Sometimes players kill an NPC in D&D for reasons that baffle you and reasons that unfortunately make sense. Killing NPCs isn’t a big deal when those NPCs are meant to die, but what about unintended deaths?
Think about why players kill an NPC in DnD. Did they not understand the consequences? Learn why players are killing NPCs in D&D and fix the issue.
There are a variety of reasons why players kill an NPC in DnD. We will go over the reasons and how to address these concerns. We will lastly go over what to do if you are wondering how to deal with the aftermath.
Why players kill NPCs
You cannot cure a disease without knowing the cause of the disease. The same thing applies to fixing an NPC death.
If you do not know why the players killed an NPC in DnD they will most likely do so again.
This is why you have to figure out why the players killed an NPC in the first place. You can figure this out by talking to your players and asking why they want to or have killed a specific NPC. Most of the time they will tell you. Other times it will just make sense.
To help you get started, here is a list of the 5 most common reasons why players kill NPCs.
- They are murder hobos.
- The NPC was mean to the players.
- NPCs aren’t people to players.
- They didn’t really mean to.
- The players didn’t think there would be consequences.
These are the biggest reasons why players kill NPCs. That is why we will cover each of these reasons and how to deal with them. Afterward, you will get a few more tips and learn how to continue your game even if the players killed a critical NPC.
If your players are murder hobos
Murder hobos are players that go around swinging first and asking questions never. These players are obsessed with attaining gold, items, glory, and the most important, exp.
If this sounds like your players then no wonder why your players killed an NPC in DnD! They don’t value life, story, or anything else. Unfortunately, this topic of how to deal with murder hobos alone is too big and deserves an article of its own. Luckily for you, we have an article dedicated to dealing with murder hobos here!
Kind of a cop-out, but there is a whole article dedicated to your murder hobo problem since it isn’t an easy 1 step fix. I will not be redirecting you to another article for the next step though.
The NPC was mean
Do you like it when a person is mean to you? Would you spare a bully if the option was available? In real life maybe, but in a game no way! Murder that prick! They are getting what they deserve…..
A person doesn’t have to constantly harass you in order for you to not like them. They could just be shifty, have a questionable character, or minorly undermine you.
The NPC does not have to be mean, just unlikeable. If an NPC is unlikeable is it really a big leap when your players kill an NPC in DnD? No! It makes perfect sense. The world of DnD is generally a harsh place that makes people consider violence much more frequently.
So what if a ‘problem’ was ‘removed?’ Wouldn’t that be great!
Most players will try to get rid of unlikeable NPCs if those NPCs are more than just unhelpful. Having a crotchety old wizard who can help but doesn’t is fine. Having a crotchety old wizard who actively tries to harm the party is not fine.
Perception is reality for your party and if the players perceive the NPC as intentionally harmful or a liability they might be killed by the players.
In short, be careful about how you present NPCS. If the party does not like them be ready for that NPC to at worst die and do not make them a pivotal point of the plot.
NPCs aren’t people
DM: There is a woman held at knife point. What do you do?”
DM: I’m sorry. Did you say fireball?
DM: You will kill the woman and 5 other bystandards are within range of the fireball.
Player: So? Fireball.
In this instance, the player does not understand what NPCs are. To the player NPCs are bits of code like in a video game. This can lead to your player being a murder hobo as described above, but this interpretation is completely different. All you need to do here is to explain that NPCs should be treated as normal people.
This should make players not kill an NPC in DnD and make them understand more about the game. This solution is surprisingly simple, but the next scene is the biggest blunder if committed by the DM.
The player didn’t mean to
DM: So you stab the prisoner through the heart and they die.
Player: What? I said stab as in poke to gain advantage on intimidating!
In these instances, the Dm and player sit in awkward silence for a little bit until the Dm retracts their statement about killing the person. Some Dms don’t and cause a scene.
If the player didn’t intend for something to happen and you made it so, this is completely the Dms fault. You need to be clear on understanding the player’s intent.
If the player is going to commit any nontrivial act-confirm it with them.
DM: So you want to stab the prisoner and kill them. Correct?
This line is so much better than before! It is a subtle warning whenever used, but it is essential for making sure that no blame is able to be assigned to the Dm. Players killing an NPC in DnD should be their choice and not some misunderstanding.
If a player actually kills an NPC this way then everyone will lose faith in the Dm. Just make sure that your players really want to do something if it is a big action.
There are games where players can get away with sin. They killed a mayor and everyone doesn’t care. Or at least, they don’t seem to care with any in-game repercussions. Do too many of these actions and your players won’t really care about the consequences for their actions.
This could also be because they didn’t think players killing an NPC in DnD here was a big deal. For example, they kill a small child. It sucks, but it isn’t a big deal right? Right?
Players do not have all the information like DMs do. Therefore, they sometimes make decisions that completely shift the course of the game without even knowing it.
In these instances make sure that the players understand the impact of their action. You can clarify like in the previous section, but you need to show them why. Give some plot points about this person before your players even meet them or let alone try to kill them.
But whatever choice your players make, be sure to let consequences ensue.
Your players killed an NPC in DnD. So now what do you do?
Some dungeon masters want to retcon the event. Make it not happen and let the players get away with it. I would argue against this unless you are doing a small retcon of 1 action due to a misunderstanding.
In these instances, let the retcon happen. At any other time, do not retcon! If you do then it cheapens the effect of player actions and makes it seem like they have save points. They do not, so do not give that impression.
Let death happen and deal with the consequences. If the plot hinged on that NPC then it will be harder for the players to move forward. Give extra options and never force the players to do something in order to progress. If you try they will become rebellious teenagers and ruin every plan.
A great example of why you need to do this is in the adventure module ‘Dragonheist.’ The module hinges on the players saving this 1 person. My players got that person killed and handed over the person of interest who the bad guys were originally after. The game was over. Everything hinged on the players doing these things with this person in order to progress.
Since this failed, I had to scrap the module and give other options for my players. Normally I would adjust the module, but everything hinged on the players saving this 1 person. Everything!
So never assume that players will do what you think. Never assume that players will help an NPC and be competent. These are players we are talking about. Not competent toddlers.
I hope that I helped you figure out what to do when players kill an NPC in DnD!
First figure out the cause. Next, address the cause so it doesn’t repeat. After that, deal with the aftermath by creating options for your players.
Hopefully, you will prevent any more unnecessary NPC murders.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!