Teaching Your Players a Lesson Part 2

Near the start of my blog I wrote a post about teaching your players a lesson, using the story to shape how people play, to improve their strategy or to show them how the game actually functions in ways they don’t understand. This included teaching players when to run from a fight they can’t win, and this got me thinking that there are two kinds of things to teach players; things you think they need to be doing, and things you want them to stop doing. The second one I think is trickier, but let me share some examples.

It is not uncommon for a new player who runs the rogue of the group to not understand when to search for traps. Assuming you are including traps in your game in the most classic way, it is inevitable that they are going to fail to check a door or floor or wall, and the trap will be set off without anyone having prepared for the possibility. Rogues need to learn that this is an important role, and 5e solves it by allowing anyone in a group to search, requiring only that the trap be disabled by the rogue. However, teaching players to recognize their role can be done in a variety of scenarios, for example, did the wizard use Detect Magic, or is the Paladin remembering to Detect Evil? Sometimes for something as obvious as a party role or class ability, I will have an NPC specifically ask the character if they can help with the situation in some way. I play it like they were casually asking any member, but happened to be looking at the character who has the relevant ability. If they are somewhere near traps, I might have an NPC casually tell the story of a friend who died when a trap went off, or go to open the door but stop and ask if someone else should be opening it in case it explodes or something. These little reminders are a great way to remind players without waiting until someone is killed or maimed by a trap that went unsearched.

A great way to teach a player to build themselves to be more versatile is to put the party up against an enemy who is completely immune to one character’s attacks. I remember my first character ever was a sorcerer, and the first time we encountered a golem (immune to most spells), I ran and cowered in the corner. I had not bothered to choose any spells that didn’t allow spell resistance (their weakness), and I didn’t carry weapons because my spells were so good. After one encounter like this, I made sure to equip my sorcerer with combat options that wouldn’t leave her so helpless again. Try not to use this technique often, since players hate to feel their character is totally useless (duh), but maybe try a combat where the paladin in full plate is grappled, or a combat where the archer is firing at an enemy with a cloak of air, deflecting their attacks. Anything that makes a single character useless is a good opportunity to show where they can improve.

In terms of stopping a player from doing something, it’s fun to just give unexpected consequences. I ran a scary mansion dungeon crawl, and the wizard decided that each room they would open the door, he would fireball into the room without looking, and then they would investigate. This was a simple matter of having one of the next few rooms contain a puzzle that was based entirely on looking at images on tapestries. When they entered the room, there was barely enough left for them to figure out the puzzle. They also realized after they solved it that the heat had significantly lowered the value of the treasure that the puzzle had been guarding. I’ve also had to teach players to plan ahead when going to encounter a new challenge. One time the party had been told they needed to retrieve an idol from a famous bard’s house, so they went and broke in the very next night. However, I decided to include many locks and barriers that could only be passed by reciting lyrics from the bard’s songs. They realized that if they had just done a little research, they would have had all the answers to all his locks.

When players don’t get it the first time I try to teach them something, I usually ramp it up. This often looks like an increase in the consequences of the action/inaction. The unsearched traps deal more serious damage, or the fact that they don’t have information they should have sought out ahead of time costs someone dearly. Players need to learn to not listen to the advice of non-adventurers; if someone tells you to attend the banquet but don’t wear armour, you need to realize that the lives of adventurers are dangerous, and you don’t go anywhere without your armour. If my NPC tells them to do something that I think they shouldn’t do, and they listen, I won’t punish them the first time… that would feel too much like a trick. Instead I would present them with a similar situation soon after (for example, a beggar saying, “The trolls in the forest can’t regenerate if you attack them with lightning!”) and see if they listen again. If so, I would allow them to search out the trolls only to discover that no, it’s fire or acid that stops their regeneration, sorry about the money spent on lighting weapons. You as the DM shape the game, and you need to shape your players to fit it. Use lessons sparingly though, because the way the players choose to play is an important part of D&D for them.

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