Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Alive and feeling better, and life is moving pretty fast.  Yesterday I got a call from an old contact who is offering me the possibility of steady work as a television screen writer.  Long time since I did any work like that ... but since it would be for a reality show, I believe I'm up to it.  One little hold up - the series hasn't been sold yet.  Ha ha.  I had you all going to for a few seconds.  Still, I'll be working off and on at the proposal in the next few weeks, so that's one more happy busy thing on my plate

I feel bad about not updating the Wiki.  It wasn't just that I didn't have the energy to post anything, I didn't have the energy to format anything either, not all weekend - when I usually do it.  Assuming my health doesn't take a downturn, I'll gather stuff up for next Monday.  It's no big deal, I know ... given that I intend to work on that project for a long time.

I ran Saturday night while sick - never one of my favorite things - and had some troubles with the first game test of the interactive system.  Before the gentle reader switches off here, let me quickly say that I intend to reveal a few more of the guts of the idea in this post.  I've been playing it close to the chest, but having it copyrighted now I feel more confident talking about it in a general fashion.  The name of the system is - tentatively - Conflict!  I like the name; I haven't found any other product the name conflicts with (pun!), but for the present it is only a working name.  I have been able to copyright the idea, but to copyright the name I have to spend a bunch of money researching it.  I trust none of those reading this will run out and steal the name ... but no matter.  It will cost a couple of thousand dollars for them to do so, and I will simply conceive of a different name.

Overall, the test was a success, with the players first being stumped by the learning curve before starting to see the potential benefits.  Once that door was opened, things got better immediately.  The trick, as I see it, will be to somehow explain to others how it can be played in a rule book.  It would be easier if I could just visit everyone's campaign for an evening, but not very practical.

The first problem that arose was predictable.  Conflict! leans very definitely on the benefits of having a high wisdom, intelligence and charisma.  Low scores in these stats will cripple a would-be roleplaying character to the same degree as a low score in strength, constitution or dexterity would hamper a combat-focused player.  Just as an 8 dexterity would make it very likely that your player would fail to make three successful leaps from pillar to pillar, an 8 wisdom would mean that your player would probably find it impossible to take part in further dialogue after the first round.

Naturally this started a spirited debate around the table, as those players with poor interactive stats became quickly disenchanted with the system strictly on their inability to take part.  The reality that someone with poor stats probably wouldn't be able to express themselves in a real conversation had to be acknowledged, but since virtually everyone who plays D&D has a high intelligence and wisdom, being forced to be handicapped by those things on account of stats made it VERY hard for normally talkative players to be 'knocked out' of the conversation in the early rounds (usually, the first round).  Since there's never been a limitation to those things on this scale - the roleplaying game as it is usually played just ignores low intelligence/wisdom for play purposes - this makes it a very hard sell.

Understanding, however, that it works beautifully.  We played several round table mock conversational games, including the party characters talking to each other using the system, and talking to NPCs using the system, and in the end when the idea was embraced things got legitimately exciting.

The premise works thusly: the player has a set number of 'actions' that are accumulated from the character's stats and choices.  These are modified by characteristics, achievements, status and both good and bad behavior.  Additionally, there are a number of defenses against the actions of others, to keep oneself from being either won over or put off by the opposition.  The interaction thereby compels others to respond according to the circumstances in which the conflict occurs.

For example, a mock circumstance was created in which the party was marooned on an island, and were found there by a pirate captain.  The party needed to win over the captain in order to obtain passage, and to encourage the captain not to kill them.  The captain, in return, decided during the conversation to attempt to win over members of the party to become part of the captain's crew.  Those party members with low wisdoms were quickly won over ... which is to say that they're stats made them particular subseptible to the pirate's argument.  The steadfast party argued their own companions down; and were quickly able to win over the pirate's agreement in just a few rounds.  Result: they were given passage.

Now, in a game, the system would not specify that the captain would do this for free.  Some things must be above the system, and be subject to the DM's consideration.  The pirate would insist on a certain going rate for passage ... but would, provided the party did not create trouble, not block them from getting on board the ship.  What we didn't do - but what would be part of the game - was to set up the ten or twenty interactions that would have to go on between the party and the crew, some of which might anger crew members (angering opponents is a part of the Conflict! system also) before they got to port.  We didn't do this, because I am still working out certain details of the system - that is what game testing is for.

The last practical test I did for this last running was to divide the party in half and have the two halves attempt to convince the other about leaving or staying in a dungeon, while roleplaying the various actions as indicated by the system.  This was the success I mentioned.  In a four-on-four argument, two were quickly passified, one switched sides, the arguments were offered and ran out, leaving two people on each side without any "action" left.  They had tried reasoning with each other, persuading, frightening, lying, and hautily informing one another, only to arrive at loggerheads, every argument tried.  The system allows for this to happen; at this point, the two pairs rolled dice for five minutes (2d6 at a time), in the game equivalent of shouting at each other, "You leave!"  "No, You!"  "No, we're staying, you leave!"  ... even roleplaying this as they rolled.  Finally, one side, the one with fewer defenses, surrendered without being beaten, since it seemed impossible for them to win.

Some feelings were hurt in the evening.  Some anxiously disliked the results.  Some were met face to face with inadequacies in their characters they'd never considered - or had to consider - before.  No one actually found these issues a problem with the system.  It was only the emotional discomfort that comes from having cold water thrown on a previously embraced ideal.

When a system can force players to reassess their character's motivations, I know I am on the right track.


shlominus said...

sounds really great!

2 questions:

how many cards are we talking about? if i have an average int/wis/cha character with a small number of "achievements", how many actions/defenses will i have?
3? 5? 10?

will a seasoned adventurer with high int/wis/cha have such a huge number of cards that using them might slow the game down?

Alexis said...

Typically, most people have 2-6 actions; technically, you can have as many actions as you want (unlimited), but you only get bonuses on 2 to 6, depending on your stats.

As you gain cards, the tendency is to add them to your actions in bigger and bigger bundles ... so the more cards you have, the faster you will use them. As for defense cards, the tougher your opposition, the more defense cards you'll have to use to fend the other off. We did wind up with one person having quite a few defense cards at the end, but that was luck - she hadn't had to use one because the die was regularly in her favour.

The Happy Whisk said...

Hope the job works out well for you. I had heard Hulk Hogan once say that is show had lines for them to do. I never knew that. I thought they just tapped them doing whatever it is they do. Anyway, hope the job works for you and you have a lot of fun doing it.

Alexis said...

Thanks Whisk ... but we must keep in mind that having the opportunity to pitch a television show is somewhere in the same category as getting excited about being allowed to join an office-wide raffle. Chance of winning: 1 in a thousand.

SupernalClarity said...

I must say, Alexis, I think this is the first time in ages that I've been genuinely excited about a new role-playing product. There are so many questions churning about in my head now, but I know it would be prying too much to try and ask them all. I'm pretty sure I can content myself to wait and have all explained by the final product, though.

I wish you the best of luck with your continued play-testing!

The Happy Whisk said...

You could be that one, though. Fingers and toes crossed. Just pulled out a batch of brownies and the house smells oh so yummy.

The Jovial Priest said...

Anything that redeems the dump stats (wisdom and intelligence) and explains charisma as not just beauty - raises exciting possibilities. Can't wait. From what I have read I would use immediately in my campaign. I hope I am right in thinking it's your intention to market your system as an add-on for use in D&D and other similar RPGs, not as a stand alone game?

Arduin said...

It looks like it's gonna be good. Can't wait for the tests in the truly out-there situations; one man trying to convince his lynch mob to lay off, or something like that.

Great to see it's coming along in line with expectations.

Alexis said...

Yes Jovial, it is definitely a mechanic for RPGs. Someone might someday figure out how to make it a stand alone game, but that's not my intent.

Sigilic said...

Started to write a lengthy screed on your misuse of the legal term "copyright", but best summed up as: consult with a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property.

Alexis said...

That is very patronizing, Sigilic. What do you know about what lawyers I have or have not consulted? Do you have some special knowledge about my activities?

I say the material is copywritten. Did you expect me to scan the legal documents and post them online to satisfy you?