[Solar] Complex Conflicts with Spam

Started by Paul T, October 29, 2008, 09:51:36 PM

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Paul T


I have a few quick questions!

It's about complicated conflicts--i.e., with more than two sides.

You write in your book to have everyone roll, and then basically go in order of highest to determine who succeeds. Narrating in order and not being allowed to contradict what has been said pretty much settles this.

However, it brings up two questions for me:

* How do we decide who opposes who?

For instance, if Bob is trying to kill Jerry, and Alice is trying to kill Bob, does Bob's roll "oppose" Alice's?

On one hand, declaring beforehand who you are opposing seems like an easy fix. Of course Bob would oppose Alice killing him!

On the other hand, it doesn't seem entirely "fair" for one person to be able to oppose a whole bunch of other people's intents. Not only does it give the high roller a whole lot of power ("I'm going to do this, and I'm also opposing him, her, and him..."), but it also seems sometimes like it might create odd situations, which brings me to the next question...

* Handling it in one roll can mean that characters can't take advantage of others' weaknesses. How do you handle a situation where one person's attempt to stop another shouldn't be based on the Ability they're rolling for their main action?

So,  Bob is trying to kill Jerry, and Alice is trying to kill Bob. Let's say Bob and Jerry are knife-fighting, but Alice is trying to kill Bob with a magical "soul draining" spell or something similar--some way that is completely unrelated to knife-fighting.

If Alice is trying to drain Bob's soul precisely because she knows she has no chance against him in a knife fight, it doesn't seem right to compare her Ability roll to his Knife-Fighting result.

So, how do you handle this sort of thing?

Eero Tuovinen

Yes, this has always been a zany part of the rules set. My method is one of, like, seven slightly different ways of resolving complex conflicts. Nothing particular wrong with the other ways, either, as long as the group knows what they're doing.

How do you know who opposes who? That's determined based on the fiction, so it's inherently a bit vague and ultimately up to the Story Guide to decide. It's basically up to the genre and style of the campaign, how things have been done in the past. So if the group chooses to make it a big deal the first time a character faces two opponents in a sword fight, requiring him to only oppose one of them instead of facing both at once, then that's how it probably goes for the rest of the campaign.

In practice as the Story Guide, look at whether Bob's action is such that it naturally, in isolation, is opposed against each individual action that is arrayed against it. So if Bob is attacking Jerry, then his action is probably opposed against Jerry - however, is he leaving himself open for Alice to attack him? If Bob doesn't know that Alice is there or is not expecting an attack, then it's natural to assume that he wouldn't oppose Alice's attack. However, if Bob is a seasoned fighter and it's already been established in the campaign that these sorts of fighters in this sort of situation are well able to oppose everybody arrayed against them at once, then that's what Bob does.

As the booklet suggests, defensive actions should always answer all opponents whose actions are directed against this character, and quite possibly he could protect others, too.

Other than that, though, you're quite right in that it's very powerful to be able to resist several opponents. In fact, it's a requirement of being able to conflict with the opposition efficiently at all, considering that any moves that you don't oppose will sail straight in and cause the full check result as Harm. A single character against two opponents, unable to fight against both simultaneously, either needs to force one out of the conflict with some immediate move or retreat himself. (Having protective Effects could sustain a character for a bit, though.) This means that even weaker opponents have good chances against a powerful character if they can somehow disable the means the powerful character is using to keep the opposition at bay and prevent them from coordinating against him. I'm reminded of an important early fight in our Naruto campaign, which pretty much centered on a bunch of teenager ninjas against a strong elder ninja using some sort of plant-based ninja magic - the elder ninja kicked the youngsters here and there pretty much until he ran out of Pool and could no longer activate the expensive magics he was using to attack the younger ninjas simultaneously.

When a character acts against another in extended conflict in a manner that is orthogonal to how the other character is acting, the actions are parallel and not opposed - so in your latter example, Alice would drain Bob's soul with impunity while Bob fought Jerry with knives. The exception to this would be if in this setting soul-draining required getting up-close and, say, kissing the target; in that case Bob would presumably resist both Jerry and Alice with his knife-fighting, as avoiding Alice flows pretty naturally together with fighting Jerry. Alternatively, should Bob have the Secret of Synergy between his Resist and Knife-fighting Abilities (unlikely in most settings, but this is an example), the player might well describe how Bob both resists Alice and knives Jerry in the gut simultaneously with some weird knife kata. Or, if the soul-sucking was a magical art for which it was established that it is resisted reflexively and automatically, then it'd also be possible to allow Bob to make a check against it "for free". Still alternatively, if the soul-sucking caused excruciating pain that could not be ignored, then Bob could be forced to answer that instead of doing the knife-fighting; the negotiation stage determines who does what, and if somebody is doing something that can't be ignored, then you'll need to adapt to that.

As can be seen, I have a lot of buts in that soul-sucking thing. It demonstrates the extent of different possibilities based on how the group and SG view the particular situations at hand. Ultimately this all really devolves into "SG says", but that's not a problem in practical play, I've found: the SG just directly makes a couple of calls over the parameters of choice the other players have, and if anybody else has a problem with it, then the SG backs down on the issue, and everybody is happy. I've yet to play a situation that really required anything more complicated in determining this stuff.

One more tool that I use in these situations are Secrets that make explicit and inform the principles under which characters can or can't answer each other in complex conflict. For example, it's quite possible for a fantasy game to have some sort of Secret of Swordmanship that explicitly allows the character to answer multiple opponents in a swordfight all at once. That would kinda imply that others couldn't do that, at least not all the time. So if there are any repeating situations that the group finds really important in this regard, perhaps paying an Advance for the privilege of having the situation fall your way consistently is worth it?
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paul T


Thanks! The advice based around Secrets and the like is particularly great.

Here's the thing, though:

Your outline of extended conflicts in the Solar System booklet actually outlines this kind of thing very clearly. I feel like the guidelines are very thorough, and I feel comfortable handling such messy situations in an extended conflict. This is largely due to your clear explanation of those rules.

However, where I feel very unsure is handling those situations in a simple Ability check kind of contest.

Do you see the problem with the examples above? Or am I being obtuse? :)



Eero Tuovinen

Ah, you mean non-extended, normal conflicts? Resolving multiple participants in those checks is pretty simple, it's dealt with shortly on page 40, which you must have been referring to in your initial post. Let's see...

Yes, being able to oppose several opponents is powerful, but it's also necessary for the principal conflict resolution system to work. The basic principle here is that the most powerful Ability reigns in each individual situation. Having several characters stacked against you is handled by the support check mechanic, which basically balances having many characters against one in a cinematic manner, by providing decreasing returns and higher risks for relying on lots of low-Ability characters. This is pretty much a basic dramatic conceit, we don't want interesting characters with lots of mechanical weight to be overran by something as simple as "a hundred mooks attack you".

Also notable is the fact that if two opponents of yours genuinely have goals that are themselves in conflict, then it's not really a situation of you-vs-them, but everybody against everybody. In that situation it only makes sense that everybody is equally required to overcome all of their opponents to gain whatever it is that they're seeking.

As for situations where a character cannot for some reason oppose another one, that means there are no grounds for a conflict between them in the first place - page 41 sidebar discusses this somewhat. Most of the time, though, the players choose to frame situations so that the turning point (pages 37-38) of the conflict encompasses the main activities of both sides. So in your latter example it'd be either Bob vs. Jerry with Alice rolling support for Jerry, or Bob vs. Alice with Jerry rolling support for Alice - which one it'd be would depend on which way the players wanted to phrase it, really; usually they'd have the higher Ability character be the primary opponent for Bob, but they might do it some other way due to ego issues of the characters, matters of honor, the nature of magic in the setting or whatever.

The conceptual notion of turning point is pretty complex and only partially touched upon in the booklet, but it's basically the issue at work when one questions the reason for having one character's knifefighting against another's magical skills resolve which one will kill which - a different sort of system would factor in many different issues, such as which character has reach to attack the other first or which has the more damaging weapon, but Solar System works on the conceit that Abilities are really all there is to overcoming conflicts and gaining the upper hand - all conflicts are condensed into a turning point of action where the potentially very complex fictional situation resolves based on that one show of talent. So if Bob wins against Alice we can say that he was too quick for Alice's magic and knifed her just like that, or if Alice wins, we can say that Bob never even got close before Alice drained him of life-force. We're not resolving any fictional tasks in between the beginning of the struggle and the knifing, we're just assuming that the characters carry themselves skillfully until that one turning point that determines success or failure.

This becomes important in real play because sometimes there really are issues with which Abilities characters can reasonably use against each other sensibly, and that all depends on where the turning point falls in play. Many groups play in a very loose manner in this regard, even taking action back as necessary to accomodate free player choice in which Abilities their characters might use. To pick an example from Clinton, a character might try to entice another out of killing him by cooking him a good meal, while the other might be trying to kill him with his knife. Whether something like this makes any sense for a given scene depends heavily on when the conflict is introduced and how much flex the group will allow for the players: I've played in groups where a player would simply declare that he's using his Cooking skill because we retroactively agree that the character had anticipated the conflict and made something delicious for his opponent. I've also played in groups where Cooking would not be admissible at all in this sort of situation, on the grounds of ridiculousness. Finally, I've resolved this sort of thing by splitting it off into several conflicts - if the cooking guy really has the means to create such compelling meals, then we'll first check the Cooking against opponent's Resist to find out whether it has any influence, after which the scene might proceed into violence. This all is very much about scene framing and moments of play, which are pretty unstructured and traditional in the Solar System. That more than anything else determines which sorts of Ability checks are appropriate in different situations.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paul T


Thanks for the explanation of how unrelated Abilities can "oppose each other". It's a good, thorough treatment.

Now for the conflict itself:

Essentially, your way of handling such a mixed situation is a mix of:

* Everyone rolls. Narrate in order of highest to lowest.


* You only get what you want if you rolled better than everyone whose action could potentially oppose yours.

Or maybe that's my idea. I'm not sure; either way, it works. Mostly.

So, let'say:

Alice wants to cast a curse on Bob.
Bob wants to shoot Jerry.
Jerry wants to steal Alice's crown.

If Alice rolls the highest result, she casts a curse on Bob AND keeps Jerry from stealing her crown. If we had declared that she was casting the curse because she wanted to stop Bob from shooting Jerry, could she a) cast a curse on Bob, b) stop Bob from shooting Jerry, and c) keep Jerry from stealing her crown?

And, if Bob rolled highest, would he shoot Jerry and avoid the curse, plus potentially stop Jerry from stealing the crown (if that was why he was shooting him)?

Likewise, if Jerry rolls highest, does he have the option (if we had declared it a possibility in the free-and-clear) of stopping Alice's action and avoiding Bob's shot, as well as getting the crown?

If so, what do we do if:

* Alice rolls highest, but Bob and Jerry are tied?

* Alice rolls lowest, but Bob and Jerry are tied?

Thanks for all the help!

Eero Tuovinen

Yeah, it seems to me that you're getting it. In your example, though, we should be remembering that in normal play scenes rarely build into the sort of simultaneous three-way you describe. A much likelier sort of progression is one where the character goals and crucial turning points for them come up in disparate order and get resolved chronologically. So it might well be, for example, that we've already rolled about Alice's curse or Jerry's crown-stealing before Bob's player even declares that he wants to shoot Jerry dead. This affects how the overall scene goes down fundamentally, and might even bring an already resolved issue such as ownership of the crown back into play, should Alice get a change to get his crown back after Bob shoots Jerry, for example.

Assuming that the situation comes up totally simultaneously, though... if Alice rolled the highest result, the whole situation would basically resolve to fulfill her intent, which was to curse Bob. If she's also adversial towards Jerry, then she also successfully resists him stealing her crown. However, if this is a backstabbing situation, then it's completely fine for the SG to declare Jerry's action to come as a surprise, in which case Jerry just needs to make a simple Ability check to succeed, regardless of what Alice rolls. He simply takes the crown, blindsiding Alice. Also, Alice would only stop Bob from shooting Jerry if that was why she was cursing him to begin with - at the very least I'd consider it bad form on the player's part if he only revealed after the roll that he wanted to curse Bob so as to protect Jerry - I mention this as too shallow stakes setting in the booklet.

I think I understand your general question now, though - you're wondering whether the winner has complete control over the situation, especially when we're resolving things with very generic stakes and loose framing. My answer is that the winner rules all in this situation, his limits only come up when we're playing things in a more detailed manner, setting the requirements for leverage and scope much lower. If we're doing pre-loaded scene framing where the characters are already positioned and the players already know what the issues are before the character positioning is under way, then the conflict check is there pretty much just to establish who gets his way in an abstract sense. On the other hand, if we're being very detailed in character positioning and had a simple frame, then we don't usually even know what the goals of all these characters are before we're well underway to resolving some of them; in that situation individual conflict scopes are usually much smaller and they usually don't dominate so much.

(If this all seems vague, it's because Solar System has inbuilt flexibility in the relationship of scene framing to free play. The game doesn't have firm rules or practice on how scenes are framed and characters positioned in free play. In practice I myself tend to play with solid free play portions that establish where characters are, what they're doing moment-to-moment and so on. In this sort of interaction it is pretty rare that multi-party conflicts even surface; we just deal with individual stakes us they surface, so usually each character is on one of two sides in any individual conflict, even if they switch sides between conflicts.)

But yeah, if we had the situation you describe, with all characters in neutral position and poised to take the other two down, then the one rolling highest would basically get everything to go their way, while the others would only get the parts the winner had no stake in. Alice would cast her curse and save her crown, Bob would shoot Jerry and avoid the curse, Jerry would steal the crown and not get shot. But insert even a little bit of chronologically flowing play into this, and pretty soon you have a different situation in which we'll be resolving these three conflicts in any order, depending largely on who declares their intent first.


For the situation with ties, that's pretty simple. Assuming that Alice wins and the other two tie, then Alice gets her thing (keeps her crown and curses Bob), while Bob and Jerry neither overcomes the other. This could be narrated as Alice's curse taking them both out, for example, as she turns it against Jerry as well when he tries to steal her crown.

If Alice rolled lowest and Bob and Jerry tied, then Alice loses the crown to Jerry (because Jerry won over her) and fails to curse Bob (because Bob won over her, too), but the two fail to resolve their disagreement. Perhaps they both drop into a canyon while wrestling for the crown? Or Alice might get knocked unconscious in the struggle, leaving the two men in a showdown, one clutching the crown with bloody fingers. Sounds good to me.

Ultimately the conflict resolution system in the Solar System is very organic, even simplistic, in that the Ability checks are just used against other characters to find out who gets his intent in situations. It's like an aura of heroism - you have an Ability, add a bit of random factor to account for the phase of the moon, and then bash that aura with the others. Whoever is left on the top of the hill gets to reign it for now. Extending this to several characters conflicting at once is just about slotting the characters into a totem pole of awesomeness, nothing more.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Paul T


That's very clear, thanks!

My experience with that kind of mechanic and relatively "free play" also confirms what you're saying: generally, this sort of situation doesn't come up, since we can resolve conflicts in the order in which they come up.

Much thanks, again. You've been extremely helpful.