The Method In Madness: Creating Better Chaotic Characters

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A few weeks ago, a player of my mine came to me for help. He was having trouble playing a chaotically-aligned character, and it was frustrating him and his fellow players. Knowing that many players, as well as myself have struggled with this, I’ve decided to address some of the common problems chaotic characters run into, and my tips for addressing them.

Who Are You Even?

Let’s be real; causing chaos is fun. Being able to throw away or attack the rules we live under is an enormous power fantasy; why do you think the Grand Theft Auto series sells so well? However, when playing chaotic characters, it is easy to focus more on the random acts of disorder you commit, than who your character is as a person. Whether you’re a passionate anarchist, a loony old bard, or a vicious criminal, there needs to be  context to your actions; backstory, personality, and motives.

Why? It’s better storytelling, and better storytelling engages an audience, in this case, your fellow players. When they have a great character to roleplay with, they will be more invested and be driven to have more meaningful interactions with you.

Plus, players having a stake in your character gives more flexibility for your character’s actions.  As a DM, I’ve seen myself and my players forgive or at least acknowledge a chaotic ally’s unorthodox actions because they came from a character we loved with solid justification behind it. Case and point, when you put in the work to build a solid character narrative-wise, there’s more fun and hellraising for everyone.

4 Paladins and A Serial Killer…

…tends to be a bad idea for party composition. Sometimes, even the best player, playing the most dynamic, lovable, chaotic character they can just does not mesh with the party or the type of story that the DM is going for. While I am all for DMs adapting their campaigns to their players, I also know that certain characters or certain types of stories can be incompatible. This can be the case with any alignment, but I see it happen most with chaotic characters (lawful good is a close second).

There’s no quick and dirty solution to this one, just a series of questions you as a player must decide for yourself. Does your unrepentant murderer mesh with a gaggle of holy warriors? Does your character enhance or detract from the campaign? Are you willing to have your character change to fit in more with the party or story? It’s up to you to make the judgment call. The odd duck in a party occasionally leads to dynamic player interactions and stories, but sometimes, playing Chaotic Evil in the land of Lawful Good is gonna get you smote, and the whole table pissed, so think on hard if your character is a match.

Chaotic Does Not Equal Random

A number of players tend to link being chaotic with acting on a whim without any foresight or logic behind your actions. This can be fun for a while, but it is only a matter of time before the unpredictability of a player’s actions starts to make their comrades apprehensive or outright hostile. People don’t tend to enjoy a game being completely derailed without warning. On top of the potential for out-of-character strife, consistently being random is exhausting. It leads to your character actions becoming repetitive and stale from tapping your creative wells dry, or alternatively, those actions escalate, in an attempt to stay exciting and dramatic. The center simply cannot hold.

It may seem paradoxical, but the best chaotic characters I’ve seen came from players who were consistent in their actions and the logic behind them. By being consistent, your character becomes comprehensible. The other players and DM know what you’re going to do, and know how you might react to stimuli. This makes it easier for them to anticipate, participate, or even collaborate with your actions. Character comes from consistent behavior and action, so the more you can create a clear pattern for your disorderly conduct, the more other players can play along with it.

Conflict vs. Dickery

Chaotic characters (and evil characters but chaotic more often) tread a fine line. One between being disruptive to the world of the narrative, and being a dick to other players. Conflict (which is critical to tabletop gaming) vs. dickery.

It is perfectly alright for a character disagree with or even object to what other characters do. It’s the DM’s responsibility to act as referee and keep things from getting too heated out of character, but hopefully, any in-game conflict should all be in good fun. However, a chaotic alignment can also be an excuse to handwave unpleasant actions in and out of character. Un-sanctioned party betrayals, attacks on players or NPCs, or even just outright obnoxious behavior can all slip under the guise of being “chaotic” and wear down the party’s nerves.

My method of avoiding chaotic dickery is to check the motives of your actions. If you’re acting out your character wants, needs, or relationships, you’re fine. If you are doing an inflammatory in-game action “just because you can”, or specifically to mess with other players, you’ve crossed over into dickery. A chaotic character will attempt to take out a major world leader because they believe toppling the monarchy will make the world a more peaceful place. A dick shanks a beloved NPC to mess with the DM and other players. Be chaotic, don’t be a dick.

Those are my tips for building chaotic characters. Feel free to share your thoughts, as well as your own crazy clown  wisdom in the comments below!

Featured Image: Mike Azevedo/deviantart

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