Using Consequences in Dungeons and Dragons

consequences in dungeons and dragons

I talked about using consequences in Dungeons and Dragons when I told people how to deal with murder hobos. Isn’t that enough information on consequences?

Consequences in Dungeons and Dragons are the results of an action. Consequences make the world feel alive, add weight, make the world feel alive, and enhances the game.

Consequences are good

Think of your favorite character in fiction. Are they a perfect being who can do no wrong? For most of us, we do not like ‘perfect’ characters. Perfect is overrated and completely unrelatable. We ourselves are not perfect and want to relate to characters.

Since we are not perfect, what happens when we screw up? Consequences happen. If we make a wrong choice we must suffer the consequences. If we push ourselves too much our body reacts and therefore we suffer the consequences. Even good intentions have consequences.

A great example of this is Anikan’s character from Star Wars. He had a good intention, one to save his wife from death, but instead ended up dooming the universe.

Flaws and consequences make characters of fiction far more relatable to us. Therefore, consequences in Dungeons and Dragons are always good since consequences seem to do something.

Make the world alive

A boring world is where nothing happens. No choices are made, no one pushes back when pushed, and there are no actions. Luckily, players do many actions in a session of Dungeons and Dragons.

If actions are done, there should be a result. That result may be benign at first like receiving treasure. But what happens next? Did the players end up murdering a den of lizardmen to attain that treasure? If so, what if a lizardman escaped? A rallying cry would be put against the party and now the party might have to fend off a group of evil humanoids who just want to hunt them!

See how that little detail made the game more interesting? The world didn’t stop when the players looted the lizardmen home but instead kept moving.

The world was alive!

Letting the players craft the narrative

Often times as dungeon masters we decide how the game should go. We decide where the plot is going and the players just follow along. That is called railroading and is quite boring when the alternative is weaving a living narrative with friends.

Let’s go back to the lizardmen example. All of them have died except one small teenager who is running away. The teenager is now caught by the party and the party must decide what to do with him. You planned this epic revenge story, but what if the party kills that lizardman?

Make his little sister hide in the shadows, watch, and then continue on with your plot right? No, do not do that unless the party has a chance to spot her. Instead, think of some other consequence.

Have a necromancer raise the bodies and start terrorizing the countryside since the party didn’t even bother to bury the corpses. Their ruthlessness has come back to haunt them as people are dying due to this necromancer.

Don’t make every option seem horrible, but let the players craft the narrative by their actions. Where one sees failure, another sees opportunity.

Being fair

The above example stressed that the party must have a chance to spot the lizardmen girl if you use a small hidden sibling. This is very important because if you state that ‘oh ya there was a lizard man child watching you and cleric foresight with +9 in perception didn’t spot her.’ People will rightfully be furious. If however instead you ask for a roll by someone not interrogating but instead keeping watch that player may fail. If they fail the roll your the players are more likely to understand.

As long as you see what can happen from actions instead of forcing what could have happened, players will not feel railroaded. If your players are not railroaded, the world is more alive and their actions have meaning.

You as a dungeon master also need to make sure that consequences in Dungeons and Dragons make sense. You cannot just say something happens for convenience, but instead must be easily traceable to some action that the party did. Which leads us to….

Leaving horses and wagons

If you start to introduce real-world mechanics and consequences, players will try to mitigate the consequences. They can do this by bringing in help or other tools. One such common tool is to have a wagon.

Now adventurers having a wagon is perfectly fine, but what would happen if they leave a wagon unattended while going into a dungeon? Possibly nothing, but there is a chance that the horses and wagon could be stolen or destroyed. If you do this, be fair and let the party know they are in a dangerous area where someone or something might dispose of their goods if left unattended.

The players then may hire henchmen to guard the wagon and horses while the party delves into a dungeon, but the henchmen may be overwhelmed. If this ever happens, it must be of significant importance.

A random ogre cannot just come and kill the henchmen because that is relatively unfair. Instead, if the players make an enemy the enemy can hunt the players and wait until the wagon is left unattended. Again, leave some chance of letting the players know this may happen to be fair.

This scenario is but one example of how to deal with players attempting to mitigate real-world consequences. Just remember to make sure that you are fair with your players and do not make their preparations worthless. Nothing is worse than knowing anything you do is pointless, and your players will lose all desire to play if they ever think they are powerless.

Adds weight

We just talked about a previous enemy possibly coming back to haunt the player and overwhelm the henchmen. This is a great example of how decisions can add weight to later events that take place.

If an ogre calm and just killed the guards and destroyed the wagon, that just makes the players mad and powerless. Instead, if the players had indications something may be wrong but ignored the signs, the player feels responsible. If a past grudge comes back to haunt the players, the players instantly know why this happened and are angry at the person, not the dungeon master.

Every decision should have weight and not feel like frivolous happenstance.

In the same manner, do not add completely new components that didn’t interact with the players before.

Adding new elements

If the party, for example, was to kill a necromancer, let them kill the necromancer and be done with it. But what if the necromancer had an apprentice that wants to avenge her or his master? Either A the party knew about the apprentice or B the party did not know.

If the party knew about the apprentice, that apprentice has to make an impact on the party. Perhaps the party spared the apprentice, got to know them, something memorable had to happen. If the party remembers the apprentice, they will instantly realize that their decisions, inaction, whatever caused these events to happen.

On the other hand, if the party didn’t know about the necromancer’s apprentice, then they will feel as if this is just inserted and completely cheap. No decision they make will matter since the dungeon master will just make stuff up, and what they do has no meaning.

As you can see, there is a huge difference. If you add a new element into the plot based on player actions, make sure that each player can trace it back to their actions. Always add weight to previous decisions, never just throw the players past back at them without justifiable reason.

Being powerful

When you become extremely powerful like your players are bound to be each action causes more of an impact. Being powerful also means that more attention is drawn to you. Use these things to have a narrative impact.

The consequence of them becoming famous is that the players now have adoring fans. The consequence of players being absurdly rich is that they have to ward off thefts here and there.

Make them the opposite end of other NPC adventures and you will be able to gain an immense amount of narrative from these events.

If the players take an action that is reprehensible, it won’t be just one person now but an entire organization that hunts them. This adds tension since you somehow would have to dispose of an entire organization. You now have a new campaign ready or at least scenario for your players.

Responsibilities

We all have rules that we must uphold. What happens if we break those rules? Players can be thrown in prison, but what happens after the jailbreak? Will they be hunted or not welcome in any city?

What happens if you betray someone by not fulfilling a contract? How about if you leave a guild in an improper manner?

All of these things make the player now have to deal with constant paranoia since the players have not upheld their responsibilities to either the law or those they have chosen to pledge to.

These consequences can make a thieves guild try to recruit the players, make a story based on them fleeing, any number of narrative possibilities can come from these consequences. (Not to mention teaching your players to act like decent human beings instead of murder hobos)

Can they fail?

You now must answer a simple question, can your players fail? Do you fudge dice rolls in order to make your players win? That depends.


Were your players aware of how bad a position they were in? Could they backtrack and see how due to their actions they failed? If the answer is yes, let them fail or even possibly die. This adds a lot of weight to the decisions made. I talk about this very thing in handling player death.

On the opposite note, if your players don’t realize how bad of a position they were in don’t kill them. A great example of this happened in my game recently.

The party failed at saving someone but found a pedestal to activate a portal. They were creative and found a way to open the portal. Three level one characters went into a level ten area that had a beholder. The players had no indication of how bad their decision was, so they didn’t die. Instead, they got royally screwed up in one fight and were able to run away.

Establish consequences

You should always make sure that players know about the potential of consequences in Dungeons and Dragons before starting the game. We talked about adding new elements before and this is no different.

Establish in session 0 that there will be consequences in Dungeons and Dragons. Explain a little bit how the consequences work, and create a vibrant new world with almost infinite possibilities for your players.

Conclusion

We talked about consequences being used to enhance the world and create many narrative hooks along with how consequences should be based on player action, not just randomly added elements.

Consequences are essential to make your players not go insane and become murder hobos. Consequences are great for many things, just make sure that your execution of player consequences is carried out well or your players will not be happy with you.

This has been Wizo and keep rolling!

Recommended Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *