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Author Topic: [Ingenero] Dramatic conflict resolution- help with definitions.  (Read 1351 times)
stefoid
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Posts: 657


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« on: January 30, 2011, 06:08:35 PM »

Hi, Im fleshing out a game that concentrates on the dramatic style of conflict resolution. My def of that is that 'fiction reality' guides the players in what is possible and what is important to conflict resolution rather than whatever mechanical laws of cause and effect might be baked into a game that uses 'physical reality' to guide conflict res.

The game can be downloaded from here:

https://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B5W32IfgIIkrYWI5OGNkYzQtMzQwNS00ZWFhLWE4MmYtMDM0NmMwM2Q0N2Vi&sort=name&layout=list&num=50


Id like some help/feedback on dramatic resolution. My assumptions are that the players facing a challenging situation will set a couple of goals they want their characters to achieve , and that the GM uses these goals as the focus of any dramatic resolution in the scene, probably just narrating through parts of the scene that dont revolve directly around those goals. To my mind, thats what dramatic pacing is about -- not dwelling unduly on every opposition/conflict that the character faces, but only those that are tied to goals.

So Im thinking of the scene for a particular character as a path from his current situation, leading towards his goal, and naturally the path will not be straightforward and clear.

With the above in mind, the following is an excerpt from my system -- Is it enough? can anyone think of other types of complications besides roadblock, detour and dilemma?or just general thoughts? cheers
----------------------------------------

ADVICE ON CONFLICTS:
Knowing when to call a roll a conflict and when to simply narrate is probably the most significant skill for a GM. In general, the GM only wants to break out the dice when there is a significant consequence riding on an intended action. Fortunately, player set goals are like red markers for the GM as they show what is most important to player characters in the upcoming challenge. Try to center rolled conflicts around parts of the challenge that directly result in a player goal being achieved or not. Other parts of the challenge may involve rolled conflicts, but the GM should think hard about it before picking up the dice – sure, someone or something may be opposing the characters intended action, but is the potential conflict an example of a pointless test or a situation with only one viable outcome?

Example 1: Pirates attack! A player’s pirate character has the stated goal of killing the opposition captain during a raid. To do so, he first has the intended actions of boarding the opposition ship and fighting his way to confront the captain. Obviously the battle with the captain should be a dramatic rolled conflict scenario, but what about the other intended actions? Roll or narrate? Generally, these would be examples of pointless tests – where is the fun in the character being put out of the contest by hordes of nameless mooks before having a chance to confront the captain? (and having to roll for battle with those mooks). It would be a disappointing result, achieved by a repetitive and tedious process – the opposite of a fast-paced, dramatic action sequence. Far better to either narrate the character chopping through hordes of mooks to reach his target, or maybe classify the situation as a rolled conflict with only one viable outcome – that the character does manage to cut through the mooks -- but roll to determine how the viable outcome occurred (at what cost). i.e. does he do it in fine swashbuckling style, or is his progress delayed in such a way as to give his ultimate opponent some kind of advantage, or perhaps he sustains an injury, etc…

Goals should not come too easy. It may be the case that an goal could easily be resolved one way or the other with a single roll, which can be a little anti-climactic. When this possibility arises, the GM should consider introducing a complication – something that ratchets up the tension by presenting the character with a detour/obstacle on the way to their shot at goal resolution. The complication should not, however, result in failure to have that shot at goal resolution, although it could put the character at an advantage or disadvantage going into the deciding contest.

The best kind of complication forces the character to make a choice that will have consequences beyond the immediate challenge phase.

Example 2: Another player’s character has the goal of successfully overseeing the pirate’s gun batteries such that they fire in perfect synchronization. This could be a simple test of the character’s relevant background – they do! Or they don’t… riding on a single roll. Either way, it’s hardly dramatic. A solution is to mix in a complication: one of the gun crews is hit by an explosion of splinters, seriously injuring one man and leaving them short-handed. Without an extra person manning that gun -- which the PC could easily do -- it will be much harder to achieve the performance the goal rides on (-4 disadvantage applied to the resolution roll), however the injured man desperately requires someone’s assistance… How the character reacts affects not only his chance at achieving his goal, but also his ongoing relationship with fellow crew members.


TYPES OF OPPOSITION:
The two examples above show two different types of complication standing between a character and his goal – the first being a Road block and the second being a Dilemma. Its helpful to be able to categorize complications so you can recognize them when they occur.

Road block: This is an unavoidable obstacle standing between the character and their goal. i.e. In order to reach the enemy Captain, the pirate must first fight through the crush to get to him. A point to note is that too many Roadblocks usually turns out to be boring, because the player doesn’t get to make any strategic decisions – only tactical decisions about how to defeat the Roadblock. If you are having too many Roadblocks, consider just narrating the characters progress through the roadblock without picking up dice. A second point to note is that a roadblock has the capability of preventing the character from even having a chance of attempting his goal, which is usually unsatisfying. The best way to handle a roadblock is to make the conflict not about if the character passes the roadblock, but how. The character may perform very well, giving some advantage going into the next conflict, or perhaps do badly and go in at a disadvantage.

Detour: This is a more satisfying Roadblock, because its multiple choice. You can fight through the crowd to reach the captain, or you can climb the rigging and swing across, but you have to choose one. Each one is a different flavor of Roadblock with its own advantages and disadvantages for the player to contemplate. Whenever the player makes a choice, it is nice if the GM can attach some consequences that extend past the immediate challenge. If that isnt possible, at least try to make the choices not so clear cut. i.e. A character that is good at combat might naturally prefer to take the fighting option, but perhaps time is an issue, and swinging across, while riskier, will certainly be quicker.

Dilemma: A dilemma is a choice about how to resolve either a roadblock or a goal itself. The second example, above, is a dilemma – does the player man the guns himself, or tend to the wounded crew member? Each choice has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the more far-reaching the consequences of the decision, the higher the drama. A particularly vexing dilemma might force the player to choose between continuing the goal or abandoning it in order to pursue something else entirely.
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stefoid
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« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2011, 10:15:52 PM »

In case anyone is interested,  I doubleposted this to RPG.net and there has been some productive discussion that could be of interest.

http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=559276

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happysmellyfish
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Posts: 49


« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2011, 08:03:55 PM »

Quote
In general, the GM only wants to break out the dice when there is a significant consequence riding on an intended action.

I'd say that dice should only be broken out when you're "okay" with any of the possible outcomes.

To take a cliché - making a perception roll to identify the hidden door is significant, but also probably a bad choice. If they don't find the door, what happens? Classically, nothing. The adventure grinds to a halt and everybody waits for the GM to throw another bone. This outcome is significant, but not acceptable.

The problem there wasn't that the possible outcomes (finding the secret door, or not finding the secret door) was insignificant. Rather, the possible outcomes were not both "okay." One leads somewhere, the other one doesn't.

The definition of what is "okay" will change from game to game.
 
In some, it is "okay" to be killed by a thug with a gun, because we're playing a gritty simulation. In others, it is not "okay" to be killed by a thug with a gun, because we're playing a high falutin' narrative.

It should be the acceptability of a situation's possible outcomes, more than the significance of those outcomes, which determines whether to whip out the dice or not.

Of course, the Forge also has a bunch of GNS theory about this, but that's my immediate response to your advice.
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stefoid
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« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2011, 04:11:18 AM »

I agree and my general case term for those situations is contests with only one viable outcome, and the roadblock, which im now going to term showstopper instead.. Is a specific case of that.  Because the option of not being at least able to advance to the goal contest is not acceptable for dramatic purposes.

As for the significance of what rides on the contest, pacing and drama require that low drama, relatively pointless contests be skimmed over with narration.

The ultimate aim is that players ride the dice rolls because they are emotionslly invested in the outcome.  The point of dramatic res, for me, is to maximise that.  Not so concerned with the human condition so much as a good old fashioned edge of seat imaginative engagement.

My theory on that, is that character and situation are there to provide a rich source of inspiration for goal setting by the players, and then let the chars struggle to achieve those goals.  I figure if the players are setting the goals, and making suggestions about the context in which those goals are contested, then they will be heavilly invested in the outcome of those goal contests, and its up to the gm to ensure that the game doesnt bog down or become sidetracked by other contests which, by definition, the player is less interested in... Ones not closely related to stated goals.

I read hamlets hitpoints, and im also trying to work out how a rythym of downs followed potentially by an up on winning the goal contest might heighten the emotional payoff, but thats to be proven after nailing the basic sd down first.
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SteveCooper
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« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2011, 01:29:01 AM »

Just some quick thoughts;

The two examples you give are different kinds of things;

  • The first -- kill the captain -- is a very high-level goal, which says nothing really about method. Because the method isn't included, *how* it happens goes to narration
  • The second -- synchronized cannons -- is a low-level, *how* type of action, and says nothing about the high-level goal.
.

Shouldn't the two kinds of things be the same? 'kill the captain in personal combat' and 'breach the hull of the oppositing ship' (both goals) or 'cut down mooks' and 'synchronize cannons' (both methods)

There's also a question of the granularity of goal-setting. A player who is more comfortable making bold statements of intent will become effectively more powerful. Imagine, for instance, a vital clue left in a desk drawer. A character who says 'I'll search the house for clues!' will, it seems, find the clue very quickly. A character who likes to do everything in detail ('I look around the room / I examine the desk / can I see anything on the outside of the top drawer? / Is it locked? / Can I dusty hangings / Can I smell anything in the room?') will perhaps make more checks, and so risk failure more often, and so be less effective. It could penalise careful players.
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stefoid
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« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2011, 02:57:27 PM »

Just some quick thoughts;

The two examples you give are different kinds of things;

  • The first -- kill the captain -- is a very high-level goal, which says nothing really about method. Because the method isn't included, *how* it happens goes to narration
  • The second -- synchronized cannons -- is a low-level, *how* type of action, and says nothing about the high-level goal.
.

Shouldn't the two kinds of things be the same? 'kill the captain in personal combat' and 'breach the hull of the oppositing ship' (both goals) or 'cut down mooks' and 'synchronize cannons' (both methods)

Hi.  These are  examples taken from a playtest.  These are goals set by the players in response to the Pirate Captain announcing one promotion spot was available to the best performed crew member - thats the overall 'why' of the goals in this specific example.  So in that sense they are both task resolution that say nothing about whether they achieve their ultimate aim. 

And Im Ok with that.  In my game, players are explicitly rewarded with when their characters achieve explicit player set goals, and my aim is that the decision of whether they accomplish that should come down to a dice roll, which is something that task resolution is suited to. 

Your point is a good one thought because that hadnt occurred to me until you brought it up -- that conflict resolution isnt well suited to player set goals being decided by a dice roll , because conflict resolution generally requires some narrative interpretation to arrive at a concrete result.  Unless you set the granularity to encompass the entire process I suppose - 'Is the captain impressed enough with the way you kill the captain/ synch the guns to award you the promotion?'  but thats a little anti-climactic, and also in this example, you have a couple of players with the same mutually-exclusive ultimate aim.  Thats a problem for conflict res, isnt it?

Quote
There's also a question of the granularity of goal-setting. A player who is more comfortable making bold statements of intent will become effectively more powerful. Imagine, for instance, a vital clue left in a desk drawer. A character who says 'I'll search the house for clues!' will, it seems, find the clue very quickly. A character who likes to do everything in detail ('I look around the room / I examine the desk / can I see anything on the outside of the top drawer? / Is it locked? / Can I dusty hangings / Can I smell anything in the room?') will perhaps make more checks, and so risk failure more often, and so be less effective. It could penalise careful players.

I see what your saying, although the searching for clues example is not the best.  that kind of activity is best left to the 'story phase', unless there is a dramatic confrontation or similar that is supposed to occur during the exploration/investigation, in which case cutting to the confrontation at the next challenge phase will occur, and the 'clues' will not be the focus of goals anyway.

But having said that, again, your point is a good one.  And thats why rules of drama and dramatic pacing need to be explicitly laid out, once I work out what they all are.   without further context, the second player is going through a fairly tedious process that doesnt require any dice rolling at all.  If there was some other element of drama involved in the second example that made it tense, then sure, dwell on that scene, but otherwise the GM is encouraged to narrate through such activity, even if it is conflict activity, to get to the dramatic parts.

That doesnt mean that the whole scene cant be played at the specific players preferred pace -- it might be particularly atmospheric.. everyone might be digging it.  however, the GM wont break out the dice or interrupt the narrative from either side. 

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