: Resolving Player Conflicts by Reconciling Their Interests
In Dogs in the Vineyard, when you take a blow, you get fallout. It's in your best interests as a player to get some fallout, in a good mix of d4s and d6s, so as a player you angle for your character to admit other people's points and get shoved down and knocked over a lot.
This creates a circumstance in play where your interest as a player (to get a good mix of d4 and d6 fallout) doesn't align with your character's best interests (to not admit others' points, to not get shoved down or knocked over). Accordingly, when your character and mine get into an argument, the rules nudge us as players toward accomodating one another, while our characters are fighting.
When my character makes a good point, your character's very likely to admit it, and when your character shoves mine, mine's very likely to fall down. The rules draw you into complicity with me and my character, against your own character. Then they turn around and draw me into complicity with you and your character, against mine! It's a subtle back-and-forth that builds momentum and energy between us, because at each turn our interests as players realign, yours with mine, mine with yours.
My character calls yours a liar, a bastard and a waste of flesh, and while your character reels and sputters, or goes dead still and jaw-clenched, you don't! You smile happily and reach for those tasty d4 fallout dice.
(Leave aside escalation and d8 and d10 fallout for now. It's damn interesting stuff, but let's get the baseline first.)
In Poison'd, there's this very excellent move called "enduring duress." Here's how it works.
J: Vincent, my guy's had it with yours. He slams your guy against the gundeck wall and breaks your guy's arm. Vincent: [incensed] The hell he does- GM: Vincent, do you want to fight back or endure duress? Vincent: [lightbulb!] Oooooh. I want to endure duress!
[a few seconds later, with some dice...] GM: So J, your guy totally jumps Vincent's, slams him around, bloodies his nose, splits his eyebrow, and finally snaps his arm. Vincent: [gleefully] Aaaiii! You bastard! I'm going to kill you! J: Big talk. My guy kicks yours one last time, spits, and goes up on deck. Vincent: Sweet!
Again, the rules give me the opportunity, with benefits, to align my interests with yours against my character. My character wishes they didn't! All he gets out of it is kicked to hell and his arm broken. But at this moment, nobody cares what he wants, we're both together and enthusiastic about his suffering.
Check this out:
GM: So J, your guy totally jumps Vincent's, slams him around, bloodies his nose, splits his eyebrow, and finally snaps his arm.
J: So my guy totally jumps yours, Vincent, slams him around, bloodies his nose, splits his eyebrow, and finally snaps his arm.
Vincent: So J, your guy totally jumps mine, slams him around, bloodies his nose, splits his eyebrow, and finally snaps his arm.
All three, precisely identical, equally valid, equally likely, non-problematic. The game doesn't need to assign authority at that moment, because we're all happy with what's about to happen. No player's interests win out over any others'.
Conflicts between the characters become, through the rules, moments of unity between the players. The rules resolve the potential player-level conflicts of interest by reconciling the players' interests, not by fulfilling one player's interests at the expense of the other's.
(Poison'd also has rules let's leave aside for now, particularly what happens when I fight back instead of enduring duress. We can talk about that later; it works by a whole different interpersonal mechanism. For now, focus, please!)
1. On 2009-07-28, Bwian wrote:
'If you strike me down, Darth, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine'.
Very clever idea for solving one of the common difficulties in RPGs! The examples are quite helpful, as (I am slightly embarrassed to admit) I have played neither game.
I gather the victim's player gets to hold onto that fallout (or those dice) and use them as a resource later on?
Clever that the players have to describe what their characters are trying to do to each other in order to determine the kind of fall out dice applicable. Forces them to at least narrate.
What prevents the players arbitrarily having their characters abuse each other in order to collect a pile of fall out for use against third parties? (a la Risk territory swap). Or is this not a problem from your perspective? Maybe it is part of the game?
At one level what it seems to do is to provide a rule that makes inter-player conflicts part of the game. i.e. the possibility of this type of interpersonal competition is recognised and harnessed.
This is something that your standard RPG doesn't tend to do. While the rule-books often discuss some of the common conflicts over fiction that can arise between players (typically between players and GM), the method of dealing with them is effectively outside the game rules. In other words, the standard RPG is assumed to be essentially cooperative (at least between players and GM); if players (or GM) are not cooperating, then this is dealt with out of play.
Of course both games are bigger than these little sketches, with lots more moving parts. In both games, even entering into these systems has other criteria, consequences and risks, so no, they aren't at-will resource generators for the players.
It's also significant that in both games, the resource you get - fallout in Dogs, Xs in Poison'd - isn't straightforward. It's not plain bonus dice to be used any time in the future, for instance; it's itself an uncertain investment.
So look at it broadly, and the thing I want players to do - go along with each other, in this case - I make a little bit risky, rewarding but uncertain, not quite inside their control. It's not a bribe, it's not a given, it's tempting.
Naturally, being tempted is way more fun than being bribed.
"Again, the rules give me the opportunity, with benefits, to align my interests with yours against my character. My character wishes they didn't! All he gets out of it is kicked to hell and his arm broken. But at this moment, nobody cares what he wants, we're both together and enthusiastic about his suffering."
Is this still roleplaying, as in portraying a character?
I'm not saying that not doing this immersion thingy makes a bad game, but this really sounds more like a story game. it's surely true that thinking outside the POV of your character can make for a better story, a better game.
However, this is what us primitive standard roleplayers would call "metagaming". There are some who would say metagaming entails not roleplaying. If a character is just another playing piece, he can be used to tell stories, but why insisting on calling it a roleplaying game and pretend one is doing essentially the same as in (gratious example) D&D. (Biwan also elaborates on this)
So why lumping it all together under roleplaying? Story games contain RPG elements in much the same way RPGs contain wargaming elements. But RPGs are not wargames (or are they ?). So are story games still RPGs?
On a somewhat similar, and perhaps equally fruitless, note: do the Xs -- their gain, loss, and use -- "simulate" anything, the way the Conflict->Fallout->Traits in "Dogs" arguably "simulate" how experience can change people?
Carsten: It absolutely is still roleplaying, as in portraying a character, yes!
I can give you some supporting arguments if you want, but I'm not going to be able to talk you into that. You'd have to play the games yourself to see it - I sell my games on the strength of their roleplaying, not on the theory backing them up. Unless you play them, you'll remain unconvinced. That's fine with me, and nothing I could do about it if it weren't!
Here's a supporting argument if you want it:
Say your character's arm gets snapped, by the game's rules.
If you're disappointed, irritated, and reluctant about your character's arm getting snapped, are you going to turn around and portray it well? Are you going to emotionally engage with it? Are you going to go there for the other players, or for yourself?
"Yeah yeah my arm's snapped I'll take the -2 to future rolls involving it, now can we move on, okay?"
If, on the other hand, you're enthusiastic, energized, and ready-and-willing about your character's arm getting snapped, are you going to turn around and portray it dully?
"You BASTARD! You BROKE MY ARM! I'm going to KILL YOU AND PISS ON YOUR CORPSE. Aaaauugg! Aaii!" [clutching arm to chest, rocking in pain]
The end of the supporting argument.
Again, I don't expect to convince you, and I have no desire to argue about it. Playing the games is the way to see what they do.
When you have a lot of Xs, you feel invincible, and for me that bleeds over readily into my experience of my character. I'm walking the deck and my arm's bound up and my face is bashed in but I have this look in my eyes and there's nobody but steps quick to get out of my way.
It's significant that in the game, the worse violence your character's suffered, the more violent your character is. Quite straightforwardly: you have a stat called "brutality," and you go down a list of things your character might have suffered, like branding and impressment and attempted murder, and for each one, if your character's suffered it, you get +1 brutality. You roll brutality when you attack someone who doesn't expect it or who's at your mercy, and if your brutality is your high stat you roll it in every fight. That's simulation: suffering violence can make people more violent themselves.
So yeah. Enduring duress to get more effectively violent picks right up from that, carries that simulation forward into play.
Roleplaying is a very tricky term. It does have plenty of different definitions, many of them incompatible.
Is portraying a character, in actor stance *all the time*, fundamental? I'm sure some people may have different answers.
But to see the point, it is easy to think about introducing events in the fiction, that are nasty for your character, but are dealing with her role in the story/fiction. If my character gets her head broken while enduring duress, it makes her rage and anxiety higher. Which is what I may want for my character to portray a good pirate.
I sure can follow a certain understanding of roleplaying better. But I still see a difference beteen the portrayal (i know, my choice of words) of a reaction a playing piece and what I aimed at for player experience all those years.
More for Sydney: the other ways to get Xs are to go into danger, to attack someone helpless or unsuspecting, and to use stealth or treachery. For those, it should be pretty easy to see that Xs are like momentum or initiative, a kind of violent energy that the character carries forward into the fight. "Suffering violence makes you violent" is the principle that links enduring duress to the others as a source of this violent momentum.
The Poison'd example is much more compelling in this instance. The option is a real option, given to the player, that mimics the options the character has. It also means that you can opt to have the tar beaten out of your character if that's the kind of player you are.
So, let's see. Let's look at the objectives of the different players:
1. Experience the beauty of the world.
2. Act according to your character's nature as it evolves. (This is shorthand for a lot of fun stuff and is almost certainly where most of the fun is as a Protag player.)
A. Build the world on the horizon of the characters' perception.
B. Reveal the world at every opportunity.
C. Faithfully represent the actions of World Characters according to their natures as they evolve, erring on the side of evolution and flexibility according to the active fiction (this is part of B but has particular implications).
D. Integrate the speculation of the players while keeping an eye on continuity
A. is a technical tool. It doesn't come in conflict with anything.
1. and B. are almost always in sync. Times when it's not are when there's a natural threat that is a risk to explore, like a storm or whatever. In that rare case, representation of the world represents a conflict with exploring it, but usually the Protags want to look and the World Player wants to show.
2xD are almost always in sync. The WP wants to know what the characters are like. The players want to do things out loud. Conflicts I've had with these objectives are where the Protag player doesn't know any more than the World Player.
2xC is typical conflict: people want incompatible things and are willing to take some risk and/or use some force to get it.
2x2 is another realm for conflict with similar issues.
The 1xB conflict can be as simple as, "Are you damaged by the sand in your gears from the sandstorm you decided to watch?" or as complex as, "Do we manage to keep our ship's course in this typhoon?" There needs to be a straightforward way of measuring that risk, taking it, and taking consequences. A WP being able to apply "Hurt" or "Lost" according the fictional constraints is OK by me. It's not OK to apply "duped". That's in the player's realm.
The 2xC conflict is another matter. These will be over questions of the characters' sovereignty, moral stances the characters are taking, stuff like that. To my mind right now, these consist of risks the players give each other.
Me: I need that book. Without it, Amudat won't be able to read the future and will die.
You: No, if Amudat lives, she will kill my crops.
Me: I stab your face! (Roll. Stabbing will happen unless you do something in response)
You: I run away! (roll. You doesn't succeed)
(You get stabbed and are Hurt, which means you can't defend yourself or help others until you're Healed. We figure out if you're willing to risk becoming Maimed or Dead to hold onto the book.)
(i.e. the threat is some sort of linear mechanical hurt)
Me: I stab your face!
You: I stab your face!
(both roll, whoever wins gets the book, both see how badly hurt they are)
(i.e. the threat is the fictional ownership of the book, possible mechanical consequences)
Me: I stab your face!
You: I give you the book as soon as your reach for the knife,
Me: Oh, uh, thanks!
You: What will you do about my crops?
Me: Um... what *can* I do?
You: It's your responsibility now. Without the crops, my town will die.
Me: Let's find another way.
(i.e. there is no real threat. Solutions other than "Let's find another way" are sought gamely, but not by necessity.)
The way we've been playing has largely been 3. It is unsatisfying to me. It states that the easiest thing to do is to not force anyone to do anything, which is exactly the opposite of the challenges in human existence.
This is contrary to how I was thinking about the rules before, which is example 1.
The strength to either inflict risk or mitigate ones own* is, I think, the amount of discovery of the world the characters have done. There's the base stuff about the world the players know ??? the characters themselves ??? but their saturation in the world should be a bigger factor.
What I'd like to happen is that the risks are implicit but obvious from the situation. That's the great benefit of numerical, mechanical risk ??? it's not incumbent on the GM to declare how hurt a character is.
I don't think any other interests need reconciliation. So the question is how to be able to interact intimately with one's own character while that character is at odds with some element of the world (including another character) and not revert to authority swapping.
* probably only one of these is interesting, or they might be interesting in different situations.
Carsten, where are you? Are there cons around you we might know about? You question is kind of like asking if driving a van is still driving when you're used to driving a sedan.
I can't share my character's experience of his arm snapping - I mean, I'm sitting at the table with my friends, my arm feels fine - so no matter what rules we play by, I'm distanced from my character's experience at that moment.
Making that moment of distance into a moment of enthusiasm, instead of a moment of reluctance, means that later on, when I can share my character's experience, I do, and the fact of his broken arm contributes then.
J: "So the question is how to be able to interact intimately with one's own character while that character is at odds with some element of the world (including another character) and not revert to authority swapping."
"Interact intimately with one's own character" is another name for #2, "act according to your character's nature as it evolves," right?
So, the Poison'd question is, "Will you(r character) take this abuse?"
For the character, the question might be yes because they want to make the abuser feel guilty. Maybe they want to show they can be tough. Maybe they know their character can't win and says they fight back impotently. Maybe they didn't see the other guy coming.
For the player, it might be yes because they want the Xes or they want an excuse to rape the abuser later. Maybe they want to see what happens when the character gets fucked up. Or maybe they want exactly what the character wants or wants the character to be limited by the their fictional factors.
So, that's why I like it.
It's not right for this, though. It's close. I *love* temptation and bribe systems. I'm just concerned about that difference in motives.
Maybe we'll try it tonight and see how it goes. It means getting coins for stuff other than exploration of the setting, but it's getting coins for exploring the character, so maybe it's OK.
J: I know why it seems too easy! It's because your coins aren't good yet. They aren't themselves an uncertain investment, and they need to be. That means more subsystems, and more interesting interactions between subsystems.
(Also because you're flirting like crazy with I--E resolution, and solving this problem doesn't solve that one.)
More for you, J! I hope you're into this like I am.
You say, for the World Player: Faithfully represent the actions of World Characters according to their natures as they evolve, erring on the side of evolution and flexibility according to the active fiction.
Poison'd says, for the GM: Have your NPCs try to kill the PCs like crazy. Bay for their blood like starved and murderous hounds.
Of course Poison'd's rules aren't right for Xenon! Poison'd needs rules for when an NPC's intent upon killing the PCs like crazy. Xenon needs rules for when an NPC acts on her evolving nature.
In Poison'd, you go into danger, you endure duress, you attack someone helpless, you do something sneaky, you fight, and you make bargains with people who'll betray you. In Xenon, you need a whole different list of the things you do.
(This is how you solve your I--E problem, by the way. You list the things characters DO, not the things characters try to accomplish.)
Occasionally I have trouble deciding, and that's when there's an internal conflict. Usually, though, it's just obvious to me which I do. "Oh dude I totally fight back, are you kidding?" or "ooooh, I endure duress! Sweet!"
Since it's my choice free and easy, if either of my two interests is stronger, that's the way I go.
Josh N, perhaps your example is too easy? In real life people don't simply work to people's interests because they just don't know what people want, or because what people want includes ridiculous impossible things that actually relate to conflict itself, like "I won't loose any argument" or something. If the intentions are simple and untangled, then compromise is a straightforward affair. If identity, standing, inconsistent goals, representation and more than say 20 people are involved, then working out where compromises can actually be made is so hard! In politics this is worsened by the idea that incremental change doesn't work because it saps motivation, so people leave stuff broken and contested on purpose!
If your system currently makes cooperation the best choice, then just muddy that by layering different requirements that don't directly effect the player character, but are frequently incompatible with each other, such as being the most ___ or never doing ___.
Vincent, your really on the money here, except for one danger: You think you have all the incentive bases covered, and then someone comes in and is not interested in their character's power! The incentive for playing along with other players is not actually what they want.
Now it may be that this hypothetical person is already warned off dogs, in that the same lack of interest in conflict power and changing their character means they just won't want to play. In fact I suspect the only acceptable game for this person would be one based on strong pre-arranged harmony, where character concepts mesh in every place they are specified.
I think this summarises one feature of this kind of design: If it gets some people really well, it'll just fall apart for others, because it's being based on stuff inside the players, hooking onto some part of their thinking and way of living, and if that is not present in a person, then I'll just clatter to the floor instead. If you can build this kind of game in a way that works for anyone, you'll have uncovered a fundimental about the human condition!
Josh W: Ha ha ha! It's a game about teenage Mormon cowboys, and you think I think it has universal appeal.
Nah. What I'm saying is, when Dogs works, this is part of the way it works. When it doesn't work, there are a hundred different mechanisms that might make THAT happen. Not just a player with some single weird quality - it can break down a hundred ways.
(Written in a cheerful, agreeable voice, if that's not coming through.)
I am trying to build my own litte RPG theory based on a more historical and design pattern apporach rather than
the strong social focused therapeutical intent of the Big Model. Within my own intent used a specific meaning for
"roleplaying". Through Vincent's explaination I realzed that his definition for roleplaying is more general than
mine. I'm sort of rethinking my terminology now.
With Protag vs. World player you describe the difference I implied pretty well. However, I'd like to add hat the
world play often involves information and considerations not available or irrelevant to protag play. In fact
I think these informations and consideration even break protag play, which is the experience I want my players
I hasten to add that my idea is not the best or even most correct one.
I want to write more about this, especially in the light of vincents scenod "fruitless" argument, but I have to go now. I try to continue asap.
Seriously, I'm interested by your "hundred ways"; when I design this way it's all too easy to think you know what everyone will want and you've got all the angles covered. What's been your experience in it going pearshaped? Because that experience would be pretty valuable for future design.
Hmm. Strikes me that Josh W is asking more or less the same thing I was in the other thread, with the stuff about addressing specific cases of "ongoing consent issues". Vincent, we could just continue the whole conversation here if that's easier.
This morning on the way to work, i listened to Narrative Control 28, where I found a difference (hippy vs. engineered games), which appealed to me and which frames my pigeonholing of the roleplaying term in an interesting way.
So , to use that difference, i come a very hippy standpoint and I keep discovering all these very much engineered games, with their explicit player involment, scene framing and what not else. This makes me think that in out hobby, at least in some interesting strata of it, a good deal of development has taken place, leading way beyond the baseline hippy ol'skool "roleplaying". I very much adopted Paul Thevises term "story game" for it and tried my hand at devising subcategories here:
"narration rights" games (like houses of the blooded and inspectres), or mor liminal game like Dont rest your head* or Dogs in the Vineyard*. I had this "insight", which i belive still holds some truth, that it might not be helpful to lump everything togher under the broad category of roleplaying. It was from this point of depature i asked "is this still roleplaying?" meaning "is this not so evolved from baseline hippy playing that we should give it another name and acknowlege the gap?". I'm not implying here that any game is "better/worse" by nature, I just think the difference exist, as between say the Civilisation board game and Dominion, both are palor games, but the term has become so broad that is does tell us very little about the game.
To continue the car metaphor from above, i instsited that driving a racing car shouldn't be called "driving" anymore, it's "racing". I've come to see that that was rash, but I want a category system where both driving sedans and racing cars are distinct.
* from what I've seen of them
i would very much like to take a closer look at your games, but they are very hard to get here in germany, and due to personal circumstances i can't use paypal.
However, your name keeps cropping up as i continue to study they "engineering" techniqes developed by the indie scene, and your blog seems to nicely focused on what interests me. You also implied in comment 23 above that you are "into this" and with that I can very much empathize.
but to be less of a pain, I will think twice before posting any comments now (although I think i still owe you those "storming" comments)
Carsten: First off, I'm always interested in putting my games into people's hands. We can work around the PayPal thing, I expect. If you want, email me at lumpley at gmail.com.
That goes for anybody else, too. If you're having trouble getting your hands on my games, drop me a line and I'll help. I don't mind.
(Oh, and: you're not being a pain, your comments and questions are perfectly fine as is.)
Okay now next: "is this not so evolved from baseline hippy playing that we should give it another name and acknowlege the gap?"
In my view, no. I think that the gap is mostly illusion and propaganda. Some people are excited at the prospect that really there are two different activities here, with a gap between them, but I think it's nonsense. I think (I hope!) that my games show that it's nonsense, since I design solidly inside the purported gap.
Even if you asked for focus in the initial post, I'd be interested to hear about the influence of the larger fallout dices on the present issue.
They are here, they are a threat so they have an influence on player's decisions even when they are not yet in play.
"I take the blow now because I want to keep my dices for later" is also a motivation, together with "moreover this is d4 so it's the best time to take fallout". The potential larger dices also push my interest to reconcile with my opponent's player's interest.
But well, you asked to focus, so feel freed to pass my point.
Vincent: I but skimmed the resulting fine discussion, but what I'd really like to hear more about from you is this:
"It's in your best interests as a player to get some fallout."
A reply here or its own post, but that's what interests me, due to how much of the Solar System revolves around the issue.
Thus: why is it the best of interest of the player in Dogs? Is it because you assume that the player has a character identification motivating him? Or is it because he can't participate in the game without gaining fallout? Or something else? Feel free to expand the explanation to other games if you'd like.
Hey, Joshua: Eero's point is that you're conflating character and player there. For instance, in 3, the "I" that hits back harder isn't you, the player, unless there's new "punching the other players" rules in Dogs somewhere.
Eero: "Thus: why is it the best of interest of the player in Dogs? Is it because you assume that the player has a character identification motivating him? Or is it because he can't participate in the game without gaining fallout? Or something else?"
Serious business, that question. This is way too short an answer:
It's because of the player's role in the creative agenda the game's designed to fulfill. I assume that the player's interest is to do her part.
So in both of those games, as a player your part is to give your character full expression, according to your character's internal integrity, with special attention to the long view. Both fallout in Dogs and Xs in Poison'd let you take the long view of your character's internal integrity, without making you a chump.
In Dogs, the long view of your character's internal integrity is that your character won't do this work and remain unchanged by it, so that's how fallout works.
I get like 1% of the implications, to be honest I already got this before, but I'm hoping that as someone more experienced in working in this area, you could share some hard-won pure experience. If that treasures to hard to dig up, no prob, but my interest in this topic is not someone trying to work out what an airbrush is, and how it works, but hearing about things to watch out for when using it and what it does really well. I'm not in a rush, but I'd like to hear about it some time in the future.
So, with the mechanics employed in Dogs and Poison'd one can reconcile player *interests*, but in way that also frames the reconcilation in a manner that helps players maintain actor/author *role*?
Bwian: Good question. Most of the the mechanisms I can think of for reconciling players' interests are for potential GM-player conflicts, not potential player-player conflicts. Generally the GM's and the players' interests aren't mutual, but are compatible, so it's relatively easy to bring them into alignment. GMs' chapters are full of these kinds of mechanisms.
For example, um, let's say that in a particulare game the GM's interested in making things interesting for the characters, not in making the characters fail, while the players are interested in their characters' success. All you have to do as a designer to bring their interests into alignment is create rules that make the characters' success interesting. Then the GM's interests are fulfilled, the players' are, and there's no conflict of interests left to resolve.
create rules that make the characters' success interesting
I had never thought about it this way - neat.
Further to 'Most of the the mechanisms... [are not for reconciling] ...potential player-player conflicts'.
What do you think of the idea that the AD&D alignment rules, combined with various injunctions and advice about role playing and party composition etc. act to reduce certain types of player-player conflict? Or that dividing functions among strongly defined character classes reduces possible conflict due to player-player rivalry?
Josh: Can you explain a 'Style points' bit further? I don't know either system well enough to understand you.
In short form, people pay you to influence your character, but the have to do it in a way that references your concept, so you can convince someone to do something by using the fact that their character hates a certain group, or whatever. In normal fate, I think this is reserved for GM use, but I may be wrong.
Bwian: I think that most conventional rpgs try to prevent inter-player conflicts of interest by preventing inter-character conflicts of interest. It mostly works; most inter-player conflicts of interest are based upon characters' interests. It's not a suitable solution to my games' goals, though, because of how important inter-character conflicts of interest are to them.
I don't mean just Poison'd or In a Wicked Age, with all the PC-PC stabbing, either! Smaller, reconcilable conflicts of interest between PCs will contribute a lot to any game. Think how dull Firefly would have been without the conflicts of interest between Jayne, Simon, River and Mal, for instance. In my games I want those conflicts to blossom, and that means getting the players on the same page even when their characters aren't.
The follow-up conflict mechanism in Dogs works in the same direction right ?
If I loose now on my terms, I have more chance to win later ... provided that the conflict is different enough.
Frontal conflict between players is not the optimum strategy
I have to reformulate what I really want before the next battle. So it quenches any emotional overheat.
The fight/bargain relation in Poison'd also. Fights are useful only to kill, not to get what you want. You get what you want from the others using bargains. Frontal conflict is then obviously not the optimal strategy.
I think that most conventional rpgs try to prevent inter-player conflicts of interest by preventing inter-character conflicts
I agree absolutely! The alignments example fits this category.
I also think there is a looong history of efforts to prevent inter-player conflicts by means that have little to do with character-character conflict.
E.g. Like character classing. Or points systems to 'balance bplayer characters'. Or combat rules that 'give everyone a turn in order'. Or routines for generating equitable 'treasures' or dividing 'experience points'. Or exhortations (seldom mechanisms, granted) to ensure equal 'air time' for players.
And I agree with your remarks about character-character conflict adding interest/ drama/ a whole-other dimension to role play.
It seems to me that the essential questions are:
1) how do the mechanisms help a player create a psychological distance between the character's current situation and the player's situation?
2) how do the mechanisms help each player win without forcing other players to lose?
Noting that (1) seems to run counter to what some people seem to want in their roleplay; and most RPG 'rules' focus on general advice and encouragement - rather than explicit game mechanisms - to achieve (2).
Actually, I'm not at all sure about item (2). I'm trying to get at something like: The mechanisms are essentially cooperative. Both (all?) players can win, regardless(?) of the happiness/ unhappiness of their characters.
I'm quite confused now about item (2).
Mathieu: Liked your post.
Frontal conflict between players is not the optimum strategy
That's true, insofar as your players place a high priority on interacting with each other and avoiding win-lose interactions with each other. Some players (or player groups) seem to revel in - or at least repeatedly invite - that kind of conflict, I've noticed.
By 'frontal conflict', I guess you mean both players playing their hardest to have their characters win the struggle-of-the-moment? Contrasted with being willing as a player to 'bide your time' or 'find another way' and be cool with your character take a pasting.
Still, if the game really does have 'winners' and 'losers' - some players in the end get what they want at the expense of what other players wanted - it is still going to feel like a win-lose interaction somewhere along the line.
Is what Vincent is aiming for games where a character can really fail from that character's point of view... while the character's player cheers... counting her character's loss as a win for the player? Vincent?
So it quenches any emotional overheat. good point, this!
I can see how player reconciliation helps to foster in-game conflict without hurt feelings on the part of the players. Much of the play on happens on the meta level. i can think of may way how this can come to dominate story and in-character concerns.
While firefly had some inter-character conflict, these spiced up the storytelling and did not dominate the series.