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Stakes, Con Res and Honesty

Started by Darcy Burgess, December 20, 2005, 05:35:55 PM

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Darcy Burgess

I've had a personal epiphany of late.  Or, rather, my academic lobe has had an epiphany and I think that my GM habits lobe is standing in the dust going "whathefuck?"

Epiphany: The biggest strength of conflict resolution is its focus on honesty.

This honesty is embodied in CR's "if I win, this happens -- and if you lose, that happens" structure.  In my mind, It's this structure that more or less secludes GM use of force to a dirty closet somewhere.  And no one cares about that wing of the house anyway.

So, here's where my GMing habits are still eating jetwash:
I'm articulating the second part of that stakes statement to myself, and only myself.  The players aren't necessarily privy to my choice.  I think that I'm being honest about implementing what I set, but since my (eminently fallible) memory is the only arbiter, I'll never know.

AP results have been great -- everyone's having a super time (I think), and my observations tell me that no one is feeling pressured or coerced.

I don't have a flipping clue where this discussion will go, but I thought that this would be a great springboard.

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.


I think you can get your GM lobe on the fast-train with everyone else if you re-engage your (presumably) long-suppressed competitive GMing demon.  The "if you lose" stakes are a great opportunity to trot out all the horrible, spiteful, mean-spirited things that you've ever wanted to do to a character, and have people praise you for doing so!

Player:  "If I win then I get across the chasm with grace and style."
Me:  "And if you lose then you end up dangling head first over the river of hungry piranhas, who tear at your face until your comrades rescue you from your own pathetic failure!"
Player:  "Wow.  Cool!  Let's go!"

But then, this may just be me and the groups I play with.  Your mileage, etc., etc.
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum

Darcy Burgess

Hi Tony.  Thanks for dropping in.

I'm going to paraphrase/translate (it's how I learn) your post, and add a few things into the mix.

In your experience, articulating the counter-stakes (aka the "if you lose" portion) before the resolution adds some value to the game.

And now, some follow-up questions:

  • Is this value strictly at the social contract level (eg: props to Tony!  Cool idea!)?
  • Does it extend into the flow of the game, for instance, building an energy level at the table?
  • Is there a cost associated with up-front counter-stakes (eg: reduced tension over the unknown)?
  • If yes, do you miss whatever "it" is that you've had to sacrifice?
  • Do you ever engage in hidden counter-stakes?
  • If so, why?

Cool.  This has me thinking. 

Back to you, forge-at-large.
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.


First off, your paraphrase is dead on.  It's not saying everything I said (doesn't mention being mean) but I totally agree that it's saying the core of what I said.

As to the questions ... hrm ... "Is the value strictly at the social contract level?"  That's tough to interpret.  I'm going to punt, and describe what I think the value is, and you can judge what level it falls at.

I think that making explicit counter-stakes is powerful to the exact extent that those counter-stakes attack things that the player finds important.  It brings the conflict home to them.  If the stakes are well-targetted to the player in question then that will help build energy level at the table.  If they aren't then it won't.

Now if you have hidden counter-stakes then the energy level rises based on how bad the player thinks the counter-stakes will be, not how bad they actually are.  So then there's a more complex social dynamic going on there:  if you've put the fear of You into your players then a knowing smile can conjure far more fear (and engagement) than any actual stakes.  But, at the same time, they may (indeed, almost inevitably will) eventually be let down when you deliver counter-stakes that aren't as buff as they think you're capable of.  So that can be, y'know, cool but also tiring.

I'm exploring the use of hidden counter-stakes in a game where figuring out what the stakes are is a substantial part of what you're trying to do.  But then, it's high school, so the question of "Can I ask her on a date so smoothly that she says yes?" is secondary to questions like "Does she want me to ask her on a date?"  I don't have a good body of results for you yet, though, so I don't know what use there is in applying this technique to that goal.  I'll let you know.
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum