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Inter-party conflict, role communication and TMW.

Started by sirogit, October 04, 2006, 05:04:17 AM

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I'm trying to evaluate the different ways that inter-party conflict(Conflict between PCs in a close knit group of some kind.) seems to bring on somewhat ugly hardcore gamism, and how it can be avoided. Lately I've been stressing the importance of communication of "roles" in a game.

In my personal expierience, no game has had a better track record for interplayer conflict that avoids hardcore gamism than The Mountain Witch, and the some good reasons why should be easy to assume: The trust mechanic means that the players must buy into the idea that they are given an easy, strong aand likely nessecary advantage at the cost that they are permitting their companions to screw their characters over harder. In effect, if a player puts Trust in other player, they are giving their characters the roles of "potential betrayer" and "potential betrayee", which while may lead to surprising results, tends to make people feel treated fairly as players when said betrayal happens.

I can think of two examples of inter-party in TMW that are not related to the trust mechanic, one I would consider fun, Nar-y and enjoyable for all parties, and one that went into that hardcore area, with wildly spinning out of control arguements. In both cases I believe one of the main elements that dtermined the quality of the play was whether people recoginzed each other's roles in the interparty conflict.

Example 1: I'm running TMW, and Chris and Eeyore! are playing. Through the course of the game, Chris has been very clearly communicating that his character is spooky and kind of a dick. Eeyore! as well as others like the idea and communicate that their characters aren't going to tolerate that forever. Chris likes that and prepares accordingly.

In the second session(or so), Eeyore! and Chris mutually decide that its time for their characters to come to blows, and after an initial tie, they declare double ai-auchi on each other, killing each other, and totally love it.

Example 2: I'm running TMW, and Mick and David are playing. Mick's character is extremely violent - approaching nearly any situation with a sword thrust. The group doesn't mind that aspect of his character, but David in paticular is into playing a moderator of Mick's character's behavior.

The thing is, Mick doesn't seem to enjoy that moderation - He's playing a violent sonofabitch to play a violent sonofabitch, not to explore issues of how this requires action on the part of his companions - So when a situation comes up where David and Mick's characters are in a conflict over whether David can stop Mick from being violent, Mick is instantly annoyed, and the situation quickly spirals into weasely behavior, than out of game arguement before David agrees to concede.

I put the unraveling of the social contract on the fault that Mick never bought into the idea of him playing a character with the role of "person in need of moderation", even though David and other players assumed as such from his outrageously violent character.

Most of the examples of extremely ugly inter-party conflicts I can think of relate to role miscommunication - in paticular, I can think of many that arise from D&D's alignment system - a combination of its seeming relevancy towards how interparty conflict should be handled as well as its extreme vagueness towards how it should be applied in play leads to endless repetitions on a common theme, people disagreeing on how paticular alignments indicate that a player is asking for antagonism and conflict from the other players, or if it simply entitles their characters to be dicks and they as players should not be penalized for it due to the fact that "They're playing their alignment".

Other insights, paticularly from other games?


How many games actually overtly encourage inter-party conflict? Let's see, besides tMW, we have...

Great Ork Gods
Jack Cosmos
Probably Raven's Ork game (what's it called again?)
Paranoia (not that I've actually played the game)

Err, I can't think right now. What are some others? I also know that functional inter-party conflict probably occurs alot in a number of other games, like Dogs, but those games don't neccessarily overtly encourage it.

I think of alot of it does come down to communication or expectations, like you suggest. Alot of games, such as DnD, the general premise (little p) is that players are suppose to work together. So when some players decide inter-partyconflict would be cool, it catches some players off-guard (even though the alignment system does seem to imply that it should happen). In tMW, there's no hiding that this is going to happen. I agree that the Trust mechanic does give players the role of "potential victim" & "potential betrayer".

I believe the above games are also fairly explicitly state that this type of conflict is going to happen, and in fact build in gaming tools to enable it. Hmm, I wonder if these "enabling tools" plays into it. Does mechanical recourse make inter-party conflict "not so bad"?

Your inter-party-conflict-gone-bad tMW example is interesting. That is a totally typical situation to come up in the game. Yeah, it sounds like there was some sort of social-contract/ communication issue. It sounds like Mike didn't realize it was "that kind of game".
--Timothy Walters Kleinert


Just wanted to point out that Cold City is about Spies vs. Things That Go Bump In The Night... circa 1950 Berlin.  And each PC has to be a different nationality.

Leading to all kinds of trust and betrayal issues.  It is part of the games mechanics.

And I'm lovin' it!

(although we only have one game under our belt)


If I may, allow me to reply based on GNS theory (who says you can not apply this stuff to actual Play)

Inter party conflict okay?

Gam: It's Okay as long as the rules are there for it and honored -and of course if I win.
Nar: As long as the premise is being explored.  Tragic is tragic.
Sim: As long as the conflict would make sense.

So as long as everyone's agenda is met it should be okay.  Right?

No really,
Games that support inter-Player conflict should have some built in concepts to make it less harsh.  I have played Paranoia (of course I was not allowed to read the rules) but it was a lot of fun because of two things 1. I could not get attached to my character-you start the game with 6 clones- you know that they are going to die- a lot. 2. We gamed only for an "adventure" or the game was considered short term.  The less you have to lose the easier it is to let it go.  Also it helps if the characters are anti-heroes like in My Life with Master or Kill Puppies for Satan.  Personally, I find that inter-player conflicts very dangerous in long term RPG, especially if it involves the player's tools being killed off.  To actually promote this kind of play you really have to trust your players. 

So my approach is that you need to know your players.  Let me repeat-you need to KNOW your PLAYERS.  If you can not play Diplomacy with someone because they get hurt by back stabbing-Hell, if you can not play Chutes and Ladders because they get upset when they go down a slide.  You probably do not want to introduce inter-player conflicts.  If you do not know your players, then keep it simple, until you do get to know them.


I have thought about it some more and would like to add...

I am not surprised by the fact that there has not been a lot of responses to your thread, because, this is what it is all about.  This is where it all goes wrong.  This is the founding hostility towards Games and players.  Nothing makes you feel like crap than a bad game session-player or GM.  Also this is the underline motivation of The Forge.  Sirgit, you got "it"-the big question to life, the universe, and everything.  If you figure this out, you should work at the United Nations not with RPG's.  Why does it become ugly?  With everything said and done it comes to this:

Really what happens is that person 1 wants A and person 2 wants B, while A & B are a contradictory to each other.  This happens through out all the games, it is within the nature of all RPG's to have this type of conflict.  Most often, the stakes are not that high so therefore an agreed method of resolution or compromise is used.  As certain desires become greater, the reaction becomes greater.  So therefore most conflicts will arise based on inter-player rather than inter-character.  Also this is the basic problem that arises whenever two people interact-marriage counselors, lawyers, politicians, diplomats, etc; etc would love to know how to "deal" with this basic problem.  So why does it get ugly?  It's the people who make it ugly. 

With only one day to think about this (I'm at work and should be doing something productive-hey it's all billable time) I figure that there are two more precise reasons why players become ugly.

First-control over their character, they want to keep them alive.  After all they have invested some time into them and have put a little of themselves into them.  Why would you want to have them die?  Worst is when somebody else within the group attacks and tries to kill them.  No control.

Second is based on principle.  This is where The Forge GNS theories get to be applied.  People's agendas just start breaking down and they feel they have to defend it.  Once again, it's the players and their choices. 

A brief moment of ADD (Attention Disorder)-a game is a system employed as a device to increase skill while entertaining.  What skills is RPG developing?

I agree with the statement made in one of the threads that characters are just tools.  RPGs are all about players interacting.  If you are playing mostly in Author & Director stances then it is mostly player's personalities that are guiding the actions of the story/game.  So know your players. 

What could be better address is "how to evaluate players so you could maximize player compatibility?" or "How do you recognize an escalating situation within a game session?"  "What can you do to put the pin back into the grenade?"  This probably can go on and on in a different threads though.

I hope this gives you some food for thought.