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Author Topic: conflict, conflict, conflict  (Read 4099 times)
stefoid
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« on: January 17, 2010, 07:40:37 PM »

Hi, I revisited PTA a number of times, and each time I haven't been able to get the game working 'properly'. 

The main problem for me is determining what is and isnt a conflict.  Ive read a bunch of threads on this forum, a lot of which get Ron Edwards commenting and a lot of other people agreeing with him, but in terms of PTA specifically,  Rons's viewpoint doesnt help me - I cant get meld Rons general view on conflict resolution with PTA.

Heres my current understanding, perhaps people can comment on it:

In PTA, I feel that the most crucial skill to learn is how to select and frame a conflict.   For instance, in most games Ive played, the player is concerned with what the character wants.  But I cant get that to work in PTA.  PTA seems only to work if I take on the role of a television script writer/actor, and concern myself with what they would want.

example of a situation that comes from another thread.  Fred wants to steal a vase.  Mary wants to stop Fred stealing vase.   In the character's headspace, those intents are enough.   And with regard to Rons talk about 'stakes' not stepping on the the authority of the resulting narrative, everything is working fine.  However, for PTA,  that sort of conflict doesnt work for two reasons - one, its illegal: both players have to be able to win their stakes.  And two - its a 'meh' conflict for PTA because the conflict isnt framed within the context of the characters issues.

With my actor/script-writer hat on, however, I can re-frame the conflict easily in terms of character issues: lets say Fred's issue is self-worth and Mary's issue is belonging.  now in PTA terms the conflict is suddenly very interesting - it doesnt matter a hoot if the vase gets stolen or not.  What matters is: does Fred feel better about himself  as a result of his actions and does Mary feel more or less like she belongs as a result of hers?  Once these two orthogonal intents are resolved  by the cards, the narrator gets to tell us how, and the disposition of the vase - stolen or not - is just color.    The whole issue of the vase is a set-piece engineered by the players in their 'script-writer/actor' headspaces.  also note, the stakes I have defined above are not defined in terms of character intents or goals.

Now that is well enough, but it seems to me that PTA requires players to be in both headspaces at different times or simultaneously.  (the producer isnt so conflicted because he is always in the producer headspace)  A player requests a scene and the producer introduces the scene and then 'in character' the players play out some of the scene.  Meanwhile the producer and players watch for a 'conflict' to arise out of scene being played out.

Now we get to the my problem(s) -
a) what if a conflict isnt apparent?  A scene cant go on forever, yet every scene must have one, and according to Matt, have one early.
b) similarly, when do players switch hats and concentrate on how to engineer a situation in the scene to showcase their issues, as opposed to remaining in-character and concentrating on the (in PTA terms) trivial/unimportant conflicts that their character might become embroiled in?

Am I making sense?  the producer can frame the scene in such a way to maximize the probability of an appropriate conflict occurring, but ultimately it is up to the players to play the scene in such a way as to ensure it happens.   How can they do that without abandoning their character's viewpoint and moving to the viewpoint of writer/actor?

Back to the vase - it didnt have to be a conflict about a stolen vase.  It could have been almost any situation that the characters issues are being 'piggybacked' onto.  Yet the character-initiated conflict has to occur first before the issue-related stakes can be highlighted.  The way I read PTA, it has to play like this:

1) player (in actor space) suggests scene
2) producer sets scene
3) players (in character headspaces) do some 'roleplaying'  which (eventually) leads to a conflict of character interest.
4) producer and/or players use the conflict as a vehicle, framing it within issue-related stakes (which may not be directly related to the in-character goals)
5) cards determine who gets their stakes
6) narrator narrates how the stakes were/weren't achieved within the context of the original conflict of interest.

Now  1)->3) is straightforward, and once 4) has been accomplished, the rest flows naturally as long as the narrator doesnt exceed their authority.

BUT How do the players get from 3) to 4) without their heads imploding from the pressure of simultaneously trying to roleplay in character and observe the whole thing from above as a writer/actor? 

(and as a P.S..., relentlessly tacking on the same handful of issues to every character conflict of interest that occurs in the game seems like it could get very 'samey', although I havent played enough PTA to get to that stage.)
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2010, 08:11:06 PM »

Hey Stefoid:

It helps if you think about conflict in PTA as something different from conflict in other games. Think of it as "scene resolution."

If you want to put on your screenwriter hat, which you should, then ask yourself why you're having each scene. If there's no apparent conflict when you begin the scene, why did you begin it? There should be plenty of things to address if you're looking at either a) the problem the producer introduced in the beginning or b) the characters' issues.

Say you have three protagonists with the issues grief, self destruction and trust. In the first scene, the producer introduces a problem: the gizmo has been stolen.

From then on, your scenes are about either grief, self destruction, trust, or tracking down the gizmo. Maybe they're about more than one at the same time. But the bottom line is you're having each scene because you want to know, at some level, "do we get any closer to finding the gizmo?" and/or "can I keep my issue from messing me up?"

Hope that helps.



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stefoid
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« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2010, 08:24:54 PM »

On re-reading this, I realize I left out what doesnt meld for me with Rons view on conflict resolution and PTAs.

And that is the nature of PTAs dual-layer conflicts.  On one hand each conflict is initiated by in-character conflict of interest, but a meaningful game of PTA needs to frame these conflicts within the stakes of the characters issues.  Whats important about the conflict isnt the characters intent, but how it affects their issues.

But as far as I can understand Ron, he advocates sticking with the characters intent, and doing away with the stakes all together, because at worst they aren't necessary and at best they lead to trouble.  But I cant see how that approach can work with PTA.  PTA seems to require stakes to piggy back ISSUES onto character intents.  
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stefoid
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« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2010, 08:51:06 PM »

Hey Stefoid:

It helps if you think about conflict in PTA as something different from conflict in other games. Think of it as "scene resolution."

If you want to put on your screenwriter hat, which you should, then ask yourself why you're having each scene. If there's no apparent conflict when you begin the scene, why did you begin it? There should be plenty of things to address if you're looking at either a) the problem the producer introduced in the beginning or b) the characters' issues.

Say you have three protagonists with the issues grief, self destruction and trust. In the first scene, the producer introduces a problem: the gizmo has been stolen.

From then on, your scenes are about either grief, self destruction, trust, or tracking down the gizmo. Maybe they're about more than one at the same time. But the bottom line is you're having each scene because you want to know, at some level, "do we get any closer to finding the gizmo?" and/or "can I keep my issue from messing me up?"

Hope that helps.


I think bolded part does help.  But its hard.  Player have to be pro-active in keeping one eye on the big picture at the same time as reacting to what the producer throws at them.  Me and my groups are used to being purely reactionary and thinking 'how would my character react to ...' whatever the GM is currently narrating.  But PTA requires players to be pro-active in also monitoring the ongoing situation for conflict arising from a characters internal struggles with their issue.

My feeling is that generating/selecting and framing conflicts is super important to getting PTA to work well, but that is not reflected in the rules.  I have put many hours into playing PTA and trawling this website to try to work out how to play it well, and Im not there yet.   I reckon you need to place extra emphasis on this portion of your ruleset and provide a LOT more examples...  I will try to get people enthused in another PTA game at some point, but if that one also fails, Im not sure where to go from there.  I wonder if you lose a lot of potential players due to their inability to learn how to play the game within a reasonable timeframe.  (like the first two sessions)
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Welkerfan
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« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2010, 08:56:28 AM »

Something that helped me a lot when I was first running PTA was that someone told me that the stakes don't necessarily have to involve the characters themselves.

Here's an example:  There was a protagonist, Allen, whose Issue was Duty at the Expense of Compasssion.  Before this advice, we framed a conflict like this:  "Does Allen let the prisoner go home to his family, despite it being against regulation?"  And that was never satisfying.  Then someone told me to instead make the stakes about the repercussions: "Does Allen get disciplined because he let's the prisoner go?"  This way, the conflict is about the consequences of his actions related to his Issue.  The way the conflict plays out colors how the protagonist feels about his Issue and helps the player to decide how to behave in the future.

Also, this conflict, unlike the first one, effectively resolves the scene.  In the first conflict, Allen may or may not let the guy go, but that doesn't really resolve what's happening or point to the next scene.  In the second, Allen let's the prisoner go (against his feelings of Duty) and may or may not get into trouble.  Either way, it indicates what else besides the prisoner running might happen in the scene and what some possible next scenes are.

Basically, scenes should be about Issues or the plot, but the conflicts themselves don't have to be.  The conflicts can be about the repercussions, consequences, contexts, and relations to the character of the Issue and the character's actions.  A rule we made for our group at first that helped was, "No stakes can be about your protagonist's actions or feelings."  While this isn't something you want to have forever, it did make us start doing more with stakes than just saying, "Do my Issue affect me?"

Does that help at all?
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Brenton Wiernik
stefoid
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« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2010, 12:28:14 PM »

Something that helped me a lot when I was first running PTA was that someone told me that the stakes don't necessarily have to involve the characters themselves.

Here's an example:  There was a protagonist, Allen, whose Issue was Duty at the Expense of Compasssion.  Before this advice, we framed a conflict like this:  "Does Allen let the prisoner go home to his family, despite it being against regulation?"  And that was never satisfying.  Then someone told me to instead make the stakes about the repercussions: "Does Allen get disciplined because he let's the prisoner go?"  This way, the conflict is about the consequences of his actions related to his Issue.  The way the conflict plays out colors how the protagonist feels about his Issue and helps the player to decide how to behave in the future.

Also, this conflict, unlike the first one, effectively resolves the scene.  In the first conflict, Allen may or may not let the guy go, but that doesn't really resolve what's happening or point to the next scene.  In the second, Allen let's the prisoner go (against his feelings of Duty) and may or may not get into trouble.  Either way, it indicates what else besides the prisoner running might happen in the scene and what some possible next scenes are.

Basically, scenes should be about Issues or the plot, but the conflicts themselves don't have to be.  The conflicts can be about the repercussions, consequences, contexts, and relations to the character of the Issue and the character's actions.  A rule we made for our group at first that helped was, "No stakes can be about your protagonist's actions or feelings."  While this isn't something you want to have forever, it did make us start doing more with stakes than just saying, "Do my Issue affect me?"

Does that help at all?

Not really Smiley   It seems to go against Rons principle of only stating intent -- i.e. your example, those stakes are stealing authority away from the narrator, who then then feels like he is reading from a script.   

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Welkerfan
Member

Posts: 43


« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2010, 01:32:33 PM »

Something that helped me a lot when I was first running PTA was that someone told me that the stakes don't necessarily have to involve the characters themselves.

Here's an example:  There was a protagonist, Allen, whose Issue was Duty at the Expense of Compasssion.  Before this advice, we framed a conflict like this:  "Does Allen let the prisoner go home to his family, despite it being against regulation?"  And that was never satisfying.  Then someone told me to instead make the stakes about the repercussions: "Does Allen get disciplined because he let's the prisoner go?"  This way, the conflict is about the consequences of his actions related to his Issue.  The way the conflict plays out colors how the protagonist feels about his Issue and helps the player to decide how to behave in the future.

Also, this conflict, unlike the first one, effectively resolves the scene.  In the first conflict, Allen may or may not let the guy go, but that doesn't really resolve what's happening or point to the next scene.  In the second, Allen let's the prisoner go (against his feelings of Duty) and may or may not get into trouble.  Either way, it indicates what else besides the prisoner running might happen in the scene and what some possible next scenes are.

Basically, scenes should be about Issues or the plot, but the conflicts themselves don't have to be.  The conflicts can be about the repercussions, consequences, contexts, and relations to the character of the Issue and the character's actions.  A rule we made for our group at first that helped was, "No stakes can be about your protagonist's actions or feelings."  While this isn't something you want to have forever, it did make us start doing more with stakes than just saying, "Do my Issue affect me?"

Does that help at all?

Not really Smiley   It seems to go against Rons principle of only stating intent -- i.e. your example, those stakes are stealing authority away from the narrator, who then then feels like he is reading from a script.   



In the experience I've had with PTA (which seems kind of similar to yours), Ron's advice didn't work for me at all.  Once we started to make stakes about the consequences of action and Issues became something that led to complications, rather than the topic of stakes, that was when the games got good.  Also, once we stopped calling it "High Card Narration" and called it instead "Director" was when that part of play got better.

I'd suggest you take a look at this thread:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27841.0

Eero really helped me to look at conflicts in new ways--not as determiners of character action, but as determiners of the consequences of those actions.  It made the game better, and it seemed to be more in line with what Matt talks about above.

Also, it's really not that different from Ron's "only state intent" principle.  The intent of the character is "When I do this, nothing bad happens and everything turns out great."  The stakes then become, "Does everything work as planned?"  Putting meat on these skeleton stakes, it could become, "Having gone to bed with this woman, does she betray me and rob me blind?"  There is a lot of room for the Narrator to decide what happens and how, and there is equally as much room for the other players to interact with the scene and the characters involved.
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Brenton Wiernik
stefoid
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« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2010, 06:40:36 PM »

I agree with your point about consequences, but I also agree with Rons point about knobling the authority of the narrator - its narrating before the narrator gets to have a chance to.  Nothing is stopping you from shifting those consequences from the stakes setting phase to the narration phase, however.

Its all part of the skills to learn I guess.  I am starting to realize that the director in PTA has a much more active and important role than I previously thought -- has to be looking to recognize or inject plot or issue related conflicts into each and every scene as early as possible... has to be watching like a hawk all the time.  Hopefully that sort if thing becomes  second nature after a few games.    and your comment brings to light that the players, when they win narration rights, have to be on the ball as well - its their right to make any sort of narration they like, and if they come up with dull narration of little consequence, then the game will go the same way.

What I need to make for myself is a flash card for the director and one for the players that lists, in order of importance, one sentence bullet points that noobs will need to concentrate on throughout the game, until they become second nature, as our 'old school' Roleplaying skills allready are.

anyone like to come up with some bullet points for me?  Maybe I could start a new thread on it.
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Welkerfan
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« Reply #8 on: January 20, 2010, 06:44:38 PM »

there are some primetime reminder cards and a few other resources on these forums that would be a good place to start
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Brenton Wiernik
stefoid
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« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2010, 07:07:47 PM »

Im not sure I agree with Eero about character decisions not being a good conflict point.  I started partway through that thread you linked and had a eureka moment "conflict recognition bullet point #1:  character decisions make good conflict points"  and then the next post said "dont make conflict about decisions".    :-o

to my mind, a character who is in the process of making a decision that is affected by their issue is in conflict with themself, and thats what the GM and all players should be watching out for all the time.  OK, THEN when the time to narrate comes, the narrator is challenged with the skill of coming up with a narration that explains the outcome AND is entertaining, fictionally satisfying and paves the way for yet more conflict in future scenes.  geez, no wonder the first couple of games of PTA is a hard road....
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stefoid
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« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2010, 09:58:33 PM »

and following on from above,  the player/producer combination does have a certain control over how they want their character to act through the allocation or not of fan mail, traits and producer opposition.  The act of rolling the conflict, even if the outcome is highly probably towards one direction ro another, is still neccessary to put the wheels in motion towards narrating the end scene and moving to the next one.
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jburneko
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« Reply #11 on: January 21, 2010, 03:27:06 PM »

Hey I wanted to take a moment to post since I'm a big supporter of Ron's ideas about limiting conflict to clash of intents between active characters.  Last night I had an AMAZING game of PtA and I'm looking forward to the rest of the episodes.  I'm going to focus on one character.

The game is sent in a Dark Ages village in Germany called Staderpest.  The idea behind the show is kind of an HBO drama about people living in a city inflicted with the black plague.  We agreed to an implied supernatural aesthetic but NO actual supernatural events.

One the characters is named Marcus who is a Knight who has returned from the Crusades to discover that his father the city's Magistrate has been branded a heretic and run out of town.  His Issues is: Family Honor.

His first scene took place in the family grave yard where he met his father.  His father begged him to leave this place as there was nothing left for him here.  He instead proclaimed that he must have revenge on those that shamed his family.  Conflict!  Stakes: Can Markus rally his father to his call for vengeance?  Result: No.  His father looked upon him and horror and reminded him of the family heritage for practicality.  He scolded him for his madness and told him that whatever folly befell him in his blood lust that he'd be on his own.

In his second scene he had a clandestine meeting with his former love in the woods.  She told him that she came because she wanted to see him one final time but now that a black mark had been placed upon his house her father would never allow her to marry her.  He begged her to elope with him and that they be married in the old tradition of her grandmother.  Conflict!  Stakes: Can Markus win Anya's heart and elope?  Answer: Yes.  (The player fought HARD for this one.  It was tense).  She confessed that she loved him too much to forsake him.  That she would marry him no matter what her family thought.

In his third scene he confronted the Priest who had driven his father out of town at Sunday morning mass.  He denounced the Priest as a false leader and commanded the town people to rally to his standard!  Stakes: Can Markus rally the town's people to his standard?  Answer: No.  The scene ended with the town's people shouting Markus down and blaming his father for the "Cursed Plague" upon the city.  They rallied to the Priest and claimed that only his slavation through god would they be safe.

Do you see how in each scene the Character's Issue and the Character's Intent behind their action aligned perfectly?  That's when PtA really rocks.

Jesse
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stefoid
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« Reply #12 on: January 21, 2010, 03:49:49 PM »

Hey I wanted to take a moment to post since I'm a big supporter of Ron's ideas about limiting conflict to clash of intents between active characters.  Last night I had an AMAZING game of PtA and I'm looking forward to the rest of the episodes.  I'm going to focus on one character.

The game is sent in a Dark Ages village in Germany called Staderpest.  The idea behind the show is kind of an HBO drama about people living in a city inflicted with the black plague.  We agreed to an implied supernatural aesthetic but NO actual supernatural events.

One the characters is named Marcus who is a Knight who has returned from the Crusades to discover that his father the city's Magistrate has been branded a heretic and run out of town.  His Issues is: Family Honor.

His first scene took place in the family grave yard where he met his father.  His father begged him to leave this place as there was nothing left for him here.  He instead proclaimed that he must have revenge on those that shamed his family.  Conflict!  Stakes: Can Markus rally his father to his call for vengeance?  Result: No.  His father looked upon him and horror and reminded him of the family heritage for practicality.  He scolded him for his madness and told him that whatever folly befell him in his blood lust that he'd be on his own.

In his second scene he had a clandestine meeting with his former love in the woods.  She told him that she came because she wanted to see him one final time but now that a black mark had been placed upon his house her father would never allow her to marry her.  He begged her to elope with him and that they be married in the old tradition of her grandmother.  Conflict!  Stakes: Can Markus win Anya's heart and elope?  Answer: Yes.  (The player fought HARD for this one.  It was tense).  She confessed that she loved him too much to forsake him.  That she would marry him no matter what her family thought.

In his third scene he confronted the Priest who had driven his father out of town at Sunday morning mass.  He denounced the Priest as a false leader and commanded the town people to rally to his standard!  Stakes: Can Markus rally the town's people to his standard?  Answer: No.  The scene ended with the town's people shouting Markus down and blaming his father for the "Cursed Plague" upon the city.  They rallied to the Priest and claimed that only his slavation through god would they be safe.

Do you see how in each scene the Character's Issue and the Character's Intent behind their action aligned perfectly?  That's when PtA really rocks.

Jesse

What was the agenda and focus of each scene, if I may ask?
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jburneko
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« Reply #13 on: January 21, 2010, 03:56:21 PM »

I'm pretty sure they were all Character scenes.  Though the last one may have been Plot scene because it involved the fact that the Priest is feeding the congregation Plague infested wine and there was other action in the scene related to that.  The first scene and the last scene were started by me.  The middle scene was started by the player.

First Scene (Producer) Agenda: Markus encounters his father for the first time after arriving home.
Second Scene (Player) Agenda: Markus reunites with his sweetheart.
Third Scene (Producer) Agenda: The Priest delivers Sunday mass with the plague filled cup.

Remember that the Producer frames *all* the scenes after players put forth Location, Focus and Agenda.  So I started the first scene with the father stepping from the fog and saying, "You should not have come here."  I started the second scene with the sweetheart saying, "I wanted to see you one last time but you know that father will never approve our marriage."  I started the third scene with the Priest holding out the communion cup and narrated *myself* Markus coming through the doors of the church.  The player took it from there.

Jesse
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jburneko
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« Reply #14 on: January 21, 2010, 04:09:10 PM »

I should add that my interpretation of Agenda is that it establishes the activity around which the action will be taking place but says *nothing* about what conflict(s) will arise.  The conflicts arise directly from the action that unfolds around the Agenda.

Jesse
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