It doesn’t have to be an act of overt evil… Sometimes stupid does the job just fine

Any Game Master will have at least one player that they can refer to as being so incredibly clueless that the game they were in seemed to hinge on what goofy thing that one player did during any given session. For years that player for me was my buddy Dave. Dave got himself and everyone around him into more trouble simply because he didn’t really know what the hell was going on most of the time. This would lead to him jumping to hilarious conclusions and everyone else in the group trying to fix whatever the new problem became. It almost seems to be symptomatic of the bard character; they find trouble where none previously existed.

Which leads me to my current predicament. Nearly thirty years later and now I have another bard in the group. This one is a real dilly, though. Not only does she find trouble but she is able to conjure horrific difficulties from thin air. We hadn’t even gotten started with the game last Sunday when she announces her intention to fire an arrow at a random hapless person on a busy city street. Things spiraled rapidly down the drain from there. Among other things the players lost out on a lot of potential loot (they had to ask for a political favor in lieu of accepting a generous monetary reward for prior deeds), missed a terrific little battle I had arranged for them to have (plenty of experience points to go around plus lots of vital game information was squandered), and they had to spend several game days getting things sorted out that could have been spent building on the story they were meant to be focused on. Bards, amiright?

Now don’t misunderstand what I am getting at here. The game was still a fantastic session, and there will be other chances for the players to make the discoveries they had to forgo because of the bard’s lunacy. Nor am I in favor of just ditching the bard altogether from the game; she is absolute chaos and it drives everyone else batty (and that makes my life easier as a GM). But there are consequences to be had when a player breaks away from their alignment. In this case it was the second time that she had done something incredibly evil. Not with the intent of being evil, mind you, but just because there wasn’t a lot of thought behind her process. Stupid can achieve great wickedness (see also “Current Republican President” for reference points) even if evil intent is lacking.

The first and most obvious change is that the character is now Chaotic Neutral instead of being Chaotic Good. I know bards aren’t normally allowed to be Chaotic Good, but I made an allowance because I thought she would have trouble playing Chaotic Neutral. Boy was I ever wrong. This woman is insanity incarnate. Chaotic Neutral (for those that understand the alignment) is her normal, natural setting. And it shows. However it does place her in a precarious position. One more serious misstep and she will slide right into being Chaotic Evil. That spells the end of her character. At that point she becomes an NPC and is removed from play because I don’t allow anyone to play evil characters. It throws the entire flow of the game off kilter. This places her in a position to have to start an all new character or else drop out entirely from the game. Not a terrific place to be.

Of course I could have prevented all of it by stepping up as a GM and just stopping the chaos. But then how would I frustrate my players? I would have to do all of the evil stuff myself. And this way I can still lead the chant “It is all Dave’s fault” but of course we’ll have to change the name.