Conflict!

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Conflict is a turn-based system, originally conceived and produced by Alexis Smolensk, organized according to the ‘round’ system in D&D. In any given round, a speaker relates his purpose to one or more listeners, which the expectation of causing them to yield to the speaker’s position. The purpose might be anything: who gets the larger piece of cake, who should stand aside and let the speaker pass, who should join the speaker to go attack the goblins, who should give the speaker a few coins out of charity, who should offer the speaker a lift and so on. In any situation where the speaker’s purpose works in opposition to the listener’s purpose, a conflict results and the system comes into play.

The system is intentionally flexible and open to interpretation, both by the players and the DM. The spirit of the system should be adhered to, but losers are not magically compelled to obey the winners. For example, the speaker cannot go up to a listener, demand a thousand gold pieces, roll a die and expect to have it handed over. In the first case, the listener probably does not have a thousand gold pieces, and even if the listener were ready at just that moment to go get it, after a few minutes the effect of the system would wear off and the listener would come to his or her senses.

As a general guideline, the listener is willing to accept the speaker’s purpose provided that the speaker’s purpose does not seriously tax the listener’s life, liberty or happiness. Asking someone on the street for a few coppers is hardly a risk to the listener’s happiness. A thousand gold pieces would be. I believe that most referees would be capable of drawing the appropriate line for their campaign, and that they do not need to be delivered into a straightjacket.

What is more important about the system is not what the player can force others to do, but what others can force the players to do. D&D does suffer from player-immunity to the trials and tribulations of life. Players are not forcefully affected by the sad eyes of little children, they are not affected by patriotic fervour for a kingdom’s well-being and they are not intimidated by things like class, loyalty, privilege and so on. Players can normally scoff at such things and throw them off without a moment’s hesitation, when of course their characters would have great reason to recognize their responsibilities or their fears of other persons than themselves. More than anything, the system is intended as a hazard to play, to restrain low-level characters from having anything they want, while rewarding play and adventures undertaken by the players in the course of a campaign.

Part the first: One on One

AN EXAMPLE OF PLAY

I think the best approach would be to provide an example of play and then to later go back and explain the various elements, one by one. This way the big picture can be understood, so that the individual details can be fitted in and understood as well.

Let us therefore imagine two persons having a disagreement. Let’s call them Caleb and Danielle. The might both be players, they might both be NPCs. It does not matter.

Both have a group of cards which have come to them according to various exploits they have accomplished, or characteristics they possess. We shall come to this in time. Both wish to make the other understand. Like any D&D combat, they roll initiative to determine who speaks first.

Let’s say that it is Caleb. He has, altogether, five ‘Purpose’ cards. Two of these cards are ‘Action’ cards, and three are ‘Modifier’ cards. He must choose from what he has in order to change Danielle’s mind.

For the sake of the example, Caleb’s action cards are ‘Persuade’ and ‘Jest.’ He can attempt to persuade Danielle to his point of view, or he can make jokes, cause her to laugh and thus give in out of consideration.

Caleb cannot both persuade and jest at the same time. In any particular round, he cannot use more than one action card at a time. He must choose between them, or choose not to use an action at all (bear with me). Whichever action card he does choose, however, he can adjust that card with one, two or all of his modifier cards.

For the sake of the example, Caleb’s modifier cards are ‘Beauty,’ ‘Able-Bodied’ and ‘Land.’ Rather than explaining specifically how Caleb obtained these cards, let’s have a look at them.

We can tell something about Caleb’s personality. To begin with, his charisma has to be 12 or higher in order for him to possess the first three cards. Secondly, at some point he got into combat and successfully caused 12 damage or more to a foe. Finally, he’s a free landowner.

Let me pause here and point out that there are five kinds of Purpose cards in the game: the two kinds shown here, ‘Charismatic’ (supposed to be purple, but looks awful pink on blogger) and ‘Status’ (blue); and three others, those being ‘Intelligent’ (yellow), ‘Aggressive’ (grey) and ‘Wealth’ (orange). There are both action and modifier cards in every category.

The reader will please note that if Caleb’s charisma is 12 (and we’ll say that it is), either his jest or his persuade cards will give him a +1, as will his Beauty card. He would get more from them if his charisma were higher. If his charisma were only 10 or 11, he would only possess the persuade card. If his charisma were less than 10, he would have none of these cards.

I will break down the cards later. For the moment, note that either action card will ‘Influence’ others. This is to say that the card may be used to positively (non-aggressively) convince listeners to fall in line with the Speaker’s desires.

Going back then, Caleb may decide to use either of his action cards. He may then choose to use 1, 2 or all of his modifier cards to increase the bonus he receives when beginning his attempt to resolve his conflict with Danielle.

There are reasons not to use all his cards, but let us say that he does. He wants Danielle to go walking along the lane with him, and so he uses his persuade action modified by his attractiveness, his able body and his material wealth. In the roleplaying sense, Caleb would say, “Oh, Danielle, don’t you think it would be just a great good time (persuasion) if you spent time with a good looking guy like me (beauty) along the road near my property (land)? I’ve got some wood chopping to do (able-bodied) and I could use the company.”
I could be more subtle here, but I’m making a point so the last thing I want to be is subtle. Hopefully, the reader gets the idea.

Now, Caleb has to roll against Danielle’s RESISTANCE. This is something everyone has to hold up against the arguments and propositions actioned by other people. For the purpose of the Conflict game, EVERYONE has a resistance of 10, regardless of their circumstance, abilities, level or any other imagined superiority. Resistance is 10, no more, no less.

Caleb rolls 2d6 against Danielle’s resistance, with +4 on his die roll. He compares the result against the following table:
Conflict2.PNG
This is a fairly simple table, and is made simple on purpose. No attempt has been made to assign a specific response to a specific number, because the exact response should be left open to the referee’s discretion. For example, it would be possible to describe grades of ‘insulted’ to the various numbers between 2 and 6, but this would then straightjacket Danielle’s possible responses. If Caleb were to roll a 2 on 2d6, indicating the insulted response, then the referee should then be allowed to have Danielle’s response fit the actual suggestion of Caleb’s words, where role-played above.

Before I can cover the possible responses, I must address a word towards the ‘Intimidate’ column. While influencing is soft peddling, intimidation is out-and-out threatening, throwing one’s weight around and so on. Caleb has no action cards that give him bonuses to intimidate, but it is still possible for him to do so. Intimidation is the negative, flip side of Influence. If you will remember, I stated above that Caleb could choose not to use either of his actions. He could, instead, choose to express himself in any way that he wishes, waving his arms about and yelling at Danielle – only he will not receive bonuses for that. Still, he could wish to frighten her for some unforeseen reason.

IF he did not want to use an action card, he could still use one of his modifier cards. However, the rule is that if Caleb does not use an action card, he cannot piggyback multiple modifier cards together. He can only use one of them.

The reader will please take note. It is not required for Caleb to use any of his cards. He can still, in that event, roll 2d6 with the intention of either influencing or intimidating Danielle. This is very, very important, as will be recognized later on.

Very well. Let’s go back to the Response Table.

An ‘Insulted’ reaction can vary from relatively passive aggressive responses such an unwillingness to answer or simply walking away, to loud and violent responses such as shouting, brandishing weapons, threatening the speaker if the speaker does not go away and so on. A character who fails awfully with a monk in a monastery should expect a different insulted reaction than a guard defending a fortress.

The Insulted reaction is, in any case, the complete refusal of the listener to listen any further to anything the speaker has to say from that point forward. The speaker has only one recourse – and that is the employment of a very specific Defence card: ‘Fortitude.’

I have not yet spoken about Defence cards. These are cards in the deck which serve either the situation described above (the ever-important Fortitude card) or which serve to increase the Resistance of the listener. I will speak more about the second type soon. First of all, let’s have a look at the Fortitude card:

In effect, at the moment Caleb finds that he has insulted Danielle, he is able to ‘bring her back to the conversation’ by his perseverance. It is as though he made his suggestion, where upon she responded with, “What do you take me for!” Caleb would then answer with his Fortitude card (if he had one), saying, “No, no, please, you misunderstand me!” And Danielle would be mollified enough to continue the conversation. Otherwise, she would speak her piece and storm off, and the conversation would be over right then and there.

Now, from the Response Table, the ‘Indifferent’ response. This is nothing more than having neither succeeded nor endangered the ongoing discussion. The attempt to persuade (with Caleb’s three modifying cards) simply doesn’t work.

The ‘Accepting’ response is simple enough: Danielle agrees. She’s not necessarily overwhelmed by the suggestion, but she’s willing to at least walk along the road, as long as he doesn’t change the program along the way. If he does … well, we’ll take that up later.

‘Friendly’ would mean that Danielle sincerely wants to go along with Caleb’s suggestion. The reaction itself suggests that the two of them have now become friends in fact, and that as long as Caleb doesn’t actively do something against Danielle’s continued existence, he can expect to receive a +1 bonus to all future conflicts with Danielle. Note that it does not mean that Danielle also gets a +1 … she must earn that herself, when it is her turn to try to convince Caleb of something. So far, we are still in the first half of the first round of interaction between them.

‘Accommodating’ would mean that Danielle wants more than just a friendly walk; she has grown deeply attached to Caleb. Note that he has only a 1 in 36 chance of succeeding at this, and only IF he uses all his influence over her. The response indicates that he gains a +2 bonus with all future conflicts he has with Danielle (this is not cumulative with the +1 bonus from friendship).

Finally, ‘Infatuated’ would clearly mean that Danielle has fallen in love with Caleb. He can’t quite receive that yet, but perhaps by piling up a few other bonuses, and perhaps increasing something important about himself, he could ‘win’ her love at some future point. The bonus at this point would become +3.

If Caleb were to attempt to intimidate Danielle for some reason, threatening her if she did not come with him perhaps, then the responses are potentially different.

‘Insulted & Angry’ clearly means that a deeper, more violent response would be expected should this result occur. Spitting in Caleb’s face, perhaps, or striking at him. It is important to note that at this point in the conflict, a combat could immediately break out, as Danielle strikes him, rolling to hit and causing damage. This would be Danielle’s round, and Caleb would then be free to attack back … or possibly step back and use his action card ‘Jest’ to break the tension. As such, an encounter could consist of combat and talking back and forth, depending on how each participant decided to play their actions and modifiers. The Conflict system is intended to work simpatico with the D&D Combat system, and not necessarily indifferently towards it.

‘Fearful’ would, again, indicate Danielle’s willingness to comply with Caleb’s wishes, only now she would be fearful and would likely attempt to run away at the first opportunity. In any case, Caleb would not receive any future bonuses with her, as she would not want to be in his company after this at all (though she might not be able to free herself, and she would be ‘fearful’ … and therefore willing to let herself be led away).

‘Obsequious’ would, in this case, indicate that she wanted to please Caleb to keep him from hurting her, being too fearful to run away. She might try to speak with him to get her way (her turn is coming), but she would accept him in her life. A long-time obsequious person might ultimately become a toady, accepting their place in life – but that would be up to the discretion of the referee. Note that in a long-term relationship, with intimidation and influence, Caleb could conceivably build up both a +3 bonus in dealing with Danielle, in addition to her being both obsequious and loving towards him.

Hah! Show me the interactive mechanic that accounts for that!

Sorry, I’m starting to enjoy this.

Now, whatever the response, Caleb must temporarily discard the cards that he has used. He has achieved all the influence he can with them – if they did not work the first time, they won’t work in the future, and if they have worked, he has the result already. My standing rule is that he could use the same actions and modifiers with Danielle the next day, with regards to something else, but he must change something about himself, or with her circumstances (convincing her father, say, to speak to her, which would be a different Conflict), before he has any chance to roll again.

Now we can talk about the other kind of defence card. Let’s say that Caleb rolled a 6; with his +4, this becomes a 10, which would overcome Danielle’s resistance. Except for her defence card:
Conflict4.PNG
It so happened that as a young girl, Danielle nearly died of a disease, which was circumvented by the local physician arriving at the last hour, hurriedly throwing together the ingredients for a potion, and feeding it to Danielle as she started to slip away. There was perhaps a 1 in 20 chance at that point that she would survive … but survive she did. And ever since she has always felt a certainty that she was spared for some great purpose. A greater purpose, in this case, than taking a walk with Caleb past his stupid land just to watch him chop wood.

Defence cards do NOT need to be played unless it is absolutely necessary … that is, if it will actually apply in the listener’s favor. There would be no point in Danielle playing the card if Caleb had rolled a 4 on the dice, right? In this case, Danielle increases her resistance to 11 … or to think about it in terms of the Response table, she forces Caleb’s roll down to a 9. She remains indifferent to him.

Caleb’s round is over. Danielle must also discard temporarily her ‘flirt with death’ card, as it has had as much influence over Caleb as it can. Danielle must now look over her cards and select an answer to Caleb.

Whatever those might be, let us put that all aside and assume that she has put together an action and modifiers for that action. We can imagine that she wishes to wheedle something out of him, or that she simply wants him to go away. But she has rolled her dice, and was unable to overcome Caleb’s resistance (which is, of course, also 10). She, too, got the indifferent result. Now we can return to Caleb’s situation.

He has used all his cards, now, except for his Jest card. He has no modifiers for it. It gives him a +1 modifier, which means at this point he will need a 9 rolled to overcome Danielle’s resistance. He tells her she’s cute when she’s all full of herself and everything (reference to her use of the defense card), and makes a silly face and does a quick funny dance. He rolls a 9, as it happens, which means that Danielle laughs. She shrugs, and says, “All right.” They’re not friends yet, but maybe the next day he can try again, offering to do a favor for her or some such (but not asking her for a walk). That’s how courting works, after all. He can always find a way to get another card, which would enable him to jest about different things, and that might win her heart.

Part Deux: 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.

Part 3: Man Vs Crowd

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.

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Conflict!

Empire's Foundation Greenbeard