The cornerstone of our conflict system is the concept of a formal consequence. At its simplest, a consequence is something which has changed as a result of the conflict. Common sorts of consequences:
- An injury.
- Damaging property.
- Putting an opponent in an embarrassing position.
- Finding out a piece of information.
In short, think of a consequence as a single fact, like: Bob is hurt. The vase is broken. Sonnet got thrown out the window. Your mother knows you lied.
Traits of Consequences
Consequences have two key traits: they are singular, and they are conclusive.
- Singular: A consequence is a single fact, a simple statement. "I knock you out" is a single consequence — one fact. "I knock you out and take your stuff" is two facts — "I knock you out", and "I take your stuff" — and is therefore inappropriate as a single consequence. Simply put, if your consequence sentence needs punctuation or a conjunction like "and", it's probably more than one fact.
- Conclusive: A consequence is the total end result of the conflict, as if a scene of a television show had ended and the next scene was ready to pick up with one party or the other licking their wounds. Neither party can demand another contest to extend the one which was just resolved. The matter is over. There can be subsequent scenes and subsequent contests, but this particular matter, in the context of this particular scene, is done.
A Further Word on Singular Consequences
In a contest, the winner can never demand more than two consequences; the RPG system never grants more. You're always told exactly how many consequences you've earned the right to.
As the winner, you cannot ever demand more consequences than you've earned. That means that if you've earned one consequence, you cannot choose, "I knock you out" as your consequence, and then afterwards say, "While you're unconscious, I drag you off to the dungeons," or, "While you're unconscious, I cut your throat." In other words, follow-on results, logical or not, still count as consequences.
"But wait!" you say. "It would be In Character for me to knock them out, and then drag them off to the dungeons! Surely you're not asking me to limit my right to play?"
In fact, we're asking for something else — we're asking that you think about the consequences you seek. If you're going to knock someone out and take them captive, then make, "I take you captive" the consequence, so you can discuss that with your opponent. To do otherwise is disingenuous at best and deceitful at worst. (Note that consequences do not have to be built as logical chains of facts; consequences are flat-out statements of end results. Thus you can directly ask for "I take you captive" without having to first establish "I knock you unconscious".)
If you're looking for an outcome than has a broader scope than is allowed by consequences, and you cannot simply negotiate it with your opponent, you may wish to consider storybuilding instead.
Good and Bad Consequences
The clearest yardstick for good and bad consequences comes in the form of a simple question:
"How does this impact the target's ability to play?"
- A good consequence will give the victim more ability to play (even if that play is unhappy).
- A bad consequence will give the character less ability to play.
As such, visible injuries, property damage, visible embarassment, requiring some deed done in apology, and so on make for good consequences because it's easy to imagine scenes that can be played based on that outcome. In contrast, crippling injuries, imprisonment and death are all bad consequences because they impede the player's ability to scene.
We're not saying that death, imprisonment and terrible injuries can't be fun or cool, but it's hard to make them so within the scope of consequences. If that's what you're looking for, storybuilding is going to suit your needs a lot better. In the absence of that, negotiating the terms of such consequences (like how long until the character escapes, how long the injury lasts) might allow a compromise, but in general, these are best avoided as the consequences of a Contest.
One other thing to note: a consequence should never dictate the play of the character, except in the broadest strokes. Consequences may call for an emotional response (to show fear, love, surprise), for certain actions (that you lose control, you admit your feelings for the duchess) but the details are always in the hands of the player. So "Tell the duchess you love her" is not valid because it makes presumptions upon the character's emotions. Similarly "You cook me dinner" or "You make love to me" are both out of line. That said, the player is still obliged to roll with the consequences with a good faith effort. If your character is stoic and the consequence is that you show fear, it's inappropriate to show nothing and assert, "That's how he responds to fear!" If you can't roll with the consequence, then negotiate it. Once again, to push these boundaries, storybuilding is a more powerful tool.
Of course, any consequence that forces a character into subject matter or actions that the player finds genuinely distasteful is very much a bad consequence.
Consequences With Style
In Corwin's Chronicles, the outcome of a passing conflict very rarely directly inflicts significant physical harm to individual characters. (Brand and Corwin's imprisonments are exceptions to this, and on our game, such things would be covered by storybuilding.)
It's very clear that the characters of the novels are extraordinarily reluctant to kill one another, and in fact, serious injuries are uncommon. Instead, characters gain victories in subtle ways, learn new information, and progress towards their own goals. Conflicts also chew through the resources available to the characters — i.e., to the props that they own.
We encourage you to pursue creative consequences. "So-and-so insulted me, and now I need to kill him," doesn't really have very much style, nor does it actually fit the genre — one doesn't murder equals (and characters in the novels find reasons like, "You were standing on my favorite rug" to avoid doing so).
This is also why we encourage you to have your character invested in props and other aspects of our world. This allows people to inflict collateral damage on you — and incidentally generate play for you as you run around trying to fix things — rather than having to resort to just mugging you in a dark alley.
Don't Throw Me in That Brer Patch
On many MUSHes, people think of consequences as punishment — punishing the player as much as the character. We disagree violently with this line of thinking. A consequence should never be a way to "get back" at a player for causing trouble; we think this is sharply against the spirit of cooperative play, detrimental to active play, and suboptimal for good story.
We believe that a consequence should open up new avenues of story direction, rather than close them off. You're looking for ways to create fun for your opponents, OOC, while still extracting something dramatically from the opposing characters, IC.
Some MUSHes (and players) have a philosophy of "ICA = ICC" ("IC actions equal in IC consequences", used to describe a tenet that amounts to "if you did something IC that deserves punishment, you should suck up whatever punishment someone deems ICly logical"). We firmly reject that philosophy here. It's not about logic — it's about story, and consent always applies. There should certainly be consequences to one's actions — but those consequences should be fun and play-fostering. We feel it's the responsibility of all players to exercise the creativity necessary to make them so — and to exercise the good sportsmanship to ensure that other people can make consequences fun for them without having to twist their characters up in knots.
In other words, we encourage you to go beyond the, "What would this character do?" approach to consequences, and start thinking like a writer. Consider the many, many stories that begin with punishments. Most of these stories follow a certain formula — they present a character with an "impossible" situation or dilemma, which serves as the impetus for adventure.
Think of these as "brer patches" — they're undesirable for the character, but they're fun for the player. They're easy to spot because they have a clear course of action. If a prison's story is that it's inescapable, then obviously it's there for the players to escape. If a task is impossible, then it's clear it must be done — isn't that rather the point? In contrast, tossing someone in a cell and walking away to play somewhere else means they go nowhere.
The alternative, which is frankly more work, demands that the imprisoned or otherwise likely-out-of-play character receive more attention. They're being a good sport to play something that is not fun, so you need to step up and make it more fun. It works, sure, but isn't it easier just to make the situation fun in the first place?
When you suggest a consequence, stop and listen to any objection your opponent may have. Sometimes there are specific issues or types of consequences that they don't consider appropriate, or perhaps this consequence causes problems elsewhere that they don't want to explore.
Having won a consequence, the victor is entitled to some form of consequence, but not to any specific consequence. It is incumbent upon the winner to think up a good consequence (though of course the loser can always suggest a consequence) — but it's the loser's responsibility to agree to a reasonable, playable suggestion.
The winner can always insist and, if the issue cannot be resolved, staff can be called in for adjudication, but remember that even if a given consequence is inappropriate, adjudication will simply call for a different consequence (or determine that the current one is acceptable). Also, the staff is likely to resolve such matters in an expeditious manner, which may result in a capricious judgement, so you are well served to attempt to come to an agreement.
Physical consequences — usually injuries — are a common type of consequence that results from combat. Many gifts modify the types of physical consequences that it's reasonable to deal (the color that the consequence takes), and some may modify the consequence itself, either at the time that it's dealt, or after the fact.
The most common way that physical consequences are mitigated is some form of healing gift. Some characters also have a gift called Tough (PHY-TG), or a gift that grants the equivalent of Tough (anything marked with the tough powerbit). Characters without Tough heal like normal healthy humans; characters with Tough heal at the rate that Corwin does in the novels, letting them shrug off minor wounds in days and critical wounds within two weeks. The most significant healing gifts on the game grant the equivalent of Tough to characters who don't have it. There are a tiny handful of other gifts that may accelerate healing, but nothing ever lets physical consequences be shrugged any more than at twice the speed of Tough. There are also some gifts that allow characters to take consequences on the behalf of others.
Because there are so many ways that physical consequences can be mitigated and modified, when you ask for a consequence as the result of a conflict, you should ask yourself what you want to accomplish. For instance, if what you really want is for your opponent not to be able to successfully fight a duel in a week's time, don't just inflict a critical wound and hope; negotiate for your opponent to agree that he can't fight the duel in a week's time. Wounds are a nice open-ended way to let your opponent decide exactly how he wants to handle a result, but if you're after a specific result, to which the wound is only a means to the end, negotiate that result, and not the mechanism.