I am running Lost Mines of Phandelver and yesterday my party got to Phandalin. One of the party has a background about wanting to help civilise the place (Which he reads as wanting to run it and thinking he has the right to take charge) and tried to confront the Townmaster after hearing how inept he is (From one person!). Due to the time they arrived I said the Townmaster was at home rather than in the office, so the party actually smashed his door down to confront him in the middle of the night.
In an attempt to show the party these are real people I made up a young frightened daughter on the spot, which vaguely did the trick but they still actually confronted the Townmaster (Albeit with weapons sheathed) as he was comforting his terrified daughter before leaving.
I don't want to have them arrested or anything, as I have made it clear the law in the town has no real enforcement, however I do want some consequences.
I figure the Townmaster is too cowardly to really do anything, else he would probably have dealt with
already. My suggestion, since the characters used their real names, is to have Sildar find out about what happened (The characters were split up at the time so only half of them went to pick up the Townmasters quests which gives me a nice window for him and Sildar to have a conversation off camera) and confront the party; as Sildar is a nice person and grateful for his rescue it likely wouldn't lead to arrest, and if it did I would expect an escape attempt where things would spiral out of control.
I know having things spiral out of control isn't necessarily a bad thing, and I could probably handle it, but as a first time DM I would like to keep them a bit more on track, while shadowing how I hope they will act when we end LMoP and start a proper campaign.
How do I show my players that there are consequences (In this limited set of circumstances where there are actually few consequences), without just having Sildar lecture them about their responsibilities and how they need to be seen as better than the Redbrands?
In short: have the NPCs react like real people.
It's a small town. People talk. People are going to notice the destroyed door, and others may have been drawn to the ruckus and seen/overheard what happened. Then the rumor mill got to spinning.
See, in this case...
The town has spent the past period of time being dominated by the Redbrands, living in fear of them.
So...in rolls this band of strangers, wipes out their old oppressors, then kicks down the door to their townmaster's home, terrifies him and his daughter, and (depending on what was said) may have just informed him that they are seizing control of the town.
So, by the perspective of the average townsperson, they've just traded one tyrannical group of thugs for another that's even stronger.
So, this could play out in a few ways...
Assuming the party notices what is going on, Sildar or anyone else who somewhat trusts them can give them an extremely short line, something like...
This town just spent who-knows-how-long being ruled by bandits...and your first act after killing the bandits is to break down the door of the townsmaster, threaten him in front of his daughter, and announce that you were seizing control of the town. What'd you think was going to happen?
No need for an extensive lecture
The PCs have made a really, really bad first impression on the town. It's going to take a bit of effort to convince them that they are, in fact, the good guys and not a rival group of thugs that just took over some territory from the Redbrands. Public apologies, repaying protection money, distributing loot from the hideout, etc. may help with this. As will time, with the PCs doing quests and such to help the town.
Not with LMoP, but I've done stuff like this in the past. When a PC party is too heavy-handed and forgets that NPCs are people, I tend to draw in reactions like this. The town ends up afraid of them, people start avoiding them, and generally treating them like a gang of unstable violent thugs. "Don't provoke them, but try to get them to go away" is the name of the game.
This usually gets the point across to my players without having to lecture them. It's a case of 'show, don't tell.' You show them the consequences of their actions instead of just telling them about it. I've had one group of players who ended up just rolling with it, and ruling a town as a band of little tyrants (and that complicated life for them in several ways throughout the adventure), but they liked their rulership enough that they didn't care. But, by and large...NPC reactions to PCs tend to be a good indicator to players of how their characters' actions are being perceived.
It seems like there needs to be a quick Session Zero before your next meeting with your players. If you want to have them play in a world where Actions have Consequences, then you should remind them what they do isn't in a bubble. The Consequences may not occur immediately (but sometimes will), but the characters are interacting with a world and the world will respond.
Then you need to talk with them about what kind of world/game do they want and need to determine if that's the same kind of game you want to run - or if there is a happy medium that all of your can figure out.
While you don't want to lose a group, if the players and DM are at odds with what kind of game everyone wants to play, then either someone has to make a compromise or it's time to find a different group that is interested in the style of game/world you want to run. The goal here is for everyone to have fun, and to do that sometimes folks give up on something, but other times it might be better to find a different group.
I see a couple of options:
The lecture you are trying to avoid isn't necessarily a bad thing. Giving the PCs a moral compass in the form of an NPC is ok at times, as long as it isnt a used too often trope.
Charge them for the cost of the door and/or make a formal apology to the little girl. The Townmaster may be cowardly but there is something to be said about attacking your children. He may find his spine enough to demand they apologize to the child, but might back off the cost of the door.
I would manage it probably like this:
Figure out what kind of game we want to play. Depending on how often we play or see each other, I might send a message to some players, maybe along the lines of "Hi, would you find it fun if the villagers see you as 'Just another bandit group.' and be kinda antagonistic to you? I would really like to see how this plays out, after you threatened the Townmaster last session :-) But if you don't feel like it, I can choose to forget about it I can just throw some new adventure at you."
I am not sure how much you talk about that out of game, but this would be something I would do.
I would probably sketch out some possible outcomes. I really like the system in Apocalypse World/Dungeon World/Blades in the Dark, where you draw a clock, with a consequence underneath, like "Villagers try to oust you from the village", start at 1, and every time players i.e. are threatening to them, you advance the clock by one hour. Once it hits 12, things start to happen :-)
I like this system because:
I think Blades in The Dark explains this nicely. There are two drawbacks, I like to play with these open, for everybody to see, and it might be not your style, and it might be too game-y for your table (i.e. everybody stops interacting like human beings and just tries to do random actions to move clock segments around).
I might even try a bit of a time-skip and start next session with a love-letter. I didn't find a proper explanation of love-letter, but they use it in Apocalypse World, and you might imagine it as TTRPG answer to that weird motion-comics prologue you might have played in some Bioware RPGs, if you started the second game without transferring your save? :D
I might write something like this, and then might even read it out loud to your players at the start of new session:
It was a weird week in this little village. After you confronted the townmaster, others started looking at you sideways. Maybe you are just another bandit group, looking for a new extortion racket.
When you try to earn their favor and respect back, the next day, did you
- try to make amends? [Roll Persuasion DC15]
- try to intimidate the crowd? [Roll Intimidation DC15]
Which of you took the lead? Were you united in your approach? If so, take advantage to the roll.
Did you succeed and earn their respect back? Did you fail and do they shun you now?
This might still be too gamey for you (and in that case I would probably go with guildsbounty's "show, don't tell" advice), but if you have a plot in mind, starting your next session with a scripted almost-text-adventure might move things forward :-)
On the other hand, you might have learned that your players actually want to play mafiosos running a small town, extortion rackets and all, and that might not be fun for you to DM. Let them know if that is the case ;)
One of the problems I see new DMs running into a lot is trying to use the game to restructure the perspective of the PCs to match the DMs perspective while playing, which rarely works.
If this is something you need to players to be aware of, talk to them about it outside of the game, that way they know it is important. Don't shy away from talking to your players not in game. This way they get to understand the campaign setting better without having to figure out the "system" while being "in the system." Players tend to take things spoken out of the character as being more important than things spoken in character.
That being said, if you talk to your PCs about how they are interacting in the world (as if the NPCs are just NPCs in a game, while you want there to be more realistic and logical consequences) and then show them the consequences in game, then it will seem like you're just following internal logic rather than picking on or bullying the PCs. Honestly, this should have been a topic you drove home to your PCs before starting the campaign, but it's not like all hope is lost.
Personally, I would roll on the list that was provided by another commenter as consequences and have whatever I rolled end up happening. That way your PCs can feel that their actions have meaning in the world; but I also wouldn't bar them from retconning their previous actions to more align with what they want out of the game. If they didn't know their actions were going to bring negative consequences, you should allow them to reconsider. If they still want to go through with their actions while understanding the consequences, then don't hold back.