The good news is, players have agency in my game. Their choices matter.
The bad news is, I don’t really have any ways to protect the game as a whole from really bad player decisions.
What do I mean by “bad decisions”? Decisions that destroy bonds between characters and players. Decisions that kill long-standing characters and cut them loose from family, pets, and home. Decisions that ignore the adamant requests of other player characters and veer towards naked power for the individual at the cost of the rest of the world.
Here’s the story. At one point they fought an undead warband. The brute (like a big orc) named Aggro wanted the undead leader’s sword. Others told him to leave it alone, but he took it, and it merged with his arm; retractable, he could pop it out to fight then pull it back into himself. However, evil things and undead things recognized his kinship, and his arm radiated cold.
After adventuring like this for a while, the others told him he really needed to get rid of it before things got worse. They went on a quest to find a sage/oracle thing who might be able to help. They could only go in one at a time, so he went in alone and talked to the mysterious sage.
The sage oracle (looked kind of undead) told him it did not believe he was interested in lore, and told him that nothing was free–he would have to make a trade for anything he wanted. (Like, for example, getting rid of the sword.) What did he ask for?
The party told him to get rid of the sword. He did not. He asked the oracle thing to unlock the power of the sword, and he was ready to pay any price to do it. He stuck the sword in the magic pool, and it ripped his life out and made him undead, a fitting bearer for the blade. Also, the oracle turned out to be not only undead, but part of an army that was waiting for the undead to gain a powerful enough leader to rise again.
He sent one of his new minions (disguised as a pretty elf) to tell the rest of the group to leave. Because he knows they would kill him on sight if they saw what he became. Now he is a scourge against the living, a plague on the land, and they are the land’s protectors.
His mate and daughters? Discarded. The poison lizard he spared from death and raised up as a mount, getting a trainer for it? Gonna get its throat slit (since no one else wanted the thing around.) His alliance with the PCs and role in revitalizing the city? Chucked. The character he’s had for this game since last January, for about 16 sessions? Gone.
The player said, “Well, that’s what my character would do.” Which is the cheesiest cop-out ever. We are skilled at rationalizing, and we can come up with reasons to do all kinds of things. Would his character discard his friends, family, and future for a slaughter-choked warpath of necromantic energy? Really, that’s the only option you see? No, this was the player choosing a course of action that would alienate the other players, darken the game world, and destroy a character, for power he’s not even going to get to use (because I am NOT going to let him play his evil undead brute champion. He’s got no one to play WITH, because none of the other players want to wreck the world.)
Man… if he just wanted to play a new character, retirement to the hills with his mate’s clan was a viable option. Easy peasy, and he could have brought him back if he wanted to. This cut the tie, burned the bridge, and plowed salt in the fields.
He’s making a new character for next week.
I would really like to be able to get through to him so he would really understand that when he makes decisions that are seriously counter to where the other players are going, that focus on self-gratification/annihilation over group play, he’s jeopardizing my game and his place in it. (Enough dealing with fallout from PCs who go away really wears on the PCs who are left, and players get fed up. That threatens my game, if people don’t want to play anymore.) We have dealt with similar issues with other games in the past. I keep hoping the lesson will stick, but I have doubts.
The other players LIKED his character. They also do not want to deal with the consequences he has provoked, seemingly without a second thought. If he did think it through, he concluded that he just doesn’t care about the other players. If he thought that surely I’d let him play an undead champion, then… well he was wrong. If he thought the full necromantic energies of the sword could be unlocked and he’d be fine, then that’s wrong too. I guess this is where player skill comes in; one question is, what can I get away with? He is either not good at answering that question accurately, or he didn’t bother asking it.
But here’s the thing. I will continue to offer choices that include good ideas and bad ideas. I will continue to make it possible for players to choose to annihilate their characters and alienate the other players. I refuse to turn my game into bumper bowling where people can only make decisions I’ve pre-approved. Part of the game is risk, and part of playing well is getting a maximum reward for a minimum of risk. I won’t stop characters from jumping off cliffs, and I won’t tell them what outcome to expect when they bargain with creepy oracles. It is up to players to gauge whether the risk was worth it.
As for playing poorly? Well, there’s lots of second chances, but this most recent choice burned a lot of goodwill. I guess time will tell whether he can or wants to fit into the game world, or if he wants to play along until the next pointless character-wrecking swerve.
EDIT. A number of my clever G+ people think this is a great story for a character end, and a cool way to check out and try something new. So perhaps I’m unduly annoyed. We’ll see how the other players handle it–maybe I’ve overestimated how irritated they are too.