I'm just riffing here, so bear with me. This post may be a bit on the short side, but I hope to get my point across despite my need for brevity. Mostly, I want to get the crowd's thoughts on what I'm thinking about at the moment.
It occurred to me: there's lots of talk about the vaunted sandbox campaign and its virtues. I'm a believer in giving players lots of plot hooks to follow and freedom of choice, etc. I do believe in the idea of the sandbox and all the "player agency" goodness that is supposed to come with it.
But as far as I can see, there's not a lot of talk on the RPG blogosphere about the consequences of player actions. There's a lot of talk about letting players do what they want, but I haven't read much in the way of follow-through when it comes to the repercussions of player actions. Of course, I don't have my eye on every single RPG blog, and at least one of the most respected RPG blogs out there has included mention of consequences with regard to player actions (UPDATE: -C over at Hack & Slash actually posted about consequences as a result of my post).
Now, granted, any GM worth his/her salt should rightly see player actions as a chance to create resultant plot twists. But I dare to surmise that there are many sandbox games that occur in a consequence-free vacuum. That is, players wreak havoc in town, wilderness, and dungeon and the only thing they might face as a result is trouble with the city guard (and once those guards are "dealt with" by running away from them, bribing them, or even killing them, the problem is usually over).
If players cast a charm on a city official and convince him to grant them a pile of gold from the city coffers, he'll probably be pretty pissed when the charm wears off...not to mention that any of the official's underlings present during said "charm-and-grab" will be fully aware of what's going on. The players should expect to be hunted by the authorities, complete with wanted posters going up around town and a bounty on their heads. This is especially true depending on the ruler of the city in question. If said ruler is a hard-ass, players should think twice about pulling off flamboyant and highly-visible hijinks, lest they draw unwanted attention.
This is just one example of what form in-game consequences can take. Skilled players will take advantage of positive consequences of their actions and will adapt and work to overcome the negative consequences. Of course, the style of play for a specific campaign or group of gamers may call for purposeful disregard for consequences. I'm talking about what I might call the more "default" mode of roleplaying, where some aspect of cause and effect is considered an unspoken agreement.
So, my questions to you are:
What do you think of player agency/sandbox play and consequences?
Do you have any examples of such cause and effect in your own gaming experiences?
Have you ever roleplayed where you found yourself in a consequence-free environment?
Have I missed other blogs that talk about consequences stemming from player agency/sandbox play?