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Before Stakes: What is your intent?

Started by Judd, December 07, 2005, 04:11:19 PM

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This is an important step that takes place before stakes setting that is worthy of its own post.

The Conspiracy of Shadow game's kicker was that the cell of PC pirates had to save someone from a hanging in order to gain vital information from the old sailor who was wrongfully accused and found guilty only because the courts were corrupted by the conspiracy of Lovecraftian admiralty.  One of the PC's was in a crowd that was surrounded by the Governor's soldiers.

PC: *throws a destiny point* the road is made of loose cobble stones.

Me: Cool.

PC: I pick up a cobble stone and throw it at the soldiers here to quell the riot, showing the people what they can do.

My first instinct: Roll to hit!

*Screeching breaks*

Me: What is...what is your intent?  It isn't to hit and damage a guard, really, is it?

PC: No, it is to inspire the people in the audience to revolt at this injustice, making a diversion for my fellow crew members to get away.

Me: Right, roll but don't use your physical skill, roll in your dramatic skill (which I knew was much, much better, the roll was a resound success).

Me: Your stone goes off the head of the officer, knocking off his powdered wig and breaking the window of a nearby shop.  The sound of the breaking glass does something to the crowd and they begin to move against the soldiers.  Rifles go off, bayonets are fixed, it is a full on riot and people are dying all around you.

There was another instance where intent took an interesting turn.

It was Burning Wheel: Jihad and the peace talks between Ur-Baron George W. Washington and the Jihadim had broken down into a brutal knife fight.  W. had the Reverend Mother cornered.

G.W.'s player: I put my sword in her heart.

Mother's Player: I bare my chest, martyring myself before the planet's news crews to show them what a monster their lord is.

Me: Roll to hit!

G.W.'s player, for about ten seconds before every roll just kind of rolls the dice around in his hand, get's the warmed up.  It took me that long for it to dawn on me and quash the roll before it hit the table.

Me:  Wait.  You want to kill the Reverend Mother and you don't care about the cameras?

GW's Player: Yes, I want her dead.  I could care less about the cameras..

Me: And you want the Ur-Baron to kill you?

Reverend Mother's player: Yes.

Me:  Um...we do not have a conflict here.  No dice need be rolled.  The Ur-Baron's cutlass plunges into the Reverend Mother's chest, into her heart, killing the crone instantly in front of the news cameras that were covering the peace talks.

Those old instincts crop up still.  Roll Initiative, roll to hit, roll damage, NEXT!  They are ingrained in my skull.  I'm making it a habit to start saying before every roll, "What is your intent?"

Stakes are set from there.

Bret Gillan

Good call, Judd. I've started asking this question myself, and I picked it up directly from you. A lot of times my players are just puttering along, declaring their character's actions as usual ("I throw a rock at the guard") and I have to dig to discover their intent as you did in your first example. I imagine as the players become more familiar with stakes-setting, they also become more accustomed to declaring intent as well as actions during player.

As it stands, I often have to say, "Wait, wait. Hold on a second. What do you, the PLAYER, want to have happen when your character does this?"

But really, I can't imagine a single game where this question wouldn't be beneficial whether it's task resolution, conflict resolution, whatever.


Quote from: Bret Gillan on December 07, 2005, 04:21:37 PM
As it stands, I often have to say, "Wait, wait. Hold on a second. What do you, the PLAYER, want to have happen when your character does this?"

I didn't get task resolution vs. conflict resolution until that cobblestone was thrown in the CoS game.  It was a lightbulb-over-the-head moment.

Talking to the players rather than the characters is a huge step in my gaming and conflict vs task resolution is at the heart of it for me.

Thor Olavsrud

Hey Judd,

Can you talk a little bit about how Intent and Stakes are different in your view? They seem like the same thing to me: This is what I want if I win.

Perhaps one way of looking at it is two Intents form a Stake? Players state what they want. GM states what he wants. Taken together it's the Stakes.

So, just to riff on your pirate example:

The player's intent was to start a riot. What was the GM's intent? I mean, what did you get if the player lost? I'd like to hear your answer to that question, but for the sake of argument right now, let's say that you told the player, "If you lose the roll, the crowd turns on you in favor of the soldiers -- they want to see someone hang!"

So together, the two intents form the stake: The crowd starts to riot vs. the crowd turns on your character.

Is that a helpful way to look at it?


Mayhaps I should have posted this on the Stakes thread but it felt like a pre-stakes part of the ritual.

I feel like intent can be stakes if they are strong enough but they often need to be re-worded or reformed before they are solid.

1) What is your intent?

2) Okay, so if you succed, X and if you fail, then Y? *followed by any necessary adjustments*

3) Roll the dice.

But the asking of intent, while key to setting stakes, felt like a whole other epiphany to me, so maybe that is why I thought to put it in its own thread.  Discovering it was a different set of play experiences and a different light-bulb going on.  That certainly led to stakes setting but felt like a step on the road to it.

It all didn't come at once for me.

I will leave it to the moderators whether or not this should be merged with the other thread.  I wasn't trying to flood the board but in my mind it felt seperate, a baby-step before I let go of the railing and walked.


Quote from: Thor Olavsrud on December 07, 2005, 04:26:37 PM
So, just to riff on your pirate example:

The player's intent was to start a riot. What was the GM's intent? I mean, what did you get if the player lost? I'd like to hear your answer to that question...

Honestly, I don't remember what my intent was.  As this was a time when I was just getting a grip on the process, I might've very well left it mysterious, which I think is a mistake all around but is really possible.

Thor Olavsrud

No worries. My intent was not to shut you down. It was just me trying to understand the nuance you were getting at. I think what you're talking about is very useful. There is a grammar, for lack of a better word, that expresses these ideas very well. I think that's what you're getting at. Don't stop.

Here's my take:
1. Situation
2. A. Player states Intent
    B. GM responds, "So if you win, you want X? Right?"
    C. After getting assent, GM states his Intent. "If you win, you get X, but if I win, Y happens."
    D. GM gets assent again. Asks if anyone wants to change intent.
3. Roll Dice
4. Resolve situation in terms of stakes.

Which is really just another way of stating IIEE. I think The Shadow of Yesterday expresses it very clearly.


Quote from: Thor Olavsrud on December 07, 2005, 04:53:43 PM
Which is really just another way of stating IIEE. I think The Shadow of Yesterday expresses it very clearly.

Sorcerer is a text that states it clearly too.

But I have this process with Sorcerer and its accompanying books where I read it, like it, don't use it for ages, discover it in my gaming and go back and read it again, realizing it was in front of my face the whole time in the Sorcerer text.

Stating intent, map use, and several other tasty tidbits.

Mark Woodhouse

I get what Judd's on about. His second example lays it out neatly. Until you get the answer to "What is your intent?"... you don't know whether there's a conflict to resolve. Once you establish that, then Stakes come into play.


I have to say that I had a case in a Dogs game like this. Background: Me GMing to a bunch of old-school wargamers mixed with some teenage "Games Workshop wargamers". Introduced them to Dogs, some had experience with Gamist D&D, others nothing of note. The player in question had roleplayed before but not in the D&D game (the girlfriend of one of the Warhammer players, I think.) Her Dog had a relationship with one of the town's prostitutes.

Me: "What do you do?" (I know, not good scene framing. Working on that)
Player: "Well, I go over to Sister Abigail's"
Me: "OK, and...?"
Player: "And then I try and talk about old times, how we were growing up."
Me: "Yep"
(Continue like this for a few exchanges).
Me: "OK, this is all nice, but what do you want here?"
Player: "I want to get to know Sister Abigail better."
Me: "OK, why? What do you want?"
*blank looks from the group*
Me: "What do you, as a player want to happen?"
*lightbulb goes off over Player's head*
Player: "Oh, I want her to confess her Sins to me."
Me: "Cool - lets set Stakes then. You can use all the stuff about talking of old times and so on as Raises in the conflict."
(Note: I didn't set opposing Stakes - what happens if you fail. I will do after reading this thread, however.)

The thing is that as soon as that player 'got it', she was making spectacular Raises and setting good Stakes, and I think helped the rest of the group understand how Dogs (and by extension, Conflict Resolution, I suppose) works.

One downside. This girl was invited into the D&D game a few weeks later and tried to do the same kind of things, but was (without malice, but still fairly harshly, IMO) 'slapped down' and told that she couldn't do that. She didn't participate in that game anymore.

So, to conclude, I think you need to make clear that this isn't really an 'in-character' concern. I think a lot of players are used to thinking that Actor stance is the only 'right' way to roleplay and that metagame considerations are bad. Once that is broken, I found that games become a lot more dynamic and fun. I'll find out if this is true when I run Dogs for another group (in a few weeks time) that are mainly very Actor-stance LARPers.


Introducing the concept of intent is one of the hardest things I've had to do with my regular group of players, particularly folks who are used to task resolution in their games. My players at the time were still working out what "intent" means - having experiences in "if I succeed in my roll, I get what I want."

Connecting Intent to Stakes is a crucial step, and one I know I've missed as many times as you have.

For example, in a BW game a few months ago a player wanted his character to sneak up on another character and slit their throat. Intent was established, however we didn't quite clearly address the stakes of failure or success. The intended victim didn't get the opportunity to insert himself into the stakes at all (even though he rolled observation to spot the baddie).Thus the player felt that they should have succeeded in the "throat slitting" by succeeding in the roll to sneak up and stab his target, even though the Fight! mechanics did not provide the space for them to have a one-stab knife kill on an opponent. That is to say, the intent is "throat slit" but what is at stake is whether Player A is "spotted."

it might have been better framed as:
Player A Intent: "I want to slit his throat."
GM: "Understanding that even if you suceed in your intent you may not kill him?"
Player A: (either accepts that or decides not to go through with it). "Yes, if I succeed in hurting him it will make it easier to kill him in Fight!"
Player B Intent: "Of course, I want to spot you. And stop you."
GM: "Okay. So if you succeed, player A, you've snuck up on him, he has to make a steel test, and you get to roll your attack. If you suceed (or tie) in your perception test, player B, you spot him... his intent is foiled. We go straight to Fight!"
Players Ammend or Agree.

However, in that particular situation I'm unable to see another set of possible stakes that follow this intent. Player B could have said "fine, you can stab me," but then we would be back at Judd's example where there is no conflict.


Right on Judd.

This was a huge deal for me to figure out, because I'm hardwired the same way you are. I had a lot of HeroQuest games that really went down in flames because I didn't get the point that you're making.

For me it goes like this: First you need to know what it you want to acomplish, then you have to know how, then you have to know what the opposition is, and then you have to know what happens if you fail. Because we very often get stuck in the "roll to hit" model of gaming, we often skip some of those steps on the way to stakes setting. When you're on task resolution it's easy to go "you want to hit the guard, roll to hit the guard" because before anything else can happen, that task has to be completed. You can then try a new task, and on and on it goes. But in conflict resolution, you have to go beyond the naturalistic description and into the dramatic motivation.

Because of this the step that gets skipped the most is actually because of a misplacement of steps one and two (what, how). If you hear "I hit him in the head with a rock" you think that is what they want to do. However, in the situation you described this is false -- they've told you how before telling you what, and unless you go back and clear that up the rest is going to fall to crap. Getting down the difference between Thor's 2A and the simple description of character action is crucial.

To give an example of me screwing it up, I once was doing a HeroQuest game in which a player whose character was being pursued by evil beserkers described his character leaping off a bridge 100 feet in the air and into the middle of a stormy northern sea that was pounding against razor sharp rocks below. I, being a dolt, of course had him -roll to survive the fall-. Then I had him -roll to swim away-. He tied on the first, failed the second, and then ended up having his prophetic sidekick know he was in trouble and come get him with a boat.

This is an example of what not to do, as CLEARLY the intent was "get away without a fight, even if it causes me physical injury." Instead we got a "sure you get away, but can you survive swimming in the cold water!" bit of Simism that felt really flat and really lame. Had I stopped for 3 little seconds to differentiate action from intent I could have avoided the whole thing.
- Brand Robins


Quote from: mtiru on December 07, 2005, 05:54:43 PM
However, in that particular situation I'm unable to see another set of possible stakes that follow this intent. Player B could have said "fine, you can stab me," but then we would be back at Judd's example where there is no conflict.

But there is nothing wrong with discovering that there is no conflict, no reason to be scared of it.

Keep in mind that when the Ur-Baron killed the Reverend Mother, it was an awesome moment in the game.  I don't want that to happen to all of my conflicts but if it happens every so often, fantastic.

Bret Gillan

So basically the purpose of gathering a player's intent is to determine IF there's a conflict, and if there is to set the stage for stakes-framing?


Quote from: Warren on December 07, 2005, 05:45:01 PM
II'll find out if this is true when I run Dogs for another group (in a few weeks time) that are mainly very Actor-stance LARPers.

Many of my gaming friends are very active LARPers.  One thing I have to watch out for often with this group when determining intent is when they are establishing intent as their character.

"He/She would never agree to that."

Watch for this.  Make it really clear that the players are declaring this and not their character.  The players aren't ambassadors of their character's will but the other way around.  This is a huge change for some folks.

I've had to stop intent declaration dead-on when it was being done with in-character voices, which is a shame because I hate to stomp on a role-playing moment but things were becoming muddled.  When they talk in character they are less likely to gleefully drive their character towards any kind of delicious self-destruction (like Clinton does when he plays).