Survival Stakes[a]

Save the world or survive the night

A game for 2 or more players, 1 acting as Guide. The other players are Survivors, describing how they work to survive. The Guide describes the Results of their choices.

Playing a Survivor

When you play a Survivor, you are stuck in the woods far from civilization. You have a simple goal: survive. There are eldritch horrors at your heels and not enough time to finish all that must be done. To win the game, you need to Get Out.

What you have

You have 2 hands so you roll 2 dice (normal six-sided dice). Roll them at the same time.

If you get a odd number, you get a mysterious occult item.

If you get an even number, you get a practical powerful item.

If your dice match, you get to have one more item than usual. Roll again with 3 dice. If all 3 dice match, you’re going to get 4 items. You have to roll all 4 dice at once and continue this process.

Mysterious occult item suggestions

An amulet with the symbol of the ‘evil eye’ upon it

A human finger bone, maybe of a saint, maybe of a witch

A mason jar half-full of red fluid

A page ripped from an ancient tome

An old cloth doll missing an eye

A whistle made of silver

Practical powerful item suggestions

A shotgun with 1 shell

A wood axe

A tool box full of tools

A glass bottle full of gasoline with a rag in its mouth

The keys to a jeep

A long, heavy steel chain

How You Got Here

You have these cool things. How did you get them? Why are you lost in the woods? Have some fun thinking about these things to set the mood for your game.

Playing the Game

The general flow of play is:

  1. Players describe how their Survivors try to Get Out (Try Things).
  2. The Guide describes how their items are taken away (Results).

Get Out

You want to survive. You need to Get Out. To do so you’re going to need some items. If you got what you needed, great. You just have to keep them.

If you didn’t get what you need, or if you lose it on the way, then you need to find things.

To Get Out, at the end of the story you need to have the correct combination of items. If you do, you Get Out. If you don’t, you’re stuck here.

Getting Out is not something you do all at once. For example, if you need to have a mysterious item and a practical item to Get Out, you could do the following:

  1. Use the mysterious item to determine the best way out of the woods.
  2. Use the practical item to escape the woods and Get Out.

Trying Things

To cook, the Survivors are going to try things. They have 2 choices in how to proceed. They can either:

  1. Give up one of their items in the expected way.
  1. This means that a practical item is used practically (a key unlocks and turns on a jeep) or a mysterious item is used mysteriously (the finger bone points the way out of the forest).
  2. When the player makes this choice, they have used up the item. The Guide will narrate the scene until the item is no longer of use, then take it away.

For example, if the Survivor is now using the jeep, driving through the forest, they lose it when the jeep goes over a hole, cracking its axle and stalling in the mud.

  1. Trade 2 items of 1 kind for 1 of the other.

If the players want to trade practical items for a mysterious item or vice versa, they may do so. The Guide will narrate a scene where that happens.

For example, trading a box of tools and a wood axe for a pendant with the evil eye upon it might involve breaking into an old shack and breaking open a locked cabinet to retrieve the mysterious amulet inside.

Raising the Stakes

Sometimes Survivors get what they need to Get Out right away. This is especially common when there is only 1 Survivor. When a player decides to Try Things and gets the result they need to Get Out (use a practical item when you need a practical item, v.v.), the Guide should indicate that they know what to do to Get Out, and that the Survivor has the opportunity to Raise the Stakes.

When you Raise the Stakes, you can take something back that your Survivor has lost. You aren’t just going to win, you’re going to make the things that stalk you pay.

Tell the Guide what your Survivor wants to find in game and that you want to Raise the Stakes. They roll a die to represent the new challenge. This doesn’t stop you from Getting Out, but you may not get what you want. Use an item to Try Things (but don’t forget what you need to Get Out! You still need that). If you are successful, you get the thing you wanted.

For example, Terry the Survivor has what they need to Get Out. Their player Kris decides to Raise the Stakes and wants to go back into the woods for Terry’s college professor. They have a practical item they haven’t used so the Guide rolls a die. If Terry has the right item to solve this challenge, they will rescue their college professor. If not, the professor won’t be saved but Terry will still Get Out.

Finding Things

For game purposes, an item can always be substituted for any item of the same type with no penalty (practical for practical, mysterious for mysterious). Gaining an item can be done by spending 2 items of the opposite type, as described in Trying Things.

If you can’t do that, you can Find Things at a cost.

When Survivors want to Find Things, they still have to lose an item. They might need 2 items of a type but only have 1, or they could only have 1 item total.

To Find the Thing you want, you lose the item. The Guide rolls a die to see if it matches the type that you want. That means odd for mysterious occult or even for practical powerful. If they get the opposite result, you won’t Find a Thing. You lose the item and gain nothing.

Playing The Guide

Being the Guide is different from being a Survivor. Guides win when everyone plays the game and has a good experience. They should understand the ways they can act in the game and what is considered a ‘winning’ result. As the Guide, you need to treat all players fairly and respect the rules. You need to make sure players know when they’re making progress and when they’re about to succeed or fail. You can remind them of rules but don’t guide their decisions.

Setting the Stakes

At the start of the game, roll 1 die for each Survivor. These dice will tell you what they need to Get Out.

If you roll an odd number, they need a mysterious occult item.

If you roll an even number, they need a practical powerful item.

If you’re rolling more than 1 die and they all match, add an item to what the Survivors need to Get Out. That means if you’re rolling 2 dice and they match, the Survivors now need 3 items to Get Out. Roll 3 dice to see what they need.

If you have just 1 Survivor, roll 2 dice but keep them different (color, location) and if they match, the Survivor needs 2 items to Get Out. Roll 2 dice and find out what they need. Ignore other matches.

The default position of the game is that Survivors will not know what they need in order to Get Out. Record the results and let the Survivors complete them in any order.

The Guide will inform Survivors of the success or failure of their choices by marking progress.

If the Results of play include making progress towards Getting Out, be sure to show that. Keeping players informed of the progress required to Get Out can be a good way to keep the tension in play low and make sure everyone has fun.

Describe Results

The Survivors describe how they try to Get Out. They can make up locations, talk about their processes and describe everything they want about what they do. As Guide, you describe the results.

For example, when the Survivors use a wood axe to break into an old abandoned cabin, you describe what they find.

When the players make progress towards Getting Out, Mark Progress, but also describe the scene. How does the cabin help them get out? In the above example, when the Survivors got into the cabin, they made progress. As Guide, you mark it where the players can see it, then describe what they found. Maybe the cabin had a map inside that clearly marks the path out of the woods. Perhaps instead the cabin had a phone and the Survivors call for help. As one last idea, the cabin could have a working snowmobile and the keys hanging on a peg inside.

Mark Progress

To show the Survivors that they are getting closer to the end of the story, you need to Mark Progress. For each of the dice you rolled to establish the stakes in the game, leave a visible marker on the play surface. This could be a progress bar, a set of markers like plastic skulls or game pieces, or a set of coins that get turned over or removed with each play.

The End

The Final Item

When you get to the last item the Survivors need to Get Out, you have to make it big. Narrate a scene filled with tension and excitement. Play up the importance of the item and how it makes a difference. Make things sound amazing. Let the players describe their Survivors’ actions but you describe the Results.


Not every group of Survivors makes it out. If your group does not, make their final scene exciting and end on a cliffhanger. Describe the Results and when the Survivors find out they don’t have what they need, fade out on a scene that goes to black as the Survivors are trapped in the woods....


Sometimes you get lucky. If the Survivors have what they need at the end, they Get Out. Describe where they find themselves and what they’ve left behind. It’s a success, but will they want to go back in? Maybe there’s something they need back there still.

Ideas for a Harder Game

Higher Stakes

You could roll 1 additional die for the Stakes at the start of the game. In a 1-Survivor game, that means they need 2 items to Get Out; something that seems highly unlikely. For larger groups, the additional stakes might even things out.

Knock Out Players

When a Survivor uses all of their items, they are Out. Like many classic horror movies, the Survivor gets left behind. No Survivor should die, because someone might go back for them later.

Complete Stakes In Order

When the Stakes are higher with 2 or more Survivors, require them to be solved in order. To progress towards Getting Out, the Survivors have to pick the right items or they do not make progress.


Stakes - a Short RPG by Hans Chun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Based on a work at

[a]Revised the name to Survival Stakes