Conflict Etiquette

The Road to Amber is a game with relatively heavy mechanical support. We define consequences in the context of outcomes that are mechanically generated, governing the results of conflicts that can be encapsulated within a scene. We define broader outcomes in the context of the flagpole, governing long-term, "story scope" (resource-level) conflicts.

Our system is structured around the idea of "bite-sized conflicts" — conflicts that are resolved, one step at a time, on a scene level, limiting the extent to which a single action can spiral. Within the context of a scene, mechanical resolution may result in a character taking a consequence, whose scope is limited to a singular statement. We are not, strictly speaking, an ICA=ICC game, by the typical meaning of that — i.e., where any arbitrary consequence that someone can dream up and decide is "reasonable" can be forced upon someone.

Many of our players are used to pure consent games where you do a bunch of prenegotiation and argue out precise, long-term outcomes well in advance, the result of which is that everyone is resentful about the purported unfairness of this theoretical if-I-do-this-then-you-do-that back-and-forth. However, this game is explicitly set up to avoid that process. We want players to be able to enter conflicts without entering inevitable spirals of doom, and so that nothing needs to be pre-negotiated. (We have a Trouble rating to allow players to indicate a pre-negotiation preferences for courtesy reasons, but we explicitly never ever require pre-negotiation.)

What follows below is a set of staff guidelines and policies that elaborate on these ideas in greater detail, along with other notes regarding the structure and conduct of conflicts. (These were originally staff bulletin board posts, and have been moved to the wiki for convenient reading.)

Mutual Fun

When you're engaged in a scene in which conflict has arisen, and you seem to have a situation where you're OOCly at odds, ask yourself, "Is my goal to make this a mutually fun (OOC) scene, or is my goal to get my own way IC?" Our system is designed around the idea that people can play in good faith and try to make things fun for each other. We do not want to see player behavior tilted towards "winning". While the Lord of the Flies behavior is not particularly unexpected, it is disappointing, and frankly unbecoming of a bunch of theoretically mature adults. Please avoid indulging in it.

Please summon a GM when conflicts have reached an impasse, at the point when aid can still be given, i.e., before it has blown up into something where everyone is likely to end up unhappy. Our goal is to assist and to coach, not to punish. If you're asking for help in something that's been long-running, please provide logs if you can; it will help us understand what has transpired to date.

Conflict Warnings

Many players feel that it is fair to notify another player OOCly when an IC conflict of some sort is boiling over into something that will be consequential.

If you are one of those people, be sure that you don't confuse "issuing a fair warning about conflict" with "intimidating others out of engaging in conflict". The goal of a warning about conflict engagement should not be to threaten consequences, or to otherwise get OOCly aggressive. Rather, warnings should serve to make sure that both players are on the same page in terms of play desire, and that everyone is comfortable with the direction things are going.

If you're the recipient of a warning, try not to confuse "being warned about conflict engagement" with "persecution". If you engage in IC behavior that is opposed to another character's stance, creates a public nuisance, or otherwise incites people to act against you, it is entirely legitimate for other characters to react accordingly. They need not even warn you. Sudden violence is not out of line, either, particularly given that our rules limit the scope of the consequences of a fight.

ICA != ICC, but Consequences Matter

Our RPG system very clearly frames and requires consequences. We are not, in fact, a consent-based game in the traditional sense of the word; we require negotiation of consequences, but we're also clear that players cannot duck out of consequences. This is a vastly less warm and fuzzy stance than, say, AmberMUSH or its various other descendants. (Note that many players attempt to treat this game as if it had AmberMUSH's consent system, and many players will roll with that, but this is expressly against the staff's intent.)

The consequences that you are entitled to are the consequences of the current conflict at hand, and that you should negotiate these things scene by scene — not by trying to pre-negotiate the presupposed giant chain of conflict that might or might not result. When people attempt to figure out the whole chain of play that might result, inevitably, there is unnecessary OOC drama. It's a whole molehill-into-a-mountain thing, it leads to people panicking, and ultimately it kills conflict because people fear to initiate it due to the imagined snowballing.

If Joe punches Bob, negotiate and resolve that. If Bob's cousin wants to retaliate by hunting down Joe and beating him up, that's a separate scene, and its consequences are resolved separately. If Joe's House then wants to burn down Bob's House, that's yet another scene and its consequences are resolved separately. If House Bob and House Joe then go to war, that's a new set of scenes to resolve. You should not go from Joe punching Bob to an OOC tizzy about a possible war and its results. Roleplay occurs one scene (or flagpole token, or gossip, or whatever) at a time. Respond to these things as they occur, rather than trying to predict/pre-negotiate/control the entire path. It will lead to less stress for you, less stress for the people you're playing with, and greater RP flexibility for everyone.

Bite-Sized Conflicts

Do you want to apprehend someone? That's a scene-level conflict. You bring your posse, you go confront that character IC, you do a +compare to figure out what happens with the fight, or whether he successfully runs away, or whatever. The consequences are not necessarily physical ones for the loser; it could be "the loser agrees to show contrition in a public way" (which must be played out in good faith by the loser).

Do you want to ruin someone's reputation? That could be a flagpole or it could be scene-level conflict. You pick a venue, you do your RP, you do a +compare to figure out who gets a consequence. (That's why we have tons of social-related gifts, not just physical ones — they can help in settling a +compare based on, say, influencing a group of NPCs, and augmented by things like gossip tokens.) Or if it's something more dramatic (like trying to ruin an entire prop), that's a flagpole conflict.

Conflicts happen in bite-sized pieces, one step at a time. We have mechanical resolution so that each scene-sized chunk is fair and you're never negotiating more than one or two sentences of outcome. It's intentionally fairly difficult on this game to gain big chains of consequences, and given our rule that consequences need to generate reasons for the loser to do more scenes, the end result should be a positive flow in the amount of play.

Do NOT start by trying to negotiate the very end state of a conflict, especially if you expect it's something that the other player is not going to like. Work your way there one scene at a time. If you don't think your desired outcome is worth having to go through multiple scenes of conflict to get what you want, it's time to rethink your desires. (And there's a very good chance that you are not, in fact, going to win every single mechanical resolution, so any plan that depends on that assumption is probably not going to succeed.)

In other words, you are not allowed to declare that because character X wronged your character Y, or otherwise did something ostensibly deserving of backlash, that Y is now going to go poke out X's eyes (or whatever). There is a chain of scenes going from desire to that endpoint. Either play it out and win the mechanical resolutions necessary, or decide it's not worth it and don't. Do not bitch that X or Y is being unfair by asking for or refusing a particular outcome. Either you get it one scene and one consequence at a time (and note that winning a +compare gets you a consequence mutually agreed upon and not the particular consequence your heart most desires), or you don't. If you are the target of something like this, is your right to insist upon the scenes, the +compares, and consequences within the scope of our rules.

Don't Overthink Conflicts

Classically, in the Overthinking Leads to Unnecessary OOC Drama model, Joe punches Bob, or Joe embarasses Bob in public, or Joe opposes Bob politically, or Joe hires criers to sing bawdy ballads about Bob, or whatever. Bob pages Joe and says, dude, if you do this, I'll be forced to punch you back. And then your second cousin will probably hit me, and tomorrow your brother is going to attack House Bob, and we'll retaliate, and shortly House Bob and House Joe will be at war and life will suck for everyone and everyone will hate playing it because now nobody will want to talk to each other, and the world will go up in flames. Dude, I hate you for even thinking about it, and I can't believe you would do something like this to me.

Bob, probably not unreasonably, may say in return, "Man, it's just one punch!" (or nasty statement, or +compare, or token on the flagpole, or gossip, or whatever). And to be frank, the "it's just one punch" model is the conflict model that this game explicitly supports. You resolve the punching scene. Then you move on. Maybe it esalates escalates and maybe Joe's second cousin really does go gunning for Bob. Then they resolve that scene, individually. In none of the subsequent scenes is the fate of Joe, Bob, or their Houses likely to be at stake.

In all likelihood, neither Bob nor Joe are trying to destroy anything. If Bob is demanding that Joe perform a dark ritual on his behalf or have his daughter's throat slit, Bob's player isn't likely to be trying to wreck Joe or his daughter's play. Joe has total freedom to react as he pleases, and if for some reason Bob does end up trying to kill Joe's daughter, he's still got to go through a kidnap scene and whatnot (with mechanical resolution the whole way), and then he's still constrained by our consequence rules regarding taking people out of play (namely, that it's not allowed).

Please begin conflicts with the assumption that people are not out to punish other players with consequences. Note that if consequences are OOC punishments for the player (as opposed to IC, play-creating punishments for the character), you have a right to object, and the staff will support you solidly in your objections if for some reason you feel the need to involve us.

Do not enter the Drama Spiral of Overthinking Consequences. Consider whether anything is actually mechanically at stake or it's just part of the genre's power tug-of-war. Play things out step by step, rather than mapping out the whole thing in your head in the most dramarific way possible. There is an enormous likelihood that conflicts will fizzle out in wars of words alone, without any lasting consequences on either side.

So, before you go off into a tizzy over a potential (or actual) conflict, ask yourself: Is this genuinely and immediately disruptive to play (i.e., will it cut people off from RP access)? Is there anything explicitly mechanically at stake? If so, is it a temporary loss or a permanent one? Has anyone actually done anything, or is this just IC posturing? These are also the questions the staff will ask if someone gets us involved in the issue, so if your own answers to them don't indicate play disruption, meaningful stakes within the scope of the game mechanics, or an invocation of something beyond IC talk, you should probably tell yourself, "Don't overthink! Just play!" (or dodge the play, if that's not up your alley, but if so, let folks who are enjoying the conflict deal with it).

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