A GM's Conflict of Interest? (GM Advice)


Dark Archive

Forgive me if this is a silly question to ask, but I've been wanting to find some other opinions on the subject for some time now. Also, I hope I'm posting this in the right place, since my question does deal slightly with the fluff of Golarion, but I do believe my actual question is setting-agnostic.

What should a GM do when his players want to tell a story he doesn't?

I believe we can all agree that its good GM practice to work the backstories of his PCs into the plot of an ongoing campaign, yes? I've run several games in the Inner Sea setting, and every time I do, at least one of the same two players will turn in a backstory that involves laying waste to Cheliax (with the intention and expectation of eradicating it from the gaming group's canon permanently, for no other reason than that they, the players, find it distasteful) The problem is, I actually like Cheliax (Dark Archive, baby ;) ) I like that despite its diabolic nature it actually does a lot of good in the world. From a storytelling standpoint, they're a great vehicle for shades of gray morality stories, and I haven't even been abe to use them, because I know that as soon as I try the story will go straight out the window as the weapons get pointed at any red and black in sight.

I've tried discussing it with them, nothing. In any scenario where they have autonomy they want to get rid of it, and I refuse to railroad my players. I've tried making villains of Chelaxian nobles to let them deal a lesser blow to the nation, no dice, the hate train keeps on chugging. I've offered to run Hell's Rebels for them in the name of catharsis, same thing, they want it GONE.

These aren't bad players, they're great people to play with that have been a pillar of my group for years, but even recently, as I solicited backstories for an adventure in Garund with conceivably nothing to do with Avistan whatsoever (one simple question: what do your characters seek in Katapesh?) I still got "mercenaries to stage a coup and a diviner to find a power capable of eradicating House Thrune once and for all." I honestly have no idea if this campaign will even get to the point where that might be possible, but, obviously I'm going to have to find an answer to this eventually.

So what's my move here? I suppose good GM Etiquette demands I let them do it, but even if it means amputating one of my favorite parts of the setting? Considering their goal would be nearly impossible (given that the nation is economically in bed with 90% of the Inner Sea and has a god with a vested interest in its well-being) should I just let them run themselves into a buzzsaw of failure? That doesn't seem like a particularly honorable solution either. What about for the high-level campaign I've got flapping in the breeze? Do I let that campaign end with the kingdom they've spent two real life years building getting crushed beneath the allies of a super-power? If I do let them take it down, where does it end? They've already started talking about "Nidal is next." I would like my games to be a little bit more than lining up cans for them on a fence.

So, I am at a loss fellow gamers. Any advice or opinions on the matter is greatly appreciated.

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Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

They're certainly welcome to try. Bring the might of Thrice-Damned House Thrune upon them. Utilize material from books 5 and 6 of Hell's Rebels as inspiration. Most importantly, they should realize that many have tried and they're not likely to succeed.

House Thrune rules by allegiance with Hell itself. If the players are antagonistic in a meaningful fashion or their plans end up being public, it's not unreasonable for an unnecessarily high-CR devil coming up and threatening them with awe-inspiring punishments. What does the level 8 party do when a CR 16 Horned Devil approaches them with a message, complaining that this is a giant waste of his eternal life to deliver a message? Are they smart enough to say "oh crap, that thing could annihilate us" and leave well enough alone?

I sympathize with you on this. The plain and simple fact is that, until they have access to 17th level or higher stuff, they are not likely to fare too well with their existing plans. Moreover, what do they plan on doing with the smoking wreckage that they leave in their wake? Galt 2.0?

My other recommendation would be to straight up tell them "Hey, if that's the story you want, I am not the GM for you. Would someone else like to step up as GM?"

Sovereign Court

Just talk directly about it.

"I'm not keen on 'destroy Cheliax' as a storyline and it's not worth trying until level 20 anyway. Let's play an adventure which starts at level one."

While I hate to psychoanalyze, it really sounds like there's some deeper issue at work here.

Now, that being said, your solution is easy. Erase it from the map. Rahadoum is across from Nidal now. You said it yourself, you can't use them. It doesn't matter if you like them, if you're never going to use them (well, you can't use them how you want) there's no point to keeping them around. It's like buying a tasteful nude painting, then taking it off the wall and hiding it every time anyone comes over. Sure, you enjoy it, but nobody else even knows it's there. Additionally, its existence apparently derails completely unrelated campaigns. So just erase it and be done. Save yourself the headaches.

Are your players religious?

I've played with two really devout players, one who was okay with devilish type themes and one who wasn't.

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Surprise them.

One game, have them arrive in Cheliax to find it a place of devout piety and all things good. Just the nicest, most peaceful, angel infested place you could imagine. Have them learn, with minimal effort, that those who told them that Cheliax was evil did so to to advance their own wicked goals. Have it turn out that opposing Cheliax is in reality the work of a villain, not a hero.

Then, each game when they continue their crusade you pick another version of Cheliax. None of which are the Devil bound evil they expect. Maybe Cheliax is an empire of Halflings who seek the ultimate culinary experience. Perhaps it is a land of badgers that grow special mushrooms and battle extra-dimensional snakes. Mayhap it is a magical realm of fantastic creatures governed by an allegorical lion. It could be the completely neutral base for a planned invasion of inevitables meant to bring order to the world. How about a land where words are compulsively sung, ruled by a spoony lounge singer bard. The possibilities are endless.

Dark Archive

When in doubt, let your players walk into their own failure. Anyone have any idea what the stats are for Abrogail II Thrune? No? Here's a hint, I woulnd't want to pick a fight with the Queen of Devils, her Hellknight Legions, her bound devil minions, and whatever else she may have to throw out at the party.

Let them try, let them really assess what exactly their attempt will mean, and if they keep trying, don't be afraid to let them fail horribly when they attempt to pit their party against the might of an entire nation with the backing of Hell.

To me it sounds as if they might be doing this to sort of get at you in general. ie lets bug the GM having every PC want to destroy Cheliax as a back story.

Fluff Related:
In game terms how many people in the setting want to get rid of Cheliax? How do other's (mNPC, MNPC's, etc) treat them when they say something like this? Is it a common thing for someone of their PC's background to say.
Remember actions and speech can have consequences. You can take examples from various countries around the world on how they deal with various people (theirs and other counties citizens) who express the attitudes that the PC's are expressing.


Bob Bob Bob wrote:

While I hate to psychoanalyze, it really sounds like there's some deeper issue at work here.

Now, that being said, your solution is easy. Erase it from the map. Rahadoum is across from Nidal now. You said it yourself, you can't use them. It doesn't matter if you like them, if you're never going to use them (well, you can't use them how you want) there's no point to keeping them around. It's like buying a tasteful nude painting, then taking it off the wall and hiding it every time anyone comes over. Sure, you enjoy it, but nobody else even knows it's there. Additionally, its existence apparently derails completely unrelated campaigns. So just erase it and be done. Save yourself the headaches.

This. Anything else will ruin either your fun or the players'.

Replace it with whatever society they intended to put there themselves. Then you can continue to game with them.

Alternatively, find some other players to play with.

There's a few problems here: Your palyer's character doesn't seem to want to participate in the game you're DMing right now, he wants to take part in the Hell's Rebels AP. While you can let them/him do this, it will also result in drastic changes in your game, essentially making it into a different game: "Screw the plot, I want to go this way!"
And then the question is: Do you want to DM that game?

Also, taking down entire countries isn't an easy deal. Even if they kill off the entire house of Thrune, what have they achieved? They'll just move on to Nidal, while Cheliax appoints a new diabolical leader? Or will they perform genocide against all people of Cheliax? How is it that two entire nations (with contacts in the Red Mantis Assassins, *hint-hint*) can't stand up against a party of killer-hobos?

A few decades ago, a lot of people couldn't understand why the Soviet Union was still a problem. Almost everyone in the world seemed to hate them. No government trusted them, since they seemed to make a policy of betrayal. They oppressed their own people. Horrific standard of living for a major power. Etc... Why?
Big and powerful. Sometimes they did keep their bargains. It is nearly impossible to go into another country and make them change into something they don't want to be. But the biggest thing that most people don't realize, is that the Soviet Union was an improvement for the lives of the average citizens.

Sovereign Court

At the beginning of a campaign, players and GM have to come to some sort of agreement on what the campaign is about, what PCs can/will be motivated to do.

If you don't care for a black and white assault on Cheliax, then that's not an option for the game. If they don't care for a shades of gray dance with Cheliax, then that's not on the table either.

There's no use in trying to force either GM or players into a campaign they don't want to be in.

PCs have to be built to work in the campaign they'll be played in. That's not a polite desire, that's a hard rule. If you have a campaign set in Katapesh set in mind, PC concepts focused on leaving the campaign and sailing to Cheliax are unacceptable.

I'miss a firm believer in actions have consequences. Way, way too many players think they can do stuff and not face those consequences.

If the players want to act like thugs (destroying government buildings and attacking government employees), treat them like thugs. They'llc be playing into House Thull's hands. Allowing House Thull to 'preach' fear and pass stricter laws.
If the party wants to join a group seeking to help people in Cheliex, example: Bellflower Network, run a different story.

Just for grins, have some Demon puppet master send them on missions to 'destroy' the Cheliex government while also end up dragging their names through mud.

Dark Archive

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First of all, a very sincere thank you to everyone who posted here to help me with my problem. You guys are amazing, you gave me a lot of great ideas, and had I known the Pathfinder community was so supportive I would have posted my question long ago.

I've thought long and hard about it, and I think that at long last I've finally come to the answer I've sought for so very long. I'm just going to tell them straight out that its just about impossible, not as an iron-fisted GM but simply as a matter of fact. After laying it out in my head, its clear to me that they either haven't completely thought it through or don't realize just how many allies Cheliax has. Team Cheliax is effectively Cheliax, (already arguably the most powerful nation in Golarion with the most powerful navy and some of the most powerful spellcasters) Isger, Molthune, Mendev, (not wanting to lose the Hellknights against the Worldwound) any other country that owes the Hellknights favors, any other country that cares about making money through trading with them, the Red Mantis, the Aspis Consortium, an entire plane of the multiverse, and one of the major gods of the setting. Team them is most likely their kingdom and... nobody, for fear of provoking the aforementioned crapstorm. Even if, through an inconceivable string of Nat 20's and Miracle and Wish spells that Asmodeus in all his godly power wasn't just able to outright veto, they did manage to put down Queen Abrogail, she's not the only noble to sign a pact with Asmodeus, they would almost have to entirely wipe Cheliax and Isger off the map. And even if they did that, there's still countless Hellknights operating in other countries that would converge on them like a noose. I think they're just relying on their power-gamed characters to carry them through a series of "CR+3" encounters with plenty of time to rest in between, but Cheliax wouldn't respond to a threat like that, and even if I did cleave strictly to the encounter building rules, the legions of hell are innumerable, they could simply conga-line them into an attrition victory. No matter how you slice it, they lose 100% of the time.

And the reason I would tell them this is because that my friends, is what I consider fair warning. As I said, I refuse to railroad my players. If they still wish to try I won't stop them, but they do so knowing full well that they are throwing their characters and their campaign into a wood chipper, and I am not responsible for what follows. Like any good GM, I have to let their decisions affect the campaign, even their bad ones, and then we can start a new one with lessons learned.

Does that sound fair to you guys?

It's not impossible. Just very, very difficult to do. With lots of hidden problems.

Running in and trying to smash the government is just about impossible. A more socal, gathering allies, might work...over a long time. Which most parties just don't want to invest the time and effort into. They want to smash stuff. ;)

Cheliex does have its enemies, just that those enemies follow the "devil you know" vs complete chaos rule.


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Hell, you could turn it into a suicide mission with the intention of "let's see how far we can take this". Could be fun.

And then slaughter them mercilessly, of course.

Similar to what Carla the Profane said, you could run it for them as like the dungeon to end all dungeons with the for knowledge that they won't win and then allow them to respawn and run the campaign as intended with them having their murder hoboness out of their system.

Also no reason to make this challenge rating appropriate send a group of high level red mantis Assassins to their doorstep, if they fail plane shift in the pit fiends. They are after all an opposing nation.

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Let them try and then have an army smash them to bits. Then have them roll up new characters. Honestly, if my group acted like this, I would drop them and find someone ready to play the adventure being presented.

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yeah it does seem like your players are being unreasonable. but I'm a big fan of the fair warning approach, though I would'nt say its impossible for them to succeed. it would just require a lot more effort and subtlety than it seems they'd be willing to put forth.

they would need allies comparable to those of cheliax. that would take time and effort. in order to convince people to ally with you against cheliax they need to believe you have a reasonable chance at success, that you're actually preferable to the power you're removing, and that they will be able to advance their own goals in the wake of such a world changing endeavor. sounds like a pretty tough sell.

A true campaign to undermine and eventually reform Cheliax could actually be really interesting, but I agree that it wouldn't be an easy task and would likely require an extremely nuanced and long term planned approach.

A run in and smash 'em approach is almost certainly doomed to fail. Instead, it Would probably require more than a few "greater good" decisions (for example, taking steps to goad Cheliax into a war or conquest against another nation to destabilize the region and demonstrate the threat Cheliax poses to other nations, either to recruit them as allies or cause them to stay neutral in any coming conflict. That choice would have to be made Notwithstanding that it would inevitably lead to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of innocents).

Of course, it seems to me that the whole group has to be onside for the campaign to work, and it sort of boggles my mind that the players think it is appropriate to dictate that sort of thing. Because while character motivations are in game, they are created out of game, and I might have expected the players to respect your desire to run something other than their "crush Cheliax" fetish. In my experience, it is a cooperative approach to figuring out what the group wants to ply, but the DM always has final say, as he/she is the one doing all the heavy lifting.

Anyways, sounds like you've found your solution, and I think it is quite fair and reasonable (you sound like a great DM, for what it is worth). If they crash and burn, hopefully they will come to the next campaign interested in some different goals.

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ChaztGG wrote:
Stuff...+ "Does that sound fair"

The problem I see with trying to tell them it's impossible because Cheliax has a ton more resources than them is that it isn't impossible. It just totally changes the game into something you don't want to run. If the players have resources X and Cheliax has resources X to the 50th power, then all the players need to do to win is get X to the 51st power resources- this would include assets, allies both supernatural and otherwise, control of the prevailing culture in the region. etc, etc. But that totally changes the entire nature of the game. The game stops being about going on adventures and starts being about diplomatic missions, influencing culture, propaganda wars, and mass combat.

I think the real problem is that the players and you see this as two different problems. The players think that Cheliax is the Empire from Star Wars and they want to play Luke and Han. You see Cheliax as an integral (and interesting) part of the region that can't simply disappear without completely remaking the cultural and geopolitical make-up of the gameworld.

Rather than telling them they can't do it, I would try explaining to them what would be required to do it and how that changes the game into something you're not interested in playing.

Quite fair!

Easiest way to solve the issue is to ask the players how they plan to overthrow Cheliex. Then work the story from there.

I can see lots of interesting possibilities with this type of story, depending on the plans of the party. Party just needs to remember no plan survives contact with the enemy.

You could allow them to succeed and them have them deal with the resulting power vaccum in the campaign, resulting in the moral grey area you enjoy.

All of a sudden your PCs are the bad guys for tanking the economy of most of the world, despite killing off evil people.

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Its not necessarily bad to have a doomed mission be the goal of the campaign. The martyr is a very interesting story to tell. Just so long as ALL the players (not just the 2 zealots) understand that their chance of success is effectively zero. No only are there lots of in world challenges that are effectively impossible to overcome, but there is also, the literal and figurative will of the GM.

One thing you might want to explain is that if you make a major shakeup of the cannon of your groups setting that way it makes it extremely difficult to use the campaign setting anymore. It is in the GMs interest to roughly maintain the status quo if they want to use a campaign setting further. Something like the overthrow of cheliax wouldn't just make chelish specific material effectively useless. It would make many many products require revision or out right non-use. All sort of international relations, characters and events would have to be adjusted. That is something you literally don't want to have to do if you are using a campaign setting. One generally uses a published campaign to have professional writers do all that for them. They want to focus on individual events and details and not the world wide picture. Which you would have to do if big world shaking events fall into your groups cannon.

Explain that to them. If they understand both those points and still want to move forward AND everyone else at the table, including you is on board, go for it. For blood and glory.

If not, then talk to them about making characters actually invested in your actual campaign. Personally its a massive no no for my players to create characters not interested in the campaign at hand. Even when running my own game I give them something akin to the players guide paizo puts out for its ap. There are always some minor spoilers about the direction of the campaign, but I consider that a fair price to ensure the players create characters that fit the general idea of my campaing. IE you don't want to bring a paladin into a skull and shackles game. And I expect them to follow up with character that work for the game, one way or another.

Have them be Chelaxian agents who must rise up through the ranks in order to have a shot at succeeding. Did you see the movie Valkyrie?

Well the conflict of interest seems to be how you want to use the setting - and your players want the setting to be a foe.

Honestly - this is something you guys need to sit down and talk about 'out of game' as friends - and not as 'players and gm.' My personal advice with the information given here is that you both should avoid using the setting at all in your motivations, backstory, or story elements - because your obvious 'favorite' status, and the players obvious 'hatred' are only going to cause conflicts if you try to do anything with the setting.

Do I think a 'overthrow the queen' campaign could be epic? HELL YES.

Do I think a 'unintended consequences' campaign (where say you kill the queen at level one through some kind of unique 'right time right place' deus ex machina event - only to have literal hell on earth happen due to a clause in the contract) could be awesome? HELL YES.

Do I think that a 'show the players who's boss' campaign could be awesome? HELL NO!

And there is the rub - one of those plots upsets you. The second one will upset the players unless they are *interested* in that kind of plot to begin with. The third will make the GM happy - until the players all quit or go out of their way to get back at the GM - in short the last version of events will ruin your group.

Before you get to the point of actually having anger and hurt feelings over a game - it would be better to either stop playing or agree on what is 'off limits' so you don't tread those waters.

/my two cents.

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ChaztGG wrote:
What should a GM do when his players want to tell a story he doesn't?

Leaving aside the specifics of this particular situation, this sort of problem is rooted in one of two things.

One possibility is that you have jerks as players, and they will try hijack any campaign for their own reason. Hopefully that isn't the case here, and if it is after trying to communicate a bit, the only real choices are live with it or kick them out.

More common is that the GM hasn't really defined the campaign theme ahead of time, and explained to the players that need to make characters that would want to be part of such a theme. For example, if my campaign theme is going to be resourceful pioneers building a kingdom in the wilderness (Kingmaker) and you bring a character whose sole goal it to bring down the House of Thrune, I'll say that's nice, I imagine that character will be happy fomenting trouble in Cheliax, but you need to make a character that wants to participate in this campaign.

Backstory is all well and good, and adding elements from backstory's into a campaign is great, but a backstory should reinforce why a character is going to participate in this particular campaign, not be a vehicle for forcing the campaign into a different theme.

Allowing that isn't just unfair to you as a GM, but it is also unfair to any players who actually want to play the theme you had them build characters for. Of course, you do need to find a theme that people, at least the majority want to play, and the rest can live with.

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ChaztGG wrote:
These aren't bad players, they're great people to play with that have been a pillar of my group for years, but even recently, as I solicited backstories for an adventure in Garund with conceivably nothing to do with Avistan whatsoever (one simple question: what do your characters seek in Katapesh?) I still got "mercenaries to stage a coup and a diviner to find a power capable of eradicating House Thrune once and for all." I honestly have no idea if this campaign will even get to the point where that might be possible, but, obviously I'm going to have to find an answer to this eventually.

Telling them that the adventure occurs in Katapesh, and asking why they are adventuring there is good. When they reply with "... eradicating House Thrune ...." tell them that is unacceptable, since that character seeks something not in Katapesh. Allow them several tries. If they cannot come up with something after 3-5 tries, tell them that they will not be playing in the game since they cannot come up with acceptable characters. When they complain, tell them firmly you set the parameters for characters and they did not want to use any such character. Don't back down on this. It is not railroading.

If you asked them to play cards with you but they insisted on playing chess, you would not play with them. If you cannot agree to a start, there is no railroading even possible.


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As a DM, it sounds like you're attached to Cheliax for plot / RP opportunities that you could easily generate elsewhere.

What if you opened up to the possibility of letting the players take down the country? Might their joy at doing this be worth it for you?

To each their own, but as a DM I try hard not to limit any possibilities for my players. I want them to feel like their characters have as much agency as any person in the world, that isn't restrained by my biases.

Of course, some things (like taking down a country) are going to be really really tough. But pretty awesome if it succeeds and no matter what, it'll make a cool lasting impression on your campaign world...

I've got a similar vibe in my group; they all hate Cheliax and want to take it down, ASAP.

However, I've thrown in some events and encounters that have them rethinking their approach to opposing Cheliax. They attended a diplomatic event at a Chelaxian embassy and recognized that most of the attendees were not, in fact, evil. (The paladin being there helped confirm this.) They encountered a Hellknight who was LN and simply patrolled a border. And they met a band of abolitionist fanatics on a suicide run to 'free the slaves of Cheliax,' and saw the depths those murderers would sink to in the name of "freedom." (The old Andoran faction provided some inspiration there.)

So now they're talking about what strategy would free Cheliax from its diabolic influence, or just weaken it, without wiping out the whole population. It's an improvement.

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