Investing into PC Actions

21 June, 2010

I was talking to a player recently about the feeling of helplessness within the game. My game has some absolutely terrible elements that generally don’t belong in a DnD game.

The party’s allies are all a shade of evil. Honorable knights and good aligned planar creatures are all unfriendly with them. The possibility of NPC allies betraying the party is all too real. New ally NPCs have an above average mortality rate.

But I, as a DM, believe in a cause-and-effect model. And for the dark feel of this game, not-doing-something may have the same effect as damning them. This is the Paragon Tier, adventurers. At the level you are, your actions may decide if hundreds live or die.

So all the Empire guards were killed. You knew there was an unspeakable behemoth roaming around, which you avoided fighting. Did you warn them to be careful, or distract the creature so they could escape? So the bad guy got away after you lost her in the streets? Don’t complain; you didn’t pursue beyond that, didn’t make use of your streetwise checks or do something creative like jumping onto rooftops and using perception checks.

However, if a PC invests into something, I will try my best to note their investment in the world. Here are some of my DMing examples and what happened.

Example 1: Caelynna the Fallen Angel

An NPC joins the party. Another of the party’s NPCs complains greatly about her. Talking as the DM to the other PCs, the PCs agree that the angel is not to be trusted. The most untrusting of the party is a somber, gruff dwarf.

Situation: The angel invites the dwarf into a room, wishing to discuss the dwarf’s magic and his distrust of her. It so happened that the two were alike in power sources.

Character Result: The angel had combat advantage and a surprise round. The dwarf ended up failing his 3 Death Saves.

Player Result: In hindsight, the dwarf was not surprised. None of the other players were surprised.

DM Notes: Showing his extreme distrust, I wanted to put him on the spot, in a situation where his distrust would excel. Damn it. Okay, maybe that was a bad example.

Example 2: The Sacrifice

Situation: Jumping through a Warp Portal (which should not have been jumped into in the first place), I had planned for a PC’s wife to sacrifice herself and use up all her magic in order to ensure her lover’s safety.

Result: What ended up happening is that the character in question insisted on not leaving her behind. Instead of saying they all die, I allowed him to roll for it, increasing his chances based on his creativity. Eventually, he managed to survive AND save the girl, though his best friend was lost to the Warp.

DM Notes: He was insistent, and he rolled more than well enough. In the module, I wrote some new scenes that would not have been possible without the elven maiden Yuuya’s survival. I’m glad too; I would have missed her.

Example 3: Ibixian’s Curse

Situation: Agreeing to suffer a terrible curse in exchange for safe passage, the Sorceror’s Ibixian familiar falls deathly ill.

Result: The Sorceror sacrificed his greatest story weapon in order to reverse the curse and save his familiar. He’s had this sword in real-time for over 2 years. He sacrificed his bonuses to attack and damage. Several characters in the party also had direct links to the artifact sword. The sword was also a tool for binding dragons, which is indispensable in a campaign called “The Dragon’s Hand”

DM Notes: I couldn’t say no. I upgraded the little Ibixian a little bit, to about the strength of a medium magical item, which nowhere near compensates for the loss of the sword. But it loves the Sorceror with all of its little demon heart.


For every meaningful player choice, there should be a measurable effect. The greater their sacrifice, their investment, the greater the effect.

If a player has a goal, the DM’s job is to present the road, with the goal at the end. On that road, there are obstacles, many of them reflecting the hardships of attaining that goal.

If you want to protect the party from betrayal, cull the betrayers from the pack. If you promise to never forsake she who is closest to you, then never let her go. If you will sacrifice anything to save your friends, never forget that you’re one of the god damn heroes of the story. Your sacrifice was not in vain.

Live it up, gamers. Your PC has only one life to live.



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