Drama and action thrives on ‘raising the stakes.’ This is what keeps readers turning pages in a book and it keeps players excited to read the next set of posts in a game. But if you’ve been playing for a while, you’ve probably played a storyline where escalation spiraled out of control. Sometimes raising the stakes can make the threat seem so powerful that players get discouraged. On the other hand sometimes we raise the stakes so high that the story flies off into the uncharted territory of ridiculous superpowers. So how can you raise the stakes in a plot – either as a mission planner or as a player – in a way that feels believable and helps develop your character?
One answer is a bit counter-intuitive: consider having one of your characters make things worse. Making a mistake and having to play out the consequences is a compelling addition to a narrative, especially when used sparingly. If a character is constantly making mistakes that cost the ship, that character will likely be asked to retire from Starfleet or get remedial training. But consider the narrative effect on both plot and character development when a normally steadfast officer makes a mistake. Not only can the mistake heighten the action of the plot overall, but how that character reacts to the mistake and what steps they take to correct it can build and define that character and his or her relationships.