Drance at Once More Unto the Breach has a post about player actions and consequences that I highly recommend to anyone running a sandbox game or planning to run one.
He asks a couple of questions in that post and I decided to take them up here:
What do you think of player agency/sandbox play and consequences?
I think consequences to player action is one of the most important things of running any game, but even more so in a sandbox environment. Keeping track of those consequences may be a bit of work for the GM, but it's a story generator. As a player, I've always liked the continuity of such games, there's for example nothing better than an enemy I made that I keep meeting. Or I return to a certain town and find that I'm still much talked about after last time, with all that entails - free drinks or feathers and tar.
Without consequences, the players are walking through a dead world that only comes alive when they are there and freezes again when they turn their back. There probably are people who enjoy that kind of thing, but I'm not one of them.
Do you have any examples of such cause and effect in your own gaming experiences?
One of my current Shadowrun rounds is probably the best example yet. I write about it at Rat's Doc, a in-character diary. Here, you can find it unter Shadowrun: Rat's Nest. The characters all live in a squatter settlement, the Rat's Nest, and it's very much a sandbox environment, with lots and lots of NPCs who all have their own story and how we deal with them influences our own story.
One thing that hugely influenced the campaign was our decision to start a war with a neighbouring gang, the Picas. They were just an annoyance and so far we needn't have done anything about them. But we did and we just managed to get out of their turf alive. We took one of their members who became an important NPC. After our gang had to leave the Rat's Nest, the Picas took over our turf - a direct consequence of our decision to start the war. That single choice moved the story along for a long time, with lots of changes and dire consequences for us. It was awesome (and terrifying at time) - as a player, you start thinking about what you do really quickly. Apart from anything else, the GM is absolutely not afraid of letting NPCs or PCs die as a result of what we do. It doesn't make for a lighthearted campaign, but it's not meant to be.
Have you ever roleplayed where you found yourself in a consequence-free environment?
I've had a Vampire round where nothing we did ever had any real consequences, not positive and not negative. The NPCs were very, very powerful and the GM didn't like to upset his carefully planned world. So we pretty much only could do what he allowed us to and we ran into a wall otherwise. It was frustrating to say the least.
I've never played in a game where characters could go on a rampage in a village or something without worrying about the reaction of the law and what it would do to their reputation and I don't think I want to.
via Really Bad Eggs