Choices and Consequences in RPG Games
The Power of Roleplaying
Role-playing games have come a long way since their debut back in 1974 with Dungeons & Dragons. What once started as a simple pen-and-paper game to unite a couple of friends became one of today’s most popular gaming experiences. The result of this evolution is a beautiful world that people can explore to escape their daily worries, experience adventures together, and roleplay whatever kind of characters their hearts desire. It’s a place where their identity is validated and their choices matter.
At its core, a role-playing adventure is a pure game of choice and consequence. From choosing what skills to use during combat, to what armor to buy, what stats to level up, and what decisions or alliances to make along the story. Every choice impacts the experience in one way or another and that is what makes this genre so unique and refreshing to play. Thanks to its flexible nature, RPGs allow players to make real choices that can directly impact the story, affect their character’s development, and lead to interesting consequences.
It’s All About Agency
In nonlinear narratives, there’s a common concept called “the illusion of choice”. This illusion prevents players from understanding how greatly or how little their choices actually impact the world. It is only when the illusion is broken that players can see the level of agency they had (e.g. when replaying a game only to choose all the other options). Most RPG games are crafted to blur that notion as much as possible and do so based on time and budget constraints.
However, tabletop RPGs don’t have that kind of limit, aside from the DM’s time, creativity, and management skills. The level of freedom that DMs can give to players through RPGs is unmatched by any other media. And a good example is Robert Wardhaugh’s campaign, an adventure that started 41 years ago and never stopped. His players can become politicians, influence an entire nation, command an army, build a family, become legends marked in history, go on revenge plots, and much more. Their characters are rewarded by having complete agency to shape the entire story.
Unraveling Your Hero
From a DM’s perspective, the best part of plotting something for players is to put their characters’ resolve to the test, preferably with daring consequences. It could be a dilemma that shakes a paladin’s faith, the need to sacrifice a loved NPC to stop a war, or a conflict between parties that are equally special in some way. Sometimes, even a clock ticking puts enough pressure to make the party think more carefully. And regardless of the methods, players should always feel on edge when making important decisions. It means that they’ll worry more about the consequences and that the outcomes are not as predictable to them.
Shaping a character’s story and personality is more than an agglomeration of decisions, and hardly ends after finishing the character’s background. It’s their decisions along the adventure that will shape who they are and how they might be remembered. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if their actions were the characters’ intentions or the player’s, but RPGs are a great sandbox to learn exactly that. Finding out more about a character, how they like to behave, and understanding what they want, apart from the player behind them. Curiously enough, tabletop RPGs are recently being used in therapy as a way to deal with personal challenges in a safe and controlled environment, and to learn more about the player behind the character.
Creating a Safe Space
Sometimes, consequences won’t align with the players’ expectations, and in the worst-case scenario, it can surface trigger-topics. Maybe one character does something that makes one of the players very uncomfortable. Maybe the DM has a plot that is too heavy for some players to bear. This is hardly a matter of moral choices. It’s about making people feel comfortable when playing an adventure with their friends. Because of that, it’s always important for the DM to talk to their players about what they expect from the adventure, and if any of them feel uncomfortable with a specific topic. RPGs are about experimentation and freedom. Consequences can punish a character, however, they should never punish the person behind them.
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