How do you keep your players from causing problems with the NPCs?
One of the problems I hear gamemasters complain about all the times is the players being mischievous during non-combat scenes. Your mage starts to cast obvious spells to impress the court wizard. The barbarian will most likely scratch themselves or belch loudly. Lets not even talk about what the thief is going to do in the king's courtroom. Is it a role-playing game after all right? The players should be able to do whatever they want because they can. But what happens if that does not help the story move forward. This article is for those Gamemasters to make non-combat scene easier to run.
Why do we have non-combat scenes in RPGs?
The first thing you need to ask yourself as the gamemaster is "What am I trying to achieve in this scene?" Many gamemasters never ask that question I myself included till a few years ago. Have you ever watched a badly edited film where there are scenes that make no sense at all? Why was going to the corner store and picking up milk important in the middle of the movie important? In a role-playing game, every moment should be important. That could be as simple as "I would like the players to flesh out their characters more" or "I want them to have the chance to be suspicious of the NPC Mage who is really working for the Dark King". The important part as a GM is that you know what that reason is. You may want to tell your players or maybe not tell them anything. If you can't think of a reason maybe it's a good idea to skip that part of the game.
How to set expectations with your RPG Party
It may not seem like it but in the Zapperburger Episode of Star-Fall I had told The Fifth Crew what I had expected from them. They went into the game knowing that they were going to be in a non-combat situation and should not cause any trouble. The result was just as fun as the players used the fast food restaurant as a way to explore their characters more.
The exact mission goals may be obfuscated but the fact they are looking for something and causing problems would be a bad idea is the key to making this work.
How to keep your Pranksters and Murderhobos happy while everyone else is Roleplaying
Thieves, pranksters & Murderhobos are often the key problems in scenes like this. One of the techniques that I use is allowing a knowledge role with a huge bonus "Due to their expertise". If they roll anything even close to decent (Did I mention huge bonus to the Dice roll) you inform the player that their character is smart enough to not cause problems in this area. you can find all kinds of reasons for the character to not want to do anything stupid. By making it the characters idea the player (and it being something that makes them look good or an expert) they are less likely to cause problems during the scene with the king.
Keeping the Thieves at bay
- You noticed the King has an alarm spell on everything only an amateur would try to steal anything from this room.
- You notice a bit of writing in "Thieves Cant" warning you that stealing anything is a trap ... all the real goods are hidden elsewhere
- You notice your old instructor working as a consultant for the king. They give you a gesture of "Back off .. we will talk later"
Reasons for the murderhobos to be not murderous
- You notice a hidden guard ready to snipe you at any second if you get too close
- You recognize one of the guards .. You have seen them fight. You know you are no match for them
Reasons to keep the prankster at bay
- You know this is the one time you should behave yourself.
- Before entering the room you overhear the guards talking about the last person who played a prank in this room
- The King has learned of your pranks and comments on it... best be nice here
Using the Stick to keep Player Characters in line
Using some of the examples above of coming up with something very creative. This is a great time to use natural consequences as a big stick to keep the mischievous players at bay. Truth be told I'm not one of those GMs that feels like you have to punish your players (Really unhealthy mindset for some people) but I am a firm believer of "natural consequences" This is where the logical progression of an action happens. Such as you try to steal from the King and you are going to end up at the end of a hangman's noose. It's very important to give all the warnings as possible to prevent the character from doing anything that would be stupid. However, if they keep along the path and you have provided many warnings to allow them to get into trouble. This does not mean that they have to DIE. But it does mean that they may end up spending some time in the dungeon with an unpleasant cellmate till the bard is able to talk the king into letting them go.
Using the Carrot to keep everyone happy
Now for some players, you need to know their motivations. Having a social interaction where the player knows they are going to get something out of it is a major motivator to behave. This does not mean that you should allow the barbarian with a CHA score of 4 do all the negotiations. However, letting the Theif know that having an important patron like the king is worth more than anything they could take from the throne room. Letting the players know in advance the advantages of a successful or at least not a failed social interaction will keep the pranksters at bay.
Listening to your players because it's not about the Gamemaster
Sometimes the gamemaster has a great idea but the players are not going to think that it is fun. There was once a game where I tried to run a social heavy module for my friend's 10-year-old son and six friends. (WHo all had names like Wolf Shadow. Blood Shadow. Shadow blood wolf) and headbands with swords in them... Ummm yeah .. this is not the kind of game where a political debate between the ork captain and the king of the elves is going to be appreciated.
As a Gamemaster your first responsibility is to your players. so Find out what they want to do. If you have a party of five muderhobos. Then give them something that murderhobos will like. By asking the players what kind of game they want to play does not diminish your creativity at all. But it does set the expectations for what kind of game should be played. I personally go and find players that fit the game and not the other way around. Though if they are already at my table it's my job to make sure they all have fun.