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- Choice and Consequence
- Chasing A Blaze In The Northern Sky
- Oh. Hi. I was just catching up on some light reading. Why don’t you join me by my hearth? Quite a big storm outside. I’ve got tea brewing in the other room. I’ll grab you a mug when we hear that familiar screech of the kettle. But while we wait, why not discuss something that’s been on my mind lately. Huh? You’re interested? Great. Feel free to wrap yourself up in that blanket by the way. Anyway, the quandary that’s been nagging me is the concept of consequence.
- Ultimately, I don’t know the full scope of the mechanics of the game. Obviously this is coming from a player who has never peeked behind the curtain at the machinery ticking away to create the campaign. So let’s get that out of the way. The thing I’m talking about is the illusion of consequence. So let me start from the beginning, a fitting place to start, and I’ll wrap it up in a fun little bow. So our characters are washed up from a mysterious shipwreck onto the beach very conveniently located in front of a dungeon. This is necessary to get the game going. Our characters loot and plunder and explore this area. Taking the treasures with them. Overall this is a “gamey” experience. Collect the stuff and move on, like an Elder Scrolls dungeon or something, where our adventure and choice and consequence is contained within this dungeon. This isn’t what I’m analyzing, it’s just a thing that happened. Whether it’s good or bad that it’s like that is irrelevant to my main point. Also please remember that this is about the illusion of consequence, for all I know what happened there set of a string of events leading to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, but the players don’t know, and will likely never know and it isn’t communicated to them, so it might as well not be there. Anyway back to the main thread. After our characters do that, they fool around a bit in the main city and then kill a giant lizard with a metal melting horn, and then bring its colossal skull into town. Allow me to dissect that because our initial adventure was mainly disconnected from what we are now doing. I think it’s worth noting that we stumbled upon this monster by accident. There was no talk of it prior. No sign or anything, It just existed in it’s own little arena, from the players perspective. Much like a boss monster would. Anyway, after a couple of party members die, the rest of the party bags the monster and brings it’s skull into town.As for the immediate, nothing happens. No one looks at us strangely or bats an eye at this for the time being. Kind of like in Elder Scrolls how you can kill a dragon and pick up all it’s bones and dump them in the middle of the city and people just walk past it like it’s an inconsequential object. No short term consequences like that, but let’s talk about long term consequences. There are a couple. First of all, some mysterious men with stitched faces appeared and offered to buy the skull off of us, and secondly, we received an offer to map out a dungeon for a wizard. Let’s start with the first one, the stitched faced men. They’re mysterious, appear seemingly out of nowhere, and offer to buy this object. They’re only mentioned once and function mainly as a way to turn the skull into money, once again from the player’s perspective, because this is all about the communication of consequence rather than the technical behind the scenes aspect of it. Players can sell the skull and as far as they know will never hear from them again and will set off on adventures into the unknown. I find this initial consequence to be lacking. How come they are the only one who noticed? I mean, we hear later that tales of our monster slaying activities granted us the opportunity to make a map for a wizard, but as for the immediate, it feels like they are the only ones who noticed. How come there are tales about us, but no one approaches us? We hear no talk of the tales, people don’t look at us or treat us different. We don’t see people whispering to each other in our presence. From this point, the one people who noticed, are related in any way to this creature or had anything to do with this whatsoever was these mysterious stitch men who were mentioned once and never again. It could have consequences, but it’s not communicated to the player beyond this line. The second consequence is better in my opinion, for a few reasons. It opened up a tangible, active alternate quest line, affected how other characters feel about us in an obviously communicated way, and could change the game if explored further. The first option could have done that too, but no one knows. The only issue I have with this is that it’s clearly a domino effect to which slaying the monster eventually caused this wizard mapping opportunity, but the point stems from the fact that we don’t see those dominos actually fall. We do the thing, and see the outcome, and the outcome apparently manifested from our parties notoriety in the area, but it didn’t feel like that, I didn’t feel like I saw any change in how we were treated. Apparently tales were being told about us but I didn’t notice it at all.
- Next, let’s talk about the dungeon exploration. I’m skipping the encounter with the merchant with the water walking boots. Not much to say about that than I had already said. It feels like a random encounter, completely separated from everything else. I feel like we could have killed that merchant and nothing would have happened. He only served as a vessel to deliver us the boots. Apparently he won them in a game of cards with Hitler or something but whatever it doesn’t matter because that means nothing and has no effect on us. Back to the dungeon exploration. It feels very contained. No one cares that we are plundering these tombs? I mean, for the tunnels, there are already people there that we killed. I’m holding off on talking about the tunnels for now because it seems like the consequences for that are still unfolding. For the tombs...other people are looting it too? Like we meet other adventurers there, which confuses me. I feel like we can enter the dungeon and do whatever, and exit the dungeon and anything that we did there is contained to that dungeon. We have no idea why there are abominable freaks of nature in that dungeon, and no one seems to make a big deal out of it. Killing them doesn’t really do anything except remove the threat from the map. Looting the dungeon doesn’t seem to do anything except add to our money count. I feel like we could slaughter every creature that lives there and take everything not nailed down and nothing of note would happen besides stat increases. Keep in mind, the stat changes are good, and are one half of good consequences. The mechanical, the immediate, the obvious. Stat changes are good for communicating what you did changed *something*. But in this scenario I’m talking about narrative consequence, to which it appears there are none, at least it’s not communicated clearly to me. This is the same for a lot of the dungeons.
- Now let me talk about my favorite thing. Sloths. The reason sloths don’t get eaten by predators is because they’re disgusting. My second favorite thing is LORD ZABAAA. Allow me to talk about what makes that perfect. Touch the Zaba Ball and be transported to the land of the Zaba. Choosing to become a thrall of Zaba encompassess everything I like about choice and consequence. First of all, the immediate. Immediately the characters who became thralls transformed into handsome and dashing rogues. A physical change. This triggers an effect that causes narrative consequence, characters treat us differently. People who are informed of the magic arts recognize us as thralls of Zaba. So the short term effect is becoming handsome, characters treat us different. The long term effect allows more opportunities to be open to us. The dice game with the devils, for instance. The devil people were slightly friendlier to us due to our chaotic alignment. Same thing for other characters, they are jealous of our good looks and treat us with disdain. Right there is short term and long term consequence, linked together with a single thread that we as players can see unfold as we transform more and more into handsome young men. The thing that really drives this home is that stat changes. The raw numbers difference really cements it all in. It feels real and changes how we interact with the world, and how the world interacts with us. This is brilliant in my opinion. I’m not saying every little thing has to do this, but I was and still am surprised by how unique and fleshed out this choice is and how it changed our campaign. So maybe borrowing some aspects of it and applying it to smaller things would be better.
- What I’m essentially saying is that this choice made our characters feel like part of the world rather than a vessel to look into it. Our player characters have this sort of detachment to them, I guess a sort of other-worldly aura to them that makes them very obviously player characters. (Them acting in absurd ways is probably a portion of that) I think a part of that is the consequence issue. I think increasing the health pool and survivability was a good choice, because it made us more invested in our characters. Before, characters could have like 4 health, get one shot and we’d create a new one without much fanfare. It made even death feel of less consequence. But with our characters living longer, we can not only see the effects of our actions unfold, the story of the character doesn’t abruptly end and the consequence of their actions die with them. Also the increased survivability allowed me to become more attached to my character, and thinking a little more carefully about what he does.
- So what do I suggest, well first of all, more communication to the player. A simple line or two about towns people talking about us, characters recognizing us after we do something of importance for the local area for short term consequences. Long term I’d like more opportunities to be open to us. Like, imagine once we had slain the giant salamander boss guy, a small mining community was set up at the cavern, they couldn’t mine before due to the danger but our actions had a tangible effect on the world, and now people are mining in that cave or something, grants us more opportunities to change the campaign. Those are narrative consequences, as for mechanical consequences, imagine that the new hypothetical mining camp has unique stuff to buy. I dunno. You’re a smart guy, you can probably figure it out-
- Oh- you hear that? Teas done. I hope you enjoyed my talk. I’ll grab you a nice cup of tea. Feel free to toss another piece of wood into the fire. I’ll be right back with drink.
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