When a player has their character do something completely outside of the perceived norm for that character, is it okay to ask them for a justification?

If they can not give satisfactory justification, would it be appropriate to have them take another course of action?

In my group, one of the biggest issues is meta-gaming. Characters doing things that they would have no cause to do, simply because their player has privileged information. It's gotten so bad, my only recourse when I'm DMing has been to ask players to justify their actions. Some of my players are against this; others find it annoying, but understand as they have to do the same.

Even more so, though, we have an issue with people acting... well, random. Quite often, they will pick the most direct route to solve their problems, while completely ignoring anything near standard cultural norms, or even basic common sense. They will do things that, in any form of society, will get them into no end of trouble. Often times, their characters act more like a collection of stock cartoon-gags than actual people. Our group doesn't have a regular DM because of this very issue. No one is willing to try and put up with dealing with the rest of the group as characters.

I tried providing in-game consequences for their actions. They were arrested, and then immediately assumed it was tantamount to a tpk. When I, or anyone, tries giving actions consequences, it only ever frustrates people, as one of two things will happen; either they continue acting random and without fail get their characters killed, or they throw on the breaks so hard to do a 180 with their characters' personality that you can almost hear it.

The group averages from 19-24. It's never been larger than six people, including DM. None of us can find a new group; we can never be sure what day we can meet, we're the only players in a ten mile radius, we've all invested time and money into the current game and don't have enough of either to find a new one, and there aren't enough players to give up even one player, as every time we've added a player, they've left within the month because of scheduling issues.

So, we considered just making it a requirement that any given action taken by a character is subject to DM scrutiny, and will be ignored and re-done if found unsatisfactory as something said character might do. Is there any issue with that?

  • \$\begingroup\$ To some degree, this may vary from game to game in terms of the expectations it places upon roleplaying and in-character justification. Are you intending to ask more generally, in a system-agnostic way? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 14 '19 at 6:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Given the age of the question, I cannot speak with 100% certainty as to the original intent. That said, neither the question nor any of the answers reference any one system. As far as I understand the phrase, that would make it system-agnostic as it stands. Separately; Yes, the context of what system this question is asked in could influence the answers. It could; Based on the answers given, it hasn't. Some aspect of the question makes people intuit that it applies only to games with role play akin to D&D in terms of mechanics. I doubt I intended that, it seems to have just happened. \$\endgroup\$ – Zach Jul 14 '19 at 17:58

14 Answers 14


There are a ton of issues with that.

That doesn’t automatically mean it’s the wrong move, just that it’s fraught with problems.

Ultimately, most people feel that roleplaying works best when everyone, ya know, plays a role. As in, behaves as their character would, based on what their character knows, rather than how they would, based on what they know. This is usually the goal.

However, most groups don’t explicitly enforce it. It’s considered bad taste to meta-game, it’s considered good roleplaying to stay in character even when it hurts, but there aren’t specific rules about it, and in many groups the DM claiming “your character wouldn’t do that” is a gross violation of the player’s area of control (i.e. their character). Statements to that effect have been reasons to leave a group for a lot of players in a lot of situations, and while I am lucky to have never played under a DM who seriously thought that was his business, if I were I most likely wouldn’t tolerate it.

But your group may be different. You are expressing frustration with the status quo, and that is presumably a feeling shared by others. This could be a solution to that, and ideally the questioning would come more as a reminder than as any real attempt to control others’ characters.

That said, the objections of some people in your group suggests that not everyone feels the way you do. There are people in the group who either A. feel they are not metagaming, or B. feel that the metagaming is a good thing, and in both cases there is not a problem. Both perspectives are valid, though B is a bit unusual. (There is a third option, C, wherein people recognize that there is a problem but dislike this solution; I would probably fall in that category. That said, these people are probably already doing their best not to metagame.)

So what you really need to do is discuss metagaming, what is or isn’t and how much is or isn’t appropriate. You need to have a mature discussion, and you need to listen to others’ opinions, perspectives, and preferences. More than likely, no two people in the group will exactly align, but hopefully everyone will be near enough to some common ground that a compromise can be made.

And once you have that, you really probably don’t need this rule. You might include it, in theory, if people felt they needed to be reminded or “called on” for metagaming, but I really cannot imagine any point where it is a good idea for a DM to say “no, your character would not do that.” You can question an action (though even that might be disrespectful), but ultimately the DM has to back down there because his authority, so absolute otherwise, cannot control player characters like that, or else the players have nothing and there is no game.

Under no circumstances should this rule be even considered unless everyone wants it. A group that agreed it would be for the best to get called in this fashion could work. But if some do, and some don’t, it is not a reasonable thing for a DM to expect of players. The individuals who requested it could get called on it, but you should never tell someone he’s not playing his character right, after he’s specifically told you to stay hands-off on that subject. Were it me, I would walk out the very first time it happened, assuming you convinced me to stay at all, which I tend to doubt.

There can still be a compromise even if people object to this as a rule, of course; that’s actually normal for most groups. E.g. if you say something like “I won’t call you on it, but it is your responsibility to avoid metagaming and this game isn’t going to survive if you don’t.” and he says “OK, I will do what I can,” that is a workable situation.

But if no compromise can be made, if some feel that their behavior is entirely appropriate and refuse to modify it, and you feel your expectations are entirely reasonable and refuse to modify those, then you have learned this without going through it the hard way: you are not a compatible group of people who are looking for the same game. That’s pretty much what you’d discover if you tried to “enforce” these rules without a compromise, but there’d be a lot more ill feelings. Better to skip that step.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If the group wants him to do the hard work required to GM and his one big rule is no metagaming, they either need to respect that rule or volunteer to GM instead. He shouldn't have to put up with an un-fun experience so that the rest of the group is happy. Everyone should be having fun, including the GM. Sometimes the best solution is to just admit that this impasse is unsolvable and to do something else instead of try to suffer through an un-fun ordeal because they may be your friends. \$\endgroup\$ – Dyndrilliac Jun 12 '15 at 3:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dyndrilliac And what do you think the last paragraph says? It says exactly that: the group isn’t going to work out, what’s fun for one is not fun for the other. The GM is not in a special position here; everyone playing is supposed to be having fun. Moreover, what he seems to want from his players are things that very few, if any, players are going to accept (note: some of this statement is based on Chat discussions with the OP), so if he wants to play with anyone that fact is worth hearing. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 12 '15 at 3:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Moreover, what he seems to want from his players are things that very few, if any, players are going to accept" - I would challenge that assertion. In my experience both in private home games and public organized play games at my FLGS, strict rules against metagaming are fairly common. \$\endgroup\$ – Dyndrilliac Jun 12 '15 at 4:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dyndrilliac Again, you were not present for Chat discussions on the subject. Metagaming not being allowed is one thing. Stripping any and all player agency and controlling the PCs for them is quite another. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 12 '15 at 4:06

The game you want to run is not the game they want to play.

Fundamentally, gaming is a consensual activity. You clearly have very strong views about what kind of game you want to play, strong enough to trump your annoyance with the rest of the players not playing that game.

While it's not "wrong" to require justification, it will leave you without players quite quickly.

Instead, pick up a copy of Paranoia, BESM, Maid, or any of the other cartoony-gag based RPGs and embrace the game that the group wants to play. Run through the Same Page Tool with your group and use it to (search for and) build a game-recommendation question that fits your entire groups' needs.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the first line alone. @Zach, based on several of your questions here, I really do suspect that this is the case. You have quite a few about trying to induce or coerce “correct” behavior from players, and that’s just never going to work and the fact that you want to speaks to a fundamental difference between what you want and what the players want. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Dec 3 '13 at 6:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is not a good answer. While it does answer the question, the majority of it is neither a 'yes' or 'no', but more akin to the Buddhist 'mu,' meaning 'the question is wrong.' While it is an interesting and possibly helpful answer to some, it assumes certain information that I did not provide in the question, and is thus flawed. For one; it doesn't matter if they want to play the game I want to run, they have no other options, there aren't enough people to play with otherwise. Two, we can not switch games, no one has the time nor money available to do that, after investing in the first one. \$\endgroup\$ – Zach Dec 3 '13 at 17:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zach At this point, based on your responses to this answer and the comments with it, it sounds less like you're asking for an answer and more asking for validation of your (highly subjective) difficulty with your group. With no specific system tags and no willingness to reevaluate your question, it's going to be very difficult to provide you with satisfying, objective answers without basically rewording the above, as KRyan did below (not to mention the fact that KRyan endorsed this over his own answer as a more concise summation of the same statement). \$\endgroup\$ – David C Ellis Dec 3 '13 at 18:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zach a frame challenge (or "mu" in your terms) is an acceptable response on SE sites. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 23 '16 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Brian, FWIW, RPGSE no longer accepts game recommendation questions (the meta policy on that is about two years old now) so a part of your answer no longer fits. FYI in case you drop by and are moved to edit that. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 29 '19 at 21:16

I think it's fine, depending on the approach. Here's how I see it, exaggerated a bit for clarity.

Wrong: You can't do that unless you tell me how it makes sense to your character.

Right: That doesn't jive with my understanding of your character. Can you explain why your character is taking that action so I understand him better?

The way I see it is that there are two versions of the character - the GM's and the PC's. I want the PC's version to be correct and assume my version is out of sync. But if the player can't justify the action, it still leaves them room to back pedal without me being the bad guy who denies players their actions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Perfect answer. If you demand I justify myself as a player, then "I said so." is really all I should ever need. If you ask me to explain my character's motivations, you will probably get more details than you wanted. And for someone who hadn't thought about their character's motivation, it can help them think it thorugh without being confrontational about it. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Dec 6 '13 at 18:05

It's probably a bad idea.

Meta-gaming can be an issue, but attempting to forcefully control it in this way will only cause more conflict. After all, being unable to justify how one interprets the actions of their own character can be a sign of excellent roleplaying, as well - if you've really become this other person, only you know what they would do, and no one can judge you on it. The real issue is that this requires a level of trust between game master and players - you have to trust that they will not meta-game, and they have to trust that you will allow them freedom. Without that trust, you're going to continue to have problems indefinitely.

You can't try to force players into behaving. You need to have a trusting, cooperative, understanding relationship with them first. If you don't have this, you should find different players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This remains a sound and concise answer, in general, even though Zach's question pointed out that the supply of players in his area is severely limited. (For whatever reason). I am in a similar circumstance, locally. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 13 '19 at 15:45

My gaming group has a specific hour or so set aside before the game to "get our sillies out". We listen to music, or play gag games, such as Munchkin or other games. We don't interact very much aside from on the gaming table so we need to get our fun time out. Sometimes, this is all a group needs.

Other times, they need some sort of emotional attachment to their characters. Often we don't see a reason to connect with our character, and I find the best way to connect is strife and struggle. Now you say they solve their problems with a direct path. So, refuse to show them the solution, don't divulge the information that everyone uses out of character. I know SOME of that is something you can't help, but once in a while we explain something to a player and another player goes "I go to that" (this is the simplified version), so we have to say "To what? You'd have no way of knowing it's there." We have called out players a few times, but we don't have them justify EVERY action, that would get redundant, we encourage thinking aloud though, the DMs loovveee to hear the character thought process. So we encourage them to tell us what their character is thinking. And we don't show them immediate accusation such as "I don't believe you, explain."

We go "That's interesting, how did your character come to that conclusion?" or "Tell me what your character is thinking." Or other similar-ish questions that make it seem like we are more interested in immersion then accusation. Even justify it "I want to learn more about your character" so you can fit it into the game, or create a more immersive deep experience. If you are a player mention thought provoking things that will get them to debate it or have their opinion. Be a little controversial and say something like "My character finds that wrong because __". Or have your character in game confront other characters. Say someone take something from an npc and pushes them aside, your character can step in front and confront them. "What are you doing? That woman has done nothing to you!"

The more you try to accuse or talk to them out of the game, the more they will respond out of game. Anyways, these are just suggestions that seem to work for us and players don't get nearly as annoyed. Well, heated, sometimes, but being passionate over the game is better than being annoyed because they are being accused of something.

Good luck!

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    \$\begingroup\$ The "I want to learn more about your character" sounds like a nice trick. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Coehoorn Dec 4 '13 at 4:36

Sometimes it depends on the game system you are using to enforce these types of actions. D&D's alignment system allows you to warn them when they are about to break character attitude because if they do something impactful or often enough they take penalties.

In a lot of games I've been to, the problem with metagaming is people acting out of character to avoid something the player knows is coming. Plus if the characters have any traits that make them bound to certain rules, the aspects about disobeying consequence or common sense come into play. Lawful or good alignments, the virtue of Order, the Quirk of Honor.

There's also Scion, where there are things called "Virtues", and whenever a character wants to act against any of their four virtues they must roll. Failing the roll lets them act against their nature for that action while success means that their isms get the best of them. There's even a 'critical success' type option where too high a roll makes them do something self detrimental out of disgust with themselves (e.g. someone with Duty as a virtue that tries to shirk responsibility may end up tending only to their responsibilities without eating, sleeping, etc.)

Another example I can think of is Mechwarrior 3e where there is a disadvantage called "Quirk". There are two levels to quirks. The first allows the character to make a steep willpower roll to act against it, and the second means it's an unfailing part of their persona. Quirks are a nice abstract thing, which include Quirk/Clan Honor, Paranoid, Xenophobic, Fear of Fire, Elitism, Vengeful, etc. Quirks comes in all sorts of flavors which makes for a nice widespread creation.

So if you want a little more opacity to the fourth wall, a system with enforced personality traits could be a solution.


We have done this. Many year ago, we had a similar situation in a Vampire game.

The characters were in a night club; one of them was on the outside and saw a truck that was going to crash against it. The meta-gamer then said that his character was going to the restroom. The Storyteller asked him why at that precise moment his character (who didn't even pee) was going there, and he said his character could do whatever he wanted.

The ST didn't allow it, and I think he did right. Metagaming cheapens the game and the story, making characters do things incoherent with the plot. It also lessens the challenge. If your players metagame, you will have an illogical, incoherent story.

That doesn't mean that fighting against metagaming is a task only for you. In our game group all players can warn when they think another one is metagaming. We ask frequently "How do your character know that?", or "Why is he suddenly changing his action?", or even "Are you sure that is not metagame?".

We set a system of penalties and rewards that we happily haven't needed to use yet. Establishing the system and thinking about the problem has made everyone aware, and much reduced the metagaming.

So, talk to your players and explain why metagaming makes everyone's game worse. Then tell them you need their help, and come up with means to avoid metagaming. And as a last resort, with extremely illogical actions, don't allow them (IMHO).

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for taking a strong stance against meta-gaming. I'm surprised there are so few answers advocating taking a hard-line against it, and even more surprised that they have such low scores. If the players want me to invest the time and effort into running a game for them, insisting on players not abusing knowledge they may have that their characters don't isn't too much to ask IMHO. If they decide that's not cool, then we just won't play; or one of them should step up and do the work of being GM. Being the GM is a lot of work, and they should respect your wishes if you are against metagaming. \$\endgroup\$ – Dyndrilliac Jun 12 '15 at 3:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Unfortunately for your character, the restroom is right where the truck hits the club." \$\endgroup\$ – rptb1 May 2 '19 at 12:36

In our group we prevent this before it can start and have set rules. A player would never break these rules because they would get looked down on.

The only way this can be achieves is through having GM, Assistant GM and a Player Rep position.

They discuss the rules of the group and conduct and if anyone consistently breaks these rules you decide on penalties, either acts of God or a group decision to not ask that member back the following week, with if they come back the week after and repeat then as we call it they are Black Rose'd and asked to leave the group.

This is a drastic action but no group needs to be disrupted and even amongst friends rules need to be set and you have to be frank honest and open while out of character.

To elaborate slightly with an example: If a member of the group is using information not obtained by the character a house rule may be as lenient as a roll to see if they can use intuition or guess this is the case, or even blankly say no. Further if a player is continuously making disruptions to the group and spoiling it for other players they can be asked to take a time out after discussing the matter in private with them.

I cannot say what would be right for your groups but you would know and sit down with at least 2 other people to decide what house rules should be applied and what they should be.


It is always a good idea to ask a player to explain what he is trying to accomplish and how he thinks is action is going to do that. If the GM is confused by a players action, it's usually because he doesn't understand what the player means to do, so it's always good to ask so that everyone is on the same page. If you have established that the player understands the situation the GM described and wants to go through with his characters action, there is no reason at all why the GM should stop him. Of course, the action will have consequences and the character has to live with them. If the player does not like the consequences (like having a huge bounty on the characters head), it's entirely his own fault. The GM intervening only tells the player that things happen as the GM decides anyway, and so he has no reason to really think about his characters actions.


As other folks have mentioned, you can't make anyone do anything. What you can do, is have a conversation about what kind of game you're looking for and find out if there is any possibility of overlap or not.

That said, you've mentioned that this is the standard behavior for the group.

They're having fun doing the "Grand Theft Auto" kind of game - you go around, do what you want and most of the fun is creating chaos and blowing things up. Story, consistency, the idea of a character having a personality, history or plans for the future are all really not the point here. They're totally not here for the same game you are.

You've also mentioned other people will not GM for this group - what if you contact those other folks and go play with them?

The other consideration is this - a lot of gamers start off excited to do some kind of story or fantasy world - and a lot of times they end up playing in games where the GM railroads them and forces them into ridiculous, implausible situations. The engagement with the game boils down to whatever is the most effective to staying alive, wasting time on ridiculous things, or trying to cause chaos, because they've had enough games where that really is the only form of agency they get. Abused Gamer Syndrome.

Now you come along and you tell them, "No, actually, these things should matter!" but no one can easily shift gears at this point. Pretty much all railroading type GMs also say the same thing, so... the words are empty to folks who've gone through this. Mind also, that if your gaming is based on railroading, linear or branching path type, they will not shift out because a lot of times that kind of behavior is protest TO that style of play.

Players who I find get stuck in this, I usually play a game that has narration trading - like Inspectres, octaNe, The Pool, or Primetime Adventures - when you play games that have hardcoded in the rules the impossibility of railroading, players get a chance to work out the issues of not having agency at all, and can start trusting the possibility of playing the game they want and getting the stories they want without falling back to coping mechanisms. "I get to control my character" becomes an actual rule instead of a lie in play.

Of course, that depends on them even wanting such a thing, which may or may not be the case, and would require an honest, clear conversation first.


There is a huge issue with "making it a requirement that any given action taken by a character is subject to DM scrutiny". However, there are some things a GM can do to help the situation.

First all, if it happens once: leave it be. Just say something like, "Well, that's an interesting move for an _ character" and move on.

But that doesn't sound like your situation. After it happens over and over and over, many games have an alignment or behavior system that you can use to create consequences for out-of-character or strange actions. Certain bonuses, abilities, or penalties will depend on the player keeping the character in line with these rules. For example, if a "good" character is picking up random useful items off the street they can find, like they might playing Final Fantasy, they are effectively stealing. As a GM, you can tell your player that the character is no longer a "good" character, and force them to calculate any penalties or lose abilities until they can make the changes needed to become good again.


In general, this isn't wrong, but it is very, very dangerous.

The six words most feared by any D&D player are "Your character refuses to do that". It's within your rights as the DM, but it's the nuclear option: pulling it out creates serious bad blood between the DM and the player, and often ripples out into the rest of the group. Gaming groups fall apart over things like that, and so this should only ever be done when a player poses an even bigger threat to the group. The classic example is if one PC attempts to rape another PC.

Asking for in-character justification is the soft version of this, because there's an implied threat that you may take more direct control if the answer is unsatisfactory. If direct control is the nuclear option, then asking for justification is nuclear brinksmanship. Once again, this isn't necessarily wrong, but it is dangerous. If you're considering doing it at all, then that fact alone indicates that there is a serious problem.

This problem might be with the player in question, or with the target of that player's desired actions, or both. Usually the problem is of this first type, though I don't think your case is. It could also be a problem with you as DM: an unfortunate possibility that DMs nevertheless need to stay open to, though again, I don't think your case is like this.

In your specific case, I think you have the third type of problem: a mismatch between the game the players want to play and the game that's actually being played. I think @Brian has a point as far as this goes. He puts a personal spin on it that I'm not sure is warranted, though: I wouldn't put this as being between you and the group. From the rest of your post, it sounds like other people in the group have noticed the same thing when it's their turn to DM, so it's possible that as a player, you might have these very same tendencies.

It sounds to me as though what your group needs is a silly campaign. I'm not saying that it necessarily needs to be ridiculous: Paranoia can be fun, but it isn't for everyone. I'm also not saying that this needs to be a permanent thing; it's just a temporary accommodation for what your group seems to want right now.

One method that can adapt itself well to many campaigns is taken from theater of the absurd: take your original premise, but make the one simple change that the PCs know they are characters. How much they know about this is up to you: they might not know they're in a game, and even if they do, they might not know the rules. It's also possible that other characters don't know (and can't be convinced) about the world's fictional nature, and think the PCs are a little crazy. You know how "those adventurers" get, after all.

Once people get this out of their system, you might find that they're ready for something more serious again. Like I said, this only needs to be a temporary situation. But I do think that it's needed.


There is a huge difference between different ways to "justify actions". The most "rude" way could be "You can't do this, your character doesn't want it". It may be OK sometimes, but most often it's not. The "less rude" way would be to just ask to clarify why did a player decide something during the session.

I, however, would use two following techniques. First -- don't tell "you can't do it", rather tell "You feel like there is something wrong in your action because of X, Y and Z. Are you sure to proceed?". Of course, proceeding may and probably will trigger alignment changes or other moral mechanics from your system. That's OK, that's evolution of characters, and from my own point it should happen.

The second technique is hosting self-analysis sessions. Dedicate some time to discussing things that are happening, like 30 (or 15, whatever is OK for you) minutes after each of your 4-5 hour sessions. Allow everyone to express what did they like and dislike in the last session, and GM should be the last to speak. Maybe you will all agree that something was metagaming and is not OK?

Dedicated time solves several problems. 1) You don't interrupt sessions for random discussions 2) If you have something to say, you will probably say it instead of waiting until problems grow too big.

Good luck!

P.S. Some systems do have things that characters are likely to refuse to do, like a vampire in World Of Darkness is unlikely to willingly come under the sun, even if he can survive it for some time period. Such situations should be solved by checks, but one should be careful when introducing such mechanics to a game.


I agree with most given answers. I am however, missing a single, very important factor: HUMOR. RPG is essentially is a Game, treat it as such.

My solution in such cases is to turn the rest of the party against the most obnoxious PC. It takes a bit of creativity, but a Wizzard will not be amused if a Barbarian-tank keeps braking expensive magic items, a Druid will not be happy if there is unnecessary damage to nature (it can even lose powers), Rogues are not amused if precious stones are turned into powder, Bards have a reputation to think about, Clerics can lose abilities for sticking with a party that acts against certain religious views, Fighters have no use for broken pieces of armor, everybody dislikes potions being fed to the dungeon-floor and whole parties can get mad because they miss out on adventures because of their track-records.

The trick is to publicly deny possibilities in the in-game future, rather than punishing individual people for past behavior. Skip side-quests (you haven't designed in the first place), refuse them to buy/sell items because of an angry guild, deny them entry to cities, spice up the game with angry NPC's that no longer will help or assist players, send them foul letters from family-members that disinherit them, throw them out of guilds, the list is endless. If they end up getting killed, they at least understand why.

'Harassing' players in-game to the same extend as they are harassing the DM, is often much more fun (for both player and DM) than throwing one or more PC's in prison and/or TPK.

If you do it with humor (OOTS is a good example of this), most PC's will slowly fall in love with you(r game), in stead of feeling personally punished for having fun.

Best results are to be expected when 4 party-members get 'mad' with the 5th one, f.e. because of something stupid like them smelling as foul as a dire-skunk for 2d4 days... :)


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