Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Conflict No. 3: Crowds

I knew the system was good when it started solving problems for me, without my having to come up with additional stop-gaps and fixes.  Yesterday, shlominus proposed a problem that I must admit had me scratching my own head for awhile.  That question is essentially this: If you address enough people at one time, won't the odds ensure results right across the board?  If, for example, I stand up in a street square and speak to 36 persons, with a 1 in 36 chance that one of those persons will fanatically change sides in my favor, doesn't that guarantee that I can walk away from every like situation with friends, followers and fanatics?

As I said, that worried me.  And then I realized I was looking at the world as a static entity, as though the players were the only participants in it.  Generally, D&D is presented as though the world were made up of a bunch of cardboard figures that only come alive when the party speaks to them.  It's a habit that's been exacerbated over many years of poor design.

Any crowd I speak to is already going to be friends, followers or fanatics of someone else!  I began this description two days ago by saying that the system cannot compel anyone to do anything they would not be willing to do.  That is because the interactive is not a charm person spell.  And I have been making the point that all of the interactive results are temporary.  In other words, the guard in the previous post who might have become infatuated with the party, or that 1 in 36 person in the crowd, might, for the space of five minutes, become infatuated with your character as he or she speaks openly in the square.  And then they'll remember that they have a wife, or kids, or that their mother wouldn't like it.

The point being that the interactive cards are not designed to just randomly influence people walking by on the street.  The cards are there to resolve conflicts.  The party can create a conflict by stopping people and then insisting those people do something the party wants instead of their own agenda, and while they are in the presence of the party they may acquiesce.  But given a chance to be alone, and to remember their actual obligations, they will probably just run away.  They have to be given a real reason to stay - like pay, good treatment, a recognition of their needs and so on - to make them want to stay and obey.

Emotions are fluid things, and what one feels watching a big tough adventurer speak eloquently to the crowd can cause infatuation.  But unless it is done with a lot of modifiers, it will also cause many of the people in the crowd to get angry, and throw things.  Let me point something out that may not be recognized.

Let us say that Caleb puts his modifiers together and, using Jest, decides to amuse a crowd as a comedian.  As before, he gets his +4 and he speaks to the 36 people as mentioned.

We'll say the dice fall exactly according to the odds, so that he rolls a 2 against one person in the crowd, and a 3 against two others.  The 3 becomes a 7 with his modifier, but ... if those persons have any bonuses to their resistance, they can at will drop that 7 back to a 6, and they will be angry too.  And if any of the three people Caleb rolls a modified 8 against has a +2 resistance, well they will be angry too.

It is a mistake to think that Caleb will simply need to roll modified 10's for every person in the crowd.  Chances are that most of the people will have a +1 or a +2 resistance for various reasons, and Caleb will have to roll modified 11s and 12s just to get some of the crowd accepting of his humour.  Something near to half the crowd won't be that impressed, and chances are someone in that crowd is going to have just as many Purpose cards (actions and modifiers) as Caleb.  A deacon, say, or a town official.  One that already knows everyone in that town, and who has already gotten a +1 or +2 bonus with them, just as Caleb might have gotten with Danielle two posts ago.

Thus, that Deacon is going to be able to turn back a lot of the people Caleb influenced, reducing them to non-entities in the conversation, which will become a back and forth between Caleb and the Deacon ... which is exactly what happens in real life.  Most people listening in a crowd will take no part and have no influence whatsoever.  Anytime you try to convince a crowd of people, you always wind up arguing with just one or two ... the ones who don't like you.

Tackling a crowd without a lot of cards and modifiers is a dangerous thing.  You're more likely to make enemies, and those enemies are more likely to stir a strange crowd against you than you against them.  Sure, there might be one or two in the crowd who really like you, but they are likely to be the ones with the least resistance, and therefore those who have little or no power to influence anyone else.  In other words, you'll pick up the easily swayed, while the hard-biters will eat you for lunch.

As ChicagoWiz pointed out, players will have to be a lot more cautious around NPCs.  Jumping up and calling attention to yourself may not be a good idea ... at least not until you know a lot of the crowd too, and you have the cards to back your play.

The next stage in this process is to get a round idea of the cards that are available, and that will take me some time yet.  I will ask the reader to please bear with me.  I meant to have something up last night, but I let myself get distracted for some hours.  I propose to have a list of cards up later today.


C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

In other words, you'll pick up the easily swayed, while the hard-biters will eat you for lunch.

Hmm. I'm not sure. Certainly, that's going to be mostly true... But aren't you also going to pick up some people simply because of who's arguing against you?

For example, if a priest is the one arguing, then won't people of other, especially openly antagonistic, religions, have something like a -1 or a -2 to their resistance, simply out of their dislike for this person, or at least their beliefs?

Also, what would happen if a fight did break out, and a third party tried to stop it? Would they be affected by the rule that they could only affect one person per round, due to the confusion, or is that only applied to active participants in the fight?

Alexis said...

"But aren't you also going to pick up some people simply because of who's arguing against you?"

I know of no personal experience that supports this proposition.

I think if you want to make up reasons or justifications for people doing this or that in order to invent some reason why the cards don't account for every imagined possibility, then this system is not for you.

Zzarchov said...

I can actually see this scenario:

"But aren't you also going to pick up some people simply because of who's arguing against you?"

If someone I despise comes in (we'll say Bob) and starts railing about how useless Tina is, If I despise Bob enough I may jump to defend Tina, not for her benefit but for a chance to knock Bob down a few levels about his own value.

"Oh lay off Tina for not knowing how to work the copier and slowing you down, you just wanted to photocopy more fliers for personal use Bob"

While personal attacks may not be a logical argument, they can still sway people on an emotional level to ignore Bob's rantings because he is a tool.

This seems to be handled by the system because as Bob insults people, they will turn on Bob even if I didn't make them friendly since he insulted them. Or am I misinterpreting the mechanics?

Alexis said...

The difference between what C’nor is saying and what Zzarchov is saying, amid this moderate confusion, is that I perceived C’nor was asking that you should get a modifier merely because Bob is talking to Tina, because you don't like Bob. That's a dangerous slope, and winds up with everyone having modifiers everywhere based on every conversation they've ever had with anyone. The mechanic will then break down and fail. Obviously, the line has to be drawn somewhere.

Zzarchov, you are proposing that you actually gets involved in the argument (the part where you said you would jump to defend Tina). What you’ve described is the INDIFFERENT response ... Bob attacked Tina, which did not sway you towards his point of view. Having heard Bob, you are now rushing to defend Tina, pulling out your arguments against Bob to make him back down.

Bob had his turn, and now you’re having yours.

I think the problem with C’nor’s position is that he is wrapped up in thinking that the motivation in the argument somehow matters in reference to the MECHANIC. This is like saying that if I really, really want to kill someone, I should get a ‘to hit’ bonus. It is muddy thinking.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Actually, what I meant was sort of what Zzarchov was saying.

To use the example above:

Let's say Caleb rolled a 2 against John, which with a +4 modifier still makes him insulted. He rolled fairly well against everyone else, except Susan, who was indifferent.

John, naturally, decided to complain to Caleb, and got a 10, but Susan, a longtime enemy of John, while indifferent to the joke itself, would leap to Caleb's defense.

Is my position clearer now?

Alexis said...

Please, please, please, if you will discuss the system, use the terms I used and the descriptions of actions as I defined them. Where, oh where, did I say that the response would ever be, "John decided to complain">???

John does not complain - he reasons, he persuades, he lies, he bellows ... in short he does what the EXACT description of the card indicates.

If John rolled a 10 against Susan, she wouldn't do anything at all except to recuse herself from the conversation entirely. She would merely accept the situation and, as I have stated previously, would cease to matter in the conversation.

It is of course extremely difficult to relay the principles of the system if in attempting to understand it, you will make up your own words and ignore the very precise words which I chose to use in defining the system.

Yes, Susan might be a long-time enemy of John, but that alone does not mean she would do anything. If, on the other hand, John rolled a 13, befriending Susan, and Susan did not have any resistance against John, that would PROVE, ipso facto by virtue of the system, that she was not actually a long-time enemy of John, something the DM would then have to accept because the die roll said so.

I repeat. The die roll and the system is there so that they define the relationships between people - and not you, and not the DM. That is the point. If you refuse to adhere to the die roll in order to judge the relationships between people, then the system is definitely and obviously not for you.

Alexis said...

I can see from the previous example that C'nor gives that many people would balk against the system because it is written into the DM's mind that the relationships between NPC's should be defined by the DM, whereas the interactive system I've devised removes this and puts the relationship into the hands of the dice.

As an example, normally the DM would invent three persons for the party to meet, and decide how these three persons related to each other beforehand. I propose that the DM should invent three persons and then make no decision whatsoever about their inter-relationship, until the dice are rolled.

That would be anathema, I think, to a lot of people's systems. At the same time, I think others would find it a godsend.

Anonymous said...

Your most recent comment is very reminiscent of both Magic Realm and Barbarian Prince - two excellent mashups of board game / war game / rpg.

In this series of posts, you have revealed and solved a glaring deficiency in table play.

Regarding your overall approach of simply disclosing everything regarding your inventive method for generating and resolving inter-character conflict ... I think you soon will be met with market demand for you to publish Conflict! cards via Lulu or whatever it's called. I know that's not your ostensible intent, however, your descriptions are captivating and at the same time make clear that substantial effort would be required to knock off your total system. Rather than making that effort, the economically efficient approach by an interested party would be to plead for a reasonable price on the download.

If I had an active campaign going, I would likely be willing to pay $5 to $10 for a "starter" pack of these cards: maybe three or four per OD&D class, plus some blank ones to fill in PCs' campaign experiences*. The typical thing of leveraging another's imagination. Perhaps a paltry amount one-off, but an amount that might be duplicated a couple hundred to a couple thousand times within the general rpg market. Not to mention the possibility of follow-on "booster" packs ...

* a whole new foible for monty haul DMs.

Anonymous said...

... further comment, this system of yours would be *very* applicable to PC / NPC interactions within MMORPGs.

You may wish to consult with a local attorney regarding appropriate intellectual property protection, in case you later find interest in selling your concept to a large entertainment company.

That would be an example of selling to very rich people a thing that they find "useful".