As a GM that doesn’t really count combat as a staple in my games, I tend towards presenting other forms of conflict to challenge my players. In my games, I prefer to present players with situations that rely on making meaningful choices rather than just simple problem solving. I find this to be much more interesting because making a choice is never easy.
Choices are interesting things to present to a character because in order to be different from a problem, a good choice usually:
- Has no clear benefit for either option – Choices are hard because like in real life, there’s nothing to really tell you if one particular options is inherently better than the other. Each may have their own benefits and drawbacks that leave it to the player to consider other criteria to make a selection.
- Provokes a moral / ethical debate – While not really something that any GM can just yank out of nowhere, a situation that forces players to examine their own morals before making a choice is interesting because it does more than just merely amuse. For once in an activity, one is forced to a moment of introspection (however briefly.)
- Has no takebacks – Again like real life, making a choice has no way to rewind and undo any unforeseen consequences. Player characters have to live with the results of their choice, and bear the responsibility for what happens because of it.
Of course, deciding to not participate in a choice is an equally valid response. Much like not taking a quest that you’ve been made aware of, walking away from a choice means that you leave it to fate to take the reins and resolve the situation.
I’ve been known in my gaming group as a consequence-focused GM, and honestly I can’t blame them. While I don’t feel that I’m the heavy hand of Karma slapping down on naughty players, I do try my best to resolve a situation as realistically as possible. In some ways I run my games not really as “stories” as much as biographies. The player characters are the protagonists, and the sessions are a chronicle of their lives, successes and failures alike. There’s hardly a happily ever after, but like a good documentary, it merely asks a question, and leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions.