How can players make the stakes important?
Personally, I find today’s question goes hand in hand with yesterday’s question as well. Because, no matter what a GM does to make the stakes feel more important in the game. If the players have not bought into the story, there is nothing you can do to make anything feel important in your game. They will just go through the motions. So let’s assume that you have already done what is needed before the game and during session zero to create good player buy-in. How do you as a GM make the stakes important to your players in the game?
I want to touch on two things here that will help your game overall when it comes to raising the stakes. My first tip is first is let your players fail. The second is learning not to play to the same tropes repeatedly.
Let your players fail, failure should always be an option in your game. If your players have failed at some point in your game, then they know that a failure can happen. Once this has been established when you up the stakes in the game, your players will react to these moments differently.
Don’t Overuse “Saving the World” Tropes
If your players are constantly “Saving the World” the trope will not only get old the players will come to expect it. Kinda like Starkiller base being another Star Destroyer in TLJ. (Yeah I went there, but so did they) If every campaign you have chosen is a “The players need to save the multiverse” story. Well the stakes don’t get much higher and the players will get pretty bored fast. You lose the tension from repetitively revisiting high stakes like this regularly.
Game Session & Encounter Stakes
Now sometimes when you up the stakes in a game you want the player to feel short bursts of tension. There are a few ways you can archive this and thankfully many of them are easy. The following is only a small sample of ways you can get creative about upping the stakes in the game.
Against the Clock
By using timers or telling your players they are on a time limit that won’t allow them to properly rest or resupply.
Here is a short example.
Your players learn of an impending invasion. If they stop and rest the enemy forces will beat them to the border and begin sacking unprotected villages.
This sets the party in a situation where they may not be able to rest for several days and they will be forced to manage their supplies and spells during the journey. The stakes are higher because they know they will likely miss several rests and even exhaustion could become a factor the longer that it goes on. Now even without putting the players against a super powerful evil you have raised the stakes of the session. they know they are on a tight time limit and they understand the consequences of failing.
Now let’s say that the party indeed manages to make it to the border and warn the towns in time. They are ragged and exhausted, they know relief is on the way, and troops are coming to their aid. They just need to hold out until they arrive.
Yet the enemy forces are here, and they must only hold out for “x” number of waves of the invasion or rounds of battle, or all will be lost. This may normally seem easy if the players were fully rested. But they needed to push to get here. Will they have the reserves left to hold out?
That my friends is high stakes.
So, until next time!
Check out some of these previous RPGaDay questions!