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Conflict conflict, who's got the conflict

That illustration is just about exactly perfect for my character, Zocchi Scurlato. (artist is Nicholas Kay)

Petteri, Paul, Santiago, and I continue with our saga of the golden dragon-man in the city of commerce, whom Zocchi is more or less planning to murder, depending on whom he runs into next. This session is noted for two things that feed right into my priority for consulting in this case: how people process the text as they learn-and-play the game, with one hand holding the book open. First is that we ran a scene without conflict, therefore in which the “world doesn’t change,” but the protagonist still gets voted on regarding Flame and Shadow. Second is that we ended the session in the middle of a turn, raising the question of whether and how that relates to narrator status.

If you’re here for the theory, the session begins with a little bit of debate concerning the all-important conflict rules. They run in a strict order:

  • Traits set the initial dice pools
  • Grains add to the dice pools
  • Roll
  • Add Shadow if you dare [edited for the correct order; see Petteri's note below]
  • Burdens reduce victors’ successes
  • Spend Flame for re-rolling

The question is whether and how to discuss relaxing this order, e.g., rolling and then deciding to add Shadow, or pulling in a Grain later, or anything like that as fancy strikes. This is distinct from whether it’s “allowed” or not, and specific to that bolded phrase above.

The session also ends with some debate about conflicts and scenes … briefly, how tightly linked are being the current narrator, identifying and conducting a conflict, and finishing the scene. In the video, I’m advocating an almost free-play approach in whatever happens happens, and whoever gets conflicted just does, basically uncoupling the three things. But now, I find myself agreeing more with Paul, who remained less convinced that a Spione-like Flashpoint technique fit this game.

I ran into a little bit of file corruption, which forced me to truncate the final bit of discussion, in which Santiago wanted to understand the rules for identifying the protagonist of a scene, especially when we’d found that multiple player-characters were often included. I’d like to follow up on that in the comments.

... in fact, that ties into the first point, so this post is more coherent than I'd thought. Basically, is or isn't the scene about the initially-named protagonist? What if another player-character is involved and events conspire such that he or she has a conflict instead? Does the named protagonist still get voted on for Flame and Shadow? Similarly, what if there are several player-characters in a scene, and no one has a conflict, and the narrator decides the turn is over? Do they all get a Flame/Shadow vote, or just the initially-named protagonist?

I do like the idea that play is not completely rigid, such that one narrator gets one scene with one conflict in it, only and always. But i think we may have hit the limits of just how fluid it can be allowed to get, or came to a point where those limits were visible.

Department: 
Consulting

Comments

Santiago Verón's picture

Loved the Zocchi picture.

I'm not such a fan of your discussion (to me it's yours, of the three of you) about the order of the conflict rules. To me it seems like they're pretty much the game; I wouldn't think about changing them as nothing but a big hack. They're precisely in the right order to get that "crushing coal into diamond" effect, it seems to me.

What it does make me wonder is about diceless systems. This is a tangent: I remember reading Fred Hicks' PACE, a diceless RPG, and how it said it was a dice pool system in disguise; also reading author notes on Fudge that said it was a perfectly balanced game to play without dice, you just had to not roll them. I wonder - I realize this is a very basic question, but what is the gain of having rolled dice as opposed to points? It seems like it could easily be "you have X points for your Traits, plus Y for Grains, but your opponent has Z+Y+1 points in total, you better add Shadow if you want to win, or spend Flame". What does the randomness bring in? More bounciness, in your terms, Ron? I'm going to say this, my favorite part of the canonical order is precisely hinging on randomness, which is that you can find yourself adding Shadow before a roll and after rolling realizing you didn't need to, you'd have won either way. I looove that feature.

About our truncated discussion, I think I would gain a lot from having it all laid out. With more Stuff On Capital Letters. When we're starting a Scene, we have a Narrator; we also have an Operator of course, as always. We have a Least Played Character (could be more than one), a Protagonist of the scene, and later we'll have a Conflict - but we can end the scene before it appears. Whether some of these are the same or not is everything, I think. In the following, whenever I say "character" I refer to player characters:

  • The Operator is in charge of the rules of the game, the Narrator is like the "GM" of the scene.
  • The Narrator is forced to start the scene with the Least Played Character, but can choose time and location.
  • If there's more than one Least Played Character, the Narrator can choose to only bring one, he isn't forced to bring them all.
  • Conversely, he can bring in more than one Least Played Character without having to ask permission to their players.
  • The Narrator can bring his own character to the scene.
  • The Narrator can bring other players' characters: but I'm not clear whether he has to get the players' permissions or not.
  • Does the scene have a Protagonist? I'm not sure.
  • Apparently, the scene is considered to be centered around only one character, from the start, even if it starts with two Least Played Characters side by side. So there's also a Centered Around Me character.
  • Conflicts end Scenes. Right?
  • The Narrator can end a Scene when he wants, even before a Conflict has appared.
  • But he cannot continue the scene after a Conflict, then having another one, and so on.
  • Any character can enter a Conflict, called by either its player or the Narrator. The other party can back out of the conflict, though. But then, this means the Centered Around Me character may not be the one that enters a Conflict and ends the scene. So there's also an Into Conflict character.
  • I'm multiplying entities with all of these, because we could assume that these are all one and the same, and would certainly be in a scene with only one character: Protagonist, Centered Around Me, Into Conflict. But it seems to me they can decouple when more than one character is present. So, who's the "Protagonist" of the scene? Is it the character the scene's centered around of, or the one who enters a Conflict in the end?
  • When the scene ends, we vote for Flame and Shadow of all player characters involved? Or just the ones who were Into Conflict? Or just the ones that were Centered Around Me from the beginning?

I realize I'm repeating some of the questions Ron already made, but, well, let it be in the name of toroughness.

Wow, that does seem hellishly complicated when put that way. I'll address the issues Santiago raised here later on, but first I wish to clarify a small error: the shadow is applied after the initial roll is made. This is how it is supposed to work and I'll bet we have played it that way also. The idea is that shadow is an effort of the one who is losing, to up the scale. This always leaves the door open for the rest of the players to apply their character's shadows as well.

So the order is traits, grains, roll, shadow, burdens, flame. Then there are the follow-up procedures of changing the grains, applying burdens and narrating fiction.

A note of the randomness and surprise it gives. I am overly fond of randomizing and dice in general and thus I enjoy systems with "volatile" dice. That is, if the premise is that both of the sides can win the conflict, then they both must have a reasonable probability to do so, even if the other is entering with a massive advantage in dice. This is the "gamey" side of things for me, if the dice are rolled there should always be an anticipation and uncertainty about who is winning. It is the department of the players to set up conflicts that can go either way in fiction.

I'll handle Santiago's list in a different post later when I have more time, but I'll add a quick snippet that could prove helpful: The status of the Least Played Character is there only during the selection of the character around which the scene is built on. After the choice is made, then there are only that character and other characters.

Let's say that I'm narrating and both Zocchi and Llietti have the least amount of scenes played. This means I can choose either one. I choose Zocchi. Now there is Zocchi that must appear on the scene, and there are other characters that can appear on the scene.

Then there is an issue of voting for flame and shadow in the end of the scene. I feel that players usually have very clear feeling whether a vote should be made for a character that was involved. If it needs a strict rule, then all the characters that appeared on the scene get the vote. Usually, if a character is only a tapestry there, doesn't do anything and so on, they get zero flame and zero shadow, which mechanically is equal to not being voted at all. I have seen this happen on an occasion, sometimes I then leave that character out of the scene counting as well because he didn't really make an impact. It means that this scene wasn't really centered around him and we probably need another, a different one to focus on that character.

Ron Edwards's picture

I see two questions, right? The first is more mysterious to me, as my position is to preserve the textual work-order of conflict and not to go "organic" with it. I think Paul, Petteri, and I are generally agreed on that. (I am also not happy with the naturalism of that term I put in quotes, which implies that the alternative is contrived, artificial, and forced.)

The second about dice/-less, is a good topic. I do think you've answered it; we're talking about Bounce, or as Petteri describes it, surprise. The idea is that one's use of Grains, Traits, Burdens, and even the optional spending-points of Flame and Shadow can only ever influence the outcome, rather than determine it. The dice are going to play a much greater role in that than any character is going to like. The fictional space ("world") of Tales of Entropy is much like that in Sorcerer - it will fuck you over sometimes for no reason.

The tight family of games represented by Fudge, Pace, and Fate have a very different philosophy: the dice exist to find/promote the most likely thing possible given everything we know. Fred realized that the dice' potential to deviate from that outcome was, if you will, off-message, and thus Pace point-spending seems to me to be the core of Fate resolution, with the dice taking second place in contributing a modifier of how many points it will cost to swing the outcome to the perceived best/likely/desired.

The dice in Tales of Entropy don't do that. In regard to the immediate conflict, they are ruiners, devastators, trouble-makers, world-changers in defiance of what was ordinarily or sensibly likely to happen. They're even more malevolent than in Sorcerer (or in Dogs in the Vineyard, where the equivalent dice are sensibly described as "demons," with or without magical elements in a given instance) You can be steamrolled by the opposing dice or betrayed by your own, and unlike Fate, you don't just "get" the spending/modifying currency points back for merely being yourself. Furthermore, the dice outcomes affect more than the conflict at hand; they change the world and they indirectly but definitely alter your character's literal status, ultimately his or her presence, in the fiction.

Santiago, I try to answer your questions. Here we go:

The Narrator is forced to start the scene with the Least Played Character, but can choose time and location.

That is true. However, it is stated in the rules that one should discuss it a bit with the player of that character. This is in a bit of a gray area, yes you are allowed to narrate but you should keep in mind who the character is and what he is about. For example in my scene during this game I asked ron about Zocchi's morning routine. This is one way to establish a character in "his space". You can then try and lead him into what you think for that scene.

If there's more than one Least Played Character, the Narrator can choose to only bring one, he isn't forced to bring them all.

Yes, in the beginning of the scene, one character is always picked first. This doesn't mean the others can't join. For example in the ending scenes of the game, it is quite typical to have all the characters involved. But the main thing is that it starts with the one, that is one of the Least Played Characters.

Conversely, he can bring in more than one Least Played Character without having to ask permission to their players.

You can, but the same thing that I mentioned above applies here as well. Think of that character and whether it is logical and interesting for him to appear first.

The Narrator can bring his own character to the scene.

Yes, Narrator's own character is just a character like the others. No special rules apply here.

To be continued...

The Narrator can bring other players' characters: but I'm not clear whether he has to get the players' permissions or not.

This is as I stated before. You can but think what you are about to do. For example in your scene it is very logical in the fiction to have both Scthylia and Arcturus in the scene together, because we last saw them together before. There is no question about that scene setup, it makes perfect sense. But if you would, for example, have narrated Zocchi inside the Repository with them, without clarifying how he got there in the first place, that would feel a bit odd, to me at least.

Does the scene have a Protagonist? I'm not sure.

If this means, does a character have any special role above others that are included in the scene, the answer is no. After the initial choices of characters in the scene, they all operate under the same principles.

Apparently, the scene is considered to be centered around only one character, from the start, even if it starts with two Least Played Characters side by side. So there's also a Centered Around Me character.

Yeah the scene is centered around one character. But this only applies to the narrator figuring out where the scene is taking place and when, he generates this setup based on his idea of that particular character. Once the scene is progressing though, there is no central characters anymore. There are only characters that are active participants in a situation and the play shows us where they go. So if, say, Arcturus and Scthylia were both the least played characters, they are together and you are figuring out a scene for them, a scene designed for one of them can easily feel just like a scene designed for both of them.

Conflicts end Scenes. Right?

Yes. This is because a conflict is a large event that changes characters and the world. The game flows much better with only one conflict per scene and it is also unfair for, say, the group waiting one narrator to take them through five conflicts. Even if the fictional circumstances require it, the scene can be cut after the conflict and new started just where the last left off, with a new narrator in the helm.

The Narrator can end a Scene when he wants, even before a Conflict has appared.

Yes. And the ending point usually, quite clearly presents itself. For example in the scene I narrated for Zocchi, it was very natural to end it after his "talk" with the Patriarch.

But he cannot continue the scene after a Conflict, then having another one, and so on.

No, mainly because of the reasons I stated above. Conflicts are big businesses. One conflict per scene is optimal.

Any character can enter a Conflict, called by either its player or the Narrator. The other party can back out of the conflict, though. But then, this means the Centered Around Me character may not be the one that enters a Conflict and ends the scene. So there's also an Into Conflict character.

Kind of. Characters might back out from conflicts or yield to results dictated for them from the opposition.

The situation where you set a scene for the least played character and he kind of fades into the background has occurred to me few times. Some other character could steal the show or some event occurs that sidelines the character the narrator selected for the scene. Usually when this occurs, I just let the scene play itself, but in the end I do not mark the faded character being present on the scene at all. This way, he is now, again, the least played character and the next narrator can set up something. Perhaps he can find a better position, something that engages the character fully.

I'm multiplying entities with all of these, because we could assume that these are all one and the same, and would certainly be in a scene with only one character: Protagonist, Centered Around Me, Into Conflict. But it seems to me they can decouple when more than one character is present. So, who's the "Protagonist" of the scene? Is it the character the scene's centered around of, or the one who enters a Conflict in the end?

As I stated, there is no concept of "central character" at all when the scene has started to roll. There are only characters involved. Some may be sidelined, some might take part in conflict and some may not. This doesn't matter.

To be continued...

When the scene ends, we vote for Flame and Shadow of all player characters involved? Or just the ones who were Into Conflict? Or just the ones that were Centered Around Me from the beginning?

This I covered in the previous message already. With strict rules-reading you vote for everybody who showed their face for the "camera". But a character that only sat on the background, drank beer and cheered will get zero flame and zero shadow. It is the narrator's choice then to decide whether he was so much in background that he actually didn't participate at all and deserves more scenes.

It is also good to note an opposite possibility: a character not present at all but still influencing things from far away, thus being very much involved in the scene. Let's say that Ron would have made that mind flayer patriarch as his character instead of Zocchi. He could have participated many scenes through his magic or through henchmen guided by him and be very much involved even though no tentacle was in sight. Voting of flame and shadow tend to follow the presence of a character, whether he is present or not. He is making decisions, he is doing things etc.

Sorry about this mammoth multi-part post, but I promised to consider all your points.

Santiago Verón's picture

Thanks a lot, Petteri! Let me parse it back at you, streamline it, and see if I have any doubts afterwards.

Everyone, bear in mind I haven't read a single page of the Tales of Entropy book. All I know, I know from playing with Petteri, Paul and Ron, and talking about it.

Because of a habit I've gotten from talking to Ron and reading him, which might be totally be my biased opinion, I'm going to push to harden the rules definitions wherever you left them civilized and gray area. So nothing about doing what's most natural, this'll be about humans taking final decisions and owning up to them.

(My reading of Vincent Baker's writings is that any and all of these can be counteracted by the other humans refusing to continue playing. That's not the same as denying the rules specify some roles. This is, I believe, the authority / responsibility mess of a discussion Vincent and Ron have been having for the past few years, and as an aside, I really wish they'd get together and resolve it once and for all.)

* When I start narrating a scene, I must include one of the least played characters.

* I can bring in other characters, and it doesn't really matter if they're also least played or not - but do I have to get their players' permission or not? If there's a disagreement, who decides?

* The scene isn't really nominally centered around any character. By nominally I mean as a game role, the way I'm unequivocally the Narrator.

* I can decide that the scene ends now, before a conflict.

* I must end the scene after a conflict.

* The conflict must involve at least one character. It may involve more. It may involve the Narrator. It can be called by any player including the Narrator, but if the other party backs out, there's no conflict. So basically there will never be a conflict in this game without at least two humans agreeing.

* After the scene ends, we vote Flame and Shadow for every player character, whether it was in the scene or not. If a character gets zero points in both, it doesn't add to its scene counter. Usually people won't even bother voting for characters who didn't appear in the scene. But when a character that wasn't in the scene gets a vote, like you said, does it get added to its scene counter?

* I purposefully changed your phrasing for the above to make it as rules, but the way you phrased it, it might just be that as a Narrator I decide who gets Xs added to its scene tracker, and that's it. My prerrogative, end of the story. Which of the two is the case?

Thanks a lot for your patience!

* I can bring in other characters, and it doesn't really matter if they're also least played or not - but do I have to get their players' permission or not? If there's a disagreement, who decides?
 
They both have a veto on it. So a character appears only if the narrator and the character's player wish it to be so. In practice I haven't had this as an issue in my games as fiction so often dictates who is present and who is not and the idea is not to make it into a powergame of who is in control of who's character.
 
* The conflict must involve at least one character. It may involve more. It may involve the Narrator. It can be called by any player including the Narrator, but if the other party backs out, there's no conflict. So basically there will never be a conflict in this game without at least two humans agreeing.
 
Well, this is true if two characters are against each other. A character's player can invoke conflict by himself against the game world. Remember the first scene where Scthylia was on the marketplace. I said that if nobody will intervene, I will start a conflict against the world to get the horde for Scthylia. This is often the case when no other player chooses to interfere with plans of one character to maneuver the fiction and the grains to his advantage. A natural element in fiction where character prepares for "war". Thing to build tension towards the big clash. Or morbidly hilarious turn of events if the character fails. I have had this happen a few times, for example I had a slave who was freed from his yoke and decided to rally the villagers around him for a quest against the evil tormentor (whose slave he was in the first place). I failed in the conflict so the villagers didn't bother with my causes :).
 
* After the scene ends, we vote Flame and Shadow for every player character, whether it was in the scene or not. If a character gets zero points in both, it doesn't add to its scene counter. Usually people won't even bother voting for characters who didn't appear in the scene. But when a character that wasn't in the scene gets a vote, like you said, does it get added to its scene counter?
 
As a rule, getting zero flame, zero shadow doesn't mean you are not added to the scene counter. At least at the moment. I just stated that in some occasions where a character is introduced to the scene but is left hanging in the background for some reason the narrator can leave him unticked from the scene counter. This is perhaps, still, a bit soft rule at the moment.
 
* I purposefully changed your phrasing for the above to make it as rules, but the way you phrased it, it might just be that as a Narrator I decide who gets Xs added to its scene tracker, and that's it. My prerrogative, end of the story. Which of the two is the case?
 
It is not a narrator's decision. Especially I think that being narrator has very much power over the other players during the scene, but it shouldn't be authoritarian dictatorship. That is why the player of the character, for example, has a right to decide whether his character is in with some scene or not (unless he is the least played character, in that case the scene is built around him). This somewhat refers to what Ron said before, that no player can drag your character into something you feel is completely off. An exception to this is always when you lose a conflict, or even win it. Then there are circumstances that are put on you, you just have to cope and create a new image of your character that includes whatever he did during the conflict.
 
Santiago Verón's picture

P. S. I'm embarrassed that I said I "loooooved" a system feature that didn't exist! I must've gotten confused with something else.

Santiago Verón's picture

Very well, then! Swipe three, perhaps the last one:

* A Narrator may have his character have a conflict against the world, you're absolutely right. In that case we do have a conflict decided by one human, after all.

* One least played character must be included in the scene always, neither the Narrator or its player can avoid it. (Sorry about the hardened phrasing. After all, why would they want to avoid it? I just find it clarifying to speak like this at this moment.)

* About the soft rules and edge cases.
* * Who gets to decide whether to not add an X to a character's scene tracker? (The answer can be more than one person, for instance the answer could be "the Narrator and the character's player must agree" or "everyone playing must agree".)
* * If a character not in the scene got positive votes, does an X get added to its scene tracker?

And I think that's all!

Sorry, I have to add one more (everyone else must have dropped already from this thread so perhaps we can have fun :).

* A Narrator may have his character have a conflict against the world, you're absolutely right. In that case we do have a conflict decided by one human, after all.

This does not only apply to the narrator. In my example it just was that I was the narrator, but even if the scene was narrated by someone else I could still have actively driven conflict against the world with my character. Unless some other player would have intervened of course (just as Paul did in my scene), then it becomes a normal conflict between characters. Something weirder is also in a realms of a possibility, we've had a conflict where world was one side, a character another and second character was third. So it was kind of world against character against character.

This is something we still haven't seen in our game yet, a conflict that goes three ways (has three or more sides with distinctly different outcomes). Mechanically it works just like a normal conflict, except that the degree of victory is calculated from the difference between the best and the worst results. Thus, three-way conflicts tend to create mayhem with big consequences.

Santiago Verón's picture

I get it! Thanks :-) you know, Petteri... I really like your game!

Hey, did we crosspost or something? I've been waiting for your answers to my latest comment for a few days, but I worry that you haven't seen it.

Hmm, I don't see it. My message is there just before yours and it addresses the issues you brought up in the message before.

Santiago Verón's picture

Sorry for taking so long to reply! Anyway, it was really a small thing, but these are the questions I felt were unanswered:

 

* About the soft rules and edge cases.
* * Who gets to decide whether to not add an X to a character's scene tracker? (The answer can be more than one person, for instance the answer could be "the Narrator and the character's player must agree" or "everyone playing must agree".)
* * If a character not in the scene got positive votes, does an X get added to its scene tracker?

In my games the choices for X:s and votes have always been very obvious. But if we try to codify it in struct rules, something like this could apply:

If a character was involved in a conflict (rolled dice) he gets a vote and X in scene tracker.

If character's presence was obvious, he gets a vote and X in scene tracker. If there is doubt of this, all players vote and the ruling of the majority goes. Ties are breaked with dice. Vote and X are given or omitted together.

I have never encountered a situation where this was unclear. But it is a good thing to recognize that a character that was supposed to be in a scene ended up being so much in the sidelines that he didn't really participate at all. In this case the vote and X can be omitted.

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