It seems to me that that playing a PC (Player Character) in a RPG (Role Play Game) is a bit like having an avatar/ user name on a forum: some people like to get on with everyone and some do not. For a small minority the anonymity goes to their head and they mutate into trolls. I suppose they act in this way because they enjoy, and are able to do so because they are not afraid of the consequences.
These same 'troll' like behaviour often appears during role play games sessions, these 'PC trolls', are players who act very destructive in the game setting. The means the GM uses to curb this behaviour is not the same as on the forum as there is a big difference. On a forum moderates have to ban, and other members ostracise and ignore. Dealing with PC it is different from the net: for while the player (the soul of the PC) is anonymous in the game world, they are not anonymous to their friend sitting around the table. That's the difference, and that's how you can play to their desires, but how to you curb power gaming and the players hacking and slashing all day long if that's the aim?
Change the rules of the game setting. As the reality changes so will the player's choices and actions. If the aim of the game is career advancement and the best way to so that is kill everything guess what is going to happen?
As GM I suggest the first thing to do is to change the way you handle the NPCs. You can't control the blood-soaked player's heart's desires - but you can control the NPCs. Many games promote by implication or holes in the rules (and GMs follow) that NPCs do not act like living beings. Instead they act like cannon fodder and deserve little respect.
In such a game I think it would be natural to kill everything in sight because why should the Players be interest in a bunch of NPC idiots? Players are people, and people like to make friends those they consider 'one of us' and respect enemies that can put up a decent fight. This fight usually involves brains and overcoming the odds in an RPG sense and story sense - but 'matching levels' is not much fun (might as well min-max, kill mooks to gain levels and then crush the boss, it's how the game is played).
I would introduce the concept of fear. An the biggest fear inducer is an enemy with intelligence, and those with intelligence are prone to fear.
For example: Gretchin, the 40K goblin.
No one is scared of a Gretchin. They are weak, cowardly and spiteful to those weaker than themselves and only really dangerous to the unwary. What they do have going for them is their cunning (apparently).
Yet in a game they often act like heroic, fearless martyrs.
If the PCs encounter Gretchin change the common RPG trope of how they (mooks) act;
Gretchin will not engage in hand to hand combat unless the PC is critically injured and the Gretchin have a 'sure thing'. In these instances of a 'sure thing' the Gretchin will go for capture (for story purposes). If charged they will run away and they are fast and small, and if in a built up area with disappear down a sewer pipe of small opening quicker than you can shout 'get 'em!'.
Second they Gretchin love guns and will ambush the PCs, fire one or two shots from high ground and then leg it! Once they leg it they will circle around and attack the PC's flanks. Rinse and repeat. These Gretchin are actually 'cunning'.
Next up is 'set pieces' sooner of later the PCs are going to get frustrated and chase the Gretchin, unfortunately this leads them slap bang into a pit-fall trap. In can be a dug out hole (tiger-trap) in woodland, or holes cut into the ferro-crete floor that drops the PCs into underground catacombs, basements or anything else that takes your fancy.
It's a good way of rail-roading PCs by using the NPCs and the malicious Player desires. However, sooner or later the Player will twig that you are herding them by pulling on the their nose-ring and they gain an inclination to stop acting like a bull in a china shop.
Now you have 'em. Now the Players will start to think about their situation and take the threat of the 'mooks' seriously. Levelling up and charging in will no help because the Gretchin are being smart. It is this smart element that makes the Players think twice and pay attention to the game universe and start to look for advantage-as humans do when pressed- to find an edge. This edge may include friendly NPCs.
Another point is human NPCs should have fear too, and if the PCs start torturing NPC for info, they will get bad information (the NPC will tell them anything) and other NPCs will run off (and some will come back with help). The first thing regular human NPCs usually do when you pull out a massive gun it run like hell! The only time humans do not run is if they have an advantage (if the NPCs do not run at the sight of a gun it should set of the Player's alarm bells), and that usually means the PCs are standing in someone's 'territory' and being actively targeted.
This is not to say the PCs can't have a bit of fun and kill 'mooks', but these should be against the foolhardy and stupid and it should be made clear the targets are inexperienced and it's like shooting fish in a barrel (and no XP!). The death of these weak targets will not endear the PCs to the local populous, because if the targets were so weak the chances are they weren't much of a threat and are most likely young loud mouthed gangers (who have families, and hence another hook - sooner of later the PCs learn to kill quick and quiet and without witnesses.).
Oh, as for XP, give it for completing the mission and surviving not for killing. There is no benefit for killing in most cases, and let the Player know the 'mercy' in some cases gives kudos (and sometimes side-kicks!).
All in all, fights should be there as an adventure hook. That's not to say you can't have a few 'easy-win' on consequence fight it just that if you use them as mere 'fights' players will get board (usually right after they master the rules). Fights that are used as an unimaginative obstacle to get in the PCs way, become dull as without consequence (other than the threat of death - which many Players assume is a bluff anyway) there is no real continuation. It's like applying the brakes. If you do too much the Players will act 'stupid' and start to put their wasted intelligence to other uses; such as min-maxing and obsessing about their PC's stats (because in this type of mook-hunt that's all that matters!)
The long and short of it, is that the Players are smart and creative people and they need a challenge. If you do not provide that challenge 'in game' by immersing them in a 'story' with a 'plot' and instead present an endless line of idiotic fearless enemies then do not be surprised if the Players act up!
Note: The only time mooks should act like mooks is when they are zombies. Unless you go with the surprise attack 'rage-virus' zombie! 😉
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