Lately I can’t tear myself away from the boob tube as I’ve been ravenously devouring the television series Breaking Bad on DVD. As of this writing I’m a little less than halfway through the second season and it’s taking all my will power to sit here and write this post instead of slacking off and watching just one more episode. So yeah, thus far the series has been effing amazing to say the least. I highly recommend that you check it out if after reading this has compelled you to investigate further. Just be warned, viewer discretion is highly advised. This ain’t no Disney warm and fuzzy make you feel good family flick. Got it compadre?
The show’s central focus is on the continuing story of Walter White, a struggling high school chemistry teacher, who at age 50 discovers that he has terminal lung cancer. Desperate to provide his wife (in the middle of an unplanned pregnancy) and his 15-year-old son (who has cerebral palsy) with some financial security before he dies, makes the choice to cook and sell Methamphetamine. Seriously, this guy got dealt a shitty hand in life, and without revealing any spoilers its not about to get any better.
The series creator Vince Gilligan was interestingly enough, and unbeknownst to at the time I first started watching, also the writer and producer for a number of episodes of the X-Files, and the full run of the Lone Gunmen series. During the special features Gilligan spoke of how one of his mantras while workingon this particular series was that "actions have consequences".
Actions have consequences. No shit, duh we know that. But more specifically significant actions, create significant consequences and its that friction that fuels the forges of both drama and character development. That’ the very reason that I find this show so damned compelling. The drama created by Walter dealing with the often brutal and unexpected consequences that arise in the wake of him pursuing his own agenda is exciting. Forged in the fires of consequence we watch Walter in transform before out eyes from a timid middle age man into a bad ass criminal genius.
I see a parallel between the dramatic use of actions have consequences in television and other media and player characters in RPG’s. It’s my contention that as game masters we should seek to emulate this formula of significant PC actions combined with tough and unexpected consequences is the key to great dramatic campaigns. Your campaigns and stories will become richer and more compelling for it. Forged in a crucible of having to deal with the aftermath of significant choices your PC’s will transform into something more than how they began at the beginning of the campaign. Of course not every choice the PC’s make should be burdened with a trial by fire, but if used with moderation, this advice can become a powerful tool in your GM toolkit.