Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Conflict No. 2: Small Groups

Hopefully it will have occurred to the gentle reader by now that there are reasons why Caleb, from the previous post, might want to hold back the number of modifier cards he uses to affect his chosen actions.  This is part of the game strategy - is it better to pile all the cards together in one hit, which if it fails will leave you with no more gas, or it is it better to carefully reserve your cards so that you have a number of lesser tries, each of which might produce a result.

Of course, this has to be weighed against Danielle's response, when it comes.  I did not go into great detail about that response on the last post, but she might have had enough to dissuade Caleb completely when her round comes ... in which case Caleb would not get to use his carefully reserved cards, since he'd be driven away from the scene by Danielle's play.  This too is part of the strategy.

An important reason to use 2d6 instead of, say, 1d12 is that the pair of dice produce odds that first ascend as one uses actions and modifiers, and afterwards descends once the roll needed to succeed drops below 7, or the average of the two dice.  The player has to calculate whether his use of a particular card now is better for his odds of winning than it would be later on, when played on its own or in conjunction with other cards.  This element allows for greater strategy than just piling up all the cards you have.  Remember that a pile of action and modifier cards has to face a pile of defense cards in the long run.  You may have a +7 or a +8 modifier to your die roll, but that doesn't help if your opponent has +5 resistance and on your first roll you goof and roll less than a 6.

I wrote once about the success/fail problem where it came to devising interactive systems.  This I believe solves that problem.

Very well, let's consider a wider scenario.  Let's suppose that Caleb has friends.  We'll call them Charles and Clement.  And instead of Danielle, we'll introduce three guards, Edward, Eric and Ethan.  The conflict might be anything, but we'll pick something D&D-like:  Caleb and his friends wish to cross a bridge, and Edward and his friends are there to stop them.  Who knows the reason?  I leave that up to the game's referee.  For the sake of the example, we will suppose first of all that Caleb and his friends are the Player Characters.  We'll also give them the initiative.

Choosing what to say has changed.  Caleb is no longer limited to his own resources.  He has friends, and if they have a better chance of convincing the guards, he can rely on them.  It must be understood that not everyone can speak at the same time and expect themselves to be heard.  Caleb, Charles and Clement have a talk among themselves as they approach the bridge, and decide that it would probably be best if Caleb used his charismatic cards and went first.

So Caleb pulls out his Persuade card, adds his Beauty, his Able-body and his Land like before, which like before gives him a +4 modifier.

Aha, but there's a difference.  Caleb is now standing next to Charles, who is a cleric.  And as he is a cleric of the same religion as the guards, and as he is standing next to Caleb, the guards cannot help giving Caleb a bit more respect than they might otherwise.  It is up to Charles if he wishes to use his 'Piety' card (see below) to lend Caleb this respect (he could, if he wished, conceal for the moment his clericism, or even stand a bit off so that it's not clear to the guards that Charles supports Caleb's desire).  Note that Charles' modifier is one of status:

We'll say that Charles stands next to Caleb smiling and slightly bowing as Caleb speaks, lending an additional +1 modifier to Caleb's argument.  Caleb therefore has +5 overall.  He opens his mouth and he says, "Good sirs, please stand aside and let us pass.  We have important business upon the other side, and you would be the best of gentlemen if you could allow us to be on our way."  After which, he rolls against each guard individually.

They are, after all, each listening to Caleb with their own ears.  They are not one person, and so they do not respond as one person.  They can all hear and see Caleb, so they all have an equal chance of being affected by Caleb's appearance, his manliness, his obvious confidence and his persuasive tongue (which may be more persuasive than the player who runs Caleb).  What's more, the cleric is standing right there.

Caleb rolls three times, therefore, against Ethan, Eric and Edward.  Counting the modifier, he rolls a '9,' a '12' and a '14.'  Thus Ethan is indifferent, Eric is accepting and Edward is friendly.

As it happens, each of the guards has a +1 resistance (which will be explained in a moment) because they are, after all, 'guards' ... they are trained to resist people.  If one of the guards was a sargeant, he'd have a resistance of +2, being specially trained to keep his head while others were losing theirs.  In this case, however, they're just ordinary guards.  And in all three cases, none of them has any reason to use their +1 resistance (since it won't make a difference anywhere), so they don't.  They keep those cards close and we get to move on.

Now, in the framework of the conflict, Ethan is indifferent to Caleb's argument, but he ISN'T indifferent to his duty as a guard.  He will not at the moment release the bridge.  Eric may be accepting of Caleb's argument, but he isn't friendly or accommodating, so within the framework of the conflict, he has become a non-entity ... having been influenced by Caleb into acceptance, he is taken right out of the conflict and is no longer considered a participant.  He is therefore put to one side.

Edward, on the other hand, is friendly ... and what this means for the Conflict is that Edward has effectively 'switched sides.'  At this point, he is more apt to argue in favor of Caleb's group than to oppose them.  What this means is that Ethan now stands alone against four others, Edward included.  Eric is unimportant.  He will go along with whomever wins the Conflict.

Ethan has limited resources at his beck and call.  He hasn't much of an intelligence, he isn't all that great to look at and in the great scheme of things he's only a guard.  He has two cards.  He's 'Able-bodied,' just as Caleb is, having also once delivered a great blow to an enemy, and he's able to 'Bellow,' as shown below.

As you can see, the card can be used either as a defense card (+1 resistance, as mentioned above) or as an aggressive action.  As an action, Ethan can put it together with his able-bodied modifier and gain a +2 to his die roll.  He shouts, "No one is getting across this bridge.  We are under orders by the town council and we shall obey those orders!"

Ethan then rolls against all FOUR of those standing opposed to him.  With the modifier included, he rolls an 8 against Caleb, a 6 against Charles, a 12 against Clement and an 11 against his compatriot Edward.

Edward can use his own +1 bellow card but it doesn't help.  He falls into the 'fearful' category (remember, Ethan is using an aggressive action, and is therefore intimidating the others, not influencing them), and like Eric becomes a non-entity.  Clement, too, might have a +2 resistance, but that's not good enough.  His character is considered to have been bullied by Ethan, and therefore fearful.  He no longer has the heart to continue this.  He backs down, and he too ceases to matter in the Conflict.

This is an important element to the overall system, as for the first time a player character's freedom to palaver is limited by circumstance and the die roll, just as if Clement had been struck down with a sword and was now no longer able to fight back.  He is cowed, he experiences a weakening of spirit, he no longer feels this is the right course of action and so on.  Perhaps in a bit, once the situation is resolved, he might feel better ... but in the framework of the game, this would be as if Clement afterwards said to his friends, "I wanted to stand by you fellas, but I found myself looking at his uniform and thinking, 'what are we doing!?'  I just lost my nerve."

The idea of a player having 'nerve' or being able to lose it has long been considered undesirable or even impossible by any system ... but I think it incorporates a reality to the game that also serves as a motivator.  Clement has every reason thereafter to go out and adventure not just for money and experience, but to have the GUTS to stand up to guards like Ethan.  A few hard-bitten adventures and Clement will begin to mass cards which give him greater resistance, and he won't go down to a lucky roll from some minor guard.

Now, the reader will take note that Ethan rolled a 6 against Charles, which engenders the Insulted reaction.  Here the system is a bit of a one-way street.  Charles may feel insulted, but as a player character Charles does not have to respond the way that an NPC would.  If the situation were reversed, Ethan - being the insulted party - might slowly draw his sword and threaten with it, to wave the party off.  But in this case Charles the player character can decide to react however he likes ... it is treated as Charles being unconvinced.

However, if we suppose that the player were to choose to draw his weapon at this point, what would happen?

First and foremost, if the reader will remember the previous post, we have to ask ourselves, does Ethan have a fortitude card?  If he does, then he will be able to play it, and Charles will have to resheath his sword and resist using it.  Yes, that's right, Charles the player character will be convinced not to overreact at just this moment, just as a player could force an NPC to do likewise.  The force would remain in effect only for Charles' next round ... but he would be restrained from taking a combat action for that one round.

But let's suppose that Ethan doesn't have a fortitude card?  What then?

Well, combat of course.  Initiative had already been determined previously and Caleb and his friends had chosen to use it for talking, so initiative does not need to be used again.  Charles simply draws his weapon and attacks.  Caleb takes his cue from Charles and he attacks also.

Clement, however, cannot.  For one round, the fear he experienced from Ethan's warning will keep him from joining into combat.  The following round, when he sees his friends in trouble, the fear will dissipate and he will be able to take action then.  But he's lost the first round.

Ethan's friends, however, were not intimidated, they were merely influenced.  As soon as they are attacked, all three will return the fight, just as though any ordinary D&D combat were going on.  Once again, the interactive mechanic is designed to work seamlessly with the combat mechanic.

Very well, but what if Edward had not been turned back by Ethan, but had remained friends with the party?  In that case, Edward like Clement would have found himself hesistating for one round about what to do ... he'd want to help his compatriots, but for that round he'd find himself wanting not to hurt these people he quite liked.  It would be similar to losing his nerve, but for different reasons.  After one round, however, his loyalties would reassert themselves and Edward would join in on the side of Ethan and Eric.

Okay, but what if at the beginning Edward had not been made friendly, but had been made accommodating?  Caleb could have managed that, if he'd rolled an 11 or a 12 in the first place.  Ah, then in this case Edward would not fight, but he would use his next round to shout at everyone to stop fighting and listen to him, using his measly +1 bellow card to intimidate both sides.

Unfortunately for him - and this is VERY important - once combat is broken out, the situation becomes a confusion.  The card is an intimidation action, and therefore Ethan would only be able to speak to one person at a time, hopefully cowing them into fear before moving on.  He would still be able to use his card against each person (it can't be used twice against the same person - but using it for person A does not preclude using it for person B), but it would take one round for each person to do so.

Edward could decide not to use the card, but to instead influence everyone without any bonuses ... in this case, he could affect everyone at the same time.  This is equivalent to shouting out loud for everyone to calm down!  And if he could roll a 10 or more on 2d6, and if no defense cards for additional resistance came into play, every person Edward affected in this manner would stop fighting ... for one round.  They would pull back and listen ... foolishly, perhaps, as they would then be attacked by someone who did not listen.  But then this is what happens when your resistance to authority or a call for peace is overcome.

Lastly, the question arises, what if somehow Edward had been made infatuated with Caleb at the beginning.  The answer should be obvious ... he would turncoat against his original compatriots and throw in with the party.  Obviously, these are much better people than the ordinary guards.  Since this is a very unlikely option, and will tend to occur only once a party has reached a sufficient level of power, and will usually only affect persons who in turn have very little power, the rule really only manifests as a powerful individual causing minions to change their allegiance.  This did happen occasionally, as when the fickle mob turned against Pompey in favor of Caesar.

But let us set that all aside and assume that Charles does not draw his weapon.  We now find that he and Caleb stand alone against Ethan.  Caleb has used his main cards.  Again, he has only his Jest card left.  Charles has a high wisdom, and we will suppose he had two unused Fortitude cards.  He had the status card for his clericism, but that has been used for Caleb's attempt.  If he is a first level, this might be all he has going for him.  We will give him an additional modifier, the fact that he is middle aged:

This card, too, can be used either as a modifier to an action or as a means to resist the arguments of others.  As a modifier, it gives Charles a +1 ... which isn't any better than Caleb's Jest card.

However, either Charles or Caleb could decide to buy an action ... that is, a Bribe.

I have four levels of bribes, deliberately designed to make the highest level very undesirable to use by players.  My intention has been to leave the exact amount of coin off the card, so that it could be tailored to the game referee's individual world, with a suggestion for the size of the bribe in the rulebook I was writing (I much prefer the easy style here, where I can discuss more than what would appear in the rules - the various strategies and outcomes as well).

Bribes are either 'small,' 'large,' 'huge' or 'great.'  A small bribe would be 10 g.p. for each person who would need to be bribed.  If Charles or Caleb took Ethan to one side, on the quiet - and the referee ruled that Ethan were willing to go - they could offer the money to Ethan alone.  But if they were to do so openly, both Edward and Eric would immediately be insulted AND angry, regardless of their previous accepting condition.  Of course, Charles could dispel this with a fortitude card (it would use both his cards), assuring them that he felt certain Ethan would share.  The sharing would then become something that wasn't the party's problem.

A small bribe would give a +1 to the die roll.  A large bribe, equal to 100 g.p. per person, would give +2 to the die.  A huge bribe, being 1,000 g.p. per person, would bring +3, and a great bribe, being 10,000 g.p. per person, would bring +4.  Obviously, if you're going to really, really bribe someone, you've got to get them alone, so that no one else knows about it.  The increasing scale of the various bribes is there to discourage, as I said, the constant use of bribes to achieve everything.  Once a party has massed a large amount of money, it becomes too easy to simply pay one's way.

Of course, the problem with even private bribes is that others learn about them, and then approach the party for a bit of their own.  Refusal once again creates the insulted and angry response, which the Fortitude card might be able to quell for the moment ... but the party will have gained an enemy and the interactive system is useless against someone who distantly maintains a grudge, and cannot be spoken to or convinced.  The game referee would be free to allow that insulted person to continue to be insulted for as long as they did not receive their share of the money.  This is still D&D.

But let's say that Charles buys the bribe, gives it to only Ethan, plays his two Fortitude cards to quell the other guards and rolls the die.  Maybe not the brightest move, but Charles feels confident.  He rolls an 8 on the two dice, and his bonus increases this to a 10.  Ethan has no more resistance card, since he used it to intimidate, and he accepts the bribe.  The party crosses the bridge and the conflict is over.

On several occasions during the playtesting both sides completely ran out of cards ... which of course did not end the argument.  It went back and forth after that, like two people shouting at each other, "ISN'T!"  "IS!"  until one of them back down.  The original plan was for the base resistance to be higher, and this resulted in more of these exchanges.  Funny as they are, by lowering the resistance one point they are more rare, but still potentially possible.  Rolling a 10 or greater on 2d6 is only a 1 in 6 chance, and that could go on for awhile if both sides were unlucky.

From this point I plan to start posting lists of cards.  I'll need to do some clean-up on the card design that will take a day or two, but nevertheless I hope to have templates for the card sets up by the weekend.  I believe I might tone down the color a might.  I had brightened them up from the originals, but I may have done that too much, and I'd like to play with it a bit.

Meanwhile, I'll spend some time talking about specific cards and the special rules behind them, which may take several posts.  Eventually, all in good time.

Several of my readers have suggested that it is a mistake to take this course of action, that the system is too valuable to just give away and so on.  I understand that point of view, but I'd like to take a moment to explain my position.  It has been discussed at length between the principles of my operation on my end (my wife and my daughter), and it comes down to this:

I have not chosen 'sales' as a profession for a reason.  I am actually an excellent salesperson.  I can do it because, well, I can lie with proficiency and I generally know what people want to hear.  However, I don't like being put in a position where I have to say what people want to hear.  I would much rather have a profession where I can say what I want to say.  I know this is virtually impossible, but the closer I am to it, the happier I am.

I have had many people say, "Just be a salesman until you're wealthy, and then say whatever you want."  The be-unhappy-now so you can be-happy-later plan.  Unfortunately, while you are unhappy you wind up attacking and destroying everything you love, including yourself, until you've gotten so in the habit of lying to people you can't remember what you would have said if you'd been free enough to say it.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I'll be happy now.

Now, to sell this system effectively, I will have to spend the next years of my life in what amounts to a trade show circuit.  I know that many readers get anxiously excited about conventions and such, but to me they are just trade shows where I might go to do what I don't need a trade show to do: play D&D.  Sure, I might get the chance to play with people I don't know.  But I wouldn't get that chance if I were sincere about selling at the trade show, now would I?  Every second that I wasn't selling would be money out of my pocket, and if I had the attitude that it didn't matter, then what would I be doing at a trade show in the first place?  All or nothing, that's my position on it.  I'm not going to be hundreds of miles from friends and family selling a product only to blow my time on not selling the product.  And friends, I don't want to sell this product.  I don't want to sell anything.

If I did want to sell for a living, I'd be selling something BIG ... like cars, or real estate, or electronics, appliances or furniture.  That's where you get the bigger buck for your bang.  Any other kind of sales is wasting your time ... unless you love sales more than you love money.  That's common, by the way.  People get a terrific rush from making a sale, or from pleasing a customer, or otherwise being of service.  Small level sales is a kind of servile occupation, like waitering, where the happiness of your client brings you happiness.  I understand that kind of life, but I don't want to live it.  I, unfortunately, tend to be happiest when I am happy.  And I am happy when I am writing and creating, not when I am serving others.

Now, I love this D&D game.  And I love creating ideas and rules for this game, along with devising the world behind it.  Five months and three ago I didn't have this rule system in my head.  Then it all hit me, at a go, pretty much as I've described over this and the last post.  I talked to Carl on the phone about it, the Carl who comments here regularly, and he can assure all of you that when I described it I was on fire.  But I told him then, as we talked about keeping it quiet and not letting others know, that this would NOT be the last idea I ever had.  And it won't be.

So next time it comes, I may change my mind.  I doubt it.  I'd much rather sell a book.  That would mean sales, too, and it would mean trade shows.  But somehow, I don't think I would mind sitting around and pitching my book all day and all night to people.  I suppose when I get down to it, writing is a religion for me, and D&D is just fun.  They both make me happy.  But I could conceive giving up D&D for writing.  I will never give up writing.


Carl said...

Bravo, Alexis. May we expect a Part 3?

Also, will you be adding this to the wiki?

ChicagoWiz said...


Why didn't you look into hiring someone to do the sales pitch for you?

Zzarchov said...

I might also suggest option 3.)

The lazy sale. Put the item up for "on demand" printing, or sized to fit on "at home" business card sheets. Sell the PDF, or hell get an "on-demand" site to handle for you.

Why? Pocket change and (perversely) more people would try it out if it is for sale than if it is for free. I don't doubt much of that would be piracy, but people will steal what they won't take as a gift.

Anonymous said...

i really like this (and will certainly use a similar system in my own games in the future).

two things i have a problem with though.

if the group you are trying to influence is large enough, you can be quite certain of someone "turning". as all saves are made individually are there cards to take "strength of numbers" or leadership into account?

once combat starts you can still be influenced...
seems reasonable.
but wouldn't you be able to resist any manipulations a lot better when there's a guy swinging an axe at your face? i have a hard time imagining someone stopping to fight (if only for a round) while his opponent is still going on. do you get an "in combat"-defense card or something similar in these situations?

Alexis said...


One of the lovely things about no longer making plans to sell it as a product is that I no longer have to care how many people are using it. In conversations with my party this week, they want me to continue using it in my world, though I don't know if I will all the time. But if no one else in the world uses it, ever, it won't matter to me. I already play a lot of rules no one else uses.

Alexis said...


These are good questions. I'll admit I was stumped by the first one, but then I realized I was not looking at the whole system. I'll be including discussions about crowd mechanics in the post I write today.

Regarding your second question about combat, I suppose it depends on what kind of DM you are and what your players will tolerate. For my money, from memories fighting a lot as a kid, if the other guy wanted to stop, most of the time I wanted to stop too. It isn't that the other person can tell you to 'stop fighting' while they go on doing so. If they fight you, you're free to fight them. Combat trumps the cards.

But if they pull back and instead of swinging at you they try to influence or intimidate you to stop also, shouldn't there be a chance that they would succeed in this? Remember that the interactive does not occur when they are swinging an axe in your face, but immediately after you've just swung a sword in theirs.

On your opponent's turn, if he wants to influence you to stop trying to kill him, he is shouting at you, "STOP - Or I will kill you!" (intimidation) or "Wait, wait! Hear me out!" (influence)

Your resistance is already high; a +2 bonus on his part gives him a less than 50% chance of succeeding, and still less if you have resistance bonuses (which you haven't seen yet, so you don't really know, asking this question, how many bonuses you'd be likely to have). The odds are in your favor that you'd resist and be able to go on fighting.

BUT ... there should be a chance that your character might think, "Gee, he could kill me" or "Gee, I'll find out what he has to say" and thus not go on killing him.

Which means that you step back and listen, or even that you just run away.

I know that players wouldn't like a ruling like that. But in reality, haven't we all at some point done something in the heat of the moment that we regretted? And isn't it true that we're not really sure WHY we did it?

Resolving not to do it again is what builds our character. Which is, let me emphasize, the POINT.

But if you don't want your characters to ever have to stop fighting for any reason, this system may not be for you.

SupernalClarity said...

Alexis, man, I admire your conviction. I truly do.

I don't play first edition D&D like you, but I can see already that this system is more universal than maybe even you'd thought it would be. As someone who would have been willing to buy this product, I think it's the least I can do to test it out in my own D&D game.

Mind you, I still have a few questions floating around, but I want to see the full explanation of everything before I present them. (Knowing you, your system probably solves them already.)

And of course, I wish you the best with your continued efforts on that novel. I hope you'll tell us all when it finally does get publish!

gilgamec said...

I'm not certain I understand your 'non-entity' designation. I can understand how an "accepting" result would make Eric "neutral", so to speak; however, I don't get why he is no longer affected by any further actions. Shouldn't Ethan's bellow be able to shake him out of his "accepting" state, as it can take Edward out of his "friendly" state? At the very least, I don't see why Ethan couldn't do the equivalent of nudging Eric in the ribs and ask, "You're not buying this, are you?"

There might even be metagame reasons to do this. If the guards are the PCs, and Eric is the charismatic one (and was convinced by a lucky roll), Ethan's player might want to bring him back into the conflict to try to resolve it diplomatically.

Alexis said...

The argument here is that a point comes in the play when the character is neutralized, and taken out of further discussion, in order to eventually resolve the conflict. Repeated drawing of people back into the conflict ad nauseum solves nothing. In terms of play, Eric is effectively "killed" in the conflict/combat metaphor. Ethan could nudge Eric in the ribs, but in fact the dice have already said that YES, Eric is "buying it" and that the issue, as far as Eric is concerned, is resolved.

That the issue is not resolved for Ethan is immaterial.

gilgamec, what you're not taking into account is that your own proposition for why it should be possible to pull Eric back into the discussion is effectively the effort "to argue your way past the die" by creating scenarios which fit your interpretation of how things ought to be in a conflict between players and others.

This kind of thinking is exactly what the system is meant to get rid of.

gilgamec said...

OK, I see what "neutralized" means in this context, and I certainly understand the need to stop conflicts from turning into tug-of-war. I guess my problem with it is that Eric, merely neutralized, is "dead", but Edward, having been swayed to the other side, is still a viable conflict target for Ethan, so Ethan can get him back as a supporter. That is, that the worse situation (betrayal) is still salvageable, but the better one (mere consideration) is not.