I thought this was a fun idea), but then he played the character as if it were a high charisma smooth talking assassin. After dying the first time, I gave him the option to reincarnate as a race of his choice and even gave him the option to completely reroll the character if he wanted. He declined. \$\endgroup\$ – BprDM Sep 8 at 12:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth adding that a good tactic (I think AngryGM recommended it for session 0s) isn't to ask a player what they want, but to ask them to tell you about some of their favorite experiences. People don't always know what they want, but they can tell you what they loved, and you can infer a lot by asking them about it. \$\endgroup\$ – ThunderGuppy Sep 9 at 14:54
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There are some fantastic answers here that address your first point but I will just add my thoughts

You say he is playing the character poorly, I will ask is he, or has he got something in his characters backstory that leads to this approach to combat. I had a player who played a similar way with his rogue, but, he had a clear understandable backstory that led to this behavior to begin with, untrusting of companions, a hero complex and a willingness to throw his own life away rather then rely on others. Over time the player allowed his character to develop, form trusting relationships with the other characters and changed this behavior to become more of that team player. The key here was communication, at the start of the campaign the player explained to the other players, this is my character and the way he is, I will do stupid stuff and I will go off, but this isn’t me being a bad role player it is my playing my character and my hope is that as things progress there will be reasons for my player as a person to develop grow and change.

Now the players where experienced enough that they enjoyed this, they enjoyed the in game arguments and debates with this player, at one point coming to blows but then finding a way through it. The character died and the player fully understood the party might decide resurrecting him was more trouble then it was worth. He didn’t intercede in the debate, had a new character rolled up ready to go if they decided to leave him dead, both times.

I did not give him an easy resurrection option. Death in my game is a serious thing and there is no auto way of ending it. Even spells that usually allow the easy resurrection of a dead ally have a chance of failure and mid combat resurrection is almost impossible. This is the way I run my campaigns. So there is no light view of death. By allowing him now 5 attempts to fairly easily be revived you have created yourself a problem, because every other player by rights now has 5 freebie resurrections, and if you continue to do it you are either going to create resentment when you don’t do the same for other players, or are going to find your moments of peril become meaningless as players just expect to be brought back regardless.

I would suggest that, having talked to him as a player, you now talk to the group, surveys and questionnaires are great but you need to talk to the other players. There are 2 ways of doing this, either have an NPC complain about him to the rest of the party during or after a combat, maybe another hex blade or rogue telling the party he refuses to work with amatures who want to die, or maybe be more subtle but see what they say. It might trigger an in game conversation between the characters which may then turn into an out of game real conversation. Allowing them to manage his behavior and help coach him. Or just go straight to the out game conversation ask the players how they feel about X dying and always being brought back to life, make sure he is there this isn’t a bitching session it is an honest question about what they want out of the game and how one players behavior makes them feel. Explain that you will not be giving him or anyone in the party easy do overs moving forward and death may well mean death.

The second half of your question is a very different issue which in some ways is unrelated to the first. A player getting tactics wrong for a character is one thing, not feeling that the campaign you run meets there expectations and then acting in a way to make your life difficult and cause issues, you are at a cusp here of having to have a far more serious conversation with this player about of this group and style of game is right for them. If the majority are having fun and happy and his desires are to different there comes a point where you might have to have a conversation about him leaving the game.

This can only be solved by about of game conversation with the party. Use the survey you did to then trigger an open conversation. This is not about pointing fingers or having a go it is about asking the party members to discuss with each other and you about what thy want out of there sessions each week. It is about having that open, honest, adult conversation and accepting that if 1 individual is an outlier by that much then rather then everyone trying to compromise maybe this is the time for them to go and seek a different game with a DM who more closely meets there expectations. It doesn’t mean anyone is wrong or has failed, Roleplaying games by there nature are personal experiences and not everyone does, or should, want to experience it the same way. But if a party have widely different ideas then a compromise generally turns into the worst of everything rather then the best no matter how good the DM.

I would say address the second half first because he might get the character spot on but if he still doesn’t like your style of DMing when the rest of the party do it won’t solve the underlying issues.

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Reroll the game

Intro

One day the party came to city and suddently is encircled by many armed guards. They does not look unfriendly, just carefully doing their work. There is imposant man between them, in impressive armor and he address the party:

"Worry not my friends. As you may know, I am the baron and ruler of this land and my dauther is medium. Sadly she is constantly ill. This night she had dream, that may be of great help. She described your party and the moment you will arrive.

She also had vission about very unusual flower, that could easy her illness. There is big forest, just two days west from this city and the flower groes there. Carefully take it away with good a bag ground around its roots, bring it here and I will give you really good reward for it.

You should take the main way from city and about half a day inside the forest the way crosses a stream. Follow it upstream to its origin, it should be like two or three days travel, and it is the place, where the flower grows.

Just be warned, that some people say the forrest is mysterious and there may be a lot of dangers inside. But on other hand there is lot of travelers regularry usign the main way, which did not meet anything strange, so who knows, where the truth lies.

I would send my mans this early morning there and lead them myself, but my daugther said clearly, that nobody from this city is allowed to go near the place of the flower growing, even if she does not know, why it is so much important.

Anyway I already told all merchants in city to keep good prices for you and offer all reasonable help, so you could start your journey as soon as possible. I hope to see you with the flower here as soon as possible. Please take this gold as advance payment for your services."

He hands you some gold and return to his castle with all his guard. Merchants start approching you and offer their goods ...

The party now can do anything they need, there is a lot of contradicting stories about the forrest, the main way should be basically safe (except strange sounds are heard at some nights, sometimes some wolves or other animals attacks, but basically safe for merchant to travel with one or two poorly armed man, single travelers usually also have no problems ... but people are still scared to go too far from the road). The gold you got is good for two week living expenses plus something more, prices are good, people friendly, baron's daughter loved as she helps commoners in need and predicts a lot of problems, so they can be prevented (crop harvested just before big rain, village evacuated before floods etc ..). Promissed reward is nice (maybe daughter envisioned, what would party like to get, be it better armor, special sword or the righ money), not extravagant, but worth a fight or two...

To the forrest

Party is equiped, on the road, the forest is little dark and lot of noises are to hear, but no problems on main road. Following the stream the forrest is darker, sometimes there nearly is something to be seen on edge of vission, etc, etc = not normal, problems to be expected, dark atmosfere (not horror movie, but a step this way for sure). Depending on your style maybe some small fights with larger than usual animals, or not. Natural obstacles are more harder as they go, but nothing to really stop them. Normal villager would be scared to the bones and run away, but heroes are heroes and the reward is good. Finally they are exhousted and need to camp for a night (or at day) to rest ... they set usual guards, they hear strange sounds (natural or not? Who knows?), they feel watched by many eyes - a lot of dicomfort, but no attack ... (## remember this point ##) ... then morning came, they pack for another day and go ...

The Encounter

(## remember this point ##)

Soon they see, that the hills are closing, and there is some light before them, as if cleaning in the forrest. Then from a hide in trees a few Enemies (desribe them) suprisingly attacks the party. After short fight the Enemies are defeated and killed. Around half mile later the is narrow place, no good way aroud and much larger group of different Enemies - clearly the big encounter as usual for this party.

Your problematic character charges up, others follows and fight begin. As expected the character is killed, while party fights as usual and looks like will won after all. Classical.

Interrupt

But then it cames - you say "Please stop for a moment ..." and describe to the problematic player how his dead character open eyes and see the rest of the party aroud. Somebody calls him "wake up, wake up" and they tell him, that he was mumbling from the sleep, then screamed and they had problem to hold him so he would not hurt himself. They ask, what happened, as they was camped and except usual discomfort nothing bad happened (## first remebered point ##) until the characters sleep became unrest. Common expectation tends, that it was some horrible dream only ... (let them play it and give them free hand to work their solution or preparation ... it was just horrible dream, who knows why ...)

Da capo at fine

... then morning came, they pack for another day and go ... (## the second point ##) ... Soon they see, that the hills are closing, and there is some light before them, as if cleaning in the forrest.

Now they may be attacked by the Enemies, or to try set a trap, walk in the forrest and attack from behind ... yes those Enemies are there (describe them, but there are little variations, like different mark on shield, sabres instead swords or something similar small and unimportant) (this is independent group, does not even know about the main group). After Victory/evasion/whatever they continue.

Around half mile later the is narrow place, no good way aroud and much larger group of different Enemies - clearly the big encounter as usual for this party. (and again there may be found small variations, but it is tactically the same - and those Enemies are hard ... they can defeat them, but it would not be easy or short).

Let they manage how they want to the point when the character dies again. Then goes Interrupt and he had just bad dream ... next time there are again some small variation, maybe even some tactical holes covered ...

Let them continue as many as needed (and maybe include some small hints) until the character came with working strategy (or the group talks him to stick to it). Charging up does not work (even if you would need more Enemies), using his class advantages works much better than charging.

This situation can be varied more times if needed, they may run to another group of Enemies more times before they overcome all obstacles. (Cycle only over last encounter.)

The way back disappears like half mile after them, streaam goes underworlds, big rocks blocks the way and cannot be climbed up - tho only way now is forward, not back or to side.

The end

After this confusing part ends (he managed use his class abilities right - maybe more times in row) they reach the origin of the stream, pick up flower and return. (Way back is now normal, dark first, then better, as they approach the road, leftovers after each final battle is there as expected - or maybe even better there are none and just forrest)

In the city they are welcomed, Baron rewards them as promised, invite them for big celebrations with lot of a food, his daugher (medium) thanks them, carefully garned the flower and is visible, that near the flower she looks more healthy and energic.

They may shop as they need and the road calls again to next adventure ...

Notes

  • The Encounter should be set the way, that (if played correctly) the problematic character would really helped to victory (so lot of place for his special abilities)
  • if party tries to just protect the character from dying, near the end of battle he wake up and all repeats ... this is not way to overcame it
  • you should warn other players, that you will try something little different and ask them for help and to try have fun even if things came complicated (but do not tell them, what you are for)
  • you may alternate the Enemies configuration (numbers, second wave, help etc ...) each time you see hole in your plan
  • you should alternate Enemies a little each time - as now it is (hope) real, while the last was just terrible (and not exact) dream
  • what are first and second Enemies is up to you to decide, it should be something you group is used to and expecting in fight (be it giants, big Wolves, orc army, whatever) and there may be a lot of usual proprieties, like rock edge to put them over, or old mines to put them inside, ruins of castle ... whatever you are used to make more approaches possible
  • princess can tell them afterward, that she had dream about their journey and she had seen them dreaming unrestly in the camp (## point one ##) just few miles from flower under some "strange spell or what" until they managed to woke up for real and bring the flower
  • they may discover, that Baron's wife is long time dead and that she may be was some unnatural being (like fairy, undine, mermaid, ....) or not, who knows for sure?
  • there may be some shadow just before each waking (god/DEATH/something) who say to the char something like "... and you will not remember it as you woke", next time "... this was also iteresting talk, but you will not remember it as you woke", and so on (and he will not remeber it, as you would not say, what it was about) and finally "... you seem to have lot of fun with it, let me try it too" and this cycle YOU will play the character the way YOU think it should be played and after Victory run interrupt again and let say the shadow "It was really something, I had not such fun in hundred years, but now it is your round" and character woke up on the (##point one##)
  • or the shadow would take totally different class and equipement (and YOU tell other players, that for just this cycle their chars remeber the affected char as this class (say Beserker or what) and play it in the "charge up, tank all" way with proper attributes and equip to the Victory (and it should be reachable with such character without cheating), then the shadow will return the "normal character" - and you may offer to the player to change the build to more fitting, and make agreement, that it "was already this way, as far as chars can remember"
  • the Encounter should be hard, but also short enought to fit in one session, or (if possible) fit there more times, to not waste too much time repeating it
  • players can "train" this Encounter and use knowledge from last iterations, Enemies should not remember last iterations and fall to all traps, they did fall before (until it is hole which would undermine the story)
  • each cycle starts on the same point, so no loot or EXP are get and nothing is lost/used (arrows, bombs ...) - just like "savegame" on computers, but if there was lot of cycles, I would increase the reward (to cover some "lost loot") and gave lot EXP for solving it and delivering the flower (again to cover some of "lost EXP") - even if it was dream, players spend time and characters get some insight and experience by working hard in the dream
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi gilhad, it seems very problematic to me to just keep leaning on a deus ex machina "training dream" approach. What happens if (when) the players don't act in the way your script anticipates that they will act? Might not the other players start to get annoyed at having to replay the same encounters over and over because of one player? Have you tried this particular approach before? \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Sep 8 at 23:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara I did one time in different RPG game and setting and it worked good for me - the "good" players had fun for trying subverts Enemies in different ways and the "bad" one had learned something (as we use "collective IQ" when anyone can sugest anything about any char, but the player then deside, what to do). They went thru 3 cycles and won the 4. Then we talk a lot about that and that resulted to complet new party and different storytelling, but the original party "is stil on a road" and for long time there was real possibility, that the story will continue. \$\endgroup\$ – gilhad Sep 8 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ That time it was about "I WANT to CHARGE so lets build TANK but keep this specific traits somehow" and the new char was TANK and in his childhood was some interesting moments and he had few extra skills on low level which was mainly just for show, not to be used as REAL weapon. But others - seeing that - was I want too and made more interesting backgrounds, investing a little to unimportant skills while maintaing the core of their chars similar. And as they conected their histories, we agreed to start anew, not just rewrite part od history. \$\endgroup\$ – gilhad Sep 8 at 23:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ But with new names and relations it got different overall style and sometimes we talked "what about continue the old story?". And we probabely would, but then some players move to different cities and so their chars from new group walked away and it was not possible to continue the "old group" as there was missing key players for that. \$\endgroup\$ – gilhad Sep 8 at 23:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I feel like there's an issue here, which is that if the player realizes it's a dream on the fourth time around, he'll actually just double down on the unproductive behaviors, since there are literally no consequences here. It's an interesting concept, but I have a hard time seeing it working in practice. \$\endgroup\$ – BprDM Sep 9 at 3:01

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