This came up in conversation Friday night and I wanted to review it and perhaps expand upon it.

There is a difficult line to draw between the kinds of consequences which are part and parcel with player choice and the specific type that I, as a Dungeon Master, prefer to create.

I had a childhood obsession with the storytelling trope, “Be Careful What You Wish For,” which has had an impact on literally my entire life.

I have always been on the lookout for how my personal wishes and desires might be perverted to the worst possible ends, and at some point prior to the onset of my adult life, I also realized the futility of trying to find the “perfectly worded wish.”

You can only do your best. It’s up to your prior actions and the universe to do the rest.

In fiction, many wishes that are granted are explicitly selfish wishes–and we’re generally taught that it is this selfishness that brings about the character’s downfall.

If only they had shown more insight, or led a more virtuous life, they might have made a wish that would have benefited themselves and others.

It’s important to understand that your choices have consequences, and those consequences can be far-reaching.

Then again, we’re also shown that depending on the motivations of the wish-granter, a selfish wisher might actually get exactly what they want.

For example, a demon who desires chaos and misery might be perfectly content granting absurd and harmful wishes precisely because of the negative consequences the wishes enable.

Look no farther than Death Note, where the motivation of Ryuk was to alleviate his boredom.

And somewhere between here and there is how I, as Dungeon Master, create the consequences for player action in my games.

I like to present moral dilemmas for my players in this constantly-evolving setting which responds to their choices. And there is also this very simple idea that conflict is fertile ground for choice and more story.

So when my players take action, I will often extrapolate the negative consequences of those actions as a means to creating conflict.

In fact, because I have a perverse mind and a nose for irony, I often play up the negative consequences in sharp contrast to any potential rewards.

I would point to the Legacy of Kain series for an example of this degree of cosmic perversity.

Something bad is always happening. Things are always getting worse. If the players stand by and do nothing, they can be assured that people will suffer. Indeed, sometimes through their actions, the players will create more suffering.

But there is the suffering you know and the suffering you don’t know, isn’t there?

In the end of Blood Omen, Kain is presented with two terrible choices: damn the land through the extinction of vampires, or damn the land through his continued existence.

It’s difficult to summarize how complex the decision becomes through the course of the game, let alone how complex his decision becomes through the course of the greater series, but it is a fascinating one to be sure.

For the sake of continuing the story, the developers chose the “bad” ending, in which Kain selfishly chooses to reject self-sacrifice and prolong his vampire existence.

All his world suffered as a result.

But there is the other side to his choice: while Kain perhaps “selfishly” chose life, he also chose to embrace the responsibility of reconstruction and rule.

He built an empire of vampires upon the ashes of the world he burned to the ground. He became the master of the world he created.

And there is no doubt that he also suffered for his decision. He carried the weight of his choice for the centuries that followed, and looked to every chance he had to correct whatever mistake he made.

Kain was played, by greater forces in the world’s stage–and he desired to repair what he had broken.

There is a lot of justification after the fact in the Kain series, when the basic premise was to provide players the opportunity to experience “keeping yourself alive at the cost of innocents.”

As a vampire, Kain was a parasite on the people of the land. He killed to keep himself alive, but he was also fighting an evil greater than himself: an evil which was destroying more than he was…

The game’s ending provided the player the choice to accept that Kain was the last monster to be destroyed in a long line of monsters (self-sacrifice) or to realize that Kain was no more a monster than the people he was protecting–people just as capable of chaos and mayhem without him.

And this led to the brilliant opening monologue from the fifth game: “Given the choice to rule a corrupt and failing empire, or challenge the fates to a throw, a better throw; what was a king to do?”

You can win a fight and lose the war; what you walk away with is your experience. There is no winning, there is only the game.

When nothing you do matters, all that matters is what you do.

To an extent, what I want from my players is to have the opportunity to learn these things as I did. There is hope to be wrought in the face of even the greatest despair.

The greatest feats of heroism are only possible when confronted by the most awful of villainies.

And even then, many who would be heroes are only heroes in the moment: by accident they made the choice that brought about their rise in wealth, status, or popularity.

Perhaps one way to look at the games I run, is an attempt to answer the question: “what makes a hero?”

I think I have some answers, but I’m always looking for a better one.

I’ve gotten away from my original subject in the course of trying to make this point.

Your reward for action in my game is consequences. Something bad is always possible, and something bad is often the result of your actions.

Usually I’m looking for it, and on a personal level, I find a certain delight in bringing out the worst possible consequences for a given action.

I try not contrive the consequences, but to foreshadow the possibility, and provide opportunities to avoid an event that is forthcoming.

But, sometimes all the outcomes are bad. Sometimes it’s a matter of choosing the one you can live with, the one you’re best equipped to handle.

Because the alternative is to play in a void where your actions are… worse than meaningless. A game world devoid of consequences is a dead world. I would take the bad world over the dead one.