How to Deal with Instigators
Fighter: “I’m pretty banged up. I look around for a place to make camp.”
Cleric: “Yeah, I’m all out of healing. I need to rest and pray.”
Mage: “I’ve got nothing left. It’s nap time for me.”
Fighter: “Where’s the rogue?”
* * *
(10 minutes later)
Rogue: “Uh, guys? The good news is, I found this 500gp gem. The bad news is, the guy I took it from wants it back. And he has a small army. Time to go!”
Meet the Instigator. There’s one at every gaming table, isn’t there? These are the players who make things happen – often with the subtlety of a morning star to the face. Oh, they don’t usually think of themselves as problem players. Some merely see it as their gods-given duty to set things in motion. Others just like to keep the party members on their toes.
The 4th Edition DMG says that Instigators can be disruptive, but can also be a lot of fun. It’s true that zany characters and risk-takers are often remembered long after the game is over. But you want them to be remembered fondly. You don’t want them to be remembered as “that bloody stupid oaf that got us killed all those times”. Therein lies the real challenge for Instigators: Striking a balance between mild yet entertaining chaos and Royally Screwing Things Up. To illustrate the difference, let’s take a look at the two major sub-types of Instigator.
The Smart Instigator
This player just wants to have a good time, and he’ll take everyone else along for the ride. The cool thing is, he knows how to push limits just far enough that they bend but don’t break. He plays characters that keep the other PCs in stitches – figuratively, but often literally as well. But because he can reign in his chaotic tendencies before the fun stops, he’s always remembered as a quirky player who’s fun to game with.
This type of Instigator doesn’t need much guidance. Give him a plot and he’ll twist it beyond recognition, but he won’t get the party killed ad nauseum. The best way to handle a Smart Instigator is to put him in situations that can be resolved in many different ways. You can also flex your creative muscle by drawing up NPCs with strong personalities that rival his own. Just don’t get caught unarmed in a battle of wits with this guy!
The Dumb Instigator
This guy gives Instigators a bad name. If he sees a button labeled “Do Not Push Under Any Circumstance”, he’ll push it just because it said not to. The Dumb Instigator will make bad choices that disrupt the game. He will straight-up Bull Rush the Tarrasque. (Of course, after that, he won’t do much of anything. So… problem solved?)
There are a few ways to deal with a Dumb Instigator, and only one involves a really hungry gigantic creature with sharp, pointy teeth. The approach you choose should depend on your gaming group. Are they seasoned players who’ve weathered the storm of Instigators before? Are they comfortable enough to stand their ground and not follow the Dumb Instigator to certain doom? If so, your involvement should be minimal. After the Dumb Instigator’s party has left him out to dry half a dozen times, he’ll start to rethink his methods.
Then again, maybe not. He’s not called the Dumb Instigator for nothing. If a player makes really stupid choices at every turn, constantly endangers the PCs, or even tries to turn on his allies, it’s time to step in. Don’t confront him in front of everyone, but do take him aside and let him know that his antics aren’t adding to the fun of the game. He’ll either shape up or find another group to play with.
As a DM, I welcome good Instigators who challenge my creativity (and, occasionally, my patience). They don’t really become a problem unless they’re taking away from everyone else’s fun. In fact, some Instigators can be good allies for a DM. If you’ve got timid players that you can’t seem to engage in the storyline, try enlisting an Instigator to get them involved in some crazy shenanigans. Before long, the shy folks will be having such a good time that their anxiety will be forgotten.
What about you? Do you have any nostalgic tales (or horror stories) about Instigators you’ve known as a player or a DM? Let’s hear ‘em!