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Should the GM point out when he believes a PC is acting against what the GM believes is reasonable behavior? And, if so, should the act of pointing this out be obvious or subtle?

For example, a PC surrendered to enemy guards. Then, while in custody, the PC tried convincing the guards that their master is evil. It was kind of him, really, but I had to wonder Why on earth you think the warriors you just fought will betray their master that pays them because you said something nice?

In this example, should I have given the player some out-of-character sign that convincing the guards of the errors of their ways wasn't an option? Should I have had the guards just try to kill the PC anyway to show the PC that decision was a mistake?

I'm more interested in answers to the general initial question than answers to questions about the example, but answers addressing both are preferred.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this a solo game, or are there other players at the table? What system are you playing? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 3 '16 at 14:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Put us in context, regardin your playig group, campaign and system. That way you'll get a better answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Masclins May 3 '16 at 14:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site. I edited this question a lot, and I hope that's okay. I did so because I thought it an interesting question that had broad implication but thought the structure might've been holding it back. The editing required some reading between the lines, too. No matter what, I hope I left the question's spirit intact, and if I didn't, feel free to rollback the edit. Thank you for your participation and have fun. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 3 '16 at 15:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another too broad close vote occurred after the edit, which I thought had narrowed this sufficiently. That is, I'm not sure a system tag adds anything here but maybe a system-agnostic tag would. (A recent episode of Legends of Tomorrow had just such an occurrence, for example, so it's not, like, the scenario is unique to fantasy.) Suggestions for narrowing further appreciated. I mean, I like this question and think its answers will be valuable for any GM. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 3 '16 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ [Related] What to do when a player character does something that seems suicidal? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 3 '16 at 16:35
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Well, the reaction here largelly depends on your style of play, thus any answer may be of a very limited use in your game. Thus I'll just point out what I usually do in my games and you'll need to use your own judgement whether these methods fit in your game.

First thing you should always have in mind is that players have much less of a sense of the world around their character than any real person has about the world around themself. People have several information channels: visual, auditory, olfactory and more. In the game the player has to rely on only one — your description. And even then you don’t describe the scene in every detail. When speaking to an NPC, the character would see his gestures and body language as he pronounces every word. I doubt that there is a DM who can provide this amount of information to a player.

Moreover, characters have much more time to think about their future actions than the player does. Suppose the character has to deal with an evil landlord in a castle 6 miles away from his current location. It means a 2 hour walk and all that time to think about what he will do on arrival. Players don’t usually have this much time to prepare their actions.

These two things mean that players will often make decisions that would seem stupid from the DM’s point of view just because of a lack of information and time to think over their actions. So, giving them extra hints is OK.

I usually do two things:

  1. I give the players some judgements explicitly beforehand. I.e., I can say things like, “Your experience tells you that these guys are devoted to their master and do anything he orders them to.”

  2. If I see that players are going to do something their PCs wouldn’t do (because they are more “in the world” then the players are), I call for INT checks (or the equivalent in the system we're using). And I don’t really care about the DCs unless it is a natural 1. And then I explain the situation to the player from the point of his PC.

After all, tabletop RPGs are about making smart decisions to win, not about taking stupid actions to lose.

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Since this is a somewhat subjective question, I'll give my first attempt at an answer. First let's get this out of the way: a lot of DM's need a little dose of courage when it comes to players trying to color outside the lines. Getting upset when your players go outside what you've planned is the absolute wrong reaction. This is gaming, not a poetry reading- the point is interaction, players are not a captive audience. When your players go outside the lines, that means they're interacting with your world and that's GOOD.

Until my players do something I didn't expect, to me it feels a lot like having a conversation with someone who agrees with everything you say. It doesn't get interesting until my players surprise me.

So let's say they really are going to do something insane and not just something you didn't prepare for. We had an expression in my family business: "say no with the price." Don't tell your players they CAN'T do something, just let them know what following their insane course of action will cost. Or, better yet, show them through one or two disasters. Just don't become an absolute tyrant about them coming up with their own ideas.

The DM presents the problems, The players work out the solutions.

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Ultimately player's stupid decisions are their own. At least to a degree if players aren't allowed to make mistakes then they either won't learn, or will never truly feel threatened.

They'll quickly pick up on if the DM is willing to give hints when they're doing something that won't work.

The best answer is thorough preparation, go over your notes and write down the questions you would ask for more information, answer them and add them to your notes.

Of course, DMs don't always have this opportunity, either players take a different turn, or otherwise force their DM to come up with something impromptu.

In this situation the best thing to do is try to encourage your players to ask questions about what they're seeing, what vibes they're getting from the guards etc.

The one I don't like, but I generally fall back on is adding to the scenario. There are good ways and bad ways of doing this, of course, though neither is 'wrong'.

The first is simply adding to the situation. For instance, in your example, your player surrenders to these corrupt, bought guards in an attempt to try to persuade them. Personally I dislike ruling out diplomacy entirely, but let's say that you have. Then your goal is to seed the idea that diplomacy won't work, coming naturally from the environment in reaction to their decision. You make the guards look sinister, evil themselves or simply money greedy

(i.e. 'The guards look to each other, smirks spreading across their faces "We're gonna drink well tonight boys." one says as they pull out some manacles' You can also do any number of things, have them rough them up, maybe a more timid/moral one tries to speak up, the others quashing him or such.)

The second is to re-iterate what you said, adding to your original description retro-actively, allowing them the option to do something different now they have this new information. I personally think this is the worse of the two because it's effectively a safety break to allow them to not do something stupid without asking and clarifying information first.

To conclude, you can't account for every thought of your players, every interpretation or misinterpretation. The best thing to do is to encourage players to enquire and confirm details that are key to their decision making and planning before they commit to an action and declare it.

This, of course, takes time and learning. There's not much you can do to encourage this.

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Use the fun principle

Is it going to be more fun for everyone for the player to gradually discover the error of his ways, or is that going to end up being painful, or tedious, or in any other way un-fun?

This will depend on many things, and is not always easy to figure out, so sometimes it just requires having a GM-to-player chat about things. For instance, if this is a solo game, or a game where that PC's actions are not inconveniencing the rest of the group and the player is interested in (say) playing a character who slowly gets ground down or has to confront his idealism, it may be appropriate to just let the world handle it. It is also just generally enjoyable for many characters to explore the world you have built rather than just being told about it, and exploring does mean the moral dimensions and limits of the game, too.

On the other hand, if the player himself is really expecting this to work, and does not get the hint; or if the character is (in the eyes of the other players/characters) continuously mucking things up for them, it may be appropriate to gently talk to the player and set them straight.

Never forget that as a participant in the game, your fun matters, too. As a GM I have little tolerance for players constantly butting heads with the universe that way, because it impedes the sort of stories I like to produce. Perversely, as a player, I actually have greater tolerance for it as long as it's not getting in the way of my character directly.

So it gets tricky. But I consider it a viable course of action, if done carefully and sparingly. Ideally, you'll do it less and less as the game goes by, as you and your players learn to accommodate each other.

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What I have done in the past is to ask if the player is really, really sure and if I missed something in the description.

This is usually a good-enough signal that they did something I was really not expecting. If they then decide to proceed with their initial line of action, well, they do so fully informed and their characters have to live with the consequences of their actions.

The reason I do it that way is because I know it's entirely possible I missed something crucial and I don't think players should suffer from my mistakes. However, once we've ascertained we are on the same page, the player is in charge of the character, I am merely making sure the rest of the world ticks on.

One example of that was one player who all of a sudden decided to grand-stand alone when a being materialised out of an altar the character had just obliterated. I was not sure that the player had taken onboard the fact that all other players had just made their characters flee, from the 12m high being and the player blithely said "sure, it materialised, it's huge, I blast it with lightning..." and at that point, well, I proceeded to let the being knock the character out and take the magic weapon used to generate the lightning strikes.

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I don't think you as GM need to do anything out of the ordinary in this situation. Your player may think his character could possibly convince the guards of the error of their ways, and heck, that might even be possible. Just because you, as the GM, know it isn't possible doesn't mean the character knows that it isn't possible and it certainly doesn't mean the character can't or shouldn't try. In any situation where a person has just been captured, they're going to try to say and do whatever they can to get away, right?

My suggestion on dealing with the situation is to have the guards react to the comments the way they normally would. You don't need to punish the player or the character for the roleplaying of the character, but you should make it obvious the guards don't care what he has to say. Imagine a criminal who has just been caught red-handed, pleading with the cops that he's innocent -- what does the cop say? "Uh-huh, sure buddy, whatever you say," and then he goes about doing his job.

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Making player decisions part of the story

  • General answer is a based on a friend's Guiding Principle for Dungeon Masters: (tried and tested since about 1977)

    Give the players all the rope that they want. Some will hang themselves, some will make a nice hammock out of it.

  • About your scenario

    So your player surrendered. If you hint to him their reaction being negative and he still goes ahead, no problem.

    1) The player tries to convince the evil person's lackeys that they are on the wrong side and ought to help him. It's OK to try, and it's OK to fail. Making both success and failure interesting is part of the fun of role playing.

    Your ruling on this is can be "default failure" since you don't have to roll dice to determine an outcome. How will you make this failure interesting?

    The player has new challenges, as will the party if this isn't a solo game. Both you and the character(s) are in the position of having to make new decisions that have an impact on the story.

    2) The rest of the party/players: what are they doing?

    (a) Do they try a jail break?
    (b) Do they try to rescue the character as he's being transferred to the slaver's wagon?
    (c) Do they try to bribe the same guards?
    (d) Do they try to bribe guards on a different shift?

    3) The guards. Let's say they are annoyed rather than amused at character for the bribe attempt. That brings the guards' boss (if not the BBEG) down on the character. What happens next?

    4) How does the character try to escape? (On the assumption that the bad guys will lock him up or sell him into slavery or something like that).

    5) Set an execution day/time for the character and make sure someone in the rest of the party knows (rumors, guard's girlfriend is tavern employee, etc). There is now time pressure for the rescue attempt or jail break.

    Options to have fun with this abound.

Recommended Approach:

Provide hints and cues to help the player make decisions. Let the players make decisions. Then, if players can't take a hint then make the most of it. As long as they are making decisions, and both success and failure add to the story, it should be fun. (That's why we do it).

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