Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Setting the Stakes

I know it's just a few days until Christmas, but I started something with last week's blog and I want to see it through.

Last week, I talked about the benefits of allowing a player, through their character, to fail. This week, we're going to look just a little bit deeper at how a Narrator can do this effectively.

In Evil Hat's game Spirit of the Century, they give a particularly good piece of advice. Whenever a player describes an action, but before you get out the dice, consider what would happen if the player succeeds at the roll. Then consider what would happen if the roll failed. Only roll the dice if both potential results are interesting. Otherwise, assume the interesting result.

Let's look at an example. A player has built a Scholar character with a respectable Brains skill and the Narrator has some information that they want this player to have. While the Narrator is considering calling for a dice roll, first they look at the result of a successful roll which is that the player gets the information. But what happens on a failed roll? The player doesn't get the information. If this information is needed to advance the story, then that means the story comes to a screeching halt until that player succeeds on that dice roll. This is what I meant when I mentioned the "Mandatory Skill Roll Bug" last week.

Since failure isn't interesting, the Narrator assumes success. They give that player the information they need to advance the story.

Now, if the information wasn't vital to the adventure, then failure becomes interesting. Because the adventure can continue, but in a different way. So if the Scholar was going with his friends to face the Nome King, this Brains roll could be to remember that Nomes are vulnerable to eggs. Going against a Nome without eggs is possible, but eggs make it much easier.

Setting stakes in combat is vital for playing AiO. Since nothing dies in Oz, the loser of a battle does not simply move aside for the victor. If the Narrator wishes to do something like this, they are free to do so, declaring that the enemy ran away or fell unconscious or similar. But that removes the possibility of certain stories. An example I gave on the Pulp Gamer podcast was a defeated dragon crying in the corner of its cave.

The other reason that setting stakes in combat is so important is the possibility of losing. Since characters will survive their defeat, all the tricks that other games use to protect them from it become less important. But that means you have to be ready for when it happens. And just like things I've been saying, failure should be just as interesting as success or else it's not worth rolling for.

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