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Author Topic: [Mortal Coil] Conflicts, Actions, Rules Confusion  (Read 26347 times)
Ice Cream Emperor
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« on: October 04, 2006, 02:25:59 AM »


I recently bought Mortal Coil, and while I am definitely interested in running or playing the game, I am extremely confused by the Conflict rules -- to the point that I don't feel comfortable running a game. In fact, every time I read the rules I seem to get more confused, which makes it fairly difficult for me to outline exactly what the problem is. I have read a few threads on these forums that obliquely address the same sort of issues I'm having, but for whatever reason they weren't quite enough. I suspect that most of my problems center around the interaction between Conflicts and Actions within those conflicts.

In short, I have no idea how the two interact.

Upon first reading, the system appears to be a straightforward conflict resolution system -- both parties declare their intent, stakes are set, and they test abilities against each other to determine who gets to resolve the situation in their favour.

This very quickly dissolves when confronted with the following passage, where my descent into madness begins:

"Often, after everyone involved in a conflict has taken an action, the outcome of the conflict is still not clear." (p.58, "Conflict Rounds")

Okay, so now we have actions (they're explained on the next page), which are specific comparisons of two characters' abilities. The text implies that sometimes these actions are conclusive vis-a-vis the conflict stakes, but sometimes they aren't. After several readings through the Conflict chapter looking for any point of contact between Actions and Conflicts, this is the only paragraph I've found that seems to address the issue. My impression is that the only point of contact between Conflicts and Actions is that, after awhile, the player group can arbitrarily decide that the Conflict is over. There is no mechanical interaction at all that I can find -- which is pretty confusing to me, since it's the Conflicts that are probably driving the story, and this suggests that they are more or less unconnected to the actual resource mechanics.

My confusion only deepens when I get into the sections on multiple actions, etc. Basically, everything about resource allocation and the specific comparison of values is crystal clear (complete with diagrams) -- but the scope of the actions and the interaction of the actions in the fiction itself is outside my grasp. At this point I'm going to list some questions, instead of trying to explain my own convaluted interpretations.

Let's start with the scope of an Action. Can a single successful Action win my stakes in a Conflict? The text describing stakes suggests that each handhold up a cliff is not an appropriate Conflict -- is each handhold up a cliff an appropriate Action? If I succeed with Climbing, does that mean I'm up the cliff? Even if it's a really big cliff? If not, who decides how many Actions are required, or what margin of success? Another example referenced in a previous thread is the 'one person wants to leave the room, the other wants to stop her'. Does it take more than one successful Action to leave the room? In short, what are the limits to the scope of narration that results from a single Action? Can I get my character elected president with a single Will+Statesman Action?

A related sub-question is: 'Can I skip over things which someone else might perform as Actions, in order to get to a part of the Conflict I want to pursue?' For example, if the Conflict involves my character climbing a cliff in time to stop the villain from throwing someone into the briny depths below, do I need to have a Climbing Action at all, or can I just start with Power+Fisticuffs and narrate how, after climbing the cliff, I am now trying to wrestle the villain's victim away?

Second set of questions relate to opposed Actions, and how you can tell if Actions are directly opposed or not. In another thread a lot of folks talk about how it's important to guess what someone else will do, so you can allocate Action Tokens to oppose them -- the implication is that if someone else takes an Action that I have not anticipated, they get a free crack at it (with my passive resistance, of course). It's very unclear to me what counts as opposed or not, and it seems to depend largely on the scope of the Actions vis-a-vis the Conflict. For example, two characters are engaged in a hectic barfight. I declare as my action 'I grab a pool ball off the table and throw it across the room, aiming at Frank's head'. Frank is meanwhile engaged with some NPC, but he has allocated tokens to the action 'I duck and weave, trying to avoid my opponent's blows.' Does this Action oppose my Action throwing the pool ball? What if Frank declared the same action, minus the last part about his opponent?

In another thread using the 'Character X wants to leave, Character Y wants to stop them' example, someone asks the same question, giving as an example Character X trying to dodge out of the room physically while Character Y tries to talk them into staying verbally. Based on all the other threads about the strategic importance of guessing your opponent's Actions in order to properly oppose them, it seems to me that Character X has just won the Conflict by doing something unanticipated -- Character X succeeds against her opponent's passive faculty and waltzes out of the room while Character Y finds himself talking to a wall. Similarly, if Character X decided to declare an Action where she verbally browbeats Character Y into letting her leave, and Character Y has declared some sort of wrestling move, then again he is caught off guard.

And yet, in that same thread, Brennan very clearly suggests that in fact these two Actions are opposed.

And here's the rub, for me -- when the scope is the Conflict, Brennan's response seems absolutely obvious. At the level of the stakes and the character's intents, these two approaches absolutely should be competing against each other to see who wins, with the winning side ending up as the main point of resolution in the narration (i.e. if the talker wins, then talking turns out to be what turns the tide; if the runner wins, then physical initiative takes it.)

But as far as I can tell nothing ever happens at the level of the stakes -- everything happens at the level of specific Actions, and if these two Actions are considered opposed than how could any two Actions not be opposed? They seem to be two different approaches to the Conflict at hand. And again, who is deciding what is and is not opposed? When I think of things at the level of the Conflict it seems easy to determine what Actions are opposed -- but from the point of view of the in-game reality (if that's even what I'm supposed to be looking at?) it's a lot harder.

The game seems to imply that there are conditions in which Actions are not opposed, even when two characters are in direct Conflict. This is mechanically very significant, and in fact there are several special maneuvers one can take to compensate for this problem -- but there's no mechanic in place that I can see to determine whether this is the case. Someone compared this interplay to the Fight scripting rules in Burning Wheel, but in BW there are very strict and straightforward rules about what scripted actions counter what other scripted actions. In this case, it seems that the players (or GM?) are meant to determine when Actions are and are not opposed through collective agreement. If this is the case, what guidelines would be useful to follow?

--

So, one possible solution to this is that when setting stakes you should never have directly opposing intents. If player X says they want to grab the Holy Grail then nobody is allowed to set their goal as a) grabbing the Holy Grail instead or b) stopping anybody from grabbing the Holy Grail. Then when every character enters into a conflict, they have their own stakes they are pursuing, and they must split off resources to stop other characters from achieving their own goals.

So in this case we might have:

Character X: I want to grab the Holy Grail.
Character Y: I want to push Character X into the chasm below.
Character Z: I want to convince Character X that I am the rightful owner of the Holy Grail.

Now there's an obvious tension for, say, Character X -- he can take Actions to get the Grail, or he can take Actions to avoid getting pushed into the Chasm, or he can take Actions to remain unconvinced by Character Z. Or he do all of the above at once (poor guy.)

But then, on top of that, there seems to be the possibility that he will declare the wrong sort of Action, and waste tokens defending against an attack that does not exist. If he decides to declare an Action where he uses his Grace+Athletics to keep his balance as he dashes for the Grail, should this be considered a blanket opposition to any of Character Y's actions? What if Character Y's Action is to use Wits+Mechanical Genius to construct an elaborate catapult that will destroy the ramp that leads to the Grail? If the option exists where Character X can "whiff" on a defensive Action, it seems like he's even more screwed than before.

Is this the solution? Orthagonal conflicts only? It doesn't seem to fit with most of the examples of Actions in the books, exactly -- but it does fit with the advice in the Setting Stakes section. However, even there it just seems to be advice -- like 'it would be cooler if you went further with your counter-stakes', not 'you must not have stakes which directly oppose those of another player'.

Anyways, I'm going to stop rambling here, since I suspect my remaining concerns are simply further elaborations on the above. I admit I cannot shake the feeling that Mortal Coil's conflict resolution system is the bastard lovechild of DitV and White Wolf, which associations may also be a source of confusion. I keep expecting to see DitV-like rules clearly laying out the connections between the individual Actions and the progress of the overall Conflict.
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~ Daniel
Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2006, 02:26:04 PM »

Hey, Daniel. This issue I think is the main source of confusion over the rules, and definitely something where the text of the rules could stand to be a lot clearer. This, unfortunately, did not come out in playtest, only after I published the rules, and so just take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

Anyway, I am going to answer your post in exhaustive detail, but because of this detail, please give me a day or so to get it all written out. My answer to your post is going to be a long description of the procedures of play in a sample conflict, and it will get posted to the wiki, as well as in PDF form as a sort of errata sheet to the rules as written.

We'll probably refine my initial post a bit with questions, and I want to invite everyone who has experience in play or has had trouble figuring the conflict system out to chime in.

More soon...
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2006, 04:51:24 PM »

Well, I haven't played the game, but I read the rules just this Monday, and would like to explain how I see them. My particular interest here stems from the fact that the rules of Mortal Coil seem to actually be a re-take on the idea of "dynamic stakes" we know and love from games such as The Mountain Witch, Polaris, Sorcerer and Shadow of Yesterday.

In this context I wasn't particularly confused by the rules, but then again, I did pretty much ignore page 57 after reading the rest and seeing what was going on. If you're not familiar with this kind of mechanics, I can see how that page can totally confuse you as to what's what. Let me go over how I understood the rules to work, based on my single reading and experience with the games mentioned above.

First, realize that conflict procedure trumps stakes. That stake-setting text there is not to be taken really, really seriously as a mechanical constraint on the game, but rather as a social-level statement by the players on what is going on. It's just a reminder of why we're doing the conflict in the first place, but it's totally OK to extend, override or nullify the initial stakes through the process of play. This phenomenon is exactly the same one you have in the formal TSOY rule of "changing goals", wherein you restate your goal for the conflict in the middle of it and are forced to make a defensive action. Like TSOY, the MC rules allow you to end up resolving something totally different from what you declared at the beginning. Do I ignore page 57 to say this? Well, I think it's easier to interpret if you don't get yourself twisted over what Brennan might mean with "stakes". Just remember that ultimately the ability to declare actions makes it impossible to ensure that you'll end up resolving the stakes and only the stakes; if you ever declare something that's not stake A as your action B, then that effectively resolves B as a stake as well. Like DiV: if your narrated action concerns something important, you can still do it, and the opponent just has to decide if he wants to block it or not. In that sense each action is a small conflict. (Interestingly enough: TMW opts to use the nomenclature of "conflict rounds" instead of "conflict" and "action" for this same thing, recognizing that each action in this kind of extented conflict is potentially a small conflict itself. The TMW rules start by explaining the basic atomic technique, which is the simple conflict roll, and go on to discuss how you can string these rolls together to get a complex multi-participant multi-goal conflict. Some people get confused by this approach, too, so it's not apparently inherently superior pedagogically.)

(The stakes do, by the way, have an important function: they're a declaration of intent for the first round of conflict, which the other players can use as a basis of scripting their actions. Because you know what the opponent is ostensibly trying to do, you can try to pre-empt him, which is a large point here. We should note that socially the game does not give the option of lying about your supposed stakes; I think this is why Brennan opted to explain things the way he did, he wanted to make sure that stakes are declared and adhered to in intent, if not in the ultimate results. You declare truthfully and in whole at the beginning, but after that it's up to you how you get to those goals, or even if you decide to revise your goals all-together.)

Keeping all of the above in mind, how do you know who "gets the stakes" and when the conflict ends? The procedure is actually quite simple:
1) Declare stakes; this is the point where you discuss the fiction to make sure you all are on the same page as to what is the focal point of interest in the situation. It's crucial in many ways, not the least being that without it one player might script actions that take months to fulfill, while another works with split-second stuff.
2) Go through one loop of conflict resolution. Each player scripts whatever actions make sense for their character to do concretely in the fiction. Sometimes this is only a restatement of the stakes: "I want to push him over the cliff." can easily be imagined as both an appropriate action and appropriate stakes if it's been established that the characters are together near the cliff. If one of them, however, is still in the aeroplane, he should probably script a running action to get close to the other guy. What's appropriate and what's not is totally a matter of cinematics at this point: if it wouldn't make sense to cut an intervening step in a movie, don't cut it when you're scripting.
3) Deliver harm. This is the real conflict-meter in any situation where the characters are irrevocably involved in a complex and passionate conflict with one another. Ultimately harm will make it more sensible to back off, or it could even cause a character to become unable to continue the conflict. Unlike many similar games MC interestingly enough has an evaluation of both fiction and the mechanics in this stage: whether you take harm, and how much, depends primarily (that's how I read it) on your degree of failure, but can be bumbed up or down a bit by the GM if the situation warrants. (I'm not sure I like the vagueness here, but it's easy enough to fix with a rule of thumb if necessary.) This is completely identical otherwise to how TMW does the same thing.
4) Decide whether you want another round of conflict. I read it that this is ultimately about character interest, because if a player thinks that his character will and wants to continue, then a new round is played, even if the original declared stakes are long gone. (If it makes you more comfortable, think of it as a completely new conflict beginning right after the first one, with new stakes that are completely clear yet implicit to the players thanks to their involvement in the situation.) Many conflicts will be only one round long, because the characters only have one, simple goal, and the opposition is not protagonisly enough to escalate at this stage. Some conflict could even stop because characters decide to give up, and leave the stakes not resolved. But given a more important conflict, it could go a long ways, continuing on and on, even extending between scenes and so on, resolving numerous implicit side-conflicts on the way. This is easy in MC, because there is no overall-conflict framework like there is in DiV, for example; a MC conflict can easily be halted and resumed later with a new stakes declaration, because ultimately the first round and the second round of conflict are identical. You remember how DiV forbids simultaneous conflicts? This is why, and this is why MC supports it.

(One question I have: does the "Conflict rounds" bit on page 58 imply a new stakes declaration? In other words, if a player wants to continue the conflict, does he need to state the reason, that is, what stakes he is still hoping to accomplish? "If the group is unsure who has won the conflict, then it is not complete and another round of actions needs to be initiated." is not that useful in this, but I take it that referring to the group as the party that is uncertain implies that all the players need to know why the conflict still continues. This makes sense in other ways, too; even if we take it as granted that the game forbids a disingenious stakes declaration, it's still possible that a player recognizes a new goal in the middle of the conflict. Not telling the other players that your character is now trying for something else seems like a too easy way of getting around their scripts.)

Can you see from the above that all the stakes-related questions are ultimately answered by referring to the fiction and the concrete character actions? This is effective conflict resolution via task resolution, as it's necessary that any conflict is broken up into one or more well-defined tasks the character is both able and willing to do. Take the set of tasks one player chooses and the set the other chooses, fit them together, resolve, and you get a detailed narration of what happens in the next bit. If this didn't resolve everything to your satisfaction, repeat until it does.

Now that I've outlined the large-scale system, I'll answer some specific questions:

Action scale: the player decides action scale when he's scripting. He keeps actions within the declared stake scope, and does not group separate in-fiction activities into one scripted action. A good rule of thumb is to consider the situation in a movie: if you need to cut between shots to depict the action, then it's too complex, and should be separated into several actions. Another good rule of thumb is to consider the abilities and skills: only ever script actions that can be attained via the one ability and one skill. A third good rule of thumb is to only ever write simple sentences with no conjunctions, so you don't merge separate actions. An important point to remember is that as I'll explain below about action-fitting, a larger-scale action can be pre-empted by a lower-scale action. (This is all straight from my play of TMW, which works in a similar manner.)

Example: climbing a cliff is almost always one action, because you don't as a rule need several shots to establish that you are, indeed, climbing a cliff. The exception would be if it's been established that the cliff has very different parts, like when you get to the "Death-drop" after trecking the "Slopes" for three days.

Example: getting out of the room is almost always one action, as it's quite easy to script it as such. However, say your character is wrestling with another. In that case you probably should script freeing yourself, as otherwise you leave yourself open to an unresisted wrestling move from the other guy.

Example: becoming the president usually requires several actions, because you're easily pre-empted and it's difficult to depict the process logically with only one shot if it were a movie (which is not a rule, you know, only my rule of thumb for recognizing when a goal consists of several actions). Furthermore, "become the president" is not an action, because you're not doing anything. You could only script "win the election" if the scene had been established to include the whole election, and your opponent were in the scene. This is possible in theory (although horribly abstract and not really something you should be doing), but in practice you'd script actions like "stuff the Florida ballot" or "lie about your opposition in media" first, and when those are narrated and the situation tightens up, you'd follow up with "sway the Texans" and other such actions that ultimately end up with you becoming the president. You'd never script "win the election", instead focusing on lots of actions that ultimately end up with everybody agreeing that those actions do, indeed, mean that you become the president. Like, after you've won 50 actions of "sway the state X", the other players are being rather unreasonable if they don't agree that you've won the presidency.

Skipping actions: in general the answer is no, you can't skip actions, or at least you shouldn't. There's two reasons: the first one is that the actual scene framing and free play before the conflict is a consensual way of defining where the conflict of interest begins. If conflict is initiated when your character is still climbing the cliff, you're acting in bad faith towards your fellow players if you just skip this considerable obstacle because "that's not what you're interested in". If you're not interested in that, then suggest to the others that conflict be delayed a bit, and narrate your character up the cliff. Only start the conflict when you're eye-to-eye with the felon. Or at least, if you decide to skip it anyway, only do it if you're pretty sure based on your experience with your crew, that they won't mind.

The other reason to not skip actions is that it leaves you vulnerable to being pre-empted (about which I will, again, write more below): if you script a fisticuff when your character is still climbing, and the other player scripts "escape while he's still climbing", you're shit out of luck. He's getting in a free and unresisted blow, for which the game has quite exact rules, because you opted to ignore a rather obvious step in the fiction.

Action match-up: per the rules all your actions have to state a single opponent it's directed against. If the opponent has scripted an action that resists yours, then it's a resisted action. If not, it's an unresisted action. In the bar-fight example, only a physical fighting/dodging action directed at you will cause your ball-throwing to become a resisted action. If the player tried to use a social action, I'd rule it as pre-empted, because it's so much faster to throw the ball that I don't really see anybody intercepting it with words. The example about leaving the room is pretty similar in my mind, actually; if the other guy is not actively stopping you from leaving, then I have difficulty seeing how you'd stick around long enough to hear his social attack. But that's ultimately a GM call in this game (MC has GM-centric language in many places, so let's just go with it if that's how it's supposed to work).

I've referred to "pre-empting" actions several times, above. What I mean by that is that the adjucation about which action opposes which is done based on sensible evaluation of the fiction: if you're scripting "finish my engine of terror faster than you" and I script "punch you in the nose", then the latter happens without resistance, because your action happens on a fundamentally different scale. (While this kind of thing is alleviated by the stakes declaration and general scene framing, it seems to me that faster and slower actions will emerge in this system.) The interesting conundrum here is whether you're also getting your action as unresisted, because I "just" punched you, but didn't try to finish my own engine of destruction.

This is the part where I confess that it seems to me that there's a rule missing from the system, because it seems to me that you should be able to literally pre-empt an action with an action that invalidates the opponent's action. If I kill you in the first day of your six-month construction effort, you shouldn't get to finish just because I didn't script "win the race to finish my engine of destruction first" or whatever. It seems to me that this kind of thing is absolutely necessary for the system to work in an interesting manner, because if you're allowed to consider "I punch you" and "I construct an engine of terror" as resisted actions towards each other, it causes a huge disparity in action significance, not to mention that it doesn't make any sense. My fix is to simply decide that whenever an action is obviously dependant on something completely separate (like your finishing your construction effort is dependant on you not dying), the separate action has to succeed for the first action to succeed. Thus, if you want to script large-scale stakes-resolving actions, you better also script some defenses against possible simpler, faster actions that could pre-empt you.

(For the curious, compare this with how Sorcerer solves the same problem, which is quite interesting to my mind: the best roller acts first regardless of the scope of stated action. I can well imagine that an advanced utilization of the complex conflict system could use this principle to solve things like whether I can find you and punch you in the nose before you finish your terror engine construction.)

But other than the pre-empting thing I think the rules on action-matchup are pretty clear. You match up any two actions that are bilaterally targeted, resolve to cross-purposes and can interact meaningfully (the latter being the pre-empting scale issue I discuss in the above paragraph). I imagine that a given group will soon decide for themselves how some common activities are handled; for instance, I could see fighting done so that any fighting actions are automatically opposed, but I could also see how you might want to require a separate defensive action. The former is more realistic, perhaps, but the latter allows for dramatic ai-uchi strikes and offensive vs. defensive fighting styles. But these are all simple hashes, roleplayers do this all the time.

General answer to Daniel: finally, a general answer. You're absolutely correct that nothing is ever resolved on the level of stakes, everything is always resolved on the level of actions (which I suggest you start thinking of as small conflicts themselves). And I agree with you that dodging out vs. talking should not be a resisted situation, for the reasons of pre-empting I outline above. If you want the other guy to listen to you, by golly you should also script your intent to keep him there by force if necessary. Otherwise he's just walking out on you (which might or might not be OK with you, note). Interpreting it the other way around is a limp-wristed way of doing it, because it lets the "talker guy" off the hook as concerns that staple of drama, whether you grab the guy and punch some sense into him or not. Does ignoring Brennans position in this work for you, insofar as getting the system to work is concerned?

I think that interpreting the system in the manner I lay out here allows for both orthagonal and opposed stakes, as well as orthogonal and opposed actions. The trick is to remember to ignore the stakes as any kind of mechanical constraint on anything, and to focus on actions that make sense and are possible for the character at any given time. Situation in the fiction is a meaningful constraint on the means the characters can bring to bear, so as long as scripting honors the situation, everything should be fine.

I hope I didn't confuse things too much. Brennan: if I've understood this wrong, feel free to point out where I'm confused. I'm supposed to play the game a bit during the weekend or the beginning of next week, so I imagine I'll know for sure then.
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Ice Cream Emperor
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« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2006, 06:46:19 PM »

Brennan, that's fine -- there's no rush or deadline on the horizon. Please take your time.

Eero, your description and interpretation of the rules was definitely helpful -- but I think I'm going to hold off on any follow-up questions/replies until Brennan has a chance to reply as well.
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~ Daniel
Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2006, 03:14:37 PM »

Eero is wise. I like his take on the conflict system.

As promised, here is the start of a more detailed procedure of play that will help explain the intricacies of the Mortal Coil conflict system. More than one group has had trouble with this, so it makes sense for me to write this out in a more detailed way. This text will be added to the game if there is ever a reissue, and it will be available for free on the Galileo Games web site once I'm done. I also plan to post it to the wiki.

Note that these are not new rules. This is a more detailed explanation of how to apply the existing rules.

Conflict
So, youíve gotten into a conflict with another character. There are a lot of different ways this could fall out, and we will now go through them from the simplest scenario to the most complex.

Conflict 1: A Simple, One-Action Conflict between Two Characters
The most basic and most common sort of conflict is a quick head-to-head between two characters. In the example, Michelle is the GM, and she has two players, Jason and Krista.

Jasonís character Eckhardt has had it with the corrupt mine owner, and he gets a gun from his carís glove compartment and marches up to the mine ownerís trailer. Kristaís character Lucy steps in front of him.

Krista: Lucy says, ďYouíre not going in there with that gun.Ē

Jason: ďOh, yes, I am.Ē

Michelle: OK. This is definitely a conflict. Jason, whatís your goal?

Jason: Iím taking that gun with me when I go inside.

Michelle: Cool. Krista?

Krista: Heís going to give me the gun.

Michelle: All right. Thatís simple enough. Allocate your tokens, and weíll see whether Eckhardt gets to keep his gun.

Both Jason and Krista allocate their tokens secretly. Jason is using his Will of 4, plus Negotiator of 3, and puts all but one of his 7 action tokens in. Krista uses her Wits of 3, plus her Student of 2, and puts all but one of her 7 action tokens in as well.

Michelle: Ready? OK, letís reveal. Jason, whatís your action?

Jason: Eckhardt is a tough negotiator, so Iím using that, plus his will to get Lucy to step aside. Will 4 plus Negotiator 3 plus 6 action tokens is 13.

Krista: Lucy is going to appeal to reason and try to talk Eckhardt out of this. She has a Wits of 3, plus her Student of 2, and I put up 6 action tokens, too. My total is only 11.

Michelle: All right, that means Eckhardt is up by 2: a success. He gets to keep the gun. Jason, how does this go down?

Jason: Eckhardt says, ďGet out of my way, Lucy. This guy has refused to budge, and two people are dead because of it. Heís going to shut the mine down once and for all.Ē Eckhardt glares into Lucyís eyes, his resolve is clear.

Krista: ďEckhardt, youíre going to get arrested brandishing that thing. What if he has a gun, too? This can only end badly, you know that.Ē

Jason: With a curt shake of his head, Eckhardt brushes past her. She knows she canít change his mind.

Krista: ďDammit!Ē

Michelle: I think Lucyís shaken by this. Spend an action token, Krista.
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Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2006, 03:16:07 PM »

Conflict 2: A One-Round Multiple Action Conflict between Two Characters
OK, now weíve covered a really basic conflict. Now, letís get a bit more complicated. If two characters are in a conflict, they can try more than one tactic to get what they want.

In this scene, Michelle has the mine foreman confront Jasonís character Eckhardt, who is trying to enter the mine.

Michelle: A mine foreman comes out as you rush up to the mine. ďHold it right there!Ē

Jason: This is a conflict. Iím not letting him stop me.

Michelle: OK. Whatís your goal in the conflict? The mine foreman wants you to turn around and go back down to the office.

Jason: Iím getting into that mine, and I donít have much time. I donít want him to delay me.

Michelle: Sounds good. Letís allocate.

Michelle and Jason allocate secretly. Michelle decides the foreman is going to get rough with this strange character. She allocates 4 action tokens for the foreman to grab Eckhardt and give him the bumís rush, using Force 3 and his aptitude Redneck 2. Michelle figures Eckhardt might try to fight back, so she puts two action tokens in Grace 2 to dodge, again using Redneck 2.

Jason knows the foreman probably has the edge in a physical confrontation, so he decides to mix it up a bit. He doesnít want the foreman to get his hands on Eckhardt, so he allocates 3 tokens to defense, with Grace 3 and Policeman 3. He then allocates another 3 to Will 4 and Policeman 3, to show the foreman his gun and intimidate him into letting Eckhardt pass.

Michelle: Ready?

Jason: Ready. Letís reveal.

Michelle: The foreman is going to grab ahold of you, and give you the bumís rush out of here. ďI donít think you heard me, buddy. This mine is off-limits!Ē Thatís the Force action. The Grace action is to defend against you fighting back.

Jason: Good thing Iím not fighting back, then. My Grace action here is to resist any physical assault, and the Will action is to show the guy my gun and get him to back down.

Michelle: Nice! I didnít see that coming. Letís resolve. Your Grace is definitely opposing the foremanís Force. Iíve got a total of 9: 4 action tokens plus Force 3 plus Redneck 2. I figure as a redneck, he knows how to throw down.

Jason: All right, thatís fair. Iím using my Grace to resist, and I figure Iíve gotten in a few scraps as a cop. So, my total to resist is 9: 3 action tokens, plus Grace 3 and Policeman 3.

Michelle: Thatís dead even. That means each of you only gets a partial success. Hereís what happens: the foreman rushes up to, saying, ďThis mine is off-limits, buddy!Ē and he grabs hold of your jacket, trying to manhandle you back down the hill. Youíre light on your feet, and youíve been in some scraps before, so you resist, twisting away as he tries to force you to move. Heís got a grip, but he canít make you move.

Jason: Cool. Now the other action. Heís got no defense against Will. I pull out my gun. Iím not aiming it him, Iím just showing him I have it. ďIím more than you can handle, friend. Just step back, and we donít have a problem.Ē Iíve got 10 in that action: 3 action tokens, plus Will 4 and Policeman 3. Iím using the gun, too, so that gives me a +2, right?

Michelle: In this case itís a +1. A gunís purpose is to shoot people, and here youíre just using it to intimidate. Guns can certainly be used for that purpose, though, so you do get a bonus. Youíre total is 11. Heís resisting with Will only, and heís just got a 2. You beat him by 9 points, thatís a spectacular success. As soon as the gun comes out, he lets go of your jacket and puts his hands in the air, stepping back and shaking his head. ďI donít want any trouble, man. Take it easy.Ē

Jason: Good. I sprint for the mine entrance.
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coffeestain
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« Reply #6 on: October 14, 2006, 05:31:06 PM »

Brennan,

This is awesome, thanks!  This is how I figured conflicts worked after a lot of confusion and trial/error, but it could certainly be clearer (as you identified).  I'm looking forward to the next installment(s) and I definitely feel this will be a valuable addition to the game's text.

Regards,
Daniel
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Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2006, 02:32:31 AM »

Glad this is helpful so far! Here's the next one:

Conflict 3: A One-Round Multiple Action Conflict between Two Characters with Reallocation
So, in the previous conflict, Jasonís character devastated the mine foreman because he hadnít anticipated Jasonís tactic. The mine foreman gave up and stepped back, because Michelle didnít think continuing the conflict was worth it. However, if something like this happens, there is another option to get out of terrible loss, and that is reallocation. Hereís an example of a conflict with reallocation.

In this scene, Jasonís character Eckhardt is ambushed by the villainous mine owner, and he has to defend herself.

Michelle: Youíve reached the breach, and you can see the head-sized hole that leads back into the magical dimension. Itís a swirl of darkness and fire, and an eerie howling that sounds nearly human is emerging from it.

Jason: OK, Iím stuffing the artifact back inside.

Michelle: Just as you approach, a figure looms from the darkness. Itís Jakkot, the mine owner, and he steps in your way. ďGive me the artifact, Eckhardt, and you wonít get hurt,Ē he says, in a menacing growl.

Jason: Like fun. Conflict. Iím putting the artifact in the hole.

Michelle: And heís going to get the artifact from you, by hook or by crook. Letís allocate.

Jason decides that Grace is the best faculty to use to get the artifact in the hole. Heíll throw it if need be. Heís backing that with Occult Investigator, and he drops all but one of his action tokens there. He decides to go all in on this one, and puts the last one into Will to resist whatever the foreman is dishing out. He sets his Policeman with that action.

Michelle looks at Jakkot, and drops his main action, for 5 action tokens, in his Grace associated with his Thug aptitude to shoot Eckhardt dead. She also drops two action tokens in his Force, to block Eckhardtís move for the hole, and uses Thug there again.

Michelle: OK. Letís reveal. Jakkotís using his Force action to physically block you from the hole, and Grace is going to him shooting you with his gun.

Jason: Heís shooting me? That bastard. My Grace action here is to throw the artifact back in the hole, and Iím using Will here to try to face down Jakkot, and stop him from shooting me, it looks like.

Michelle: I want to resolve the shooting action first, but whether or not you get plugged, the throwing action is still up against his Force to block. Jakkotís Grace is 4, and his Thug aptitude is also 4. He put five tokens toward this, so his total is 13.

Jason: My Will is 4, and Policeman is 3, and I had only one action token going toward this. My total is 8. Not good.

Michelle: Definitely not good. Heís beating you by 5, thatís a spectacular success. He will maim or kill you with this shot. Letís see how the toss turned out.

Jason: Iím using Grace of 3 and Occult Investigator of 2, and I put six action tokens behind this. Thatís a total of 11.

Michelle: Occult Investigator is pretty weak for this situation, but Jakkotís using Thug to counter, and thatís not any better. No bonus on either side. His Force is 3, Thug is 4, and he had two action tokens here. Thatís 9. You win a success by a margin of 2. So, youíll throw the artifact in the whole, but be possibly fatally shot by Jakkot.

Jason: The question is how bad do I want itÖ Iím not willing to take that hit, at this point. Iím going to reallocate.

Michelle: OK. That will cost you some action tokens.

Jason: I know, but itís worth it to get out of the way of this speeding bullet.

Jason and Michelle cover their allocation again. Jason decides to move four action tokens over to his Will action, bumping it well up out of the realm of serious harm. Michelle decides not to reallocate in order to save Jakkotís tokens for any follow-up conflicts.

Jason: Hereís how I reallocated. Now, the Will action is worth 12, and the Grace action is 7.

Michelle: OK. Jakkot gets the better of you in both actions now. He wins by one in the shooting action, so that means Eckhardt is scratched. He also gets a success in the block, by a margin of 2, so he steps forward and grabs the artifact, wrestling it away from you.

Jason: Iím not happy about that, but I am pleased to not be dead. Basically, Eckhardt canít stop the stronger man from taking the artifact, but a cold look from his eyes makes Jakkotís gun waver and the shot creases Eckhardtís chest and he stumbles back, losing his grip on the artifact.

Michelle: Jakkot, chuckling evilly, runs back up the mine shaft toward the entrance, the artifact tucked under his arm.

Jason: Now, Iíve got to bring my tokens back. I went all in, so I am fatigued. Thatís one spent action token. He winged me with the gun, for a scratch, so thatís a second action token spent. He would have scratched me when he seized the artifact, too, but two scratches donít increase the spent tokens and I donít have to worry about that. I also reallocated, so thatís a third action token spent. Iím down to four action tokens, and Jakkotís still at full. Iím not in good shape to stop him now. I hope Lucy is up there at the mine entrance, and I hope sheís got a gun!
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coffeestain
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« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2006, 04:24:07 AM »

Awesome!  Now, here's a question:

I thought that if only one side was reallocating, there was no need to cover the tokens again?  Only if both sides decide to reallocate, then another cover and reveal occur.  Am I misremembering?

Regards,
Daniel
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Doyce
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« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2006, 11:50:25 AM »

First: these examples are awesome, Brennan -- I'd love to see one with Multiple Actions Where the Outcome Is Not Clear After the First Round, just to see if what I think is right and what you're saying is right, agree.

Second:

"Often, after everyone involved in a conflict has taken an action, the outcome of the conflict is still not clear." (p.58, "Conflict Rounds")

My read on this is pretty darn simple.  (Maybe too simple, but it works for me):

"The final outcome of a conflict may not be clear after the end of one round of actions.  This usually happens when either (a) both sides take a single action and tie or (b) one or both sides of a conflict take multiple actions, but successful actions are split between both sides of a conflict in a such a way that agreeing who 'got their way' is not possible."

Example Intents:  She wants to leave, he wants her to stay and talk.

1. Single action tie between his talking and her graceful exit: His words get her to pause in the doorway, but she still isn't talking.
2. Multiple actions: his talking & grabbing vs. her obstinance & graceful exit, in which his talking fails, but his grab succeeds -- she's not gone yet, but neither is she listening.

Both of these would, I think, go to another round.  Examples when they wouldn't go to another round, because of the result:

3. Multiple actions: his talking & grabbing vs. her obstinance & graceful exit, in which his talking AND grab succeeds.

4. Multiple actions: his talking & grabbing vs. her obstinance & graceful exit, in which his grab fails, but his talking utterly obliterates her stubborn resistance.

5. Multiple actions: his talking & grabbing vs. her obstinance & graceful exit, in which his grab is totally obliterated, and his talking wins by only a bare margin: she's out the door and gone, with a small thoughtful frown at the point he made as she left.


-- It all is, as they say, kind of situational.
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Doyce Testerman ~ http://random.average-bear.com
Someone gets into trouble, then get get out of it again; people love that story -- they never get tired of it.
Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2006, 02:32:56 PM »

I thought that if only one side was reallocating, there was no need to cover the tokens again?† Only if both sides decide to reallocate, then another cover and reveal occur.† Am I misremembering?

If that's clear from the outset, then you are correct. However, in the example it is possible that Michelle would have reallocated, and she may want to cover so that Jason has to guess at what her character might do. That's kind of judgement call on the part of the group. I've got no preference one way or the other as a designer.
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Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2006, 02:35:20 PM »

First: these examples are awesome, Brennan -- I'd love to see one with Multiple Actions Where the Outcome Is Not Clear After the First Round, just to see if what I think is right and what you're saying is right, agree.

I'm adding complexity with each example. The Multiple Actions/Multiple Rounds example is coming.

Regarding your second point, that's right. These are the situations where a second round of actions is generally required. It can also happen when everyone's actions, while moving toward their goals, don't quite get them there in a single reveal, if that makes sense.
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Doyce
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« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2006, 03:20:24 PM »

Regarding your second point, that's right. These are the situations where a second round of actions is generally required. It can also happen when everyone's actions, while moving toward their goals, don't quite get them there in a single reveal, if that makes sense.

Absolutely -- good stuff all around. :)
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Doyce Testerman ~ http://random.average-bear.com
Someone gets into trouble, then get get out of it again; people love that story -- they never get tired of it.
dyjoots
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« Reply #13 on: October 19, 2006, 12:31:37 AM »

Are these examples going to be added to a wiki?  They're excellent.
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Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #14 on: October 19, 2006, 02:34:36 AM »

Are these examples going to be added to a wiki?† They're excellent.

Yes! I'll post a link later.
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