Hello to everyone!
After GM’ing our first session, it seems to me that “Harm” Consequences are WAY more impactful, long-lasting, and limiting than Complications, Lost Opportunities etc. (the other varieties of Consequences). Am I the only one to feel that way?
Consequences other than Harm tend to create interesting twists of events, temporary nuisances, attract more foes, create unexpected troubles and other FUN STUFF, which is awesome, and difficult to overdo (even if players suffer A LOT of those Consequences, this will just create some havoc and chaos, which seems true to the spirit of the game).
On the other hand, “Harm” Consequences tend to create… a simple penalty to many actions, which in some cases might be conducive to new, unexpected play opportunities, but in many cases… will just limit the opportunities available to players, or if they’re severe enough, make them hope that the Score will complete as soon as possible so that they can Recover.
Moreover, even though Harm has some specific countermeasures (e.g., Armor) not always available to other kinds of Consequences, this seems to be more than balanced by the fact that Harm is dangerous because it “stacks” (ie, if the Harm slot is already filled, you’ll get a more serious Harm).
The reason why this bothers me it’s not that Harm “breaks the game” (it doesn’t).
It’s just that the game says that as a GM I should be “honest” and never “pull my punches”, which presumably includes being able to freely choose among the Consequence options. And also, the game has a whole mechanism about Position, which is very nice as it often asks players to choose between riskier and safer options. But working your way to be in a Risky Position rather than in a Desperate one seems less meaningful if what will really determine the seriousness of a Consequence is the GM’s whim (in choosing the type of said Consequence), rather than the Position declared in advance.
Asking about this issue to other people who play BitD, an answer I got was that “Harm” Consequences are MEANT to be more severe, and they should be reserved for the most severe cases, when the situation seems really dire and characters are already in trouble. The idea would be to encourage players to avoid direct conflicts, and favor “sneakier” ways to act.
This did not convince me very much, for two reasons. The first is that physical “Harm” outcomes would often feel appropriate in the fiction, even when the players have not been looking at all for a direct confrontation, and in fact they’re not in combat at all (e.g., it seems a natural consequence of many athletic feats typical of “thieves”, such as climbing). The second reason is that the game explicitly includes “mental” or “social” slights as Harm examples, not only physical ones. But it seems to me that by choosing to frame the Consequence of a “social” failure as, say, “Harm 2 - Utterly Humiliated”, rather than framing it, say, as a Complication, as a GM I am not merely being “expressive”; I might actually be “punishing” a character much more seriously than I intended.
Am I missing something?