GM Advice:
Arresting Player Characters

By Shamus
on Oct 1, 2008
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

In tabletop games, sometimes the players need to go to jail.

Sometimes it’s part of the story or a quest hook. Sometimes the players have gone a little too far and you need to yank them back into line and remind them that this is a world with consequences. Sometimes you need the guards to pull them over just to preserve the verisimilitude of the setting.

But doing so is tricky, because there will be the temptation on the part of the players to just get in a fight. Being arrested is not generally a fun thing and the players are naturally going to want to avoid it. As a GM, I am not above a little manipulation when I think the story would be better served by a particular set of actions. Simulationist GMs will let things happen as they do. Clumsy GMs will steer events through force. Storytelling GMs like me will let the players do what they want, but provide narrative cues to make some paths seem more obvious than others. (I do this in the interests of steering players towards the most interesting events, not in an attempt to “win” over them.) Without these cues the game would be meandering or freeform, which isn’t what our group wants.

How you handle this depends largely on the mindset of your particular group of players. If they see you as an adversary, then they are going to assume that the arresting guards are part of some ruse to take away their magic items or kill them off. This isn’t going to work if your players don’t trust you. They aren’t going to be keen to give up their hard-earned weapons and tools if they think you won’t give them back. (Not the guards, you.) This also isn’t going to work if this is a kick-in-the-door group of players. They’ll just start a fight, because, duh! That’s what this game is all about! Those players aren’t going to notice the lack of verisimilitude on the part of the guards anyway, so I wouldn’t bother trying to arrest them. Same goes for morality-challenged parties. (The chaotic neutrals and evils.)

But if you find the story calls for intervention on the part of law enforcement, then here are a few of my own tricks for encouraging the players to surrender or talk their way out of it, instead of resorting to blood:

  1. Have the guards afraid of the player. If they’re acting as if they’ve just been sent to arrest the Dark Lord himself, this will clue the player in that they have the upper hand. They will feel more like they are “humoring” the guards by choosing to go with them.
  2. Make the event law enforcement, not military. Yes, the distinction is vague in most fantasy settings, but fairly clear in the modern-day world we’re familiar with. Describe the man as a “constable taking the player to the courthouse”, not as a “soldier taking them to the brig”. The former is a lot less threatening to modern ears, and hints to the player that they’re not going to be dragged off and killed without getting a chance to speak for themselves.
  3. Send as many guards as makes sense, not as many as you’ll need for a good encounter. If your players engage in metagame thinking – and we all do from time to time, sometimes without realizing it – then sending a force for a well-matched encounter is going to short out the thinking of at least one player at the table, who is going to assume they’re “supposed” to fight these guys. Just the right number makes them start priming their dice for rolling initiative. (And of course sending more guards than the situation calls for will make them feel railroaded, and the players might resist just to spite you.)
  4. Make it fun. Again, computer games do guards a terrible disservice. They’re an army of generic clones, strapping young men at the peak of fitness, even though all they do is walk and stand. But I imagine in anything less than a huge city the town watch is going to be a mix of guys of all ages. (And, in some settings, women.) Some will be out of shape. Some will be young and fit but either too brash or too unsure of themselves. Some will be befuddled by all this unnatural commotion. There will be a drunk somewhere in the mix. Most are guys who, at the end of the day, just want to collect their 1d4 of local currency and go home to their families.

    If you can make the conversation fun, the players will be much more willing to play along, as opposed to having a bunch of faceless enforcers run in, swords in hand, demanding to know what’s going on.

  5. Don’t escalate. As with real modern-day law enforcement, you shouldn’t go in heavy if you don’t need to. Don’t have the guards draw swords unless they have a good reason. Coming at a person (in real life or in a game) with a weapon in hand carries the implied threat, “Do what I say or I’ll use this on you.” Police don’t draw their guns when asking you about a busted taillight. Yes, this deprives your guards of a combat edge, but the real goal is to avoid a fight altogether.
  6. Enforce long-term consequences. Resisting arrest should be a bad thing. This isn’t Grand Theft Auto, where loosing the cops makes them forget the whole thing. If players resist arrest, refuse to answer questions, and flee law enforcement, then word should spread. The players should quickly realize that life as a fugitive kind of sucks. Needing to disguise yourselves every time you go into town for supplies is going to get tedious. If wanted posters start showing up they may suddenly think about how they, a group of nominally decent characters, became outlaws.

A fun example of me using #1 and #4 can be found here.

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20201050 comments. It's getting crowded in here.

From the Archives:

  1. Gary says:

    Shamus, you really make me wish that I was in YOUR roleplaying group. It’s not fair! My GM is a “kick-in-the-door” type and is only interested in Epic battles with lots of cool abilities. Actual roleplaying has yet to happen. I’ve tried, many many times. Then I quit coming.

    I really like your take on arresting people. I think that would lead to some interesting game play.

  2. Deoxy says:

    Not that I am REMOTELY complaining, but why the sudden return to a table-top related post?

    Oh, and it’s a good post, in case you were wondering (my approval makes the world go ’round, you know – heh).

  3. MintSkittle says:

    A return to tabletops! Good post, but sometimes the setting itself gets in the way of situations like this.

    Shadowrun is a good example. In most urban areas, law enforcement has been replaced by Lone Star or Knight Errant, rent-a-cop style organizations who usually shoot first, second, and maybe a few more times, then ask questions. Corporate security is the same if you stray into their territory.

    Still, GM tips are always appreciated.

    EDIT: Then again, since players are usually criminals to begin with, they probably had it coming. It doesn’t help if they draw weapons the second law enforcement shows up.

  4. Novarum says:

    Fun change in your posting line up, good tips, especially enjoyed reading the scenario you linked too.

  5. Randolpho says:

    This isn’t Grand Theft Auto, where loosing the cops makes them forget the whole thing.

    I wish I’d thought of letting the cops out of the cage when playing GTA. I guess they owe you favors then, so they give you a get out of jail free card or something like that.

    I always just ran away instead.

    Ok, this ends my stupid, pedantic joke.

    I’ve had so many arrest attempts fail that I’ve almost given up on them. Now I may have to try again, just to see if I can get away with it….

  6. Josh says:

    This isn’t Grand Theft Auto, where loosing the cops makes them forget the whole thing.

    Took me a minute to parse this one, too.

  7. Hal says:

    I remember when this scene played out with my players. I was arresting the party bard, and he spent a good 10 minutes trying to talk his way out of it. I didn’t want to say, “Look, just go with them, it’s a plot hook,” but he wasn’t getting it. I also didn’t want to just sic the guards on him, because I hadn’t statted them out and it wouldn’t end well.

    I’m glad the other players finally caught on and just told him to shut up and get back on the rails. Honestly, don’t these people know a good story hook when they see it? :-)

  8. Nilus says:

    I have found that with good players getting arrested isn’t a problem. Mostly because they realize that becoming fugitives and cop killers(even in a fanatasy setting) will usually hurt them more then a possible trial. Especially if they are good characters who generally thought they were in the right.

    One of my characters actual got arrested once and it lead to a very cool well role played trial sequence. The rest of the party investigated the case and looked for evidence while I got to role play some fun scenes with my advocate and the trial itself. Honestly it was the most fun I had ever had being imprisoned in a game.

  9. Strangeite says:

    A post on true RPGs!!!!

    There are really great suggestions and I plan on trying them out.

  10. henebry says:

    Great advice. I’ve faced this situation before, and have been forced to assure players (OTC) that they should just go along with it, for the sake of the story. They complied, but these strategies promise to be a lot more fun.

    The notion of bringing too few troops is counterintuitive and very clever.

  11. kamagurka says:

    Man, I need to find me a better RP group. My group is strictly hack’n’slash, just loosely strung together combat. It’s still a lot of fun, but it mostly plays like tabletop tactics.
    Now, don’t get me wrong, I know my GM has some serious chops, but he hasn’t had the time to come up with a compelling and thought out campaign, so we’ve just been playing like this.
    On a side note, I’m typing this on my newly acquired best keyboard ever. Clicky clicky!

  12. Old_Geek says:

    I have the opposite problem. My players tend to be too savy. “OK, Mr. DM wants us arrested. Let’s go.” I’d like to see more roleplaying. Try to talk your way ou of it. Go yelling and screaming for your lawyer. And maybe, when the situation is right, resist arrest.

  13. Christopher says:

    I hope this is a sign of more tabletop posts to come. Don’t get me wrong, I like the video game stuff, but tabletop RPGs are where my heart lies.

  14. Drew says:

    All of these are good advice, but #1 is the sort of thing that’s damn likely to work, while at the same time not being the kind of thing you’d tend to think about. Nice tip.

  15. Scott says:

    In the RP I am currently participating, the party (8 people) are being haphazardly led into the city by 4 guards. (We had gone outside of town and were wandering in the forest on a ghost hunt after curfew) The situation is hindered by the fact that only two characters speak the local language!
    Hopefully, our more hot-headed party members won’t try anything stupid.

  16. Ambience 327 says:

    Althought it is currently on hiatus due to young children in our lives, my wife and I and my best friend have been involved in an Inquisitor campaign that took a major plot-turn on an arrest situation. A squad of Adeptus Arbites (space-cops, ran by me as GM characters) showed up to the sight of a major disturbance (a battle between two rival Inquisitors, one of whom was trying to regain control over one of his Daemonhosts, the other who was trying to stop him – they fuzz showed up just after the Daemonhost went down). The Arbites Proctor (the guy in charge) was at a loss as to which Inquisitor to back (Inquisitors outrank him, but both stated the other one was a Heretic, and not to be trusted.)

    The Arbites decided he was trying to politely ask the pair to accompny him downtown to discuss the mess, when the radical Inquisitor (the one out to control the Deamon) planted his finger squarely into the Arbites’ forehead and demanded obedience. What he got instead was a bolter round that grazed his head and left him unconscious and in the custody of the Puritan Inquisitor and her crew, which then led to a few (failed) rescue attempts by the Radical’s men.

    When we left off, the Radical Inquisitor was about to be transported off-planet to meet up with his superiors in a trial (that was going to end up being a shoot-out with lots of high-ranking Inquisitors duking it out over whether the Radical was guilty of Heresy or not, with several allegience changes and plot twists planned.) Hopefully we will get to continue our little story at some point,

    I guess the point of all that was to show just how much excitement and story-building can come from a well-played arrest scenario, whether the GM succeeds in preventing violence, or not.

  17. Illiterate says:

    I can’t recall the last time I tried to arrest my players.

    One of them… the one I’m married to, is almost guaranteed to start a fight or try to create a distraction and flee.

  18. John Lopez says:

    The setting does have a strong impact on this scenario. As pointed out, Shadowrun tends to be about characters that live outside the law.

    Another major discriminator is that D&D caters to “heroic fantasy” which means that a mid level character has the destructive potential of a Sherman tank. More realistic worlds have an easier time with the law being taken seriously.

  19. Tacoman says:

    Now I want to try arresting my characters just so I can try this out! Thanks for the tips, Shamus, and for a return to tabletop gaming topics.

  20. Miako says:

    err… yeah. The fun comes after the arrest. Like when my druid ran at the arrested PC (who was horsed, no less) with a flaming torch (it was for his leg. this is what you get when a firepriest heals you). Then she got arrested too.

    I’d favor the “of course you can beat these guys, but you’d be pathetic to do it” — either boys in chainmail or really old guys who couldn’t put up a fight.

    But being arrested by the van of an army is also fun.

  21. Coldstone says:

    Wow. I wish I played with folks that could appreciate this level of gameplay. With the exception of one other guy in our group, everybody we play with is astonishingly thick when it comes to anything other than hitting things.

  22. Mari says:

    The Star Wars game I’m playing in these days has my group dealing with law enforcement. Well, that and space pirates. I’m sure you see the connection. Anyway, your tips are just as handy for players. Dealing with Republic law enforcement has made me (the player) edgy, like I’m walking this fine line between being the “good guy” and being thrown in lockup forever for looking out for myself in even the smallest ways. This post was a nice reminder that ultimately my GM is on MY side and just wants to tell a fun story. Also a helpful reminder for how NOT to deal with Republic officials ;-)

  23. Heph says:

    a) Hurray, Tabletop post. Been a long time. Variety rocks. *continues waiting for the OotS guy to finish his fantasy world post series*

    b) We’re mostly hack’n’slash people, too, unfortunately. Not helped by the fact that my brothere currently lives abroad, I work nights and weekends, two other party members work full day time hours, and one has some serious commitments in another town 50 kilometers away, where he *has* to be, usually with hardly any notice…Since we can hardly ever get together, say once a month, it makes it hard to continue to stick to a story – let alone any deep storytelling with things to remember. Or staying true to character. Oh well.

  24. Jason says:

    Thanks for the helpful advice! I’m currently running a fairly balanced game of Forgotten Realms D&D. My PCs are members of the military and/or advisors. One of them happens to be a cleric of Tyr, so he deals with law enforcement issues all the time. It’s going to be pretty interesting in the next few games since they just found out about a few corrupt watchmen on a powerful Duke’s payroll…

    We’ll see how these suggestions pan out.

  25. Flying Dutchman says:

    Great tips! I found these out through trial and error. You know you’re doing something wrong to get your players arrested when you create level 17 Half-Orc Fighters as townguards for a pop. 100 hamlet. And you are right, players feel railroaded and fight them out of spite. And rightfully so.

    I usually send a small number of guards, who fear the PC’s (if they are high-level), or I send a small contingent of troops the PC’s know to be respectable (like two guards lead by a local paladin). The best solution, in my opinion, is to have the PC’s face an arrest warrant executed by someone familiar, who may have helped them before and is known as a “good guy”. But this solution may not always be an option.

    In one other example, I convinced the PC’s of the righteousness of the townguards by having one of them defend the PC’s against an attacking bystander (who was pickpocketed by a PC). This one worked wonders!

  26. Calli says:

    “Being arrested is not generally a fun thing and the players are naturally going to want to avoid it. As a GM, I am not above a little manipulation when I think the story would be better served by a particular set of actions.”

    This sounds distressingly like what my first GM would say. It’s distressing because he was, at the start, a decent GM who slowly, completely and utterly lost it. The total party arrest (on phony charges, natch) happened late in his degeneration.

    For extra fun points, he made us RP the week we spent in jail. For the whole session. No, there wasn’t anything exciting going on, except to wait and see how badly the GM would further screw the party at the end of said week.

    There’s a longer, much more complicated story behind all of this, but all that needs to be said here is that I would look long and hard at any GM telling us we’re getting arrested because the story dictates, and ask, “Why?”

    It veers uncomfortably close to WYDNA (Write Your Damn Novel Already).

  27. Dave says:

    I just played a NWN2 game during NWCon4.. it was multiplayer with a DM… we started stuck in a cell.. the whole thing was roleplaying.. no combat with the guard.. a bit of combat with some nasties hiding in the cave we found on our escape… which didn’t happen til much later.. yes.. it was almost a full session of rp and without combat.. and it was fun.

    So.. you _can_ get real rpg with a computer too.. ya just have to know where to look.

    I know your thoughts on NWN2.. well.. I’ve had it for a year.. and have yet to play the single-player OC that came with it.. NWN1 and 2 shine in DM’d multi-play or long-term Persistent Worlds…. but.. yes.. many played the OC .. it sucked.. they dumped the game.. kinda like eating your first orange with the skin on it.. not liking the biter skin and never eating another orange.

    Anyway.. yeah.. guards when played well are a lot of fun and very useful.

  28. Kaeltik says:

    A return to tabletop: much anticipated and appreciated.

  29. ngthagg says:

    MintSkittle: If you’re playing in a setting where law enforcement is hardly lawful, there are other alternatives where the players may have to surrender to authority. Maybe “Big Steve”, the local syndicate rep, objects to the party’s hacker working in his territory, and he hauls the party in to get what’s owed him, one way or another.

    The only point I would add to Shamus’ list is to make sure you establish the setting beforehand. The descriptions of a lawful community and a lawless community are considerably different. Are the streets clean? Well-lit? Does the citizenry walk around armed? Do the merchants have a constant bodyguard presence? The obvious one: are there patrols of guards around? If there are guards, what do they look like? Uniforms clean, in good repair? Metal polished? What’s their relationship with the citizens?

    I think it’s (justifiably) easy for players to come into a town from the hinterlands and bring with them a kill or be killed attitude. It’s up to the DM to remind them that there are other ways of behaving.

  30. Attorney At Chaos says:

    In general the people I’ve gamed with have been solid roleplayers, so the hack-and-slash mentality has not generally been a problem (once in a while, yes). But there was one CHAMPIONS campaign about 25 years ago where fully half of the team of heroes were in jail.

    While the players were a lot more experienced with AD&D than they were with CHAMPIONS, they weren’t complete novices either. But they made choices of psych disads during character creation that had bad consequences.

    One character was a brick, a 250 point super-strong type who had been forced into state service in his homeland (USSR) by the KGB. He escaped to America, land of freedom, etc. Just fine so far. But he took both “Hunted by the KGB” and “Enraged when facing KGB”. A couple of 50-point agents approached him in a shopping mall intending to use indirect threats (i.e. against friends/family that were still in the USSR) to get him to return. He Enraged and killed both of them in full sight of 50 witnesses.

    I forget the exact circumstances of the 2nd to go to jail except that it involved massive property damage (around 100 million dollars) that could easily have been avoided.

    The third to go to jail involved an incident during their recruitment drive to get replacements. One of the applicants didn’t want to wait in line and decided to impress the selection committee by making a surprise move at the public tryouts. It was intended to just be a show of super-agility (jump onto the hood of the team’s moving super-vehicle, lean against the little windshield and say “Do you pick up hitchhikers?” or some such). But in doing so he triggered a MAJOR psych disad (imagine if you had a deathly fear of normal spiders and a 6-foot spider jumped on you by surprise – that sort of thing). The driver was a blaster and let loose first a scream (A SPIDER – KILL IT!!!) and then his most powerful Killing Blast, fully pushed – and rolled a 3 (auto-hit) followed by high damage (and high multiplier) followed by knockback damage (with the car’s velocity added) followed by the AI Autopilot (following his screamed orders) deliberately running the applicant over with the vehicle. There was just a long streak of spider-paste and the line of applicants suddenly got a lot shorter….

    We took a break from the campaign at that point. The arrests hadn’t been a problem, but as a team of “heroes” they just weren’t viable.

  31. neminem says:

    Very nice.

    I actually remember an instance where we were hauled off to the brig, escaped, and never got any of our stuff back. One of the more fun sessions of that campaign, too! (Course, we were like 3rd level, so it’s not like we had anything terribly valuable… except my spellbook, which sort of limited my abilities for the next session or two…)

  32. MintSkittle says:

    ngthagg: True, “law enforcers” need not be civil servants.

    I guess my point is that in a game where the players are, by nature, criminals, when presented with some form of order, the instinct is to rebel against it, even if doing so would be detrimental in the long run.

  33. The Great Squid says:

    RPG posts are awesome.

  34. Zapata says:

    This sounds like a fun game. What are the system requirements?

  35. Zaxares says:

    Fortunately for me, the party leader is a paladin (a half-celestial paladin to boot), so he does a pretty good job keeping the other players in line. ;) It’s much easier to keep the party on the straight and narrow when you’ve got allies among the players.

    That said, as a Simulationist/Storytelling DM, I typically have the guards behave appropriately to their alignment/setting/location if they have to show up on the scenes. Good guards attempt to parlay and convince the party to stand down, resorting to force only as a last resort. Neutral guards will be gruff, but fair, but don’t hesitate to draw weapons if the party prove to be belligerent. Evil guards (usually coming from evil societies) usually go in with weapons drawn, usually shooting first and not even bothering to ask questions later.

    If the party resists arrest, they get to find out just how long the arm of the law is.

    1. SWAT teams (consisting of PC-classes) get called in; an old party of mine thought themselves invincible because they were about level 7 – 8 and “what can a bunch of wussy level 1 – 3 guards do to us?”

    Enter 20 level 3 apprentice mages all armed with Wands of Magic Missile (CL 3rd). And they all target the same person each round.

    5 rounds later, the entire party was dead, whereas the SWAT team had only 6 casualties.

    2. Wanted posters offering generous bounties start going up all over the city. And depending on the level of their offence, sometimes even in the entire kingdom. People refuse to do business with them. Everywhere they go, guards are called down on their heads.

    What’s worse, high level bounty hunters start stalking them. Some with VERY creative and efficient tactics for taking down powerful or elusive enemies.

    3. If the party gets brazen and ruthless enough, it’s time to send in the big guns. If the party is clearly Evil, send them powerful Good-aligned monsters intent on ending their evil ways. There’s nothing quite like seeing the look on your player’s faces when a small mouse scamper into the middle of the road ahead of the PCs… Only to suddenly transform into a Colossal Silver Dragon as soon as they come within reach.

  36. Bai Shen says:

    +1 on the RPG post. :)

    I’m always amazed at the number of players that are surprised at being arrested.

    I had one player show up in armour and with weapon draw at a crime scene. And then he couldn’t figure out why he was being arrested.

    Another player was walking down the road carrying an assualt rifle out in plan sight.

  37. Moridin says:

    20 3rd level mages? That doesn’t really make sense. Had there been 10 of them with 4 or five 5th level fighters, they probably wouldn’t even have taken casualties at all.

  38. Packy says:

    Dammit, that link at the end led to me reading through the whole campaign and losing 2 hours of my life!

    And now I have the strangest desire to bust out Oblivion again… It’s the closest thing to a RPG I have, bugs and all.

    Damn you, Shamus… Damn you!!!

  39. Cybron says:

    As much as i love your advice, Shamus, I doubt I’ll ever get to put it to good use. My players tend to be a bit on the amoral side. It’s resisting arrest all the way to the noose for them.

  40. Miako says:

    And there’s always the extraneous arrest. AKA bribe the guards, please. It looks like a plot hook, but is a great way to throw the players off stride from a random encounter. Also a great way to set the scene — don’t just say you’re in a corrupt dictatorship, but have that have actual consequences for the players.

  41. AnonCoward says:

    Heh, incidentally, something like that is supposed to happen in a stock adventure I’m going to master soon (my first time as a game master, too). The system’s TDE.

    And thinking about it a bit, the text describes 6 mounted and heavily armed soldats, while the crime will be more akin to petty theft. I think I’ll scale it down quite a bit, to make the players follow them to humour them instead by force. The text also describes how things could be switched around in case they don’t, but it really makes more sense the original way round and I’ve been trying to find a way to make sure they’ll follow the railroad. (Yes, this is kinda a weak point in the adventure, but the rest sounds great and I’m not fealing comfortable enough to change it big-time. Let alone writing my own *g*)

  42. guy says:

    I feel there should be 3 levels of attempts at arresting people:

    1. you’re a minor criminal, two to four low-level guys who don’t expect to get in a fight show up and politely ask you to accompany them to the watch house. they’ll actually break out the cudgels and handcuffs if needed, but if you seriously fight back, they run and you’re upped to a catagory 2 arrest target, or three if someone dies

    2. you’re a violent criminal or they otherwise suspect you’d resist 1, but they don’t consider you a guy who’s willing to fight the poilce, they show up with a heavy enough force that they aren’t exactly a laughing matter, but if you decide to go on a murder spree, they’ll clearly lose but not without inflicting damage

    3. You have pissed the city watch off quite a bit. their job is to take you alive, but if you give them even slight cause, they’ll settle for, “mostly intact.” if it can reasonably be consisdered an officer of the law, it’ll be showing up to help with this. resist the temptation to skip straight here, or use it if the players somehow cover their tracks while resisting arrest.

  43. B.J. says:

    This reminds me of something that happened in my current D&D game very recently.

    The party was in an island-hopping adventure and they were chasing after a bad guy who was after the same treasure they were, and he kept leaving obstacles in their path to slow them down. In one port the obstacle was a bogus tip off to the local authorities that the PCs were enemy spies. The local authorities in this case happened to be wizards so the party was stopped by a single mage and his attendant golem. I actually assumed the party would do anything but go quietly, but that is just what they did.

    They assumed on a metagame level that this was an auto-capture scenario and anything they would try to do would result in failure. So they went to jail and then proceeded to moan and groan about what a jerk I was. I pointed out that they didn’t even try to escape or evade capture; they then argued that it was impossible to do so! Without even trying! I listed off a half-dozen things they could have done that I had made notes for in my preparations. Turns out they weren’t used to playing with a DM who actually allowed choices.

    They were more angry when they felt the longterm effects of their inaction: the bad guy got the treasure before them, and they had to try even harder to chase him down.

  44. Zaxares says:

    To Moridin:

    My party is a group of damage/AC whores. :P They love to tweak their characters to deal out massive amounts of damage, while making themselves very hard to hit. A group of level 5 warriors would find it extremely difficult to take them down, even with magical help. The mages would have been doing all the damage. Besides, I wanted to the party to know that they’d been thrashed by ‘low level grunts’.

  45. Moridin says:

    That’s not how I meant it. The warriors would have been basically a meat shield, since they would have taken multiple times the damage to take down.

  46. Kevin says:

    This happened in my D&D game, just last week. An impostor attacked someone in town, and the guards came looking for the PC the woman was disguised as. It’s a tiny town, and two of the three guards came to slap on the irons, and the whole party stood up and threatened to kill them. (I was planning a little “trial” ending with a fine, since no one got hurt in the attack.) Now however, there will be fearful townsfolk, hired thugs, swirling rumors, all sorts of chicanery.

    Really, there’s no reason for a DM not to have anything to run. The players will cause ALL the trouble themselves.

  47. Calli says:

    BJ@43:

    “They assumed on a metagame level that this was an auto-capture scenario and anything they would try to do would result in failure. So they went to jail and then proceeded to moan and groan about what a jerk I was. I pointed out that they didn’t even try to escape or evade capture; they then argued that it was impossible to do so! Without even trying! I listed off a half-dozen things they could have done that I had made notes for in my preparations. Turns out they weren’t used to playing with a DM who actually allowed choices.”

    And here I was hoping my experience was a fluke. I hope at least their first impulse does not involve foreceful application of game book to GM’s head.

    This whole post had me thinking about the player arrest scenario and my own experience so much that I went and blogged about it. It also made me realize that old gaming wounds (7 years old) hadn’t healed quite as thoroughly as I thought.

  48. Unity says:

    In a fantasy spying campaign I ran once the players were captured by one of my major NPC’s. As this NPC knew they were resourceful he didn’t underestimate the amount of force required to contain them until the show trial he was planning – at the session’s end the party was thoroughly searched and confined weaponless on a ship transporting a whole regiment of the imperial guard.
    I used the intervening week before the next session planning out the trial, figuring the players would have the sense to wait for it and the chance to make their arguments. Pretty happy with my work I looked forward to the next session…
    What a waste, my five unarmed players tried to take on several hundred veterans. Using GURPS, so no level gap to make it possible. Squish.

  49. Wind-Up says:

    A semi-related story (if I can manage to tell it right, that is) about my very first experience ever with D&D:

    I walked into the the room in the middle of the first session of a new campaign, and the party was in the process of meeting each other. Let me start off by saying that this group does everything in its power to stay in character and not metagame (we fail often, but we try). Apparently, the sorceress had seduced the elf fighter’s brother before I entered, so I still don’t know how that all went down. Anyway, the fighter, for what whatever reason, was very suspicious of her, and actually ended up going into the room, tossing her onto the floor, and whacking her in the head with his trident (it was nonlethal damage, but she still went down to about 4 hp).

    The DM, being new, needed to figure out how to deal with this ridiculousness, and so the first session ended there.

    Yeah. So, anyway, she screamed at him, and the beguiler (her companion), the curious halfling rogue, and the favored soul of Fharlanghn came up to investigate. The favored soul used hold person on him until…da da da dum!…my character, a knight who was a new guard in the area, showed up to arrest him! So, anyway, in order to not send a newly created character off to prison before he even became part of the party, my character pretty much said at the trial that, “This man is a moron, but he thought he was doing the right thing and protecting his brother. Let me monitor him for a time, rather than sending him to prison for his well-intended mistake.” …or something like that. It was still in character for me to do that, though, so I wasn’t just metagaming, even though that’s kind of how I worded it. So the judge strapped bracelets on our wrists that would make the fighter become terribly sick–or maybe it was fall into a deep sleep–if they were more than a mile apart. So there’s a courtroom situation (brought on by majorly stupid and completely unforseeable actions) that was properly roleplayed to not end in an arrest, and brought a new character in with it!

  50. RCN says:

    Am I the only one who saw number 4 and immediately thought of Ankh-Morpork nightwatch guards?

    1 Shaddy figure who is basically indistinguishable from a bum or mugger unless you can make out his badge from under all the dirt

    1 old fat geezer who’d rather avoid pointy things altogether and believes he has the perfect marriage because the only time he ever meets his wife is during his supper/her breakfast

    1 middle-aged guy with street sawwy that knows how to avoid conflict but just good-natured enough to consider doing something about crime on occasion (which practically makes him a Saint in Ankh-Morpork standards)

    1 wide-eyed idealist who truly believes he can save the city 1 crime dealt at a time whose the fact he is more than 2 meters tall (7 feet), that his foster parents were dwarves and is strong enough to make a throwing axe smash THROUGH a reinforced door are really good factors into him being able to be so idealist in Ankh-Morpork.

    Oh, also important is the factor that they constitute the entire police force of Ankh-Morpork (a city as populous as New York… in the weak weeks) during the night shift is just the icing in the cake.

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