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Reading this question, the accepted advice for killing a player is to talk to them first.

My campaign is run in a Game of Thrones style setting; the good and honorable die doing what is right, and actions have consequences.

I have made this very clear at the beginning of both sessions we have played and they all say they understand, though their actions give a different impression.

I have a gnome monk that wants to spread the truth that the world is round. He tells everyone: NPCs, bandits attacking him, terrified hostages they have rescued. Sooner or later the establishment is going to get word of this and put an end to it; the Dark Ages were not known for their tolerance of heretics.

The two clerics think they're the front-line fighters and have a "shoot first, ask questions later" attitude.

There will be no resurrection or dice fudging; I have made that clear, too.

It is almost inevitable that one of the PCs will die next session. I have spoken to them in and out of game and they still act like their actions have no consequences. They say things like, "If we couldn't kill it, why would you place it here?"

When the time comes and one of them gets himself killed, how can I do it in a way that wont have him moaning as he fills out a new character sheet?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like you have the same problem as in How can I make my PCs flee?: your players are assuming nothing exists outside the encounter design guidelines and are metagaming on their assumption (with eventually fatal consequences). \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 19 '15 at 15:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ There has been way too much discussion in these comments. Either make an answer or go to Role-playing Games Chat. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 22 '15 at 18:30
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It all comes down to agency. What choices are the players making?

If you are spoon-feeding them encounters, which they have no options but to engage, then yes, it's on you to make sure those encounters are survivable. If they are choosing what to do and what to engage, then the responsibility lies on their heads, not yours.

Let's look at two possible situations.

Situation 1

The PCs are in camp when some raiders attack. Oh noes! They wake up, but the raiders are surrounding them. They have no choice but to fight the raiders, and they are of such number and ability that at least one PC death is, essentially, inescapable.

Situation 2

The PCs are in a town when it is about to be attacked in force. They can stay and help the town defense, in which case it may stand. They may also flee the town, in which case the attackers will almost certainly win.

However, the attackers are of such force and number that if the PCs decide to stay and defend the city, it is highly likely that at least one of them will die.

Choice is the difference

In both of these scenarios, the PCs are faced with a fight that they might not survive. However, in the second one, they choose to get involved in that fight. It is their choice to risk their PCs to keep the town standing (or not). Not only does this put the responsibility on their head, but it also gives them a chance to be truly heroic. These types of choices (what am I willing to risk?) are some of the best moments in roleplaying, especially when real risk is on the table.

It's okay for PCs to die! But they should do so as a result of choices they make, not encounters that the GM "throws" at them.

Try a Clock

For the specific case in the OP, consider something like an Apocalypse World front's "clock". As the PCs engage in activities that will cause unwanted attention, you can increase the "clock" and the tension/heat that the players will encounter. This gives them an idea of the seriousness without making it an immediate "you die" moment. It also gives them the choice to continue with what they're doing or not.

So, for the "heresy" clock, the stages might look like this:

Stage 1: Mutterings of heresy. Some of the townsfolk talk about a new heresy they've been hearing.

Stage 2: Known heresy. People talk about this crazy new heresy they've heard about, with specifics.

Stage 3: Official pronouncements. There are proclamations that the heresy is in fact against the church.

Stage 4: Public trials/executions. Heretics are found and imprisoned or killed.

Stage 5: Manhunt. Wanted posters are put up for the lead heretics (aka the PCs). Movement becomes difficult.

Stage 6: Assassin squads. Exactly what it says on the tin.

You can then advance the current stage based on time or PC actions. This will give the impression of advancement and real change in the setting, give enough of a social movement to warrant the church's actions, and, perhaps most importantly, give the PCs plenty of warning that continuing on this path will result in dramatic consequences.

And that may be cool! This kind of "heresy plotline" may be exactly what the players want, and so letting them play through that may totally make them happy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Oh man, this advancement/abstract clock/progression idea seems great! And it sounds like it is exactly what is missing from the original post's campaign. The players are essentially begging the GM to build up the stakes & ramp up the tension, and when they don't see the tension escalating, they're trying to find ways to escalate it themselves. If the GM builds to a climax, they have time to try (and maybe still fail) to defuse the situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Kzqai May 20 '15 at 19:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ All too often it's Situation 3: There's a monster out there they think has some nice loot and they want that loot--and don't get the idea that it's too tough for them, come back some other day. \$\endgroup\$ – Loren Pechtel May 21 '15 at 0:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's a matter of setting expectations (not everything is "level appropriate") and then ensuring that engaging is the choice of the players... \$\endgroup\$ – kyoryu May 21 '15 at 0:52
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In the style of game you're playing, it behooves no one to pull any punches. Kill the characters, make sure that it makes sense in game, but kill them, without mercy and without heed to who or what they are in the game. That's how Martin writes.

That said, based on what you've said here, I'm concerned that the style of game you're playing doesn't match the style of game that your players want to play. It would probably be wise to consider this. If they have concerns about their PCs dying in a GoT style game, they're probably not in the right setting.

It might be time to sit down and have a discussion about whether this is the game they want to be playing, and if the answer is no, then to present some clear alternatives (different setting, different game entirely, etc). If that's not something you want, then it might be time for different players. Players who want to play the game you're running. If you're having trouble getting this conversation started, site contributor Bankuei has written a tool called the Same Page Tool that folks around here are very fond of.

Back to the issue at hand though, I'd be very concerned, not about the leaders with your round worlder, but with the Maesters, they're the ones who control science, and they get very anxty when folks to maestery things without their consent.

Combat in ASoIaF is rare and deadly, and when it's not deadly, you end up maimed (see the scene where Ned Stark fights the Lannisters, he's on a cane for the rest of his run). Things do not go well when you fight, it's a talky story, and if you don't want to die, you better have a silver tongue.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this would complement very well How can I drop clues of corruption. Killing someone because he's claiming the world is round only makes sense if the character has enough credibility to hurt the institutions in place. \$\endgroup\$ – user4000 May 19 '15 at 16:33
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There will be no [..] dice fudging, I have made that clear

The easiest way to bring this to the front of the players minds is to roll openly. So you cannot fudge any rolls. I have had a lot of GMs starting "hardcore" only to end up fudging dice because it fit better. So if you told me you did not want to fudge dice, but still rolled in secret, I would simply not believe you. When you roll openly, your players will see that you mean it. That if the dice come up with a double 20, they are dead.

I'm not saying this is a good or a bad thing, just that it makes it real. Once it's real, it's easier to talk about if they like it or not.

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Before you start your next game session, spend some time having them all roll up backup characters. Since it's obvious to you that one of them will probably die next game, save some pain during actual play and pre-position the backup plan. This has the added benefit of communicating how serious you are about the "you're about to die" part, and gives them a semi-seamless way to keep having fun.

To address the paranoia bit... is it really paranoia if they're out to get you? The realization that "he's serious about the dying characters" is the primary purpose for having them roll backup characters. This should spark the discussion waxeagle is recommending. If they're really not OK with a Game of Thrones-style game, you can know before anybody's pet character gets killed.

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You've done everything you should you've communicated how the game works. Personally, after we set those conventions, I don't "re-warn" players or prep them for character death (outside of making sure I'm very clear in communicating what's around them - "That chasm is 300 yards wide, you really can't make that jump.").

There is NOTHING you can do that will make players not complain, if they want to complain. But there is something useful that you can learn if that does happen.

Imagine you're playing Chess and you take your opponent's bishop and they go, "No! You can't take my bishop! That's not right!" ... they're clearly not here to play chess, right? If we agreed to play a game, and you're angry that the game works exactly like the game we agreed to play... you weren't really being honest, now were you?

If you've been very clear and the players were ok and kept going, then bellyache after the game goes exactly like you said it would, you can now understand that the players are being dishonest about what they want - and there's really no way to work well with folks like that until they decide to change.

Unfortunately many games and advice columns and forums and so on have advocated tons of passive aggressive lying and manipulation as a method to running a group, which naturally leads to emotional dishonesty as a habit. Because it's often unconscious, it also means people don't recognize it, and are unable to change it.

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Appropriate response is key here.

Not everyone would be killed for spreading false words or speaking against the Church. You'll want to have a look at some of the answers to my question about dropping clues of a corruption in my campaign. I wouldn't have guards or assassins kill a gnome for spreading false words. Most people would probably ignore him anyway. If spreading the word about this "round world" is annoying the religious authority, they'll have clerics in the crowd quoting sacred words and dismiss his theories. If he gets people on board, they might organize a meeting with him. Maybe offer him something in return. Money, land etc. Depends on how much leverage the gnome has. If all else fail...let him spread the word, just have some agents infiltrate his cult and make sure stuff goes bad. Murder should be the last resort. Kidnapping and being thrown into a dungeon for disturbing the population is easier than hiding a murder.

For the Kraken fight, I suggest looking at How can I make my PCs flee? Basically, if you warn them and you give them option but they still fight, they are idiots and you should not be merciful.

Do not hold back but do not make fun of them. Be fair. Roll openly and watch them cry when they realize how much damage this thing can do. It's not a legendary monster for no reason. The Kraken is a generic example but if you make it clear the encounter is out of their league and they ask "Why would you put something too hard for us to kill?", the appropriate answer is "If you go to the zoo and and dive in the shark tank, do you expect the universe to turn them into carps?". The world is what it is.

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Tell the PCs up front, "I might kill you character randomly, I hope everybody's okay with that". If nobody complains, ball is in their court.

If someone objects, well, that's that. If they don't want it, no point forcing it on them.

This does rely on players being realistic: If they are going to get mad over their character being killed, why are they playing a plot-armorless campaign? Why don't they listen when DM tells them they might get killed?

You want to

kill PC without hard feelings

But it is not always possible. You may have gotten an unrealistic player who thought they could handle it but then gets mad. Yours sound pretty unrealistic.

They say things like, "If we couldn't kill it why would you place it here?"

If you wanted to teach them a lesson, just proceed as usual, and when they die, they die. If you want to really rub it in, foreshadow it by having NPCs remark how reckless they are, how it's a wonder they haven't gotten killed, in game give them a nickname and reputation as Lucky Larrys who routinely challenge fate and win, sometime mention other NPCs that act just like them, and have them die violently. Maybe they'll get the message, if not, when the moment comes, have a little epigraph monologue, explaining how their characters sadly perished, their luck having finally ran out.

If they still complain at that point, they will look extremely foolish, so there's that. But even so, if a player wants to be mad, I don't know if even this will stop them. That's up to you to judge - if they are really so far gone as they sound, perhaps they are just too deluded for it to be possible to kill them, and you should give up on it.

Also, people get used to anything. It just needs to happen all the time. Kill early, kill often - first it's hard, but by the 5th time they'll take it with a smile and say thank you very much. If they have gotten away with this crap they're pulling for ages, and suddenly you kill them and act like that's why, they would be rightfully upset over what seems like you flipping overnight. So if you're going to kill PCs, don't take ages to do it and lure them into a false sense of security, unless you're absolutely sure that they want you to.

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I question your motives, sir. D&D, even Fifth Edition, is still D&D.

The Gnome:

By running about telling everyone the world is round, your gnome monk is more of a crackpot than a heretic. Unless you have a religion in your campaign that is both monolithic in power and accepts as doctrine that the world is flat, there really is no reason for your gnome to be considered anything more or less than an annoying little punter.

So, really, unless there's a group running around killing crazy people instead of ignoring them, I don't see what "establishment" would want to put an end to your gnome.. aside from the "GM" one.

Still, I'll be honest, I want to kill the gnome just because they sound so annoying! To do that, you'd need to set things up in the world around them that would be clues. An inept assassin from a shadowy organization is clichè, but handy if you don't feel like too much groundwork... the assassins would eventually get better at their job. If the player asks you, "Why are you picking on my gnome!!" You can:

  • Divert Blame: "Because you're a gnome."
  • Claim Ignorance: "Ask them, I'm just a GM!"
  • Lie Blatantly: "It's part of the plot."

The Clerics:

In this case, there is precedent for their attitude in battle: "Kill them all, God will know his own."

However, you do point out your discussions with them about metagaming. Perhaps the best way to discourage this so that they don't end up on the receiving end of that phrase is to speak with a fourth player (if there is one) and bribe that person with extra goodies so you can use them as food for Something Horrible. This can be applied to great effect while the party is resting; sneak attacks can work wonders. When the player you bribed is summarily consumed, the two clerics may learn the meaning of the phrase "discretion is the better part of valor"... but then again, they may not. If there is no fourth player, you could use a constant NPC traveling companion, but the emotional impact is not as high as when a PC is just eaten.

If the clerics run away and survive, you might consider giving them (and everyone else that ran) XP. If they ask why, tell them it was a learning experience (for their characters) to discover that there are threats they cannot yet hope to confront.

If all else fails, use a gazebo.

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If your game relies on the RPG formula - the one where experience is given and characters level up, then when a player's character dies, they are losing the rewards they worked so hard to gain.

No One Likes That!!!

If your campaign is based on the frequent death of PCs, and you want this to be OK to the players, you should probably find some way to reward them - even in death!

Ideas (maybe we could get some more in comments too):

  • Persistent Equivalent Power Level - Have them note the level, experience, and equipment value before death. When they roll their new character, let them carry these things over. This can even increase their excitement at dying because now they can try a different character type, without being less powerful than the group.
  • Heroic Death Reward - Give them a reward based on how heroic their death was. Perhaps their new character is a relative of the deceased who is now inspired by the courageous actions of the deceased. Maybe they were rewarded with a special item by some government figure in honor of the sacrifice of their family.
  • Pre-Made FUN Characters - If character "swapping" is desired to be part of the typical gameplay, the DM might generate a whole pile of characters that players get to delve through upon their death. Give each character some interesting trait that might normally be game breaking, but is there for the sake of story and fun - such as "command over dragons".

Ultimately, the important thing is to consider why your players choose to play your campaign. If you take away those reasons, regardless if they deserve it or not, they will tire of your campaign and move on to other things. Everyone likes to be rewarded, and no one likes to be punished, even if it serves the story.

Good Luck!

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