Conflicts Within the Group

Yes. Have them. Cultivate them. Fiction is largely based on conflicts. In roleplaying games, where we don’t really see the bad guys that much, the conflict, to be interesting, has to largely happen between the PCs.

Now, I don’t mean all games have to devolve into the characters killing each other (as it so often happens in our oneshots), but instead, it can mean all sorts of conflicts. Holmes and Watson are in a constant conflict over Holmes’ drug use. Bones is often in conflict with Spock over his detachment from human emotions. House is usually in conflict with both his superiors and underlings over methods and ethics.

The hallmark of a good, modern RPG is the ability to resolve these conflicts. The tendency of the player, understandably, is to make up his or her mind and stick with it. This will result in conflicts that will needlessly drag on and become unproductive. Therefore, we need a system to keep these conflicts fluid and natural from the point of view of the story.

You do see Watson commenting on the drug use, but they don’t argue over it for pages on end. That’s boring. It certainly helps the story, giving both characters depth, but putting emphasis on it would change the whole nature of the narrative.

Lets use House as an example. We have a rogue genius, who generally finds the answer, although there certainly are deaths (although, those who die are generally poor people, so no worries there (that was sarcasm, in case you didn’t realize (there also seems to be and underlying theme of sexism in casting choices))). Now, lets say player A plays Chase. Chase doesn’t generally oppose House played by player B, but lets say in this case he does.

There’s some word play as both parties make their case. In the real world, this would often go nowhere and might lead to an extended argument. Noone wants to see that in a game. (Also, we probably don’t have enough expertise to believably convey the part of the doctor very long, but that’s beside the point.) We need to know a conflict exists and we need to resolve it, even if only (and usually only) temporarily.

So, what does player A do to resolve a conflict with player B in his favor. Well, player B can always pull rank. He’s the superior in this case and can therefore force player A to do whatever he wants. This isn’t interesting. Of course player A should have some recourse. After all, conflicts aren’t interesting if they always end one way.

Different games approach this differently, but the good ones do have systems in place so that player A can win. It might (and probably should) cost him something. He shouldn’t win always or even half the time, but he should be able to win. This all should be a natural part of the gameplay. It might require some learning, but once you get there, its great.

Most of you have probably seen Platoon. (If not, spoilers ahead. And where have you been during the last quarter of a century?) Watch it again and think about how the system of your choice could handle all the different conflicts, which happen between the groups, within the groups and an so-forth. Think about what happens within Elias’s squad after his death. Some (including the main protagonist, Taylor) want to kill Barnes, but Rhah stops this from happening. Could your system allow for someone to defuse the situation in such a way?

What happens right after is that Barnes comes in and confronts them. Again, its Rhah who talks Barnes out of killing Taylor (although I’m a bit hazy on this). Again, would your system allow for this?

I think a good system not only encourages conflicts, it encourages quick resolution and has at least some randomness to provide unexpected results. Its the players (and the GMs) job to explain why this unexpected result happened.

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