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Author Topic: Resolving social conflicts amicably  (Read 11161 times)
simon_hibbs
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Posts: 678


« on: July 26, 2005, 05:20:12 AM »

Since Steve closed his thread, I'd like to re-orient the debate a little. I'll use this comment by Clinton as a startign point.

.....I had one player drop out of my group after Dogs. She loved the concept of the game, and we had a great time playing, but there was one scene where she wanted her character to kill and through resolution, she lost. The other characters ganged up and used some physical action, but mainly talking, to stop the character. She couldn't believe it.

I tried helping - "maybe you hesitate for a moment." (I can't remember the details, but that would have made a difference - maybe the winning roll knocked the gun away while everyone else was talking to the character.) She said, "I wouldn't have hesitated."

This is a recurrign problem. I know people who won't play games with social conflict resolution due to this effect - they demand controll of their character's free will. They have no problem with mind-affecting magic, or similar effects but they want to maintain total controll of their character's concious decisions. To them, that is the definition of what playing a roleplaying game is all about.

Now I dont want to get in a debate about defining roleplaying. Suffice to say that I am sympathetic to this view, and that enough people think this way that it's a viewpoint I want to be able to support in my games. They are part of the community that I want to game with.

A partial solution to this is offered by Plot Point/Hero Point mechanics. If you want to avoid being coerced in social conflicts then just spend the points. This isn't ideal though - they might run out of points, or a plot point might not be enough to win the contest. Or they might just resent having to spend points to do something they feel should be theirs by right.

Dogs does allow you to ignore the outcome of a social conflict you've lost through the Escalation mechanic, but it's has a very specific, limited role. In fact yu can't ignore the outcome - it forces you to give in or excalate to gunplay.

A more generaly useful concept might be to apply, in game mechanical terms, the consequences of ignoring the effects of a social conflict. Rather than spending points to avoid being persuaded, the player states that the characetr is not persuaded anyway, but the character then suffers consequences as a result. Let's take an example.

Player: "My character draws his sword and attacks."
GM: "The healer appeals to your sense of honour and justice to held back, he realy turns on the emotional screws, appealign to your loyalty to him."
<GM and Player rolls dice>
GM: You lose, he persuades you to hold back.
Player: "Screw that, I gut him anyway."
GM: "Ok, you can do that. Your Relationship ability with the Healer is reduced by 10 points and you gain a 'Brutal Reputation' ability starting at 17.

In Dogs terms, you might suffer automatic Consequences rolls (Is that what they're called?).

In mechanical terms, instead of the character's actions being determined by the social conflict, they retain freedom of action but suffer social 'wounds' for doing so. In some game systems, the wounds and injuries system could be applied to social abilities. I think something like this has already been discussed on the Heroquest Rules list.

I think most people would accept this because it seems realistic. You can lose the argument, but still do what you want to do.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
Rob Carriere
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Posts: 187


« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2005, 07:11:25 AM »

Player: "Screw that, I gut him anyway."
GM: "Ok, you can do that. Your Relationship ability with the Healer is reduced by 10 points[...]"
Simon,
I wonder if this doesn't just push the problem back one notch. Now whoever plays the Healer (I assume the GM in your example, but could be anyone in the general case.) has lost free will.

So, I guess my question is: are you trying to accomodate the insist-on-free-will players or are you looking to accomodate mixed groups with some freewillers and some others?

If the former, I think leaving the social dynamics completely freeform is likely the optimal solution; if the latter, you are definitely going to need mechanics and designing them sounds challenging!

SR
--
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Jason Lee
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Posts: 729


« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2005, 07:18:35 AM »

Any social conflict can be broken down into attacker (influencing) and defender (resisting).  Social rolls should be voluntary with the buck stopping at the defender - the defender may choose to let the resolution system decide or simply declare his character's reactions.  Other players, such as the GM or attacker, should be able to request for a social conflict to be either summed up or turned over to a resolution mechanic (sometimes players get stuck talking in circles or just plain dragging on), but not be allowed to decide that a social conflict must be handed over to the resolution system.

Social resolution systems without absolute veto power are in direct opposition to story creation, because they allow the mechanics to define a character's motivations, beliefs, desires, limits, etc.  I'm sure that's what was going on in the Dogs example.  Her character passed through the resolution system and came out the other end a different character.  Any real theme involving the character went *poof*.
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- Cruciel
Albert of Feh
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« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2005, 07:49:38 AM »

Cruciel: Out of curiosity, do you consider the limited outs, such as resource spending or escalation, to be acceptable mechanicsms for your 'absolute veto'? In those instances, you can stick to your guns if you really want to, but you have to pick your battles

An important factor in the process of applying social mechanics is the reason behind it. You can't just say "Oh, I'm convinced, though I don't want to be." In Clinton's example, I would have put it on the shoulders of the player to answer "Are there any circumstances which would have led to your not shooting the guy?" Clinton's hesitation suggestion is him trying to provide this. It could even be as simple as "Something caught the corner of my eye, distracting me in that crucial moment before the gun was knocked out of my hand." If it got to the point when it seemed likely that the player would lose the conflict, it would be her responsibility to set this sort of situation up.

Asking and answering the question "What would it take to make me fail/lose in this conflict?" could do far more to explore the character's themes and issues than to destroy them.
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2005, 07:59:15 AM »

People like playing characters with absolute agendas.  They're really popular in the media.

"Nothing will make me stop loving you."

"I stop at nothing to retrieve the Maltese Falcon."

"I will take that hill at any cost."

Games with mechanics that touch on a character's drives and motivations make it difficult to play a character like that.

Of course, a character like that is most interesting when he realizes that his drive isn't as all consuming as he thought it was... but it's not our job as game designers to force people to play interesting characters.
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"In our game the other night, Joshua's character came in as an improvised thing, but he was crap so he only contributed a d4!"
                                     --Vincent Baker
Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2005, 08:05:05 AM »

Hi,

Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits is probably a good model for everyone to look at on this subject.  No one has to have their character forced into a social conflict- it only occurs if the player is willing to take the risk of losing the conflict (and thereby, saying, there is a possibility my character might be persuaded).  On the flip side of it- if you choose not to enter into social conflicts, you can't socially persuade others either, and obviously if your character is that stubborn, odds are good that the other characters will look for other ways to force your hand.

Chris
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #6 on: July 26, 2005, 08:17:41 AM »

Social resolution systems without absolute veto power are in direct opposition to story creation, because they allow the mechanics to define a character's motivations, beliefs, desires, limits, etc.  I'm sure that's what was going on in the Dogs example.  Her character passed through the resolution system and came out the other end a different character.  Any real theme involving the character went *poof*.

Wow.

And I realize that, a year ago, I probably would have agreed -- but now I don't. I used to see the loss of the ability to make decisions for my character as an intolerable violation: I didn't expect that whatever my character tried would work, but I certainly expected that I'd be able to try. But playing Capes and Dogs in the Vineyard, and reading Actual Play about those games and others, has convinced me that it's equally interesting to deal with losing control. I don't know about you, but in real life, I frequently watch myself make the wrong decision even though my "true" self wants something else, and people have wrestled with this issue in some really interesting story-telling for a long time. (Including, say, Saint Paul: "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak").

To riff off Ron Edwards's line (which I'm misquoting) "sometimes the dice tell you today is the day your character gets kicked to the curb": We're all more or less reconciled to game mechanics that say, "sorry, you missed the target" or "today is the day you got socked in the jaw; what do you do about it?" But there's fertile ground in games that tell you "sorry, you found you didn't have the willpower to shoot someone when your friends urged you not to" or "today is the day you lost faith in your cause; what do you do about it?"

As long as that "what do you do about it" isn't closed off, the story isn't over.
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Jason Lee
Member

Posts: 729


« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2005, 08:25:22 AM »

Cruciel: Out of curiosity, do you consider the limited outs, such as resource spending or escalation, to be acceptable mechanicsms for your 'absolute veto'? In those instances, you can stick to your guns if you really want to, but you have to pick your battles

Naw, that doesn't cut it.  Though Clinton was able to make a case for "all that talking distracted you" in the above example, it still could've invalidated whatever statement the player was making about the character if they were motivated enough not to hesistate.  Besides, you can often get into social conflicts that don't have a physical element and more directly rewrite character concepts, such as seduction rolls, tests of faith, challenging maternal instincts, etc.  Trying to fabricate external factors for all those situations can lead to some pretty contrived scenes.

The absolute veto in social conflicts is like Fortune in the Middle resolution.  The big perk of FitM is that it lets an acting character void a deprotagonizing failure - the player has the option of choosing not to make a statement that would define the character incorrectly.  As a failed defense in a social conflict results in the defender acting (choosing to do something), absolute veto is like voiding your action in FitM resolution.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2005, 08:37:05 AM by cruciel » Logged

- Cruciel
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2005, 08:28:12 AM »

Hiya,

Although I agree 100% with Cruciel's point, as well as with his use of my earlier text, I also want to showcase Sorcerer for an interesting solution to this issue.

In Sorcerer, dice do resolve conflicts, but they don't ever change what a character can try to do. If Bill and Steve are characters, and if Bill's player (or GM) wins a Will vs. Will roll against Steve's player (or GM) ...

Then Steve can still do whatever it is the player/GM wanted him to do. He is, however, working with Bill's victories, from his roll, as added opposition dice.

In practice, I've found this to be a fine approach and very much in tune with overall issues in Sorcerer. It also applies well to Dust Devils.

However, in HeroQuest, Trollbabe, The Mountain Witch, My Life with Master, and Dogs in the Vineyard, as well as a few other games, the "kicked to the curb today" approach, which is rather different, works very well. It's important to understand the hows and whys of the two approaches, though.

Best,
Ron
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Sean
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« Reply #9 on: July 26, 2005, 08:40:25 AM »

Cruciel, I guess I'm not sure I agree with you.

I mean, maybe my guy's a Conan clone. I want to make a statement like "Human will can overcome any challenge" or "There's nothing in the universe cold steel can't cut." I roll three crappy combat rolls in a row and get gutted. Some statement.

Particularly in fantasy and western fiction, the way a character fights is a primary vehicle for that character's making a thematic statement. For Conan, it's no skin off his nose if a foxy witch seduces him into doing the wrong thing; the player's sitting there going 'fuck' but he knows that later on he'll figure out what's going on and then head out for sweet revenge. But if a competent city guard rolls two natural 20's and guts him, forget about it.

I guess what I'm saying is that losing a physical conflict is not intrinsically more or less deprotagonizing than losing a social conflict or any other type, though players may find it so. (I think that a lot of us are just trained to say "well, that's the game" about combat whiffs but not about social whiffs; this is an artifact of RPG design history though.)  So if we were to follow your logic all the way through it seems like we'd have to play Karma or heavily player-driven Drama systems to create protagonized players at all...but that's not right, I don't think.
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xenopulse
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« Reply #10 on: July 26, 2005, 08:59:18 AM »

There is a fourth solution, aside from leaving social conflict decisions simply to the player (in freeform fashion), making the conflict rolls binding, or letting social attacks cause penalties to act against, and that is to reward players for giving in to social "attacks."  I've suggested a mechanic to do that in this thread.
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lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: July 26, 2005, 09:10:39 AM »

This is just a side note about Dogs in the Vineyard: the opportunity to protect your character's integrity, to veto, exists, but it exists when you're establishing what the stakes are, not when you resolve them.

-Vincent
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Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #12 on: July 26, 2005, 11:37:53 AM »

Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits is probably a good model for everyone to look at on this subject.  No one has to have their character forced into a social conflict- it only occurs if the player is willing to take the risk of losing the conflict (and thereby, saying, there is a possibility my character might be persuaded).  On the flip side of it- if you choose not to enter into social conflicts, you can't socially persuade others either, and obviously if your character is that stubborn, odds are good that the other characters will look for other ways to force your hand.

Just to underscore this: It became very apparent during playtesting that it was essential that all sides agree to abide by the results of the Duel of Wits when employing the mechanic. In the rules, Luke was very explicit that such agreement was necessary. In fact, I tend to make sure that each side agrees to the potential results of failure before dice are rolled in ANY conflict resolution system these days. I think that helps to keep people from feeling they've been robbed of choice for their character. Instead they feel they made a gamble and lost. But it was their choice to gamble in the first place.

Also, the  fact that players can choose to escalate to violence (much like Dogs in the Vineyard), rather than accept the result, is a help. I almost never see players choose to escalate to violence, but the fact that the option is there if they don't care to stick by the results of the Duel seems to help players maintain the sense that they are in control of their characters' choices.
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Bill Cook
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Posts: 501


« Reply #13 on: July 26, 2005, 02:05:30 PM »

This is a fascinating thread.

Plausability is a losing argument for accepting deprotagonizing consequences. Requiring the threatened player to come up with something they can accept after they've already lost adds insult to injury. There's no glory without risk, but having Conan gutted by a city guard makes about as much sense as having James Bond laserbeamed down the middle by Goldfinger. I think the trick is to make accepting the risk explicit. And having the flexibility to spoil for a game of takers. (i.e. Ok, so you don't want to enter a debate over whether you'll betray your misguided traitor of a brother. Will you try to talk him out of it? Is this even the right direction? What is? What kind of risk would excite you, whose loss you could accept? Should we be role-playing your character blowtorching a jail cell full of nuns? More resistance, possibly? .. How much?)

Basically, they've got to commit. Some systems only support death. (Cough! D&D. Cough!) Others--like Sorcerer, DitV and TSOY--other a range of loss. DitV has these really cool, genre relevant arenas. Sorcerer and the other two, as a pair, offer two separate categories of metering effects of resolution. I assume the player in Clinton's actual play would have been less wounded by Sorcerer.

But really, it sounds like she should have been firmly qualified as being on-board for having all the fight talked out of that angry gun hand. If she wasn't, hey, she's an important part of the group's fun, right? So pull out the next book of carpet samples.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2005, 02:10:19 PM by Bill Cook » Logged

simon_hibbs
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Posts: 678


« Reply #14 on: July 27, 2005, 05:37:43 AM »

Great stuff guys! I'm sorry I don't have the time to reply to everyone, but that probably wouldn't be a very good use of bandwidth anyway.

Regarding Conan, I think this is a situation where the player has to decide what cost he's pepared to bear to never be defeated in combat. In game terms, perhaps deliberately throwing the seduction contest means the player gets extra resources to use in combat contests - or conversely in combat he trades extra successes/bonuses for future penalties that the GM get's to apply in future contests.

I agree that sometimes it's interesting to have your character behave 'out of character', but you can still have that happen. Conan's player always has the choice allow this and explore the consequences. If that's the sort of thing you're interested in exploring as a player then that's fine.

I think there is a role for games where you don't always have the final say in your character's actions, but I also believe the  amicable middle ground where some players can choose to loosen the reigns on their character while others can maintain a tighter grip is achievable.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
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