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I am currently looking at starting up a pathfinder campaign with a group of friends I play with, wherein I will be attempting to GM. Having played with this group for a while I have gotten to know their personalities and how they are inclined to roleplay. One of my fellow RPGrs is very well-known in our band as the one who really likes to push the envelope and see just how far the universe stretches in any given way. For example: in one our campaigns he got irritated with the lack of diamonds found in the capital city of the human nation, and so he decided to immediately travel to another nation entirely (which consequently ruined our current DM's months of planning).

I've tried looking around for help in case this kind of behavior blooms in the new campaign, but I haven't really found anything outside of talking to them out of game and asking them to work with you as the GM.

Does anyone have any ideas for how, in game, I can encourage the PC to go with the narrative flow in a way that doesn't shut them down (like having one of the resident gods give them a "do this or else" scenario)?

I'm looking for in-game methods of working with his behavior because we have tried talking to him and nothing really changed, so I'm looking for a way to get him to be a bit less out of bounds by making it more fun to follow along.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What were the game's expectations as you went it, that last time? Was the game sold as a sandbox- do anything you like- or more linear story-driven campaign? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jan 14 '17 at 1:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possibly relevant here: what were the diamonds for, spell components? How is the relationship with this player and the GM? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jan 14 '17 at 1:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ How did the rest of the group react to this unplanned field trip to Diamondlandia? \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 14 '17 at 3:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cyberson Thanks for adding that explanation. FYI, we make a habit of avoiding using "edit:" in text here. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 15 '17 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also relevant to @daze413's comment, but I keep promoting the [Same Page Tool] (bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/the-same-page-tool) or the use of any social contract. Answer the question "What happens when a character wants to go off on their own?" and abide by that in game. \$\endgroup\$ – John Grabanski Jan 17 '17 at 20:31
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One of the ways to deal with the boundaries of a universe without technically railroading a player is to allow them to go outside of those boundaries as long as they understand it will take you a substantial amount of real-world time to prepare that content.

For example, if the player wants their character to go to another nation for reasons that were not already set up in your plans, then allow them to go to another nation, but their character will simply be absent from the game for one or two real-world weeks while you prep all the content that you were not prepared for and continue to run the game locally with the content you had prepared. In addition, when you do prepare the new content, it could be handled in a one-on-one session with the player while the other players who want to follow the narrative continue to play during your main session time. This works especially well if the rest of the party intends to stay local.

This sends the message that you're willing to work with the player and their desires but that there are logistical concerns on your part that they must appreciate if they wish to play in your setting.

Without knowing the dynamic of your group or this particular player, I don't know if the player is trying to provoke you or simply does not realize that his actions pose an inconvenience. If it is the latter, this or a similar solution should probably convey your perspective without any need for you to be combative or to railroad him. If it is the former, and he is just trying to push your buttons, then this solution amounts to an implied ultimatum: you will go along with his provocations, and in return he will be put in a de facto time-out.

In general this can work with groups of players that cannot get their characters to latch onto your narrative hooks and form a cohesive team. If people want their characters to split off, then they are welcome to do so, but that does not mean that you are able to focus on them all at once.

My answer specifically avoids creating any in-world rationale to try to curb the player's conduct. I'm suggesting that the best policy is honesty about the impact their conduct has on your job as the DM. You are essentially the editor and director of an epic miniseries written collaboratively by you and the players. Your player wants to force you to change the dramatic focus, to point the camera at him when it would ruin the pacing and plot you have storyboarded. Perhaps in the world you are creating together their character does have that agency to go wherever they want whenever they want, but that doesn't mean your camera is obligated to follow them immediately. In fact, you can choose to simply have the vagrant character's actions be conducted entirely off camera or as a brief spin-off that runs concurrently with the miniseries in a different and less popular time slot.

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A Frame Challenge - They Aren't a Problem Player

I'm going to offer a frame challenge: you are treating the player like the problem, but they are playing a certain kind of game. A great game. But it's not the same game that you want to run.

I love players like this. When I'm GMing, I try to create an immersive, interesting world full of intriguing details. I create fictional plants and detail their usage. I consider how the unique history and culture of each people lead to a certain structure of government.

So when a character wants to go off and explore a seemingly arbitrary tangent it means I did a good job - I created a world interesting enough that the player wants to explore it. My reward as a GM is being able to convey more of my thoughtfully crafted world to the players.

But it sounds like that isn't the kind of game you want to run. And that's dandy. It's important to recognize that this isn't a problem player, it's a coordination problem: the two of you have conflicting expectations for how the game should go.

Solutions

This is essentially an out-of-game problem with in-game symptoms. However, you asked for in-game solutions.

If you want these kinds of players to follow your narrative flow, change how you narrate. Many GM's prepare a game like it's a movie: players wander between pre-ordained challenges. This isn't going to work for this kind of player. You need to be more abstract and more flexible.

  • Improvise. If the party is going to be doing unexpected things, stop worrying about the details and just improvise. The world is yours - you can't do make it wrong!

  • Think thematically Don't worry about the details of every place or person or activity. Instead, keep in mind some general themes of your campaign or adventure and keep bringing them back. When a player wants to visit Diamondlaysia you can stop, think about what this country is basically ("it's an impoverished waste whose only resource is being exploited by an international Gnome cartel"). That theme can be manipulated freely into any number of fun situations.

  • Let the players pick their goals. I get your frustration: you sunk a lot of time and effort into developing something that won't get appreciated. Instead of directing PCs, let them pick their own goals and run with it. I typically ask each player to give me a quick introduction to their character before a campaign. As part of this, I encourage them to establish their own goals, which I weave in to the game.

  • Don't hold back. Finally, I would recommend not holding back on your PCs. Others have mentioned this, but it's worth repeating: the world can be both boring and dangerous. The capitol - Diamondopolis - may be entirely boring. Maybe there's a large bureaucracy that has to be navigated before any diamonds can be procured. Such is life. Let them experience the (in-game) joy of hiring a lawyer to work it all out. On the other hand, the world outside their cozy little adventure may be lethal. Don't hold that back either.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Given the provided example, I do not believe the player's motivation to push his borders would be curiosity, as you seem to imply in your first few paragraphs. I completely agree with you that his actions alone aren't something to be defined as problem-behaviour (rather a certain playstyle), but in this particular case I believe the player is at fault, intentional or not, for not following the story narrative.. \$\endgroup\$ – Joninean Jan 14 '17 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Joninean - Agree to disagree maybe. The OP describes the player as someone who enjoys "push[ing] the envelope and see just how far the universe stretches in any given way." That is what spurred my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – indigochild Jan 14 '17 at 19:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ If "They Aren't a Problem Player", given the context, then you have redefined "problem" to "nothing" or "anything". You love those players. I love dogs. Other people are allergic to dogs. When people who are allergic are jumped on by a dog, it's a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Adriano Varoli Piazza Jan 16 '17 at 9:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the semi obvious but overlooked point under improvise. There is nothing set in stone about the world other that what the GM has said out loud, and that can be changed. You literally can't do world building "wrong". \$\endgroup\$ – tillmas Jan 17 '17 at 0:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ If one of the players does things the rest of the group does not want him to do, it's his problem, not only the GM's. I'll point you to the last paragraph in the question: "I'm looking for in-game methods of working with his behavior because we have tried talking to him and nothing really changed, so I'm looking for a way to get him to be a bit less out of bounds by making it more fun to follow along." When people talk to you and tell you "hey, this thing you're doing is not fun" and you keep on doing it... \$\endgroup\$ – Adriano Varoli Piazza Jan 17 '17 at 19:07
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All Roads Lead to Rome

First off, why weren't diamonds available in the capital city? Was some die rolled to determine that, or is that another potential plot hook, as they investigate the "Why?" Or did the previous DM arbitrarily decide that, so the player is taking revenge, by "arbitrarily" doing something else? Sounds like personal problems?

Solve it out of game: It is simple,

  • Just say "I am running this adventure, if you don't like it, oh well!"
  • "It will take me time to write that up, please make another character to play now while we assume your character is traveling, and we'll do quick one-on-one."
  • "We can do this, but you will have to sit out two weeks of play time, while the rest of the players and I keep playing. Maybe they will just decide to wait for you at the inn. Then we'll do quick one-on-one."

In-Game Possibilities:

In some of these possibilities, you need to be to be prepared to kill characters for them to take the game seriously. They need to be aware of the real-world consequences of every decision. Make this known out of game to the players, that random encounters are random.
Consult:
How can DMs effectively telegraph specific dangers in D&D?
How can I tell how powerful an NPC is without being explicitly told?
Risk of a TPK vs realistic NPCs

Decide

Each time this comes up, decide something:

Does it Matter?: Is there some reason your adventure can't wait?

Make the hook stronger: In other words, while traveling, they have numerous encounters which will pull them back--make it so they have to deal with it. The denizens of your villain have also cornered the horse trade, making travel difficult. They run into villains on the way, that steal some other items from the character. They capture one of the characters (chosen at random). Etc.

Adapt: If the PC's can afford diamonds, they probably could afford the teleport spell to be cast on them, and a scroll of teleport for the ride back. The trip takes an hour.

Play it cool: In many cases, for some adventures, location doesn't really matter. Without even hinting that this screwed you up, silently move the adventure to the new area.

Forbid: Possibly the least desirable as it stretches the imagination, but there are ancient black dragons suddenly patrolling that trade route, a hook for another adventure. Problem with this approach, is then they go to do something else, and you have to put more black dragons there.

Acquiesce: After asking around, someone does have diamonds. They had to spend a few days wasted though finding them, and the cost has increased 25%--still less then the cost of traveling to the other nation. Again, they might decide you are a push over, and try this routine again.

OK, GO!: Works only if rest of PC's want to stay also. While 2 weeks pass, have the character roll another character to use while his character is shopping.

There are many more possibilities, don't be afraid to use your imagination.

Also Keep in Mind

The Clock Keeps Ticking: The evil is on-going. When they come back, the evil villain has laid waste to the capital city, including the player's strongholds. The players lost a million gold pieces. The city is completely taken over, and the players may end up slaves, or TPK'd on return. Or just increase the villain's defenses further (as might make sense), which the players will soon discover. Now he is really going to need those spell components!

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the clock keeps ticking. Had a party several weeks ago that went off in search of riches in a mine, were surprised that a known camp of captive humans were killed while they awaited rescue. \$\endgroup\$ – tillmas Jan 17 '17 at 0:54
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How does his behavior affect other members of the group? If other members of the group want to go along with his in-game actions, then why limit it? Take a ten minute break, change a bunch of dungeon/city names, and move on to the next nation.

Are the other members complaining? Why would their characters follow his on a wild goose chase then? You can limit his more outrageous choices simply by reminding everyone that this IS a team game. Without a team, he has no narrative.

Long story short, encourage other players to act in-game. If they care, they'll stop it. If they don't, you'll have to be more flexible.

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A) First, ask yourself: do this player, considering what he knows/can guess really need these diamonds ? If the answer is yes then you have made a mistake in the preparation of your story. It's too late to fix it now, but keep it in mind for next time (and apply point B). If the answer is no you may try to make this clear with this player and maybe he will change his mind (if not apply point B).

B) Tell your player the trip will take X time, and cost Y money. Make it clear that some things can happen to his friends during this time and he won't be able to react to that. Then play with the other players until this amount of time has flown: the character is back with his diamonds. If many things are supposed to happen during his travel you can make him play someone else: the goal is not to make the player bored.

If you feel like it you can later spend some time with this player to roleplay what happened there, but that is not necessary. After all there is no reason for this to be very interesting.

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Prepare less, wing it more. No matter how meticulous your planning is, the plan is likely to disintegrate the moment it meets the characters/players. Have a good knowledge of your world, a few pre-prepared set pieces that are as-yet not placed on any map (and can therefore be dropped in to any as-yet-unexplored spot). From there, improvise and take notes, so you can have something approaching a coherent campaign world.

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