The Truth About Consequences
You must have them.
They do not - and probably should not - always have to be governed by consent.
But it helps to take a measured and cautious approach when applying consequences to actions in your roleplaying game.
Without risk, without danger to life and limb, then a player may feel far less challenged and may take situations less seriously than you as the plot operator might like.
Balance that, however, with an understanding that if you are too draconian, you threaten to drive away good players.
I've had to judge fights and other RP misadventures that led to the demise of long-time characters of devoted players. It is never easy to preside over such things, for me at least. It's even more difficult - but all the more necessary - to provide tragic consequences after numerous warnings, both IC and OOC.
In order to remain vital and adrenalin-charged, a roleplaying game must not always have an admin safety net for the characters. If the players think the worst they can ever expect are minor injuries or, at worst, perhaps a little time in a coma, they will be more likely to charge headlong into foolish situations, heedless of the potential outcomes.
Give them some warnings, by all means. Show an NPC dying at the hands of your villain or one of your villain's henchmen. Show an NPC guide stumbling into a loose rockfall in a dangerous mountain pass and tumbling to his doom. Drop them a hint that the bank they want to rob is heavily guarded because word has been passed about banditos in the region, and they've got orders to shoot first, and shoot to kill.
Show them possible alternatives to their actions - maybe there's another way to approach the villain's lair, or maybe you can suggest a safer route through the mountains, or maybe there's a bank you know of that may not hold nearly as much money, but isn't as heavily guarded.
If, after all these warnings, the characters insist on moving forward, then you might as well call it consent, because that's what it is. They've been warned, and the devil be damned, they're going to put everything on the line and try it.
It might work - and if it does, it should yield very good consequences for the players. But if it doesn't work - if the guards in the bank get the drop on them, if the rockfall gives way, if the villain gains the upper hand - then you must let the story take its proper course.
In the aftermath, some players will probably protest the outcome. This happens. You must, as the storyteller, roll with it - but it helps to justify your actions. You owe the players that much.
Tell them what they did wrong, so they can try to avoid such pitfalls the next time around. Be very careful about reversing decisions just to satisfy chronic complainers. That path leads to righteous complaints of wishy-washiness. Be fair, but be firm.
Brody (Wes Platt) is the creator and chief storyteller at OtherSpace MUSH. He has been MUSHing for about six years (four as a player and two as the top staffer at OtherSpace). Although he is part of the OS staff, Brody continues to stay involved in roleplaying - he can often be found playing a variety of characters from his RP repertoire at OtherSpace. He's also responsible for the OS website (www.otherspace.org), news updates, the OtherSpace Observer Monthly E-Zine (www.otherspace.org/osob.htm), egroups mailing list, RP log archives, and OtherSpace Originals MU** Library (www.otherspace.org/osorlib.htm) and Online Escapes MU** Marketing Services (www.online-escapes.com). Additionally, he moderates the Roleplaying forum at Top Mud Sites. Besides that, he has written "The Stolen Warriors" serialized novel based on the original OS story arc, the first book in a planned trilogy. Send email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can visit the MUSH at otherspace.org:1790.