Too Many Consequences!
One of the ongoing challenges I have as a DM is trying to incorporate meaningful consequences for party decisions while not constantly detracting from the main quest lines so much that it’s distracting. I’ve mentioned before that I have a tendency to make travel between locations filled with so many side quests and plot hooks that it’s amazing anyone can travel anywhere. For this reason I try to keep the number of side encounters under control. The problem arises when I’ve got a good number of story hooks I’ve presented, and the main story is still on track; what happens when a player, for example, steals all the gold from a merchant by tricking him?
My first thought is that, people that are wronged by the party will likely want revenge. Whether it is to kill them or just retrieve something from them, I always think a group of adventurers or monsters should show up on behalf of the NPC victim. I have run into problems though when too many of these situations arise. If my players go into town and one of them steals from someone, another one starts a fight with a noble’s kid, another one gets the attention of a wizard that is known for experimenting on people, and the cleric offends someone from a rival church, how do I give consequences for all of these things?
The simple answer is, I don’t. While I do think it’s important to have reasonable consequences for most choices, I also think that the most important part of the game is the building of a good story. For this reason, I am more likely to have random NPCs seek revenge at lower levels, or nearer the start of the campaign, because closer to the end I want fewer distractions from the main quests. I will choose one of the choices that a party member made that everyone will remember, and focus on that one before moving on to the existing quest lines. There are plenty of reasons that someone may want revenge, but doesn’t actually get around to making it happen, so I don’t feel bad for letting some bad decisions go unpunished.
In the example above, I would probably choose to have consequences either from the wizard (because they can have interesting magic and minions to use) or the noble (because they have money and influence, which means that they have a lot more options of kinds of revenge). The other ones would likely only result in a single, simple combat and would be more of a time waster. Alternatively, I might have one major consequence for the party stirring up so much trouble; maybe they are kicked out of the city due to so many complaints, or perhaps they draw the attention of someone very powerful who wants to right all the wrongs they’ve done. Whatever you do, try to get back on track with the main stories, because those are really what will be what your players come for session after session.