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In a comment to my answer to What would be the side effects on a Druid of wearing metal armor?, @Kevin asked:

"So, RAW a druid will never choose to wear metal armor or use metal shields, so the main thrust of the question is based on a flawed premise." - If the Druid is a PC, is it appropriate for the DM to say "Your character would not do that" if this is attempted?

Which got me thinking that if I said "Your character would not do that"; am I trampling on their agency?

Note

The original question is about D&D 5e. In that ruleset, RAW is that druids "will not" use metal armor or shields and there is no provision for what happens if they do (like there was in earlier editions). The issue is not about the consequences of breaking the rule; it is about if the rule can be broken.

In a more general sense, it is about dealing with a player who wants to break a "rule" (not just about druids and metal) on the basis that it is a) not physically impossible and b) carries no RAW sanctions.

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Yes -- if you use that specific phrasing, "your character would not do that", you are denying their character's agency. The player is an authority over what their character wants to do; your authority is over what the character can do. Rather than tell the player that their character doesn't want to do something, instead express it as their character's inability to do something.

Druid: I put on the chain shirt.
DM: You reach down and try to put on the chain shirt, but something is wrong. You can't figure out how to wear this object. You're sure that your arms are supposed to go somewhere, and you can guess there's a part that goes over your head, and theoretically you know how it all fits together -- but as soon as you try to actually do it, your mind goes blank and you have no idea how to even start putting it on.

The above is still sort of inadequate, because a motivated player can find a way around it -- for example by asking the wizard to polymorph the druid's leather armor into plate mail, or by asking the fighter to knock the druid out and dress them in plate armor while they're unconscious.

The problem we're having here is arguably caused by a failing of the 5e Player's Handbook, which states that the druid will not wear metal armor, but doesn't otherwise describe the consequences. To fix the problem, you need to do some worldbuilding. What happens to a druid that wears metal armor, perhaps against their will? You need to fill those details in. Ultimately, you want to tell the druid something like: "well, technically you can choose to wear the metal armor, but it's a really bad idea because you'll face the following consequences..." Make up some consequences so horrible that no sane druid would ever wear the armor.

Druid: I put on the chain shirt.
DM: You think about putting on the chain shirt and you can sense clearly that it would lead to disaster. If you turn your back on Nature in this way, then Nature will turn its back on you, and the ways of the animals will be forever closed to you. Are you sure you want to do this?

or:

Druid: I put on the chain shirt.
DM: You think about putting on the chain shirt and for some reason it fills you with dread. You get images of shackles, chains, manacles, closing about your body, cutting off your freedom, cutting off your connection to the world -- it's so simple an act, but it's the most horrifying thing you've ever comtemplated. If you're sure you want to do this, I need you to make a Charisma save -- and I'll need more saves, regularly, not to panic once the metal is around your body.

or:

Druid: I put on the chain shirt.
DM: The 5e rules don't say anything about what happens if a druid wears prohibited armor -- they just say you can't do it -- so we're going with the 3.5e version instead. If you wear prohibited armor, you lose all your druid class abilities, including access to druid spells, while wearing the armor and for 24 hours thereafter. Do you still want to do this?

Now that you've phrased it like this, it's no longer denying the character's agency -- now you're technically offering them a choice, but a choice that is heavily weighted so that it's functionally identical to the Player's Handbook rule.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The question is system-agnostic, but the answer seem to have reasoning which breaks down when applies system-agnostically in the wider scope of RPGs. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh Jun 16 at 7:42
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Unequivocally yes

You can and should remind the player of what his or her character would know—“you know that doing this is going to have serious repercussions, like X, Y, and Z”—but the choice (including the choice of how to think about that) is the player’s and the player’s only. Situations where the character knows something, but the player does not, should be handled out of character—it’s an out of character problem. Informing the player, out of character, of this information allows them to decide, in character, how their character feels about that information.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your "with great responsibility comes great power" (& vice versa) answer seems relevant here too. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 30 '16 at 12:00
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No

... and here's why.

I have said (How to get players to do something without them feeling railroaded?) that agency is:

Players making informed meaningful decisions that have reasonable consequences that can be foreseen

Assuming that the player was informed about the capabilities and limitations of the druid class at the time their character entered it then they have already executed their agency on metal armor by choosing to be a druid. One of the foreseeable consequences that flows from that is they "will not wear armor or use shields made of metal": ever.

This is a mechanical limitation on the character imposed by the rules. A player saying "my druid would like to wear metal armour" is equivalent in every way to "my Halfling is 7'6" tall" or "my Champion Fighter will now cast spells" - it is simply not something that the rules allow.

I would hope that a mature OOC discussion to this effect would make them see this point of view. However, if they persist in their obstinancy you are quite within sensible bounds to rule that no matter how hard they try, they "will not wear armor or use shields made of metal", just like the Halfling will not be 7'6" or the fighter will cast spells.

The whys and wherefores of how this prohibition works are within your discretion given that there is no RAW explanation for why this injunction exists.

Player agency is always subservient to the rules of the game.

Now, I'll admit that what is actually being said here is "Your character can not do that" and not "Your character would not do that" - which works for this particular case and means I worded the question poorly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also worth bearing in mind that when they chose a playstyle in which RAW is paramount, that's another case of them executing their agency to restrict their future decisions. In a different playstyle they could quite reasonably claim (as in Dan B's answer) that a rule "halflings are less than 7'6" tall" is of a different type from a rule, "druids choose not to wear metal armour", and that their character should be free to put on metal armour even if that means ceasing to be a druid, and even if the rules omit any specific mechanism for that. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop May 31 '16 at 13:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for bringing up the initial agreement of the player at character creation time. That is when he or she exercised agency. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jun 1 '16 at 18:07
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Yes, but....

YES, saying to a player, "your character would not do that," and then enforcing it denies their agency. I see no two ways around this, no sleight of hand phrasing in the denial that will change this. If the GM tells a player their character would not do something, then the character choice is no longer being made by the player, but by the GM. There is a character decision to be made, and it isn't being made by the player.

BUT... there are conditions where players have in some sense contracted away certain portions of their agency, and in some systems they are not uncommon. This D&D-5E example would seem to be one of them, as now the GM is denying the player agency based on a prior player choice (the choice to be a druid) and acting as an enforcer for the game rules.

That said, without further elaborations in the rules, it is a graceless and jarring rule in and of itself. Why won't the druid use metal armor and what happens if they do? Is it a magical compulsion or phobia? Can it be resisted? Will their fellow druids hire bards to write mocking songs about them? Will they act at a penalty? Will they stop being druids while wearing the armor? Will they stop being druids forever?

Most of those hypothetical leading questions (all of them except irresistible compulsions or phobias) leave agency in the hands of the player even after agreeing to the ground rules. The contract becomes more contract-like with benefits accruing while the player keeps the bargain, and penalties as he breaks it.

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As is so often the case, I believe the answer to this question is more nuanced than a simple yes or no, and it depends on the precise circumstances.

Does what the character is doing impact on the RAW requirements of a class, power, feature etc?

For example, lets say that the requirements for being a druid specifically state that they cannot use any metal items. If a PC druid tries to do so they simply lose access to all of the abilities, bonuses etc they get from being a druid as they don't meet the requirements.

This is a situation where I would definitely want to sit down with the player and discuss a way forward. There's nothing stopping their character behaving like a druid, but they clearly have a different set of expectations as to what being a druid actually means, and the fact that this set doesn't line up with RAW is the issue. Possible solutions might mean refluffing another class that better fits their expectations. The important thing in this situation though is that there is no room for manoeuvre, as they are not meeting one of the RAW requirements.

Is what the character is doing the antithesis of what is expected in the game fiction?

This is a particular issue when running games in well established settings. For example, in your game world, druids might never harm an animal – its just not what they would do. What you have to be clear on here is how the world and the NPCs in it would react if a druid did harm an animal.

The course of action here is to make sure the player is aware of the consequences of their character actions, whatever they might be. This could range from being a general laughing stock to having a lynch mob chasing them. If the player is comfortable with these consequences then there is no reason to disallow the action.

Is what the character doing just 'inconsistent'?

This is the catch-all for all other situations. Maybe you have a player who, up until now, has been playing a pacificist character, then suddenly they decide to attack someone. Maybe a quiet character suddenly decides to get all mouthy....the possibilities are endless.

This is a difficult situation, but my take is that it is their character, and they are entitled to react in whatever way they see fit. I would feel that it was within my remit as GM to ask in general terms why they are doing it (you never know, there might be a really good reason for the change of behaviour that you simply aren't aware of), but I would never, ever tell them to stop, and if a player were to attempt to do so then at my table that would be completely unacceptable.

There are a million and one reasons why people play RPGs. Some like to get into their characters, others like to kill monsters etc etc. Not everyone cares about creating a perfectly consistent character and you know, that's fine. However.....

When it impacts on the fun of other players at the table, you need to have a discussion with the player in question, individually at first, to explain the issue. Maybe their completely erratic behaviour is trampling over the agency of other players.

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The premise of the OP's comment itself is flawed -- while a Druid may not voluntarily choose to wear metal armor or take up a metal shield under normal circumstances, there are factors that can work against that rule:

  1. (IC) Force. Some would-be captor trying to keep a Druid from wriggling out of their grasp would be likely to use the rules surrounding Druids and metal armor to their advantage, for instance.
  2. Necessity. What if wood usable for shieldmaking is utterly unavailable, leaving the Druid with a choice between a metal shield and no shield at all?
  3. Setting. A DM may choose to modify this rule due to quirks of their setting -- Druids native to sand-desert or arctic biomes would be examples of this case.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 4 '16 at 19:50
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D&D is a game which enables players to do anything they can imagine (That is within their characters physical means).

Telling a PC simply 'no, you cannot do that', is not a good way to DM, it breaks the suspension of disbelief.

If that druid wants to put on that chainmail, so be it. They should know their character, and that a druid shouldn't wear that type of armour, and hence there is a consequence. No need to try tell them somehow why its a bad idea, or that there character wouldn't do that; they are that character, that character is themselves. If thats what they want to do, thats what they do (Granted, if its going to ruin the game for everyone, thats where you might step in, but this specifically isn't a game breaking scenario).

A better example of this would be a paladin: if a PC willingly commits an evil act (say murder) as a Paladin, the consequence is the removal of all paladin-related powers, they become (For the most part irreversibly), just a fighter, as the god they represent notices their act, and withdraws the powers they have bestowed. (Or at least thats how I play it, TBH I haven't checked if thats how it works in 5th Ed yet)

So if a druid wants to wear that armour, you should have a consequence; they move slower being unaccustomed to the armour made out of processed metal, the Dex modifier offsetting the AC of the armour, or maybe they cannot cast spells in the armour, or feel disconnected from nature, and long to be reunited with it. Maybe other dries refuse to talk with them while wearing the armour. There are plenty of ways to provide a consequence, and could vary in how extreme it is

That's my opinion at least

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  • \$\begingroup\$ why would a paladin PC lose paladin status in 5e? Paladin's can be evil; they just can't break their oath. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M May 29 '16 at 12:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe a better way of phrasing it is; players should be allowed to make there own decisions, and that included mistakes. Don't 'Deus Ex' style control them to make sure they fit into there character. Instead let them break character (and therefore further develop it), and if need be there should be consequences (Just as I would award experience as a reward for role-playing well in character, that should be a doubled-edged sword) \$\endgroup\$ – Gus May 29 '16 at 12:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Dale: Ah, well then that is an outdated example from a previous generation. I'm only just about to begin transferring to 5th edition. I still think it outlines my point well though, but sorry for the miss-information haha \$\endgroup\$ – Gus May 29 '16 at 12:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ These are fine house rules, but don't work in general and certainly not with the questions example of a drud. mechanics are mechanics, yo. \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage May 31 '16 at 16:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an inaccurate statement. D&D is a game which enables players to do anything they can imagine There are limitations, and they are set out in the rule books. . I can imagine my Champion Fighter throwing a fireball spell, but the rules have a limitation on that bit of imagination. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 6 '16 at 21:00
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As asked, yes, you are taking away some player agency. If the player doesn't balk and says "oh, ok," then it's no-harm, no-foul.

It might be better to ask the player some questions instead though. Assuming the player isn't just being difficult it might go something like this:

"Druids are famous for never wearing metal armor. Why does Swift Bird the Druid want to do that? What kind of consequences and benefits does she think that will have?"

A reasonable play may answer "Her desire to escape the fire based attacks of this beast over-ride her desire to use Druid abilities right now. So she expects a bonus against fire, and I guess a DEX penalty and the inability to use druid spells until she takes it off."

DM: "That's fine, she'll also have to do some sort of atonement. You can suggest something now or leave it up to me to come up with something later. Agreed?"

So not only do you honor the agency, but you get total buy-in on all the penalties and maybe a "get-out-of-narrative-jail-free" card to boot.

An unreasonable player may say something like "She just thinks it's stupid. She should be able to wear metal and get the bonus. It came from the earth didn't it? So what's the problem. Are Druids just stupid?" If so proceed with the excellent suggestions in the other posts.

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I find "allowing it" but helpfully following it up with a logical in-world fact-based penalty is enough.

In this case druids hold metal as symbolic of the destruction of nature and everything they hold dear but that's only cultural, not physical. What can logically follow though is if they hate it they've never trained in it either which means also means no spellcasting. "You can technically wear it so you can if want you want to, but druids are only proficient in natural armor like wood or leather, they're unable to cast spells or shape-shift in metal. Also it might piss off other druids you meet."

So yeah, it's more fun if you aim to be a friendly adviser giving helpful warnings about how the world works rather than an apparently arbitrary rules lawyer. Part of the DMs job is making the rules feel like they make intuitive sense.

Perhaps in practice this was a problem of not having expectations set properly before the game, that the player wasn't aware that they were choosing a character that can't use metal armor. It's not something you'd guess if you weren't already familiar with the game, that's also important.

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Most prohibitions have some sort of penalty associated with them, or they've acquired penalties with successive editions of games (such as applying a negative to various spell uses when wearing metal armor). My answer then is to give them a message that ties the action to the penalty.

Metal armor does not seem like a 'taboo', but rather a reflection of a druid being attuned to nature. Therefore, what Id do is describe the effect:

As you place the helmet on your head, you have a crushing sense of aloneness as all of your enhanced senses are cut off from the natural world. Reaching out towards your miracles (spells, whatever), you feel a terrible, unnatural metal wall blocking you. You are unsure if they are even there anymore.

Likewise, Id do the same for each Druidic power or trait - then they'd be restored once the helmet is removed.

So let them wear it, but deny them access to everything that makes a druid a druid.

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One thing to note is that you can easily justify that the fact that even if they put the armour on, they can't use it remotely effectively.

Armour is not just a magic shield around you. You need to know how to move to take hits on the strong sections, and how to guard the chinks and joints where an opponent could land a lethal blow. A druid who "would not wear armour" would not be able to do this.

It would be perfectly acceptable to give them an AC penalty instead of a bonus (because they won't be able to use their natural defence skills effectively any more), and to diminish their connection with nature (disadvantage on all druid-related behaviour), thus negating any benefit to the armour and applying a penalty.

If they refer you to the strict rules, then they lose the argument because the rules say they won't wear the armour. If they don't, then the armour is useless to them, which is canonically accurate.

It's important to note that 5e, by design, puts a lot more power in the DM's hands than its predecessors. 3.5e tried to cover every eventuality via the rules, which was very comprehensive and detailed, but arguably led to a culture of rules lawyering and a major accessibility problem. 4e was also restrictive, trying to keep everything simple, which led to a more "board/video gamey" style. 5e is different. When they leave something open it's because you are intended to choose an option that fits your gaming group rather than being forced to kill a good story because of an arbitrary ruling in an expansion book. This is one of those occasions.

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It's entirely acceptable for the GM to tell a player, "Your character wouldn't do that" and give reasons for why you think that the character wouldn't do whatever action. As long as the player is still allowed to take whatever action they want (within the mechanical limits of the game of course) after they hear the reason why they probably wouldn't do it, no one's rights have been stomped on.

In the case of a druid wearing metal armor, the GM should remind the player that they'll lose their spellcasting for 24 hours (as the rules state) if they wear the armor. The druid player will probably rethink their action at this point, but they're free to proceed anyway if that's what they really want to do for whatever reason or reasons.

Any player can similarly object and give reasons why to other players, and players can object to inconsistent NPC actions as well. RPGs are a shared storytelling experience, so people can always explain their understanding of the story so far to help keep the characters and narrative consistent.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "they'll lose their spellcasting for 24 hours (as the rules state)" is edition specific - specifically there are no adverse effects specified in 5e, it just says they "will not" - hence the question that stemmed from the linked 5e question. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Jun 2 '16 at 23:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, yes, this question here was tagged "system-agnostic" and so I forgot for a moment. \$\endgroup\$ – Lokathor Jun 2 '16 at 23:57

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