What are stakes and why do we need them?

RPG-a-Day 2018

Let me be honest here. I believe, like with many aspects of tabletop gaming, this is something the GM and the players need to work together to achieve. A way players can feel how important the stakes are can be found in yesterday’s answer. However, since the question is targeted towards the GM side I’ll focus on that.

Failure is an option

In many cases, video games and movies have a scenario where the “good guys” win in the end, no matter how dire the situation is. This isn’t true in RPGs. Failure in RPGs is an option and you must make sure your players know that. And like many good GMs say, show don’t tell.

Show them what happened to the previous party that tried to kill the dragon who’s attacking the city.

Worst case scenario, they will fail but then they will know failure is indeed an option. This way, when they do succeed they will feel much better about it.

Set stakes on the right things

Not everything is going to move your players. Unless the players have an important connection with what you want to use in order to make them feel the stakes are there, it’s not going to work. If a random NPC is in danger the characters may not care. However, what if the characters (and players) have bonded with that NPC throughout a campaign, and at some point that NPC is danger? Well, the characters will probably care.

Do you want to be sure the characters are going to care? Mess with their stuff. Oh yes, players, and in extension the character, are going to pay attention and feel the stakes if you mess with their stuff.

All that aside, you still need to be fair and consistent.

And that’s my answer to today’s question. Making the stakes important is something I’ve struggled in the past and I haven’t mastered yet. However, I believe I’ve shown signs of improvement and I do get better the more I play.

What’s your favorite way to make the stakes important?

Tomorrow’s question is “How can we get more people playing?”. How indeed?

So until then, have fun!

 

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