Four Ways to See Cause and Effect

The thing about cause and effect is that not everybody tends to think about it the same way. Some people treat the matter as linear: one cause, one effect, and leaving it at that. Some are good at taking the cause and effect chain down several rungs, but only seem to work with chains of direct effects and tend to miss the obscure ones. Others can go a whole round of obscure immediate effects, but have trouble going on to the secondary effects. And then there are the people who will track direct and obscure down several links at every opportunity, but they’re pretty rare. It’s a lot of work, after all.

The biggest strength of the first kind is the ability to make quick decisions. They look at a situation, figure out what’s likeliest to happen, decide if it’s worth it, and implement the decision. These sorts of people are also good at working with very little information; they don’t need all that much to come to the most likely decision. The bad news for them (and good news for their GMs, if they happen to be the players) is that they’re easy to outmaneuver if you can think two steps ahead rather than just one or if you’re a more lateral thinker than they are.

The second kind are basically the first kind with a little more forethought. They take a touch longer to assess the results of their actions, but then they move, and they’re a bit harder to outmaneuver because they know what they’re doing after Step 1 is complete, but they’re still able to operate on not too much background. Lateral thinkers are still a weakness of theirs, though, since they’ve only got one outcome in mind and it’s probably the most obvious.

Then you have the third kind, the indirect thinkers. These are the people who are going to look at all the variables and start figuring out everything that could happen from this one decision point. Everything. The good thing for them is that they can predict all sorts of possibilities, so they’re likelier to see problems with their actions before they arise, and plan accordingly. But they need knowledge—how else are they going to figure out all those nasty little variables? They’re also likelier to take longer, and to end up being paralyzed by indecision: if this happens, this is going to happen, but this other thing is going to happen too, and then where will we be?

Then there are the people who plot out all the consequences for the next several iterations of cause and effect, direct and obscure, immediate and secondary and beyond. As noted before, they’re rather rare; it’s a lot of work making all those calculations. The good news for them is that they can anticipate just about anything they have information for; the only thing that takes them by surprise is something that works on an entirely different flavor of logic or comes from information they don’t have yet. The bad news is that the information is important, as with the third types; and it can take quite a while to make a decision. The more detail they want to plow through, the more likely they are to be paralyzed when they don’t have it, and don’t have anything from which they can get it.

So which type are you? How do you crunch your cause and effect?

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