At the request of Lugh, we’re taking the discussion on consequences a little further today, and taking apart an actual game I’ve run and examined how consequences may have worked (or failed) in the context of the case.
First off, let’s go over the anecdote:
One of the games I’ve run that involved a huge amounts of consequence was in a game of Exalted. One of the Player Characters, an heir to an influential Dynastic house, was betrothed to a willful warrior-princess from a tribe of horsemen in a faraway kingdom to the south. Their courtship was the stuff of epics, with the heir proving himself in battle hunting down giant desert scorpions and winning her love with the aid of one of the other player characters, a world-class performer.
Unfortunately, the heir was discovered to be one of the Exalted, a demi-god that had incredible powers. As such, his family deemed that his earlier engagement to the tribal warrior-princess was beneath his station, and his mother decided to dissolve the wedding arrangements, sending word to the warrior-princess that the wedding was off.
The Heir had heard of this and was therefore stuck with a choice: Should he disobey his mother for the sake of true love, or should he stick to duty above all else and forsake his love for the promise of power?
He chose the second.
And so the consequences start happening. Rather than explain the situation personally, the heir decided to leave things alone. The warrior-princess was mortified, and dishonored. In her shame, she ceremoniously denounced her status as a Woman, and set off to avenge herself in a blood feud.
The warrior-princess found her way to the heir, who was living already in a kingdom far away, pursuing his ambitions of world conquest. Upon being personally confronted, the heir decided then that the best way to resolve the issue was to use his powers as one of the Exalted to render the warrior-princess unconscious and inject a false memory in her mind that she’d been slain, hoping that upon waking up, the girl would then decide that it was a miracle that she’d survived and let go of the vendetta. And so to complete the illusion, he tasked his servants to ship the girl home in a coffin.
The girl awoke from unconsciousness, realizing that she was in a coffin, complete with memories of her demise. Her anguish, fear and hatred called the attentions of the Deathlords, powerful beings that offered her a bargain. Power to challenge the heir and defeat him, in exchange for her eternal service.
The girl took up the offer, and became the first of the Abyssal Exalted in the setting.
Right… now let’s go and break this down into action and consequence:
- The Heir wooed the warrior-princess and won her love. As a result, the region was generally happy with him and his name and he would have eventually become an inheritor to the tribe’s resources and army.
- The Heir became an Exalt, and the matriarch of his house decided to annul the marriage.
- He chose to do nothing about that, and so the messenger was deployed.
- His non-presence during the announcement made it impossible for him to salvage anything, earning the ire of the tribe and the eternal hatred of the girl.
- The girl then sought him out to challenge him to a duel, which he chose to use as an opportunity to implant those illusions.
- Those illusions were therefore the reason by which the Deathlords were able to make their very first Deathknight.
Now some people might feel that this is a rather extreme example, but this case study was used for the clarity of the cause and effect interaction. As the GM of this game, I felt that the consequences matched reasonably realistic effects. Note that despite being a game about demigods, the situation was surprisingly mundane, and involved very social actions (and inaction) as well as consequences.
That said, what can we learn from this example? First off, consequences keep the narrative of a game going. When things react to characters in a timely and meaningful fashion, players then are forced to think outside of the “Quest-Reward” loop, and into thinking of what the possible effects are of their actions. This sort of accountability is often quite an eye opener for players more used to games where most things are static, or are isolated from a greater ecosystem.
What I hope to encourage with this sort of method of running a game are players who are inherently conscientious as they are the protagonists of this setting. Even in games like my current L5R campaign, I work hard to make sure to leave the impression that no matter what Rank samurai the characters are, they matter in the grand scheme of things.