Jan 072013

A friendly request here, since I’m writing this article after finishing part one of M. Dumas’ rather wonderful work, so please, no spoilers in the comments section. I know I’m a bit behind on this one, but I have more books to read than the time to read them, so some have ended up on the back shelves. Anyway…

When I run a game, one of the biggest things I try to push on my players is that they should be aware of the consequences of their actions. It doesn’t matter if I’m running a sandbox sprawling campaign, or an on the rails one off for a convention or similar; if your character does something, they should be prepared for the world to respond to it. As an example; bullying a town guard to get past them to the next plot point is perfectly fine, and a lot of characters have skill sets that encourage that type of interplay between characters. But here’s a thought: will the guard then return to his position, and never mention to anyone that some loud mouths have just breached his defenses? Or will they run to a superior for help?

A lot of the time, it’s a fairly safe bet they they’ll keep schtum. They wouldn’t be too keen to run off and admit that they had failed in their duty to their boss, and would certainly not brag about the encounter with their friends over an ale that night. But that won’t always be the case. Some city watchmen would take the risk that their own career would be forfeit if it was for the good of the city that the people who had just violently threatened one of it’s civil servants were brought to justice. Also, what ever they’re getting up to almost certainly isn’t in the city’s interests, as they’ve broken the law to accomplish their goals. So, why not – on occasion – give your NPCs a bit of a conscience and have things come back and haunt your players?

This is just on example, and I’m sure that most of the GMs reading this have done something similar in the past. And I don’t only mean negative consequences by the way. Player characters are more often than not heroes, and if they are seen to do something heroic, they should be rewarded, and sometimes it’s a bit too easy to just throw some XP their way. The world they’re playing in should give ample opportunity for rewards that they didn’t expect. A round of drinks brought for the party; townsfolk coming to them for help and offering rewards; people coming to their defense when they are set upon by villains. A short list there to be sure, but all worth keeping in mind and expanding on during your own games.

Back to my primary point though, that of a bunch of player characters who think of consequences in only one way: If I do this, it’ll look amazing, and I’ll feel awesome.

If you haven’t read the Three Musketeers, then what follows could be considered a wee bit of a spoiler: they are a bunch of almost universally unlikable rogues and gadabouts who care nothing for the people they trample over – sometimes literally, while on horseback – on their quest for self aggrandizement. This by itself might not be such a major problem, the world they inhabit is one of massive class divides and quite often those on the lower rungs do nothing to upset those better off than themselves, for fear of even more horrifying repercussions. I can’t even begin to list the insults – both verbal and physical – heaped upon the lower classes in the course of the novel.

They are also unbelievably happy to get themselves into fights with anyone, over the slightest perceived insult. While I understand that there does exist a type of gamer who loves this style of play, for me it is just a bit too simple to get my teeth into. Also, unless you apply repercussions to their actions, it becomes one long game of fight after fight, with no meat on the bones at all. They are all almost superhuman in their fighting abilities, and have access to some kind of near magical unguent to heal their wounds, so they have nothing to fear from the actual fight. They are also so totally self obsessed that they can’t even comprehend the danger of fallout from the fights they needlessly instigate.

Now, if I was GMing these players, I would be constantly looking for a ways to get them to understand that every action creates reactions, but the gusto with which they throw themselves into perilous situations would leave me constantly back footed. Until, that is,  they build up such a collection of enemies, that poisoning them, or silently sticking a dagger through their throat while they slept would be the only feasible way to deal with them. I don’t mean that that’s how I the GM would deal with them by the way; I am not a fan at all of that kind of petty game playing, by players or GMs, but instead I mean what the NPCs of the world would be forced into as a way of achieving vengeance or protecting their loved ones.

Of course, this post is more than just a rant about a style of play that I don’t particularly enjoy, I also have a tiny bit of advice if you find yourself with such a group a players and would like them to curb their excesses somewhat. A properly considered back story can work wonders for getting players to find an attachment to their character, and also provide a GM with some leverage when it comes to consequences. Sure, the Musketeers were near indestructible warriors, but they had love interests, and dark parts of their past. Threaten these connections because of the PC’s actions, or have a risk of certain past transgressions coming to light, and watch as they bend over backwards to right their wrongs. True, they will probably do this in the same gung-ho fashion as always, but hopefully it will make them think twice in future when they have the opportunity for mayhem.

On a final note, I don’t want anyone to come away from this thinking I’m not so far thoroughly enjoying the book. I’m have a grand old time reading it, and can’t wait to get back to reading a bit more each evening. Sometimes though, it’s not easy to take your GMing hat off when enjoying a fine piece of story telling.