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The long story

I started a Warhammer fantasy campaign with 4 players. Two of them were totally new to RPGs, and two others just slightly experimented.

They created "good" characters, not a chaotic one, not even a thief... A group that looked good for fighting against chaotic conspiracies, necromancer armies, goblins, etc. In short: classic stuff.

But the first thing they did when they came into the city that would host the entire campaign is to plot plans to earn by any way as much gold and magic items as possible. As one of the biggest treasures is the local lord's personal property, they are ready to steal, kill, or worse anyone that could interfere with their plan to take it, and they are willing to use ways like dark magic to do it.

As I understood they would be more interested in playing "villains" characters, I made some dark magic cults and criminal associations to contact them. But they automatically saw them as "bad people" and manage to kill them without even try to discuss. Once this "threat" was discarded, they went back to their plans.

The short story

They are plotting to poison the city lord to make him mentally unstable in order to provoke riots, insurrection or even a civil war in the city and use this chaos to attack the lord's treasure chamber and steal everything they can for their own profit.
But when they see a smuggling organization, they do everything they can to stop them, because they think to be on the good side.

The question

They are definitely not on the good side but refuse to admit it or join the bad side.

How can I make them understand the situation ? (Preferably without taking them apart the game, I would prefer to make them understand in the game.)

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It sounds like they're having trouble because they can't figure out where the plot is. Their actions make it clear they would like to fight chaos, but in the absence of chaos to fight, they're filling time by lining their own pockets.

You've already made some progress toward the solution by giving them criminal organizations to destroy. It sounds like they really got into that and had fun with it. You should do more of that, but bigger. (What's the intended plot for your campaign? Why haven't they run into that yet?) If you keep giving them interesting things to do, they'll lose interest in robbing the city.

If you're feeling silly, let them stumble on a villain who has the exact same plan they have: to poison the local lord, provoke riots, and loot the treasury. As they work to stop him from doing that, maybe it'll occur to them that they shouldn't be doing it themselves.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yet another twist could be that they are chasing not another group with the same intentions as their own, but literally themselves. The longer it takes them to figure this out the more fun for the DM. \$\endgroup\$ – John Dvorak Aug 23 '15 at 6:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for brainstorming. Previous comments have been deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 6 '15 at 0:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Worth pointing out that this is the Warhammer world. Evil acts will attract the notice of the Chaos gods, and wouldn't that be interesting? \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Sep 13 '17 at 23:17
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Another option is to make this the big twist of the campaign. The heroes go through with poisoning, get to the treasure chamber. Once at the doors, they find all the gaurds all ready dead. A note is attached to the door. "We've been watching you. Thank you for destabilising the city. It advances our plans too. Take the removal of these guards as a thank you - K".When they try to work out who K is, it becomes clear that they're a chaos cult leader. The heroes realise they've done bad and must put it right. The city has been torn apart and cultists run what remains. Hammer it home that this wouldn't have happened if the lord survived.

If I was playing that game, I'd never forget it.

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By their deeds, your characters have gained a reputation. Make NPCs respond to them as if they were villains who are too powerful to oppose.

Say they go into a store to buy supplies. The storekeeper blanches when he recognizes them, screams "Run, Amata!" ... his wife runs away and the merchant, pale and shaking faces the (ahem) heroes. "Sirs, take whatever you please. I beg only you slay me not, for I support my family."

Say they go into a seedy inn. Low-level lowlifes come to them asking "permission" to run the second-story game in a certain part of town.

Bring back an NPC they got along with or admired from some time ago. He tracks them down and calls them out. He tells them he has heard rumors that the heroes have turned to a dark path. He didn't want to believe it, so he came to investigate. Have him look distraught, even anguished. He begs them to explain what has happened. Is this all some ruse to draw out villains? Are they under a curse? If the heroes get the hint and act distressed, have the friend invite them to go on a real quest with him ... [something to do with the story arc]. If they are unrepentant, have the friend say that for respect of their ancient friendship he will not fight them; but they will never see him again.

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If your setting is a "living world" how would the villagers themselves solve it?

They would probably hire an other group of better than good adventurers to fight the PCs. Introduce this other group that is trying to hunt them down and let them show they are "Über good".

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I don't worry about character alignment. In many cases it doesn't matter, either the world punishes the bad (e.g. they are arrested, killed etc by the authorities or those that oppose them, or if you're in the mood to share the pain, if they do destabilise the city kill their loved ones in the turmoil :)) and rewards the good. As you may have noticed the real world is especially bad at this but Warhammer has religion that deals with just these matters. If they persist in being pretty unpleasant perhaps you might "bless" one of them with a chaos mutation. Then have everyone they meet respond appropriately. Maybe if they are very good there after the mutation might be removed by one of the more benign deities.

Personally I'd give them as much rope as they need. Let them see the consequences of their plans - have the city fall apart; riots, disease, fire, skaven boiling out of the sewers. So long as everyone is having fun you're doing ok.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your comment seems confusing. Your first line is "I don't worry about character alignment" then the rest is all about repercussions for character alignment. Or did you mean you take character actions to define their alignment, not the alignment they 'chose' at the start? \$\endgroup\$ – Luke Sep 13 '17 at 23:18
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I fail to see the problem.

The world (even a fantasy one) is not a False Dichotomy between good and bad "sides"- there is a whole range in between and that is without adding in the Blue and Orange axis. The Mafia, the Yakuza, ISIS, Al Qaeda, outlaw motorcycle gangs, self-employed meth cooks and corrupt cops are all antithetical to the good order of society but that doesn't mean they have to cooperate with each other.

Of course, a party that is at war with the forces of order and every other group they run across does not have great long-term survival prospects.

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