The Nature of Conflict

Posted: May 11, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games

Whenever a GM has to consider conflict in a game, it becomes crucial for them to consider the nature of the challenge that the players will face.  By “nature” I don’t just mean whether or not it’ll be an Orc, or a Dragon, but how the challenge will be able to present an interesting sense of conflict without being boring, or commonplace and be able to achieve a given goal.

See the fun part about any sort of conflict in a game (or in fiction) is how it affects the characters.  Just as a short guide, here are a few questions I usually ask myself when I plan an encounter

  • What is at stake? – Without having something at stake, there can be no conflict.  Whether money, reputation, health or influence, conflict happens when someone stands to gain something, and another party chooses to oppose the former.
  • Who is involved? – Conflict at its most basic involves at least two parties, even if it is just one person wrestling with his conscience or against the elments.  However, there are certain larger scale conflicts that involve multiple parties which have various things to gain.  Knowing these parties ahead of time will help a lot when planning out a challenge.
  • How do I up the ante? – Conflict is interesting, but sometimes to get the Players really on the edge, it becomes necessary to up the ante.  Monetary loss is one thing, but the threat to their prized collection of gear?  That will get their attention very quickly.
  • How do I make winning / losing interesting? – The one thing about conflict is that you’re doing it a disservice if you don’t follow through.  Whether the Players win or lose, the outcome must be interesting.  It’s good to remember that no matter if the Character wins or loses, if the outcome is interesting and most of all, fun, then the Player wins.

Therefore, my approach to planning challenges is to make sure that the conflict is meaningful in the sense that what is at stake is something that is important to the Character, while having an option to up the ante, and with interesting results no matter if the character wins or loses.  If this sort of conflict helps reveal something about the nature of the Character (such as his morals and values) then I consider it a winning challenge.

  1. Hikkikomori says:

    Just as long as the Players follow through as well.

    And not just leave the hook hanging after being knocked down.

    • sheimauren says:

      Players will generally have ADHD. and will go for the other hooks without completing the resolution to his/her current plot hook since most of the time people don’t have the same idea of hook resolution.

      ie. Save village; half the village is killed but structures and one half are still standing… Mission accomplished. Next hook.

      Upping the ante is intersting though sometimes it tends to divert character concepts, and focus them… too much:
      ex. Tick tock men.

      and making winning or losing interesting?… “it’s never too late”

      So while conflict makes the game interesting, escalating it quickly will often drive the game up a wall faster than anything.

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