Eating Stake

I’m going to rave a bit about game systems where you set Stakes for a conflict and how that can change a game. From Mike Holmes’ article about Conflicts and Cool Failure, here’s two rules:
Rule #1: Failure Doesn’t Mean the Character Looks Bad
Rule #2: Failure Means Conflict
Played The Shadow of Yesterday last night, trying to keep these rules in mind. Every conflict the players were asking for I set up as “Okay, if you win, you get X… if you don’t win, Y happens.” What I didn’t say was “you don’t get X.” I gave people things that made the situation more complicated.
“If you win, you open the safe, if you don’t, the guy comes back and interrupts you before you’re done.”
“If you win, you find the magical passage, if you lose, the voodoo master senses your approach.”
The players picked up on this with their stakes too: fights weren’t life or death — they were things like “I want to beat them up, take their stuff, and leave them telling people my name and what I did to them.” When my npcs started getting beat up — they Gave. Why? cuz it wasn’t going to KILL them. They got a couple bruises and cuts and lost their money. They can LIVE with that.
When John was fighting a big nasty witch and got to a point where, in DnD, he be dead or fleeing, he Gave on the Conflict. Why? Because the witch wanted to Charm him — that was a loss-consequence the character could deal with, and which the player suddenly realized he could TOTALLY play with and use.
Did those losses make things more complicated? Oh hell yes. If that one-shot went into a second or third session, I think the whole Island of Cloud would be a smoking ruin, but MAN would it be fun.
Did it change the scenario and the characters themselves? Definitely.
Stakes, man. Cool failure with interesting consequences. That’s good stuff.


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