Ya gotta have consequences

09Jun11

Just watched Shadow of the Vampire, a movie about an obsessive visionary director making the classic silent film Nosferatu. The twist is that the director has hired an actual vampire to pretend to be an actor playing the vampire. The movie was okay, but not great. A great deal of dramatic tension in the first and second acts is about the crew not knowing what kind of danger they are in, and the director making sure that no one finds out. When they finally do learn that the lead actor is a vampire intend on draining the lead actress dry … they do nothing. They just keep doing their jobs exactly as they did throughout the movie.

It leaves a hollow, unsatisfied feeling. The characters aren’t acting like believable people. There is a revelation, and no consequences follow from it. It breaks the dramatic contract. If there is no splash, why drop the stone in the pond?

In RPGs, lack of consequences for action surface in many ways, and all of them sap player interest and excitement.

  • NPC reactionsA character gives a long, impassioned speech on an important issue and everyone else continues their steadfast denials.
  • Fight resultsThe group is faced with a combat encounter that is far beyond their abilities, and have no chance of making so much as a scratch.
  • Predetermined plotsThe players concoct the most ingenious plan ever to circumnavigate the GM’s carefully prepared finale, so the plan arbitrarily fails.
  • Misread flagsA player crafts a character who is the long-lost prince, but the game never addresses this fact.
  • Rules-Genre disconnectThe group is all there to wage heroic battles against foul beasts, but the game only has rules for poetry slams.

Any of these will strain the suspension of disbelief, weaken interest in the fiction, and sap enthusiasm for the game itself.

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