[Solar System] Extended Conflict with teams

Started by Luca Veluttini, February 14, 2011, 07:58:38 AM

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Luca Veluttini

Hi Eero. I've just few questions about the teams in extended conflict: how does it work?

Only a team member can make Harm check, while the others make parallel or opposite checks for bonus dice.
Parallel checks to whom? The "principal" member or themselves? Opposite checks to whom? Are they defensive checks (so they can change the team goal?

Eero Tuovinen

This part of the system has always had a fruitful/painful role, as it's not quite an add-on, but it's also not quite self-evident how it should go; it's clearly a part of the system that needs to logically follow and build upon how the one-on-one basic conflict works, but there are many specific implementations that have been used in practice. The one in the SS booklet is just the way I usually go at it as a SG, but it's not a bad idea to affirm those rules for yourself and perhaps handle them differently. I know that I myself played the game for the first three years or so without ever touching the team-based resolution logic, only going for it when a particularly naval-focused campaign made caused it to become the most sensible way of handling multiple conflict participants for the moment.

For reference, here's the SS text on the topic, and here's the original TSoY reference. The intent of the gestalt/team rule is to streamline conflicts where individual characters are important enough to deserve to participate in the conflict, but do not actually have much of a personal motivation in the situation. The SS conflict resolution system is definitely dramatically-based in that it doesn't encourage characters to even participate when they do not have personal, pressing motivation for it; I have played the game by simply forbidding any character, PC or NPC, from direct participation altogether when their own issues are not at stake; especially NPCs are such extra burdens that I much prefer to just throw in a few bonus dice or some such to represent the faithful yet dramatically less important contribution of the incidental secondary character. However, this is not appropriate for all campaigns or all crews, especially when we consider the traditional roleplaying scheme where PCs are strongly assumed to be on the same side by default, with no consideration for the in-fiction dramatic factors; to satisfy this urge of having everybody fight the good fight on the same side we have the gestalt method of conflict resolution.

(I might be just a bit snide about the gestalt method above, but that's just because I've played the game a lot with youngsters and others who really just need this sort of system to subsume the participation of dramatically irrelevant player characters in conflict, as it would be too much to ask of them to simply sit out a situation where their character doesn't really have that much to do. This is not to say that the gestalt method is merely a crutch; some genres, such as sentai drama or X-Men or whatever, have great need for just this sort of subsystem.)

The above background is mostly important in that it helps us understand why the gestalt method works like it does: the gestalt characters are not as efficient in conflict as individually acting characters partially because we want the system to discount trivial motivations a bit; if your character has three friends along who just want to help out a bit, then it's fair that they do not take us much of a risk, but they don't have as much of an impact as would characters who'd act independently for their own motivations; we're sort of allotting opportunity to be effective on the basis of screen-time and attention a given character earns by having interesting issues (goals, that is) at stake. The other motivation here is to simplify the negotiation phase of resolution more quickly: once we've established that a set of characters is really participating in the conflict to fulfill a shared goal, we lose the need to carefully query each individual character's actions and match them against every other conflict participant, as the team taken together only has one active action per round, just like an individual character would. The intent is to both curb the team effectiveness a bit and streamline the process of resolution. A nice side effect is that the gestalt method gives a very strong teamwork feel to resolving conflicts.

Anyway, all that is background, let's see to your question: the primary actor of the team can make a normal Ability check, while the rest are limited to parallel or Defensive checks for bonus dice, as the text says. The "parallel" here means that the character's check is not opposed against anybody - it's just a straight Ability check for bonus dice, which may be used normally to bolster the main actor of the team, perhaps, or saved for the next round, just like any check for bonus dice. The "Defensive action" here is a normal defensive action, so it reduces the effectiveness of any opposed checks, and it gains bonus dice; it may also change the defending character's goal normally. Your question concerns what happens to the team's goal, and this is a good question: the way I play it, the main actor of the team has to make a Defensive action (or, to say it differently, nobody can take action for Harm and at least one has to Defend) for the entire team's goal to change, and even then any individual team-member may choose to split from the team instead of following along. This does not preclude any individual character making a Defensive action and changing their own goal away from the team's goal, thus splitting from the team.

How the above basically works in practice for your average 3-4 character team is that whoever currently has the most appropriate opportunity to attack in the fiction attacks the enemy, often with a parallel action, while another one or two character run Defensive actions, and whoever is left invents something useful for their own character to do to support the others. For example, considering a naval action where two ship's companies are fighting against each other, the captain might make a Command Ability check to cause Harm to the enemy with cannons or whatever while the bosun makes a Defensive check against counter-fire as he directs the crew in firefighting, and the shrine maiden prays as yet another Defensive action to keep enemy magic at bay (well, this example went Final Fantasy for some reason), and the swashbuckling rogue supports the captain by sneaking a boat to the enemy ship for some sabotage. The idea is to leave the team enough space in negotiating the fictional choreography so that all characters get a bit of cinematic play - a sense that they're concretely doing something instead of just rolling dice.

(Multiple Defensive actions might confuse, so I better explain: often when there are several actors fighting each other the different attacks might be so radically different in fictional terms that the same Defensive action can't cover them all. I usually illustrate this by considering a situation where the same character is simultaneously assaulted by force of arms and magic; it would be fair to say that unless the player describes a particularly clever way of defending himself and has some useful crunch, they're likely to only be able to Defend against one type of attack at once. In these situations it's useful if you have allies who can run defense for you against the different sorts of threats so you can focus on hurting the enemy yourself. It's a pretty advanced implementation of the system, but basically logical when you think about it a bit.)

Did that answer the question at all? The multiple-participant extended conflict is definitely the most complex thing to run in SS, and in practice it is often more important for the SG to have a good sense for the game's currency than a strict adherence to the letter of the rules. As long as everybody basically has the opportunity to act each round and their dice rolls are used somehow according to the game's currency logic (1 success = 1 Harm = 1 bonus die = 1 penalty die = 1 experience point = ...), and the SG keeps the eye out for interesting dramatic choices and ensures that the player characters get hurt when they're supposed to and ensures that everybody respects the logic of the fiction just enough while also respecting the rules logic and doesn't let the process slow down too much, everything is probably all right even if it's not all entirely consistent all the time.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Luca Veluttini

John H

Wow, that's pretty awesome.

I've been running a game for months and had been totally doing it wrong...  Our extended conflicts turned out more like a D&D game (okay, so player 1 is doing X to NPC 1, player 2 is doing X to NPC 1, NPC 2 is doing Y to player 2, etc.). 

I like the way you explained in your post much more, Eero. 

Fortunately, we've only had 3 extended conflicts in the 8 or so meetings we've played.

Eero Tuovinen

That sounds like a very good ratio of extended vs. normal conflicts, Galvin - my own baseline is pretty similar. And yes, the SS extended conflict is in a funny place regarding the ways people read game-texts against their own expectations: it's easy to read the system as a D&D variant (which it historically is), but I've also seen interpretations that are almost entirely freeform.

The team contest is definitely something to utilize if and when several player characters are acting towards the same goal. I wouldn't be averse to making it an absolute rule that two characters with the same goal have to form a team, but it depends on the local standards of play, of course - when I play this sort of thing is usually not a tactical choice anyways, so we can just figure out whether teams or independent action seems more pleasing to us aesthetically on a case-by-case basis.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.