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Author Topic: The Means and Ways of Conflict  (Read 1243 times)
Drew Stevens

Posts: 154

« on: April 20, 2003, 12:38:12 PM »

Question: Is conflict in RPGs inherently limited to binary states (win/lose), a game of diminishing resources (traditional HPs, dice pool) or the question of narrative control?

I'm specifically contrasting this aspect of RPGs to other traditional games- some of which I lack the vocabularly to properly express.  Go, as opposed to Chess, for example, uses almost a form of resource accrual.  Universalis characters can also have this sort of resource accrual- Injuries and other negative traits make a character more valuable, after all.  Or, say, Settlers of Catan- all the players start off better by the end than they were at the begining, but only one wins.

Posts: 1557

« Reply #1 on: April 20, 2003, 12:46:38 PM »

Quote from: Drew Stevens
Question: Is conflict in RPGs inherently limited to binary states (win/lose), a game of diminishing resources (traditional HPs, dice pool) or the question of narrative control?

I'm not sure these are commensurable categories.  Depending on how broadly you mean "narrative control," one could argue that both the binary and diminishing-resource solutions are forms of narrative control.  If you mean that narrowly, i.e. like the Pool, then I suspect there are indeed other solutions.

You mention Go, in which the issue is dominance of a space.  One could, I think, formulate an RPG such that conflict-resolution was a matter simply of dominance in some arena.  But the Pool is effectively this: you resolve conflict by working out who dominates the descriptive space for the moment.  The thing is that I'm not at all sure what arenas or spaces there are in RPGs, apart from narration rights in one sense or another.

I guess I'm confused -- could you clarify how you mean "resource accrual"?  You mention dice pools as diminishing resources, but that's not the case in the Pool so far as I understand it.

Chris Lehrich

Posts: 284

« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2003, 10:07:09 AM »

I don't think that the dissection you describe necessarily applies, no.  In fact at least some component of two of my own projects could be held up as counterexamples; I'm holding these up only because they come to mind, not because I believe this to be unique to my work.

- In Counting Stones, the damage model is an "accrual" scheme in place of the more traditional resource-depletion ones.  If an instance of the opposed resolution system produced a result of magnitude X or larger in favor of one character, then the player of the other character is required to add something to his character sheet; his choice, though the other player gets an aspect of input as well.  Typically these would be scars, injuries, other added descriptive elements, but they might also involve dishonour, vendetta, or various other psychological elements instead.  The rules effect of these additions was less important than the fact that they are considered to be permanent descriptive additions to the character.  I haven't read Universalis, but this might parallel the way it's described in your post.

- In the main game I'm working on, the conflict model is an accrual-of-effort rather than a direct opposition scheme.  That is, even in combat, we establish how hard it will be for you to X to character Q, and how hard it will be for him to do Y to you, with a mechanism in place for each of you to oppose the other; then you each overcome setbacks until they're all gone, at which point X happens to Q or vice-versa.  Much more akin to building your cities in Settlers - but possibly not being able to build faster than your opponent - than to whittling down their HP, I hope.  This one only becomes binary in the specific case where one character's success (i.e. at killing another) means that the other one necessarily fails.

That last instance may be part of why you perceive a lot of win/lose binaries in RPGs as compared with other games... because in, say, Settlers, the situation being modeled is not an instance of "you succeed at your task = I fail at mine."  Depending on how one dissects conflict (esp. combat), that physical situation does tend to be binary in this way, and therefore lend itself to binary resolution.
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