I'm DMing for a party of new players (4) that have all been wanting to play tabletop games for a while. It's worth noting that these guys all play video games (Witcher, Dragon's Age, etc.) and that is there only experience roleplaying.

They all wanted to play alignments, which I don't necessarily like (my preference is letting the players alignment develop over time based off of over all actions) but I decided to let them do it. We're using Pathfinder Rules and the party is made up of the following:

  • Lawful Neutral - Tengu Ranger
  • Chaotic Good - Half-Elf Fighter
  • Neutral Good - Elf Druid
  • Lawful Evil - Dwarf Bard

First lets address the Lawful Evil - He's actually hiding his alignment from the party, and traveling with them for his own reasons. He talked to me about this in advance and I liked the idea of a potential betrayal, so I let him keep the alignment, which in hindsight, might not have been the best idea.

The issue I'm running into is that the party doesn't know their limit as far as dealing with NPCs. In several situations they have upset higher level NPCs and suffered the consequences but I don't think they get it. Here are some examples of what they did and the consequences.

During the first session the LE bard, tried to steal something from a level 4 fighter NPC who of course caught him.

Now In order to try to give him some consequences for his actions, I had the NPC restrain the Bard while another NPC friend shaved off part of his beard. Nothing awful but hoping to drive the point home that you can't just mess with random people.

Later in the same session, they wanted to hunt an owl bear, which an NPC ranger took 15 minutes real time to talk them out of.

Then, last night the group is in the sewers of the town and run into a guard patrol who are looking for contraband which are being smuggled in the sewer. Just so happens I know that two of my players (GC and LN) are carrying Opum and Fayleaf. My idea behind the encounter was to teach them there are ways out of a situation other than fighting, especially when they are a higher level.

Instantly they jump to fighting, and get beaten to a pulp (had to switch to non lethal damage or it would have been a TPK. They ended up having to dump the drugs and pay a "fine" of 300gp which happens to be all of their money.

Are there any good methods other than killing or maiming a PC, to show them that brashness has consequences?


8 Answers 8


Here's how I did it. Back in the day (AD&D 2e, but I don't see how it being Pathfinder is particularly relevant to an answer) I had a casual group that usually played kick-down-the-door. Well, it was the late 1990s and we had gotten wider RPG exposure and decided as a group that we wanted to play a serious, immersive, simulationist game. So I started a new campaign (based on the Night Below boxed set).

The PCs showed up in a small town and a magician's apprentice went missing; the party gnome had befriended her so they decided to search for her. They're in the inn that night, a couple travelers come in. One has a facial tic. Since from earlier, whatever the nice way of saying "worse" is, D&D campaigns they were conditioned to assume anyone with any distinguishing feature was important, the party elf and dwarf went over to interrogate him. In reality he was just a tired traveling merchant, and all they got for their trouble was "Slag off." They kept at him and he indicated that the shortsword he was wearing wasn't just for show and they should leave him alone. Both the elf and dwarf immediately pulled out their weapons. The man, terrified, ran out of the inn. They pursued him into a field and the dwarf shot him with a crossbow. He blubbered and tried to get away from them while the local carpenter slash constable showed up and suggested everyone come to his office (carpenter shop) to figure out what was going on.

The elf and dwarf's story as recited to the constable was "We thought he might know something and he wouldn't answer us so we chased him into the field and shot him." This lined up remarkably well with the man's story. "So... That's the explanation you're going with?" asked the constable. The party cleric showed up and healed the guy, so he said "You know, the town mayor is a hard man... I will just assess you a 20gp fine, or if you don't have that you can work in my shop a few days to work it off."

The dwarf took this deal, but the elf insisted he was "just trying to rip them off" and "wasn't listening to their side of the story." "I'm listening, but your side of it, if I understand this right, is you chased this guy into the night and shot him because you were playing vigilante interrogator?" So he got held over for trial the next day.

The mayor came out, and got the same story recited to him. "Three months hard labor in the mines. Next!" "So, do you want to roll a new character, or play a NPC for a couple months of game time, or what?"

Guess who has two thumbs and didn't have a problem with players not thinking about consequences for the rest of his (5 year) campaign? This guy!

My advice is - don't screw around. Once everyone's agreed "oh yeah realistic world that's the concept we're on board with" then you just do it. You'll note I gave them an out, but the one PC that decided to be hard-headed about it got the consequences in spades. Eh, he was first level and didn't have that much backstory, and then I got to bring him in as a bad guy later on. I deliberately seeded this scene to see if this topic needed addressing, and it did. Notice I didn't use the more cliche "overwhelming force" variant where the merchant was a level 10 fighter because the point I needed to make was not that "there's always a bigger guy," but that "you are a part of a larger society that cares about how things go down." Craft a scene to reinforce whatever specific lesson you need to make and then see if they learn or need some learnin' applied to them more vigorously.

Running a game is like raising a kid or training a dog. Do it the first time, be consistent, you'll have a lot less problems than if you waffle or delay addressing problem behavior directly. They are fantasy characters - it's OK to kill, maim, send to jail, take their stuff - whatever you need to do in order to get the boundaries across.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the idea of using jail for three months of in-game time as a consequence rather than simply killing a PC or removing items (the typical suggested solution) \$\endgroup\$
    – Praxiteles
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 9:15

Have you actually explained to the players the difference between a tabletop RPG and a computer RPG?

You wouldn't try to play chess with someone without explaining how the game works which, even in chess, means knowing more than the rules. The assumptions about a FRG are incredibly greater than chess.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a good point Dale, I'll try to approach my explanation on how the rules work a bit differently. Maybe I can use that and the rep system above to try to keep them from trying to murder guards for doing their job. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 23:36

One of the best things to teach players that actions have consequences is to let them experience those consequences.

It may sound harsh, but let them get in over their heads and die. Anything else and you're teaching them that their actions really DON'T have consequences, since they are avoiding them.

Then, deconstruct what happened (ie. why they died), roll up again and hopefully they'll have learned something.


There are a couple spells that are designed largely for this. Those being Mark of Justice, Bestow Curse and Geas/Quest. These would allow a largely temporary(if the behavior corrects itself) punishment a large organization, church or government might levy against those who break the law, or otherwise act in manners the group disapproves of.

There is also the 3.5's reputation rules that may serve as a basis. As PCs do bad things/get into inappropriate mischief, they earn a bad rep and start taking circumstance penalties and such. http://www.d20srd.org/srd/variant/campaigns/reputation.htm


I get that you are trying to break your players of some bad habits, but my problem with everything you've said is pretty concisely (though satirically) explored in this episode of Dungeon Bastard.

What you appear to have here are players who are pathologically predisposed to challenging authority. Have you considered that they may not want to play a gritty simulationist game with severe consequences for brash actions? Perhaps they expect the challenges that they face will be within a reasonable difficulty level. Maybe they assume that if there is a fierce monster roaming about, like an Owlbear, that it's existence is a direct result of your intention that they hunt it down and kill it.

You made it clear in your question that your players have zero experience with tabletop RPGs, and are used to having hopeless battles that are intended to be unbeatable being resolved by video game deus ex machina. I would echo Dale M's answer by reiterating that sometimes the best way to communicate with your players is to just come right out and tell them "Hey guys, this isn't how this game is supposed to work." You might find that they have no interest in playing the game you intend on running. They might appreciate being given more agency and being railroaded less.


Tell them how you would expect them to solve the challenges they've failed thusfar.

Tell them that when you create challenges in the game for the player characters that you create them with multiple avenues of solving available, and that everything in the game isn't restricted to them having to fight something to solve a problem. Once you tell them this their behavior should change because they're actually thinking about the challenge itself instead of diving headfirst into danger.

Once they figure out that there are other ways to solve their problem than getting beaten into or beating someone into a bloody pulp, they will start recognizing that they're playing both a skill-oriented and a combat-oriented game and that they can use their words to talk that fighter out of shaving their friends beard instead of just trying to gang up on him and beat him up.


You are already doing the main thing I would recommend, but here is an attempt at a more general and comprehensive answer.

  • Give them examples of games with consequences from their chosen medium of CRPGs. Not all CRPGs are consequence-free zones. At least as far back as Ultima II in 1982 (chosen not because the game was special, but because that is as far back as my memory stretches for this category) negative actions would have negative consequences-- attack Lord British or one of the guards (or, I think, anyone in a city?) and the town guards would come and hurt you. Ultima IV was one of the early games that made morality and right action a focus of the game. Surely there are modern examples of this.

  • Give them examples of other media (movies, television, comic books, whatever they consume) showing examples of the protagonists mouthing off to the wrong person at the wrong time and suffering for it.

    (Note, by the way, that both of those examples involve talking to your players. Sit 'em down and talk to them. Lay out your expectations, respectfully but firmly, give them examples, and tell them why. "I don't want to run a game like X, Y, or Z. I want to run a game that feels like A, B, and C.")

  • Show the negative consequences, and escalate steadily. I might have escalated a little slower, and leavened this with an out of game discussion as above, but you are doing this already by moving from social embarrassment to a confrontation and, when your bluff was called, to a beating and a monetary penalty.

    You may be approaching a threshold of escalation, though, where the next natural step, no matter how logical or reasonable it actually is in terms of the world's internal logic, is going to be very much not fun for you or the players.

  • The thing about negative consequences, though, is that people need to understand that they really are negative consequences, and that positive consequences for other actions are also possible. People need to understand that they are choosing from multiple alternatives, which is not always easy to convey. Especially in a game, which is really the Highlights Reel of the PCs' lives, rather than every day to day interaction, they really only see one set of consequences-- the one they helped choose.

    The next time this happens, instead of escalating in terms of immediate consequences ("Bam, you're in jail for three months!" or "Bam, you're dead!") consider escalating it socially and over time. But, critically, in interactions with those NPCs directly or with other NPCs, make it clear that things could have gone a different way. You might even engineer a situation where you expect this happen, and then in later scenes, have another NPC say something like, "What the heck were you thinking? Word on the street was, Thadeor was ready to give you a peach of a job offer, and you go and pick a fight with his men? Now I'm hearing you better travel together because if one of you ends up with broken teeth, whoever has bloody knuckles will be in good with T. What were you thinking!?"

    And then make them play that conversation out. Conspicuously give whatever reward the PCs might have received to some other NPC, and make it clear why that happened.

    If they won't hear it from you as GM, and they won't see it from only the negative consequences, maybe they will hear it from an NPC explaining what might have happened. (Maybe even the NPC himself could do this, but hard-headed PCs might just assume he's being self-serving like a classic villain. If it comes from someone they already trust, that seems like it might work better.)


I honestly think your best chance is to write out predefined (overall) responses for your NPCs and stick to them

ie you keep feeling sorry for your players!

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a good suggestion, in the same vein as my answer, but it isn't easily understood what you are refering to. You could edit it to provide more depth. \$\endgroup\$
    – GreySage
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 16:14

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