Friday, July 15, 2016

Hidden Consequences: Are They Worth It?

Two sessions in and the 7th Sea game already has me looking at RPGs in a new light. In fact, it has me looking at how I GM all games. Most notably, I've been thinking about the consequences of both made and failed checks by PCs and NPCs, and how they impact the game. Today I want to talk about that, and how it might impact your game.

Locked In Consequences
One of the first ways 7th Sea has changed how I view games is because consequences for actions can be plain and clear. For example, in a normal RPG a player would say their character is alert and on watch, they then make a skill check and the GM tells them what they see. If the roll is bad, or if the players suspect something is up but was missed, another player might also throw dice at it to see what they see. In the end - if hyperbolically - the whole group is throwing perception dice at a thing while working on other things, and one of them will probably roll high enough to see whatever it is.

In 7th Sea this happens differently. A player says they're alert. The GM gives them consequences - maybe one of them is that they don't see the guy watching the group back - and the roll is made. Then, if the player isn't able to buy off the consequence from happening it's locked in.

In our game, when that happened and the table heard someone watching us wasn't seen the first question asked was if someone could throw dice to see the guy. The GM, to his credit, said no. Being observed without knowing it was a consequence of an action. Other people had been doing other things, so no one got to see him.

I really like this in 7th Sea, and it's something that may move over to my other games. After all, how many chances do you get to spot someone hiding and observing? Other people may see other things, but it lets you lock in a consequence.

Unseen Consequences
Which brings up the next point. During the 7th Sea game, part of what happened bugged me. It played out better, but when it happened I felt like a roll I made didn't matter. My character had made a check to pick out a good, secretive route. Along the way we were ambushed. It seemed strange to have the roll countered like that. As the session played out the benefits of the roll became more and more clear, but the key part - a secret route - still seemed countered without dice.

The reason for this was because of a failed action earlier in the game. A consequence of failing to stop one of the villain's minions was that he knew where we were going and what we were in. Discussing this with the GM it made a lot more sense - and I was already happy with how my roll had been incorporated - but it still came down to this question:

Knowing the route was compromised should there have even been a roll to pick a secret route?

To be clear, this isn't a fault with my GM. We're learning the system and it does a lot different. In most games I wouldn't even question it, the villain just rolled higher, but 7th Sea does things differently enough it was on my head.

However, it can play into other systems. I mean, what fun is an adventure when you don't get ambushed on the road - when that is the main point of the adventure. But you can also end up in a situation where players are rolling to prevent things that are already established to happen because of the successful actions on the opposition's part.

I'm in favor of the roll because it can hide what is going on. Also, if you use the roll right - like my GM did - it can do a lot of interesting things to add flavor and details, or just make a bad situation better.

I'm against the roll because it can cause confusion. If the player thinks they're rolling for one thing, but they're actually rolling for a different thing, when they don't get the first thing they may be confused. I mean, I am just writing that. This confusion can cause other problems, especially if the player feels like they were set up to fail.

The Real Question
Interestingly enough, there is a potential solution to that. If the consequences of what is going on are known then the players already know what is against them and what they can still impact. For example, if the players knew ahead of time their route was going to be compromised, the roll then is just choosing the battlefield for where you wanted to be ambushed. This doesn't even remove drama or tension because you end up in a play where the enemy knows, and you know the enemy knows, but does the enemy know you know that they know?

Obviously this won't work for every game, but even little things. Things like letting a player know that an NPC is going to remember this conversation if the NPC detects the PC lying, or that they failed to stop all the minion groups from pulling off their job. These are little things, they don't spoil what is going on, but they tell folks that they didn't catch everything.

How much that fits your game is up to you, but it's something to consider.

For me, I have a lot more thought to do on this. But I'm real excited about how much I've nver thought about what goes on at the table that 7th Sea is pulling out into the light.


  1. Intriguing, I will have to give the 7th Sea system a closer read sometime in the near future. Maybe even run a game for my group.

  2. I'm about to start playing 7th Seas for a podcast group. I find the mechanic particularly interesting, but I am the only one.

    I tend to want to foreshadow consequences and, sometimes, delay when they come into play. I appreciate that the system takes it a step further and has the consequences out in the open.