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The Stakes Hurdle

July 19, 2012

I’m realizing that one of the core aspects of most rpg play is a major hurdle – the whole process of conflict/task resolution and stake setting. What situations should we roll the dice? What are the possible outcomes?

Modern conflict resolution is simply an evolution of the past with fences put around to avoid the dysfunctional zones: railroading, test-spamming until someone fails, setting reasonable stakes, declaring stakes, negotiation amongst the table about what makes for reasonable outcomes, etc.

While this is functional enough, it’s also a high mastery technique- it demands the GM or the group be conversant enough to recognize what conflicts matter, what levels of failure matter, in the moment of play. Which is why you see groups trying a new game and having moments of “Oh, do we roll the dice now? Oh wait, maybe we should have done 5 minutes ago when you first started talking?” It’s procedurally simple and complex as a directive, which means – it works well enough, but it’s a terrible way to introduce new people and takes time to master.

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