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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13299 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 59 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Gamma Wolrd!] Where's my conflict?  (Read 6483 times)
gsoylent
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Posts: 62


« on: October 13, 2008, 02:08:07 AM »

This actual play is kind of a companion piece to http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26777.0. That was an octaNe game, this one is a Gamma World Game. What is perhaps surprisingly they both turned out very similar in style, with large parts of the game simply being driven by some sort of informal free-form. This makes me feel I am missing something.

I've read (misread?) a lot on this forum on how scenes should contain a conflict, the resolution of which is often the signal to move on to the next scene. In octaNe I am not sure you can even technically have a "scene" without a conflict; all the main mechanics of the game (winning narration rights and winning Plot Points require conflicts). In practice though, in the games I run it seems a lot of the scenes are about planning or learning stuff which don't seem very "conflicty" to me.  And even the potential conflicts can be diffused or worked around.   


Anyway, on with the AP proper. This was a Gamma World played like a four colour, post-apocalypse super-hero game. The players are part of an organisation dedicated to the preservation and restoration of technology. They are sent to investigate one of the organisations's archeological digs which has gone incommunicado. 

Key points in the scenario were:

* An evil mastermind wants to take over the site for his own use (for what it's worth, the site is actually the Smithsonian Institute).

* The scientist at the dig have been infected by a mutant werewolf virus and in order to help spread the virus, they want to infect the evil mastermind and thus have him join their cause.

* One of the scientist has escaped contagion and is hiding in the jungle, potentially waiting for a chance to contact the party.

Note: if there are any fans here of the 80's Saturday morning cartoon show "Thundarr the Barbarian" you might just recognise the plot, but don't worry I won't ask you to own up to that.


Scene 1: The party are ambushed by the werewolves on their way to the site, hoping to infect them. Straight up fight no big deal.

Scene 2: The party arrive at the site. It's day time so the scientists appear human though they are still controlled by the virus. The scene is just exposition, a chance for the party settle in, talk to the NPCs and get a feel for the situation and location.

I struggle to find any proper conflict in this scene. I guess there is potential for conflict in so far as players might find something suspicious in the scientist behaviour as I did deliberately portray the scientist in a suspicious way. But is that something that should be left to the players to initiate if they choose to (as in a players asking "Do I see anything odd in how the scientists are acting?") or should the GM prompt a Perception check?     

In practice we just roleplayed this scene.No one asked to make any skill checks, although ooc they did remark they thought something was fishy. 

Scene 3: A robot servant of the evil mastermind floats into the camp with ultimatum from his master. Again I am note entirely sure where the conflict in this scene is. Sure there is a decision to me made - accept or defy the ultimatum but it's something I feel naturally inclined to resolve mechanically. Or potentially there could be conflict with the robot (assuming the party try to trick, attack or subvert the robot in some way).

In play, after a quick discussion between the player and the site director, a joint decision is made to refuse the offer, but hand it as a sealed letter for the evil mastermind eyes only with the . The idea was to buy time.

Scene 4: To shakes things up, I found the opportunity to have the uninfected scientist (a sentient cactus, but that is beside the point) contact the party and warn them that the other scientists are infected and they plans to spread infection to the mastermind. They party immediately suspect that the message directed to the mastermind in bobby trapped - which actually made a lot of sense so I retconned it into the plot without explicitly telling them.

And so we had a third scene in a row in which important things happened, and in fairness the players were engaged, but actually the mechanics of the game really did not come into play. NOt a huge deal for Gamma World, but in octaNe if you don't have conflicts you don't get narration right or earn Plot Points which doesn't really much else.

After that lot's of stuff happened, deals were made, fights were fought and the good guys won.


So my questions really relates to questions scenes 2,3 4. Is it your experience that scenes what invole mostly exposition and planning are an inherent feature in roleplaying games or is it just a GM style thing? If its the former, how do systems focused on resolving conflicts cope with important non-conflcit scenes? Or do these scenes actually contain genuine conflicts which I am just missing?
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gsoylent
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Posts: 62


« Reply #1 on: October 13, 2008, 02:32:16 AM »

Typo in the section on Scene 3. It should read.

"but it's  NOT something I feel naturally inclined to resolve mechanically."
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2008, 07:49:43 AM »

One of the diffficulties I think you're facing is that most encounters, and especially those which are placed in a particular rising-action sequence prior to play, are incompatible with the notion of conflict.

An easy illustration: the initial fight with the werewolves. This had one purpose, as I understand it, to see some violence and to establish that werewolves were around. There is no conflict in the all-important sense of character goals or things can be accomplished or not accomplished. When X attacks, we fight X, and that's it. I'm guessing as well that there was absolutely no real risk of a character dying; and it's not clear whether there was a real risk of a character getting infected.

A more significant illustration: the "dead zone" where everyone was wandering around talking to the scientists. I think this is really important, that you struggled with the idea that there has to be a conflict in a scene, when the reality is that the existence of a conflict is a matter of someone's choice as a player (meaning, including the GM).

That kind of situation is why I made the rule in Trollbabe that only the GM starts and stops scenes, but anyone with a character in a given scene can call for a conflict, always, without any override. That way, conflicts may arise strictly from what's going on in play, but everyone has authority to make a judgment about whether that's happening or not.

You were in the position of letting the fiction decide whether there was a conflict, but the fact is, the fiction is produced by you guys at the table as real people. There is a difficult dichotomy of failure to deal with here: (1) that the fiction 'does nothing' because no one acts upon it in a mindfully conflict-heavy way; (2) that the conflict is imposed, most awfully pre-scene imposed, without real reference to the fiction, creating a story-conference instead of in-play decisions.

The good news is that #1 is a perfectly fine outcome at least some of the time. The bad news is that the current independent game culture is obsessed with #2. I think your own statement or perception that a scene must a conflict in it reflects that obsession. Very few games enforce conflicts' presence to that degree; and the ones that do usually integrate it with a lot of in-play open-endedness regarding what they will be about (My Life with Master, Polaris, With Great Power).

To use the third scene for yet another illustration, as you presented it, there's no conflict at all - the robot has a message, it delivers the message, case closed. The question is whether that's a problem. I don't think there is; it's a case of #1, which isn't a problem unless people are blocked either passively or actively from doing something conflict-like. So let's look at that possibility. For instance, if a player had tried to capture the robot to take it apart or re-program it - did the players even know they had the option? Were they waiting on a cue from you to do it? Did they even think in terms of doing something that you hadn't planned, and if not, were they waiting not only on a cue, but for a cue to do that specific thing? Are you, as GM, open to the idea that they might try something like that which you hadn't even thought of? (Everyone says "yes" to that question, but most of them are not being honest with themselves about it.)

My overall point is that you and your players are facing the contradiction between (a) a sequence of planned scenes with planned outcomes and (b) having conflicts arise from what characters are really doing right there in play. All of it compounded by some confusion over whether conflicts "should" be in scenes or not.

Does any of that help, or make sense? To a great extent, I'm guessing and tossing out possibilities.

Best, Ron
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gsoylent
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Posts: 62


« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2008, 10:04:21 AM »


Yes, your reading of the adventure is pretty much accurate. Scene #1 was never a life or death fight, just a chance for the players to with all the superpower of their newly rolled characters ( you get a lot of powers in Gamma World). So yes, the sequence of events from #1,#2 and #3 was pretty much a done deal, which in retrospect makes for a poor actual play.

Scene #3 was the first real decision point. The choice of how to react to the robot was genuine and I think, given the prevalent gaming style of our group, the players would have been aware of it. In actual fact the solution adopted of a written, sealed reply rather than verbal one was not something I planned for. It may seem like a small thing, but it meant the robot was not able to robot to react to the response immediately or radio back to his master. And that did shaped the direction of the game.

What happened next is that once the players learned the truth about the virus and its goal to infect the evil mastermind they concluded that the sealed reply was in fact a Trojan horse, a viral booby trap designed to infect at the mastermind. This was never part of my GM notes, I never saw it coming, but it made a lot of sense so I retconned it the plot. As a result the focus for the next segment of the game became "stop the robot from delivering the letter without letting the infected scientists notice". That in turn altered their relationship with the evil mastermind.

Incidentally, while I was preparing this actual play post, I asked my players if they had noticed that I had "stolen their idea" but apparently not. They seemed to think that had been part of the plot all along. That may or may not be a good thing, I am not sure.

You are right, I am obsessing perhaps too much over the term 'conflict'. But like I said at the start, the aim of this post for me was to understand octaNe better by comparing it to an actual gaming session which, despite radically different rules, played in a very similar style.

When running both these games, I essentially took a "Say yes or roll the dice" type of approach. I am not sure where I first heard that phrase (it might even have been on this forum) but as far as generic GM advice goes seems pretty sound. And for Gamma World, it was okay. But in octaNe, I've come to think this advice isn't sound at all. Saying 'yes' in octaNe does not "pass the conch", to use your expression.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2008, 08:11:43 AM »

Hey,

Quote
You are right, I am obsessing perhaps too much over the term 'conflict'. But like I said at the start, the aim of this post for me was to understand octaNe better by comparing it to an actual gaming session which, despite radically different rules, played in a very similar style.

What are your thoughts on that issue, at this point? As I see it, you're struggling over the process by which significant events in play change things, whether a given character's attitude or overall circumstances of the scenario, or even the content of the back-story in the most extreme case. Does that seem accurate?

Quote
When running both these games, I essentially took a "Say yes or roll the dice" type of approach. I am not sure where I first heard that phrase (it might even have been on this forum) but as far as generic GM advice goes seems pretty sound. And for Gamma World, it was okay. But in octaNe, I've come to think this advice isn't sound at all. Saying 'yes' in octaNe does not "pass the conch", to use your expression.

"Say yes or roll the dice" is Vincent Baker's phrase for an idea that was raised and discussed here at the Forge during 2002-2004. The idea was that the dice help resolve crisis situations that we as a group consider pivotal (with the GM as point-man in this case), but not situations which aren't - even when the two kinds of situations may involve exactly the same skills or attributes or whatever based on the character sheet, in terms of in-game logic.

My character wrenches a post out of the ground - no roll, no matter how hard it may be, as long as it's at least possible that my character can do it.

My character wrenches a post out of the ground to use as a weapon against the wolf who is charging his child - roll! Can he do it?

Does that correspond to your understanding of the phrase? I'm concerned that if you picked it up merely by brushing against it in use, possibly by people who themselves didn't really understand it, then you may be applying some other principle than what the phrase was coined to deal with.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying you necessarily misunderstand the phrase, and as it happens, I agree with your comment about octaNe. But I want to make sure we're communicating rather than merely thinking we do via the use of a catch-phrase.

Best, Ron
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gsoylent
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Posts: 62


« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2008, 11:30:15 AM »

What are my thoughts? Basically it's about trying to understand how octaNe is meant to work. The octaNe rules plainly state that the purpose of a scene is to introduce a conflict and then resolve it.

What I find is that a lot of the time what I would consider a "scene" doesn't really contain a "conflict". In a game like Gamma World, that doesn't seem to matter so much, but in octaNe it is an issue because the mechanics feeds on conflict.

We've since played octaNe two more times, rotating the GM each time. The second GM had the same kind of problem I had finding clear cut conflicts in  a succession of scenes. As a player I actually did not make a single Stunt roll all evening. My character did things, just nothing that was seriously contested or whose outcome was seriously in the balance. Closest I cam e to a conflict was to try to see through an illusion at on stage of the game, but I figured it was more interested to fall for the illusion and see where that went.

The third GM which was a lot more combat and giant monster orientated. That worked a lot better.So I guess the lesson is, not enough giant monsters.

And yes, I was using "Say yes..." expression in a very generic sense, After I posted I googled the phrase and it did indeed show Vincent Baker as the author and instantly realised it probably had a much more precise and nuanced meaning on this forum, my mistake.
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drnuncheon
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Posts: 155

Some call me Jeff


« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2008, 12:32:55 PM »

What are my thoughts? Basically it's about trying to understand how octaNe is meant to work. The octaNe rules plainly state that the purpose of a scene is to introduce a conflict and then resolve it.

I can see some possible conflicts in the second scene.

First, "do the PCs notice that the scientists are infected".  If you just play this straight, with the players having only in-character knowledge, it's kind of boring because the GM is the only one that even knows it is going on.  If the players know that the scientists are infected, then it becomes a lot more tense.

Second, why not combine it with the third scene?  Have the robot there when the PCs arrive.  Then noticing the infection becomes a secondary conflict - and the negotiations between scientists and robot get disrupted by this third party showing up in the middle, possibly with both sides trying to get them on their side.  (The conflicts there might even be within the group!)

J
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JoyWriter
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Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #7 on: November 06, 2008, 06:30:40 PM »

Sounds like you made a fun story anyway, so you don't need to care! If I am not mistaken octaNe's plot points only affect conflicts anyway, so if no conflict happens then they are no gain. To put it another way, if players have implicit narrative control via coolness anyway, they don't need their characters to cause conflict to get it. It feels to me like there is some kind of GNS thing going on here, where your model is working but it is not that of the game designer.

Now scene structure in more passive media is something you could perhaps look at, because instead of conflict you seem to be building and resolving tension, which before anything else reminds me of music. (You thought I was going to say films didn't you!)

It's tricky to put into words, but you can build up different types of tension, and have them feed into one another, as resolving one leads to difficulty with another. So they can start out as separate themes/scenes, being dealt with on their own, with switch-overs between different types and paces of threat providing variety, and then you can get them to interact, as your players thought of, and so shift each other so the old accommodations no longer work.A bit like a Guy Richie film with a larger emotional pallet, or less if you prefer.

Then like some pieces of music or one of those films it can all roll into a big chaotic conflict that the players can find their way through or not, with all the themes that haven't gone mixing and fighting and resolving in whatever you end up with.

Now if you don't get what I'm on about, I'm talking exploration of causality; a narrative karma approach to simulationist play to see what you come up with, shifting into dice when it all gets too complicated, and then with you putting it back together again epilogue style. Now I think there is overlap with narrativism here, but hopefully I haven't butchered forge terminology too much!

I think that these scenes definitely did something, like introductions of themes in a song or mechanics in a computer game, they implied the possible structure for what would proceed, and then you presumably fleshed it out afterwards in a more conflict based fashion. In octaNe terms, the only problem I can think of is a lack of plot point build-up by the time you get to the big scenes, but that shouldn't matter as the game is flexy enough to deal with that, and I'm sure you are to!
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 06, 2008, 06:58:52 PM »

Special theory post: you nailed it!

Best, Ron
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gsoylent
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Posts: 62


« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2008, 12:10:42 AM »

Very interesting reply. I am very tempted to leave it there, while we're winninng, so to speak. However, I think there is something more at stake than Plot Points in a low conflict octaNe game.

Consider these examples, based on how I understood octaNe in meant to work.

No conflict scene.

Player asks willing witness: "Did you see where the little girl went?"
GM: "Yes! A horrible yeti took her away!"

Conflict scene.

Player asks hostile witness: "Did you see where the little girl went?"
Stunt roll, player wins narration.
Player says "Yes! But she wasn't a little girl at all. When she thought no one was looking she transformed into a smartcar and drove off!"

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