A Gentler Sort of Conflict?

edited December 2007 in Story Games
I've been working on revising Young Adult RPG, and I've run into a problem. I would like the central activity of the game to be people bringing back elements from earlier in the game with a slight twist (reincorporation and recontextualization, "Yes, And" essentially) . However, I don't think this alone provides enough support to hang a game on.

Right now I have a simple conflict resolution system with 4 stats (Physical, Mental, Social, Fighting). Reincorporating generates Power that gives bonuses to those stats. If two players disagree over something, a domain is decided on (based on the stat used), general desired outcome is stated by each player, cards are drawn, extra cards are added for Power, and the highest card wins.

So here's where the problem comes up. I've found systems like this are very effective at gut-punching hard decisions where clearly delineated conflicts of interest are striven for and resolved. I don't think this fits the tone for YARPG, which I envision as a gentler game, a game of misfit kids coming into their own power amidst a world of adults either too bumbling or oblivious to see the wonders and possibilities staring them in the face.

So is there a way to throttle conflict so that, for the most part, the outcomes are not traumatic (mentally or physically)?
Will doing this make the game a boring mush?
Is sticking to the conflict/stakes paradigm of PTA and Dogs and The Shadow of Yesterday, etc, etc even a good decision? If not, what else might work?


  • "If you win, I'll compromise this."
    "Well, okay, if you win, I'll compromise this."
    "Hm. You Put Forward Too Little."
    "Fair enough. I'll also compromise this."
    "Done. Let's flip cards."
  • It's a little weird that this whole branch of game design seems predicated on immediate strife and its resolution. "What do we fight about in your game? How do we fight? How can I hurt you? How do I win?" YARPG takes place in a setting where there's no profound danger - you don't need rules for hurting people because people don't really get hurt.

    What if you turned the traditional notion on its head, and arranged conflicts (conflicts are great) so that they began with the maximum amount of possible potential stress, and the players negotiated that stress downward somehow until it achieved perfection? I'm not sure exactly how that would work, but it's a thought. The player with the fewest resources/weakest position would be limited in the amount of gentleness he could apply to the situation.
  • However, I don't think this alone provides enough support to hang a game on.

    Here's an orthogonal solution...how do you make it enough?

  • Remi, I like this idea.

    I sketched out a game, recently, called The Big FriendlY Mountain Game. The resolution was agreement: if you agreed how to proceed, then what you agreed happened. Any mileage in something like that?

  • I wonder if the cards could be used for a system that's constructive rather than strictly competitive. What I would envision would be cards that set conditions that could be elaborated on by other cards. Remember Illuminati NWO? Something like that where the cards map the scene. Unfortunately I don't have much in the way of concrete system suggestions, but I've been thinking this would be a good collaborative scene system for a while.
  • Remi, I was looking at the new giant tome of Grimm, by Fantasy Flight, the other day. So, pretty cool idea for a game, but there's all this stuff about kids being wounded and healing and crap, which is just not part of the kid adventure genre (even the kid dark adventure genre). I was planning on picking it up, but decided not to after flipping though it. Disappointing.

    I'm a little confused about your explanation, though: if two PLAYERS disagree on something, you roll a conflict using the CHARACTERS' stats? That seems kinda problematic. Player disagreements may not have anything to do with the characters, yeah? Any why is there conflict resolution between the characters anyway? Do you imagine there's going to be a long of PC - PC conflict?

    Honestly, it seems like you want something other than conflict resolution here, and I think we have enough alternate tools now that there are plenty of other choices available.
  • Hey all,
    Thanks for the feedback.

    Joe: This is a good starting point. My main problem is how do you avoid that negotiation becoming about limb loss, insanity and global peril?

    Shreyas: I worry that reincorporation is difficult and expansive. It seems like you'd end up with either Monkeys on the Moon or people flailing about to find something to reincorporate at all times. I may have drawn myself into a conceptual box here, and if you can help me find a way out, that would be excellent.

    Jason: Or, what if you were limited in the effects that you could achieve? You're in a social situation and Mr. Higgins won't lend you a book. Spend one point to spend means you can get him to give up a minor concession ("I'll let you look at it if you . . . "). Two points means he will agree, with reservations ("You can read the book here, and only when I'm watching you!"), three points means you can alter their outlook entirely ("Okay, take the book. You seem like a good kid."). By having a set standard of, and ceiling to, resolution building, everyone knows what the outcome can be and can work towards a desired effect.

    Does this make a lick of sense?

    Graham: Care to expand? Pure consensus would be nice, but is there any system beyond social pressure? I'm having trouble finding any place to expand this thought. It's like a perfectly round sphere of an idea.

    Malcolm: Yes, exactly. For some reason there's a thin line between collaborative building and collaborative competition in my head. Keeping the idea that I want to build, build, build is very useful. I do remember INWO. Hm. Creating those sorts of connections in play could have really interesting results.
  • edited December 2007
    [edited for tone]
    Jonathan: I agree that I may be bound in a certain thought process. I'm asking for help finding exactly the tools that you describe. This may be well-trodden ground elsewhere, but it's relatively alien territory for me.

    As for the PLAYER/CHARACTER thing, character ownership is strict in YARPG. Separating 'resolution' into Player and Character domains seems like it would confuse things to little effect. I may also not quite understand what you're saying.
  • Hey Remi, check me if I've got the idea of what you're looking for.

    You want system that's less "Do you hate your mother?" and more "Does our game of marbles make us more or less of friends?".


  • Eric, yes. It doesn't have to be mundane, either. I'm reaching for gentle fantasy.

    In Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars there's a student "riot", but no one is seriously injured, it's simply a plan to get out of school for the day. So the question could be "How do I get out of school so I can go to the bookstore?" and then you build from there. I've always liked stakes where the outcome is set, but the process and meaning of that outcome are not ("I'm going to beat you up, what matters is how it goes down, and what it means"). Is that perhaps a good axis to move forward on? So less "Do I," and more "How does this go down?"
  • Posted By: Remi
    Jason: Or, what if you were limited in the effects that you could achieve? You're in a social situation and Mr. Higgins won't lend you a book. Spend one point to spend means you can get him to give up a minor concession ("I'll let you look at it if you . . . "). Two points means he will agree, with reservations ("You can read the book here, and only when I'm watching you!"), three points means you can alter their outlook entirely ("Okay, take the book. You seem like a good kid."). By having a set standard of, and ceiling to, resolution building, everyone knows what the outcome can be and can work towards a desired effect.

    Does this make a lick of sense?

    It does to me, at least.

    I had a simlar problem a few days ago. I'm working on a fantasy game, and during playtest, I missed "social" skills. It's not that you couldn't make a social skill with the rules, but the rules seemed kind of wrong, as the only rules to influence other characters were conflict rules. So you could have made a special friendship attack, and if you knock the other person out with it, he's your friend.

    That felt wrong, so I did something similar to your idea. I Introduced a new ability category for such skills, that allow for a more gentle manipulation. The main difference is, that while conflict skills are rolled several times in a short time (i.e. during conflicts) those social skills may only be used once in a while on the same character and successes rolled are recorded each time.

    Then successes can be turned into certain favors, once you collected enough.

    (Here's the post on my gaming blog. - German.)

    Perhaps gentle conflicts need gentle rules.
  • Remi,

    Years ago when Ron played Little Fears he implemented a game hack: players each wrote up a couple of paragraphs of how their characters' lives would turn out, and then with each loss of a point of innocence they wrote a change into the outcome. I tried to find the post where he wrote about it, but I'm not turning it up. If I recall, Ron's character ended up with a future that included busts for petty theft, and for assault, and some jail time. But his epilogue scene was having a root beer on the porch with his dad. So you got this bittersweet effect of a father/son moment, but you knew the dad wasn't going to be with the family that much longer.

    In young adult novels the tension isn't about fighting to survive, it's about what you're becoming.

  • Ah! Thank you Paul, that's very useful. The AP is a perfect encapsulation of the kind of the pain-play I'd like to avoid, and the final bit about tension coming from change is right-on. Change doesn't have to be damaging and awful. Change can be awkward and odd and rewarding, and that's the bullseye I'm aiming for. This focus on change in the face of change is the strength of the reincorporation mechanic, and ties back into Shreyas's earlier suggestion of making that more central to the game.

    YARPG in its current form has a 'growth chart', each character type has 3 steps of growth. Growing leads to endgame. The steps are the tension/decision points. Perhaps player control over characters is nearly absolute except at those points, where others have influence over the changes the characters go through? Hm, that still points to a darker path than I'd like, but it's intriguing.

    I feel like I'm going in a million directions at once, but this is immensely helpful.
  • So less "Do I," and more "How does this go down?"
    Gotcha. The immediate idea that springs to mind is part of the system of Vincent's "Nighttime animals save the world". The gist of which being one player proposes an action or event and another player proposes a potentially dangerous outcome. The fortune mechanism determines if the dangerous outcome is realized or not.

    To use the school riot example, one player might say something like: "A school riot breaks out. Mashed potatoes are on the walls, pencils are flung into the ceiling tiles, and erasers arc overhead like stuntplanes, trailing chalk dust instead of smoke clouds. My character will be using the confusion to quitely grab my buddy and slip into that magic locker." To which another player might reply: "That's awesome. And the danger of the situation is that your buddy might loose a shoe pulling free from the mob he's entrenched in." And another player might add in something like "Not only that, but the bully is looking for you both. He's hoping to take the opportunity to perform a particularly spectacular wedgie. Probably in front of that girl you like."

    So, that's all groovy "Yes, and..." stuff, right? But the second two bits are not set in stone. They're potential changes to the story that can hinge on the outcome of the draw of the cards. Neither outcome would contradict the events of the initial action. There is a riot. The two characters will meet and will escape into the locker. But will the one character have both his shoes? Will there be an atomic wedgie before they get to safety? Either way either danger comes out, we get to learn something about both of the characters. If the shoe is lost, that's easy to build on later. If the shoe is not lost, we can come back to it later in a memory to discover why the shoe is kept. What did the character do to keep it? Same with the wedgie.

    So, anyway. I think that would be groovy. Assuming it fits what you're looking for. Full disclosure: This particular style of conflict resolution (if you want to call it that) is on my brain because I recently adapted it to give more color to the non-combat scenes of my Red Box Hack. I'm sure there must be other ways to get at what you're looking for if this doesn't fit.

  • Hey Remi, I hope I didn't come off as an arrogant ass in the last post. I don't know what kinds of recent design work and blogs that you've read, so I was trying not to assume your familiarity (or lack) with some of the stuff that people have been talking about recently.

    Paul's example is getting more towards the kind of thing I'm talking about. I think there are quite a few games that avoid conflict resolution in the traditional sense and instead manipulate, um, how to say this... what happens in play and turn it into something that develops and almost becomes a kind of currency. Keys in TSOY were one of the first examples of this, for me. You get pointed in a specific direction (the Key precepts) to gain some kind of game currency (XP). The kind of thing that Paul's talking about, where descriptive traits (or in his example, a descriptive paragraph) is altered due to various things that happen in play (like Fallout changing traits in Dogs) is another step along this path. It's also a bit like, say, hacking words in Unaris, yeah? You have a conflict and instead of resolving it through a traditional combat-based system, you have the situation directly affect the characters. So you determine how potent the affects are and what their tone is (which could be a postitive/negative thing or could be based around certain themes or imagery) and you change the characters or the situations' descriptive traits to show the impact of the situation. SOTC does this a bit with allowing players to create descriptive terms (that have mechanical weight) with potent rolls.

    You remember what I did in Mwaantaangaand for the monsters? Instead of the monsters having attacks or big fangy teeth or whatever, the monsters simply change the tone and imagery of whatever scene they're in. So if you have a monster that's about, I don't know, gore and pregnancy, when they show up, all of a sudden you have these powerful descriptions of the body's processes and the grossness of inner workings exposed to the outside. The monsters, then, have a direct impact on the experience of play without having, like, 3d8 teeth or whatever. I'm basically talking about the same kind of thing here, but instead of just having impact on the imagined happenings, you can have conflicts affect the descriptions on the character sheet without having to throw dice or resources around (though you can definitely have dice or spending resources be a part of determining how the descriptions get changed).

    Does that help? Am I still being too vague? If so, I'll sit down and read your current draft to see if I can figure out how to be of more help.
  • Remi;

    I have some rules for collaborative scene-building that are very like improv negotiation (and partly inspired by Polaris). If that sounds like it might be in the vicinity of what you want, let me know (and your email), and I'll fire them over to you.
  • No problem here, Jonathan, apologies if I came off as defensive! I was probing for a more complete answer, because I really wasn't quite sure what you were pointing at. Now I am, and I think I'm clear on what you're saying. Thanks for coming back and clarifying!

    I don't think you need to sit down and read the current draft. Basically, YARPG has something like the changes you talk about. This is what I meant by 'reincorporation'.

    At any point in the game, you can reincorporate an earlier element, but when you do this, you must change it (in line with the Strange, which is the fantastic element that has been introduced into the charaters' world). So if you reincorporate the school science lab, and the Strange has been introduced as mad science, you might find that your chem teacher is trying to reanimate a Frankensteinian monster.

    However, I hadn't considered adding in emotional states or descriptors on top of that twist of the Strange. I need to be more fluid with what the reincorporation inclusions can do.

    Eric: Yes! Great. And you can make missing shoe either a mystery to be filled in later or an immediate flashback. I like, I like a lot.
  • Trying to vaguely catch up...

    I worry that reincorporation is difficult and expansive. It seems like you'd end up with either Monkeys on the Moon or people flailing about to find something to reincorporate at all times.

    Something we did at Jiffycon once was have, like, a list of items that you can reincorporate, but the basic unit of reincorporation was forming a relationship between two things. I think this is in line with your idea about being more fluid about reincorporation; it has an interesting effect of continuously escalating the situation (two interrelated things seem more important than two independent things), while avoiding the introduction of new elements (so you don't end up with monkeys all the time).

  • Shreyas, that is a great way of getting around both those problems. My guess is that doing it this way pretty quickly narrows the field of interest into a few focal points until everything's connected. That's very cool and Harold-like. Did you have a mechanism for occasionally bringing in new information? Even though it was 'just relationships' between two existing things, was there any effort made to avoid operatic emotional excess, or was that the point?
  • Not that I recall. There could have been one, I guess. It was an Exalted hack, so, like, things did end up in kind of operatic excess, but note that I'm using relationship in an informal way, not like the indie-rpg-jargon "emotional caracter relationship" way; it's not inherent in the system for it to go there. It just ends up looking like a sort of deftly plotted story of the kind that tends to converge on a focal point.

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