So, having spoken yesterday on making sure you give your Players choices, I felt it would be remiss to not follow it up with something about Consequences.
The simple fact of the matter is that every choice or action we take or make has consequences, things that come out as a result of what we have done or decided. Sometimes these are immediate (jumping off a building has some very immediate consequences), and other times they can take time before they show themselves (pissing off that ambitious prince for instance). Now, in my time gaming I have seen a lot of players balk at the idea of consequences. After all, what is a RPG if not a means of escape to relax. Honestly, you can run games like that if you want, they can even be fun. However, if you are looking for a (dare I say it) 'serious' game, then at some point in time you are going to have to bite the bullet and hand out the consequences to actions.
Handing out, and handling, consequences is in my opinion the real way in which the GM handles their job of controlling the game and handling the story. See, as I said yesterday as a GM you should always be giving your players a choice. They make the choice, and then they get the consequences of that action, which will (generally) lead to another choice, and then more consequences. Sometimes these consequences are good, and sometimes these consequences are bad, but whatever they are it is the GMs job to hand them out to the players who get them.
Take for instance the Player who decides that he needs some extra cash and goes in to rob a Mom and Pops liquor store. Sure he gets the money, but he also probably has the cops on him now for robbing a store. If he covered his features, there will at least be some sort of investigation into what happened that could lead to them being caught, or at least having to be more careful.
For another example, in a teen hero game I ran recently one of the PCs was trapped in an energy cage, specially designed for holding him in one spot. All he had to do to turn it off was become visible, but the character feeling threatened stayed invisible. The character also completely forgot to check his cell phone (which still worked) or try in any other way to call for help. As such he just sat, alone and invisible inside of an energy cage for nearly 12 hours while the villain, a man known as the Lizard for his cold-blooded ways, had the PC's mom hostage. When they finally got free and got to where the Lizard was hiding, it was nearly a day later. The lizard was not exactly known for his patience and it is one of the only times in gaming I've seen multiple players wince when the player chose that he wanted his character's mom to still be alive.
Now, in both of those cases is the reaction cruel? Well, maybe. The second one is definitely a rather harsh thing to have happen in a game. However, that was the consequences of the player's actions. Sitting and doing nothing, freezing in the moment, these are choices that the character made and the consequences of those choices was the villain had more 'quality' time with someone dear to the character. (before you ask or think it, that R word that rhymes with Ape was not a factor in this situation. Just for the record)
Also, like I said consequences happen for good actions as well. If the players go out of their way to help people, and the public in general loves them. Well, maybe someone will randomly help them next time they're in a tight spot. Maybe when that cop gets the order to shoot at the masked vigilante he'll miss because hey, that guy does alright by people and deserves gratitude, not being shot at.
The fact is, whether they be big or small, quick coming or slow in getting here, every action and choice that we make has a consequence. The same should hold true in games. Do it right and it makes everything feel more alive, more real, and the whole game a whole lot more memorable. (Especially when players get entertaining consequences).
To put it into a quote, though I don't know where this is from aside from the forum signature of someone I used to GM a chat with. "When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action". Keep that in mind too next time one of your players sounds surprised that there are negative consequences for robbing a bank without so much as a pair of sunglasses on their face!