Question 7: How can a GM make the stakes important?
I’m not sure we can.
Players have to been engaged with their characters, committed to the conceit of the narrative, the ‘contract’ of gaming where we all agree to show up on time and pretend we aren’t just shuffling paper and moving dice.
We’re having adventures and telling tales and building history, right?
If we’re not doing that then it becomes a board-game and the stakes are pretty much just win or lose.
I mentioned this last year, I think, the realisation that I didn’t have to kill player characters to have an impact, because if the players were fully engaged then even the threat and risk of death would suffice, whilst if the players were detached–just rolling dice and moving markers–then even character death would never trouble them. Roll up a new random collection of stats and move on. All surface, no feeling.
If the players are tangled up with the setting, involved with the characters, then everything matters. If they aren’t, then nothing ever will.
I believe it was E.L. Doctorow who wrote:
“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”
So, if there’s a trick, I believe that’ll be it.
Somehow, at some point in the preparation process for the game or in the playing out of the story that you’re creating, the players have to become immersed in the world-as-real, partly by you as GM building a world they’re inclined to be a part of and explore. If you can do that, and if they’re of the correct mindset, great. But you can’t make them feel the rain. They have to want it too.