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Conflict guidelines?

Started by Georgios Panagiotidis, January 03, 2005, 01:56:05 PM

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Georgios Panagiotidis

Hello everybody,

I plan on introducing PTA into my gaming group and want to make sure I understand the basics of it first. Especially since my players are much more used to traditional game set-ups, I need to be able to explain the underlying principles of PTA as clearly as possible.

One of the things I'm curious about is this... what are the criteria that decide when a conflict is needed? Pacing? Should it provide an obstacle of the player's ideas? Giving control of the game back to the group as opposed to having a single player dominate the game's direction?

Five tons of flax!
I started a theory blog in German. Whatever will I think of next?


This is one of those great "no right answer" questions, IMHO.  Pacing is certainly part of it, as conflicts are points of peak excitement for the "audience" (gaming group), when the direction of the story is in question.  Sometimes they occur naturally just because it's obvious that it's time for the dice to decide which way things go.

The rules suggest that most scenes should have a conflict roll, and I suspect my first creative writing teacher would agree.  If you look at model shows, it seems to me that there are a lot of conflict scenes and a small number of non-conflict scenes, bits that reveal character (or necessary exposition of backstory or whatever) without a lot of wondering what will happen next.  

In my trial of the game, I tried to look for conflict in every scene, some big question of whether the protagonists could get what they wanted.  The one scene I can think of that didn't involve conflict was when one character called for a scene in her personal set to allow her character to pick up some stuff for an upcoming conflict.  This might have been doable offstage, but it was the pilot and I wanted to "see" her set, so this was a good chance to reveal more about who she was by seeing her place, and to learn more about her as she interacted with the connection she brought along.  There wasn't much doubt that she could successfully pick up things she owned from her own apartment, so no conflict really developed, and no one seemed bothered by that.


A conflict roll should be initiated when at least two players agree that the outcome of scene could have thematically cool consequences for the character(s) involved. The main focus is the Issue, but any other lesser issue that torques the players is fair game.  Think of conflict rolls as the point at which the story could branch irrevocably.  The choice of branches must be something important to both the players and the characters involved.  Often, the player may want a different outcome from his character.
- Alan

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Chris Goodwin

I have a second question about conflict, which would fall under this thread's subject title.  

Are conflicts always protagonist vs. producer?  Or can two protagonists roll for a conflict?
Chris Goodwin

John Harper

Drama = obstacles to protagonist's desires = conflict

What does Buffy want? To go to prom (and, in the Issue sense, to Be A Normal Girl). Does she get what she wants? Yes and no. She does go to prom, but not in the way we might expect, and only after facing several obstacles between her and her goal. And her life is anything but normal.

Buffy's player sets her on a path of desire. "Buffy wants to go to prom." The player calls for a scene to get this desire on screen for the audience to appreciate. "I want a scene with Buffy, Willow and Xander talking about prom." Bang. There's Buffy's issue, big and bold. The prom ain't for slayers -- she has world-saving work to do. But Buffy's isn't having any of it. Buffy announces that she is going to the dance anyway. "I'm sure everything will be fine. I can take one night off, right?"

Now the player has done her job. She has put Buffy in motion and made her desire clear, which opens the door for conflict and thereby creates drama. By having the set-up scene, the player is essentially saying to the Producer, "Make this whole prom thing difficult for me."

So the Producer responds with his own creative input. Any number of things could happen to provide dramatic material for conflicts and player decision-making. A jilted student could release devil-dogs onto the school campus to ruin the prom. Or ghosts of previous prom-goers could show up. Or what if, gasp, nothing unusual happens? Aren't the terrors of real-life prom enough? What if Buffy asks a boy to the dance? Does he say yes? What if her date is a huge jerk? Does Buffy beat the crap out of him?

These are all possible conflicts, and the game system comes into play at each story-juncture, setting the plot off in a new direction based on the outcome of the dice rolls and narration. Conflicts give the player a chance to make key character decisions. If there are ghosts, Buffy is put to the test: How badly does she want to be normal? Will she try to ignore them to have an ordinary prom night? What happens if she does? What happens if she doesn't?

A lot of good drama is about characters who want things, and then have trouble getting those things. In PTA, the players point their protagonists at goals and the producer sets obstacles in their path, by using the conflict system. Conflicts should never be about particular outcomes that everyone at the table wants to see. Conflicts should be uncertain situations with many possible outcomes that require all the players to react and adapt to new circumstances.
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