Sunday, January 16, 2011

Stakes Setting

This thread on Story Games is what I'd like to see more of on that site, and I hope that it doesn't turn into a stirring defence of Shock: that would make people feel better but wouldn't really achieve anything else. There are real issues to discuss. Here's what I said on the thread:

"The issue of "downtime" in Shock: (and it is a real issue) is the same issue as exists in almost all stakes-setting games. Here's what I see the problems being:

a) There's uncertainty about when to engage the resolution mechanic. Has a conflict started yet or not? Sometimes, especially with talking conflicts, you're halfway through the conflict before you realise that you should be rolling dice.

b) Deciding what the stakes are takes time. Often there's negotiation, and that negotiation takes place outside of the fiction of the game. This problem is sometimes worse in Shock: because you have to decide on two non-contradictory sets of stakes, which isn't always easy.

c) Often if your resolution system is complex, it takes time to resolve who won which stakes. If resolution doesn't add more than yes/no to the fiction, this can feel like wasted time. I actually think Shock: is fairly economical in this regard.

d) Incorporating the results of the resolution into the fiction is often complex. If resolution assigns narration, that can be a help, but often there's a pause as people unpick the ramifications of what has been resolved (Shock:'s double-stakes can add to that).

e) Throughout, there's often an issue where it's not clear who is supposed to be talking, who has responsibility for deciding when there is a conflict, and how you arrive at good stakes. I think Shock: is better than many games in clarifying these issues, but they still exist.

In other words, I think Shock: uses the best technology that was available at the time it was written. These problems are more-or-less present in Dogs in the Vineyard, Legends of Alyria, Cold City, and a lot of other well-regarded games that use stakes-setting as part of resolution. I expect that Human Contact will contain a lot of advances that will help with the above issues, based on Joshua's evolving understanding of how to play the game."

I'll go further here. I think that roleplaying games currently are only scratching the surface of good design. Most games up until now have been average at best, in terms of what they can potentially be. Games like Dogs and Shock and Sorcerer were all brilliant and cutting edge when they were written, but they use old technology. They're steam-powered.