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Tension and Escalating Conflict Mechanics

Shimeran

Registered User
Validated User
Here's another set of ideas for a system I'm working on. Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.

Tension Mechanic

I've been looking at ways of setting the difficulty level for conflicts and I've been toying with the following approach.

When the player suffers a set back they build up "tension". This resource can spent to get lucky breaks or saved to make the results of victory that much sweeter.

The thinking here is the more obstacles and penalties the player has to power through, the harder the conflict probably is.

I'm thinking of letting both sides use a similar mechanics. Basically, both sides can use tension to skew the results after the battle is over. The winners can use tension to boost the pay-off while the loser can use it to escape or leave behind complications for the winners.

Upping the Ante

I do want special characters like PCs to have an escape option. Perhaps I'll make it:

If you get this this point you can surrender and be guaranteed survival. You can keep fighting past this point, but you risk death in doing so.

I may just expand this to a mechanic where if a side faces defeat they can keep going, but they voluntarily raise the penalty if they fail. Does Dogs in the Vineyard use a similar mechanics?

Escalating Conflict

I'd like to set things up so completing minor challenges provide mechanical support to the climactic conflict of a story arc. Figuring out how to do this has actually been a big stalling point on this project.

I could set it up in a pyramid like structure, where you need x lesser changes to get a greater challenge and y greater challenge to get the peak challenge. It seems workable but potentially a bit rigid. Does burning wheel do something similar to this?

Another option I'm considering is letting both sides build up "momentum" in challenges. More momentum lets them trigger bigger event with one of the top events being the climactic conflict. I'm thinking it might work almost like a racing mechanic. Perhaps the first side to trigger it gets to set the terms. This might create and interesting dynamic where you can trigger the final conflict as soon as it comes up, but if you wait you have more time to build up awards. On the other hand, if you wait too long you opponents can trigger it instead and set things up in their favor.

If I did this, I'd probably also want some find of randomizing or hidden element like card resources so the trailing side has a chance of surging ahead and taking the lead occasionally.
 

brahnamin

Will GM for Beer
Validated User
I'm not a big fan of metagame gimmees, like action points, because it kinda kills immersion and, honestly, if the player knows he has an out he won't necessarily feel quite as much of that tension you're talking about.

There should be an in-game reason for a character to be able to do something.

But that's me. YMMV.

One mechanic I've heard of but never used is the idea of saving successes. This idea works well in dice pool (or any other Margin of Success) mechanic. Basically, when you roll, you need to succeed by X amount but you actually succeed by Y amount. You save the difference between (Y-X) and apply them to future successes, or spend them to buy an extra dice or a bonus to your roll or whatever.

Some systems that use this only let you save the extras on critical successes.

If you wanted it to mimic rising tension, you might let players collect these bonuses when they fail a roll and only let them spend them in really high tension moments where they really NEED to succeed. So they collect them as tension rises and spend them for climax.

If you are not using a MoS mechanic you could simply give out one for each failure.
 

Broin

Fish Cuckoo Artichoke
This all sounds pretty good, and well worth messing around with.

Yep, Burning Empires has a mechanic whereby minor achievements turn into major changes in the setting.

Another nice example of tension and escalation is a game I'm helping develop - Hell for Leather. It uses a Jenga-style dice mechanic. There's YouTube videos and everything.

The Shadow of Yesterday has a nice mechanic where if a PC fails, they can revisit the action and break it up into an extened resolution called Bringing Down the Pain. In Dogs, you can call on extra dice by opening up a new arena of conflict - fighting, gunfighting, physical and social. If things look bad in a gunfight, you can start insulting. If things are going bad with an insult, you can go to the guns...

Me, I find some of these mechanics assist immersion, as I can rest easy knowing some random roll isn't going to throw my character under a bus.

Joe.
 

Shimeran

Registered User
Validated User
Thanks for the lead. I checked out Burning Empires. It's got an interesting mechanic but I'm sure if it's what I'm looking for.

After mulling it over, I'm thinking more along the lines of letting the players choose "awards" that lead to bigger conflicts. For example, a possible award could be a clue or lead on where the big bad went or who's really behind what's going on.

On another note, I recently set up a blog to help keep track of these ideas (http://dancingchimera.wordpress.com/). I'm thinking of cross posting ideas as they pop up and writing up summaries there. I'm starting with the emergent character idea I posted earlier and plan on working my way to these ideas. Any problems with me posting new design ideas here as they come up and coordinating things though that page?
 

Broin

Fish Cuckoo Artichoke
After mulling it over, I'm thinking more along the lines of letting the players choose "awards" that lead to bigger conflicts. For example, a possible award could be a clue or lead on where the big bad went or who's really behind what's going on.
Is that really a reward? Don't the players have to find out what's going on anyway?

Have a look at Trollbabe. It has a very simple and flexible system where the players can choose to change the scale of the overall conflict - from personal to community up to a national level.

Any problems with me posting new design ideas here as they come up and coordinating things though that page?
Problems like what?

Joe.
 

Shimeran

Registered User
Validated User
Is that really a reward? Don't the players have to find out what's going on anyway?
I'm planning on using this in the emergent character game I mentioned in an earlier post (http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=489681). It's a game with shared narrative power. Basically what I was thinking is the winning of the challenge gets an opportunity to raise the stakes on an upcoming challenge by setting up leads about it ahead of time. This build up of info and stakes can then culminate in the final conflict of the adventure. That way not only do you get the feeling everything lead up to that, but it will also be the highest stake challenge of the adventure.

Have a look at Trollbabe. It has a very simple and flexible system where the players can choose to change the scale of the overall conflict - from personal to community up to a national level.
Nice, thanks for the lead. I'll have to check that out. It sound like the kind of raising the stakes mechanic I'm looking for. I just want to set it so winning lower stakes opens up higher ones.

Problems like what?
I mainly just want to make sure do that doesn't bother anyone. In retrospect I can't really say why it would, so maybe I'm just being paranoid. I'm taking my first steps towards actually writing and publishing game material so I'm a bit nervous. :eek:
 

Broin

Fish Cuckoo Artichoke
Everyone writes and publishes in different ways. Some community sites are useful for a certain kind of feedback, others less so. There's a lot of blogs out there, and some crosspost to Buzz or Twitter. There's still plenty to be explored - don't feel nervous.

You should definitely look into some indie games out there, particularly when you start describing 'emergent character'. Or, before I get ahead of myself, can you tell us about your influences?

Joe.
 

Shimeran

Registered User
Validated User
Thanks for the support. It's mostly the conversion from notes to product that's looking a bit overwhelming, but that stage is a bit off yet.

I've posted the emergent character idea on the Forge and got a lead on EPICS which I'll be checking out. On the blog Universalis, Shadows of Yesterday, and FATE have been mentioned. I think I have about half of those laying around somewhere, so I'll be reading up on those.

As far as influences go, my own started with the D&D boxed set, followed by the old Street Fighter rpg and other products by White Wolf. Since then I've picked up variety of games including FUDGE, GURPS, Torg, BESM, Theatrix, and a lot of titles from both private sites and rpg now. I've grabbed more than I can readily recall, but I've only really got to play a handful of them.

As for the influences of this project, it's actually horribly mutated from it's original form. It started while playing Champions of Norrath when I thought over how strange it must seem in world to have people walking around who only grow stronger by killing enemies and how that only seems to apply to "monsters", not npcs. That mutated into a the "hero who become corrupt as they absorb monsterous essences" post. That layed dormant for a while and popped back up recently as "how do I model the classic arc of the 'save the world' plotline". From there it's mutated into it's current form of "support escalating conflicts" and "support fast character creation, easy swapping of characters, and a tell it as you go playstyle".

Hopefully I answered you question without getting too rambly. :)
 

Shimeran

Registered User
Validated User
I've posted an intro to the game on my blog (http://dancingchimera.wordpress.com/). I'm reposted in here as I think this helps sum of the play style and feel I'm going for. I'm also curious if there are any topics you folks would be particularly interested in hearing more about.
Game Intro.

The seeds for this system came from reflecting on the classic “save the world” style plot. Those stories start small with most impact limited to a personal or local level at best, but by the end of the arc the stakes have grown to include huge portions of the known world. This sort of increasing stakes seems to parallel the classic dramatic arc with it’s rising action, climax, and falling action.

I want the system to support this kind of arc. At present, I plan to do this by having later conflicts build off earlier on. That way the highest stake conflicts are the ones with the most connections to previous events and plotlines. Worked out fully this should create an “everything has lead up to this” feel in the peak conflict of an adventure or series.

To follow that dramatic arc, I want a system that plays fast and loose, with a more descriptive emphasis. I’m looking at things like emergent characters to speed up character creation and make them more flexible and adaptive. It also ties in nicely with the narrative feel of other elements as you don’t know about character traits until they’re brought up in play.

I’m also looking at techniques where all players can contribute to scenes and plots, as well a flexible approach to changing and controlling characters.

What’s Next?

Next post I’ll go over a specific part of the system and how I’m thinking off handling it. I’ve listed some possible topics below, so let me know if there are any in particular you’d like to see. Feel free to ask for topics not on the list as well.

Sample Topics:
  • How are scenes set up?
  • How do you create characters?
  • How do challenges work?
  • How do you link challenges to each other?

Also, If you’d like a name for the project let me know. I’m holding off on final naming until it’s fully fleshed out, but I can slap in a temporary name like Crescendo or Rising Action in the interrrim.
 
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