Imagine, now, a chargen session from a fairly standard fantasy roleplaying game. Pseudo-mediaeval background, all swords and horses, the bad guy's a sorcerer who wears a silk frock and lives in a tower at the edge of the country, they always look like this guy -
and has Wrack:-
and we need serious characters to take this guy seriously.
So here's the conversation.
Player: Okay, that's the characteristics and attributes rolled, er, culture, profession, skills, oh yeah and Combat Styles.
GM: Yeah, I recall you spent an awful lot of time choosing those Combat Styles.
Player: They're the best balance of cultural aesthetic and stopping power.
GM: I got you. Now, Passions.
Player: Forget that.
GM: Doesn't your character care for anybody? Hate anybody?
Player: Yeah, I, er, hate that bad guy. The Wrack sorcerer one in the frock.
GM: No, not that. I meant someone in your past -
Player: Yeah, okay, that guy with the pornstache once drove by me on a rainy day and splashed me, and that's why I want to cut his head off -
GM: Okay, that's a bit dark, but do you have folks back home, a childhood sweetheart, anything?
Player: Nah, I'm good. Let's get to the tower so I can start slaughtering monsters.
This might sound familiar to some of you. Some Games Masters might be guilty of letting this sort of thing ride because their games are all just dungeons through which the characters roll, slaughtering creatures indiscriminately.
Games set in a modern world aren't like that.
Note: I'll be referencing some of Lightspress Media's sourcebooks for their DoubleZero game. It's set in a modern world, and characters in this setting need to rely on their wits and skills alone. No access to supernatural abilities or powers to save the day. You can take the settings and just port them right into Mythras without needing to tweak any systems, because the game is pretty much light enough, rules wise, that you can run the game using the Mythras Core Rulebook or Mythras Imperative, though Mythras Firearms and Mythras Companion would be really handy to have also.
Stakes are things or people who are important to the player characters. They may be loved ones, offspring, family members, pets, friends and so on. Other stakes include one's reputation and honour; money; freedom; and even, in some cases, lives.
Here's what game designer Berin Kinsman of Lightspress Media has to offer about stakes in DoubleZero: Mystery:-
Stakes are the potential risks or consequences that the player characters face in an adventure. The stakes can be personal, such as the loss of a loved one or the damage to the player characters' reputation, or they can be societal, such as the continuation of a crime wave or the loss of innocent lives. They might be more global, like saving the world or preventing a disaster. Stakes help to create tension and suspense in a story, and can make the players care about the outcome. High stakes also make a character's choices and actions more meaningful, and drive the plot forward.
That book offers the following stakes for mystery genre adventures:-
The life of the victim
In many mystery adventures, the victim's life is at stake and the player characters must solve the mystery to save them. This should create a sense of urgency and pressure. It can motivate them to keep working and to overcome any obstacles that they encounter.
The safety of others
In some cases, the stakes in a mystery adventure might be the safety of others, such as the victim's loved ones or the general public. If the culprit is not brought to justice, they might continue to pose a threat to others. The player characters must solve the mystery to protect those at risk.
The reputation of the player characters
The stakes might be the reputation of the player characters, who are trying to prove their worth. If they fail to solve the mystery, they might lose the respect and trust of others. They must overcome this obstacle to achieve their goals.
One other stake, not mentioned in that book:-
Proof of Innocence
In many mystery dramas, the police scoop up the wrong suspect for murder, and it is up to the player characters to uncover the clues to prevent this innocent third party going down for a crime they did not commit. Even if the innocents are the characters themselves.
The stakes are somewhat different in a game themed around romance (such as Lightspress Media's genre book Romance):-
In a romance story, the stakes are often related to the development and success of the romantic relationship between the player characters. Some common stakes include:
• The potential for the couple to achieve their happily ever after and find fulfillment and happiness in their relationship
• The risk of the couple breaking up or experiencing a tragic ending if they are unable to overcome the challenges and obstacles that stand in their way
• The impact of the couple's actions and decisions on their personal lives and the lives of those around them, such as friends and family members
• The potential for the couple to grow and learn as individuals and as a couple, and to become better people as a result of their experiences in the romance.
Overall, the stakes in a romantic adventure often revolve around the potential consequences and rewards of the couple's actions and decisions, and the impact that these have on their relationship and their personal lives.
The first big setting for DoubleZero, the spy setting Licensed, has these stakes:-
BETRAYAL OF TRUST
Deceiving and betraying others can have serious stakes for both the player characters and the people they interact with. They may be forced to lie and manipulate others to complete their mission, but this can also lead to mistrust and alienation from those they care about. The player characters may also be deceived and betrayed by others, which can put them in danger and complicate their mission. In some cases, the stakes of deception and betrayal can be life and death, as characters may be willing to do anything to protect their interests and survive.
If the player characters fail to achieve their goals, their enemies can achieve their own goals, which could have serious consequences for the player characters, their organization, or the world at large.
EXPOSURE OR CAPTURE
If the player characters are discovered by their enemies, they may face severe punishment or even death. Being exposed can also compromise the success of their mission and put others at risk. They must constantly be on guard and take steps to avoid being discovered, such as using disguises and false identities. If they are captured, the player characters must use their wits and training to escape and continue their mission or face the consequences of failure.
FAIL THE MISSION
The mission may be of critical importance to the player characters' country or organization, and failure could have dire consequences. They may face personal repercussions for their failure, such as being fired or punished. In some cases, the stakes of failing may be global, as the mission could have far-reaching effects on international relations and world events. The player characters must therefore do everything in their power to succeed.
INJURY OR DEATH
Player characters may be trained in combat and other forms of self-defense, but they are still at risk. This can have serious consequences for them, as well as for their mission and those they are working for. They may be willing to sacrifice their safety to complete the mission and protect others. The threat of injury or death adds tension and suspense to the story, as the players wonder if their characters will survive and succeed.
LOSS OF RELATIONSHIPS
The player characters' work might also put their personal relationships at risk, such as causing strain on their family or romantic relationships, or causing them to lose friends or allies.
LOSS OF REPUTATION
The player characters may be working for a government agency or organization that values its reputation and standing in the international community. If they fail their mission or are exposed, it could damage the reputation of the organization and undermine its ability to operate effectively. They may also face personal repercussions, such as being ostracized or losing the trust of their superiors. The threat of loss of reputation adds another layer of tension to the story, as the player characters must strive to protect their reputation and that of their organization.
The player characters might also face personal harm or injury as they carry out their missions, such as physical injury, psychological trauma, or death.
If the player characters fail to complete their mission, they might face consequences such as being fired, demoted, or punished by their superiors. They might also face the failure of their mission to achieve their intended goals, which could have serious consequences for their organization or for global security.
Stakes and The Modern Mythras Game
Before plunging into a Mythras game set in the modern world, it is a good idea to look at the stakes involved. Perhaps something in the characters' backgrounds, Cultures, Professions, or of course Passions, can supply you with something or someone they can care about. Something which will prompt them to become embroiled in the story, entangled in it, and perhaps even cause them to want to take risks to save people they love, or to block efforts of Rivals and Enemies before they cause damage to their reputations, for instance.
Look to the above examples, for instance. Your characters should have something to protect - a resource, a loved one, their name. Those stakes should be at risk of being jeopardised at some points in the campaign. The characters must do something to prevent some awful loss from happening, which would set them back big time.
Having a stake in the game allows you, the Games Master, to use them as a central part of the Turning Points for Acts I and II of your stories or campaigns. More about that later.
Where to get those stakes?
A good place to generate loved ones or more abstract connections and entanglements to complicate the characters' lives is through background events. We'll be coming to that in the next post.
Edited by Alex Greene
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