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.