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My players abandoned a character amongst a group of raiders. I decided that her fate would be to have her abused both physically and emotionally. (The aspects of her abuse are left behind the curtains.) She is being kept on a leash by drugs. I was looking for a good way to introduce her again to the PCs as a slave. I'm trying to devise a good situation to reintroduce her and have her behavior show the PCs the consequences of her enslavement. I was planning for her to break down in front of them and make a contrast of her old strong self vs her "victim of the wasteland" current self.

I don't know how to deliver this scenario. The players don't have to rescue her - instead, I am sort of wanting to punish them morally for abandoning someone instead of mechanically, so they feel more involved in the setting and that their actions matter in the world they currently inhabit. I want to punish every loss to the wasteland as much as I want to reward their victories.

How should I do this for maximum effectiveness? Have you used similar techniques in your game and how did you leverage PC guilt to get them invested - or will this not work?

Please answer from experience doing this or having seen it done in a game per Good Subjective, Bad Subjective.

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This is a tough one. Especially because the question I want to answer wasn't the question asked... "Is this a good idea?"

Consequences should be just that... consequences. Not contrived "punishments".

The fate of the NPC seems fairly natural... so the real problem you seem to be having is how to show the PCs the natural consequences of their actions. How to make the PCs' and NPC's paths cross in an effective way. That doesn't seem to be too tough to me... as you've noted, selling the NPC into slavery could put her anywhere convenient to the plot.

I think the important thing is that you let the natural consequences show, but don't rub their noses in it. Prior to your edit, the full story implies that the players felt they had no choice... even though you said it was their "first choice," if the players thought the odds were stacked against them, they may have felt their only real option was to flee. If you did back them into a corner with only one way out that didn't lead to certain death, punishing them for taking that way out isn't going to sit well.

Unless... you're playing with themes like hopelessness and despair. If this is what you and your players are wanting to do, then that's good... but I don't get a sense that this is what's going on. Not when you're using words like "punish them" (the players)... that's about making it clear the players did something "wrong" and not about making it clear that the world is a harsh place no matter what you do.

The thing you need to be certain of at this point is that you and the players are on the same page. Are they expecting to deal with this kind of consequence? It's a bad deal to set up the players with a situation where you know how they'll behave with a plan to punish them for behaving as they've always done, because you've decided that their behavior is immoral and needs corrected. If they don't see this coming, you need to bring this around gently.

  • Don't try to hammer the message home with the consequences of a single event... layer the consequences on in thin coats. Don't force them to see, let them begin to see for themselves.

But first, communicate. Talk about what you and they want and expect from the game. This scenario can work, but only if they want it to work.

And yes, I've done this. I've ruined players' fun as GM by making the game about something they didn't want it to be about. I "punished" them for assuming that goblins were pure evil and should be killed on sight. As one player put it, "I have a stressful job, and I come to this game to unwind by bashing a few goblin skulls. I don't want to think about whether bashing goblins skulls is morally right or wrong, because the real world gives me enough of that already." His view is neither right nor wrong, but it was different from mine, and that conflict pretty much ruined a campaign for us when I forced them to understand that they'd just slaughtered an entire tribe of innocent, peaceful creatures.

If you are all on the same page, if you are not trying to spring a trap on them to show them the error of their ways, this will work out fine. You won't find it hard to bring this scenario to fruition. But if that's not the case, tread very carefully. You may be on the edge of making some of your friends very unhappy.

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I'm not really sure how to provide a single answer to a question like this, so what I'll do is go through my thought process on this, and then provide a scenario at the end. Hopefully that gives you something to work with.

First: How will they learn of this?

You want them to see the consequences of their actions, which is good. How are you going to introduce this consequence to them?

One idea is something you mentioned: a new owner. Somepony more respectable (and important) than the wasteland raiders. Somepony that the party might have to deal with as part of their adventure. So while asking for information or a favor or something, they see this important stallion's new slave mare: the one they abandoned so long ago.

You may need to remind them of who she is, if it was a long time ago they might not remember. Player memory can be difficult with things like that. I'd do that in character, with her seeing them and getting upset, or angry, or trying to get their attention in some way when her owner isn't around.

That would give you a way to explain what happened. If they talk to her, she can explain how she was caught due to not having an escape vehicle, had her wings cut off, was sold into slavery, and so on.

The owner could also mention it as an anecdote, but he wouldn't know that it was the party who took the car, so it'd just be an offhand comment that they could pick up on.

Or you could have her leave that part out and just ask for help in escaping, and only tell them that stuff later. Depends on how much information you want to give them about the events of the past, but I'd probably fill in details like that.

Second: What did the raiders do to her?

You know your players better than I do, so you will be the best judge of what is acceptable at your table and what isn't. That said...

I would be VERY careful about just what you choose to use here. Since you mentioned the word "slave" several times, making her a 'hooker' would actually be rape. That's a really serious issue, and it can get both offensive and upsetting very easily if handled incorrectly. Particularly if someone in your game is or knows a victim.

I wouldn't use that at my table. Not because I don't believe my players can handle it, but because I don't believe as a DM I can treat the subject appropriately. I wouldn't want to use rape as a prop in what becomes a bad trope to motivate the party.

Every group of players is different, and it might be no problem for your group. That is something you'll have to decide on your own, I just urge careful consideration.

Here's some other options: 1. Forced labour. This can be a lot of different things, from mining, to farming, to being a maid. 2. Brainwashing (or drugging), and turn her into a guard. She seems to have combat experience from your description, and not everypony has the experience to be a good guard.

Quite a few things to do here. Once you figure out her condition, then we move on to...

Third: What do you want the party to do about it?

So, you have this mare (and the mechanic, but you focused more on the mare, so I'll do the same). She's been treated badly, and it's the fault of the fillies & gentlecolts in the party. What do you want them to do about it?

Are you trying to set it up so they want to free her and atone for what happened in the past? If so, you'll want to tune the situation that she's in so that they have a shot at doing that. If she's in a compound with five hundred earth pony guards, watched over by pegasi and with unicorn backup... the party is probably not going to try anything (we already established their level of heroic bravery). So if you intend for a rescue to be a possible option, you'll need to set the situation up such that they can do it.

That doesn't mean to make it easy. An overly easy rescue has no meaning. It means to make it something they can do, if they use their wits and/or fighting prowess.

If you're not trying to give them the option of a rescue, then you can make the situation worse.

A Possible Scenario

The players hear about a unicorn stallion that oversees some territory and is looking to hire mercenary ponies for a job in the wasteland. That job requires retrieving something hidden, while avoiding the raiders, so he needs an experienced team rather than just anypony.

When they show up to inquire about it, they're ushered into a meeting hall to see the unicorn. During the meeting he offers refreshments, and they're delivered by the mare they abandoned. She recognizes them but doesn't say anything at first.

By time the meeting is over it's too late to leave for the day, so the unicorn offers accommodation for the night. The mare comes to the party during the night under the guise of bringing them dinner, and tells them what happened. She explains that her and the mechanic were enslaved by the raiders and then sold to this unicorn, and about the injuries suffered. She asks for the help of the party to escape. Losing his new slaves will of course anger the unicorn.

That's one possible scenario. There's lots of other ways to tweak or go about it. If you do wind up going with the sexual theme, then perhaps she's actually offered to the party during the night, and they learn about it that way. (But don't do that, see above!)

And that, my little ponies, is the end of my lesson for the day. Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.

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It seems to me that you want to show in-game to your players how unforgiving the scenario they are in is, and since you say you want to do this to every win and loss, I'm going to give you ways to show the backstage of your story to your players.

1. Revelation by Gossip

They can know of the horrors and glory's of your world by either hearing bystanders chats, or by receiving some gossip at the inn.

Ex.: "Just don't wander too much around the north wall. They dump the bodies of those lost to the wasteland there."

2. Revelation by Confrontation

They can meet the abandoned/forsaken NPC again later, in a minor or major role. The trick about this one is not make it feel like a personal vendetta, so the reappearance should be most of the time a small complication, something that they can overcome. This fits betters NPCs that were able to achieve some influence among their peers before being abandoned/forsaken by the group.

Ex.: They Find the Abandoned girl as a slave of an important NPC to plot progression. This girl was able to become a higher up once more, and now have the confidence of this NPC. She then reveals her distrust toward them, and the NPC becomes less inclined to simply accept their offer, or simply give them help.

3. Revelation by Gruesome Reality

One other way to show a unforgiving world is to showcase their defeats right before a boss, or big encounter. The boss can point out how they failed, or have the heads of those dear to them on spikes as they come near.

4. Revelation by Forgiveness

Perhaps my favorite, this is the point that you will call the attention of the players and characters by making the NPC act in a completely unexpected way. The point is that not every outcome of their choice is a bad one to the NPC, the slave can become the wife of her former master, and live a life that she would have never dreamed about. At that point she is mad that they abandoned her, but grateful for what had transpired, and decides to help them.

It could also happen if they want a favor back, like "Get this letter to my sister, so she know I'm ok and she can visit". Life does not need to be perfect to the NPC, but it can be just good enough for the NPC to like it.

Conclusion

You can set the mood of the world by showing how people fared after their previous meetings, life is unforgiving but it does not need to be gruesome and terrible all the time, in every thing that happens there is some things that are good, other not so much, even in death. ("At least she is not suffering at the hands of our enemies, and I got some closure" kind of speech)

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I'm going to point to a trick that a videogame does very well - Telltale's Walking Dead game. In the classic zombie situation, you end up having to make choices between people, hard survival choices, etc. What ends up being the result, is that in the group of survivors, there's always someone who isn't happy with what you did for one reason or another.

You sure as hell can't force the players to feel bad about anything. But you can have other characters point out some implications, or decide to stop working with them.

"Hey, you know what? I'd normally give you some help after what you did for me awhile back... but I saw how you left that girl. I guess we all gotta survive somehow, right? I can't work with folks who I don't know for sure have my back, that's all I'm saying."

If there's any kind of community or "home base" and you start finding people not willing to give you as much, or, if there's a shortage, you're last on the list to get something... life gets harder. And your options are to do better by people or just suffer.

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If you want to drive home the point that actions have consequences, turning the NPC into a victim is one approach. But that approach relies on the PCs to feel empathy for the NPC. In essence you're trying to evoke an emotional response (regret) by relying on another (empathy).

You can have their actions rebound back on them much more directly, by having the NPC's enslavement be only the first part of the story. If the NPC is enslaved and lives only to pay the PC's back for their callousness, then she escapes and comes looking for the PCs, setting up elaborate machination to take them down, the PCs are forced to confront what they did without relying on an emotional appeal.

Many fictional baddies have been created in this fashion. When wronged, they decide they won't rest until they have destroyed those who wronged them.

I used this approach once in a post-apocalyptic campaign with a PC who was severely damaged in a player v. player standoff. The intent was for one of the players to pick up a new PC and let the old one go because he didn't like the direction the character was taking. But I used the now disfigured and angry character as an NPC. After he recovered, he used all his will and guile to try to entrap, swindle, besmirch, and ultimately destroy the PCs.

When the players eventually figured out who was behind all of the attacks on them, they understood why he would act this way. They still had to fight and defeat him, but we had many discussions later about how he was such a great villain because he was really a manifestation of the PC's earlier actions.

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How my DM handled this situation.

We did the same thing. We abandoned an important NPC that everyone in the party cared about. He was lost somewhere in a dungeon and we all assumed him to be dead. Later on we saw him grouped up with another band of adventurers whom we had dealings with. Consequences for losing him:

  1. The dungeon we escaped from had a sort of darkness infecting it. That darkness was visibly affecting him, pouring out from an open scar.
  2. He believed we deserted him.

My reaction as a player.

For reasons I will not go into, I did not feel that there was another option other than leaving the NPC character in that dungeon. With that in mind, I had no guilt about the situation, only happiness that he had eventually got out alive. What did tug at my heartstrings a bit was the fact that he was affected by the cursed darkness that had formerly poisoned another PC's heart and doomed him to a serious and dark fate. Seeing his cursed estate and hearing that he was wary of us after his experience seemed completely reasonable. Even though we felt no guilt, we still saw the consequences of our failure to rescue him and it was regrettable.

What our DM got right.

  1. The NPC's presence in the other band of adventurers was a twist to the encounter, not the focus.
  2. Though the character himself was wary of our party and believed we could have saved him, rather than straight up condemning the party, he acted more confused about why we left him. (This is important because it was a tough decision at the time that felt inevitable, and it would have been frustrating for the GM to essentially tell us we made the wrong decision.)
  3. The consequences made sense. In the same dungeon that we left the NPC, one of our PC's became affected by a powerful curse which ultimately led him to his doom. The origin for this curse is the same for the NPC as the PC. Now that we know what will happen if we let him be, we cannot leave him to die (again).

Final thoughts.

I've had experiences where the DM shoves what he thinks we should feel down our throats and it doesn't resonate. You can't force someone to feel a certain way. However, you can show players what is happening as a result of their actions and let them feel however they feel about it.

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Here is a drastic one, put a wanted poster with a high bounty up for the NPCs owner.

When the party gets there for the bounty that is when they see the results of their actions in the drugged up, starved, abused, and tortured NPC they left behind, who screams in utter hatred at the party who abandoned her.

The owner seeing the rage in the NPCs eyes, tells the NPC she can earn her freedom by killing the people who abandoned her, leaving her defenseless and innocent. With the temptation of freedom a starved beaten slave would easily kill a family member to walk away from the hellish torture of their life as a slave.

Having to face off against the NPC they abandoned should definitely pull on their heart strings. From here there are many possibilities.

...such as, if they save the NPC they return the NPC to civilization; they then are arrested for trading her for their freedom when they abandoned her. The judge will see that they used the NPC as money to buy or barter for their own freedom away from the raiders. The judge is somehow related to the NPC and is biased and will send them to jail. From here there are many possibilities.

Good Luck!

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In my games, I use the experience point system for this. I tell my players: "This is a heroic game; you'll gain experience for doing good deeds, saving lives, and making the world a better place. If you do something awful to someone who doesn't deserve it, you'll lose experience points."

Of course this is a house rule -- there are no rules in 5e for losing experience points -- but it works very effectively.

So, to formally answer your question: I try hard not to "punish" my players, because this is a game and games are supposed to be fun. But I avoid getting into these situations because I communicate theme expectations in advance.

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