I am often confronted in games by what I can only describe as foolishness on the part of the characters. Players often state that their characters are doing things that no sane person would even consider doing; and they, the players, have the nerve to get upset when their foolishness reaps its rewards.
Recently someone I know only as a screen name on an Internet communications program was bemoaning the disaster that had occurred at his most recent game. One of the players was running a Barbarian under current Dungeons & Dragons™ rules, and had stated the character alignment as Chaotic Neutral. Chaotic neutral is, I think, the most misunderstood and abused alignment in the game—and my authority on the question of definitions of alignment is good enough that Gary Gygax linked my character creation materials on that subject from his site, one of only two D&D pages so linked last I checked (and the other was my alignment quiz). People think that chaotic neutral means I can do anything I want. What they miss, in the words of a half-forgotten bumper sticker, is acts of random kindness and senseless beauty. They turn into selfish self-seeking undisciplined misers and cheats, instead of the champions for the rights of individuals which truly define and glorify that philosophy. In short, he said he was neutral, but he acted evil. If any of his companions were brought down by combat, before he attempted to save them he always rifled their pockets for anything of value he could keep for himself. If he had the opportunity to search slain enemies, he tucked whatever he thought might be the best bits into his own pockets before reporting the rest to the other characters. When the party cleric was killed shortly after healing this character, he tried to steal the character’s holy symbol before seeking resurrection for him. In short, he was a cad.
Somehow he must have thought this would go forever unnoticed by the other characters, even by the other players. But when he tried to rob the cleric, the others realized what he was doing, and recognized all the times he had lied to and deceived them. They confronted him on the subject; he decided to fight them all.
I’m sure he could have killed any one of them easily; but he could not kill all four. His character was soon out of the game. My correspondent now had a problem. Not only was this player a good friend, he was the host of the game. For various reasons, none of the other players could have the game at his home. But this player was incensed that the other characters would kill him when he attacked them because they didn’t like him stealing their things and cheating them out of their treasure.
We could draw a lot of lessons from this. There are consequences for evil character actions even if the referee doesn’t impose them. Players need to work together for the game to truly work well. But the point that catches my attention is the complete foolishness of the player who was so offended. He somehow thought that his character could consistently rob and cheat his in-game friends and never have them become upset about it. Yet often this is the norm, not the exception. I have seen player characters embark on obvious suicide missions. I have seen them attempt feats that were entirely beyond anything conceivable. They have tilted at windmills, attacked dragons with daggers, picked unnecessary fights with gods. Some have gone off on solo adventures without map or supplies, expecting to enrich themselves safely despite already being familiar with the terrible dangers which would meet one wrong turn. Some have insulted high-ranking noblemen and even royals, thinking it all a joke. They act as fools.
It is a small thing, but I think that sometimes merely bringing wisdom to a character is a way of bringing faith to a game. To be the hand that stays his friend’s sword when the unwinnable fight is also unnecessary, the voice of reason calming the passions of the angered party, the one who can walk away from the fight or the insult because it is not the time or place to fight and so live another day, is to inform the other players of the essence of wise decisions. Certainly in these games, as in life, there is a time to fight. But by choosing only battles you must fight, you can become the moral of the story. By using sense in your character actions, you can combat the illusion that nonsense is ever a better choice.
You can also build for yourself the reputation of being the wise player; and that can give credibility to what you believe and do in life.
This article was original published in February 2003 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.