Monday, October 10, 2016

Consequences in RPGs

Consequences... I remember one game of Dungeons and Dragons where we accidentally nearly destroyed the world, and the only reason we didn't was because the rogue carrying the loot from previous sessions had connected the dots that we were being manipulated by the bad guy, and so abandoned us and ran off to enjoy a nice vacation on the beach instead of joining us for the final boss fight. Meanwhile, we, assuming her super-rogue skills were active and thus that was why we couldn't see her with us, had no idea she wasn't there... Until the boss tried to summon the magic stones to allow him access to the world-destroying magic.

You know, much like how Link brings the Sacred Stones and accidentally allows Ganondorf into the Temple of Time. Except that in this scenario, the rogue looted the party and ran away, and for once it was a good thing, because Ganon didn't get his Triforce.

I'm really enjoying the new King's Quest series because the consequences of the previous chapters are holding up in the current ones. Yes, okay, the wives are basically interchangeable, but there are a few differences between them, and you're reminded in each chapter of some of the choices you made previously. Mr. Fancycakes will never forgive us for leaving him to die, you know.

There are a lot of RPG video games where you're so railroaded that your actions never make a long-term difference. Or the choices are things like "I can't equip this weapon because I never got it." Games where you don't see the effects of the changes you make at all. So it's always a delight to make a lasting change for me. Even if it's a minor one.

To me, the best dungeon masters are the ones who are able to bring in your characters' decisions and make them relevant later in the game. But of course that's tough to do, and easier in a time-consuming self-designed campaign than a pre-designed one.

Have you ever made your characters' decisions matter in a pre-made d20 game? How did you do it, and how did it affect the game?


  1. I've recently (early in 2016) re-banded some of the mid-90s 2nd-edition D&D players I had, and we're now playing a 5th-edition online version (via google hangouts) of Planescape, one of the major campaign worlds that I felt I never got to explore enough of back in the day. Thanks to the flexibility and encouragements of the 5th edition rules the game constantly revolves around the choices the players make for their characters. And since Planescape in general is a epic-scale "battle of beliefs," where not only the characters choices but also their beliefs have a tendency to influence the "reality" of the game ... well. Its been a blast.

    For example, one player is a half-orc fighter. He was born in a savage neanderthal-like society on a distant ice planet. When he accidentally triggered a world-spanning portal and wound up in a "civilized" planar society he immediately got into trouble, was arrested, imprisoned, and eventually conscripted into an army. During his two years in the army he learned several languages, but also several morality structures. When he discovered his lawfully-oriented army was using him to burn down chaotically (i.e., freedom-oriented) aligned villages he went AWOL. Those decisions in his backstory have created all kinds of consequences in his current life -- usually running from the police and other lawful authority figures who could trace his desertion from the army and land him back in prison. At the same time, when he was in a particularly run-down area of the city he's in, he was witness to a pair of homeless equipped with crossbows who ambushed and attempted to slaughter four of the local police. The half-orc stepped in and stopped the carnage -- resulting in one of the police recognizing him, the last surviving former member of his previous army patrol. Things are deliciously complicated now as the half-orc has to try and balance all his various loyalties. And that's just one of the four characters.

    Doing things in this way, using the backstory of a character as a major part of the plot of the game, definitely increases the buy-in from all the gamers involved. We're having crazy fun with all the complications.

    1. Man, that sounds like a great campaign! Just the kind of delicious intrigue that I love. Every time my backstory makes an appearance in a game, I'm 100% there--increased buy-in is right!