The problem

I have a player in my group which tends to approach local authorities (may it be guards or churches) when facing a threat. He thinks that, given his role (a bard in a medieval world, so, more or a less, a civilian), this is what one of his kind would do in such situations. The other characters, more powerful (knight, ranger, sorcerer, ...), are the passive kind of players and do not prevent him from doing that.

While this behavior is not unjustified, the whole point of playing the game is to solve problems on your own (IMHO), even if they seem to be overwhelming. Sometimes it is justified, but most of the time it makes things only more complicated in terms of:

  • The storyline, like the one time they faced a single undead raised by a curse in a city at night, where he handed over the ring which has caused the curse to the local temple, instead of trying to find out about the origins of the curse and how to break it. As soon they have found out that the curse has not been broken and it only affects a certain party member, the required ring was out of reach ... ooops, now they are in trouble (including the storyline).
  • The threat level, because the encounters have to be extended, so that they are a threat to a group of adventures AND a bunch of guardsmen. One time the same player in another group abandoned the whole group for a 14 days travel to contact a befriended inquisitor about a serious evil threat to get the support of a bunch of knights.

The examples above are presented in a more superficial way than they actually are. The true story behind is way more complicated, including aspects of personal motivation.

I could tell the player to stop doing that, but I'd prefer to solve the issue in the game, without overstretching means like:

  • Authorities are too ignorant/busy/incompetent to care (which in the long run will seem like all authorities in the world are essentially only decoration)
  • The adventure is happening in a "closed" environment like extreme wilderness, a ship on the ocean, an area locked because of a plague etc.

The question

What can I do ? How do you deal with such behavior ?

  • 86
    \$\begingroup\$ As a common person myself, a single undead would be enough to make me go get a professional. \$\endgroup\$
    – corsiKa
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 14:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @corsiKa yes, like you would do when you are facing bandits, betrayal at the local store, a kidnapping of someone else on the street etc.. this is the difference between heroes and everyday people like us ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – user1368
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 16:40

18 Answers 18


Reward him.

Your player is playing his character smart, not hard. He's being clever and resourceful. He's considering what his character would do in character. I wish I had players like the one playing your Bard.

He stops to think about what he can do, instead of just mindlessly deciding you expect him to attack and attacking. You can do so much more with a player who stops and thinks about what he's doing, and your campaigns can be richer than just busting doors down and beating people up.

Taking your guard scenario

Getting a guard to help you is solving a problem on your own. Problem: There's hostilities. Beating the hostile people up myself is a stupid solution - I'd get injured and arrested. Getting the guards and let them get the injuries whilst arresting the guys is a smart solution.

Plus it's more interesting that way. Having all the authorities act uninterested is a boring solution. Get the guards involved. Run with it. Have the thugs be released the next day to show someone powerful is pulling the strings, or have the guards reward them and say there'll be more where that came from if they can get more information on this gang.

And the Church scenario

He has a cursed ring creating undead. You think he and his allies should investigate and break the entire curse, all on their own? Hell no! He may know only a limited amount about the curse, or curses in general. (Remember, dear readers: this isn't a D&D question, and even if it was there are no guarantees.) If he does know, there may be only a limited amount he and his party can do about breaking the curse. Breaking unholy curses, meanwhile, is well within the department and possible expertise of Churches and priests. Your player did a smart thing by playing within his capabilities, and by reaching out to those with greater expertise than he may have.

The problem wasn't that he reached out to others in the world - the problem was that you let the entire thing grind to a halt when he did.

If you wanted to keep running the plot with the players investigating and breaking the curse, you could have had the Church beg him for help. Have the Church send a priest with them to do investigation work into the curse (the priest can't do it on his own) and offer rewards (from the Church itself or promised by a governor or a frightened rich person who is frightened for his or her children, etc).

Factor this player into your calculations

You now have an x-factor in your party: the guy who thinks of alternate solutions and doesn't do what's boring and predictable. Relish it and take advantage of it. Be ready to think on your feet sometimes - it's okay to say out loud "Oh wow, I wasn't prepared for that" and take a moment to think.

Enjoy the fact you have someone who will throw you a curve ball sometimes, and let your campaign go in more interesting directions. Just be prepared to take that curve ball and run with it and see what exciting things you can make happen.

  • 99
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for your Church response. Players are above-average people; the local authorities are staffed by average people; therefore, the authorities will happily hire/deputize/order the party to deal with it, while providing a reasonable-for-the-circumstances amount of help (the priest may have great knowledge of the undead, but he's a squishy low-powered clothy rather than a plate-wearing Smiter Of Evil; the players just got themselves a miniature escort mission in exchange for knowledge-based support). \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 11:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I wish I had players like the one playing your Bard." Ditto. Your player has realized that there are certain things that are beyond his capabilities and that there are resources available to deal with those issues. Would you fault a player for using a 10 foot pole to cross a gap instead of making a jump check? Or for hiring a wagon to carry loot instead of carrying it himself? The law/church are members of the society that the player is willing to use; you can use them too! Make the guards a bit corrupt or brutal (who polices the police?). Make the church a bit too zealous. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 19:13

Sometimes, clever and creative players are a pain, because you planned for something very different. Yet, it is the clever and creative play that makes the game so rewarding. Instead of getting the player to adapt to your plans, I suggest you adapt your plans to the player.

Make going to the authorities interesting

If the authorities are always helpful, or always disinterested, the game will be boring. To make going to the authorities an interesting decision, here's a few ideas to spice it up:

  • Factions: Say you find yourself in possession of a powerful artifact. Of course you want to get rid of it, but do you give it to the power mongering church or to the merciless dictator, either of which will be unhappy if they find out that the others got the object? Similarly, you can make it a dilemma: Do you alert the authorities if you know that the king is likely to send scores of guards into their certain death? And how would a guard react to such information ("Please, please, don't tell anybody, I have wife and children")?

  • Follow-up quests: Assume your players just went to talk to the captain of the guard (because the underling led them there, since that isn't a matter for a mere soldier). The captain then asks the players for help in hushing up the threat (not necessarily dealing with it, because that's what they're running away from), or has a small task for them, or has a picture of himself with the main villain above his desk.

  • The authorities are hard to find: Maybe there is that hero who is now retired but who is the one person in the city to handle the threat. Since he was always disturbed, he has gone into hiding, or maybe he's just on vacation, and the players have to go find (and maybe rescue) him. Or they get a task to prove themselves worthy before they can get him to fix everything.

  • Bad things happen: You should use this very sparingly, but from time to time, going to the authorities can be a bad idea (and you should strongly hint the issue). If the players show up with a bloodied ring and claim that they just got it off some bad dude, they may get arrested for suspicion of murder. Or the guards may be on the payroll of the local crime syndicate, which will then come after the players. Or the guard may simply be incompetent, put on the cursed ring (for fun), and suddenly, all of the guard are zombies and the players are blamed for it.

Adapt your adventures

If you plan accordingly, going to the authorities won't disrupt your plans too much, and can even simplify planning.

  • Don't tailor the encounter (too much) to your group's level: If the group may or may not bring guards, the encounter may or may not need guards. That means that sometimes the encounter is super easy thanks to the guards, and the players may get chided for involving the guards in a non-threat, whereas sometimes, the players will have to flee and seek out the authorities. Thus, you can tailor encounters to the story, and don't need to adapt them every time somebody finds a +3 ring of something.

  • Make it difficult to get help: In my opinion, the easiest way to avoid players from seeking help is to add urgency to the encounter: The house is on fire. The villain threatens to kill the girl right now. They surprise a raid in progress. In all these cases, going to find somebody else first means that it'll be too late by the time the authorities arrive.

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    \$\begingroup\$ One other suggestion about getting the guards' help- in the first encounter, have several of the guards (who are probably weaker than the party) die bravely. Perhaps the authorities still support his quest, but the bard may begin to feel guilty about endangering weaker soldiers as part of his mission, and factor that in. If such missions continue, perhaps the local guard union gets upset... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 28, 2012 at 2:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not sure if you are still with us on RPGSE, Jonas, but "Authorities Are Corrupt" or "Authorities are secretly part of the problem" is another bullet that fits the theme of your very nice answer. 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 15:40

Deputize Him

If the character is breaking the game context by going to the authorities, make him into the authority. Have the duke/mayor/whatever declare the party to be an "elite troubleshooting squad," give them fancy badges and the authority to do things. Now they can recruit people into militias and buy better swords out of the petty cash, but they can't kick problems upstairs. They are the last line of defense.

I basically stole this idea from dogs in the vineyard, where the PCs are given the explicit duty to determine church doctrine. It remove the dodge of "better go ask the elders what is appropriate" and places moral weight in the players decisions. Giving the players authority gives weight to their actions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 you don't argue that the DM's wrong, you simply answer his question and propose a way for him to get things to work the way he wants. While I may disagree with the DM, this is the way a person should answer a question, not by posturing about someone's personality whom they've never met. \$\endgroup\$
    – deltree
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 19:31

There seem to be a problem of expectations here. You both seem to be at odds with what the game is about. Fix that, the rest will attend to itself. The good news is that a short conversation would fix it: ask why the player is playing. What are they looking for in the game? Adventure? Mystery? Combat? ... Once you have this, it should be much easier for you to come up with plots that hook into that.

If the problem is just the logical "why is this my problem?" answer, then make it their problem: hook into character background, mentor/organisation asking for them to do it (no outsourcing), making it personal, ... There are lots of ways. A lot of movies, TV series, and books assume that the protagonists are professionally invested into doing what they are doing. Passing the buck is not possible. Other plot hooks involve personal things happening. Finally, you can have the situation put them all together.


Although I agree that it's great your player is looking outside the box and trying to play immersively, and seeing that "I murder it" isn't the right approach to everything, it's also true that a full RPG campaign of "I call the cops" isn't all that great even if you try to zazz it up.

Here's reasons why calling the authorities might realistically go awry and tend to have people not do it. You don't have to overdo this, but even in our modern real world people think twice before calling the cops in on everything for a variety of reasons.

Why To Avoid The Filth

  1. You may get arrested too. Did you do something illegal? Did you break and enter to find the ghouls? Then they arrest them and you too. Are you really not wanted for anything? If you live a very honest life, maybe calling the cops is a good idea, but if you (and all your friends/known associates) don't, maybe they're going to arrest you and go over all your loot trying to figure out where you got all that stuff. I don't know many adventuring parties that could stand in depth legal scrutiny.

  2. Maybe they just don't like you or believe you over the other party. OK, if it's "monsters" it's one thing, but if you are a random drifter like most adventurers, and then come into town and insist the old man down the street is a monster, you're likely to get the "First Blood" treatment. (The first Rambo movie, I swear you kids nowadays...) Even in the modern day you don't want to call the cops a lot lest one time they decide you look too ethnic and give you a good tasering. Authorities have lots of power to use physical force and incarcerate and deprive you of property with very little blowback if they're in the wrong and it doesn't always pay to hang around them. Do you sound and look crazy, like most adventurers? They're going to confiscate your weapons and maybe beat you.

  3. Maybe they just don't care and don't help you. I have plenty of friends with horror stories about this from modern police, let alone medieval style. Or maybe they're just slow. Maybe they just get there after the sacrifice has happened. Whoops. They get their silver piece for the day, whatever. Off to Ye Olde Donut Shoppe.

Why The Pigs Won't Help You

  1. Why is this something they need to do now instead of their other pressing activities, especially if they don't have a reason to 100% believe you? They go 8 hours later, and the bad guys have cleared out. "City Guard" don't exactly have CSI units so there's not necessarily proof. Is that human blood? Who knows. People butcher animals to eat all the time back in the day. Bugger off.

  2. Maybe they send a couple level 1 warriors to check out the problem and they get murdered bad. The reason adventurers take things into their own hands is that frequently they are the ones best equipped to do so. The "I'm just a civilian" excuse only lasts till you get a couple levels under your belt. Then you're a coward.

  3. In realistic medieval settings, "City guard" is a myth. Professional police forces are a very modern invention. Earlier, you got the protection you could pay for, or not at all. Many places didn't have ubiquitous "cops" and it was every citizen's job to enforce the law! Read about English "tithings" and "hue and cry" laws - it's frankly more realistic medievally for "doing something about it" to legally be the job of those first on the scene and you'd even get in trouble for not doing something. Now, this is something you have to take into account when setting your campaign world up; if you've already set the expectation it's "COPS, Greyhawk City" then you've dug some of this hole for yourself.


There's a deeper issue here, which is beyond "nonlinear problem solving" and goes into that you perhaps have not supplied much motivation for your PCs to be doing this. If you're just saying "look, a monster! Go!" then they're going to pass the buck when they can.

Usually, you'd be looking for more personal reasons they might want to take things on themselves. "They kidnapped my kid, I can't trust this to the worthless guards!" "I want to revenge-kill that guy, best not tell the cops because they'll want to take them alive!" etc. If you are providing a sufficiently high level of motivation, they'll be wanting to do it themselves.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the realistic medieval setting part. It's important to remember that most "city guards" will just be your average middle class craftsman or local merchant (the upper-class ones can afford to buy themselves free from this obligation), just doing his "city watch" job as required for a week or two each year. Consequently, their skills, motivations, superstitions and believes are not ones of a professional member of a law enforcement unit; and neither have they often the full rights of such. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 9:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ YMMV on the historical point. By the early 13th century there were both professional police officers and proto-police watchmen (members of the community were required to take turns), within the next few hundred years most watchmen were full time (payed by the community members, not salaried) and by the end of the 17th century watchmen were salaried professionals. While the middle ages is something like the 5th to 15th centuries, D&D has a variety of tech and culture. So the existence of cops depends on your setting. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 3:51

In my opinion your player is playing well. He is just doing what seems logical from his character's view. It is you who must work to assure some premises that makes that approach unwise or at least not useful.

Well, there are different approaches, I don't know if you will think of them as overstretching:

  • Maybe some of the local authorities are corrupt and thus involved in the threat. Telling the authorities about the evil cult kidnapping children can result in them spotting the player and trying to stop him before he unveils more secrets.
  • Maybe the bad guys are so good that they have the ability to hide from the authorities, and maybe they can threat the character. If he tells the authorities, they will kill him. The player must find subtler ways to oppose them.
  • Maybe the character himself has problem with the authorities, so he could be arrested when trying to contact them.
  • Maybe the guards are not incompetent but are so busy by the high criminality that they cannot help anyone.

Having incompetent, corrupt or overloaded authorities in a medieval town is likely to happen.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This is certainly one way of looking at it. However, if the campaign being run depends on the characters being independent then it will run into problems, and becomes an issue of player/GM different expectations. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 11:03

If the problem is specifically with a bard, you can engage him by way of his profession. In a medieval/fantasy world, a bard is the closest they have to an investigative reporter; if the bard finds a scary scenario, he can tell the authorities, but there's no story in that. If he delves further and finds out how the evil wizard is planning to enslave the local population, and even thwart the plot with the help of his heroic companions, then that makes for a great story, which can bring xp, free drinks, loot, groupies, etc.

If the problem is deference to authorities in general, make someone in the party an authority. The cleric, fighter or mage might be an agent of the baron or duke, and they're specifically tasked with troubleshooting in the realm. Pick a player with more initiative and deputize them, so when Mr. Law & Order goes looking for someone else to deal with it, someone else is standing next to him, telling him to put on his big-boy pants and pitch in.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the line "there's no story in that" that should be a bard's primary motivator, impressing that upon the player should lead to good things. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 1:29

I don't want to take anything away from the good answers already given, but you should consider that there may not be any 'local authorities'. Certainly the local noble has guards, but they are not a police force; their job is to guard their boss, and if this problem doesn't threaten him, they're not going to risk their lives. 'Go and find a knight, or a sorceror, who cares. Oh, you already know them? So why are you bothering us?' The word civilian has no meaning unless there are professional soldiers/policemen/ people who are paid to deal with this sort of problem, and they simply didn't exist in mediaeval cities; whether they do in your world is up to you. One of the exhilarating things about RPGs is this 'frontier justice' feeling; you have discovered a problem, and there is nobody in town better qualified to deal with it, so you have to do your best.

Of course, the problem may simply be too tough for the party, and so it would be sensible to ask for help. If they want the guards' help in dealing with the encounter, the nobleman may well lend them; if the PC knight convinces him it's in his interest. The Church will certainly provide a priest to root out evil, as long as the party can protect him. But the party have to take the initiative.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @NewAlexandria Its not rigging it to set up the world in a realistic way that actually parallels the dark ages. Law enforcement did exist, but it was sparse, limited, and corruptible. Professional knights did exist, but were few in number and between wars focused on athletic competition. They recruited farmers on an as-needed basis to make up the bulk of the army. Really, the regional sheriff might be a long journey away and may be unwilling/unable to help, especially against a supernatural threat. There may be just a few gaurds in the city, and mostly focused on protecting the noble. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 17:15

We had someone like this in one of our story lines before. The GM took the simple solution of making the character a known criminal by setting him up for something he didn't do but couldn't easily clear his name. That took away the obvious choice of turning to the authorities and had the bonus of creating a villain for that character to want to seek vengeance on and clear his name.


While @Jonas wrote some great approaches, I would like you to consider something that is in-alignment with the 'Factions' idea.

Force the player to deal with corrupt officials. Perhaps the PC seeks help in a situation which the 'authorities' themselves have orchestrated. If the player enjoy bureaucratic role-playing then give them a challenge of character-development they may be seeking: become the better leader of the people.

You can tell if the player has this desire by their response to an orchestrated appearance of corruption.

  1. If they seek more involvement (the local lord, king, etc) then you know that they seek higher status of leadership.... bigger than any adventuring party can provide.

  2. If they shirk away from this, then the player most-likely seeks only on some complex situations easily. You should then strand them to solve a problem on their own.

If the situation is #1, all is not lost. Create an adventure where helping the local lord/queen/etc resolve the low-level corrupt in their realm thus grants the PC (bard) a position of status; a special emissary that is quested.

Ensure that the conditions of the quest restrict the PC from running back to mommy/daddy, and solving things on their own because they have been given authority to do that.

A good player, IMO, in this context, would raise a local army or do some other action to expand their sovereignty to which they have been pledged. If necessary, limit budget / allowance through the necessity of political discreteness.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Corrupt officials is a very real and engaging twist to throw in. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 15:43

Put yourself in the local officials' position. This group of strangers come to town and start stirring up trouble and expect you to clean up their mess.

The first time it happens: ok, stuff happens sometimes, you'll handle it.

The second, maybe third, time: The party have become troublemakers. "It was a nice quiet town before you got here..."

After that, here are a few possibilities:

  • "I'm not getting paid enough for that, you're on your own."
  • "Thank you! Say, have you heard about the troubles brewing in somewhere far, far away?"
  • "Here's the bill for the damages and services rendered. How will you be paying?"
  • "Oooh! Look at all this cool loot!" (that they won't be getting)

Even if they're traveling, remember: officials talk. Merchants talk. Travelers and couriers spread stories. Word gets around. Maybe ahead of the party, maybe a few days later. "These people are Trouble. Welcome these strangers at your own risk."

If the bard is not picking up on it. Maybe introduce another bard who tells one of their tales, but has "improved" the ending and/or outcome.


I agree that it is good for players to use any means to solve a problem. That said, I agree that a player that runs to the local guardsmen every time a fight comes up would get old.

I also don't think it makes sense. Your players are heroes, they should be more capable than the local guardsmen. I think a decent comparison would be a SWAT team to the same number of rank and file officers. Just imagine what the police would say if you ran got them and when they get there, a SWAT team is waiting for them to handle things. If I were the police officer I would think I would rightly be annoyed that you wasted my time, when you could have handled the issue. If your encounter is designed for your group, his character should know that your group should be able to take the encounter.

Ignoring that your party should be able to handle it, I have a question. How does he manage to get the guards? Since the party is in an inhabited area, does he have the luxury to spend a half hour rounding up guards while a dangerous creature roams?

Here is an example of what I am getting at.

Your group is heading through town when they spot a few skeletons emerge from a warehouse (probably raised by the local necromancer). They know that this is a tough encounter for the group, if things go real bad someone may die. You also know that you currently could avoid the skeletons. Best case for getting enough guards together to fight them is ten minutes. There is a good chance that in ten minutes the skeletons will run into a group of defenseless civilians.

Option 1: They go get the guards leaving the skeletons to wander while they are gone. As GM in this case, I would have them come back to find the skeletons gone. They will find them shortly by the screams of the civilians being attacked. By the time your group and the guards get to them there are two dead civilians, but you quickly kill them.

Option 2: The group decides they need to contain the skeletons while the bard runs off. In this case, now one man down group has to fight the skeletons. Hopefully they can handle themselves while they wait for the guards (If they can, why get the guards?). Once the guards arrive they clean things up and round up the loot. Their reputation goes down.

Option 3: They all stay to attack the skeletons. After a hard fight they get to divide up the loot. Their reputation goes up.

There needs to be consequences and a sense of immediacy. They need to know they are the best people to handle the issue.

In the case of the cursed ring, have them hear later on that the priest of the church was killed when he succumbed to the curse.

I was looking at this question again and noticed a fixation on this bard.

You mention that the other players are fairly passive and are letting the bard call the shots. If you could engage them, you may solve the problem. I have two ideas as to how you might be able to do this. Each game night assign a party spokesperson (cycle through all players). This person is the person that gets the group consensus and provides you with the overall party actions. May not help if they just go to bard, but you may get some additional input from the party. The other idea is rather than just asking for actions, after laying out the current scene, you directly ask individuals for their actions. For example... When at a point the group needs to provide their actions, you ask the fighter what he is doing, cycling through the entire group. Mix up the order so you aren't favoring anyone.

Sorry for the rambling, but hope this helps.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ (+1) urgency is definitively a way to handle this. Please understand that I won't go into the details o they of my examples, I have made them shallower then they actually are to discuss about the issue in general rather than specific examples. \$\endgroup\$
    – user1368
    Commented Oct 26, 2012 at 5:56

If the importance of what the characters are doing is realistic compared to their abilities then this problem won't occur.

If you stick to (very common) plot-lines in which not very powerful characters are stumbling into the edges of world-affecting plots, then it doesn't really make sense in the first place, and of course it makes sense for more powerful parties to get involved. Your "troublesome" player is really just acting more sensible than the story in which he finds himself.

If the characters are not very powerful or important and they are doing appropriate things (delivering objects of limited importance, checking a nearby town to check that the rich lady's nephew is still OK, hunting a wolf that has been bothering herders) then you won't have to invent reasons the town guard won't help them - it isn't their job to help them.

As characters get more powerful doing important things will make sense. At this point the town guard won't help because they mostly can't and it's way too dangerous to try.

Finally, getting help isn't entirely a bad thing - it's intelligent play and good roll playing as well. Just plan accordingly - figure out what help is available when you design your adventures.

And maybe use the consequences of seeking help as part of the campaign. The players may get favors but be asked for them in return. Or the people the characters recruit to help may come to harm as a result. Do people sort of blame the characters? Do they blame themselves? It adds depth to the campaign when they finally are able to go deal with the threat themselves later. It also makes becoming more powerful important, and not just the same adventures except that the opponents are scaled up to match the characters.


While I totally agree with doppelgreener's answer, I would add an idea to have your players do a quest alone and without help, without presenting the authorities as stupid or evil:

Trick the players into doing something illegal, or maybe even better, tricking them into a situation where they would be the prime suspects of a crime. They either know, or have strong hints about who committed the crime, but as they are the primary suspects, they can't tell anything to the authorities, because nobody will believe them. They should first acquire some pretty solid proof.


There are lots of good answers here, and I particularly back doppelgreener's suggestions. But there are more options as well.

Provide Motivation to do it yourself

If you are giving them a hook of a threat to the city/region, then running to the authorities probably is something they should be doing. If only to let the authorities know something along the lines of "We are handling this, but have the defenses ready in case we fail." Or to perhaps directly ask to be deputized to handle it so that they have some backing.

But, there are plenty of adventurer type missions where it makes no sense to go to the authorities. If the PCs are being hired to handle something for someone (and that someone might be the authority) then they need to go do it themselves. The authorities might not care and the mission-giver might hand the reward to the person that actually does the work if the characters get someone else involved.

Similarly, if they find out about an opportunity to go after treasure, then the treasure is the motivation. The authorities probably don't care and just might be their competition in a race to get it first. Say they find out about a goblin warren a days walk away. The authorities may not care if the goblins aren't causing a problem, but the adventurers might want to take care of it to loot it.

Make the authorities unable to help

Ok, this is similar to several other answers, but I think I can add something useful.

If you are staying somewhat middle-ages, law enforcement is very limited. There are sheriffs, but they are severely understaffed to handle things like murders and thefts. The knights might pitch in, but they are few in number and focus on war between kingdoms and athletic competitions (jousting, etc) between themselves. They were known to do some law enforcement type stuff, but it was a sidelight.

In short, the characters might have a hard time finding the authorities (at least as we think of them today) because they were really few in number, spread out, and frequently travelling. Even if found, they might provide very limited help.

Confronted with a supernatural threat like a necromancer, a sheriff might flee the region. That's not to say he's incompetent, but he's competent at dealing with mundane murderers and thieves, not a powerful mage. A knight might agree to help, but he needs to conscript assistants...and the adventurers are right there with swords strapped on. So, they might add a knight to the party, but he might be low level and mostly adding legal authority while they do most of the work...


On the other hand, while the bard might be playing "smart", being smart can be boring.

If the threat is something the local authorities can handle, they might simply say "Thanks for letting us know. We'll take care of it. Here's a few silver for your trouble, have a drink on us." If the threat isn't something they can handle, they might put out a call for adventurers... But would they hire the same people who just demonstrated they didn't really feel up to the task? There are plenty of adventurers out there with a more proactive attitude.

If you did this, it would make for a very boring game. The rewards go to the people who conquer the challenges. The fame and treasure would be going to NPCs, not the person who is "a bard in a medieval world, so, more or a less, a civilian".

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    \$\begingroup\$ It's only boring that way if the DM handles it in a boring way. Would they hire the same people who didn't just take the law into their own hands, and who instead showed some respect for the law by getting the guards to handle it, despite looking capable of handling themselves? Yes. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 13:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a difference between showing respect for the law and passing the buck because you are a "civilian". The original write up seemed to me like the bard was going to the authorities because he felt it was out of their depth. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ (+1) I feel the same way, but the whole game is not rewarding if a GM handles it like this. We all know that adventures in general have a special relationship with the law ;), but on the other side I do not want to have players who feel obliged to contact the local lord to do anything (like pursuiting bandits, if they are technically not allowed to arrest or kill). \$\endgroup\$
    – user1368
    Commented Oct 25, 2012 at 16:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: This is more of an extended comment, it just agrees with the question's premise without proposing a solution. \$\endgroup\$
    – deworde
    Commented Feb 26, 2013 at 11:44

Cops don't exist

Did you know that in medieval times, there were no city cops? Police are actually a modern invention[1], I'm not sure why they're even in most D&D campaigns. There's a solution for you: There is no "city watch". If the townsfolk need something done, they've got to get a posse together and solve it themselves, or hire some adventurers.

Edit: I want to clarify something. I'm not saying: "don't have a city watch because they're historically inaccurate". What I'm saying is: "Consider not having a city watch (or limit their jurisdiction to things other than what the PC's are doing) because it's more fun that way. This happens to be more historically accurate than the typical portrayal of a city watch".

Going to the church

What if the church helps them out with the ring? Help being the key word: The priests inspect the ring and give them advice on what to do next. You immediately have a way of moving them onto the next stage of the plot.

Edit: Providing an example from real at-table experience, because Thomas Markov asked for it. One time, I had an NPC give a PC a moon stone, claiming he was a relative of one of the many civilians they'd saved in a previous adventure. Turned out this guy was actually out to get the PC's (for reasons that aren't important). The moon stone was like a homing beacon for undead. The party would get undead encounters way more than before, and at one point the specific PC got attacked by a shadow while walking around alone in the city. At this point, they knew something was up, so the PC (a cleric) went to his local temple. They examined it, and confirmed their suspicious about the stone. They told them how to destroy the moon stone. Finding out who was out to get them and why was something they had to figure out on their own though.

Edit: Providing citations about the lack of medieval police:

[1] https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/sir-robert-peels-nine-principles-their-relevance-campus-policing



  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center. \$\endgroup\$
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 14:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the stack Nick, take the tour when you have a moment. It isn't clear to me how these ideas solve the problem. When you have some time, take a look at our citation expectations for some guidance on what we generally expect out of quality subjective answers. In particular, we aren't looking for untested, "this might work" sort of ideas, we are looking for real at-table experience where you implemented a solution to a similar problem. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 14:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ "The cops don't exist" solution actually does solve the problem. Problem: "Players keep getting the city watch to solve their problems for them, but I want them to have to do it themselves". If there's no city watch, there's no problem! As for my second solution, this actually is tested. I've actually done exactly this at my table. I don't see a rule anywhere that says your idea has to have real at-table experience to back it up, but I'll provide one. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ "any historian will tell you that there was no medieval police" - WRONG. Let me point you to some police that are premodern: Japan established a national police system in around 1603 and China sported local police corps around the first dynasty, which was 4000 years ago. The Chinese magistrate system was police-judges! The City Watch also did exist literally everywhere in imperial german cities, however their job was not peacekeeping, they were literally soldiers of the city to guard the gates and collect taxes/tolls. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 26, 2023 at 19:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ no, the German Empire, aka HRE, was the successor of the Roman Empire and formed around 800. It was only dismantled when Napoleon came around. You mean the HREGN, the Holy Roman Empire [of the] German Nation, which was the indirect successor of the HRE. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 2:06

I have an idea for a totally different approach based on that your setting is not quite plain Medieval but rather Fantasy Medieval, kind of LOTR styled: Remember that Aragorn showed up not quite at the beginning, but once he was there he was part of the main protagonist group?

Make an Aragorn. Make the PCs find someone quite powerful, let's say the sun mage Omegon working for the church to deal with ghosts and demons, and he joins the players and at that very moment you ask "Who wants Omegon as his second PC?"

I mean, I'm not quite sure what kind of Pen&Paper RPG you moderate, but at least from what I heard about D&D multiple characters per player aren't unusual there. So why should unlockable PCs be impossible?

And going away from D&D, many videogame RPGs feature unlockable PCs. Generally I think videogame RPGs and D&D can learn a lot from each other. Consider giving a try to an unlockable PC, in best case even already having the right authorization to deal with such problems arising on the journey.

If you don't want to feature multiple PCs per player, you can let a player change characters and invent a reason why his previous PC is parting with the group. Perhaps, now that the party has such a powerful member, the mage feels like the party is getting along without him, and parts to have a look whether his grandchildren are fine, or on which state the mess is his apprentice has been causing during his abstinence.

However, I did already spot a problem that might arise with this approach: There might be more than one player wanting the new PC. All you could do is make the party discuss it, or if they can't agree make the dice decide, then one or more players will be jealous towards the lucker for having got the awesome character. There is a way to deal with it, though: Make multiple character changes of this kind, so players having missed out get another chance later.

Of course, there is no point in making the unlockable PCs overpowered, they only must feel like something specially awesome. Thinking of, they don't need even that: They can be just average characters, or let's say a bit better than average, neither overpowered nor too weak. Because if they are too weak no one will want them. Unfortunately, I can't help you finding the balance - that's up to you.


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