[Musing] Forging Identity Through Consequence-Based Gaming

Posted: May 26, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games

I’ve been thinking about it and I think I’ve come upon why I enjoy running low-powered games that feature Player Characters that are still finding their way in the world.  There’s a certain charm to being able to do great things even when you’re not omnipotent, to being able to influence the world around you despite having meager abilities.

I suppose what fascinates me about running games focused on the developmental stages of adventurers and characters is that it gives them a chance to define themselves.  Once put into a situation where they are forced to act, a character is then put into a situation where they have to make a choice.  Each choice they make in turn influences the kind of person that they become.  While some might argue that I’m just setting up an elaborate downward spiral (especially when I run WoD) I’d like to contest that and note that the decisions that the characters make will run into some kind of consequence, most often a mixture of both good and bad.

I remember a player asking me once, “About that situation in the previous game where my character was forced to make a choice, which was the correct decision?”

I had to stop a moment and consider that question before giving my answer, “Honestly, there isn’t a correct decision.”  I replied, “The situation you were in would have both good and bad consequences no matter which one you picked.”

There’s probably little argument that I tend to be a GM that pays attention to the little details that eventually come back to haunt my players.  Small grudges snowball into spectacular attempts to get back at players, and that henchman that got away might actually find a way to poison one of the players and put them at risk later on.  It’s the nature of my gameplay, the signature style that I possess.

That said I don’t think that I’m “All punishment, all the time”  either.  Many times my players have gotten the better of my “causality” framework, managing to wrangle even Villains to join their side with the right kind of coercion, whether by kindness or holding a stick over their heads.

But perhaps I digress… I enjoy running games for neonate characters because the consequences often don’t have to be too severe, but conflict will still give them plenty to think about and decide on their own.  As the game scales up to match the power level of the players, these decisions will be more and more important, and just who the characters have become will greatly influence the direction of the game.

  1. This is exactly how I like to see games run (and how I like to run games). Players act, actions have effects, effect generate new challenges, forcing players to act and so on. But it makes the actions and choices of the players and characters important and interesting.

    • One interesting (and perhaps disappointing) consequence to this however is that it tends to make certain players freeze up with “Analysis Paralysis” where they run into a mental or emotional block that stops them from making a decision out of fear of the consequences.

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