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Author Topic: [Ends And Means] Setting the Stakes  (Read 1405 times)
Adam Cerling
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« on: December 25, 2005, 12:35:24 AM »

All the Stakes threads in Actual Play (but most notably "A Skill to Cultivate: Setting Stakes") prompted me to completely rewrite the "Setting the Stakes" section in my upcoming LARP system, Ends and Means. The new text follows.

I have interest in your thoughts on these points:

  • Is this text clear enough to explain Conflict Resolution to people who only know Task Resolution?
  • Ends and Means is a LARP system. Players will often need to use these rules without a GM around to stop the buck. Does the text seem strong and clear enough for that?
  • I place a high value on having significant creative authority over your own character. I have enshrined that idea in these rules. Do my rules for Minor Stakes do a good job of that? Am I being so overprotective that good stories can't be told, or will my strategies for proposing Major Stakes keep it dynamic?

Whatever other comments may spring to mind are, of course, welcome.

Important terms here:
  • Narrator = player
  • Stagehand = GM
  • Protagonist = PC
  • Plot Points = Resources that players can spend to help win conflicts and to purchase new situations from a GM
  • Ends = freeform Traits describing a PC's goals, passions, dreams, beliefs
  • Means = freeform Traits describing a character's abilities, skills, equipment, connections, and powers
  • Style, Setting and Scope = parameters of the game described by the group in a document called a Treatment

And here we go --

Setting the Stakes

If there is no Compromise, you and each other narrator declare what kind of outcome you want from the conflict. These outcomes are called your Stakes.

Your Stake is what you, the narrator, want to happen. Sometimes that differs from what you imagine your protagonist would want.

A Stake is an outcome to an entire conflict, not an outcome of a single action. If you enter a conflict because your protagonist is threatening another at (imaginary!) gunpoint, a Stake like “I shoot you” might not address the full outcome you want. Instead, your Stake can be anything from “I subdue you and take your valuables” to “I frighten you into revealing the identity of the traitor.”

Stakes come in two varieties: Minor Stakes and Major Stakes. A Minor Stake has limited effect. When you propose a Minor Stake, the other narrator must accept it. A Major Stake, on the other hand, can accomplish anything: you just have to convince the other narrator to agree to the possibility.

All Stakes

Minor or Major, a Stake must have the following qualities:

  • It fits. It fits within the Style, Setting and Scope of the story.
  • It is possible. Either your character has the Means to fulfill the Stake, or it is something that any protagonist could do.
  • It is concise. You can explain it in one simple sentence. If others cannot easily repeat your Stake back to you, it’s too complicated.

If there is any doubt, Stagehands have the authority to determine whether a proposed Stake fulfills these criteria.

Minor Stakes

Other narrators must accept a Minor Stake you propose to them, just as you must accept one proposed to you. Avoid games of tit for tat by being flexible, negotiating until everyone is as satisfied as can be with the possible outcome.

A Minor Stake has the following qualities:

  • It respects self-determination. A Minor Stake does not determine the choices another protagonist makes or the emotions she feels.
  • It respects privacy of thought. A Minor Stake does not read a protagonist’s mind.
  • It avoids long-term changes. A Minor Stake does not force long-term changes on another protagonist or on his Ends or Means.
  • It allows continued participation. A Minor Stake leaves multiple options open for a protagonist to continue to affect the story.

If you have any disagreement about whether a Stake meets these criteria, appeal to the judgment of a Stagehand.

Examples of Minor Stakes
  • “I protect innocent bystanders from harm.”
  • “I steal the Crestmere Ruby before you do.”
  • “I eavesdrop on your plan unobserved.”
  • “I sabotage all your security systems.”
  • “I wound you enough to effect my escape.”

Major Stakes

A Major Stake can do everything that a Minor Stake cannot. It can change hearts and minds, discern thoughts, have lasting effects and even take a protagonist out of the story. But a narrator need not agree to the a Major Stake you propose: she can always ask for a Minor Stake instead.

Fortunately, a few strategies can help convince other Narrators to accept the risk of Major Stakes:

  • Bribe Them with Plot Points. Offer a Plot Point or two as incentive. You can offer the points up-front, or offer to pay later if you win.
  • Offer to Accept a Major Stake Yourself. Balance their risk with your own. Suggest a similar Major Stake that you will agree to if you lose. For example, “if I win, you betray your master; but if I lose, you recruit me over to your side.”
  • Further your Opponent’s Ends. If you know one of your opponent’s Ends, tempt him with a Major Stake designed to help you both.
  • Make It Cool. This is the best strategy of all. If your Stake magnifies the moment’s drama, or if it suggests fun story opportunities to come, the other narrator will be glad to accept.

Examples of Major Stakes
  • “I convince you to vote for my amendment.”
  • “You fall in love with me at first sight.”
  • “I pry the secret from your weak mind.”
  • “I enchant you to tell me no lies ever again.”
  • “I kill you dead.”

Setting the Stakes: Dragon-Slaying

Suppose that Sid and Micah could not compromise. Instead, they set up their Stakes in the scene.

Sid: I want everyone to be so terrified by my illusionary dragon that they decide I am undefeatable!

Micah: You want St. George to fear a dragon? That’s a Major Stake. You’re forcing my emotions.

Sid: Huh, you’re right. But if it’s okay with you and I win, I promise to give you an extra Plot Point.

Micah: Well... (he considers his dwindling supply of Plot Points) ...that’s tempting, but no thanks.

Sid: In that case, I just want to appear undefeatable to the press corps. That’s only a Minor Stake.

Micah: That’s cool with me. For my Stake, I want to defeat your dragon and hold you at swordpoint.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Graham W
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« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2005, 12:16:38 AM »

Adam,

This is interesting. I've been thinking about something similar.

[li]Is this text clear enough to explain Conflict Resolution to people who only know Task Resolution?[/li]
[li]Ends and Means is a LARP system. Players will often need to use these rules without a GM around to stop the buck. Does the text seem strong and clear enough for that?[/li]

Yes, that seems fine. And there's no doubt what's a major stake and what's a minor stake.

[li]I place a high value on having significant creative authority over your own character. I have enshrined that idea in these rules. Do my rules for Minor Stakes do a good job of that? Am I being so overprotective that good stories can't be told, or will my strategies for proposing Major Stakes keep it dynamic?[/li]

One thing that worries me is that any sort of social challenge is a major stake. So if I want to persuade you or make you like me, I generally have to offer you Story Tokens. I wonder if there's a way of separating influencing someone's emotions from restricting their choices: so that influencing someone's emotions is a minor stake but doing something that restricts their choices is major?

On the Major Stakes: would it be worth expressing them as contracts, with a specified end condition? So instead of saying "I want to tie you up", you could say "I want to tie you up until another PC unties you" or "I want to tie you up so you're out of the game for 15 minutes".

You've done this to an extent with "I want to enchant you so that you never tell me lies ever again" and I wonder whether it's worth formalising that an end condition should be part of the stakes.

But it's clear and it seems very workable.

Could I check a couple of things? If I win the Major Stakes “I enchant you to tell me no lies ever again” against you, is there any way to remove that enchantment? Can it be done with another set of Major Stakes from another PC? Or can I remove it, once I've decided the enchantment has served its purpose?

And from your final example: what happens if there is a PC who is part of the Press Corps? There'd have to be a set of Major Stakes against that PC, wouldn't there? Just checking.

Graham
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2005, 06:14:08 AM »

One thing that worries me is that any sort of social challenge is a major stake. So if I want to persuade you or make you like me, I generally have to offer you Story Tokens. I wonder if there's a way of separating influencing someone's emotions from restricting their choices: so that influencing someone's emotions is a minor stake but doing something that restricts their choices is major?

Well, there are plenty of minor stakes which are social but still respect self-determination:

  • "If I win then I get to express my entire argument clearly"
  • "If I win then Everyone (i.e. the crowd, the other high-school kids, whoever) thinks I'm cool and you're lame"
  • "If I win then there is no graceful way for you to refuse."

I think the self-determination thing is nice precisely because it will prompt people to think of these phrasings, the ones that encourage a certain emotional reaction, but don't require it.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2005, 11:25:15 AM »

Adam, is death of their protagonist the end of the game for a player?  What happens do a dead Protagonist's plot points?
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #4 on: December 26, 2005, 02:25:13 PM »

Graham,

Thanks for the feedback!

One thing that worries me is that any sort of social challenge is a major stake. So if I want to persuade you or make you like me, I generally have to offer you Story Tokens. I wonder if there's a way of separating influencing someone's emotions from restricting their choices: so that influencing someone's emotions is a minor stake but doing something that restricts their choices is major?

This is interesting. Why do you see bribes of Plot Points as being the only viable strategy for selling someone on a Major Stake? I list three other ways of doing it. Why focus on the first?

The point you raise is a good one, though. I would appreciate small-scale emotional stakes being Minor instead of Major. How about this phrasing:

  • It respects self-determination. A Minor Stake does not determine the choices another protagonist makes. It may affect a protagonist's emotions, but not so strongly that those emotions override her reason.

Phrased this way, I can still affect your choices emotionally at the level of a minor Stake. While I may win your trust for the time being, you retain the presence of mind to decide whether or not that overrules all the times I've screwed you over in the past.

On the Major Stakes: would it be worth expressing them as contracts, with a specified end condition? So instead of saying "I want to tie you up", you could say "I want to tie you up until another PC unties you" or "I want to tie you up so you're out of the game for 15 minutes".

You've done this to an extent with "I want to enchant you so that you never tell me lies ever again" and I wonder whether it's worth formalising that an end condition should be part of the stakes.

I'm leaning toward the idea that if an end condition is important, it'll be part of the Stake: if it's not, it won't. Perhaps I should add it as another strategy for pitching Major Stakes:

  • Specify an end condition. If your Stake affects a protagonist in the long term, you can make it more palatable by specifying a manageable end condition. For example, adjust the Stake "I turn you into a frog" by adding "until someone kisses you" or "until midnight."

This raises another question to my mind (which I ask of everyone reading):

  • Minor Stakes "avoid long-term changes." Is that too fuzzy? What does "long-term changes" mean to you?

Could I check a couple of things? If I win the Major Stakes “I enchant you to tell me no lies ever again” against you, is there any way to remove that enchantment? Can it be done with another set of Major Stakes from another PC? Or can I remove it, once I've decided the enchantment has served its purpose?

And from your final example: what happens if there is a PC who is part of the Press Corps? There'd have to be a set of Major Stakes against that PC, wouldn't there? Just checking.

Here's a potential bit of fuzziness.

If you yourself are a magic-user of some sort, you may have the Means on your sheet to remove enchantments. In that case, this might not even be a Major Stake: it's not a long-term change if you can shrug it off later on a whim. (Perhaps that's a good way for me to describe the meaning of "long-term.")

Another PC with the Means to remove enchantments could do so with a Major Stake. Of course, if you want them to remove it, that doesn't require a Conflict at all: they have the Means, so it happens. It only becomes a Conflict if the original enchantress involves herself somehow: then a Conflict would arise among the three of you.

I guess the question is -- do I make the rules say the enchantress must be involved with all later follow-up Conflicts about her Stake? How to handle that when she's not available (a real concern for LARPs)?

As for the press corps -- yes, they are NPCs. The example is part of a larger piece running through the entire chapter. If a PC were among the press corps, a Major Stake would be required.


Tony --

I think the self-determination thing is nice precisely because it will prompt people to think of these phrasings, the ones that encourage a certain emotional reaction, but don't require it.

What do you think of my re-phrasing above, which permits outright emotional influence that does not interfere with reason?


Joshua --

Adam, is death of their protagonist the end of the game for a player?  What happens do a dead Protagonist's plot points?

Death is one of many ways to choose to permanently retire a protagonist. Anyone who permanently retires their protagonist can make a new one with equivalent stats. The System does not punish you for it.

The question of Plot Points is a good catch. I don't want anyone offloading all their Plot Points to their friends just before they permanently retire their character and whip up the next. I'll have to add a paragraph to correct for that possible loophole.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
Graham W
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« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2005, 04:39:02 PM »

Hi Adam,

This is interesting. Why do you see bribes of Plot Points as being the only viable strategy for selling someone on a Major Stake? I list three other ways of doing it. Why focus on the first?

Well...er...I'm not sure, now you ask.

What I meant was that a Minor Stake doesn't need the consent of the player you're proposing it to, whereas a Major Stake does.

[li]It respects self-determination. A Minor Stake does not determine the choices another protagonist makes. It may affect a protagonist's emotions, but not so strongly that those emotions override her reason.[/li]
[/list]

So, as I understand it, "I persuade you to like me" is a Minor Stake, but "I persuade you to vote for me" is a Major Stake. I like that.

Of course, the way you worded it before was totally workable too. But it seems more fun this way.

I'm leaning toward the idea that if an end condition is important, it'll be part of the Stake: if it's not, it won't. Perhaps I should add it as another strategy for pitching Major Stakes:

  • Specify an end condition. If your Stake affects a protagonist in the long term, you can make it more palatable by specifying a manageable end condition. For example, adjust the Stake "I turn you into a frog" by adding "until someone kisses you" or "until midnight."

Yes, that's not bad.

On reflection, I'm not sure about end conditions. The problem is that that they could lead to some tortuous phrasing: "I turn you into a frog for at least twenty-four hours and until another character, who loves you, kisses you...".

So, yes, I think you're right to make end conditions a strategy for making Stakes workable as opposed to a condition of Major Stakes.

  • Minor Stakes "avoid long-term changes." Is that too fuzzy? What does "long-term changes" mean to you?

It is a bit fuzzy, but I like the idea of having a guideline that Minor Stakes usually won't include long-term changes.

I guess the question is -- do I make the rules say the enchantress must be involved with all later follow-up Conflicts about her Stake? How to handle that when she's not available (a real concern for LARPs)?

Well, like you say, that would be almost impossible for a LARP. So I don't think you can do it that way.

Perhaps it should be agreed as part of the Major Stake? So that if the enchantress says “I enchant you to tell me no lies ever again, with an enchantment only I can remove” then the enchantment can't be removed. If she just says “I enchant you to tell me no lies ever again", then the enchantment is fair game to be removed.

As an aside, I thought Tony's points were good. They're making me think.

Hope that's of some help.

Graham
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: December 27, 2005, 07:49:46 PM »

So, as I understand it, "I persuade you to like me" is a Minor Stake, but "I persuade you to vote for me" is a Major Stake. I like that.

Interesting.  I could see it the other way, too:  "I persuade you to vote for me" is a Minor Stake, but "I persuade you to like me" is a Major Stake.  That could (also and differently) work.

I suppose it gets to the fundamental question of what the game is about, what choices are the pure province of the players (in order for them to express their part of what the game is about) and what choices are just support structure for the important stuff, and can be taken away when necessary without compromising anyone's fun.
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Adam Cerling
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WhiteRat


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« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2005, 02:44:46 PM »

My continuing thanks to you both for your feedback.

Perhaps it should be agreed as part of the Major Stake? So that if the enchantress says “I enchant you to tell me no lies ever again, with an enchantment only I can remove” then the enchantment can't be removed. If she just says “I enchant you to tell me no lies ever again", then the enchantment is fair game to be removed.

This is tricky. "Only I can remove" isn't necessarily fair to any other qualified PC who wants to remove it; yet, leaving it open-ended isn't necessarily fair to the player of the enchantress.

There should be an elegant way to address this issue that doesn't feel like a "patch," but at the moment I'm not finding the words for it. Maybe my next playtest sessions will make the solution clearer.


Tony --

I suppose it gets to the fundamental question of what the game is about, what choices are the pure province of the players (in order for them to express their part of what the game is about) and what choices are just support structure for the important stuff, and can be taken away when necessary without compromising anyone's fun.

Your reply leads me to realize the following:

  • I believe that reason makes choice possible -- usurp a PC's right to reason and you usurp the player's ability to make meaningful choices.
  • I believe that emotions are not entirely under the control of reason. Strong emotions can usurp reason, but weaker emotion is just more data for reason to process.
  • Therefore, it makes sense to me that a Minor Stake can introduce the "weaker" emotions. This may affect PC choices, but it does not determine them.
  • I had not considered, however, that all of a PC's emotions are under the control of the player's reason. Mess with that control and you mess with the player's ability to express what their character is about.

Challenging stuff! Thanks for raising this point.
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Adam Cerling
In development: Ends and Means -- Live Role-Playing Focused on What Matters Most.
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