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Author Topic: [Solar System] Conflicts against nothing?  (Read 10408 times)
Paul T
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« on: March 24, 2009, 09:38:53 AM »

There is a section in the extended conflict chapter of the booklet that describes going into extended conflict... "against nothing". It refers to p. 40, which describes rolling against the opposition of an Effect set up by someone else. However, it says it applies to situations that are not opposed by anything at all--just a regular Ability Check.

In the original TSoY rules, you could only go to extended conflict after a resisted roll (an "opposed check" in Solar System).

I'm a little confused as to how this is supposed to work, and when one would do it.

It sounds like, effectively, you can bypass the negative stakes of an Ability Check by spending a Pool point, and rolling again. This seems kind of lame, from a game standpoint. It totally deflates the risk of a bad roll in an unopposed situation, it seems.

(There is a suggestion for the Story Guide to introduce some real opposition at this point, which is a great suggestion, and the only way I could see this actually working. But I'm pretty sure that won't always be possible.)

So, how do you handle this in your game? What is the intent of that rule?

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oliof
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« Reply #1 on: March 24, 2009, 01:14:07 PM »

In vanilla TSoY, unopposed ability checks always needed just a marginal result to be successful. In Solar System

The way I read it, conflicts against nothing are generally dissuaded, but it is possible to use Effects as obstacles that are not as easy to overcome as an unopposed ability check.
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shadowcourt
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« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2009, 01:31:35 PM »

Without having the booklet in front of me, it might be worth making the distinction in my own head between "against nothing" and "against something which isn't a character." For instance, climbing a mountain or piloting a ship through a storm are examples of checks against things which aren't characters, but aren't really against "nothing."

I tend to think of checks "against nothing" as the sort of "knowledge checks" of some games, where you'd be just trying to figure out if you're aware of a fact or have heard of someone famous by making an uncontested Ability check, or a Forgery check where you're trying to create a false document, but aren't in competition against anyone. In those situations, I can see why those checks are pretty boring. In most cases, you're either looking for the degree of Success Level for a check (in the "do I know this?" situation) or are really just establishing an Effect which is going to be contested later. The result of the Forgery roll is good to have, but you need to tuck it in your back pocket until someone gets a hold of your false documents and tries to verify their legitimacy.

Our house rule about "knowledge checks" tends to be "one useful fact per Success Level," so there's some incentive to actually scoring a little better than SL 1, and sometimes some weight to the incentive to spend pool points on a check, or push harder.

Was that what you meant by "checks against nothing", Paul, or did you mean the other scenario, where you're making a check against something which can't really have its own "intention" or will, such as climbing a mountain or fighting a storm?

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)
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Paul T
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« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2009, 07:45:01 PM »

Precisely what I'm uncomfortable with is the implication that in Solar System (unlike TSoY) a player can go into extended conflict after a simple (unopposed) Ability check.

I'm really not sure how to handle this at the table. It sounds like it's effectively a "spend a Pool point to reroll the dice" rule. I'm attempted to stick with the TSoY rule--only resisted checks can be extended--but I'm sure there's some good reason for why Eero put it there.

What would it look like in play?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2009, 08:47:33 PM »

The sole reason for that rule is logical system flow. It might not be important for others, but then the reason I had so much fun writing the booklet was the premise that I'm only describing my own way to play, not trying for anything more.

One of the first times I played TSoY, several years ago, had us in a situation that proved quite problematic in play. A character tried to get into a city he was barred from by swimming into the harbour. This is an obvious place for an Ability check, but the local aesthetic didn't really allow me to make it an opposed check - certainly I could have, but in truth it was just a man vs. nature thing. So we made a check, which the character failed in. The style of the game was pretty trad, hardline adventure fantasy stuff, so the stakes of that conflict were brutal: either the character'd succeed in his swimming feat or he'd be pulled by the tide out of the harbor waters and into the sea.

Of course the above situation wouldn't happen to me now, but then I was still a bit inexperienced with the rules system. I found it very annoying that one type of conflict has a very strong security net for the characters while another type does not. This at the same time that the system effectively tells you to focus on the character vs. character checks. Why would I, when it actually is much easier to fail in an unopposed situation? That doesn't make any sense to me, so the way I played since then was to be very, very careful to not put up any really significant stakes for unopposed conflicts.

(Note that whether an "unopposed conflict" even exists in TSoY is a matter of interpretation. I choose to interpret that it does, simply because the game is supposed to be an easy entry product for traditional roleplayers. Saying that you actually can't struggle against natural forces would be needlessly limiting. If you disagree, though, then you can just ignore those bits in the SS booklet and never get into the situation I describe above.)

Thus that text in the SS booklet is intended to balance unopposed conflict situations (which do happen in some styles of play; it's possible to antropomorphize them away, but that doesn't work for all genres) with opposed conflicts, making the former genuinely the less dangerous thing. It amounts to exactly what Paul said: the only way for a character to lose an unopposed conflict is to fail the initial check and then not insist on extension; the extended conflict is so easy that the character would have to be under some brutal penalties to not be able to manage that one unopposed success in those conditions. I wouldn't think it at all unreasonable if a group decided to just replace the unopposed extended conflict with the payment of a Pool point and be done with it - those conflicts are that much of a foregone conclusion. I guess it depends on your system aesthetics.

It's notable, however, that the failed check does matter somewhat for the process of the game: you can't create Effects or gain other mechanical roll-over benefits from checks made in extended conflict, so failing that initial check essentially means that you're proceeding with a "zero level success", even if you declare that extended conflict. This means that players have no mechanical reason to declare the extension, only in-fiction motivation, as they can still turn that failure into a gritty, hard-fought victory. This in turn means that you don't need to worry overmuch about the distinction between an unopposed conflict and a simple Ability check - if the player wants to extend, then by definition there's apparently something at stake in the situation, so it's not just an Ability check in preparation for something else. I find this a pretty elegant outcome myself.
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Paul T
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« Reply #5 on: March 25, 2009, 06:46:01 AM »

Interesting!

Thanks.

My only concern at this point is that seems to go strongly against Clinton's advice to set strong counterstakes as a Story Guide--like his example of "you take level 5 Harm and are banned from the kingdom".

Do you not subscribe to that point of advice, Eero? In the Solar System, you advocate assigning Harm to the stakes of failure, but, as you point out, unless I'm trying to win bonus dice for a future check, I might as well just spend a point of Pool--after all, it would be more expensive for me to heal that Harm later, AND this way I get what I wanted in the first place...
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #6 on: March 25, 2009, 07:57:01 AM »

I do actually recommend having powerful consequences - or rather, just have the consequences be as powerful as they should be for the fiction to be robust, with no care for what happens to the characters. This is sort of the point here: if you insist on giving out Harm 5 for failing simple Ability checks, then those checks have to be somehow voidable; doing otherwise would be crippling as characters would take hits from pure bad luck with the dice. The point of Clinton's example is that you can be harsh with the stakes because the BDtP system is there to balance your harshness. If some conflicts are played without that backup, then the SG needs to balance his stakes for that as well, which annoys me.

I do agree that in practice a player will probably take the extended conflict to avoid the heavy loss in an important conflict. But that's what happens with real opponents as well, and this game just happens to work on the premise that unopposed conflicts are always easy. I just make them be easy in reality as well as theory; having that one Ability check be "easy" doesn't do anything for the person who failed it anyway with no recourse; doesn't make sense to me that you're actually in more danger from the flood than you're from Darth Vader - the latter at least allows you to extend and burn through your Harm track before you have to submit and accept that he's going to destroy your house.

Still, if a character is Mediocre in whatever he's trying to do and suffers a penalty die for some reason, then it's quite possible for him to lose even after extending the conflict. After all, he needs that one successful check in there. Trivial in normal conditions, but then this is an exceptional situation we're discussing - an unresisted Ability check that was so important that it had to be extended.
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Paul T
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« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2009, 01:38:05 PM »

Eero,

I wonder if another way to approach this situation might be something like saying that an unopposed extended conflict is like going up against an Effect with a rating of 1?

That changes the odds a bit, but means that you're likely to succeed in the conflict, but come out of it with a point (or two) of Harm.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2009, 11:02:46 AM »

I considered that, but didn't go for it instinctually at the time. I know this sounds stupid, but system aesthetics are so important to me that I don't like any kinds of breakpoints in scales, even ones that do not affect play. So having a "zero-level Effect" and 1-level Effect offer the same resistance in conflict annoyed me as an idea.

One thing I might consider doing is ruling that extending in a non-resisted conflict spontaneously brings to being an Effect at a level appropriate to the situation. This would get rid of that breakpoint and increase the difficulty of winning that simple little conflict you thought was gonna be a walkover.
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Paul T
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« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2009, 11:30:40 AM »

Eero,

That's kind of how I was imagining it:

You're trying to do something, which would normally require a success level of 1.

But now, you've screwed things up. Your initial failure (by one level, by default) has created an Effect with a level of 1.

Sort of like:

Player 1: "Madam, your necklace reminds me of the beauty of the famed Egyptian Queens!"

Player 1, to the Story Guide: "I'm trying to seduce the princess! Rolling... oh, crap. Failure. I want to extend!"

Story Guide: "She's offended! In this country, only pale white skin is considered beautiful! Roll again, against an Effect of 1, representing the impact of your unfortunate comment."

After all, normally, when you go into an extended conflict, your opponent has bonus dice based on your initial loss.

Applying penalty dice to the PC is another way to do it, but I like the Effect approach because it means you can take Harm during the extended conflict.

Now, you suggested setting the level of the Effect as variable. One way to make this more congruent is to base the level of the Effect on the Harm threatened by the original check. For example, if the conflict was threatening you with Harm 3, then the Effect has a level of 3. Hmmm... that might be a little too brutal. I'm not sure about this one.

How would you decide what level to set for the Effect?

Oddly enough, Dave (in Denver) just posted a link in the "maiming PGs" thread to an old converstion on the CRN Games forum, where you were asking Clinton about this very issue. Here's a quote from one of your posts:

Well, that's a peculiarity to be sure. I might just go with the idea of treating all rolls as resisted, from now on. Sometimes the resisting party is implied, like in the case of the sea currents resisting a swimmer or a cliff resisting a climber. Those cases could pretty much be dealt with the same way the game does surprise attacks: the cliff or sea isn't active by design, so it doesn't roll in the initial conflict roll. Only give it stats if BDTP is somehow invoked (most likely because of an initial failure).

This is an interesting solution. Why did you abandon it?

I'm guessing it might have something to do with the fact that "natural" opposition like an ocean doesn't have any agenda or motivation, and thus no desire to "give up" in the conflict. Also, Harm is relatively meaningless to "faceless" opposition.

Am I on the right track?

 



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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2009, 05:24:05 AM »

Hey, I like that notion about pegging the resistance in extended conflict to the level of Harm the conflict threatened in the first place. Pretty elegant. One could then rule that an unopposed conflict with no Harm stakes is an automatic win with no mechanical benefits - rolling a "failure" in a non-harming situation just means that you get more or less what you wanted in the fiction, but can't gain bonus dice or an Effect or whatever from the check. Very dangerous situations with Harm pegged at 4+ would be potentially rather difficult to win in extended conflict this way, but them's the breaks. If I made extensive use of high-level Effects as conflict resistance, I'd put in some small rules bits to allow characters some options for overcoming them anyway.

As for statting up natural phenomena as characters, some folks are very fond of it, and it works mechanically. It's just not suitable for all genres. I could totally do it in a Glorantha game, but for Near and many other places that sort of anthropomorphism wouldn't feel right. I would have to be constantly discussing what the sea "wants" and how it "lets you go" or "changes intent to wash you to the shore", which all would be rather strange in a setting where inanimate things do not have spirits.
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shadowcourt
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« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2009, 08:33:49 AM »

I like where some of this conversation is going, certainly, but it leaves me wondering about the very nature of unopposed conflict that triggers the extended one.

I'm interested in this specifically because it impacts how I might handle some of the Pere-di-Fey/pirates rules set that I've been playing with recently, where storms and similar weather issues are probably going to have a real impact.

Would you say that the check to handle a ship in a storm is always, essentially, an uncontested check? So that even an SL 1 is sufficient? How do you handle the increased severity of a more powerful storm, then? Via penalty dice?

Or would you do better to treat any storm as an Effect from the start, which has a rating to beat to safely navigate through? If it's an Effect, is the rating of it determined effectively arbitrarily by the Storyguide (based on how tough he wants it to be for a group to eke by unscathed), or would it be worth rating storms by their severity (from Mediocre to Master) and having the Storyguide roll to set the Effect strength?

I have a lot of different ideas about how best to build the system around this, but little certainty.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2009, 09:20:45 AM »

Well, my philosophical approach would be to always have resisting a storm be uncontested, unless the storm were caused by somebody or the storm were a person or the storm were just background for a race with somebody, etc. I would only use an Effect if there were a character somewhere who caused that Effect to be put into place: for example, if somebody mislead me and my ship and therefore that storm represents the abuse of my trust. This is really just a philosophical principle: all resistance to winning conflicts in Solar System comes from Abilities (Effect come from Abilities, for instance), which in turn come from personalized characters having experience invested into Abilities. Thus any conflict is between intentions powered up by Keys (or initial character generation, I guess), which in turn ensures that it is not possible to have your players' characters be seriously resisted by anything that is not inherently dramatic or able to be interpreted as such. So it's a sort of story hygiene issue for me; I'll never accidentally start a difficult conflict that can't be interpreted thematically if I don't have the tools for it, such as arbitrary Effects floating around.

So yeah, penalty dice for the storm. If you really wanted to, you could give yourself a permission to use more than two penalty dice for a really bad storm, perhaps... but I think it'd be better to find the human drama in the storm and structure such scenes around it: is the storm scene about the captain's leadership abilities? Have him conflict with his crew then, perhaps? Stakes of the conflict, to see whether the crew or the ship/captain takes the Harm brought upon them by the storm? Another approach would be to define a different non-conflict rules procedure for battling the elements... or it could be a different type of conflict procedure, perhaps. I have some vague notion of paying Pool points to overcome natural difficulties... something like a "5-point storm", and you have the option to take Harm or perhaps make a simple Ability check to bypass or reduce the payment... so the storm is still "hard", but it's not a conflict, but something else. A complication, if you will.
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