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Author Topic: A skill to cultivate: Setting Stakes  (Read 49926 times)
Vaxalon
Member

Posts: 1619


« Reply #90 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.

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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
CPXB
Member

Posts: 139


« Reply #91 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.
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-- Chris!
CPXB
Member

Posts: 139


« Reply #92 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."
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-- Chris!
CPXB
Member

Posts: 139


« Reply #93 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.
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-- Chris!
Vaxalon
Member

Posts: 1619


« Reply #94 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.
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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
contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #95 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.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
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CPXB
Member

Posts: 139


« Reply #96 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.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #97 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
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2807


« Reply #98 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.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
Judd
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Posts: 1641

Please call me Judd.


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« Reply #99 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?
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