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Title: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 05, 2005, 10:13:37 PM
This is all inspired by the link contained in this sentence to Matt Wilson's blog where we talked about stakes. (http://dogdesign.blogspot.com/2005/12/theory-in-design-making-your.html")

I can remember the first time stakes became really clear to me.  I was at Luke's for his 5/5/05 BW Revised release party and he and Thor were constantly saying, "What is your intent?"  The words stuck with him and now have become a part of my GM Vocabulary.

I went home and popped that right into my games.

Burning Wheel: The Vault
The Herald of the Dawn and the Lord of Dusk faced off.  Aaron was excited; he knew this character had once held the title, Herald of the Dawn but had fallen from grace.  He had been excited about the possibilty of his existence ever since Luke put the Dark Elves lifepaths online.  Aaron made a Circles roll to summon him.

They begin their Duel of Wits.

Me: If I win, The Herald of the Dawn gives in to spite.

Aaron: If I win, the Lord of Dusk bows to me and becomes my second, my apprentice.

Holy shit.  My jaw dropped


Turns out they destroyed each other's Body of Argument on the same volley.  Neither won.  But they had earned each other's respect.  It was an amazing exchange.  Even though nothing came of it right then and there the stakes were so damned high that the conflict was riveting.  Every roll was rockin'.

Dictionary of Mu: Gen Con (or was it Dexcon?)
It is the last half-hour of the Dictionary of Mu's game at Gen Con (or was it Dexcon?).  As always, the setting's main city, Mu's Bed is taking a horrific beating.  One of the players is seeking to summon the verdant forest that once spanned this now desolate crater.  He fails the Summon roll.

I narrate a twinkle in the sky.  "You haven't summoned the forest, you have made a mistake and instead summoned the meteor that caused the crater in which Mu's Bed now sits.  It wants nothing more than to destroy a city and end life with its impact.  What do you do?"


Now that time I didn't state the stakes before the roll and I think that might be a mistake.  From now on I am going to add the words, "What is your intent," to every roll that is made at my table and state what will happen in success and what will happen in failure.  Success = story and Failure = story, as detailed in &Sword.

I sent an e-mail to the local university's game club's mailing list, a list dominated by people losing their knitting supplies and wondering where they ended up (people go to game club to knit, apparently) and other people complaining that on the list no one talks about Magic the Gathering enough, despite a thriving community in this town.

I got 3 gamers I knew and 2 I did not.  Of the 3 gamers I knew, 2 had gamed together a bunch, my girlfriend, Janaki and my buddy Jeff's wife, Julie.  Oddly, lately, Janaki had been involved in several group projects for her grad. program and we had been talking a bunch about small group dynamics.

So, we sit down and game together, almost no one knows anyone else.  I took out Primetime Adventures and the love just flows, from the pitch stage on.  Its pure love.

What amazed me is how well everyone set stakes.

They were pros and it was this glorious group effort to find stakes that we could all live with and would generate what we would call at the table,  "good TV" either way the cards fell.  After someone would give a good stake idea someone else would inevitably state, "Now that is some good TV!" and Fan Mail would floooow.

Burning Wheel Revised: The Vault
This past week at the weekly BW game I GM a player made a move that I felt really left another player in a bad lurch.  I was in shock; we all were.  I was GMing on auto-pilot and just couldn't put a coherent thought together.  I felt like I had been punched (more on how that happened in another post, that situation of Social Contract breach isn't what this is about) but a player got into a Duel of Wits with this Balrog-inspired bad-ass.

And I was still punched, dazed, reeling.  I couldn't put coherent stakes together.

The Duel of Wits was flat and lame.  This was a violent Orc having a Duel of Wits with a Balrog.  It was flat.  It was just that the stakes were...dull.

And I thought later that when people shrug at Duel of Wits mechanics or have a bad night of gaming with PTA, I wonder how they did with stakes-setting.  Its this new skill that is required for many Forge-baked games and I wonder how well it is stated in the various texts.

I'm not sure where this is going.  I just started thinking about stakes and how it has been making good game happen at my table lately and how important a gaming skill it has become for me.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: DevP on December 05, 2005, 11:02:41 PM
Stake-setting is certainly another core competency (like scene framing) that players and GMs need a grip on in order to achieve higher quality play. Just cruise the DitV threads and you'll see lots of posts where the question or potential answer is rooted in setting the right kind of stakes.

Do we want a list of techniques that give us better stake-setting? Or do we need stake-centric games to have a more concrete system for coming up with stakes?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Josh Roby on December 06, 2005, 12:41:26 AM
Do we want a list of techniques that give us better stake-setting? Or do we need stake-centric games to have a more concrete system for coming up with stakes?

Yes. :)

People do not naturally think in terms of story.  They can be taught -- pretty easily, in fact, cause stories make up a large part of our reality -- but it does take an initial step that is not obvious.  It's still new territory, so even great games like Dogs will be, I expect, surpassed by the march of progress.  I'm so looking forward to it!


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 06, 2005, 02:40:04 AM
I'm just trying to break down the process.

I) Someone declares a conflict.

II) Stakes are agreed to between players
  A) "If you win, then X and if I win, then Y."
      1) if the players' eyes light up/the table bristles with excitement when both X and Y are       considered, those are cool stakes.  Both X and Y need to be really cool and lead to further story.
  B) Burning Wheel has the possibility of the need for compromising stakes which leads to more discussion between involved players in order to agree on the compromise.

III) Resolve conflict and stick to stakes.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: MetalBard on December 06, 2005, 07:18:06 AM
And I thought later that when people shrug at Duel of Wits mechanics or have a bad night of gaming with PTA, I wonder how they did with stakes-setting.  Its this new skill that is required for many Forge-baked games and I wonder how well it is stated in the various texts.

I'm not sure where this is going.  I just started thinking about stakes and how it has been making good game happen at my table lately and how important a gaming skill it has become for me.

I'll admit that I didn't key into stake-setting as a necessary skill for these games until about my second or third Burning Wheel session I was running and that was after reading through the Burning Wheel forums.  I know it's in the book, but it didn't stick out to me like a lot of the other stuff did and a more in-depth "how-to" would be useful for newcomers, I think.

Stake-setting is most definitely an important skill.  It's something that my group has struggled with.  Everytime we've done it coherently (with Burning Wheel Revised) we've had some really great conflict/tension.  Unfortunately, some of our players shy away from it when we try to set them, instead wanting to see the outcome based on the die roll or really setting very conservative stakes.

Have other people found ways to really draw people into more dramatic stake setting?  I'd be interested to see how people have grabbed those shy players with the really cool benefits to coherent and dramatic stake-setting.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Bret Gillan on December 06, 2005, 07:39:40 AM
Judd,

I think your process description is spot-on, but what's done when the table doesn't bristle with excitement? What do we do when the Stakes do fall flat? Based on your original post, it seems like what we're shooting for here is a Stake-setting troubleshooting manual. Is that fair?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Thor Olavsrud on December 06, 2005, 07:44:56 AM
Stake-setting is most definitely an important skill.  It's something that my group has struggled with.  Everytime we've done it coherently (with Burning Wheel Revised) we've had some really great conflict/tension.  Unfortunately, some of our players shy away from it when we try to set them, instead wanting to see the outcome based on the die roll or really setting very conservative stakes.

Increasingly these days, I see setting Stakes/Intent as a huge portion of my core GMing responsibilities, along with scene framing and providing bangs. There are two things you can do when you've been presented with lame stakes: 1. set blisteringly hot stakes for your side of the conflict and then ask them if they want to change their stakes; and 2. don't be afraid to guide them toward more exciting stakes, and encourage the rest of the group to help each other in setting stakes.

It's very important to reiterate that stakes are not one-sided. They tell you what they get if they win. You tell them what happens if they lose. Between those two things is a middle-ground that can be exploited.

I agree that how to approach explaining stake-setting in a game text is not fully evolved yet.

In Burning Wheel, I think the core mechanics and currency all point to it. Burning Wheel is about challenging Beliefs. Challenging Beliefs almost always happens in the crucible of a Test. A test happens when Vincent's Rule (Say Yes or Roll Dice) tells us to roll dice. A test requires an Intent (stakes that illuminate Belief).

But is it perfect? Absolutely not.

Honestly, I've mentioned this in several other Actual Play posts, I think one of the best tools you can adopt is the Synopsis Sheet from With Great Power, in which Michael did a very good job of explaining how to set stakes (I encourage everyone to check it out). But you can come up with something like the Synopsis Sheet for any conflict resolution game. It forces you to write down the stakes of each conflict before it is resolved. And that means stating it out loud and letting others respond to it and make suggestions. It's surprising how much that helps.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 06, 2005, 08:40:55 AM
Judd,

I think your process description is spot-on, but 1) what's done when the table doesn't bristle with excitement? 2) What do we do when the Stakes do fall flat? Based on your original post, it seems like what we're shooting for here is a Stake-setting troubleshooting manual. Is that fair?

I've numbered your questions for easy reference:

1) You simply say, "Nah, those stakes are flat, let's make them better."  Right?

2)  You re-word the stakes until their eyes light up and getting the whole table involved in the process can't hurt.

3)  Sure, bring it.  Do you want to talk about the PTA game that fell flat for you and yours?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: komradebob on December 06, 2005, 08:48:14 AM
I'm just trying to break down the process.

I) Someone declares a conflict.

II) Stakes are agreed to between players
  A) "If you win, then X and if I win, then Y."
      1) if the players' eyes light up/the table bristles with excitement when both X and Y are       considered, those are cool stakes.  Both X and Y need to be really cool and lead to further story.
  B) Burning Wheel has the possibility of the need for compromising stakes which leads to more discussion between involved players in order to agree on the compromise.

III) Resolve conflict and stick to stakes.

Awesome! This is really helpful to me, as it gives me an idea of how to appraoch the subject for the Family miniatures game I'm working on. Your follow up is awfully helpful, Too.

Quote
Quote
Judd,

I think your process description is spot-on, but 1) what's done when the table doesn't bristle with excitement? 2) What do we do when the Stakes do fall flat? Based on your original post, it seems like what we're shooting for here is a Stake-setting troubleshooting manual. Is that fair?

I've numbered your questions for easy reference:

1) You simply say, "Nah, those stakes are flat, let's make them better."  Right?

2)  You re-word the stakes until their eyes light up and getting the whole table involved in the process can't hurt.

3)  Sure, bring it.  Do you want to talk about the PTA game that fell flat for you and yours?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Tim Alexander on December 06, 2005, 09:11:51 AM
Hey guys, good thread.

3)  Sure, bring it.  Do you want to talk about the PTA game that fell flat for you and yours?

This obviously wasn't directed at me but it makes me think of my first PTA experience, where bad stakes were rampant. You have these issues, see, and you want to hammer on them. Often that's how you get good stakes in PTA, but our first time through we hid from them the whole game. Anytime stakes got set that directly put an issue in stark relief it was hedged away. I think there was a feeling of 'spilling the beans' too soon. So, right, of course it sucked. Thor gives great advice up there when he talked about the GM being able to set hard hard stakes on the other side of a conflict. Stake setting is a negotiation, but it absolutely requires adversity. It seems like it should be self evident, but the sides need to be opposed, and that opposition has to hurt some.

But, this doesn't work if there's no investment. Stake setting (and conflict in general) fails if the players don't have a firm foundation to care about. Take Sorcerer, where the first couple of sessions are a feeling out period for the players. You can set good stakes in those sessions, but it's hard to get great conflicts because people haven't quite figured out where they sit. Soon though, opinions have formed, people are finding their voice, and now stakes are easier to find. Why? Because the players know what they want. That's what stakes are all about.

So, the way I see it, stakes, conflicts and player investment are all part of the same cookie, and keeping that in mind is fruitful. As GM you need to know what your player's care about, and then stress those things. As a player, you need to be aware of what you care about, and vocalize it.

-Tim


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Josh Roby on December 06, 2005, 09:53:07 AM
How does this sound, in terms of actual and explicit procedural steps?

1. Protagonist's Player declares the stakes he wants to win; his stakes must be accepted by the Antagonist's Player, but not yet.
2. Antagonist's Player declares the stakes she wants to win; her stakes must be accepted by the Protagonist's Player.
3. The Protagonist's Player either accepts the Antagonist's stakes, or modifies his stakes to what he thinks matches the Antagonist's stakes.
4. The Antagonist's Player either accepts the Protagonist's stakes, or modifies her stakes to what she thinks matches the Protagonist's stakes.
5. Repeat 3 & 4 until stakes are accepted.

So example:

Jim: Okay, this guy is pissing me off.  I'm going to intimidate him.  My stakes are that he backs down and lets me pass.
Sue: Alright.  My stakes are that he forces you to denouce the Revolution before going past.
Jim: Hm, that's uh, kind of lame.  I'm upping my stakes to he lets me pass and doesn't tell anybody about it.
Sue: Is that so?  Well I'll up my stakes that he calls in the secret police on your ass.
Jim: That's better; I'll take 'em.
Sue: Roll 'em.

And stakes could also be downgraded via the same process, to avoid the game-killing stakes like "I figure out the entire mystery" or whatever (see DitV's GM and her responsibility for keeping stakes managably small).  Would this also mediate between one player who's shooting for big stakes and another player who's shooting for small stakes?  Would they meet in the middle, or keep diverging wider?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Michael S. Miller on December 06, 2005, 09:54:22 AM
In designing With Great Power... I thought a lot about setting stakes. One of the tools I came up with was the Synopsis Sheet as described by Thor above. If you have to write down the Stakes every time, it's hard to forget about them.

Another tool is the minutae of who sets their Stakes first. Essentially, whoever is proactive in the scene sets their Stakes for how their character wants the scene to end: "If I win, I get X." Then, the opposing side (there is ALWAYS an opposing side) sets their Stakes by compeleting this sentence: "If I win, not only do you *not* get X, but also Y happens." Opposition Stakes in WGP always involve moving past a simple "no."

In order to help the GM determine what Y is, I designed a process for creating the villains' plans. Every set of Stakes the GM sets should bring the villains' plans closer to fruition. That way, if the GM is having a bad night, she can just look at the plan and ask "What would be best for this plan?" and come out with her Y.

Another thing that helps with Stakes in WGP is the fact that the players choose which card to play after they know the Stakes. So if they've decided what their character wants isn't what they want, they can choose to play a low card, in the hopes of losing the scene (and gaining a bonus card in the process). Of course, the opposition Stakes makes that choice costly in other ways. Being able to choose to lose allows players the freedom to set Stakes really intensely, knowing that their character can be giving it their all, but still not succeed.

Finally, when cardplay is tied, each side must raise their Stakes. Play gets very exciting as people scramble for ways to raise  what they previously thought was their best-case scenario.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: MetalBard on December 06, 2005, 10:01:24 AM

Increasingly these days, I see setting Stakes/Intent as a huge portion of my core GMing responsibilities, along with scene framing and providing bangs. There are two things you can do when you've been presented with lame stakes: 1. set blisteringly hot stakes for your side of the conflict and then ask them if they want to change their stakes; and 2. don't be afraid to guide them toward more exciting stakes, and encourage the rest of the group to help each other in setting stakes.


These two points are very helpful, but I suspect with my group (which may be true for others) I may have to do both.  For example, some players, when presented with blazingly hot counter-stakes (for failure) will take that as feedback that their intent is really reaching and that the consequences for failure are really high.  This is probably a problem of transitioning from a task resolution system to a conflict resolution system.  I still think it's a good idea though, because once those stakes for failure are out, you've got the player's attention go straight to #2 and can say, "So, you want to re-think your stakes to try for something more?" and show them how blistering hot stakes* are NOT NEGATIVE FEEDBACK.  I think this needs to be stressed, based on many gamers' experience with a lot of task resolution RPGs and GMing styles.

*(It's lunchtime right now and the term "blistering hot stakes" is making my sandwich pale in comparison...  sorry for the pun)


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Bankuei on December 06, 2005, 10:03:18 AM
Hi gang,

Quote
I think your process description is spot-on, but what's done when the table doesn't bristle with excitement? What do we do when the Stakes do fall flat?

One of the main reasons I've seen weak Stakes come up is when GM's call for conflicts out of habitual, "We need to roll dice or something" rather than actual conflicts.  

What usually remedies this is to really drill the players on their power for calling for conflicts in games, and letting the players decide when something is or isn't a conflict.  When players call for conflicts, it's almost always because something is at stake, either -a) they really want something, or b) they really DON'T want something to happen that is proposed by the GM.  This also requires that the players grasp that the GM's words are open for their conflicts- not laid in stone like a lot of historical play.

The role of the GM then shifts from being the "Mother-may-I" of player input, to the person who helps finesse Stakes when conflicts are called for.  That tweaking of Stakes will usually be either raising them enough that the players will find them worth fighting for ("Or else she believes you betrayed her..."), or lowering them if the players are shooting too high ("And now we'll resolve overthrowing the Empire, ridding the world of evil, and making the cure for cancer").

The other part is really applying "Say yes or roll the dice".  If the players are calling for a Conflict, but there's nothing really important at Stake (nothing you could see someone fighting for, literally or figuratively), then just say Yes, and push play along, aiming to apply more pressure.

Chris


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: John Kim on December 06, 2005, 10:31:44 AM

Do we want a list of techniques that give us better stake-setting? Or do we need stake-centric games to have a more concrete system for coming up with stakes?

Since no one else has mentioned it, I'll point to Ben Lehman's Polaris as a great example of a system for negotiating stakes.  You can start the conflict with no idea what the stakes are, and through a fairly smooth sequence of statements you negotiate what they are.  



Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 06, 2005, 11:23:06 AM
The skill that's being identified here is a procedural one, and Brett's question is a valid one. I think the real skill isn't just "doing it" but in identifying stakes well on the earliest try. That is, I don't think that in most cases the best policy is to have one player propose stakes. I think that what works best in practice is that everyone at the table shouts out suggestions and a consensus is quickly acheived. Meaning that as an individual player (and most often GM), I'm often trying to use my ability to see the stakes to help other people identify them. As GM in many cases this probably looks and feels a lot like me simply imposing my will. And to some extent that's the case.

Mike: How about the stakes are that, if you lose, you end up without a leg. Cool?
Player: Cool.

Note the use of the term "cool." That's shorthand code for, "Do you agree that this is a good stake for the contest, or not?" Everyone gets that.

Again, the "real" skill in my mind is getting it right on the first guess, or early on. Basically not taking a lot of time in coming up with an agreed set of stakes.


Mechanically lots of systems already make this a piece of cake in many circumstances. I invented the game, "Stakes" (a 24hr design) pretty much to address this directly (the character is defined by poker chips that are gambled playing poker). In my game Synthesis, and substantial change to the character is accompanied by gain or loss of some trait. In HeroQuest, at the "heroquest moment" of a heroquest, the player actually has to select some ability that they're gambling, against some ability that they may gain. In fact you could say that all my design thrusts of late have incorporated the idea that conflict is represented by mechanically changing the character.

I think that this is the simplest and most powerful method to do this sort of thing. As long as there is a list of abilities to gamble sitting in front of the player on the character sheet, coming up with good stakes is simplicity itself. It's only when stakes are set in some non-mechanical way that questions of things like "balance" come into play that can make a certain paring of stakes on each side seem out of whack.

The mechanical penalties assigned to a character for losing in HQ are interesting, too. The actual stakes are set up before the contest (using the more traditional method), but when the dice have been rolled in HQ, the GM simply gets to assign a penalty to the loser. Meaning that the GM gets to refine the stakes after the fact to his own liking. Yes, this runs the risk of bugging players, but I always ask, "Cool?" and get their OK. And that works just fine.

Mike


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 06, 2005, 11:31:07 AM
Clinton put it really well in the ]AP thread for the Quicksilver game at Vincent's shindig a few weeks ago (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17681.0"):

Hardly any conflict was over "can I do this?" Most was over "what happens when I do this?"

There is a real problem with some gamers who have to break the habit of trying to pick the lock and opening the door when failing to do so stalls the adventure.  The stakes aren't, do I pick the lock and open the door, but do I do so before the guards come (is that from the Burning Wheel Revised book. I feel like I took it from somewhere?).


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 06, 2005, 11:33:04 AM
Note the use of the term "cool." That's shorthand code for, "Do you agree that this is a good stake for the contest, or not?" Everyone gets that.

Rock on.  Because if you don't identify them early, rather than gaming you get people at a table talking about gaming, which just isn't as much fun.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Jon Hastings on December 06, 2005, 11:50:35 AM
So, I definitely get what Mike and Judd are saying in terms of seting stakes on the first try, but one of the things I like to do when I'm setting stakes as a GM is give the player some wiggle room to either heighten the stakes, pull back a little, or shift their focus.  For example, here's an exchange from a recent PTA game:

Me: So, how about the stakes are, "Can you settle this dispute without resorting to violence?"

Player: Well, how about the stakes are, "Can I resolve this without someone getting killed"?

Me: Cool.

In this case, the back-and-forth allowed for the player to increase the intensity of the scene.

Here's another example--same player, same PTA game, during a scene where the character was trying to give a life lesson to his son:

Me: How about the stakes are, "Does your son finally show you some respect?"

Player: Umm, how about, "Does my girlfriend think I'm a good (single) parent?"

Me: Cool.

In this case, the player didn't increase the intensity of the scene, but was able to shift the focus to something that was more important to him than what I suggested.

For some people, this kind of back-and-forth can be distracting, though.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Josh Roby on December 06, 2005, 11:58:00 AM
Mike, a direct hit first try is great, and making that happen more often is a good thing.  However, it doesn't always happen.  I'd submit that when the stakes aren't a direct hit the first try, the players making the stakes a direct hit (through whatever means) is what teaches them how to make the direct hit the next time.  In terms of my five step thing, once you get going, I doubt there would be much reframing of stakes; it's just a safety net that's there in case there is some disagreement.  Make sense, or way off base, in your experience?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Thor Olavsrud on December 06, 2005, 11:58:43 AM
There is a real problem with some gamers who have to break the habit of trying to pick the lock and opening the door when failing to do so stalls the adventure.  The stakes aren't, do I pick the lock and open the door, but do I do so before the guards come (is that from the Burning Wheel Revised book. I feel like I took it from somewhere?).

That's from BW Revised. Yep.

Also, just want to underscore Mike's post. Setting stakes has got to be a collaborative process, and all parties involved have to be cool with the stakes as proposed before play proceeds. Players should also have the opportunity to say, "I just can't accept those stakes, I don't want to go forward with this conflict."

Actual Play example:

We're playing the Throne of Fire (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16555.0) campaign using the Burning Sands: Jihad supplement for Burning Wheel.

Dro is playing the 9 Ambassador to the beseiged planet. He also happens to be the Duke's cousin and the brother of the Duke's Analyst. The Duke (played by Clancy) is desperate for a alliance with 9 under which the 9 will provide the Duke with legions of its fighting machines. The Duke hopes these fighting machines will allow him to survive the jihadi onslought.

We've already established that the Duke is callous, paranoid and murderous (he usurped the throne of this planet by murdering his brother).

In his first scene, Dro's character is told by his superiors among the 9 that they want the Duke to agree to allow Dro to marry the Duke's niece (daughter of Anthony's character, who was the consort to the Duke's murdered brother). They further wanted the Duke to agree that Dro's child by the niece will be the Duke's successor.

The niece, as a symbol of Ancestry, actually becomes the focal point of the ambitions of most of the player characters.

A little later in the game, the niece disappears from the Duke's palace and everyone assumes the jihadis have kidnapped her. At this point, Dro used a relationship with his 9 followers on the planet to justify a Circles roll to bring Selene (the niece) into the story. Dro's Intent (stakes) was to put Selene in his power, with the hope of using her as a bargaining chip to push his agenda with the Duke. I told Dro that my Stakes were that if he failed the roll, I would invoke the Enmity Clause and Selene would see his character as a disgusting, dirty old man, and would be utterly resistant to a marriage.

Bang! Dro knew he would find the girl no matter what. But the roll suddenly took on a whole new importance. If I won, I wasn't really going to interfere with his plans in any way. He'd still have the girl in his power, and he'd still have a bargaining chip to use.  But his relationship with his future bride was at stake.

I told Dro the Obstacle was 6. And he now had the choice. He knew this was a very difficult roll for him. Did he want to take the chance with the Stakes that were on the table? Or did he want to walk away and find some other way to pursue his agenda?

 Dro decided he would go ahead and make the roll anyway. He pulled out his Ancestry through a Persona point, but came up 1 success shy anyway! Excellent!

Dro thus determined that Selene would prefer to see him dead. In the very last session of the game, he managed to put Selene in his power. He had her in his ship and was headed toward the 9 fleet. He'd gotten everything he wanted. Until she stabbed him in the gut and killed him. Payback's a bitch.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 06, 2005, 12:17:13 PM
He'd gotten everything he wanted. Until she stabbed him in the gut and killed him. Payback's a bitch.

Wow and it was all from that one failed Circles roll.

Nice.

Fients within fients...


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: MetalBard on December 06, 2005, 12:19:36 PM
I told Dro that my Stakes were that if he failed the roll, I would invoke the Enmity Clause and Selene would see his character as a disgusting, dirty old man, and would be utterly resistant to a marriage.

Oooh...  threatening to invoke the Enmiity Clause ahead of time if the Circles roll fails... I love it...  perfect example of great stakes proposed by the GM.  This is the sort of stuff I can use at the gaming table.  I may not be GMing, but I think I'll be suggesting this more than a few times when I ask for a Circles test.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 06, 2005, 01:35:50 PM
Mike, a direct hit first try is great, and making that happen more often is a good thing.  However, it doesn't always happen.  I'd submit that when the stakes aren't a direct hit the first try, the players making the stakes a direct hit (through whatever means) is what teaches them how to make the direct hit the next time.  In terms of my five step thing, once you get going, I doubt there would be much reframing of stakes; it's just a safety net that's there in case there is some disagreement.  Make sense, or way off base, in your experience?
I absolutely agree. In fact, I'd say that actually hitting it perfectly on the first swing is rare, in part because people want to at the very least reframe what you're saying in their own terms:

Mike: So lose legs if defeated?
Player: Like all the way to the top, right?
Mike: Yeah, that's what I'd imagined, too.

I wasn't saying that you don't need process, system. I'm saying that I don't see following process as much of a skill (though I suppose the banter process that I'm advocating instead of the rigid step by step does have some skill to it). You follow a good one, or you don't. The skill that I'm seeing, per se, is in suggesting things that are ironed out in the fewest number of exchanges. If I can get an "Exactly" out of a player following a proposal, then I know I'm doing well.

Note that occasionally there is also retroactive stuff:

Player: Wait, you meant lose my character's legs? I thought you meant the frog legs in the bucket he's carrying.
Mike: Oh, sorry. Let's do it over then. The conflict is over the frog legs then? <skeptical>

Mike


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Jon Hastings on December 06, 2005, 02:10:33 PM
Hi, Mike:

The skill that I'm seeing, per se, is in suggesting things that are ironed out in the fewest number of exchanges.

How much do you think this is a general, learnable skill, and how much does it have to do with getting used to the kind of stakes a specific player/group might respond to?  Or is "reading" the player/group part of this skill?

I bring this up only because, in my regular gaming group, where we've recently been playing PTA, setting stakes has been a breeze.  But when I applied these stake-setting methods while playing PTA with a different group, the results were not so hot: lots of contention over the precise wording of stakes and lots of discussion about wether the stakes put too much on the line.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 06, 2005, 02:31:15 PM
But when I applied these stake-setting methods while playing PTA with a different group, the results were not so hot: lots of contention over the precise wording of stakes and lots of discussion about wether the stakes put too much on the line.

What were the gaming backgrounds of these two groups?

I'd guess that the group that didn't have good results was from a more traditional gaming background where the stakes were mostly hit points and such and the DM was out to screw 'em.  Right?  Wrong?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Jon Hastings on December 06, 2005, 02:45:52 PM
Hi, Judd:

No, that's not quite right.  In my regular group, one player and I have lots of past experience with traditional games (AD&D2e and Amber in my case, and Vampire in his), but we haven't played these games in years.  The other two players started rpging recently, and have only played Forge games.  In the other group, most of us have experience with/exposure to a lot of Forge stuff (though we have all also played traditional rpgs, as well).

I guess what I am trying to get at with my question to Mike is whether or not good stake setting skills are universal or whether or not you have to re-learn your stake setting skills every time you start playing with a new group.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 06, 2005, 02:49:44 PM
Jon,

I wasn't at all saying that D&D players are bad at it and WE're good at it.  But that traditional games, that I know of, dont' have stakes setting as part of the process.  The people I game with regularly come from all kinds of gaming backgrounds from traditional D&D to wargames and we all get it.

I guess what I am trying to get at with my question to Mike is whether or not good stake setting skills are universal or whether or not you have to re-learn your stake setting skills every time you start playing with a new group.

The idea that we have to re-learn it every time we sit down with a new group is really fascinating.  It reminds me of something Ron wrote about the first games we play with a new group being about trust.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 06, 2005, 02:57:41 PM
I definitely think that learning to set stakes is something you can learn differently with every new group.  But I don't think it's primarily about trust:  it's about empathy.  In order to set good stakes you need to be able to look at someone and know "X is what is important to this person in this situation, but Y is just color."

This is where a strongly defined genre or setting can really help.  It provides cues to figure out that X.  Dogs in the Vineyard, for instance, gives you a very good idea of what is important:  Sin.  If the player is not interested in judging sin then why's he even playing Dogs?  My Life with Master gives you a very good idea of what is important:  Love.  PTA lets you describe your own categories (Issues), but that means that the tools are only as good at communicating as the Issues themselves are.  If they get across a lot of information then you're set.  If they don't then you're not.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 06, 2005, 03:20:24 PM
Tony,

The stakes' relationship with what is on the character sheet is something I had not considered.  Good call.  That is an aspect of this that I had internalized and hadn't considered writing about.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 06, 2005, 08:08:18 PM
I am trying to think of systems whose texts are worth looking up for good stakes setting advice.

Trollbabe immediately comes to mind.

Burning Wheel, Dogs in the Vineyard and Primetime Adventures.

Thor says With Great Power which is on my shelf and I'll look it over soonish.

We've seemed to come to the following:

 - Stakes setting is most successful when it doesn't become bogged down and when it is a collaborative activity with everyone at the table.

 - It needs to be addressed in rule books clearly.

 - The stakes need to lead to good game no matter which way the conflict rolls.  Success = fun.  Failure = fun.  (The word, discommode from Trollbabe is ringing in my ears, here.)

 - Stakes need to be set before the dice are rolled or cards are played.

 - Stakes should be linked to what the player has indicated is important about their PC on their character sheet (issues, Beliefs, etc.).

 - When stakes are flat the conflict is flat.

 - Stakes setting should also be a back and forth so that the participants buy-in to the conflict and are excited about the outcome.

 - Following stakes setting should be a change in the table's status quo leading to further excitement.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Ben Lehman on December 06, 2005, 08:25:29 PM
I'm strongly convinced that the next generation of games is going to need better rules for stakes than just "do it well on your own."

That it is possible to have flat stakes at all is a failure of our present crop of games (with some notable exceptions like Trollbabe.)

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 06, 2005, 09:01:05 PM
I'm strongly convinced that the next generation of games is going to need better rules for stakes than just "do it well on your own."

That it is possible to have flat stakes at all is a failure of our present crop of games (with some notable exceptions like Trollbabe.)

yrs--
--Ben

And I heard about some game about elves in the north of the world where stakes setting is this ritualized part of the game with key phrases.  Sounds pretty neat.  I'm sorry I didn't mention it earlier.



Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: MetalBard on December 07, 2005, 07:37:54 AM
I am trying to think of systems whose texts are worth looking up for good stakes setting advice.

Trollbabe immediately comes to mind.

Burning Wheel, Dogs in the Vineyard and Primetime Adventures.

Thor says With Great Power which is on my shelf and I'll look it over soonish.

We've seemed to come to the following:

 - Stakes setting is most successful when it doesn't become bogged down and when it is a collaborative activity with everyone at the table.

 - It needs to be addressed in rule books clearly.

 - The stakes need to lead to good game no matter which way the conflict rolls.  Success = fun.  Failure = fun.  (The word, discommode from Trollbabe is ringing in my ears, here.)

 - Stakes need to be set before the dice are rolled or cards are played.

 - Stakes should be linked to what the player has indicated is important about their PC on their character sheet (issues, Beliefs, etc.).

 - When stakes are flat the conflict is flat.

 - Stakes setting should also be a back and forth so that the participants buy-in to the conflict and are excited about the outcome.

 - Following stakes setting should be a change in the table's status quo leading to further excitement.

This is absolutely stellar advice.

I would add that heightened counter-stakes offered by the GM, in addition to being keyed to what is important about the PC, need to be reinforced as not being negative feedback.  This is part of the collaborative stake-setting, but I think it should be put out there explicitly in order to clear the air for better (and more functional) stake-setting.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 09, 2005, 06:51:06 AM
Er, what Tony said about player groups and stakes.

That is, I think that, in fact, 90% of your ability to set stakes is having everyone understand everyone else. Trust, empathy, whatever you want to call it, it's everyone being comfortable in knowing that a stab at things is going to be at least "close enough." What you get with new groups at times is like the example above - lack of understanding of some sort leads to players who are tentative in setting stakes, and having to go back and forth a lot in order that everyone is sure that everyone else is comfortable.

Which is important at that point - if you aren't certain then making certain is a matter of using the process a lot. The "skill" in question is guessing correctly on the first try, and knowing the players responses well enough to know that "cool" means "cool" and not, "Yeah, not what I'd like, but I guess so."

Anyhow, to reiterate, having a system that makes these things compelling makes knowing what people will like soooo much easier. I mean if there's a section on the character sheet that says, "Things I would like to see set up as stakes" that's pretty damn clear. For HQ, I just look at relationships, personality traits, belief system, etc, and know immediately what to go after.

Mike


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 09, 2005, 08:42:11 AM
It doesn't hurt to have a feedback mechanism that tells you (just as explicitly) "these were good stakes to set," either.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 09, 2005, 12:08:21 PM
Mike's post points back to the point that a roleplaying group works well when it works as a small social entity.  Trust, empathy, sincerity, honesty, all of that.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Levi Kornelsen on December 09, 2005, 12:32:53 PM
Mike's post points back to the point that a roleplaying group works well when it works as a small social entity.  Trust, empathy, sincerity, honesty, all of that.

While I wouldn't argue this in the slightest, there are also other groups - say, convention games, groups new to the idea but fully capable of putting forth that trust and empathy - that would be well-served by clarity and guidelines on stakes in general, and in specific for the game in question.

So I think there's something to be said for an artificial structure of stakes that can be discarded later on; a set of "training wheels".

That's pretty much all I can say; the whole idea is pretty new to me, though, and I've enjoyed reading the thread quite a lot thus far.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 09, 2005, 01:48:17 PM
It doesn't hurt to have a feedback mechanism that tells you (just as explicitly) "these were good stakes to set," either.

Fan mail comes to mind, Tony and I seem to remember in Capes it is a good thing to make a conflict that other people invest their chips in.  Anything else you can think of?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 09, 2005, 02:19:34 PM
In terms of actual feedback mechanisms (i.e. things that directly feed resources back to the person who did a good job) those are indeed the two that sprang to mind.  I suspect Universalis has some such dynamic, but I don't know the game well enough to point to exactly what it is.

In terms of rules choices that communicate that you've hit the mark (without actually advantaging you for doing so):  Escalation in Dogs in the Vineyard.  Desperation and Sincerity dice in My Life with Master.  Humanity rolls in Sorceror.  In fact, most resources that players can spend in games get spent disproportionately when they're engaged with what's going on and are fighting for stakes that matter to them.  So I suppose spells in D&D are a communication channel of this type.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 13, 2005, 03:02:00 PM
In terms of actual feedback mechanisms (i.e. things that directly feed resources back to the person who did a good job) those are indeed the two that sprang to mind.  I suspect Universalis has some such dynamic, but I don't know the game well enough to point to exactly what it is.
Nope, nothing so cool as that. The game does reward you for setting up Complications (with implicit stakes), but not for doing it well or anything.

I'd agree that Fan Mail in PTA probably comes closest, but I think more can definitely be done here.

Mike


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Danny_K on December 14, 2005, 08:53:49 AM
I'd like to see a game where the reward system for setting good stakes is hardwired -- maybe the players are partnered up, and when your partner likes your stakes, they can make a "side bet" with their own dice (or other in-game resources) that also helps you. 

Why?  Because not only is it a difficult skill to cultivate, it's a new skill for many experienced RPG'ers.  I just read through a long online discussion about PTA between an experienced GM and a traditional gamer, where the gamer just Did Not Get It.  It was almost like one of those Zen dialogues, where the Zen master is pointing at the moon and the silly monk keeps looking at the finger. 


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 14, 2005, 08:57:48 AM
Hm.

How would the system be able to evaluate the stakes, though?  I mean, in order for the partner to be able to say, "yeah, good stakes," HE has to know what good stakes are!


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Brand_Robins on December 14, 2005, 09:18:09 AM
How would the system be able to evaluate the stakes, though?  I mean, in order for the partner to be able to say, "yeah, good stakes," HE has to know what good stakes are!

What is the sound of one stake clapping?

I don't think that mechanics can evaluate good stakes. They can, however, build ways of ensuring that good stakes are made by setting up and reinforcing solid social systems. Polaris is a big step in this direction, I think.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 14, 2005, 09:19:16 AM
Yeah, that's what I'm basically saying.  Mechanics CAN'T create good stakes. It's a skill that has to be developed by the players and the play group.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 14, 2005, 09:44:12 AM
I don't think that mechanics can evaluate good stakes.

"Good" is a whole big subjective ball of wax ... impossible to define and therefore meaningless as a design goal.  You can't make mechanics that evaluate "good" Stakes for everyone, because what is good varies from person to person, so if the mechanics reward X in a given situation then it will disappoint the people who wanted not-X.  

On the other hand, mechanics very much can evaluate whether a given set of Stakes achieves a specific function.  They can reinforce X, and then people who want X will have a better time when they play the game, and will learn better how to achieve X (whatever "X" is).

If you want people to define Stakes that entice players to oppose each other intensely then you give the players limited resources with which to oppose each other (so you can measure "intensely") and you reward the person who proposed the Stakes in proportion to how much other players spend of those resources. 

If you want people to define Stakes that confuse other players and provoke serious thought in them then you give the players limited resources with which to defer a conflict, buy more time, and think about it (so you can measure "serious thought") and you reward the person who proposed the Stakes in proportion to how much other players spend of those resources.

If you want people to define Stakes that are well-suited to their character abilities and tactics then you give them opposition that will defeat them in a fair fight, then reward the person who proposed an unfair fight in proportion to how difficult the challenge is that they defeated.

So, basically, I think the naysaying is premature.  There is plenty that mechanics can do to reward and evaluate Stakes.  It's not particularly hard to design games that do this, it's just unexplored territory.  Realize that it can be done is the first, and hardest, step toward doing it.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Josh Roby on December 14, 2005, 09:47:44 AM
Also: you can easily design mechanics that provide a framework through which players can evaluate stakes and reward eachother for proposing the good ones.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 14, 2005, 09:53:52 AM
Joshua, but if the players don't already know what good stakes are, that mechanic won't work.

What Tony proposes is the closest you can come; the designer decides what the best type of stakes for the game is, and rewards that; if it doesn't mesh with what the players really want then it won't work.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Brand_Robins on December 14, 2005, 10:00:14 AM
So, basically, I think the naysaying is premature.  There is plenty that mechanics can do to reward and evaluate Stakes.  It's not particularly hard to design games that do this, it's just unexplored territory.  Realize that it can be done is the first, and hardest, step toward doing it.

Um, Tony, you do realize I wasn't naysaying right? That I was saying you simply can't design for "good stakes" that you have to design to enable the people around the table to focus their energy into the right area?

Just curious, because you seemed to miss the actual point of my post, which is more or less in line with yours. I'm less focused on specific game function and more upon the interactions of the people at the table, but other than that we're actually in agreement.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 14, 2005, 10:01:24 AM
Also: you can easily design mechanics that provide a framework through which players can evaluate stakes and reward eachother for proposing the good ones.

It's the old saw "I don't know art, but I know what I like."  Lots of people have trouble thinking up good stakes, but have no trouble recognizing them.  Give them the ability to reward them and, bam!, you have a rough and ready training tool.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 14, 2005, 10:02:00 AM
Um, Tony, you do realize I wasn't naysaying right?

Ah... no, I didn't.  Fair enough!  I see where you're coming from more clearly now.  Thanks!


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 14, 2005, 10:07:29 AM
Does reward has to come after the conflict is over, because beforehand novice players wouldn't necessarily recognize them?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 14, 2005, 11:11:13 AM
Clinton put good stakes really succinctly at one point.

He said, "The stakes were never *if* we could do something but what happened *when* we did."

Does that make sense and sound solid and if so, can it be systemized?

Mostly, I think it is simply getting out of the task-related mind-set of, "Do I get the safe open?" and moving towards, "I get the safe open and get the top secret documents concerning my brainwashing," or "I get the safe open but not before armed guards break down the door."



Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 14, 2005, 11:16:10 AM
Hm.

Player: "I'm opening the safe."  << Action

GM: "Time is short.  This area's patrolled.  We should roll this out."  << Complication; proposal for a conflict.

Player: "If I'm fast, I'll get it open and get out before they find me.  If not, they'll find me in flagrante delicto."  << Stakes that neither invalidate the action nor invalidate the complication

GM: Agreed << Buy-in

There should also be branches in this script for refusal of the stakes by the GM, refusal of the complication by the player, and refusal of the action by the GM.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Jason Newquist on December 14, 2005, 11:21:34 AM
This is, in part, a training issue.  So let's take a page from professional training organizations and consider how else we might train besides our two existing methods: (1)  widely-available but difficult-to-grasp game text, and (2) participation of the few at conventions in highly instructive face-to-face interactions.

Designers have tried to make their texts more accessible by providing transcribed dialogues of actual play in their books.  These are very cool, and I can remember enjoying them when I was young and reading the AD&D books.  However, you can do better.  You can take advantage of the age we live in by providing example play recordings -- either audio or video -- on your web sites.

I'm thinking of some combination of:
  • Examples of play where someone walks the listener through an illustrative example.  Examples might include: why my game kicks ass, setting good stakes, scene framing, how PTA Fan Mail works, Dogs' accomplishments, how Moons work in Polaris.
  • Complete sessions of play.
  • Designer's notes.  Why the game is designed the way it is.

Think of how much easier it would be to for a D&D group to pick up one of your games if they could, with a few minutes' time, get hooked.

For a real world comparison from web development -- consider how useful the "Ruby on Rails" videos have been in evangelizing to their prospective users/customers. 

If you can hear or see how good players set good stakes (especially if they're "showing their work" and explaining a little bit as they go), you begin to naturally pick up a whole bunch of things that you wouldn't necessarilly pick up from a book.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Storn on December 14, 2005, 11:30:00 AM
Yeah, that's what I'm basically saying.  Mechanics CAN'T create good stakes. It's a skill that has to be developed by the players and the play group.

I agree with cannot create.  but it can facilitate, make easier and do some prompting.  I think Burning Wheel does this quite nicely.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Josh Roby on December 14, 2005, 11:49:44 AM
ter.  You can take advantage of the age we live in by providing example play recordings -- either audio or video -- on your web sites.

I've got an Actual Play section on kallistipress.com, but I hadn't considered audio recordings.  Hm.  The difficulty is getting something that's quality and not junk, but that's an interesting thought.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Jason Newquist on December 14, 2005, 12:22:19 PM
I think rpgmp3.com hosts some D&D and Call of Cthulhu sessions, but nothing really Forgey, as far as I can tell.  Paul Tevis's recording made available through his podcast of that one session of Polaris is the only thing I've seen, and it was so fun to listen to -- even though you could tell they were all figuring this stuff out for the first time -- that I can't imagine that we can't really expand on the idea and improve upon it if you're intentionally using the medium as an educational tool.

To reiterate -- I'm not only talking about full sessions of actual play.  I think what you also need in order to capture the casually interested, prospective customer are shorter bits of "let me show you how to play this game."  The mental exercise I think that's most useful is to pretend you're talking to a D20 player.

The full sessions of actual play would probably be more useful for the customer who has bought the book, is  digging the game, and wants to see how it all adds up so that he can run it for his group.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Josh Roby on December 14, 2005, 12:30:28 PM
Jason, this is a really intriguing idea, but it's straying off-topic.  Can you start a new thread in Publishing and we can riff?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Jason Newquist on December 14, 2005, 01:35:02 PM
You're right, Joshua.  Split thread is here. (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=18024.0)


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 15, 2005, 06:21:56 AM
I agree with cannot create.  but it can facilitate, make easier and do some prompting.  I think Burning Wheel does this quite nicely.
Damn, Storn beat me to it. Facilitate was exactly the word that I was going to use. Mechanics can require players to select things before hand that are meaningful to the player so that they're available for selection on the spot as stakes. Further it can give these things mechanical importance, which makes them automatically have some weight as stakes.

In the HQ game, I gave the example of Fred's character potentially risking his massive strength rating on a heroquest if he wanted a large payoff. For "heroquest moments" the mechanical size of the ability in question that's gambled is a limiter on the potential payoff, or, IOW, the mechanical size of the other stake. In any case, the ability itself is valuable in proportion to it's ability rating. So large abilities automatically have some value to them in such a process. Making them obvious choices for stakes (in fact, in this case, the only choices you have for stakes, mechanically). The "skill" in this case is merely selecting which from the list you want to gamble. Which is pretty simple, really.

Facilitation.

Mike


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 15, 2005, 07:17:15 AM
Actually, Okhfels is an excellent example of the limitations of that facilitation.

When I found out how the heroquest mechanic worked, and what the risks were, I opted out of it.  The risks were too high for the reward.  I simply could not imagine playing Okfhels without his strength, or without his relationship with Isadora, or without his "Leader of Men" attribute... the higher they've gotten, the less I want to risk them.

It may have been different if I had known how the mechanic worked from the beginning, and I had been able to build up an attribute especially for the purpose of risking it later.  At this point, though, Okhfels' attributes mean more to me than just numbers on a page.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Thor Olavsrud on December 15, 2005, 07:46:18 AM
Actually, Okhfels is an excellent example of the limitations of that facilitation.

I actually see this as a marker of functional play. If, during the process of setting stakes, one side decides that the stakes are too high for the player to want to continue, that's a thematic statement too -- and a potent one. The fact that you can realize that something will deprotagonize you and then walk away from it before it does so is a good thing.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Josh Roby on December 15, 2005, 09:13:48 AM
I'm HeroQuest illiterate -- what are the typical 'winning' stakes for a HeroQuest, if the losing stakes are risking as central a character element as possible?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 15, 2005, 09:16:12 AM
Hm.

A thematic statement?  I'm not sure I follow you.

The only meaning behind it, as I see it, is that I wouldn't want to play the character anymore, if he lost the conflict.    I don't see how it says anything thematic.

Maybe I'm not understanding the meaning of "thematic" in this context.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Thor Olavsrud on December 15, 2005, 09:22:15 AM
Hm.

A thematic statement?  I'm not sure I follow you.

It's you answering the question: Is the potential outcome of this HeroQuest worth the possibility of losing the character's strength?

Assuming the Heroquest is a proposed solution to a community's problems, it's the player deciding that the potential benefit to the community is not worth the risk to the character.

And I think that's cool.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 15, 2005, 09:29:44 AM
No.

It's the player deciding that the game wouldn't be fun anymore if the character lost the conflict.  Okhfels hasn't got a say.

Okhfels would sacrifice his strength in a skinny minute if he thought it would make Isadora's dream come true.  I can keep him from coming to that place, though, by never actually presenting him with the opportunity... so I get what *I* want and Okhfels never knows the difference.

And I know that Mike would never force me to choose between playing Okhfels authentically and playing Okhfels in a way that I find fun.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Thor Olavsrud on December 15, 2005, 09:37:22 AM
I understand all that. If you look back, you'll see that I phrased everything in terms of the player. But that remains a thematic statement in my mind. You've decided what's important to you. Your character is more important than the community. At least that's my take.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 15, 2005, 09:44:16 AM
Thor's saying that it's your decision, yes. That's narrativism, Fred. Making decisions about the characters that are interesting to the players. That's exactly what Thor is saying. You said that, as a player, that it's not worth it at the moment to risk the strength. That's a perfect example of a narrativism statement. It's precisely what the mechanism is supposed to do.

Now, that said, I was thinking precisely of an example situation in which Okfhels had to go on a quest to save Isadora. In that case you're saying that you'd at least have a tougher choice. Again, this is a case of the mechanics backing up the narrativism.

It may be that this example conflict would not interest you, because you're not interested in either of the potential downsides. But it does allow for setting up such conflicts well. In any case, what's interesting about HQ Challenges is that it's all or nothing. That is, if you win, you don't lose what you gamble, and get what you were gambling for. If you lose, you lose the ability and don't get what you were gambling for. This is very powerful. In many other cases you can "trade" things. In this case you have to choose to risk something without any guarantee of any payoff. Meaning that you're pretty much saying that the thing you're gambling is less important than the thing you're gambling for. Again, a pretty straight statement of player interests.

Which segue's nicely into the answer to Josh's question. The other stake in question is...whatever you want it to be. The in-game concept is that you're going to some magical place to follow in the footsteps of some hero or such, in order to come back with the same sort of rewards that the hero did. So if there's a myth about Sir Percival coming back with the holy grail, you, too, can go off on such a quest and get your own grail. Or reasonable facsimile therof. In practice, I simply ask players to make up myths that have as rewards things that they very much desire. So if I want a magic sword, I make up a story about some guy who got a magic sword, and go and emulate his quest to get mine. If I want to learn some spell, I make up a story of how some wizard learned a spell from a demon or something, I follow the instructions, go to the otherworld and do the same. Etc, etc.

In any case, you don't have to risk "central" character abilities. You can risk any ability you want. I used Okhfels strength as an example for the group merely because it's very high. And the rule is that the ability gained is limited by the lesser of the ability used in the "heroquest challenge" or the resistance faced. So if Okhfels faced an opponent with an equal resistance using his Strong 50 (10W2, for those in the know), he could obtain "Magic Sword 50" or whatever. If he uses his "Winning Smile 13" instead, then he can only get "Magic Sword 13" no matter what the resistance he faces (less if it's actually lower than 13).

Basically it automatically balances the rewards with how much a player has valued each ability in terms of raising it up. Which is not automatically equal to the amount the player values it now, but usually pretty close.

So, again, the system does put forth things to make as stakes. For some players, simply getting a cool magic ability or item is enough to risk otherwise "central" character abilities. All depends on circumstance.

Another point, if one were to gamble some central ability and lose it, and find the character then not fun enough to continue playing, this would be a good time to retire the character. Basically such a failure, and the statment that the failure makes, is probably a very good way to end a character. Yes, this does mean leaving the ending up to the roll of a die...the notion that narrativism means controling all of the plot is simply not true. What you control in this case, however, is very powerful in terms of making statements.

BTW, don't read this at all as thinking that I'm going to set up any such situation in play. I'd only ever go this way if you actually indicated that it would be cool. Basically the "problem" with the mechanics at this point is merely that you haven't identified anything that Okhfels needs that he's desperate enough to risk some of his big abilities on. Which is no big deal. Most characters are there most of the time. Some never go on heroquests. That doesn't mean that stakes aren't being set. Just that the mechanic in question isn't coming into play.

Mike


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 15, 2005, 10:12:53 AM
I guess what I'm getting at, is that if a mechanic does not produce stakes that I'm willing to accept, then the mechanic fails in its task of assisting the setting of stakes.

As you've pointed out, I could be tempted to risk something as central as Okhfels' strength if Isadora's life were at stake... because I really couldn't see having much fun playing Okhfels if Isadora weren't in the game, too.  But that would simply be forcing my hand... which as you've said you're not interested in doing.  One of the reasons you're such a great GM is that you don't hold a player's enjoyment of the game hostage.

Now Heroquest has other ways to set stakes, in "ordinary" conflicts.  So that's the mechanic I engage.

Clearly, if the game intends to produce heroquests in one session out of a thousand, and that's what happens, then it's not a "failure" in the global sense. I'm just saying that it's not helpful to me, with Okhfels, because of the way it's structured.

Risking a smaller attribute seems impractical, because I can get a small attribute by spending just a few hero points.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 15, 2005, 10:38:19 AM
What I'm not making clear, Fred, is that heroquests are not meant to be everyday setting of stakes. No, it doesn't do anything to help one with a coming up with "mundane" stakes. It only helps with the very high level sorts of stakes that are involved in the very specialized sorts of otherworldly conflict in question. So, no, it doesn't help with setting stakes if you as a player do not have something that you're willing to stake at that level.

As you say, HQ has other means to do this more "mundane" stake setting (basically has to do with what the expected penalties are as I stated earlier). The fact that you don't want to do a heroquest yet is actually the stake setting mechanics of the game doing their job, and relagating you to not going on any heroquests yet. If and only if we come up with a situation that's critical to you as a player where you want to make an appropriate gamble, then and only then will he go off on a heroquest.

That may never occur, and that's just fine. I think it would be just fine if Okhfels rejected the otherworld solutions for his own practical "mundane" solutions to problems. That would be an appropriate statement in and of itself. Or things might change, and you might come up with something. But, clearly, other players come up with reasons to go heroquesting all the time. So it's merely a matter of player preference and situation. Not whether the mechanics are facilitating setting of stakes.

Mike


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: contracycle on December 16, 2005, 12:24:54 AM
I don't buy it I'm afraid.  This seems to me to be analogous to the non-acceptable penalty, such as if a character loses an arm or something and thus becomes sufficiently altered that the player no longer finds themselves able to identify with the character.  It is in effect a form of coercive GM editing of the character sheet, or at least that is how it can feel., if the contest was presented as unavoidable.  If the contest is avoidable, and the player avoids it, then this does not imply any statement on the players part about "the community" which of course only exists as much as the character does - i.e. not at all.  Just as it is invalid to disclaim responsibility for a decision by asserting it is made by the character rather than the player, it seems to me that if the player declines to engage with the proferred contents of the imaginary space, this cannot be construed as the character adopting a position IN the imaginary space.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 16, 2005, 05:45:43 AM
It's not necessarily the character adopting a position in the imaginary space.  But it is, unavoidably, the player adopting a position, in real life.

The player is saying "I will not risk this change to my (fictional) character in order to seek this benefit for the (fictional) community."  That is a statement.  It's not necessarily a statement that the character backs up, but who cares about the character anyway?  I come to the table to learn about the players.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 16, 2005, 07:55:58 AM
I hope it isn't surprising that a player values his character more than anything else in the SIS.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 16, 2005, 07:57:31 AM
It's not surprising, but it is a statement.  Other people make other statements.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: contracycle on December 16, 2005, 08:17:23 AM
Well Tony, maybe YOU do.  I don't dispute that at all.

The point I'm trying to present is akin to this: I had a player whose character lost a hand entirely as a legitimate result of system resolving action.  Everything about it was Fair, and he knew the risks.  But nevertheless, he found he could not longer play the now-mutilated character - it was simply a case that he couldn't identify with it any more.  The character conception had been violated by this in-game result.

Now all I'm suggesting is that similarly, a player might balk at a given challenge for reasons that have nothing to do with the in-game situation as such, but have to do with the player and their desires for the game.  To interpret their response in the light of the in-game situation may be erroneous.  The player may not be making any kind of statement more complex than their actual response: "this challenge is unacceptable to me".  To insist that this must be interpreted in the light of the fictional situation is to impose, project a meaning that may not in fact be there at all.  The player may never have conceived it as a choice in those terms at all.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 16, 2005, 08:25:03 AM
There are, I think, two kinds of GM's out there.

There are those who, when they discover that a Player has territory marked "No Trespassing" see it as a challenge, and those who see it as a valid boundary.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 16, 2005, 08:35:59 AM
(note this is cross posted with the last four posts, and I didn't want to go over it again)

Gareth,

I think you're responding to me...but you're so out in left field that I'm not sure. If you're not responding to me, then ignore the following. But I think I must have painted a very odd picture of how these things work in play to have gotten the above response.

First, the contests in question are always avoidable - nobody accidentally goes on a heroquest. In fact, before a player can do one, several conditions must be met:

1. The player must create the myth, or select an available one. In my game I have almost no canon myths, so they're pretty much all the player making them up. And the basis of this selection is a question of what the goal of the quest is.
2. The goal is almost always (though there can be exceptions), the outcome of one or more "heroquest challenges." Which are the mechanic in question. Meaning that in designing or selecting the quest, the player is selecting the stakes. That is, one looks at the heroquest challenges and sees that for the quest they've taken or made that they're going to be putting up X ability to gain Y ability.
3. Then there's a ton of stuff in-game that usually has to happen involving taking steps to make sure that the quest goes well - because it's hard to even get to the heroquest challenges. One has to cross into the otherworld which has a high resistance, and then there are likely to be several other "stations" before one gets to any heroquest challenges, each with it's own challenges. So, again, all steps that involve player volition.
4. Now it is theoretically possible to have the characters accidentally go to an otherworld, and then I could, I suppose, have them "accidentally" follow the path of some hero of the past, and then I could force them to the heroquest moment. In fact, I have had accidental trips to the otherside - though I've never done any of the other theoretical stuff. Even if I did, the player would still have the choice to take on the challenge. Or, I suppose that there are ways to force even this to happen. But if I'm using such techniques, then I'm not supporting narrativism. All of this would be an extremely long way to go to use the mechanic to force a player to accept some character change like this.

So if you're saying that HQ can be played simulationism...well, yeah, so can any game. But the rules militate against it heavily here. The GM would have to do more work here to make play sim than they would in the vast majority of games.

So I think we can rule that out as something that the mechanics support.

As far as avoiding such a contest...I don't mean to imply that everything that a player fails to have the character do is some statement. If the player doesn't say anything about whether or not the character goes to the bathroom on a particular in-game time and place, I don't take that as a statement about the quality bathrooms. It's only conscious rejection of something that counts as the mechanic having an effect on stakes.

What's interesting, however, is that in the case in question, I wasn't even suggesting that Fred have the character take the stakes in question. I was using his character to give an example of how the mechanics worked. And Fred had an instant reaction of "well there's no way I'd risk Okhfel's strength." I mean that's how strong this mechanic is in terms of making things have value as stakes that even on a miscommunication between Fred and I (that is, him taking my example as something he might actually want to do), that he instantly made a strong player statement about what sort of stakes he'd accept for such a situation.

Lastly, Gareth, you make the same mistake as made above in assuming that the statements in question have to be about some act taken by the character. That input about narrativism stuff like premise and theme has to be a matter of a decision made by the player to have the character do something in-game. That's simply not true. Theme can be created entirely by the player making some statement that affects the SIS. "My character will not risk his strength" is a strong input into the game. It's going to affect a ton of what I put into play going forward, for example (I know not to present Fred's character with any quests that would risk his character's strength). Fred's decision on the subject of premise and theme here are quite clear. He's adding to the game in a substantive narrativism fashion.

In any case, none of this is germane to the discussion at hand, unfortunately. The question is not whether or not theme is being created or this is narrativism - as I've admitted HQ can be drifted to sim. The question is whether or not the mechanic helps set up stakes. For a sim game, either the GM selects the stakes, or the player does for an Open Sim game. In these cases, the mechanic in question still helps with stake selection. By, at the very least saying, "In this sort of case, look at the character sheet, and select an ability." By merely narrowing the list of stakes down to the list of abilities, this facilitates setting stakes, even for a sim game.

If you define "stakes" in the narrativism sense only (which is one valid definition), then you can only apply it to narrativism play.

Anyhow, I get the feeling that people are saying that the heroquest challenge is a mechanic that always is helping to set up stakes in every situation. Which couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, this mechanic comes into play very rarely. In 40 sessions of play in the game in question (with the players in question), we've only discussed using these mechanics, and have never once actually used them. Again, I'm not saying that the heroquest challenge mechanics help set up stakes for every single contest in HQ. I'm saying they're one tool in the toolbox that's very effective for setting stakes in certain very rarified circumstances. I'm not saying it affects all play, just that when those circumstances come along, that it's an extremely effective mechanism. Overall, as part of the whole toolbox of mechanics, the HQ mechanics to a pretty good job of helping to set stakes. But I was simply selecting out one that happens to be particularly effective in the situations for which it was created to address.

The standard HQ resolution is very subtle and interesting to me. There is no explicit step for pre-setting stakes. As such much of the "skill" discussion of the thread pertains to it. That is, you may want to ask questions in a certain manner and such to set stakes. In fact, it's particularly easy to screw this up in HQ in some ways. That is, it's all too easy to go into a contest as task resolution and not conflict resolution.

What's interesting, however, is that unlike some of the suggestions here, and other games that make explicit the setting of stakes up front, in HQ, the stakes are left ambiguous to an extent, and up to the GM to set after the roll. I think this is an interesting variation, and one that I enjoy. That is, the procedure I use to support narrativism in HQ looks like this.

1. Ensure before hand that I have a solid statement of what the conflict is about. Not stakes precisely, just what the goals are. That is, if a player says, "I want to cut his head off" I ask "Is your goal to kill your opponent? Or is your character really just looking to get away?" That sort of clarification. This does establish very generalized stakes that the rules say that the roll will resolve.
2. We roll, which produces a gradated result. This is odd for conflict resolution games in some ways, which are usually pass/fail.
3. HQ is pass/fail for the generalized stakes from above, with the caveat that you can't eliminate the source of the resistance to getting the stakes (barring getting a "Complete Victory" level). So at this point the narrator has to come up with a description of how the generalized stakes were accomplished or not. But that leaves the subject of the gradation.
4. In addition to the generalized stakes being achieved or not, the narrator has the option to select a mechanical penalty to assign to the loser of the contest that modifies the generalized stakes to something more specific, and perhaps not directly indicated in the generalized stakes agreement.

So, let's use the example of the player who says, "I want to cut off his head!"

1. I ask and find out that, indeed, the player's goal is for his opponent to be dead. The generalized stakes here are to do harm to the opponent, and his opponent's I determine are to do harm in return.
2. We roll, and he gets a minor victory.
3. The generalized stakes can't actually be the death of the opposition, because that would eliminate the source of the opposition. So we determine that, instead, harm has been done to the opponent.
4. Since it's a minor victory, that means that I have the option of assigning a penalty of some sort that gives a -10% to related future contests. So in this case I decide to make it a nasty arm gash in narration. The -10% will apply where I think it should, likely to things like using that arm to fight.

Note that "getting my arm injured" was not set up as part of the stakes explicitly. What this system does is to allow the narrator to select a stake that matches the generalized stake, and create a very specific application of it. This freedom to specify after the fact is a very cool part of the mechanic. Because it means that instead of knowing precisely what's being staked, the player has to worry about what the specific application will be, and how bad it will be.

I'm not saying that knowing the precise stakes can't be fun at times, too. But I think that it adds some of the suspense from sim games back in to hand the power to make this sort of decision over the narrator. Note that in play I usually follow up with "Does that sound cool?" Getting the player's agreement on my choice. But generally players don't often reject the specific stakes, as it's easy to make them a subset of the generalized stakes they've agreed to, and it's more fun to treat the specific outcome as a matter of "fate." That is, I think the players enjoy the slight lack of control here. And I certainly enjoy coming up with penalties that I think everyone will enjoy having in play.

I think this facilitates making the use of the skill of setting stakes easier, because one does not have to be very specific. "Do him harm" or something on that breadth is just fine in many cases. Further, one can, in fact, be very specific if one wants, the "generalized" stakes becoming pretty narrow. So you don't miss out on the sort of suspense where you know that something in particular is up for grabs. And, again, when you are doing a heroquest challenge, on those rare occasions, you do know very precisely what it is you're putting out as stakes.

At the risk of going on too long about this, what's cool about the mechanical stakes in a heroquest challenge, IMO, is coming up with the in-game description of what's occuring in some cases. For instance, if one loses a magic item, that's pretty obvious what the loss narration is going to be like - the other guy walks off with your thing. Losing a follower...well, you have to be pretty cold blooded to risk a follower, but you can imagine what that's going to look like if you lose. Perhaps a demon eats your follower. Magic seems pretty intuitive to people, too - you're doing something otherworldly, and you lose the ability to do something related. Seems to make sense. But the most interesting ones are losing abilities like strength, or personality traits, or the like. This means that the character may be physically transformed, or that part of their soul or spirit or whatever is ripped out leaving a potentially gaping hole. A character might lose their ability to "Laugh with Gusto" or something. Which at first seems sorta cheap. But if you think about what it implies about what's happened to the character spiritually, it's pretty heavy. "And since then Gunther no longer laughs like he used to..."

Fun stuff.

Anyhow, I should also say that the text of HQ has not made this all easy to determine. If you want to charge me with drift to my own version of the rules, that's probably not innacurate from certain perspectives. So if you want to consider this "the way Mike plays HQ" or something instead of what the HQ text promotes, that's fine. I'm speaking to the interpretation of the text that I have made in order to play effectively. The point is that there are ideas here that people can look at in terms of creating future, more effective, mechanics for facilitating the skill of stake setting that this thread is about.

Mike


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 16, 2005, 08:59:48 AM
The player may never have conceived it as a choice in those terms at all.

So what?  Look ... these choices are choices, whether the player thinks of them that way or not.  It's not subjective.

For instance, Fred has been offered a choice:  Risk some part of Okhfels on a Heroquest to aid his community, or don't.  He's chosen "don't."  Nobody hit him over the head and used his unconscious body as a ventriloquist's dummy.  He said it, he did it, he chose.  Now he can give justifications until he's blue in the face ... it would ruin my character, it would destroy my fun, the flavor text supports me, my dog was sick, this guy was holding a gun to my head ... whatever.  I.  Don't.  Care.  He doesn't need to justify his decision, to me or to anybody.  It's his decision.  He has the power and the right to make it any way he sees fit.

He can even convince himself afterwards that it wasn't a decision, he never really did have a choice, and that his actions have no meaning whatsoever.  Again, I don't care.  He can think what he likes.

What he can't do is convince me that I can't judge him based on what I see him do and decide.  Sorry, we're a judgmental lot, we humans.  I look at that decision and I say "Well ... now I know something more about Fred.  Cool."  I don't know as much (by a long shot) as the people who were playing the game with him, but I know more than I did, and you will never convince me that I don't.

When you want people to learn those things about you, when you make it the point of the game, that's my rough and ready definition of Narrativism.  Does that work for you?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Supplanter on December 16, 2005, 02:08:19 PM
The player may never have conceived it as a choice in those terms at all.

So what?  Look ... these choices are choices, whether the player thinks of them that way or not.  It's not subjective.

For instance, Fred has been offered a choice:  Risk some part of Okhfels on a Heroquest to aid his community, or don't.  He's chosen "don't."  Nobody hit him over the head and used his unconscious body as a ventriloquist's dummy.  He said it, he did it, he chose.  Now he can give justifications until he's blue in the face ... it would ruin my character, it would destroy my fun, the flavor text supports me, my dog was sick, this guy was holding a gun to my head ... whatever.  I.  Don't.  Care.  He doesn't need to justify his decision, to me or to anybody.  It's his decision.  He has the power and the right to make it any way he sees fit.

He can even convince himself afterwards that it wasn't a decision, he never really did have a choice, and that his actions have no meaning whatsoever.  Again, I don't care.  He can think what he likes.

What he can't do is convince me that I can't judge him based on what I see him do and decide.  Sorry, we're a judgmental lot, we humans.  I look at that decision and I say "Well ... now I know something more about Fred.  Cool."  I don't know as much (by a long shot) as the people who were playing the game with him, but I know more than I did, and you will never convince me that I don't.

When you want people to learn those things about you, when you make it the point of the game, that's my rough and ready definition of Narrativism.  Does that work for you?

It's hard to see this as corresponding one-for-one with the other two definitions on offer, Ron's "Addressing Premise" and Vincent's "Passionate characters having their passions tested." Among other things, Vincent's capsule definition explicitly engages the fictional emotions within the SIS as opposed to the meatspace emotions around the table.

In our second session of the PTA: Replacements pilot, my character Owen threw a knife through the throat of a bystander because it would let the Replacements keep a villain from making a hecatomb of a Florida town with a loose nuke. It was a powerful moment around the table; it was a response to an ethical Premise (Is it worth sacrificing one person to save the lives of many); since Owen's issue was Atonement it probably represented a passionate character FAILING a test of his passions. All very narrativist. But it doesn't really represent a chance to learn about how I personally feel about whether it is worth sacrificing one person to save the lives of many - you'd get a truer read on that from my blog. It's certainly an issue, as it touches war, torture and the proper limits of government power, that engages me emotionally, which has traditionally been a key test of narrativism. But Owen's answer isn't mine. All one can learn about me from what happened in the session is that I'm willing to create a fiction in which a protagonist answers Yes to the question.

Maybe that's the kind of learning you're talking about?

In the hypothetical of Fred preemptively refusing a Heroquest in which his character refuses to risk his Strength, your principle would probably make it NOT narrativist, if my reading of what Fred has written is correct: Fred's "point of play" isn't to have the other players learn about him through his choice; his purpose is to play a super-strong Oekhfels. If Mike forced him into the "tough tradeoff" - his Strength or his Beloved - he might risk Oekhfels' strength, but his purpose still would not be to teach you something about himself. You might correctly say you learn something, but it wouldn't be Fred's purpose that you learn it.

I submit that it would fail the more traditional "player engagement" test of narrativism too, which I think is why Mike has said he wouldn't force it on Fred. That is, Fred isn't intrigued by the prospect of testing Oekhfels (or Fred's) relative valuation of Oekhfels' Strength vs. Love. Rather he would dread the necessity.

Fred, please correct me if I misinterpreted your perspective. Mike too.

Do we need a new thread? It feels like we're drifting pretty far from the original topic.

Best,


Jim


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 16, 2005, 02:39:37 PM
But Owen's answer isn't mine. All one can learn about me from what happened in the session is that I'm willing to create a fiction in which a protagonist answers Yes to the question.

Maybe that's the kind of learning you're talking about?

Sorta-kinda.  For me it's pretty hard to disentangle my sense of what makes a good story and a good protagonist from my other moral positions.  I can, for instance, make a statement with a character who says that non-violence is the only way, and that violence can only ever make things worse.  And I can turn right around and make a statement with a character who says that violence is a sign of passion, and that those who won't hurt others don't really believe in anything.  But both of those come from me, from the things I've considered in my own life, and even though they're not the exact thing I believ myself, they're going to be subtly different from anyone else's take on the same issue.

And, of course, having thought a lot about this I'm likely to respond to stakes like "Can he convince them to stop without resorting to violence?" more readily than I will ... urgh ... "Can he convince them to stop without revealing his superhuman powers?"  Man, it's hard to even think of stakes like that ... I have to catalog my own mind and say "Okay, what stuff don't I pay very much attention to?"  But my point was that you'll be able to learn things about me, Tony, and what I've thought about by observing what stakes I get excited about and what stakes leave me cold.

Do we need a new thread? It feels like we're drifting pretty far from the original topic.

Actually, I still feel like we're talking about the process of setting stakes ... or, more specifically, why stakes are structured the way they are.  For me this whole thing gets to the question of how you determine what good stakes are ... by understanding the pattern of someone's thinking enough to understand that there are questions that they've got thoughts about ... but not understanding them well enough to know what their answers are going to be. 

I think Dogs in the Vineyard does a great job of promoting this type of thinking with its reflection question of "Oh, so you believe that, huh?  Well what about in this circumstance?"  It forces people to recognize that (a) they've learned something about (at least) what the other player chooses to portray and (b) there's more to learn.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 16, 2005, 03:54:32 PM
Fred, please correct me if I misinterpreted your perspective. Mike too.

Nope, you nailed it right on the head.  Better than I would have.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Storn on December 17, 2005, 05:56:18 PM
I guess what I'm getting at, is that if a mechanic does not produce stakes that I'm willing to accept, then the mechanic fails in its task of assisting the setting of stakes.



I think, feel, that is the wrong way to look at it.  If the mechanics help you communicate with your GM and other players, and you make a decision to "find another way... ie.... not accept the stakes.... the mechanic has not failed... it has suceeded.  The mechanic is not there to generate stakes... but to prompt ideas.   If you accept the stakes.... the mechanic has succeeded.

Where the mechanic might fail if arguing and complaining and reliance on multiple die rolls ensues... and I think most gamers have had evenings like that... then the mechanic has not "facilitated" a compromise.  But the players and GM have "failed" in a sense as well.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 17, 2005, 07:54:57 PM
The mechanic is not there to generate stakes... but to prompt ideas.   If you accept the stakes.... the mechanic has succeeded.

Where the mechanic might fail if arguing and complaining and reliance on multiple die rolls ensues... and I think most gamers have had evenings like that... then the mechanic has not "facilitated" a compromise.  But the players and GM have "failed" in a sense as well.

It feels an awfully lot like we are on to another thread in which we discuss how in actual play a set of mechanics has helped us create or hindered our creation of stakes.

Is it feeling a bit like beating-a-dead-horseville for the past three pages or so?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: CPXB on December 18, 2005, 11:19:07 AM
I've been reading this thread and thinking about it for a couple of days, now, and now that the discussion is winding down I get a few things to say.  Oh, well.  ;)

First, I think an issue -- not necessarily a *problem*, I should add -- about the explicitness of stakes is a certain lack of suspense.  They basically know what's gonna happen, one way or the other.

Second, it weakens the sense of gambling.  I think a lot of folks will disagree, and believe that the stakes can "become blisteringly hot", but I think that's false.  The stakes are never hot because you never lose something you want to keep.  The win=fun and lose=fun means, given that we play games because they're fun, means that all the gambles are false gambles.  For a gamble to be meaningful, the loss has to hurt. (Tho', obviously in the HQ example, yeah, that's a legitimate gamble, but in most of to other situations described I would *not* consider that a legitimate gamble.)


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 18, 2005, 01:22:17 PM
Hm.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

The crux of what you're saying seems to be as follows:

"I don't find gambling fun, unless there's a risk of losing so much that I'd no longer be having fun."

Is that correct?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: CPXB on December 18, 2005, 05:39:59 PM
As a Las Vegan, yeah.

Losing isn't fun.  You might like the game, but few people enjoy losing.  For a gamble to be meaningful, there must be a legitimate loss.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 18, 2005, 09:47:00 PM
I think that's where it's falling down for you.

Gambling isn't really an element of narrative-focused play.  It's a gamism element.

At least... that's the way I understand it.  Having invoked GNS I'm sure I'll be told how I'm wrong.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 19, 2005, 12:41:34 AM
First, I think an issue -- not necessarily a *problem*, I should add -- about the explicitness of stakes is a certain lack of suspense.  They basically know what's gonna happen, one way or the other.

They do know but if stakes are set well, no one is sure how they will react once they are in their new situation.  Conflict should effect change in the game and if done well, both stakes will be exciting.

Second, it weakens the sense of gambling.  I think a lot of folks will disagree, and believe that the stakes can "become blisteringly hot", but I think that's false.  The stakes are never hot because you never lose something you want to keep.  The win=fun and lose=fun means, given that we play games because they're fun, means that all the gambles are false gambles.  For a gamble to be meaningful, the loss has to hurt. (Tho', obviously in the HQ example, yeah, that's a legitimate gamble, but in most of to other situations described I would *not* consider that a legitimate gamble.)

I disagree with this entirely.

The loss can hurt to the character but the player can think its freaking cool for the PC to be captured so the other plays have to get them free from evil's clutches or they lose a hand or whatever the loss of stakes is.

Stakes can be hot and fun.  Loss can be fun.  Losing can be fun.

Driving your character towards self-destruction and ruin can be fun.

If it is not so for you, could you please post an Actual Play example when it wasn't for you?


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: TonyLB on December 19, 2005, 05:59:07 AM
Stakes can be hot and fun.  Loss can be fun.  Losing can be fun.

Uh ... I think you guys are talking about different things.  I'll try to rephrase, and you can correct me if you think I'm wrong.

CPXB:  If I got what I wanted, whether I won or lost, then it wouldn't really seem like a risk.  More like ... well, picking a restaurant by sticking my finger on a list of pre-approved really good restaurants.

Paka:  Winning what you really want can be fun.  Losing, and not getting what you want, can be fun too.  You don't have to get what you wanted in order to think that the outcomes are incredibly cool.

Both of you (to my eye) seem to support setting stakes that matter (i.e. you want them to come out a certain way), and then enjoying the outcome whether you win or lose.

CPXB thinks Paka is saying:  If the stakes matter then losing won't be fun, so I shouldn't make stakes that matter.

Paka thinks CPXB is saying:  If you have fun when you lose then it must be because the stakes don't matter, so I shouldn't have fun when I lose.

Neither of them is correct about what the other is saying.

And that's my morning's "climb way out on a limb" exercise.  Either I'm right, and I'll look freakin' brilliant, or I'm wrong and I'll look like a moron.  I want the first outcome, but it'll be cool and fun either way.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 19, 2005, 06:28:03 AM
That's probably right, Tony, but what CPXB and Paka are saying are still incompatible views of the situation.

Here's my interpretation of the situation:

CPXB finds "real" risk fun.  He's willing to stake his fun[/] on having fun.  He'd rather have peaks and valleys, wins and losses; he'd like to be able to jump on the table and high-five his buddies when the megaboss goes down, knowing that it was a real possibility that he could just as easily have been in the opposite situation, falling back against his chair muttering expletives, and shaking his head, and saying "Alright, I guess we make up new characters, then."  Those situations are the price you pay for "true victory".

Paka finds "real" risk not fun.  He's not willing to stake his fun on having fun.  The mountaintops aren't worth the valleys, for him (and for me, too, by the way) and he'd rather have a smoother road, with a guarantee of fun in every scene, and not having his experience "spoiled" by having stuff happen in the game that he doesn't want happening.

Of course, this isn't a binary condition.  Everyone has things that, were they to happen in the game, would make them say, "Screw it, I don't want to play anymore if things like this are going to happen."  Big-S System is there, in part, to help make sure these things don't happen.  What it takes to get this reaction out of people is different from person to person, though, and if the level of risk that I'm comfortable with is too shallow compared to the level of risk you're comfortable with, we're likely to have issues when it comes to gaming together.



Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: CPXB on December 19, 2005, 06:33:50 AM
Tony,

Please, NEVER arrogate yourself the knowledge of what I'm actually thinking.  It's extremely rude.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: CPXB on December 19, 2005, 06:38:24 AM
I disagree with this entirely.

The loss can hurt to the character but the player can think its freaking cool for the PC to be captured so the other plays have to get them free from evil's clutches or they lose a hand or whatever the loss of stakes is.

Stakes can be hot and fun.  Loss can be fun.  Losing can be fun.

Driving your character towards self-destruction and ruin can be fun.

If it is not so for you, could you please post an Actual Play example when it wasn't for you?


Characters don't make the bets, or determine the stakes, or suffer the consequences.  The players do.  The characters don't, after all, objectively exist.

I actually *agree* that driving your character towards self-ruin can be fun.  But it isn't *gambling* because the player -- the person that counts -- isn't risking the loss of anything.  That the *character* loses something that means something to the *character* isn't a real risk for the *player*, who is the one making the decisions and doing the rolls.  For the player, it's a win-win situation.

I was never attempting to critique the concept that what y'all are doing isn't fun, or that I wouldn't do it myself (I do).  I was just thinking, "Huh, this isn't a gamble."


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: CPXB on December 19, 2005, 06:42:14 AM
CPXB finds . . . .

CPXB find that stakes, as largely discussed in this thread, aren't gambling for anything meaningful.  I didn't say that it wasn't fun, or a good idea, I just said it wasn't a *gamble* because for something to be a gamble the loss has to hurt a little.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Vaxalon on December 19, 2005, 07:12:58 AM
I think we can agree with that, Chris, but as such it's merely a semantics issue.  There can be stakes without gambling.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: contracycle on December 19, 2005, 07:26:03 AM
Mike wrote:
Quote
What's interesting, however, is that in the case in question, I wasn't even suggesting that Fred have the character take the stakes in question. I was using his character to give an example of how the mechanics worked. And Fred had an instant reaction of "well there's no way I'd risk Okhfel's strength." I mean that's how strong this mechanic is in terms of making things have value as stakes that even on a miscommunication between Fred and I (that is, him taking my example as something he might actually want to do), that he instantly made a strong player statement about what sort of stakes he'd accept for such a situation.

My emphasis, to show that in the account given, the player did NOT in fact say "this is too high a price IN THIS SITUATION", but in fact said "I refuse to accept the proposed terms", roughly speaking.

This is the breakdown, as it appears to me.  The claim that the decision is NECESSARILY a moral one, and that a moral position can be inferred from the decision, is erroneous.  Reverting to my lost hand example, maybe, for all you know, the player in question was once party to a grotesque industrial accident involving hands and, suffering from some degree of PTSD, is simply point blank unwilling to engage in a game  in which they are obliged to portray a character with a lost hand.  For all you know, the player balking at losing their strength may have undertaken palliative care for a relative and watched them waste away while bed-ridden.  Any number of personal circumstances and events may have produced an aversion to a given stakes proposal that has nothing to do with the in-game situation.

To insist that such decisions MUST have a moral dimension is not Narratavism, but Moralism, surely.  It discounts anything other than a moralistic motive to all actions, and takes actions as universally indicative of moral virtue (or otherwise).  It does not seem to me that a player who rejects the offer of a given stake out of hand  is grooving on the dilemma presented in-game and providing a judgement on a premise, but rather that they are refusing to bite at all.  There may be any number of reasons for refusing to bite, and it cannot safely be assumed that it is a form of address of premise.  I would suggest that if a player were going to groove on such a dilemma in a premise-addressing way, what they would do is RP out the fact that at the critical moment the characters bottles it, or similar.

Lastly, on the topic of HW/HQ, yes I agree that the requirement to risk something does produce an explicit resort to overt stakes.  On the down side, I can easily see the potential for people being effectively blackmailed into potentially character-crippling gambles; its one of the reasons that I first assumed that an actual Hero Quest would be an act of high magic and appear infrequently in play, when in fact it seems that some schools of HW effectively centre around them.  Anyway, I can imagine few circumstance in which I would gamble with character attributes that I thought were foundational to the character I conceptualised, as such a risk would be tantamount to death - the stoppage of play and the creation of a new character.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: CPXB on December 19, 2005, 07:44:55 AM
Vaxalon,

Sure, it's a semantic issue, but it might be useful to discuss in order to understand what's happening with the stakes issue.

My take on it is this: the techniques that Paka is describing is actually risk reduction techniques.  IME, traditional gaming can get really . . . tense.  Because there's a lot of gambling going on.  I mean, as was noted, the whole gambling thing is pretty gamist -- I think this is definitely the case.  Because while the winners who "step on up" get the accolades of their peers, it's equally possible for the losers to be *humiliated*.  This humiliating was, if anything, more frequent during role-playing challenges -- lots of dysfunctional gaming occurs, in my experience, about what are strictly RP issues, and that includes a lot of humiliation.

Because, unlike combat, social RP situations don't have explicit "victory conditions" or "loss conditions".  In a fight, we know that victory is usually the other person dead or unconscious and loss is the party dead or unconscious.  But if you try to seduce the princess what happens when you "lose"?  Does she just politely reject the character?  Does she laugh in the character's face about how she'd never fall for a filthy ruffian?

This indeterminancy is where the gambling stakes came in, and why for so many people those sorts of situations just get removed from games.  The risk was that in narrating victory or loss for social situations that the GM would trample the player's feelings.

Organizing the in-game success and failure of social rolls, in particular, allows players to finally know with the same certainty that they know about combat what will happen.  It is about DIMINISHING risk by making things CLEAR and EXPLICIT what is involved in any given situation.

I should add that if this diminuation of risk produces better play -- and I think, consistently, that it will -- I'm all for it.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Mike Holmes on December 19, 2005, 08:07:02 AM
Holy shit, this is out of control.

Let me put this in context.
1. I said that HQ does a good job helping to set stakes when the subject of heroquest challenges comes up.
2. Fred brought up a very personal example to him about a case in which I had proposed something for the purpose of making an example. I had not proposed that Fred gamble his character's strength. We were speaking of things purely in the abstract at the time. There was not even a proposed heroquest, just a "this is how heroquests work." Because the subject had come up, and I said it might be time for people to be thinking about doing this sort of thing. Might be.
3.  Others point out that even this very odd example counts as setting stakes. A negative case, but a case nonetheless. While I agree, if it'll help us move on, I'll concede the point. Maybe it wasn't narrativism at all. Given that Fred has strong Sim proclivities, it's easy to see that it may have had nothing to do with narrativism or stakes, etc.

So, OK, let's just not look at this one data point, but instead at the other datapoints in the game in question. There are two players who actually are looking at having their characters do heroquests coming up. Let's look at the weaker case, first, and that's Adrienne who is having her character persue a quest to secure the safety of the colony that she's built up. She's aware of how the rules work, but has not as yet decided on the form of the heroquest challenge. Actually there's a notion that the output will be a "Friend of Spirits" ability if she succeeds, but she has, so far, not addressed the issue of what ability her character would have to put up as stakes.

But I think the reason for this is merely that she hasn't had a lot of time to consider all of this in detail. She's done some work, but merely has yet to get to this. She knows how the rules work, and I don't sense in her any reticence whatsoever to put something at stake. In fact, she may be taking a while to consider it because it's as important as it is. Only she knows for sure, so I'll try to make her aware of this thread, and she can comment if she likes. On the other hand if she was reticent to do so, I would understand, as this thread is just strange in a lot of ways.

The second example is Chris who is having his character make a deal that I've described previously as "Faustian." In point of fact, we haven't set up what he's going to potentially lose, either, but I think it's pretty clear from our conversations that we're both pretty excited about him risking some portion of his character's soul to get what he wants from some demons on the other side (a permanent portal to the essence worlds).

What's interesting is that Heroquests have to be "designed" up front. Not just the heroquest challenges, but all of the stations to get there, etc. So the process can take quite a while...we're certainly not rushing it. It's been a few weeks since I first mentioned this, and no HQ has yet to fully materialize. A lot of this is that there's a lot of work before a heroquest to go about and get everything one needs to be prepared (including asking lots of people to help out). We might never end up doing a heroquest - despite the preparations, there's no way I'm going to force anyone to do any of these things. The preparation becomes an option that the characters have that can be backed away from even last second. But part of what makes that interesting is that the player knows the very real dangers and what he's risking.

It's all way beyond functional and helpful stuff, and the fact that this one weird non-play case is being touted as problematic somehow has gotten things completely off the rails.


As for the question of whether or not people like to have "real" stakes...I think that's locally defined, and a personal question, and has nothing at all to do with the subject of the thread other than to say that it's part of the overall skill. That is, yes, in setting stakes, you have to set ones that are fun for the player. What that entails...depends on the player. I don't think you can say anything more general than that. Sound difficult? It's not. You ask the player, "Is this cool?" and they tell you whether or not it is. Soon you learn what they like.


Gareth, you aren't brining up anything new. I addressed these points in my last post. You're saying that the heroquest challenge rules can be used either abusively, or in a sim way? I don't disagree. In fact I agreed that the text is largely ambigous about what mode to play in. On the other hand, abuse is not something you can address in the rules, and as such, irrellevant. You make it sound as if this rule is going to be used to wreck people's play left and right. I've never heard anyone complain about it even once. Not in any of my games, and not in any other game on any of the lists I monitor. For one thing, it's used so rarely that there are probably few data points. Anyhow, from what play I have seen with it, players love the rule when it actually gets used. So you'll have to forgive me if I see your complaint about the heroquest challenge rule as...just wrong.

I could go off on a number of other points about "morality" and "premise" and such in terms of narrativism, but I think that's largely getting off topic here. In fact I regret bringing up this whole example. The point I wanted to make was that some rules work well to facilitate setting stakes. I guess I used a horrible example. How about we talk instead about how "With Great Power..." facilitates stake setting. Or is there really somebody here who thinks that mechanics can't help? Because, if not, then you're only disagreeing with my example, not with my point.

Mike


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: contracycle on December 19, 2005, 09:08:14 AM
I didn't mention "abuse" anywhere Mike, and I don't think my argument assumes a GNS mode either; in fact it precisely argues that the reason for refusal may have nothing to do with the game itself, rendering GNS mode irrelevant.  I have not suggested the rules will ever be used to wreck anyones game, only that it is possible some wholly external reason accounts for a given players refusal to accept a proposed stake.


Title: Re: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes
Post by: Judd on December 19, 2005, 10:41:08 AM
I actually *agree* that driving your character towards self-ruin can be fun.  But it isn't *gambling* because the player -- the person that counts -- isn't risking the loss of anything.  That the *character* loses something that means something to the *character* isn't a real risk for the *player*, who is the one making the decisions and doing the rolls.  For the player, it's a win-win situation.

I was never attempting to critique the concept that what y'all are doing isn't fun, or that I wouldn't do it myself (I do).  I was just thinking, "Huh, this isn't a gamble."

It isn't the player who sets the stakes all alone.  I'm fairly sure that is made pretty clear early in this watered down thread. 

You are gambling; you are gambling with story.

If you have an Actual Play example of a player and a GM setting stakes and the player feeling that it is not a gamble or a risk, great.

If not, could we just let this thread lie and start a new thread?