Overt vs Covert Punishment


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


Players mess up bad, super bad, like, besmirching the entire religion of Iomedae bad.

Should they be punished for their actions by the church who has 100 witness of their crime of attempted theft of one of the churches greatest relics to date?

Or, should I start excluding certain items out of loot hordes, making them less and less useful for the players in question (not the whole party), as well as throwing more enemies at said players that are more apt to counter them?

The overt punishment is clear and defined, there is a reaction to the action that can be obviously understood. Unfortunately, this punishment would lead to either excommunication or forced service, things the players in question wouldn't really care about, or indefinite imprisonment or death, things the players would shrug off by making new characters.

The covert punishment is not direct or obvious, but it the effects can be felt almost immediately as the players become less and less effective. I'd eventually send them a vision or sign that they've earned Iomedae's displeasure, but in the interim, the players would start to become a burden on the party, rather than being solely punished.

What should I do? There's no way I can't punish the players for such a blatant act of heresy, but it seems like they've goofed up so hard that punishing them isn't feasible.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

First rule: Fun is the goal. If what you think should happen in the game world won't make the game more fun for the group, then absolutely don't do that thing. This is subjective. Some groups are going to find living with the consequence of their actions and being hunted down by a major religion for their actions to be a lot of fun, others would find that a total drag and not be what they come to the table to do.

Second rule. You don't punish players for what characters do and you don't punish characters for what players do.

Example 1: The party breaks a law in the game world. They are should face consequences in game that reflect that. The players shouldn't face consequences (such as the GM taking away loot from future encounters because he is mad.)

Example 2: A players says something inappropriate to the GM or a fellow player. The GM should talk to the player, perhaps even going so far as to asking them to leave the group. The GM should not retaliate in game by doing things to the character.

It seems to me that you are pissed at your players for their characters actions. You need to take a breath, realize that this is a game and your anger is probably going to be counter productive to your goals and then focus on what do to make the game the best experience it can be. It is also possible that you and the group have different visions for what sort of game this should be and it might benefit your table if you all discussed that.


Dave Justus wrote:
First rule: Fun is the goal.

Agreed. But the GM's fun comes first. They're the one putting in fifty times the effort and time into the hobby. Plus, there is absolutely no way that a game can be good if the GM isn't enjoying it.

As the GM, it is your right to run the type of game you enjoy. But it is also your responsibility to inform your players as to what sort of game it is you'll be running. If they want something other than you're providing, there are other groups and other games.

Dave Justus wrote:
It seems to me that you are pissed at your players for their characters actions.

That could be it. Or it could be that a GM sees an obvious logical progression based on cause and effect and can't quite decide the best way to go about it (the reasoning behind their doubt being, quite honestly, extremely well thought out).

Me? I think a goddess is less likely to care about what some irreverent mortals do than her devout mortal servants will. Bring the characters up on some kind of charges. Show them the world reacts to their actions. Maybe it'll make a cool story arc. Maybe it'll result in new characters.
If it's the latter, it seems like you might be stuck in a loop. I knew a group that would, in every game they played, deliberately ignore any and all plot hooks, start a fight at the local tavern, burn it down, be consequently imprisoned/executed/whatever, then complain about how "that game sucked." It was one of the most immature, toxic groups I'd every met. My advice to them was to go roll with other people. Or not roll at all.
If that's the kind of group you have...I'm sorry.


The group isn't immature, they're just incredibly short term planners.

The relic in question is a weapon that's of utmost importance to the church of Iomedae, not Iomedae herself. During a duel of honor that the two players fabricated in order to have a legitimate reason to disarm the paladin player, I had to remind the second player that the duel was being watched by 100 paladins. The reason I reminded him? The second the paladin got disarm, the player ran out into the middle of the field to take the sword and shove it into his bag of holding (nevermind the repercussions of shoving an unsheathed sword into a bag of holding).

Also, I don't appreciate being told that I'm angry and pissed for wanting my players/characters to suffer the consequences of really bad decisions. If you walk into a bonfire, you take fire damage. If you jump off a cliff, you take falling damage. If you attempt to steal a holy relic of a church in the presence of 100 paladins of said church, you suffer the full extent of the law.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Quixote wrote:
Dave Justus wrote:
First rule: Fun is the goal.
Agreed. But the GM's fun comes first.

I absolutely agree that part of the fun is the GM's fun. An absolutely critical part. I disagree with the 'first' portion though, because I don't it is possible for the GM to have fun if he prioritized his fun over that of his players. Whatever type of game I like, if it isn't what my players enjoy there is no way I am going to have fun running it.

Sometimes compromise is necessary of course, and we find a place where everyone can have a good time, and sometimes their is no way for a particular GM and group to play together and it that case they shouldn't.

Bottom line though, if what I want to do when running a game isn't going to be fun for my players, I shouldn't do that thing. Either I find a different thing to do in the game that I enjoy, or I don't run the game at all, but I absolutely won't just do what I want and expect the players to suck it up because they 'owe' be for my effort.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Opuk0 wrote:
Also, I don't appreciate being told that I'm angry and pissed for wanting my players/characters to suffer the consequences of really bad decisions.

I apologize for the offense.

Perhaps it was just your choice of language, particularly 'punish the players' phrase. They players don't deserve any sort of punishment, they didn't do anything wrong unless their is something you haven't mentioned yet. Their characters may well deserve punishment, but those are two different things. If a player has their character walk into a bonfire, it is absolutely correct that the character takes fire damage. It would be absolutely wrong for you to try and burn the player though.

It my games, their would 100% be consequences for that sort of action. Most likely the character that stole the sword would be immediately seized by those 100 paladins and at the minimum be kicked out of the venue and would suffer having a bad reputation with that faction. If they had somehow gotten away, they would be hunted down. I have had to tell a player that their actions had effectively ruined the characters chances of continuing in a campaign and they needed to make a new one. But my players understand 100% that that is the sort of game I am running, and they enjoy having the world react like that. Other groups I have seen prefer a much more larger then life world, where PCs can basically act with impunity and the world more or less bends to their whim.

Why do you think the players had their characters do this? It could be a case of 'that is what my character would do' (sometimes this is legitimate, sometimes it is just an excuse to make trouble.) It could be just that they were bored and anxious for something, anything, to happen. It could be that despite your belief that you had communicated clearly what was going on, they misunderstood their chances of getting away with it.

I am not saying that any of those happened, they are just examples of reasons I have seen players have their characters do things I didn't understand at the time. Getting a feel for why your players motivations are might be helpful in figuring out the best way to go forward.

Also, it seems that this whole thing has an element of PvP as well. Is that something that your whole table enjoys and have you discussed the limits you want on it? I have seen more then one game ruined when some of a table enjoyed PvP and some didn't and no clear ground rules were set.

Hopefully this didn't just waste your time. If what you really want is only options for consequences for pissing off a major religion in a big way, in my games it would range from losing the artifact (church manages to get it back) to being hunted (and likely eventually killed) by the church to the point where they couldn't do anything else. If it was the later, and only part of the party was involved and the rest weren't interested in accepting those consequences (i.e. joining the fugitives) then those characters would have to be retired and the players would have to make new characters, since I'm not going to spend multiple sessions with half the party on the run and the other half trying to get on with the main campaign, especially when the likely outcome of the hunt is death or imprisonment of the fugitives.


Dave Justus wrote:
Whatever type of game I like, if it isn't what my players enjoy there is no way I am going to have fun running it.

And if you're not going to have fun...then don't do it. So my original point stands.

I never said I "just do what I want and expect the players to suck it up because they 'owe' be for my effort". Compromise is a necessary part of being a member of society. Be open to expanding your comfort zone. Try new things. Learn. Grow.

But there's a line you need to draw. I have ZERO interest in running a game for players who take enjoyment from DELIBERATELY ignoring the time and work I put into a game.

As I said: every GM needs to talk to their players. Tell them what sort of game they're interested in running and what sort they're not.
Players need to do this, too. For the GM and each other.

I will say, however, the the GM still comes first. It's a lot harder to find a replacement GM than a new player. A player can walk out on a game and the rest of the group can still roll next week. If the GM calls it quits, you're usually dead in the water.
It's just a matter of opportunity costs; the GM has to pay a higher cost to take part in the hobby.


Okay, so we definitely need to make some distinctions here. Your "overt" punishment is just in-game consequences for the characters. It's punishing the characters. Your "covert" punishment is punishing the players.

There are absolutely times you might need to punish the players but "had a terrible, stupid, disruptive plan" isn't usually one unless it's like the tenth time and you've already told them to knock it off a few times already. My point is, unless this is a regular occurence and you've asked them to stop, this isn't really the kind of thing you should be punishing the physical humans behind the characters for.

I don't really see why this is so complicated. The character literally ran onto a field, interrupted a duel by stealing a weapon, stole a holy relic, and did it in full view of a whole bunch of people who wouldn't tolerate that, even after you reminded them how stupid an idea this was. What was their getaway plan? What was their endgame? If they can actually escape you might be able to have a nice chase scene/fight as the Church tracks them down. If not... well, then they deserve what they get. Ask whether they prefer service to the Church or new characters. Geas/Quest is made for this. If the whole party is involved (which is sounds like not) then you might need to recalibrate your expectations for the game. If it's just a couple of players then you might need to sit them down out of game and explain why setting fire to orphanages, attempting to assassinate the king, and generally trying to be an internet troll in game is no fun for everyone else.


In my game this would be followed by a swift and brutal (yet non-lethal) beating at the hands of several dozen Paladins.

If the players get away and/or you wish to use the "covert" method, i recommend this:

PROVIDENCE wrote:
Iomedae makes her favor known by reshaping ordinary objects into sword-like shapes, the appearance of gold or white light around a person or object, or the magnet-like pull of a longsword or other long metal weapon in a particular direction. Her anger is displayed through flickering lights, the breaking of weapons against formerly yielding material, and the tarnishing and increased weight of gold or silver.

Have some flickering lights, increase everyone's carry load (I assume they're carrying gold/silver coins) and have weapons break on a critical miss AND on a critical hit.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It's imperative you let them know WHY this is happening. You don't have to come out and tell them, but giving a low DC religion check to understand (one that can be repeated) or having holy symbols show up or something is an important part of making this work.


If you personally want the behavior to change, then obviously your response needs to be above board.

The best way to make the punishment stick and matter is to have NPCs associated with the church shun them. Shops owned by Iomedae's faithful close doors in their faces, Iomedae churches refuse them aid and give them some means of making amends. If they fail to undertake any task that could clear them, the blacklisting extends to the rest of the godclaw churches and faithful. Over time, their reputation as relic hunting thieves gives them less and less access to high end estates, libraries, museums.

The spread would need to be slow though, snail mail wanted posters and that sort of thing. You want the players to see it coming and know they could do something about it before each shoe drops.


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This is honestly a two pronged problem. First, to maintain the worlds cohesion the characters need to suffer some kind of penalty. There are plenty of suggestions in the thread plus they could become wanted felons, have to escape jail, go on a quest to redeem themselves, perform a task for a rival god to get under their protection, etc etc. Actions have consequences, it should be rule 0.

The second prong of the problem is that the characters perform actions at the behest of players, and no amount of in game response will change the players behavior. Taking actions against them without explaining why will make them resent you. You cannot punish them directly without further violating the unwritten contract you have both agreed to when you pulled them into a table top RPG. However, what you can do is address the problem with them. They're human, talk to them and communicate. Explain their misstep using a real life example (I don't know, walking into the vatican and taking the pope's hat) and how badly this breaks the 4th wall for you. Make them understand that this sort of behavior hurts your enjoyment of the game. Make them understand that it is not their bad decisions that frustrate you, but that they never considered the consequences of those bad decisions.

Personally, I love when my players make bad decisions that are in character. It is my freaking jam when someone is well enough in tune with their character to give me the go ahead as a GM to let cause and effect play out. I had a Bloodrager take a deal with a devil, she knew it was a bad idea. The paladin told her it was a bad idea. However, she wanted laser vision and she got it...and it doesn't ever turn off.

Thats a moment in my career as a GM that won't ever fall out of memory. Its one of those stories folks tell each other around the fire late at night, well in other gaming groups. "Do you remember that one time I wished for laser vision and the devils made it so it wouldn't turn off?" Ideally, that is what you should try to work on with your group. Turn the bad decisions from unconscious decisions into conscious decisions made based off the characters desires they can look back on years later and go "Remember that time we pulled a heist off in the middle of 100 paladins?"

Just, you know, with less getting caught.


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Quixote wrote:
Dave Justus wrote:
First rule: Fun is the goal.
Agreed. But the GM's fun comes first.

I'm sorry but no. Everyone's fun is equally important.

Yes the GM is putting in more effort (probably), but that doesn't mean they should place their happiness above the players.

If the GM isn't happy putting in the extra effort they should step down from the position.

That aside, your players did something that was an incredibly bad idea witnessed by lots of clergy of Iomedae. I would expect them to try and capture them, beating them (non-lethally) into submission and taking them to be tried and (potentially) imprisoned.

Whereupon the Church of Iomedae makes a deal with the judge that if they do quest X as penance and can show they have reformed the church will recommend this service in lieu of imprisonment.


I'm kind of curious as to how they got out of it.

To the subject : I don't like involving gods, especially when it feels entirely unnecessary.

They committed an obvious crime, in broad daylight, in front of a number of reliable, trustworthy witnesses. No matter what else, law enforcement will not turn a bline eye to'that without a very, veeery good reason. Which "it was shiny and I could do it" isn't.
Then they presumably got on the bad side of one of the most influential religions - and overall organizations - of the Inner Sea Region. One often close to the Law.

Even without that, people communicate, news or their exploits will travel, especially when it's something that important.
More and more people will have heard of them, it's not like they took any care to protect their anonymity - they actually went the opposite way, making sure the victims knew who the thiefs were! How brazen!
It might earn them some friends and opportunities in low places (until they're just too hot to associate with), but the light side of things and ordinary people should at the very least be very wary of them.
If they're willing to shamelessly steal a major relic of the Church of the Inheritor, who knows how low they'd be willing to stoop, how vile thay can truly be?

No need to involve the gods, their situation is bad enough as is : hell is other people.
Ever inflating rumors are a close second : the worse thing you can do to the characters is make them famous in spite of themselves, without them having any control over the stories being told, potentially getting worse and worse over time.

Up to them to earn their redemption and clean their names... Or not.


Claxon wrote:
Quixote wrote:
Dave Justus wrote:
First rule: Fun is the goal.
Agreed. But the GM's fun comes first.

I'm sorry but no. Everyone's fun is equally important.

Yes the GM is putting in more effort (probably), but that doesn't mean they should place their happiness above the players.

I think it depends on the nature of the group that's playing. For groups that were friends before they played, I agree with you. I would put PFS into this category too because even if people aren't friends, players and GM play by prearranged rules and GMs are proportionally rewarded.

But a lot of groups have large power disparities and for some people absolutely yes you need to treat the GM with kid gloves or else they will take the rulebook and dice and maps and minis and then nobody gets to play. I wouldn't play in those groups at this point in my life, but I understand if there are those who would. It's just part of life.


Claxon wrote:

I'm sorry but no. Everyone's fun is equally important.

Yes the GM is putting in more effort (probably), but that doesn't mean they should place their happiness above the players.

If the GM isn't happy putting in the extra effort they should step down from the position.

It's not a matter of placing your happiness above anyone else's. It's a matter of opportunity cost.

I engage in hobbies and similar activities to have fun.
I can have fun while sitting on the couch, hanging with my family or friends. And it takes a lot less effort to do that than it does to, say, get a poker group together. Or play D&D. Or climb Mount Everest. So why do people ever pursue fun that requires more effort to have? Because, to grossly simplify things, those more involved, complex activities are more fun. They are worth their cost.

But everyone pays a different cost. Because everyone has fun in differwnt ways.
I had a player who wanted to drink at the table. For him, the cost of not drinking was too high to pay. But for another player, rolling with a guy who's getting progressively more drunk as the night goes on was too high of a cost for them.
Neither player was a jerk for saying "look, either I get to have some beer/he stops getting plastered, or I'm out of here." It's not selfish or immature. We're all here to have fun. If you're not having fun, don't be here.

Now, playing in a game takes a fraction of the energy, time and dedication it does to run a game. A GM has a higher opportunity cost, automatically, just by being the GM. Same with the guy who hosts the game in his basement. So they're already paying more than the other people. Which means they're closer to that point where the cost is too high to justify the energy spent engaged in the activity.

I will absolutely hold my game hostage. I have told all my players, right at the start: these are the things I am unwilling to deal with in the running of this game (being the one solely responsible for scheduling our next session, cheating, etc.). If I am asked to deal with them, I will stop running the game. I am not an immature, selfish jerk by advocating for my own enjoyment. I'm the only one who can really do it, after all.

So no, I'm not claiming "I'm more important than you guys so DEAL WITH IT." I'm saying "I am myself, and it is up to me to make sure I am happy, and I am in a position where I can be made more easily unhappy than those around me."


Watery Soup wrote:
But a lot of groups have large power disparities and for some people absolutely yes you need to treat the GM with kid gloves or else they will take the rulebook and dice and maps and minis and then nobody gets to play.

This is something I've seen all too often, unfortunately. But it is absolutely not what I am talking about.

If a friend of mine decides to take a week of vacation and fly 1,500 miles and gets a hotel room twenty minutes from my house, I am certainly not going to expect them to drive their rental that twenty minutes to come hang out with me at my place. I'll go pick them up. Or hang at the hotel. Because I recognize the cost they've had to pay to get this far.
Now, given the amount they've paid (literally, in this example), it would probably be deemed "fair" for me to, say, treat them to dinner while they're here. Or put them up in the spare bedroom, instead of renting the hotel room. Something to share the burden more equally.
But there's the matter of difference in personal cost. My friend has a cushy office job and gets paid twice what I do as a shift lead at Taco King. Maybe I've got medical bills piled up, or my car broke down. So if my personal situation/preference/perspective makes where I'm willing to meet my friend less than exactly middle, that's fine.

The important part is making sure everyone's on the same page and knows where everyone else stands. Some people just aren't in a position to give much. And some people aren't in a position to give without getting a certain amount back.

As a GM, I expect my players to recognize that I'm already giving. A lot. And if they can't give back in the ways that I need, then the game just doesn't work.


Quixote wrote:
The important part is making sure everyone's on the same page and knows where everyone else stands.

There's no disagreement on the philosophy, only on the practice.

Mid-session, you suspect your players are deliberately screwing with your plans. Are you going to roll with it an improvise a new plan? Vocally punish them in game to deter them? Secretly punish them out of game to deter them? Tell them as players to stop and quit GMing if they don't?

To be clear, if the last option were "tell the players that this is a massive derail and ask them to choose between the first three options," I'd choose the last option. In exceptionally few circumstances am I threatening to quit GMing, especially if there's a large power differential.


Watery Soup wrote:
lMid-session, you suspect your players are deliberately screwing with your plans. Are you going to roll with it an improvise a new plan? Vocally punish them in game to deter them? Secretly punish them out of game to deter them? Tell them as players to stop and quit GMing if they don't?

Given that, at session zero, I told them "I do not want to game with people who try to screw with me on purpose. If you want to deliberately run a game into the ground because you think it's funny or whatever, then my table is not the one for you," I would most likely choose the third; "hey, guys. Remember that thing I said I didn't want? That's what this is. This is not fun for me. Come on." If they can't respect my wishes, not as a GM, not as a gamer, but as a human being, then yeah. I'm out.

Of course, that has only ever happened once in my career. They did not respect my wishes, I was about to leave, they begged me to stay and continued antagonizing me and then the game ended. Eff that. I have better things to do with my time than spend 5 hours preparing for a session and being mocked be jeered at for my efforts.

Watery Soup wrote:
To be clear, if the last option were "tell the players that this is a massive derail and ask them to choose between the first three options," I'd choose the last option. In exceptionally few circumstances am I threatening to quit GMing, especially if there's a large power differential.

I'm sorry, but I'm not quite sure what you're saying, here.

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