Somewhat related to my other question.
At this point, the players in my game have travelled through a Kobold Empire. They have killed Ogres for them. They have slain a Dragon and given them back control of an abandoned temple. They have been told that they were only allowed in because the Kobolds were tricking them into slaying the Dragon. They have negotiated a reward (in gold and trade-rights) with the Kobold Ranger that was tracking them.
Now, they'll be heading to a nearby Duke, who will try to trick them into either doing dangerous jobs for the Kobolds without paying them for it.
At the end of the day:
- They will probably not get the gold they were promised
- There will most likely be no trading happening
- The players might end up risking their lives more, at no real reward
- The players might end up in the gladiator-pits if they play it badly
- They may have accidentally made the Kobolds realise that there is a human city across the river that's trying to grow in importance
- The Kobolds don't care if they or their friends get killed, and will not really help them unless it serves their own empire
Obviously, a lot of this is pretty bad. The players are pretty much outgunned and outwitted. They could cause the total destruction of the city they've been spending time building up. They could get locked in the gladiator-pits and face all its dangers. They will not get any of the stuff they were promised and they might even lose out on the reason they went to the temple in the first place if the Kobolds kick them out before they retrieve it.
But I also feel like this is something they're getting themselves into. The entire campaign is a sandbox placed on a frontier. There are no set goals, I don't really plan out the plot or world far in advance and the players are entirely free to take the story where they want. I never once suggested it would be a good idea to trade with this huge empire. I did tell them the Kobolds are xenophobic (to the point where the Gnome has been going around in a disguise for weeks) and manipulative. I even drove the point home with the Kobold Ranger telling them they were allowed access because the Kobolds were trying to get them to kill the Dragon for them.
If the next session ends badly for the player characters, how can I reïnforce that I'm just trying to portray the world fairly and this was all their own idea? I don't want them to feel bad (losing an rpg can also be fun) but I also don't want them to blame me for sticking them in an impossible situation. And ideally, I'd like to make them realise this without having to resort to out of game "Well, I did warn you here and here and here", because that tends to leave a bitter taste. Having the DM tell you after the game that you missed the cues is never fun imho.
Some information on the players: these are people I've known for around 10 years, because we do volunteer work together. However, most of them I only really see when we're working together or playing together, only rarely outside of these situations. This is the first game we've played together, although all have previous experience. We've been playing about once every 6 weeks for about a year.
- Aftermath -
Since we've played the previous session, I figured I'd share the conclusion. I took Wibbs' (and others) advice about expectations and signposting and started the new session by playing up the Ranger's lack of trustworthiness a bit more, which caused them to change plans and instead kidnap the Ranger.
Which turned into a very thrilling battle as the Kobolds (succesfully) managed to bust out their friend before scattering and leaving them alone from there on out. The players succesfully left the Kobold Empire and are currently plotting revenge (which I intend to let them have). Everyone had a great time and nobody felt bad, even though there were few rewards earned from this adventure.