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Author Topic: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes  (Read 49932 times)
Judd
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« Reply #30 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.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #31 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
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Judd
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« Reply #32 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.

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MetalBard
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« Reply #33 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.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #34 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
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TonyLB
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« Reply #35 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.
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Vaxalon
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Posts: 1619


« Reply #36 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.
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Levi Kornelsen
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« Reply #37 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.
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Judd
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« Reply #38 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?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #39 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.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #40 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
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Danny_K
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« Reply #41 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. 
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #42 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!
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #43 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.
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- Brand Robins
Vaxalon
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« Reply #44 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.
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker
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