Most conflicts in the game are fundamentally PC vs. PC at the level of individuals. Some conflicts, however, are at story scope, involving significant resources that go beyond the individual level. Most story-scope conflicts are handled at the Flagpole level, which is used as a way to make people aware of what is being committed towards such conflicts. However, conflicts are neither explicitly won or lost at the flagpole level; rather, we encourage players to use the flagpole as a way to be alerted to conflicts and then to work out consequential results to those conflicts at the level of individual scenes.
Sometimes, however, it's necessary to do granular resolution of a conflict at the scene level, respecting the differing levels of force that have been brought to bear with story-scope tokens. Large-scale battles are the classic example of this, where the amount of troop strength and any other preparations that have been set into place need to be factored into an immediate and definitive result. However, this could also be used to resolve other resource-level contests, like groups of wizards who are racing to come up with a particular invention over the course of a few hours.
The "Risks" process described below is intended to be used to resolve multi-token, story-scope (resource-scale) conflicts at the scene level. (If you and your opponent only each have a single story-scope token, use the Contests rules for battles instead.)
The design intent of this system is to adhere the following principles:
- Be lightweight. This system should add minimal additional mechanics to the game, re-using existing conflict resolution mechanisms to as large an extent as possible, including producing definitive Consequences.
- Encourage direct PC involvement. While sometimes large-scale conflicts occur between resources, without PCs directly being involved in scenes that resolve that conflict, this is the exception, not the norm. We explicitly encourage PC involvement and PC heroics as a significant factor in the outcomes.
- Handle multi-player efforts. Many large-scale conflicts involve more than one PC on each side. All PCs involved at the scene level should be consequential.
- Respect Focus-invested preparation. Players who spend the Focus and effort to prepare for a story-scope conflict should have these efforts rewarded. This includes contributions from characters who might not be directly involved in the conflict.
- Respect thoughtful planning, without punishing players who are more spontaneous. Players who plan out the details of their characters' approach to a conflict and invest time in setting up the circumstances of the conflict should be rewarded for the effort, but these plans should not be allowed to straightjacket and railroad the responses of other players, nor disproportionately award narrative control of the conflict.
- Promote transparency over secrecy. Although clever surprises are interesting, players have the right to understand what they're dealing with. Secrets need to be revealed at a time that ensures that players understand the true consequences of what they've negotiated, and that enables everyone in the scene to respect the "aha" moment and do something fun with it.
- Promote collaborative storytelling. The core of the game's philosophy is to encourage a collaborative style of conflict resolution that leads to scenes that are enjoyable for all. Trying to ensure that everyone has fun, that the "cool" of individual characters is respected, and that everyone has equal opportunity to gain and contribute enjoyment, is more important than maximizing the "fairness" of the outcome.
We stress, particularly, that the game philosophy emphasizes mutual storytelling. That means that approaching the conflict with a mindset focused on "winning" is fundamentally problematic. We encourage you to think of this as more akin to a screenwriting process, where the goal is to create a good, dramatic story in collaboration with a group, and there is mechanical support to try to ensure that everyone gets their share of helping to determine what that story looks like.
This is not so much a rule system, as a process for structured negotiation coupled with some mechanical support. In brief, here are the steps to resolve a large-scale conflict at the scene level.
- Frame the situation and agree on the stakes. The players involved need to mutually agree on what this scene will be about, and agree to the possible consequential outcomes. This includes determining, OOC, where and when this takes place, IC, and if necessary, scheduling the scene.
- Set the stage. The players involved mutually establish the facts of the situation as they are, prior to PC intervention. This includes potentially breaking down the scene into multiple sub-conflicts.
- Agree on relevant tokens. The players involved should agree on what Focus-invested, story-scope tokens are relevant. Any story-scope tokens that players intend to use in this conflict must be staged at this point.
- For each sub-conflict (or for the scene as a whole if there aren't multiple sub-conflicts):
- Determine token risk results. The +token/risk command is used for each relevant token, which determines its disposition. This can only be done once per token.
- Determine individual PC action results. Resolve any specific actions that PCs are taking to influence the scene. This is done using the +compare mechanic.
- Determine the sub-conflict outcome. The side that has the advantage wins the stakes.
- Play out the sub-conflict. Depending on player preferences, the mechanics can be incorporated into the scene, or mechanical determination can be done first and the scene can follow.
- Determine the scene outcome. The normal Contests mechanic is used to determine the overall scene outcome.
Broadly, the goal of each stage is to allow players to establish IC facts about what has happened. These facts form the frame of the narrative, and they provide input into the end consequences.
These steps are described in detail below. See Risk Examples for examples of how this is supposed to work.
Frame the Situation and Agree on the Stakes
Players should begin by deciding what this is about. Story-scope conflicts will often span multiple scenes and confrontations, and so the negotiation needs to focus on what this scene is about. A good situation frame and stakes is brief and high-level; it establishes the where, when, and who of the conflict, and what's at stake. You should agree on what happens if either side wins, and you should also agree on what happens if there's a tie.
For instance, "The Moonriders out of Ghenesh have invaded. Amber must hold the pass above Arden against them, or the Moonriders will be free to move their army towards Amber City," is a useful frame. It involves a specific scene — holding the pass — and clearly establishes what's at stake.
A more complex frame might be something like, "The Moonriders of Ghenesh and Amber's armies are both marching towards the Fortress of the Stars. Whoever takes and occupies the fortress first will hold a key strong point that controls the supply lines into Amber." Here, the battle is clearly a pivotal story moment, but it is simply one scene in the midst of an ongoing conflict.
The outcome of a scene of this sort is expected to be definitive, just like any other kind of consequential play. However, note that in story-scope conflicts, the field of a conflict may be re-visited. For instance, if Amber's armies lose the Fortress of the Stars to the Moonriders, they can potentially regroup and attack the Fortress at a later date. However, players should avoid re-treading the same scenario repeatedly. If the Moonriders deflect Amber's attempt to re-take the Fortress from them, Amber should not make another attempt without a material change in scenario (like the Moonriders being struck down by plague in their Fortress). Scenes should move along the story.
This is also a good time to negotiate the OOC circumstances of the scene. Because this kind of conflict can lead to a lengthy scene, and there may be multiple PCs involved, scheduling is often a good idea. If there are multiple PCs involved, each side should have a clear leader who speaks for that side.
Set the Stage
This part of the negotiation establishes facts about the circumstances. That includes establishing facts about the location, the time of day, the weather, and so forth. Facts should be simple, clear statements: "The fortress is guarded by a wall", "The wall is 50 feet high", "The wall is made out of stone", "It is dawn", "It rained yesterday", and so forth. Avoid facts that are unlikely to be dramatically relevant.
In the course of establishing these facts, it may become clear that there are several pivotal points in the scene. These might be somewhat independent of each other (for instance, the assault on the front gate, and the sappers tunneling under the back wall) or they might be part of a chain of dependencies (for instance, the outer wall must be breached before the inner portcullis can be assaulted). Each of these are sub-conflicts within the scene — mini-stakes within the larger stakes of the scene. Sub-conflicts should be framed with explicit stakes, and the players should agree on an order in which these sub-conflicts take place in the scene and influence later sub-conflicts — a flowchart of the scene, so to speak. There should probably not be more than three sub-conflicts per scene. If it makes sense for there to be more, you may want to consider whether or not this is really one scene, or several; if it has to be one scene, you might need to spread it out across more than one roleplay session.
Just like in a negotiation for Consequences, there should be no "gotchas" when stakes are agreed to. For instance, you should not set one of the stakes as "the fortress flag is pulled down" and then surprise your opponent with, "and I had the flag enchanted so that when it comes down, a fire explodes in the fortress!" Anything of that nature should be explicit in the stakes. You do not necessarily need to explain surprises in advance, but it needs to be clear what is being conceded to when stakes are negotiated (i.e., you would need to explain that the seemingly-innocuous flag falling would result in a material advantage for your side).
Some general guidance for the establishment of facts at this scene-setting stage:
- Room descriptions should be respected. Particularly if you're playing in a public area that you don't own, you should be careful to respect what's stated in the room descriptions. If you are uncertain of the details and those details are relevant, consult the builder of that area.
- Previous consequences should be respected. If a consequence has established a set of facts about the situation, those facts must be respected.
- Prop controllers may name facts about prop-owned locations. If a conflict is set in a prop's location, the prop controller has the right to assert reasonable facts about that location. Please note that the definition of a prop's location should be taken strictly as opposed to loosely. For instance, if the conflict takes place in the Arden fortress of Immeraus, Arden's prop controller has the right to make reasonable statements about its defenses, layout, and the like. If the conflict merely takes place in Arden Forest, Arden's prop controller should only be speaking in generalities about things that are true for Arden. Broadly, something that is built and linked to the grid can have stronger establishing facts that something that isn't. For instance, a generic Ranger outpost in Arden should have far less propco facts than Julian's hunting lodge in Arden, and a property that's simply part of House Feldane's real-estate holdings should have virtually no propco facts (compared to House Feldane's townhouse, which could have a plethora of them). In general, this may grant substantial advantages to defenders who are sitting in whatever serves as their prop's headquarters or other major center of the prop — but it also makes it likely that the most reasonable scene set-up involves using each major strong-point of the defenses as one of the stakes in the conflict.
- Other facts should be relatively neutral. Any additional player-named facts ("scene facts") should grant no significant advantage to one side or the other, although at the option of players, fact-establishment can be done in a balanced way (an equal number favoring each side).
- Players should have a balanced role in determining scene facts. Some players may be able to arrive at a completely collaborative conclusion about the setting; for instance, it's possible that players could collaborate together to come up with a cool design for the Fortress of the Moon. However, the fairest way to do it, if collaboration proves difficult or seems to be overly influenced by one player, is to round-robin around the players, with everyone naming one fact. Players who have fewer facts to name may choose to do so; some players may prefer to name fewer facts but have them be broader in scope. The story significance of the facts should be relatively balanced; some players may prefer to make more sweeping statements (a cinematic set) while others might focus upon multiple details of tactical relevance, which is fine, as long as no player feels shortchanged in contribution.
In a way, these establishing facts form the "map" of the conflict. These facts essentially set out what's important in this scene, and some relevant scenery that everyone can agree to. That might be the gates, that might be the mysterious orb at the top of the tower, that might be the NPC legion defending the walls from both assaulting armies, and so forth.
The level of detail that the facts cover is up to the players involved, but again, scene facts should be relatively neutral. For some players, it might be enough to know that there are gates; some players may want to establish the height and width of the gates, the strength of the lock, the composition of the gates, etc. Again, "gotchas" should be avoided; if your opponent agrees that the hinges of the gates are steel, and you negotiated that fact so that you can assert later that your fairy army can magic them open because they're not cold iron, you have not negotiated in good faith — you've granted yourself an advantage while your opponent thought he was agreeing to something neutral. (If you want to establish a fact like this, disclose its relevance; i.e., you can state explicitly that you want to establish there's no cold iron being used, so you can use fairy powers.)
If the players so desire, the initial scene facts can be established at a prior point in time, before the scene is scheduled. This is strongly encouraged if the situation is complex and the scene is going to be an open one, where PCs may arrive spontaneously in the middle, or if the scene is going to be scheduled for the future. That will ensure that people don't hang around doing nothing while the principals involved in the conflict work things out.
As general guidance, it should not take more than an hour to negotiate the frame, stakes, and facts (assuming that both players are responding promptly). If negotiation takes forever, it may well be that the situation is too complex, and you should just try to figure out how to build a scene around a common agreed-upon starting point and simple stakes. Setting a limit to the number of facts (perhaps each player chooses 3 facts that they think are important) and agreeing that the rest of it will be cinematically determined, is also encouraged if the negotiation bogs down.
Note that any tokens related to preparation must be Focus-invested and are not used at this stage. (Preparation is, at the very least, personal effort, and should be tokenized as such if there's nothing else involved.)
Agree on Relevant Tokens
At this point, players must +declare every token that they intend to use during this scene, other than any tokens that are intended to be used in a +compare. These tokens must all be story-scope tokens. (There are some gifts that produce tokens that are both story-tokens and bonus-tokens. Any story-token that can be reasonably considered to be a resource needs to be used like this, rather than used for a bonus in a +compare during the scene.)
At the option of players, this may be done at the start of every sub-conflict rather than being done at the start of the scene. This may be used to simulate forces being held in reserve or preparations that might not be relevant depending on the outcome. However, any forces obviously present on the battlefield should certainly be revealed at the very beginning of the scene, so all players have a clear idea of what their characters are aware of. On mutual agreement, players may reveal all tokens that are not tactical surprises at the start of the scene, but reveal surprise tokens only when they come into play. This is the only exception to the +declare rule.
In general, this negotiation is intended to simply lay out what each side has, without discussing what these tokens are intended to be used for. This is the right time to question whether or not a token is valid, and whether or not there's any reasonable application for it at all during this conflict. For instance, a shadowfound set of treasure chests probably isn't a useful token in a battle situation. On the other hand, it's possible for a player to have thought of a clever way to use such a token (for instance, if his opponent has a starving peasant army, perhaps he plans to have his soldiers throw out fistful of gold coins during the battle in hopes of creating a distraction). In this kind of case, a player does not have to state exactly what he plans to use something for, only to state that he believes in good faith that it is relevant.
Players have the option to decide whether or not use of previously-flagpoled tokens are valid for risking. See the Flagpole documentation for details.
Regardless of when this token negotiation is done, at the start of the scene, every player involved needs to "stage" every story-scope token that they expect to potentially use. This means you choose all the story-scope tokens you will potentially use from the start of the scene; the stage does not reset for each sub-conflict, and you may not bring in any additional story-scope tokens that you didn't stage. This includes any tokens being kept secret; your opponent will know the token IDs but not anything more. Staging does not expend the tokens.
List the tokens you currently have staged with +token/stage
To reset your token stage, use +token/stageclear
Add a token to the stage with +token/stageadd token-ID
Remove a mistakenly-staged token with +token/stagedel token-ID
When you are completely finished staging your tokens, finalize your token stage for the scene with +token/stagedone
(Whenever you risk a token, the game will inform the other players when the token was staged, thus giving other players a way to ensure that you didn't quietly go off and clear and re-stage your tokens to add something new. Again, you stage your tokens once for the scene, and you are not allowed to change that staging until the scene is over.)
In general, the scene should probably unfold in a chronological fashion. If multiple sub-conflicts are taking place at the same IC time, players may choose to do both simultaneously, but they may also choose to focus on one sub-conflict at a time.
A set of resolution steps should be followed for every sub-conflict, that results in an outcome for that sub-conflict — a resolution of the stakes for that sub-conflict. If there are no sub-conflicts, then this procedure is used to determine the scene outcome.
Winning a sub-conflict requires the accumulation of advantages — essentially scoring points, with the stakes going to the party who has scored the most points. However, narrative control favors the loser; the more you claim victory, the less narrative control you have over the exact circumstances of that victory.
Players may choose whether to incorporate the mechanics into the flow of the scene, or do all mechanical resolution first, followed by the roleplay of the scene. The more complex the scene, and the more tokens are being used, the easier it is likely to be to incorporate mechanical resolution into the flow of the scene, rather than doing it all in advance.
Broadly, a sub-conflict should take no more than an hour of play to resolve and roleplay, assuming that players are prompt with responses and are not especially slow posers, and there aren't a huge number of tokens involved. You are not intended to argue extensively about what happens, but to go with the flow, respecting every player's right to narrate.
Determine Token Risk Results
Every story-scope token expended in this conflict has some kind of significance in the scene. You must choose which sub-conflict you want a particular token to be relevant in; outside of that sub-conflict, the token can be color but has no influence on outcome. You don't have to make that choice in advance, though.
In the resolution of the sub-conflict, players take turns, in round-robin fashion, to risk a token. If a turn order cannot be agreed upon, it should be randomized (the +roll command is useful here). Players may choose in what order to use their tokens. (An individual PC action can be chosen instead of a token, on the player's turn.)
The player should state OOC what he intends to use this token for; other players may want to see a +declare. Troops will usually be used to accomplish some goal, preparations may trigger an effect, and so forth. It is possible that some things may only become relevant if another player does something. For instance, if you've prepared an elaborate arrow trap in the courtyard, it won't be relevant unless the enemy enters the courtyard; if they don't do so, you would not get to use that token.
Use the following command to determine the impact of the token on this sub-conflict:
+token/risk token-ID at risk-level
The risk level is low, medium, or high, representing a general abstraction of how much you're going to push. The greater the risk that you are taking, the more likely it is that advantage points will be generated, but it will also increase the likelihood of generating negative facts. The risk level will be further modified by the number of tokens that you have staged (the greater the number of tokens used by a player, the greater the overall risk that he is taking, as orchestrating a complex array of forces, resources, and preparations is riskier than doing something simple).
A token that is being risked must have been previously staged. Risking a token is considered story-significant use and will mark that token as expended. Tokens of greater magnitude have more impact; this is detailed in story-scope tokens.
The output of the +token/risk command specifies the following things:
- The number of positive facts. These are things that are good for you. For each positive fact, you may choose to EITHER state a fact that can be to your advantage (for instance, "My cavalry charge is successful, breaking the line of the opposing pikemen") OR you may count a point of advantage for the sub-conflict but your opponent gets to state the fact about what form this advantage takes (for instance, "The opposing pikemen retreat to their next defensive position, allowing your cavalry charge to take the ground"). In other words, you can either claim greater control of the narrative, or you can take a mechanical advantage but cede the narrative control to your opponent.
- The number of negative facts. These are things that are bad for you. For each negative fact, you may EITHER allow your opponent to state a fact of his choice which can be to his advantage (for instance, "The fight was difficult, and your nearby troops are demoralized"), OR you may give your opponent a point of advantage for the sub-conflict but you get to state what form this advantage takes (for instance, "Your troops can occupy the high ground"). Again, you can either take greater narrative control or the mechanical advantage.
- The number of advantage points. This is purely a mechanical result. This directly generates advantage points that are added to your score total, but provides no narrative explanation. In effect, an advantage point gives some mechanical oomph to whatever facts are named, or indicates a broad direction, without providing any significant new narrative detail.
Facts should be significant; players should feel like being able to state these facts gives them genuine control over scene direction, even if, in mechanical terms, they are losing. When you name facts, you should choose things that move along the narrative and are dramatically significant. In general, the facts you name should be relevant to the token being used, but this can be loose — for instance, you can make reasonable assertions about the setting, like "there are so many bodies on the battlefield that a flock of vicious scavengers is now present, getting in the way of the troops". You cannot state facts about other PCs, but you can about NPC elements and the setting (i.e., "Benedict is mired in the swamp" is not valid, but "the pikemen are mired in the swamp" or "it is beginning to rain very heavily, making it hard for everyone to see" are valid).
You are encouraged not to quibble at length about the facts that other players have named. Your goal is to achieve a more interesting and colorful scene, and since players sacrifice mechanical advantage in order to name facts, this preference to assert narrative control needs to be respected by allowing them to pick suitably interesting and impactful facts. When you're letting your opponent name facts, objecting to anything that's not illogical or out-of-scope is probably undesirable, since you're normally specifically trading mechanical advantage in exchange for a loss of narrative control. Agreeing to reasonable facts will help move the scene along more quickly, rather than having it bogged down by a lot of OOC negotiation. Exhibiting good sportsmanship over the facts you name and accept will hopefully encourage other players to do the same.
Determine Individual PC Action Results
Individual PCs actions are likely to be significant. A PC who is present at a sub-conflict can always undertake a significant action during that sub-conflict, and he may act in as many sub-conflicts as the character can reasonably be present in. Individual PC actions should be interspersed with the risking of tokens — on a player's turn, he can choose to do a PC action instead of risking a token. An individual PC action only occurs once per sub-conflict, unless the players agree in advance to do otherwise. (A PC can of course pose and may have color effects throughout the portion of the scene that covers this sub-conflict, but only has mechanical impact once per sub-conflict.)
If two PCs are directly opposing one another, the outcome is determined via the normal Contests mechanic. If a PC earns a consequence via +compare, he can EITHER choose to inflict a normal consequence on the other PC, OR he can choose to take an advantage point for his side in this sub-conflict.
If a PC is not directly opposed by another PC, then he automatically gains an advantage point his side for this sub-conflict, and he can explain what his PC was able to accomplish with his actions (subject to the usual caveats about reasonability and negotiation).
If multiple PCs are present, one PC can oppose several PCs if need be. (That one PC is exposing himself to potential multiple consequences, providing a balance.)
In other words, in all such scenes, it is a clear advantage for at least one PC to be physically present and taking active actions within the scene. Individual PC heroics are typically more consequential than the actions of faceless NPCs and resources.
Determine the Sub-Conflict Outcome
After all tokens for this sub-conflict have been risked (or at least, all tokens that the players have decided they want to spend, as there is no obligation to expend all staged tokens), and the results of individual PC actions determined, look at the advantage points that each side has accumulated. The side with the most advantage points wins the stakes of that sub-conflict. If it is a tie, no one wins the stakes.
You can use the +score set of commands to help you keep track of who has how many points.
Determine the Scene Outcome
Once all sub-conflicts have been resolved, the ultimate stakes of the scene can be resolved. This is done using the Contests mechanic, using a +compare between the leaders of each side. If the PC is not present in the scene, this is treated like an indirect conflict per the normal rules. In general, this is a pivotal, showdown moment; if PCs can be involved, they should be. It will ordinarily be a PC action that turns the tide in one final direction or another; even if one side has been utterly ruined throughout the scene, one final moment of PC heroics can still allow them to claim the scene stakes.
The PC who wins a consequence in this +compare, wins the stakes for the scene. If he wins two consequences, he wins the stakes and he inflicts a consequence on his opponent. If no one is able to win a consequence, the side with the greatest total number of advantage points accumulated overall (across all the sub-conflicts) wins the stakes.
If there are no PCs involved in the scene at all, then on mutual agreement of the players, the stakes can go to the side that accumulated the most total advantage points across the sub-conflicts, instead of using an indirect +compare. This decision should always be made before the scene begins, as part of the initial setting of the stakes.
If there are no sub-conflicts at all, there are no sub-conflict stakes; the stakes for the scene as a whole are all that there is, and the stakes go to the side that accumulated the most advantage points.
Broadly, victories are never entirely one-sided. In most scenes of this type, there will be a balance of choosing mechanical advantage versus narrative control. In many cases, the narrative control will establish that any winning is likely to come at a tremendous cost — it is possibly to both win and come out badly, or lose and come out well. Because the facts established have to be respected, it is entirely possible that the side that wins this portion of the conflict will then be badly positioned for the next conflict.
Please see Risk Examples for detailed examples of how this whole process and system is intended to work.
In short: Don't worry about mechanical strategy. Do what makes sense for your play style and your IC needs.
The following rules hold true:
- Tokens of greater magnitude are more impactful.
- Choosing a greater level of risk increases the chance of being more impactful, but also increases the likelihood of something negative.
- The lesser the token, the greater the risk necessary to guarantee some kind of impact.
- More tokens gives you a greater number of actions, and therefore more narrative control.
- More tokens slightly increase the amount of risk.
- More tokens allow you to write the tokens with greater specificity, which helps with narrative control.
- Risking a token will generally result in an outcome that is more positive than not, but is still dangerous.
In other words, there are advantages to having fewer, more powerful tokens — but there are also advantages to having more, less powerful tokens. If you're wondering how best to spend your Focus, the answer is that you should do so in the way that makes the most IC amount of sense to you.
In general, you're best off achieving what you want by using as few of your staged tokens as possible. Overwhelming the other side with a lot more tokens does make it more likely that you'll be able to declare more facts in your favor, but every time you risk a token, you risk negative facts, too. Furthermore, a token isn't expended until it's risked, so tokens that aren't risked can be used at some future date.
The following rules also hold true:
- Accumulating advantage points is important for winning the stakes.
- Choosing advantage points cedes narrative control of scene details to the other player.
Consequently, you will always have a choice — you can push towards the mechanical win (which you and your opponent will need to narratively justify eventually), or you can keep more control over the details of the scene. Which you choose will probably depend on your personality as a player. Neither choice is intended to be better than the other.
Please see the Risk Examples for examples of how this process and system is intended to work.