Setting Stakes: Pre-Flight Checklist #1
Wednesday, September 14, 2005We now have a lot of games that resolve stakes (as opposed to tasks). Each of these games tell us how to set good stakes for the kind of play they support. Today, I came up with a handy little baseline for stakes-setting, as a supplement and re-stating of lots of the good techniques from those games. Think of this as the first box on the pre-flight checklist during your "free and clear" beore you roll. It's just this:
Stakes are good when the players involved are invested in all of the established possible outcomes.
In other words, "Don't agree to stakes that you cannot (as a player of the game) bear to lose." The point of stakes are: they can be won or lost. In simplified terms, stakes are a fork in the road of your game. The outcome sends you down one path or the other. Before agreeing to any set of stakes, take a look down those paths. If one of the paths holds no interest for you as a player (or, worse, is damaging to your enjoyment of the game) then the stakes are not good enough yet.
As an example, here are some bad stakes:
Buffy's player assumes Buffy can dust one vamp. Conflict with a vamp comes up. The stakes are "Does Buffy dust this vamp?" The player is invested only in protagonizing Buffy by showing off her bad-assitude. An outcome of "No, she doesn't dust him," will crash this player's game experience. This is task resolution masquerading as the resolution of stakes. 50% of the time, when I hear people complaining about stakes resolution systems it's because of this error in stakes-setting.
What I'm saying is, "If you don't want X to be at stake, don't set it as the stakes." Crazy, huh?
UPDATE: Here are links to some threads where I talk in more detail about setting stakes -- specifically in PTA, but I think most of it applies to any CR-based game.
Scope of Narration, Scene Requests, and other questions
If you want to comment on those threads, but not regarding PTA, please post in the comments here instead.