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#RPGaDay2018 Day 7: How can a Showrunner make the stakes important?

The meta-rule on this is the same as my answer for yesterday, which is: make sure the people at the table (including myself) understand the purpose of the game, have agreed to the purpose, and are all working together to make that purpose a reality for those involved. In other words, make sure everyone's bought in. That said, there's a couple of things that I try to keep in mind when I'm showrunning.

First, don't ask for dice rolls / resource investment / whatever unless the result will be meaningful to someone at the table (and that can be me as the showrunner, or even one or more of the players who aren't being asked to invoke). If there's no narrative reason for the character to fail, then there's no need to test for failure.

Second, get the person who is invoking the point (that is, doing the move, rolling the dice, spending the bennie, whatever) to lay out how invested they are in the result. If they just want the spotlight, or they just want to roll some dice, or they just want to prod the party into movement, then either get them to set the stakes, or recognize that that player needs to be invested, and so invest the invocation with meaning.

Third, don't needlessly escalate. "Suddenly, ninjas!" may be a great way to get the players moving and the table woken up a bit, but it's not always the best way to get buy-in or investment from the folks at the table. I try to get the players to point me in the direction they want things to go, either explicitly or implicitly, by asking them 'so, what do you hope to accomplish with this invocation?' and that usually works pretty well for determining not just which way the story goes, but it is especially effective when I follow it up with 'and how much are you willing to risk for that?' to get an idea of what the value is.

Now, some things are going to be low stakes; not everything is both very important and very urgent. Talk with your players about what the expectations are ahead of time. One player might say that saving the world is worth sacrificing everything; another may say saving the cat is worth everything. Alternately, it may be that saving the world isn't worth getting off the couch, but which inn they stay at is worth a duel to the death. The players are telling everyone (including themselves) what they want from the game, often without realizing it. Recognizing those clues and signposts is both moderately difficult and extremely rewarding, because it requires the showrunner to listen closely and actively to others. This is not a skill that is explicitly valued, but it is a valuable skill.

NB: I've taken to using the term "showrunner" rather than "gamemaster" or the like because I feel like, at least for me, it is less separational than the GM/player traditional terms. I like my games to be collaborative and collective, and I feel like "showrunner" indicates a more 'guide' style rather than 'lead' style.

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