Ancient Scroll’s Secret Room: The Rules of Chaos

Last week I spoke about playing good and evil characters but promised that I’d follow up with my thoughts on playing lawful and chaotic PCs. When I started to think about it, I decided to break this post into two parts – one for chaos, the other for law. So today we start with chaos. Or maybe that’s CHAOS!

I’m not trying to force anyone to give up their way of playing characters. I’m just offering some of my ideas to potentially enhance your games, not spoil them. There isn’t one universal way to roleplay a character. RPGs are meant to be fun, so play the way you like.

So what is chaos exactly? Let’s come back one more time to the First Edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game core rulebook. Warhammer FRP 1ed core rulebook. (By the way, if you’re ever in the mood to give me a gift out of the kindness of your heart, you can always choose something from the First Edition or Third Edition WFRP books. I’ll send you my wishlist! :))

In WFRP, chaotic PCs support:

  • Anarchy and violent change
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Death and destruction

And chaotic PCs are against:

  • Permanence and tradition
  • Responsibility and duty
  • Government (AREN’T WE ALL A LITTLE? ;)) and social organizations

Do you agree? I do, to a point.

My definition of chaos is more about characters ignoring the rules than breaking them. Is there a difference? Yes, a huge one. Chaotic PCs don’t internalize the rules and act like there are none. But that doesn’t
necessarily mean that they get pleasure from breaking the rules set by other people who choose to obey them. The PC may know all the rules but isn’t compelled to obey them.

For instance, let’s take day and night. Everyone can probably agree that there is daytime and nighttime. And there are things we typically do during the day and other things we typically do at night. We usually don’t travel by horse at night, but we can if we want. We usually sleep during the night, but we can stay awake if we want. Do we feel (unless we’re children disobeying our parents) like staying awake all night is wrong? Not usually. Why do we sleep at night? Because we typically want to be fresh and alert in the morning…

  • …for work
  • …for school
  • …to take care of our children
  • and so on.

So we start to obey these unwritten daytime rules for life’s regular obligations.

I’m not saying that not sleeping at night is chaotic behavior, but it offers an example. Staying awake all night to show that you don’t care about the “daytime rules” isn’t chaotic – usually it’s because you want to or have to do something. Maybe you’re a night owl and you don’t see anything wrong staying up night after night.

Ok, forget about sleeping. Let’s get back to RPGs.

Chaotic PCs may break into a shop in the middle of the night not because they get pleasure out of breaking the rules, but because they NEED something from the shop. But being chaotic doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re crazy. They’ll probably break in silently because other people who obey the rules (like stealing being against the law) might make a lot of noise about it that the PCs don’t really want to deal with. But that’s not the same as internalizing those rules of common civilized society and thinking that theft is “bad.”

This type of “funny” rules are often connected with traditions, laws, and so on. But in my opinion, ignoring them isn’t the same as anarchy. Anarchy is more of a politico-social concept. Chaos isn’t. Chaos doesn’t want to change the rules. Yes, change is good (like the sunny day after an unexpected storm), but chaos doesn’t want to change something and replace it with something else. It’s pure in its own funny way.

Of course, many RPGs (including my beloved Warhammer) use chaos as a “mystic” background, but it’s easy to mistake this kind of chaos with evil.

But you might say – what about the armies of chaos? Armies by definition are organized groups of people (beings) with a common goal. And armies perform drills so everyone follows commands and knows what to do on the battlefield. An army without drills is just a crazy mob all running in the same direction. So how do chaotic entities work together without these rules of order? Truth is they probably don’t. But if they did, they might use violence as a tool. Be violent to your soldiers and they will obey. Eventually someone will decide they’ve had enough and turn on their cruel masters… What then? Hmmmm…

Ok, that’s enough for this Saturday. Let me know what you think! Share your experience with chaos in your campaigns!

Next week I will come back with some thoughts about Law!

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