When two characters come into opposition, and need some guidance as to how to resolve the matter, they can use a stat comparison, or contest, to do so. Contests are always an option, never a requirement — if you want to simply negotiate the matter, you are encouraged to do so.
Long-term, resource-level conflicts, should be resolved through the Flagpole.
For pure player vs. environment conflicts — scenes where a player is serving as a GM, as well as some abilities which should not scale with stats, or where a particular special something needs to be overcome that isn't dependent upon an opponent's abilities — use a Challenge instead. (For indirect conflicts where a player still has agency, use a comparison; see "Direct Contests That Involve NPCs" and "Indirect Contests" below.)
Framing the Contest
When you're beginning a contest, both you and your opponent should arrive at some clear idea of what this contest is about.
Sometimes, you're just looking to get a quick idea of how you stack up against each other, so you can lend some color to a scene. In this case, you and your opponent should agree up-front that you're comparing for color, and that there will be no significant consequences to either party.
In most cases, though, characters involved in a contest are in active opposition to one another. It's useful to negotiate up-front what stakes are involved — what, ultimately, both parties are risking in this conflict. This helps to set expectations on both sides, and builds an understanding of what sort of consequences are likely to be involved.
It's important to remember that no one has the right to force you into a contest, and any bullying or similar behavior will not be tolerated. This is, however, not carte blanche to act without expecting repercussions. Like any other aspect of consent, it can be abused, and abuse is subject to staff intervention.
For non-color comparisons, a single comparison generally frames the scene, or at least this portion of the scene. This is not a blow-by-blow system, for instance, with different comparisons reflecting different portions of the fight; rather, a single comparison determines the fight in general. The broader the scope of what's going on, the more generous players should be with agreeing to what gifts and tokens are acceptable from their opponents.
The Exchange of Respects
In every contest, there are things that each player wants their opponent, as well as spectators, to respect. Respect is exactly what it sounds like — respect for a fellow player and character, and what they want to get out of this scene. We emphasize this because we want people to particularly focus upon ensuring that the loser in a conflict gets respect; winning players have the natural tendency to focus upon ensuring they, the winner gets respect. Establishing respects up-front helps to ensure that both players have their scene desires satisfied.
One respect between opponents is implicit in all normal contests — "We respect each other too much to kill each other." (Excuses for this are sometimes flimsy, note: In the books, Brand doesn't kill Corwin because he's standing on his favorite rug.)
Some respect is implicit in gift use. For instance, if a player is using a Lucky gift, he is implicitly saying that he wants his good luck (or bad luck) to be something that is acknowledged in the roleplay of the scene. If a player uses a sword gift, he is implicitly saying that he wants his sword skill to be acknowledged in the roleplay of the scene.
We also encourage players to each declare a sentence that represents what they want respected. For instance, if Benedict fights Deirdre, Deirdre's player might say, "I want Benedict to respect Deirdre's skill as a warrior," while Benedict might say, "I want Deirdre to respect Benedict's desire not to hurt his sister." We encourage these things to be stated explicitly, OOC, for all participants in the scene, because this also indicates the direction of everyone's poses. We consider this OOC exchange to be the equivalent of saluting an opponent prior to a formal duel.
Note that this can be used to do some interesting things. For instance, if Joe Nobody challenges Benedict to a swordfight, it's almost certain that Joe Nobody is going to lose. But Joe's player might say, "I want Benedict to respect Joe's talent", which indicates that his player desires Joe to be seen as an up-and-comer — that what he's looking to get out of this scene is for Benedict to be impressed by Joe's potential, despite being an inferior fighter.
This can also be used to set boundaries for what are acceptable losses within a conflict. For instance, if Random wants to set fire to Flora's rooms, Flora might say, "I want Random to respect that there are things that are precious to Flora here, and for you, as a player, to respect my desire not to have my suite destroyed." This makes the potential range of consequences somewhat clearer from the very beginning, before any comparison is done. Players who cannot come to mutual agreement on such boundaries should not be engaging in the contest.
In a contest, each participant chooses:
- a stat,
- optionally, one or more bonus-granting gifts
- optionally, a Focus-invested token created via a gift with the bonus-token powerbit
These choices should reflect what they're trying to do — they should both reflect the situation, and what each character is posing. For instance, if a character is attempting to break down a door, using Wits or a Swordsman gift is probably inappropriate, but using Force and a Strong gift is probably apt.
Initiating a Comparison
You initiate the comparison with:
+compare opponent using stat [with gifts and/or token]
(If using one or more gifts, use the gift codes. If using a token, use the token number.)
Your opponent will be told that you're trying to initiate the comparison. He will not, however, be told what stat, gift, or token was chosen. He responds with his own choices: +compare player using stat [with gifts and/or token]
At that point, both players will be told what gift(s) and/or token the other person is using, if applicable. The gift(s) and/or token will be declared. This is also the appropriate time to +declare any other gifts, items, or tokens that are relevant to the conflict; these have no numerical impact on the comparison, but may affect the situation and the potential outcomes.
When a player chooses gifts for the comparison, the highest relevant bonus on each gift is granted. However, using multiple bonus-granting gifts has diminishing returns. (If a gift doesn't grant a bonus, you can include it in the +compare for the declaration convenience, but it doesn't have a numerical effect on the comparison in that case.)
When a player chooses a token for the comparison, it must be Focus-invested, and have been created via one or more gifts that have the bonus-token powerbit. You will gain +1 to the comparison for every point of Focus invested in it, up to 6. The token will be consumed at the end of the comparison. Only one token can be used.
Agreeing on Gifts and Tokens
Each player must handshake agreement that given the situation, the gifts/tokens make sense. If you do not feel that the token or gift use is appropriate, you should reject the handshake. You should then negotiate the matter with your opponent; when you're both satisfied, you should each do a new +compare.
If negotiations about what gifts and tokens are reasonable break down into wrangling, we recommend that the scene be allowed to end inconclusively. If you and your opponent cannot deal with each other sufficiently well, OOC, to resolve this kind of basic aspect of the comparison, you are unlikely to be able to negotiate anything else in a manner satisfactory to both of you.
To handshake agreement, use +compare/ok player
To reject the use of a gift and/or token, use +compare/deny player
Once both players have handshaken agreement, a comparison will be done.
The RPG system calculates a total value for each player, equal to:
value of stat they chose + value of stat their opponent chose + bonus from their gifts + bonus from their token
(This means that each player uses two of his stat values in a +compare.)
The absolute total for each player doesn't matter; the only thing that matters is the difference between the two values. This difference is then adjusted by some additional factors, including a random factor and adjustments for what you chose vs. what your opponent chose.
Both the calculated totals for the players, and the overal numerical results, are hidden. The RPG system will only tell the players what the outcome was, in terms of formal consequences, as follows:
- Effectively tied. No consequences.
- Small advantage/disadvantage. No consequences.
- Moderate advantage/disadvantage. The winner notably outclasses the loser, and may demand a consequence from the loser.
- Large advantage/disadvantage. The winner greatly outclasses the loser, and may demand two consequences from the loser.
It's possible that the winner may, instead of demanding a consequence, want instead to be able to state a fact about how the scene goes. This is a very reasonable concession that can be negotiated instead of a consequence.
The color of the scene should be heavily influenced by the gifts and tokens used. If a character spends a token for his awesome, bonus-granting sword, for instance, that sword should be in some way significant in the scene. If a character uses a fighting style, his poses should be in accordance with that style. If a character wins through luck, passion, inspiration, etc., the poses should reflect that, and the larger the bonuses granted, the more they should flavor the scene.
Direct Contests that Include NPCs
In general, the presence of NPCs in a scene is purely color, unless they are directly involved in the conflict in some way by a player. Whether the NPCs are a guard force, a flock of ladies in waiting, or a million billion ninjas, their presence can be posed for color, but is never mechanically consequential, unless they end up being used, directly or indirectly, by a player character in the conflict.
For instance, sometimes, players will include NPCs in their scene in a way that involves them directly in the conflict. Examples of this include:
- Character A orders his guards to attack Character B
- Character A uses an innocent NPC as a meat shield against Character B's attack
- Character A and Character B try to convince a servant to do contradictory things
In the first of the above examples, although Character A is not directly, personally attacking Character B, he retains agency — he's the one responsible for it happening. Mechanically, there is no difference between Character A swinging a sword at Character B, and A ordering his guards to attack B; it's effectively just a color difference. The guard-ordering is probably Force, but it could be argued as something else — for instance, a well-trained guard force with honed tactics might be represented at Wits instead. Of course, gifts and tokens can come into play here — for instance, the guards might be represented by a bonus token, or Character A might have a gift that gives him bonuses when he commands minions to do things on his behalf.
In the second of the above examples, the NPC is again just color. There's no mechanical difference between the meat-shield and a boring old stabbing, and it can be resolved normally.
In the third of the above examples, the NPC is actually the stakes of the conflict. This is something that can be directly mechanically resolved; Force is good for shouting at people, Grace for wheedling them, Wits for making convincing arguments, Resolve for wearing them down, and so forth. The consequence is likely related to the NPC, in this case.
Prop control does not make NPCs immune to influence or color usage in this way. For instance, if Character A says, "I try to make Character B's guards fear me!", Character B cannot simply say, "They never get scared!" — this has now become the stakes in a conflict, and should be resolved accordingly.
Obviously, use of NPCs in a scene should respect who should logically "own" that detail of the scene, but, especially with NPCs that can reasonably be expected to be around (servants, guards, general civilians, and so on), NPC control should simply follow general rules of politeness and reasonability. If an NPC is clearly "owned" by a player in the scene, other players in the scene should refrain from posing actions and results for that NPC, since that NPC effectively then has player agency and is a part of the actions and consequences for that player.
Sometimes, players will get into indirect conflicts. Examples of indirect conflicts include:
- Character A sending thugs to go beat up Character B in a dark alley
- Character B trying to get past the guard dogs that Character A has protecting his home
- Character B trying to navigate the maze of traps in Character A's lair
In all three of the above examples, Character A is not physically present in the scene (although Player A might be, in order to provide emotes), but Character A retains agency — he's the one who is responsible for all of these things happening.
In such cases, Character A and Character B can still use a comparison to resolve their conflict. For instance, in the thugs case, Character A probably uses Force; in the second case, probably Resolve (though good arguments can be made for other stats); and in the third case, probably Wits. The stats represent Character A's approach to the problem, even though he's not physically present.
Because Character A isn't physically present, he obviously can't take any physical consequences if he loses the comparison. However, he must still take a relevant consequence if he loses. Classic examples might be:
- The thugs tell Character B that Character A sent them
- Character B successfully steals whatever he was trying to get from Character A's home
- Character B makes it through the traps and successfully surprises Character A
Note also that most gifts (and tokens) that grant a bonus are specific to the character, and therefore can't be used when the character isn't present. For instance, the Swordsman gift isn't transferable — if Character A has it, he can use it when he's physically present, but if it's his thugs that are doing the fighting, he/they can't use it in the comparison.
Story-Scope Battles as Contests
In some cases, you and an opponent will have a clash of forces in battle — a story-scope, resource-level contest, rather than something that takes place at the individual level, but still something that is clearly a contest that takes place in a single scene focused on two people (rather than a long-term thing, which should occur on the Flagpole). When both of you represent your force with just a single token, you can still use +compare to resolve what happens. This includes if the contest is an indirect one — neither of the PCs necessarily needs to be present in order for the NPCs represented in the battle to act.
You should both begin with a +declare of your intended story-scope token to each other. As usual, you must agree that this is rational usage given the situation (and please see the Flagpole documentation for details on the restrictions governing use of previously-flagpoled tokens). Note that gossip can never be used to represent troops, but since a "battle" could be a social one rather than a military one, there are circumstances in which it might make sense to have warring gossip tokens.
Prior to executing the +compare, each of you should do:
+token/battle token-ID vs opponent
This will consume and amend the tokens. You should then immediately execute a +compare as normal. The relative strength of both of your forces (as determined by the token type and Focus invested, detailed in story-scope tokens) will be factored into the result. You should negotiate consequences as normal. In many cases, the consequences will be broader than is typical for many contests ("the invading army takes over the fortress"), but the normal rules for negotiating consequences apply.
If you have a story-scope conflict involving multiple tokens, which nevertheless needs to be resolved at the scene level rather than on the flagpole, please consult the process to deal with Story-Scope Conflicts instead.