I am the DM of a single player D&D 4e campaign and in the campaign the character finds himself on a crashed ship, but does not remember how got there. He discovers he has crashed on an island, and notices one of four savage people in ruined clothes who runs off into the centre of the island (they are unfriendly, afraid and difficult to communicate with).

He is going to discover that these people are his friends but they cannot remember anything, and that he was drugged and kidnapped onto the boat, which crashed on the island. He is left with nothing but a bag and his clothes.

I don't know how to make sure he does not attack or kill any of these people, and how to get him to befriend these people so that he can escape the island and go back to their hometown.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What? Are you asking how to signal that a hostile npc only wants to kill the character because of a mistake and that the player shouldn't engage in the standard practice of D&D adventurers without any signal given to the character that this is the case? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 7:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I should have said, the hostile NPC is not attempting to kill my character but is not very friendly just afraid and hard to talk to, I will edit my question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oreo
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 7:49
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ You may want to update your question then. Please also include details of which edition this is for, as that can change things significantly. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 7:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do not know what edition it is because I was playing from the rules In a set of books and a character sheet, I am quite flexible and I do not mind doing any suggestions because I am GM-ing quite casually. I have also edited my question, hope this helps. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oreo
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 8:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Oreo In your set of books there will be an edition mentioned. Most likey on the front cover. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 8:47

2 Answers 2


The simple answer is not to set them up as a "kill or be killed" adversary.

For example they can be hostile but have them do it in a gesturing way rather than an actual attack - they signal him to back away. They beat their chest and roar, etc. You could even have him run into one that's injured and trapped so it's clearly no threat to him but also not friendly.

Maybe have the player and the savages forced to work together, cornered by a lion that they drive away with rocks but then when the lion is gone they back away, etc. Frame it in his head that they are a role-playing problem to try and get onto his side rather than a roll-playing problem to roll dice at.

At the end of the day though player agency is what matters. If he kills them then run with it. Hopefully when he realizes he slaughtered his shipmates then he can feel a suitable level of angst and that is interesting in itself.

In future I'd recommending avoiding these pre-scripted events as well. If you plan for an outcome then you will end up either railroading people a lot or struggling to work out how to guide things. Instead set up scenarios and situations and then let the players decide what the outcome will be.

Scenario: Savages that used to be shipmates.

Potential Outcomes: Kill them all and suffer, or recruit them and have useful friends.


Scenario: Savages that turn out to be shipmates and that you turn into friends.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the suggestions in paragraph 1 and 2 and for telling me about the player agency and how I should let him decide his own outcome. \$\endgroup\$
    – Oreo
    Commented Dec 6, 2014 at 13:29

Most normal creatures don't fight to the death as a matter of course, except in D&D.

Most creatures will, when confronted with a threat (note, not food nor a rock1), run away, as this is the cheapest way of preserving life. Only if they can't run away will they fight. If they fight, they'll fight until they can... run away (see a pattern here?) For creatures in a (nominal) social group, trying to establish social hierarchies, they will also not fight to the death, rather they'll pull their blows and demonstrate capability instead such that one creature can surrender to the other.

In abstract editionless D&D terms, there will be squabbling amongst these tabula rasa as fighting is the only way to establish a dominance hierarchy in the absence of, well, language or other social cues2. The trick is that these fights will start with intimidation and shows of strength. If one side is obviously stronger than the other, the weaker side will demonstrate meekness (see a dog's surrender body language). And place themselves into a vulnerable, surrendering, position, such that they may be spared.

However, this isn't interesting in a system that is primarily about murdering things without remorse and taking their stuff. Instead, narrate (with input from the player) vignettes about these first few days: "show an example of how you make camp, show an example of how you find food..." and neatly ask the player "so how did these savages befriend the player?" Functionally, you'll be iterating through Mazlow's hierarchy of needs until you get to the bit about "self-actualisation" (in D&D terms, murdering people with your friends for fun and profit) that D&D works with, and constraining player choice so that the "you failed to achieve shelter. You die." bits don't occur. Death isn't actually all that fun on a desert island. Alternatively, having the character starve to (almost) death and be rescued by the scared tabula rasa is another way of establishing camaraderie.

By begging the question, and allowing the player to express agency through narrating how he/she dealt with the social dominance situation, you can move onto the bits of the adventure that D&D doesn't absolutely suck at.

1 Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites:

For animals, the entire universe has been neatly divided into things to (a) mate with, (b) eat, (c) run away from, and (d) rocks.

2See, amongst other things, Veblen's conspicuous consumption.


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