The Living World: Consequences

There are, sad to say, a number of players you will encounter while playing Dungeons & Dragons, that do not properly think through their actions before committing to them. They believe the world was created solely for their enjoyment, and they can do whatever they like without ever feeling the consequences of their actions. Well, as part of the League for Responsible Play of D&D, I’m here to tell you that this must stop now!

Well, perhaps not.

Dungeons & Dragons gets played in a great number of ways. I began with a lot of games that took place in the dungeon and didn’t care that much about the rest of the world. However, when you want to move into a campaign which deals with more of the world, the concept of the players’ actions having longer-term consequences comes into play. You can certainly have these consequences in dungeon-based campaigns, although they’re often ignored in the basic forms of the game.

In my Friday night Greyhawk game, the adventurers were hired to recover some scrolls. Instead of giving the scrolls to their patron, they instead gave them to the local university and church. They were rather surprised to see their faces on “Wanted!” posters as they returned to the Free City after their latest expedition to Castle Greyhawk.

Players often don’t really rate the NPCs in the game. They don’t understand that even if an individual NPC is much weaker than any individual adventurer, that NPC can have friends. However, using the blunt force of combat seldom ends well. Players are really good at killing the NPCs you send to apprehend them, or just dying themselves, which isn’t so good for the continued health of the campaign. Sending assassins after the PCs sounds fantastic; not so good in reality!

So, instead I’ve used what will be more of a social constraint. Imagine what happens to an adventuring party when no-one will sell to them, the temples won’t heal them, the master wizards won’t instruct them in new spells, and no-one will offer them quests. If they start using superior firepower to take out the guards and force the NPCs to help them, the populace will begin to leave. The Free City of Greyhawk as a ghost town? It could happen!

Of course, this does require a breakdown in the social contract with which we play these games. For most groups, there’s an understanding that the law is to be respected, and – even though there will occasional blemishes – potential consequences are to be respected.

In a brilliant move, when the PCs returned to Greyhawk and saw these posters, the paladin (a Lawful Neutral bounty hunter) handed himself in to the authorities. As he’s respecting the law, his church – the church of St Cuthbert, which is quite powerful in these parts – will be attempting to aid him. It will be very interesting to see where the campaign develops from there.

For, not only are there negative consequences, there can be positive consequences. If a group aids a tribe of orcs in the dungeon against their enemies, the orcs can provide a safe place to rest and pass on interesting rumours from the Underdark. Titles and commendations may follow from the local authorities. Perhaps land or a small keep? The parameters of the game can change and adapt as the world is developed, with actions of the players having ongoing effects on the world.

PCs make friends and enemies. As a DM, keep track of what they do and how it affects those they interact with. It helps provide more adventures as you develop a living world.

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One Response to The Living World: Consequences

  1. Glen Wesley says:

    This development made for some great role-play Merric. While our choices had consequences, the resulting role-play required on-our-feet thinking and resourcefulness. Being surprised as a player is far more thrilling than predictable hack and slash.

    Yes, we could have forced our way in but I don’t think any of our characters would have done that. The gameplay forced us to think about our characters and how each of us would respond to the situation thrust upon us… well it forced me to rethink my character at least.

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