Talk to me about Stakes, those questions you write as part of your fronts.

Talk to me about Stakes, those questions you write as part of your fronts.

Talk to me about Stakes, those questions you write as part of your fronts.

When you write up a front, how often do you write stakes questions?

What are some of your favorite stakes questions that you’ve actually used? How did they turn out? What lead to them turning out that way?

How has their presence shaped your games?

I’m thinking about the games I’ve run over the years, and looking at notes, and I’ve realized… I almost never right stakes questions. And when I do, they’re more like blanks that I’ve left, to decide on later, rather than questions about how things will actually play out.

So, I’d love to hear your experiences. DW or other PbtA games that use them! Please share.

35 thoughts on “Talk to me about Stakes, those questions you write as part of your fronts.”

  1. And in case you’re wondering what the DW text says about them…

    Your stakes questions are 1-3 questions about people, places, or groups that you’re interested in. People include PCs and NPCs, your choice. Remember that your agenda includes “Play to find out what happens?” Stakes are a way of reminding yourself what you want to find out.

    Stakes are concrete and clear. Don’t write stakes about vague feelings or incremental changes. Stakes are about important changes that affect the PCs and the world. A good stakes question is one that, when it’s resolved, means that things will never be the same again.

    The most important thing about stakes is that you find them interesting. Your stakes should be things that you genuinely want to know, but that you’re also willing to leave to be resolved through play. Once you’ve written it as a stake, it’s out of your hands, you don’t get to just make it up anymore. Now you have to play to find out.

    Playing to find out is one of the biggest rewards of playing Dungeon World. You’ve written down something tied to events happening in the world that you want to find out about—now you get to do just that.

  2. My GM is having issues with this where he’s failing to convey the stakes and doesn’t seem to be able to care about things we start caring about instead of his poorly prepared narratives. When we go dungeon delving it’s not too bad but when we’re world building there just aren’t any stakes to anything we do. People we’re coming after don’t want us to help them, people that might pay us to save them just disappear from the threat so we have no choice but to go away.

  3. My favourite ones that I’ve used are in the Green Scar. Paraphrasing, but: will this magical island paradise survive? And if so, who will control it?

    For me, that was exactly what my players were playing to find out, and it synced nicely with what I was interested in.

  4. I see the merit in using stakes, but i refrain from using them as, in my immaturity, i often try to answer them right away once i’ve written them in my prep. Usually, i use more informal stakes: those pursued by my players. I could write a stake down that says “what happened to the lizard king?” or i could drop a hint about the lizard population being in an uproar over something and have the players’ own interest fuel the question.

  5. Emir Pasanovic that stinks, but I think you’re describing a deeper problem than “your GM isn’t writing stakes questions for his fronts.” That sounds like “your GM isn’t following the GM principles and agenda” (namely: Be a fan, name every person, ask questions & use the answers, begin & end with the fiction, or even just play to find out what happens).

  6. Mark Weis I feel you! Hence this whole post.

    When looking at my own games, I’m finding that what I’ve written down as “stakes” questions are often more “blanks to be filled in later.” Like, my notes on Iwan the Sorcerer are “where is he now? where this path take him?”

    And the things that I find myself really caring about and playing to find out… those aren’t even really associated with a specific front/danger/threat. Like, regarding the arrogant, surly teen follower that the sheriff has taken under his wing… “Will Jory ever grow the fuck up and be worth a damn?” is the implicit stakes question, and the follower movers and his tags and instinct are answering that question without me really putting my finger on the scales. But I didn’t write that down, y’know? I just felt my way into it.

  7. I think if you CAN answer the Stakes questions yourself, they’re not good Stakes. Or rather – you SHOULD have hopes for them, but it’s up to you to get the PCs involved in them, so they can do what PCs do best and fuck about with your hopes.

    Basically, if your Stakes are “what happens to the princess after her kidnapping?” and the PCs never get involved in the kidnapping, then there’s a disconnect in what YOU want from the game and what the Players want.

  8. Some of these will be nonsense, from a variety of games and genres:

    Will the shadow mephits make it home?

    Will the gell’en succumb to the Red Hands’ assault?

    Will The Mandate find the freedom fighters?

    Edit: I find in writing these down, at some point before a session (sometimes hours before as I reflect on the previous session), it gives me more capability to drive a game that will entertain me too.

  9. I have always found Stakes in Trollbabe far more focal and integral to the game than Stakes in DW. In Dungeon World, grim portents and impending dooms are usually all I need, because the imply the question “will it happen?”

    Now, seeing Aaron Griffin’s examples, I realize I’ve been shoe-horning some things into the Danger->Doom->Portents format that would be better suited to Stakes questions.

    For example, I may or may not have a group of dangerous NPCs roaming through my current campaign. If the PCs get in their way (which looks very likely right now, but not inevitable), they would be ruthless and malevolent.

    But what would happen if the players weren’t around? They would do some dangerous stuff and leave a trail of complications, but ultimately they would go their own way and avoid the PCs. They are kind of like Death Frost Doom: Their “impending doom” is only activated if the PCs point the gun at themselves and pull the trigger.

    Up to now, I have been treating them like a Danger, and giving them grim portents—but no Impending Doom. For most the game, though, Stakes questions would have sufficed—until the players put the gun in their own mouths.

  10. John at Deep Six Delver you hit on something that’s been rolling around in my head, too:

    In Dungeon World, grim portents and impending dooms are usually all I need, because the imply the question “will it happen?”

    Which is sort of why I’m asking for examples of how people have used them.

  11. Or rather:

    Any given danger/threat might have a set of grim portents (A, then B, then C, then DOOM) or they might have a set of stakes (“Will they X? Can Y be saved?”) but will rarely have both.


  12. Jeremy Strandberg it’s more complicated than just saying he’s doing it wrong but yeah, he could ask more questions and spend less time designing new elementals for the shaman to summon in game while everyone else is listening for an hour .

  13. The difference to me at least seems to come from when the questions happen to occur to the GM: is it easier to come to in-game questions to stakes or grim portents/impending doom? Both get solved in-game of course one way or another, but it seems to me like stakes generally get written between plays, and grim portents occur to the GM as a reaction to characters’ actions on the spot. I guess it’s an individual approach kind of difference but reading DW books, that’s how I understood it.

  14. After reading this, I tried formulating some new stakes for our ongoing game. A new one jumped out at me: will the thieves Guild side with the establishment or with the revolution? This gave me some interesting thoughts that the thieves Guild, who I previously had grouped as a merely antagonistic danger now might support an ally of the PCs, with the added drama that the thieves Guild is really horrible. But it also highlights the temptation to immediately answer the stakes yourself.

    Perhaps a better stake is: How will the PCs react when the horrible Guild sides with the revolution?

  15. Aaron Griffin examples in both DW and AW disagree with you.

    From DW:

    * How will Lux respond to the holy light?

    * Will the College be able to recruit Avon?

    From AW:

    * Will Marie give Roarke to the angels?

    * Will Uncle keep tolerating the Water Cult?

  16. Jeremy Strandberg I don’t see anything in those examples that imply those are PCs – can you confirm? Isn’t Uncle used as an NPC in most examples?

    Also, in the AW ones, I’d argue that those stakes are still about the secondary subjects – “will Marie give Roarke to the angels?” is almost like “will Roarke survive?”, but more predicated on PC action.

    In Trollbabe, it’s important not to involve the PCs in the Stakes, as they’re not guaranteed to get involved.

  17. No, Uncle is the PC hardholder in lots of examples (and is listed on the example threat tracker as one of the PCs).

    Lux is one of the paladin names, and Avon is one of the wizard names, and Avon at least is used in other examples as a PC (not sure about Lux).

  18. (these are part of a larger front in Margulseid, and the old stakes are mostly tied to the other dangers: the Cult that preys on halflings and the King’s Men hunting for the princess.

  19. Aaron Griffin stakes involving the PCs are a lot easier to write without immediately answering. 🙂 But I see the sense in trying to come up with stakes not involving PCs if you resist the urge to answer them. Could help you to leave blanks in your fronts.

  20. The way I see it, asking “What happens to the town of Frazgald?” is easy to answer in isolation. You might even want to answer it, and that’s fine. But in declaring the question as something that is at stake, you’re basically saying “I’m gonna toss some murderhobo PCs in this town and rattle the cage”. Making it a stake is actively asking the PCs to destabilize the situation.

  21. I know I’m WAY late to the party here, but this post helped me see the game in a new light! I, too, always wondered why Stakes would be important to building a Front since they always seemed too obvious to me. Why Do I need to write, “Will the villagers survive?” I already know that’s an important part of the Front.

    But reading here helped me see things in a new way. The Stakes are there to remind me of what I want to find out through the game! Before, I would want the players to win, and I would always struggle with going easy on the players. But if I genuinely want to find out what happens, then win or lose the game is entertaining, and I don’t feel like I need to push the players in any certain direction. I feel like this will enable me to make our games far more compelling, so thank you all for this discussion!

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