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Mad Dog

Our weekly RPG session suffered an enormous cluster-fuck this week.

In game, events are coming to a head. We’ve collected almost all the magical macguffins and must soon decide to remake or destroy them, with tragic consequences either way. A woman powered by the spirit of Lilith, mother of demons, is on a murderous rampage, and she just horribly murdered “the Hack,” a techno-geek who qualified as useful resource, friend, or role model to the PCs. We arrived to late to intervene, instead discovering that the crime scene was already locked down by Detective Chase, also a useful resource, friend, or role model to various PCs. We were just starting to exchange info with Chase and begin to plan a reaction when one of the PCs went bananas, attacked one of the cops, stole a hard drive from a previously undiscovered secret compartment on the crime scene, and dashed off invisibly to pursue his own agenda.

Having done so, he returned. There was some hope of defusing the explosive scenario, but he refused to stand around and get the mildest of finger-wags from a fellow PC, shouting “I’m not here to listen to a lecture from you!” and running off again. He should have been glad of a harangue of hours, much less a gentle rebuke, because another PC wants to kill him—more on which, later.

I don’t know what was going through that player’s mind while all this went down. I still don’t. But in rapid succession, we saw three distinct forms of problem behavior.

First, that player was utterly clueless about her own PC’s abilities. She wanted to drive off the cop so her character could grab the hard drive more easily. Without any particular plan, she began reading down the list of powers (We’re using the Mutants and Masterminds system.) on her character sheet, in no apparent order.

I have control electronics!
Well, the drive isn’t on right now; how do you plan to animate it?
I have super-running! Okay, that’ll let you grab it in one round, the cop gets one round to respond, and…
Wait, I don’t want to do that! What can I do?
Well, I…
What’s communicate?
That’s like a mind-link with the target. If you’ve got communicate with electronics, you can…
Never mind. What’s penetration mean?

…and so on, simply going down the list of abilities she did not understand, nor want to understand, just as long as she could make a mess. Eventually, she decided on electrical blast, which leads us to the next problem behavior.

Second, when she settled on blast, both GM and another player noted that was an attack power. “That’s an attack power,” said the other player. “You want to attack the detective?” asked the GM. “Okay, I want to blast the cop then,” was the reply. The other players at the table became visibly more agitated. “You’re attacking him?” asked the GM again, seeking either to make sure there was no understanding or to use the old GM trick of asking “You’re sure you want to do that?” to warn a player of an imminent blunder. “Yeah, I want to attack him.” Okay. Dice were rolled, a critical hit ensued, the cop needed to save versus damage, with a good chance he’d wind up dead. Suddenly, attacking the cop wasn’t what the problem player wanted to do at all! She had wanted to do something else! And the GM let it slide.

Third, and most damaging of all, the problem PC’s behavior openly trampled on another’s concept—mine, as it happens. My PC is firmly established as a badass of the judge, jury, and executioner school. He, too, is a Regulator, a vigilante of the supernaturally-empowered subculture, and a much harder-edged one than Detective Chase and his friends. He is driven by Nemesis, avenger of the gods; he has proven willing to kill in cold blood when someone crosses the line, has intimated a willingness to kill fellow PCs if necessary, has admitted no room for compromise, and has exhibited a particular distaste for treachery. (Other sins of particular concern to Nemesis, like hubris, patricide, and defying the rules of hospitality, haven’t come up much.) Suddenly, these two characters are on a collision course with no escape that I can see.

Time ran out, and the GM declared the evening over. The dismay of fellow players had already been clear for some time, but only once the dice were put away, and the problem player had a chance to return to her own perspective, and fellow players continued frowning, do I think the depth of trouble she’d caused, and her isolation in that position, begin to sink in, because she began protesting that she was just playing in character.

Which is a defense, up to a point. She’s playing a ten-year-old kid driven by the spirit of the Artful Dodger, so not exactly a stable and forward-thinking character, to be sure. (And he complains that the grownups don’t trust him! Wonder why…) But there’s impulsive, and there’s mad-dog berserk. Even players of impulsive characters are expected to keep some perspective, and keep that impulsiveness—or any other trait—within manageable bounds. Behavior that will destroy the campaign, or that will prevent another player from staying true to his character, is unacceptable. “I’m just staying true to character” is not an acceptable defense of a toxic character, or of toxic behavior. A character prepared to wreck everyone’s fun should not have been created in the first place.

And, I’d like to add, both GM and fellow players did an awful lot of bending over backwards to accommodate a ten-year-old superpowered thief without parents (or any other recognized authority) in the first place. Not many sympathetic character concepts would simply let a ten-year-old run loose without calling schools, foster care, the cops…somebody. If every player is entitled to a certain amount of latitude to play the character he wants, and every player is obligated to make room for that to happen, then our problem player took her give-and-take credit all up front. Now her PC has made an enemy of a fellow PC, one that’s defined the way he is because she demanded an amoral ten-year-old, and I’m not ready to sacrifice my character twice for her benefit.

So now our poor novice GM has a cluster-fuck to clean up. Hell of a thing to happen in her first campaign. I wish I had concrete advice to offer, but I don’t. Sadly, I’d be just as much at a loss were it me behind the screen. All I can offer is sympathy.

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