[Solar System] Knocked out of Extended Conflict and Intents

Started by Paul T, February 18, 2010, 11:49:50 PM

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Paul T

A question about complex conflicts (i.e. more than two sides) and intents:

How do we handle situations where there are several intents a character would oppose, and a character is knocked out of Extended Conflict (by giving up or by being Broken)?

I'm struggling with this a bit. Let's say Adam is trying to get away from Beatrice and Charlie. That's his intent: to escape. Beatrice wants to catch him, and right now her action is to trip him. Charlie, meanwhile, wants to kill Adam, and is shooting at him with a gun.

Now, let's say Beatrice rolls high enough against Adam to knock him out of Extended Conflict. He's not getting away, in other words. What happens to Charlie's intent? He's got no one to roll against any more, but it seems pretty unfair to say that Adam is dead, right there and then. At the same time, what's stopping him?

In the case of death, I think I would rule in this situation that Adam will be "dead" but not permanently, like if it was a simple Ability check. But if it wasn't death, how would it go?

Let's say it's a debate. Beatrice is trying to convince Adam that God exists, and Charlie is trying to get him kicked out of office. Same deal: if one or the other knocks Adam out of BDTP, does the other's intent automatically happen? What if Adam was willing to give in to one or the other? Could he drop out of that fight and concentrate on the other? (That could be more awkward given a situation like being shot, since, after all, if he doesn't run away, how does he avoid getting shot?)

Looking forward to your answer(s)!

Eero Tuovinen

The answer is actually pretty simple: in Solar System the difficulty in achieving your goal is not inherent in what you do, but in whether there is an opponent resisting you. If the opponent is knocked out of conflict and unable to resist you, that means that you succeed in whatever you're doing. Conflicts against nature are exceptional and always rather easy.

This is not unfair towards the poor Adam: he lost his right to naysay others when he was knocked out of the conflict by going to Harm 7. The player should have negotiated with the player of Beatrice for a compromise: perhaps Adam would be caught by Beatrice, who'd then stop Charlie from shooting him. This way Adam would lose the conflict to Beatrice, but if Charlie insisted on continuing the conflict, then he could resume against Charlie - and Beatrice would have to choose to either be complicit in the murder, aid Adam or stay out of it. As you can see, it matters whether Adam is knocked out of conflict or just his player gives up - if he's knocked out, his fate is no longer his own, while as long as he gives up (or runs out of Pool perhaps, if you use those rules), he can still initiate a new conflict in continuance.

It's also quite possible that Beatrice tries to prevent Charlie from killing Adam once Adam's restrained securely. We have to remember that the players need to be honest in the declaration of their goals, so it can't be that Beatrice's player lied about Beatrice's intent to take Adam alive. It's possible that Charlie threatens Beatrice and she changes her mind, but we have to presume that she has at least some level of intent to keep Adam alive at the moment. Of course, if Adam was foolish enough to fight to exhaustion in the first place, there's little preventing Beatrice from changing her mind about Adam - if you're knocked out of conflict by Harm, your fate is completely out of your own hands. In this sense it doesn't even matter whether Charlie has a murderous intent in the first place - if the conflict goes to Harm 7, your character's fate will be up to the opponent.

Obviously getting Broken is very serious, as that's when your opponent has a chance to do you in, figuratively or literally. This is why you should never fight to the finish unless you're willing to risk your character's life. The rule on giving up is there for a reason.

How do you give up in a multiplayer conflict? That depends on the fiction. Some fictional goals imply others, while others exclude each other. If Beatrice wants to catch Adam and Adam gives in, then the issue of Adam's death in Charlie's hands is narrowed down to whether Adam will be killed in Beatrice's custody or not. This is still a valid conflict, I imagine - Adam might get permission from Beatrice to fight his enemy, promising to come back once he's beaten Charlie, for example. Or Beatrice might simply join with Adam to fight Charlie off. Or Charlie might give up once he sees that Beatrice has custody. But if the situation was such that Beatrice's goal implies success for Charlie, then that's tough shit - you can't give in to one of them without giving in to the other. This could be the case if Beatrice is trying to catch Adam to turn him in to Charlie to be shot. In that case, despite rhetoric, the goals of Beatrice and Charlie are the same.

Interestingly, depending on timing, Adam might get away from both of them after giving in to Beatrice: if Adam lets Beatrice catch himself and then convinces Beatrice to let him deal with Charlie, then after the conflict with Charlie finishes he might be positioned in the fiction in a manner that'd allow him to legitimately initiate a new escape from Beatrice. This is sort of a genre convention: the good cop Beatrice catches the heroic outlaw Adam, but almost immediate Charlie the blackhat surprises them both. Beatrice releases Adam because only he is the true Son of the Colt, and thus the only one who might survive against Charlie. After a gunfight Adam and Beatrice look at each other over the battleground, then Adam gives her a salute and disappears in the mists. That might be a legal turn of events even if Beatrice shouts in surprise and goes after Adam - a simple conflict might suffice at this point for Adam to make his escape, as Beatrice's player might decide not to press the matter further. The point is: Beatrice winning her conflict about catching Adam will only keep Adam caught as long as she keeps hold of him in the fiction, which might not last even for one scene.

This stuff can get confusing if you overthink it. I find that the best way to get good enough results for play is to think of normal conflicts in terms of resolving stakes, but think of extended conflicts are simple D&D style combat mechanics: you just resolve tasks in the fiction, allowing new tasks to flow naturally, and sooner or later somebody is out of the conflict, at which point the other guy gets to narrate a satisfying outcome. Continue bashing heads in until the guys still standing can agree on what's going to happen, as I say in the SS booklet.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paul T


I think I'm following you (and we're definitely on the same page in terms of : this probably would almost never come up), but I'm not 100% sure.

It's a design issue, see:

* The idea in Extended Conflict is that you go into it with a certain Intent. Then, if you knock out your opponents within the conflict, you can have your Intent.

But sometimes, in a three-way (or more), someone else could knock out your opponents before you get a chance to. In that case, it seems ambiguous: do you get your Intent or not?

In a Wicked Age..., for example, gets around this by having Intent effectively determined only afterwards, by the negotiating parties. So, you can go into a conflict and come out of it not having resolved anything related to your intent at all. And then you can just start up again.

But in Solar System, a) there is a pre-existing Intent that needs to be dealt with, and b) the resource expenditure in a conflict often makes a followup conflict impossible (due to the system's requirements for resource recovery between conflicts).

Am I making any sense?

Also, are you saying that you CAN give to one party in a BDTP situation, but still remain in the conflict? (Or is this simply a "what makes most sense in the fiction" question?)

Eero Tuovinen

The idea in Extended Conflict is that you go into it with a certain Intent. Then, if you knock out your opponents within the conflict, you can have your Intent.

Ah, but that's not the way it is. Rather, it goes like this: you go into the conflict with a certain intent. Then, if your opponent knocks you out, you don't get your intent. So it's the other way around from how it is in many other conflict resolution games.

Your Harm track represents your character's abstract right to stop the proceedings and take the game to intensive mechanical state in which resources are utilized in complex ways to find out who an why triumphs. By default characters always gain their intent (as long as they can pass a very simple Ability check), it's only the other characters positioning themselves and their Harm tracks in your way that can stop you. And even then, it's a struggle: we find out who stands at the end, and as that guy no longer has any credible opposition, he gets his intent.

So it's the polar opposite of getting your intent because you won: the point of the conflict is not to make your own intent succeed, but to make any contrary intents fail or compromise so your intent can go through without resistance. From this viewpoint it's obvious what happens in a multi-participant conflict: you go into the conflict to take down anybody who opposes your intent, and keep at it until you can take no more, or there is nobody left resisting you.

As for partially giving up, that is totally possible. In fact, it should be commonplace when you realize that giving up and changing your intent are the same thing. The way it works is that Adam's player negotiates with Beatrice's player to find a commonality between their goals, some compromise that allows them to avoid continuing the conflict - this is very much like the IaWA "negotiation with a stick" in that the player who has the mechanical upper hand may always opt to continue the conflict. Once Adam and Beatrice are in accord and modify their intents (potentially spending a round on the defence), the conflict continues between Adam and Charlie exactly like it did before: those two still have opposing intents. Beatrice may or may not continue acting in the situation, depending on whether she has some motivation for such. Of course the fictional positioning weights in on how feasible any deal A and B's players made actually is: if B has to let A go to allow him to fight C, then "catching Adam" was technically accomplished, but wasn't very important after all, unless the fiction has some nice means of making Adam stay caught even as he continues his conflict against Charlie - an honorable promise, a slow-acting poison injection or whatever.

The Solar System extended conflict has much more in common with a traditional task-based combat system than it has with abstract conflict resolution mechanics. Character very concretely do things in the fiction, with certain timing and with extra consequences and limitations brought about by their positioning and actions in the fiction. When the complex conflict is initiated by a player, any characters who still have a functioning Harm track can join the conflict, change their intents, get out of the conflict, rejoin and so on and so forth, as long as their players do not accede to any conflict outcomes (including being forced out of the conflict altogether). These situations are rare, but it's not fruitful to look at the conflict resolution mechanism as a formal and clean system where you go in and come out all at once and in neat mutual understanding; as the rules stand, any permutation of characters can join and leave the conflict and change their goals midway through, with the only rule really being that the conflict will continue grinding along as long as you can point to at least two characters each round and note that their goals are contrary, one wants to stop the other.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paul T


We're on the same page... I think.

Part of the problem is that I'm trying to apply the same logic to a system I'm designing, but within which there is no clear "endpoint" such as the filling-up of one's Harm track.

I also find the situation where Adam is Broken by Beatrice and then can be killed by Charlie strange. How is that different from:

Beatrice and Adam have a conflict.  Adam is knocked out, harm past Broken. Two seconds later, Charlie walks in and says, "Oh! Adam! I kill him. Blam."

Can you maybe describe what it would look like at the table if Adam and Beatrice were to negotiate a different outcome without ending the extended conflict? (An over-simplified version of the dialogue would be totally fine; no need to knock yourself out!)

Thanks, Eero!


Eero Tuovinen

Yeah, you need to have definite arch to the system in something like this. It's like D&D combat: that system would go nowhere if there were no ablative hit point totals. The only thing that tells you how near the end is is your ablating hit point total, after all.

As for the practical dialogue: let's say Adam's player is A, Beatrice's B and Charlie's C. Beatrice is a cop, Adam is a fugitive and Charlie is a corrupt NSA agent. An extended conflict is ongoing.
SG: The elevator doors close between Adam and Charlie just as the latter draws his gun. There's no doubt that he's going for a kill. Beatrice succeeded in second-guessing Adam, so she'll be waiting for him on the third floor when he gets out of the elevator. The round ends, a new round begins.
A: For the next round, I'm going to jump out of the elevator and Wrestle her down - perhaps I can talk her out of this foolish chase before Charlie gets up the stairs.
C: I guess I'll run up the stairs and surprise Adam in the act of assaulting an officer - Endure for bonus dice.
B: Come now, A - shouldn't we negotiate? Charlie's clearly off the handle here. <This is "out of character", note.>
A: What do you have in mind?
B: I'll help you disarm Charlie if you'll go with me to the precinct peacefully.
A: OK, works for me. You'll shout something like that as the elevator doors open and I stumble out, ready for anything?
B: Actually, I'll shout "Adam, stop running! I love you, but you've got to trust me!" <Note how what the characters know and think has only occasional touchpoints with the stakes of the conflict.>
A: Cool. I'm going to go along with that.
C: Damn. Sounds like I'm screwed.
SG: So we have Beatrice and Adam changing intents, which means defensive actions. Everybody would make a defensive action here, so C - want to skip ahead and do something proactive against their defenses? <C's defensive action was not mandated by the rules, but inspired by the fiction, so he can swap to something else with a tiny bit of flex in the fiction.>
C: OK, let's say that I get up top, kick open the door and Shoot the first thing that moves, murder in my eyes.
A: That'd be me, as I run towards Beatrice - I'll React to throw both of us out of the way.
B: React, likewise - my check supports A here.
SG: So we're finally ready for the dice, then. Let's roll.

The above example is somewhat elaborate as a depiction of a typical extended conflict negotiation phase, but that's how it goes when you change intents - it's pretty typical for some players to declare actions, then somebody changes intents, then others correct their actions to match. In this case we see both Adam and Beatrice changing their intents to remove the conflict between them, allowing them both to focus on fighting against Charlie. The characters do not need to engage in elaborate negotiations, that part is done by the players, out of character. Note that we could technically say that Beatrice won her conflict against Adam here, in that Adam's player accepted the idea that Adam would go with Beatrice after the climatic fight against Charlie was concluded. Rules-wise, however, such a victory looks just like a change of intent - Beatrice changed her intent because she is now more concerned about saving Adam from Charlie than just taking Adam into custody, and Adam changed his intent because he is now more concerned with kicking Charlie's ass than escaping from Beatrice and Charlie.

If Beatrice had to hunt Adam to exhaustion and force him out of the conflict, then Adam would indeed be helpless against Charlie, unless Beatrice decided to defend him. This makes eminent sense to me. Note that if Charlie weren't participating in the conflict before Adam succumbed, it wouldn't be unreasonable for Adam to get a new conflict against Charlie when he arrives with gun in hand. A tapped-out Adam with a full Harm track might not be much of an opposition for Charlie, but that's just how it goes in this sort of game - you don't get your hit points back after a battle in D&D, either.

It's not very difficult to replace the Harm tracks with some other sort of conflict arc if you feel that characters should get to resist each contrary force separately instead of being forced to ablate their strength against all of them at once. You could have separate "progress tracks" for Adam's freedom vs. Adam's life, for example. I like the personal nature of the Harm track well enough (I think it's cool that a character can get weakened by one struggle and then be brought down by another), but I could see benefits in different set-ups, too.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.