[RPG] How to teach players consequences


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?

Best Answer

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.