[RPG] How to deal with anti-authoritarian player characters


One player I infrequently role play with (let's call him Bob) seems to have a bit of an issue with authority – or at the very least he likes playing characters who do. It's not that he does not respect the GM, but he gets very defensive (sometimes even aggressively so) if any kind of authority figures try to influence his character or restrict their freedom.

Bob often plays Rambo/Stallone/Schwarzenegger style characters who seem to have the motto "It's my way or the highway" and whose default problem solving approach involves enough firearms and explosives to equip a small militia.

This isn't a problem per se, as the group Bob is normally playing in is happily doing action- and combat-heavy campaigns, so there is a lot to shoot at and blow up. But even in these campaigns there will eventually appear some NPC/group/etc. who — through legal position, superior force or some other reason — has authority over the player characters. And who most of us (foremost the GM) would like not to see blown up shortly after their introduction. And while I totally understand Bob's wish to preserve character agency, his sometimes positively suicidal decisions can be detrimental to the game and the plot.

An example from a Star Wars campaign:

After trespassing in Wookie territory the party was snatched up and brought to the clan chief. The chief said he needed the party's help and would in turn forgive their trespassing – but would keep some gear as collateral. Bob's reaction to this: pulling out a thermal detonator, trying to coerce the chief into letting them go. When this failed he detonated the TD, blowing up half the assembled clan, the party (miraculously saved by the GM) and, incidentally, the plot.

We tried talking to Bob out of the game but it seems he is also suffering from my-guy syndrome (i.e. "this is totally how the character would have reacted, sorry it's just good RP"). And any kind of in-game reaction will provoke even more rebellious and chaotic actions from him (i.e. force escalation).

How can we handle this as a group? As the GM?

Best Answer

(There are some great answers here. I want to suggest that Bob's style can be reframed as a positive.)

Encourage growth in Bob's character's anti-authoritarianism

It seems to me that one way of thinking about Bob's anti-authoritarian style of play, is that the meaning of the anti-authoritarianism is not being woven into the game. Anti-authoritarianism comes in many flavors and historical/cultural contexts (e.g. punk and anti-facism, futurism, 21st century social anarchism, nihlism, DIY/DIT, etc.). While you have noted the my way or the highway action-hero style of Bob's playing, it is possible to encourage his growth and investment in anti-authoritarian motivations, philosophies, in-game allies and the like:

  • Both the GM and Bob might benefit from one-on-one discussions investigating his character's motivations for anti-authoritarianism. This could even lead to developing story arcs that deepen, evolve or resolve the character's issues with authority. Maybe Bob might come to appreciate different approaches to anti-authoritarian play?

  • The GM could introduce anti-authoritarian NPCs. Such characters could be introduced in a manner that dramatically highlights their screw-the-man! tendencies in a way that earns Bob's appreciation, while at the same time drawing tension with Bob's character because their philosophy, style, or motivation differ from Bob's character's own. For example, an anti-royalist anarcho-syndicalist NPC might scoff at Bob's anti-mutualist it's-all-about-me style, while Bob just thinks they way they oppose the Royal Court is the coolest thing. This pattern can also be inverted if, for example, Bob's character is deeply put off by, say, destroy-the-world style anti-authoritarianism his character may be forced to examine the uncomfortable ways his own methods and motivations align with some seriously evil nihlist's.

  • The GM can embrace Bob's anti-authoritarianism as an ideal for NPCs to emulate. Bob's character's actions may have a broader social import that shapes the culture and plot of the game setting. For example, "Did you hear the news? That new group of fighters used a thermal detonator on Chief Wookiebusiness! We are finally out from underneath that bastard's grasp! Let's roll this into a coup of the corrupt regional boss Wookiemonster!"

Of course, Bob could be just a bad fit for your group... but optimism, hey?

Obligatory Monte Python & the Holy Grail quote:

Arthur: Well we all are! We are all Britons! And I am your king.
Woman: I didn't know we 'ad a king! I thought we were an autonomous collective.
Man: (mad) You're fooling yourself! We're living in a dictatorship! A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--