2012-06-25 : "Conflict" "Resolution"

Christoph, Moreno, and Ben all kind of asked for this, down in the Q&A thread.

My vocabulary for talking about this stuff in theory has fallen far behind my thinking and my design. Bear with me! Suggest vocabulary, if you have it where I don't. Point out things I'm missing. Thanks to Kit and Graham for provoking me; please feel free to provoke me more.

Also, when I (or anyone) articulates ideas like this, it's always going to be more limited and simplistic than when I (or anyone) expresses the ideas. A model or theory like this one needs novels, short stories, movies, games to make it whole, embody it for real. It's not whole in itself. Take the ideas as suggestive, not as restrictive, and read me as expansively as you're able.

Also, spoilers.

It's about a person or people whose interests are uncertain, and what will happen?

"Interests" as in "it's in our interests to avoid a war between the clans," that is, not as in "we're interested in architecture."

Also, "uncertain" as in "...but it might not be possible," not as in "...or maybe that's not in our interests after all, it's hard to say."

Also, "what will happen," including the entire range of accidents, changing circumstances inside and outside of anybody's control, purposeful acts, unintended consequences, shifts in perception, everything.

"It's in our interests to avoid a war between the clans, but it might not be possible. What's going to happen?"

Best interests, self-interest, hopes, dreams, wants, desires, ambitions, passions, mutuality, fears, "fundamental scarcity" - they're all different ways to talk about interests, all suggestive, overlapping but not identical. "Interests" means to include all of them, without ignoring that they're different from one another.

Any given situation is going to encompass a whole range of interests, not just one or a few, spanning timeframes, scopes, and groups. "It's really in all of our interests to avoid war between the clans, but I want to keep my self-determination and not be married to any of these clan princes, while you hope to secure all our futures by marrying me to the best of them, yes, but right this minute we just need to keep ahead of the impromptu hunting party so that we can get out of the castle together without their seeing the state you're in."

Life is uncertain. Action can be uncertain without bringing anyone elses' incompatible interests into it at all: "it's in my interests to drop down from this ski lift without breaking my legs, but dang, it's a long way down and there's no guarantee that I'll get to do it. Here goes nothing."

Then when others act toward their own interests, that creates uncertainty too. Especially when the interests in play are mutually exclusive - "I want to keep my self-determination and not be married to any of these clan princes, while you hope to secure all our futures by marrying me to the best of them" - but even compatible interests can be in tension. Bruce Banner's trying to hold it together on the flying aircraft carrier and track the gamma radiation of the tesseract, but his "anger management problem" fascinates Tony Stark, while Nick Fury needs to get information out of Loki and Black Widow is the one for the job. Tension!

Furthermore, a characters's own interests can create uncertainty by themselves, by being mutually incompatible with one another, or compatible but in tension. One way to understand Poison'd, for instance, is that it pits your ambitions (named) against your best interests (unnamed), putting you in the position of having to balance and choose between them, and fight to win either.

"Conflict" is my old vocabulary word for these uncertain interests. "There are two people whose interests are in conflict" is one example, but doesn't encompass the range of possibilities, by far. Is "uncertain interests" better vocabulary? Does this notion of uncertain interests go far enough to include less "masculine"* narratives? Any thoughts?

Resolution (1)
"Resolution," then, is my old vocabulary word for "what will happen?" Escalation to crisis, victory and defeat is one example of what can happen, but again, the range of possibilities is much wider.

Brave gives us a really cool example. The princess wants to keep her self-determination and not marry any of the clan princes, maybe ever, certainly not yet. The queen hopes to secure all their futures by marrying her to the best of the clan princes. What happens is NOT that they go after each other fists and name-calling until one's will is broken and she cedes the field, defeated, to the other. Instead, what happens is that they deal together with a series of other crises, changing their respective perspectives and growing together, which ultimately lets them pare away their fears and short-term self-interests and stand together where their interests are in common (in this case, securing their future without the princess' having to marry, and avoiding war between the clans). They resolve their conflict by finding a way to become allies, not by exhausting one another and becoming a winner and a loser.

When I look at the series of other crises they deal with, and the process by which they find their way to becoming allies, I can see it as "escalation." The stakes get higher, the pressure on them increases, and if they can't find their way, disaster is positively rushing toward them. It's not the same thing as the straightforward escalation, the beat-by-beat uptick in danger, violence and explosions, in The Avengers, though, for instance. Maybe they do deserve different words. Any thoughts?

Resolution (2)

"Resolution" also happens to mean some things we do, as real people, when we're playing a game. RPGs have "resolution" rules: when a character undertakes to do a thing, here's how we real people decide, "resolve," what happens as a result.

One of the choices you can make, as a designer, is to make these two meanings of "resolve" align, by creating your real-world procedures so that they decide what finally becomes of the characters' uncertain interests. So that they resolve the resolution!

Maybe that's what you want to do with your design. That's fine. It's certainly not what all designs should do.

You can, instead, design rules to do any of the things I've described above, plus presumably all of the things I haven't. You can design rules to uptick the danger, violence and explosions like in The Avengers. You can design rules to help the characters find the commonality in their interests and become allies like in Brave, or to make disaster rush toward them if they can't find a way to do it. You can design rules to decide whether dropping from a ski lift breaks your legs like in Frozen. You can design rules to play a character's own interests against themselves like in Poison'd, or to disarm conflict like "how could I get you to ___" in Apocalypse World's Read a Person, or to create comical overreactions like in Rock of Tahamaat.

So even if you're making a game about two dudes with guns and scowls who fight each other until one's interests prevails and the other's interests go into the ground with his corpse, you shouldn't conflate resolving the conflict between them with resolving as players what happens next. Your "conflict resolution" rules can resolve what happens next in the conflict by escalating, clarifying, diverting, or whatever the heck else.

And the further you get from that iconic** setup, the moreso.

The End
That's what I've got. Thoughts, observations, contradictions, reservations, questions?

1. On 2012-06-25, Vincent said:

* I admit to reservations about the idea of "masculine" and "feminine" narratives like this. But I'll go with it if you want me to, Kit and Graham.

** For "iconic," feel free to swap in "trite," "juvenile," "awesome," "fundamental," "overused," or whatever matches your personal view.


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This makes...
GW go "It's more patriarchal. This is a hero thing, this is something to challenge."

2. On 2012-06-25, Vincent said:

What about Task Resolution vs Conflict Resolution?

I don't know. It doesn't seem important to me to preserve those old categories, when we can talk about how rules work instead.

What about setting stakes?

Setting stakes is a component of some game designs, kind of like rolling a pool of d6s. It's not really any more than that.

Back in 2003 or 2004, some of us conflated setting stakes with conflict resolution, including me. It took me a while to figure out where I'd gone wrong. Some people still conflate them.

Then there was some kind of scene-wide dustup about setting stakes back in 2006 or 2007. I was in the thick of it. But it seems to me now that plenty of time has passed, whatever real or imagined crisis there was, there isn't any more, and we can talk about setting stakes again if we want to.


3. On 2012-06-25, Weeks said:

So what makes for good systems of conflict resolution?  Do you have a list of features?  Is good meaningful here?

One of the things you seem to value is a system that leads from one interesting situation into another.  Also right- and left-pointing arrows; tying the fiction to the mechanics (at least it feels out here like AW's moves are a response the problems lots of us had with IAWA along those lines).  I presume the obvious stuff like short handling time (at least unless you have some kind of inherently fun minigame that takes time but pays off).

Are those right?  What else?


4. On 2012-06-25, Alan said:

"Uncertain interests" is easy to misread as "interests that I'm not certain about," so seems an ill fit.  Perhaps "challenges" as in "challenges to accomplishing my interests?"  The challenge you face seems key; until my interests face an obstacle, it's not really interesting.

I also think "interests" might be stronger, to avoid the "architecture, Woody Allen movies, and long walks on the beach" response.  For that I offer "goals".

So, my goal is to keep my self-determination, but I face a challenge that my mother wants to marry me off to avert a clan war.  My mother's goal and challenge are the inverse.  Or, my goal is to be safe and sound on the ground, but my challenge is that I'm in a ski lift, 50 feet above the ground, and dropping down will likely break my legs.


5. On 2012-06-25, Kit said:

"Your "conflict resolution" rules can resolve what happens next in the conflict by escalating, clarifying, diverting, or whatever the heck else."

Yes, that. That's something I've been toying with for a bit now, and I think it's part of the core of what underlies "moves snowball".

Re: "masculine" and "feminine"?I totally agree with you! I have lots of reservations about those terms. But hey, I'm a guy, so maybe my reservations count for less in this matter.

In any case, those terms come from reading Tannen when teaching sociolinguistics. The whole "report" v. "rapport" thing. Which is kinda cool, and I believe exists, but is really different from the presentations of masculinity and femininity I grew up with. So.


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This makes...
GW go "What if conflicts don't escalate? What if they fizzle? What happens to the narrative then?"

6. On 2012-06-25, Kit said:

OK, so I'm thinking about Brave. Note: I really didn't like it, but I really wanted to. It was three things that each were really cool but together got in each other's way.

Brave's coolest element was just that: they resolved by finding common ground. But there were other things that were uncertain?it wasn't just her mom who wanted her to marry one of the clans, but the clans themselves. So they resolved one thing, and pretended that they resolved the other. I just wasn't convinced of the clans' acceptance of her "I'm not gonna marry y'all".

But that's really a tangent about Brave. What's it have to do with RPGs?

I think it has this: your game should have conflicts (or whatever we're calling them now) that you can resolve (in sense 1).  And the mechanics for resolution (in sense 2) that you have can strongly shape how resolution(1) happens. In as much as they're mismatched, it can be painful to watch.


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This makes...
GW go "And then: what if they don't resolve? What if they simmer? (I promise I'll stop doing these now.)"
JC go "The story isn't finished if the conflicts are still simmering."
VB go "I loved Brave."*
Kit go "Sure, we'll talk about that elsewhere"*

*click in for more

7. On 2012-06-25, Graham said:

I like this. I like the way you're saying "These are our interests, what happens next?".

In roleplaying games, that often translates as: "I want A, you want B, who wins?" or "I want A, do I get it?". The first one is about a contest, the second one is about an achievement. It's all very heroic.

So I'm interested in how we can subvert that. Can we build a resolution model around cooperation? "I want A, you want B, we only get either if we cooperate".

Or around compromise? "I want A, you want B, let's meet halfway."

Or around tension? "I want A, you want B. It doesn't get resolved and fizzles away in the background."

Or around not making waves? (For the Tavern game, which I'm working on with Joanna, we're toying with a conflict resolution mechanic that goes: "I want A, you want B. Neither of us gets what we want, unless we make waves. If you make waves, then you get what you want, but you also get fired."

And I like all this, because it does odd things to the narrative.


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This reminds...
R of Also relevant because it sorta does some of those things.

This makes...
R go "Do you remember J. Walton's Mare Caspium?"*

*click in for more

8. On 2012-06-25, Kit said:

Graham, and for Et in Arcadia Ego I'm toying with tension. A lot of mechanics are around not being able to act on your interests yet. And I'm definitely borrowing from Hot Guys Making Out for some of that!


9. On 2012-06-25, Gregor Hutton said:

I really like Sam Smiley's book "Playwriting". From that book he defines "Crisis" and "Conflict" as follows (in the Priciples of Drama chapter).

Crisis: a period of time when two or more forces struggle and the outcome is uncertain; causes a reversal; often involves dilemma, decision and conflict; contains rising emotion

Conflict: a clash between forces, characters, or aspects of one character; antagonism that results in hostility, argument, or physical struggle

It's a good read.


10. On 2012-06-26, Ben Lehman said:

Graham, sure we can build a system of cooperation. The "conflict" "resolution" system for Clover works that way.

(for Clover: Is it difficult? If so, roll. If you fail, find someone to teach you how to succeed: now it isn't difficult anymore.)

(note that "is it difficult" is kinda a special case of the rules regardless. Most of the time the question is "what's over there?" or "more details please.")

What I don't like about the term "conflict resolution" is that it implies that, first, we have a conflict. And second, that the proper thing to do once we have a conflict is to resolve it so it isn't there anymore.

A better term might be "situation iteration." As in: we have a situation. What means do we use to move that situation forward in time and effect?

Clover really doesn't have conflict as such (or, rather, it needn't have conflict as such.) But it definitely has a situation (a five year old girl explores her neighborhood with her friends), and that situation compounds, grows, iterates and integrates.



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This reminds...
BL of Clover Rules (direct PDF link)

This makes...
BL go "I have used up a year's allotment of scarequotes"*
R go "Isn't that a tacked on patch to Graham's "I want A, do I get it?" case?"
BL go "Not exactly"*
BL go "Click the above link to just read the rules"*
ET go "Let's put "situation iteration" in the book, Ben"

*click in for more

11. On 2012-06-26, Vincent said:

Oh, I forgot to say, thanks to Ben for pointing the resolution/resolution conflation out to me.


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This makes...
FT go "Nice one!"

12. On 2012-06-26, Evan said:

When you've been GMing for a while, you build an instinct that goes:

"OK, they've 'resolved' that conflict, but what's next is the point when the conflict they can't resolve at all brings its weight to bear. And that's when they have to choose between 'resolving' conflicts all day or making a goddamn interesting character choice."

Ben, Vincent and others have just systematized that.


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This makes...
GW go "Instincts are a thing!"*

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13. On 2012-06-26, Moreno said:

I am probably not the right person to ask about changes in terminology:  I don't see the problem in the use of "conflict". Maybe it's because I am so used to it that I don't see it pointing only to "fighting", or maybe it's the different first language, but I have no problem to see "conflict" as a general term for any situation where the interests of two or more character are not 100% coincident. It's called "conflict of interests", after all...

I think it's not the word that trips many players, but their own gaming history: any word we will use will be "mapped" to their own experience, and so even "situation iteration" could be seen as a way to call "fighting" only. (and "interests" has his own problems: it seems to remove the will and actions of the character, it's static)

And I don't really believe in "conflict-less fiction" existence, even before associating it to some kind of "female narration" (Do you know the Jeepform "Lady and Otto"? It's built to reiterate this point. A lot.). Even situations where people collaborate, are about overcoming a situation. A conflict with a third party, for example.

"Resolution" instead I can see as more problematic.  Apart from the double meaning in-fiction and at-the-table, as a word it seems to imply "resolution", but often the conflicts in the fiction are not resolved by only one iteration of the resolution mechanics...

In-fiction, maybe it would be better to use the IIEE terms for the parts of the conflict, limiting "resolution" to the at-the-table process.  In this case the "Effect" from IIEE, being limited to the in-fiction conflict, is not the same as the at-the-table "effect" of the resolution. Maybe we could call that "outcome".

This is what I think about the terminology issues. Regarding the other points you touched, I see no contradictions and I leave the space for other people's questions.


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This makes...
R go "You seem to think the aim of questioning current terminology concerns the logistics of "converting the heathens" to up-t"
R go "(Was "up-to-date" games). Maybe the point is that we don't get stuck in what's up-to-date NOW, instead."
VB go "Hey R-"*
Moreno go "(To "R") Not this time"*

*click in for more

14. On 2012-06-26, Bret said:

I think uncertainty is assumed because RPGs have always had it, but I'm not sure it's a necessary step. But like you siad, expressing the ideas is limited and I'm trying to do a design about it.


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This makes...
R go "Aren't you conflating uncertainty with going to the dice (or equivalent)? There's uncertainty even w/out that."
B go "Not really!"*
R go "There's no such thing as too much drink"*

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15. On 2012-06-26, J. Walton said:

"Resolution conflation" is definitely a thing. Thanks to you and Ben for calling that out specifically.

Honestly, though, your comment #2 is more fascinating to me, because I think it's pretty true. Funny how the theoretical ideas we fought so hard about... hardly seem that important anymore, or at least not the most mature way to think about play and design. How did that happen? Is it that we now have spent more time with games that don't fall into those easy categories? Is it because we're looking more closely at real play rather than theorizing about it in the abstract? Is it because we've absorbed all that and move onto other concerns?

Hilariously, of the three games I just played at Fabricated Realities, two of them have nothing that even vaguely resembles task/conflict/stakes and the other was an Apocalypse World hack.


16. On 2012-06-26, creases said:

This is very interesting! I only have something to add re masculine/feminine terminology. Is the intent here that "masculine" stands for conflicts where the focus is on violence? Either explicitly, or else through a metaphorical filter (eg. sports, or politics, or business, or science, or romantic rivalry, etc., conceived as warlike)? Or because the narratives are structured such that conflicts are zero-sum, so the story of that conflict winds up looking more like a war story than anything else? If it's something along those lines, I think maybe what we're really talking about is violence-centered narrative. To the extent we want to call that "masculine", it's probably because boys are socialized to treat violence as normal. My main reservation is that a focus on violence not essential to, nor exhaustive of, masculinity, so calling violence-centric narratives "masculine" is tendentious AND reinforces the problem it's supposed to expose.


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This makes...
R go "Violence is a red herring."
sdm go "Feminine = LeGuin"*

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17. On 2012-06-26, Vincent said:

J: Yeah.

My take: it used to be that I couldn't expect to get what I want out of a game, and I was a little bit desperate, a little bit grasping. I was scared that it would go wrong and I'd lose creative fulfillment again and I was all tense about it.

Now I expect to get anything I want whenever I want it, and I can chill the hell out.

So when we made and fought over all those categories and distinctions, we were in a state of creative insecurity. I think it shows.

(We noticed a similar thing happening with GNS at the Forge starting in, oh, 2007 maybe. We hardcore pervy narrativists started getting secure in our creative fulfillment and so started to relax and branch out. You could watch it happen to people. "Hey, know what's pretty darn fun? Gamism.")


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Bif go "perhaps "insecure" would work better than "uncertain""*

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18. On 2012-06-26, Marshall B said:

I wonder if there's any mileage to be gained from looking at "masculine" and "feminine" in occult philosophical terms (because I always wonder that'd about things)? Where masculine means active, penetrative, convex, combative; causing things to happen according to your will. And feminine means passive, enveloping, concave, acquiescing; allowing things to happen in a beneficial or desired manner.
(And let me point out that this language is part of a syntax of symbols; I'm not trying to say anything about gender with regard to people, which in these terms is always and inescapably a combination of the two)


19. On 2012-06-26, Vincent said:

Marshall: Well, presumably there's mileage there for occult philosopher types. For me myself, I imagine you'd have to lay a lot of groundwork before I got anything out of it.

Anyway, everybody: Unless you're willing to step up and provide some definitions and make some assertions about "masculine" and "feminine" narratives, let's drop it. There's no reason to chase notional versions around like this.


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This makes...
Kit go "Yep, drop 'em"*

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20. On 2012-06-26, Amphiprison said:

Okay, time to make some assertions!

Cops and Robbers, the game that D&D once presented as an introduction to the concept of role-playing, is Conflict-Oriented. Cops are the good guys, Robbers are the bad guys, and the game is about reenacting that conflict.

House, the game that young boys stereotypically disdain as a 'girly game', is Consensus-Oriented.  Someone is the mother (parents), someone is the baby (children), and the game is about reenacting day-to-day life together.

I hereby Assert that what you really mean by 'masculine' and 'feminine' are Conflict-Oriented and Consensus-Oriented.  It only seems to be about sex and gender because (U.S.) society likes it when things are divvied up into binary roles- man:conflict::woman:consensus, Republican:conservative::Democrat:liberal, etc.

I also Assert that a Conflict-Oriented narrative is one where resolving conflict resolves the plot. Dusty lit-theory terms come to mind: as man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self.

A Consensus-Oriented narrative is one where gaining consensus resolves the plot.  These narratives are a bit harder for folks to notice at first.  I propose, as an example, a love story.  The 'uncertain interests', as Vincent terms them, are usually represented as a choice of lovers, or the choice of whether or not to commit to a partner of questionable worth.  The story is resolved when two people commit to each other, which usually takes a bit of work on both sides but not so much the gunfights or courtroom-style arguments present in Conflict-Oriented narratives.

You can drive trucks through the holes in my examples, but I stand by my assertions that we're talking about Conflict and Consensus.

I can't wait for y'all to tear these words apart and find new and better ones!


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This makes...
R go "Lots of Consensus-Oriented games in the various Nordic larp or freeform traditions!"

21. On 2012-06-26, Graham said:

I'm wary of talking about "masculine" and "feminine" narratives. But here is a closely-related thing.

Many stories are about men. The central character is a man. The main characters are men. Women take lesser roles.

Furthermore, many stories are about the work that men have traditionally done. Thus, there are many stories about soldiers. There are fewer stories about mothers. (The work that women traditionally do has, to an extent, become invisible within stories.)

Note, too, that many stories revolve around power-oriented or patriarchal themes. Thus, they are often about individuals (not groups). They often prize strength or cunning (not nurturing).

So, we might suspect that traditional storylines are gendered. In particular, we might suspect that the Hero's Journey, in which a central male character battles through many conflicts to reach a goal, is gendered.

And we might ask: how can we subvert this? Can we get rid of the hero? Can we get rid of the journey? Can we write stories about mothers, about nurture, about cooperation rather than conflict?


22. On 2012-06-26, Ben Lehman said:

I'm not sure if "subvert" is the right approach? Why don't we tell stories about women, rather than trying to subvert stories about men into more "feminine" forms.

Like, Brave is a story about women's relationships in the modern world, struggling actively with the idea of femininity and what it means. It contains conflict, but that conflict is resolved largely through cooperation and reinforcing of weakened social bonds.


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This makes...
GW go "That sounds good!"*
BL go "I worry that subversion leads to suffering"*
GW go "Ah! Well, I'd like to queer that binary too."

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23. On 2012-06-26, Vincent said:

I like all talk of queering binaries, of course. I don't think the categories are doing us much good.


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This makes...
GW go "They're not categories!"*
BL go "Kind vs. Category?"*
JW go "Queer the binary of kinds and categories!"

*click in for more

24. On 2012-06-26, Ben Lehman said:

I feel like the talk of conflict-less narratives is beside the point. The point isn't narratives that don't contain conflict. It's really impossible to set up a narrative that doesn't. The point is: what do we focus on? What's the center of the narrative experience?

For that, there's a lot more than just conflict. Porn stories, for example, are about arousal and erotica, not conflict per se. It's not that they don't contain conflict. It's that conflict isn't the point.


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Amphi go "facepalm"*

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25. On 2012-06-26, Christoph said:

For the record, let me state that my question you refer to in the opening of this article, Vincent, was inspired to me by my girlfriend saying that "my" games and theory were orienting our play towards conflict, conflict, conflict, and... ? Can we do things differently? It's a bit like a bull pen... Oh, Breaking the Ice, oh, Bliss Stage! Good! More in that direction please. ? Slyvie also likes herself some manly-manhood S/lay w/me (okay, especially if the hero is gay...) don't get me wrong.

So I totally get Graham's ranting about the patriarchy (now that he's designing a game with Joanna, right?) Our discussions also go along the lines of comments #21 and #22, ... lot's to think about.


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This makes...
BL go "Would your girlfriend like a copy of Hot Guys Making Out?"*
CB go "Thanks, we've already played it twice!"*
BL go "<3"

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26. On 2012-06-26, Vincent said:

Ben's latter-day games are so,  so on point. Hot Guys Making Out and Clover are both brilliant and fun.


27. On 2012-06-26, Ben Lehman said:

Also, Breaking the Ice (and I'd argue, Shooting the Moon) which are really quite pioneering.

Oh, and parts of 1001 Nights!


28. On 2012-06-26, Vincent said:



29. On 2012-06-26, Rafu said:

Games not specifically about resolving conflicts through "conflict resolution" methods. Games which don't go "I want A, you want B, who wins?" nor "I want A, do I get it?" as their staple or focus. Lots exist. The Nordic countries seem to be the source of many of them.

Society of Dreamers. None of the rules are about those As and Bs, none. Focus of play: something different. There may be conflicts, yes—but you end up dealing with them some other way. Some take up all of play, thus they grow from "conflicts" to "story arcs". Some stay unresolved.

Montsegur 1244. It's got these lean, plain rules for [doing stuff which is not the real focus of play], so you could use those to set some As and Bs if you so wished. Personally, I've never witnessed that happen. Either because those rules are too plain-looking to be engaging, or maybe just because the focus of play so obviously lies somewhere else.

Fiasco sorta stands in a grey area, depending on how you play it. You don't need to name no As and no Bs, actually, but still, the big picture looks very welcoming to that "patriarchal heroic narrative".

Another grey area case: Ribbon Drive. Explicitly designed to break out of the "conflict resolution" mentality, and very successful in that the point of play is clearly, clearly something else (and it rocks, to boot!). Still, Traits vs. Detours, a sort of a secondary tacked on mechanic: you still happen to have to be on the lookout for As to point at, even if the range of answers allowed to "I want A, do I get it?" consists of only "Yes I do, and I show off/use out this particular side of my character while getting it" and "No, because I don't really want it. I'd rather tag along for the ride and see what happens."


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MEK go "I think about half the games at my local, 'nordic' con doesn't have conflict as a significant focus of the game, so yeah"

30. On 2012-06-26, Josh W said:

Man, this is a weirdly fruitful line of inquiry, I've made two big fat comments full of ideas from this, but they're still too ramble-y!

This bit is easily disentangled though:

The big transition in mindset I noticed when going from Task->Conflict is about flagging up the intentions and values of characters.

There were other bits of it too in specific games like "let it ride" and player empowerment via characters, fastforwarding to the bits with people in them etc. but I think you can happily separate those out.

But that the game allows you to mark the "why" element, so that all the other players of the game can tune in and be a part of exploring it, is quite an important thing.

Bringing down the pain, pushing, etc, immediately mark out the subject of the conflict as important, even if you didn't think it would be before, and it'd be cool to have moments in other games where you naturally send up a "this is significant" flag, even if it's not immediately linked to other characters.

Whether or not you win, activating these mechanics cues everyone in to this being a particularly significant moment.

Sort of interesting to me that apoc world doesn't seem to have any of these "moment of truth" type mechanics, or obvious marking of the character's issues. My gut impression is that it gives over this job of revealing values to the GMs "question asking" job, the hard choices, and the read a person/brainer moves, but I'll have to think about what difference that makes.


31. On 2012-06-29, Ian Charvill said:


This is probably the most nuanced take on these issues that I've seen on the RPG side of things.  I know the instinct is to want to lock things down, and come up with the right naming-of-parts, but I think the strength of what you're doing here is that it's nebulous.  I think hammering out the terms might be intellectually satisfying in a particular way, but will take you further away from the truth.

With a particular work—a book or play or whatever—these things get more defined: your examples will be clearer that your categories.  For a particular game, you could use a particular locked down set of concepts.

(Probably it helps my biases that you haven't discussed theme; the Egri/MacKee version of theme makes me grumpy)



32. On 2012-06-30, Jim Henley said:

Vincent, there's also "resolution (3)" - dedication to a course of action, a la New Year's Resolution, a solemn resolution to go back on heroin as soon as humanly possible etc. I think that's important because it's important to me! :)

Some years ago, I realized that all of my favorite moments in RPGs were when characters decided something important. That clarifying moment of choosing mattered a lot. Turning that into the starting point of an exciting contest mattered very little. Making "the clarifying moment of choosing" available only as the outcome of such a contest would actually annoy me. (Ever read or see The Accidental Tourist? If you like that sort of thing, and I do, Macon's decision to choose Miriam or his ex-wife is the whole point. You could make that choice be a mechanical output of an "Anne Tyler RPG" via stakes-setting or conch-fighting or whatever. But that game would leave me cold.)

This is "passionate characters having their passions tested." It's even, kind of, "finding out what happens." It does seems orthogonal to conflict resolution and possibly even at odds with stakes-setting, FWIW.


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This reminds...
AF of Play Passionately

This makes...
R go "Yeah, TSoY/SS play was all about those moments of decisions for me, anything else being padding."*
JMW go "Conch fighting!"*

*click in for more

33. On 2012-07-02, Josh W said:

Some pondering has occured:

One of the interesting things about bringing down the pain vs normal resolution is that you are stepping from one minigame to another, one mode of resolution to another, on the basis of your character's intent; nothing else might change:
The fictional situation might have a load of people hold you at swordpoint, and if they beat your roll and you don't bring down the pain, then you just do whatever they wanted you to, get chucked out of the building or arrested or something.
Whereas if you go to bring down the pain, then the consequences for the situation change.

In apocolypse world, there isn't the same obvious escalation, the same "more effective but more high consequence" minigame. There's just different tactics, with different levels of consequence.

So resolution doesn't do moments of briliance, doesn't do "short fuse" story now play. It's more longform and soap-opera-y, which is probably why monsterhearts works so well.

You can't just roll the dice to get what you want, with significant immediate cost or known delayed cost, which also means that we can't immediately see what it is you want. You can't go for broke and directly get what you want, yet because of how the GM principles and turn structure are wrapped around the players, this doesn't remove story-direction agency, just sort of puts it in a smokey long-form situation.

I wouldn't be at all suprised if the big moral choices that apoc world supports either revolve around "acceptible means", the classic overlap between tactical mechanics and moral considerations, or the crunch points of personal relationships between PCs, thanks to the triangles moves. But that's wandering into Actual Play teritory..


34. On 2012-07-03, Neil Smith said:

I don't know if anyone's still reading this, but I stumbled across this article about stories without confict:

"For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict ?built in?, so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kish?tenketsu."

From what I understand, kish?tenketsu stories revolve around the juxtaposition of disparate elements that are unified in the end. The only example I've been able to dig up for it is The Story of an Hour, where a wife hears her husband has been killed in a train crash, she comes to terms with it, he turns up none the worse, she falls over dead.

How could you turn this framework into a story game? No idea.


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This makes...
CB go "No conflict, but a crisis?"*

*click in for more

35. On 2012-07-03, Ben Lehman said:

90 minutes, just mentioned on G+, seems to have that structure (almost exactly!) It lacks the contrived, ironic twist ending, though.



36. On 2012-07-03, Josh W said:

I wish that article had not properly introduced the derrida section near the end, just diverted into it, as then it could have formed the kishotenketsu structure as well!

System to make universalis do this:

Whenever you frame a scene containing no elements from a previous scene, put a dice on that scene's card. For each scene that goes by without mentioning elements from that scene, add a dice to the card. Whenever someone other than you writes a scene that integrates the events of that scene with another one and explains the relationship between them, roll the dice, each of you get that many coins back.


37. On 2012-07-04, C Luke Mula said:

I might be mistaken, but I think both Lost and Once Upon a Time make use of kishotenketsu along with traditional conflicts to drive their narratives.

In both Lost and OUaT, there is a widespread use of flashbacks (and sometimes flash forwards) to tell the story. The flashbacks do contain conflicts, but aren't conflicts in an of themselves, and at first they seem mostly unrelated to the current narrative's chronology. By the end of the episodes and seasons, however, everything gets (mostly) harmonized. So I think both shows owe their narrative drive about equally to traditional conflicts and kishotenketsu.

This interests me, because I recently started designing a game system in which the core mechanic is the flashback. There is essentially no mechanical account for conflict in play; the mechanics simply drive everything to harmony in the end, even parts that seem non sequitur.

And now I that know it's a thing, I don't have to feel insecure about the utter lack of conflict mechanics.

Really great discussion, everyone.


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This makes...
CLM go "Actually, I changed my mind."*

*click in for more

38. On 2012-07-13, David Berg said:

My two cents on terminology:

"Resolution" sounds good to me as a description of "implement game procedure and receive output", as distinct from moving the game forward just by talking.  Some version of "game use" or "rules use" could also work—"activation", "implementation", "consultation"...

As for finding out what comes next in the fiction, I prefer "evolution" as a catch-all.  "How does the situation evolve?" is the most natural phrasing, for me.  "Resolution" sounds to me like the situation ends, rather than possibly escalating or complexifying or whatever.  That said, Vincent, by "Resolution (1)" above, did you intend anything more specific than "any sort of change that's in any way relevant to what's currently going on?"  Maybe "evolve" isn't specific enough.

I dig "uncertainty".  That said, if an active phrasing is needed, I think "Challenge" works well.  Challenging a belief, challenging an intent, etc.

I guess "interests" is as good a large, encapsulating term as any.  When it comes down to the nitty-gritty in RPG play and design, it seems helpful to me to distinguish between the following:

Pursuits - Goals and active attempts to achieve them.  "I'll kill That Guy by stabbing him with my sword.  I reach for my scabbard..."

Desires - A certain result someone wants, independent of any plan to get it.  "I never want to see That Guy again."

Values - Why I care, beyond the specific case.  "That Guy shouldn't have ratted me out, that's just wrong," might reflect a value of Loyalty.

In play, different situations create different types of player choices by introducing uncertainty at these different levels.  For example, "ethical choice vs not" could be seen as a product of whether multiple Values are opposed, and we could look at how the system of resolving Desires or Pursuits works to create that opposition.


39. On 2012-08-08, Roger said:

This topic puts me in the mood to dig out Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing, so that's what I'll do.  He's even got a chapter called "Crisis, Climax, Resolution."

His usage of "Resolution" in particular is different from the way you've approached it, but I'll give you the whole thing (more or less.)

"Romeo, driven by his incomparable love for Juliet, returns and hears her (crisis). They decide to get married (climax). The next day, in the cell of Friar Lawrence, a friend of Romeo, they do get married (resolution)."

"Death is a climax. Before death is crisis, when there is hope—however slim it is."

"Crisis: a state of things in which a decisive change one way or the other is impending."

"A man steals: conflict. He is pursued: rising conflict. He is caught: crisis. He is condemned by the court: climax. Transferring him to prison is the conclusion."

"Let us ask the question once more: what is crisis? And we answer, "Turning point; also a state of things in which a decisive change one way or the other is impending.""

(I find myself particularly fond of the phrase "turning point" here—it seems to capture all the uncertainty and untenability of the crisis, while simultaneously holding the promise of its resolution.)

On the RPG side, Primetime Adventures is particularly helpful in distinguishing clearly between the Climax—that moment when the cards are dealt and we veer towards one side or the other of the Turning Point—and Resolution, which consists of someone narrating precisely what happens.

D&D is particularly bad at muddling them—there is a point in every battle where the winners have won and the losers have lost, yet everyone must grimly grind onwards through the Resolution until everyone on one side is dead.

My own personal problem with FATE, in this light, is how critically indecisive it is at the moment of Climax.  The ongoing expenditure of FATE Points that swings the Turning Point from one outcome to another just makes me unhappy, and I think this is why.

In some ways I'm beginning at the end here, because I think I'm on firmer ground with Egri here with Resolution and Climax.  Before all that comes the people and their interests, of course, which is harder to isolate.

Egri describes several times characters having "convictions", and this might be closest to what we mean here.  He also writes "Where there is no contradiction there is no conflict."  So perhaps 'convictions' are not enough; we should clarify that we mean 'contradicting convictions'.  He goes further to discuss characters bound in the unity of opposites, but I suspect that is a bit outside my scope.

So, to summarize, we have something like "a person or persons with contradicting convictions in conflict.  This conflict escalates to a crisis—a turning point.  The crisis is decided, and the resolution follows."

According to this Egri guy, anyway.


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