From a player perspective, when I jump into a roleplaying game and into a character, into another realm, another universe; I like to be immersed. I like to believe that choices I make, and others make, matter and have an effect. Nothing stops that sooner than finding out or getting the impression that a choice you made that should, in theory, have a profound effect, was stamped out so that the story/plot could continue on its course.
It’s happened to me as a player. And when it hasn’t happened to me, I see it happen to others. Choices and consequences should play out, they should have an impact; no matter how bad the end result might be, no matter how screwed your campaign is or how much it gets sidetracked, play them out… A GM who does this might be pleasantly surprised at the results (or not).
It is very tempting to ‘work around’ the major changes that could effect your campaign drastically, just so that you can continue your campaign as it was meant to be continued. It could potentially erase all your plot notes, it could devalue your next campaign book, and it could leave a nasty headache.
I honestly don’t think anyone who is serious about being a games master does it just so that they can sit down and read a campaign book to their players, or have their players play it out as it was written (yeah, goodluck with that!). I would treat any campaign book as a guideline for your adventure and not a literate take on how it should go. If you try to literally steer your players along so that you’ll end up with the written result as detailed in a campaign book, what was the point in doing the game in the first place?
Giving players freedom, encouraging that freedom and allowing choices to play out even when they may go against the plot is crucial to having a believable experience that is fun. Not to say there won’t be disasters, there will be. But even those can be recovered from and usually they create a story themselves.
Even if that player freedom is only within the confines of a goal or a purpose, its still player freedom. Their choices still matter.
In my current campaign, the stakes are high… The Ar-Ulric and Volkmar the Grim could potentially bite the dust. Or they may survive. The threat is real, and the Purple Hands motives have been made all the more clearer thanks to the actions of Jurgen Noffein. But Jurgen was nearly not there in attendance. He could have been absent, he could have been with the party. If he had… Then failure would have been guaranteed, rather than now hanging in the balance. Yet the decision for Jurgen to be at the temple was made by himself. Sure, an npc made the suggestion, but only came out with it as a result of a another PC’s reluctance in keeping certain secrets… But a suggestion is not a command, and Jurgen could have said no.
Instead he opted to go to the temple. Ultimately he gave his life fighting for what his character believed in, but he also made a last ditch attempt at trying to warn the Ar-Ulric. Whether or not such an effort succeeds, depends entirely on the dice gods.
But Jurgens choices led him there, led him to confront Brunner, led him to that hidden chamber in the garden and most importantly of all, that freedom gave him a chance at drastically effecting the campaign, for ill or good.
The party on the other side have also made their own bed, with little effort from me. They trusted Wasmeier, they believed in him, and fell into his trap. Yet so many actions, ones taken and ones not taken, could have avoided that. I present the chess pieces, but its not me that moves them, its the party. Through indirect decisions, action and risks, the party move the pieces and what we got is what we are left with now.
Consequences matter; Choice matter the most.