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Campaign Stakes

Something that's of great interest to me that I haven't heard people talk much about is campaign stakes. Campaign stakes are an essential part of many campaigns (and in many cases, a point of dysfunction), yet few games have any sort of mechanic for dealing with them.

My current side project is about providing processes for creating campaign-level stakes and supporting them with game mechanics.

You can split a campaign into three major realms:

  • Campaign Furniture: all the stuff in your campaign including places, factions, characters, and possibly thematic or genre elements that guide narration.

  • Campaign Stakes: the answer to the question "What's at stake in this campaign?" This almost always includes the fate of some characters but could also include the fates of a myriad of other elements up to and including the fate of the universe.

  • Campaign Mechanics: these are mechanics to help you decide the campaign stakes.

What use are campaign mechanics?

You might use your standard conflict or task resolution mechanics to decide campaign stakes. In this case, the fate of your world (or whatever the campaign stakes are) is decided through a conflict or task. What happens if I make the stakes of my conflict "I rule the universe forever"? There might be circumstances where that's acceptable. Perhaps the fate of the universe rests on the successful completion of a task: I throw the Ring into the Mountain of Fire.

But what determines when it's stake everything? Is the final epic task one of a series? Who decides how long that series can be? If it's a conflict resolution game, how much can I stake on my conflict? Campaign stakes can help decide this. Trollbabe, for example, has mechanics to determine the size of conflict I can request.

Campaign stakes aren't just about the goal of the campaign. If there's any conflict that's larger than the actions of the individual character, that can be placed into the campaign stakes, and can have appropriate mechanics to support it. Is the universe embroiled in a battle of light vs. darkeness? Maybe a character can call upon a reserve of resources by declaring an allegiance for either side. What does this allegiance mean? That's something for the campaign mechanics to determine. Here are some other questions campaign mechanics might be able to help answer:

Can my character become a local baron?
What happens when I kill the king?
Does that war over there have anything to do with my characters?

But one of the really big potentials of campaign mechanics (in my opinion) is that it opens up the avenue of exerting narrative control over game elements that are bigger than the individual character. Yes, many games already do this (and do it well). So let's codify how that's done and see how far we can go with it.

Good stuff, Tony.

Here's how I'm doing it in Galactic:

Each adventure there's resources at stake that the player wants control of. They give two benefits: one is a free roll for bonus resources that work kinda like 'drama points' in many games out there. The second is a new relationship with a faction which you can call upon in play.

In each adventure the group determines what the resources are. Maybe it's the control of an entire colony, or maybe it's an army of warbots. The size of he resources on the map, plus player input, tells you what's up. It's a lot like Trollbabe, except that a) the progression is tied to the map and not a linear progression, and b) the stakes grant you permanent benefits.

In play, the GM can spend his or her own points to put those resources at risk, like 'if you fail at this conflict, the terrorist's bomb detonates, damaging the robots."

The player has to spend points to have a conflict determine the fate of the resources as well. For example, if I'm the player, and I spend 5 points, then this conflict determines if I get control of the warbots.

I think it previous posts you've talked about things beyond this, though. Want to reiterate or summarize? What's missing from Galactic that you'd like to see in a game?

I'm not sure I'd say there's anything "missing" from Galactic. It sounds like the game is coming along pretty nicely!

One of the things I want to include in my project is a good play experience for playing an organization (anything from an adventuring band, to a galactic empire). This would include ways to resolve conflicts between organizations, scaling stakes between organizatins, inflitrating, growing, or neutralizing organizations.

You can think of this as a meta-game that gives campaign structure to a traditional RPG, but you could also play it as a game itself where "character" are resources, and each player controls an organization of some sort.

Sounds a little crazy, don't it.

No, it sounds like what you did with the Pulp-by-email game and also something you were trying to do more ambitiously with the Sea of Stars game (about which I'm supposed to remind you that Milo's fiction still stands as the definitive ending to the game, since you never put out the turn that was due nor any other kind of wrap-up).


This sounds a lot like what I tried to do in my PBeM campaign add on. A good set of rules would really help out. I will try to dig up the guidelines I had in the next few days, although I must admit that I often fell back on GM fiat.


Joshua Newman's games both handle this well. I'm stealing from him for my own porpoises.


Thanks for the tip. JohnH has been raving about The Mountain Witch at our weekly gaming session.

You can combine Campaign Stakes with Inspiration from Movies and TV Shows by letting them pick [conflicting] outcomes. That way losing still gives them a cool story.
Ex.: You get to rule the Empire vs. The Jedi Purge (and you're all Jedi).

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