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What's at Stake in Dogs -- who leads?

Started by Paul T, May 14, 2009, 08:55:51 PM

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Quote from: Paul T on May 15, 2009, 11:23:31 PM
Because I feel that if I, as GM, start initiating a lot of conflicts and naming those stakes, it'd be a bit like rolling over the players, leaving them on their heels, defensive-like.

This works best for me as a conversation. I'll say "This feels like a conflict to me. What are you trying to achieve here? What's at stake." Or I'll say "Let's make this a conflict where what's at stake is X...What do you guys think?"  Or my favorite, "Is this a conflict?" The group generally agrees to stakes without much fuss, maybe a clarification like "No, I'm trying to get them to do X, not Y"
James R.

Paul T

We played a session yesterday (although I was playing, not GMing), and the way it went down was, roughly:

GM was initiating a lot of conflicts. But all it meant was it made us, the players, want to initiate some so we weren't back-pedaling the whole time. So, no worries so far!

[There's an AP report in Actual Play, where I've copied the following:]

I did find myself kind of unsure of how much I could define the Stake(s) when I was initiating a conflict, though. Because sometimes the implications of the conflict kind of changed between the opening of the conflict and its resolution. For instance, if I have a conflict with Sister Annie where she's trying to get me to take her daughter to the town square (say), but my last two or three Raises are all something like "Get ye back home to your husband!", it seems that, when she loses or Gives, what really should happen is that she should agree to go back home to her husband, not just give up on trying to get her way.

Does that make sense? I felt a little uncertain in play as to how this was supposed to pan out.


Hi Paul: My experience, for what it's worth, is that Dogs is a game where it's best to keep "pre-play" of stakes to the absolute minimum. In particular, I avoid "two-sided stakes" (e.g. establishing beforehand that if I win you help dig the dinosaur bones while if you win I accompany you back to town.) I don't mean tables should go into conflicts with stakes that aren't "fair and clear," but I like it best when stakes are focused and monopolar. As you say, the outcome of a conflict is heavily dependent on what the contestants do in the conflict. Elaborate pre-setting limits the generative possibilities of the resolution system.

I think I'm just echoing the book's injunction to the GM to "push for small stakes" here, actually.

So, "Sister Annie tries to get you to take your daughter to the town square" is perfectly good stakes for DITV. "Sister Annie tries to get you to take your daughter to the town square. - Oh yeah? Well if I win, she goes back home!" is bad stakes, because for all we know, Sister Annie or you or her daughter could be dead by the time this argument is over.

So, when you win the conflict in the course of Raising that Annie should "get back home to her husband," should she in fact go back home to her husband? Maybe! Maybe not! By that point the GM may feel the narrative force of your orders to her, and decide that Annie will indeed git on home. Heck, maybe you escalated to physical and DRAGGED her there. That settles that! Or Annie had to take the blow on one of your "Get home, lady" Raises and she's already back home.

OR, he may have developed a sense of Annie, and her relationship to you, that convinces him that Annie retains some measure of defiance. Maybe she HATES you for not taking her daughter to the town square. Maybe she's too ashamed to face her husband after failing. In which case, if it's really important for you to make her do what you said, you need to launch a new conflict with the stakes, "Annie gets her ass back to her husband." And remember, at the end of that conflict you or Annie or her husband or all of you together could be dead.

The bottom line is, getting Annie home isn't necessarily free. You may have to mark your character as the guy who will drag a woman through the street to get your way. That's up to you. But the GM isn't obligated to spare you that.


Unqualified Offerings - Looking Sideways at Your World
20' x 20' Room - Because Roleplaying Games Are Interesting

Paul T


I'm down with that. When I played yesterday, it almost felt like we didn't need to vocalize what's at stake at all, just leave it up to what happens in the process of the conflict. But you need a little bit, just enough to let people know what Giving would cost them.

I think I get it now.