One of the core mantras of our game is Conflict mandates choice, which leads to change, which creates story.
In other words: Conflict is good. Embrace conflict. Conflict is what gives characters things to do and something to talk about. Conflict is what drives changes in the world and creates stories that people will tell in the years to come.
Yet, players sometimes fear conflict. They worry that IC conflict will become OOC conflict. They worry about risking the things that are valuable to their characters. They're concerned that a small conflict will escalate beyond the point where they're comfortable and turn into a series of consequences that result in their character going in directions that they don't want to play. They're dubious about whether or not other people will be fair. They don't want results that reduce the amount of play they get with their characters. They don't like to lose.
That's why this game carefully structures conflict and provides systems for formal negotiation. Conflicts are about something — something's always at stake. We phrase most outcomes in terms of consequences — one consequence, one fact about what happens. It's also why our systems are very focused on investment in props and in the world around the characters — so that there's the ability to risk something beyond just personal bodily injury, and something to have conflicts over, conflicts that aren't just limited to who can beat up whom.
- Contests — comparisons and conflicts between individual players
- Consequences — formal consequences in contests and war
- Challenges — player vs. environment
- Story-Scope Conflicts — story-scope conflicts at the scene level (like large-scale battles)
- The Flagpole — long-term, story-scope (resource-level) conflicts
- Handling Information — secrets, IC spying, and other information-gathering conflicts
- Fight Club! — a quick example of the thinking that goes into a contest
- Conflict Etiquette — pre-negotiation, "bite-sized conflicts", and other etiquette guidelines
- Storybuilding — formal, structured negotiation of outcomes beyond the scope of regular consequences
When we talk about conflict in the context of our core mantras, we're talking about dramatic conflict. We're not talking about disagreements or arguments or brawls — characters will engage in those kinds of things as part of the natural friction of human interaction. We're talking about the kind of drama that occurs when two (or more) characters with fundamentally opposed desires come into conflict.
In dramatic conflict, something is at stake — something is being risked. Dramatic conflict demands that action be taken — or that there be a meaningful change if the choice is made to take no action. It asks characters to make decisions, to act with purpose, to invest emotionally in what they are doing, and to engage others in the drama.
Dramatic conflict is not a binary win/lose situation. Stories are more complex than that, although there is usually a direct impact involving the stakes. The Eastern Army receives the reinforces it needs to beat back its enemies; the Western Army is overrun and sacrificed. You betray your ally, but you save your sister from a fate worse than death. You give up a contested portion of your estates but receive valuable magical assistance from the sorceror you have appeased.
Something has changed in the world, or between the characters, when a dramatic conflict has been resolved. The impact of this varies in scope; it may be strictly interpersonal, or it may have far-reaching ripple effects. This is what weaves personal stories into the larger tapestry of the game as a whole.
We recognize that playing conflict can be stressful. It demands something from the player — engagement, action, willingness to lose with grace, willingness to win with generosity, willingness to compromise. We also recognize that the more personal a conflict is — the more it directly impacts an individual — the more difficult it is to arrive at outcomes that are mutually acceptable. Consequently, our systems tend to add a level of indirection to dramatic conflicts — to make them about things, more so than about people, while still maintaining a tie to individual engagement.
But fundamentally, our world is a dynamic one. The wheel of fortune turns. Characters pursue goals. Change will happen. Some changes benefit some parties, and some changes benefit other parties. We are striving to make the decisions of which paths to choose complex and interesting, worthy of investigation and debate and action. Most such "balls of conflict" that are lobbed into play by the GMs are done so in response to player requests, and we certainly encourage players to come up with their own conflicts both small-scale and broad-scale. We hope that the stories our players choose to tell in our world are rich in complexity and dramatic conflict.