Monday, June 20, 2011

Conflict No. 1: One on One

I shall begin by saying that all the material that follows in this post, the comments of this post, and additional posts written on this subject, are copyrighted according to the law. All the necessary actions have been taken to ensure this. While I myself have no intentions at this time to turn a profit from this, I should like to give warning to others that if you wish to lift this material for the purposes of selling it, you do so at your own risk.

Secondly, I’d like to say that while I could probably explain this system well enough for the reader to play it in ten minutes, it is harder to explain everything that applies in text. The system is easy to play, and fairly easy to understand ... but there are a number of ins and outs that make it complex enough that it takes time to fully explain.

What’s more, the order in how to explain it has baffled me for many weeks. I had not entirely worked it out to my satisfaction in attempting to create a rule book. Thankfully, the blog is more fluid a medium, with the opportunity to answer questions and make clearer matters where they are unclear, than static text. So I think we shall do fairly well.

Next, I wish to point out that the system was intended to be used in association with original Dungeons and Dragons and AD&D, particularly with regards to ability stats equalling from 3 to 18, classes and ‘name-level.’ I have no doubt that the modifiers could be very easily changed to appropriately fit other systems, even non-D&D systems such as Traveller or the Masquerade ... but as they stand now, they have been tailored for D&D.

Finally, if I could ask the reader to please take note that many things which may occur to the reader as alternatives are most likely things which were tried and discarded once it was seen not to work in play. May I please emphasize that more than thirty players, many of them long-time players, have had an opportunity to put in their two cents. No part of what follows has not been arranged haphazardly or without due consideration. I suggest that you consider first the system as a whole before rushing to make changes to it.

I am fairly confident I won’t be able to complete the whole description with one post written at one sitting, so expect further posts along these lines as I write them. I shall write as many posts daily as necessary to completely reveal the whole system.


Conflict is a turn-based system, 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.


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.

Please, forgive the image’s bleed. I couldn’t get rid of it for blogger.

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:

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:

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 defence 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.


This is getting up past 3,500 words, and I am reaching my limitations for the day. I hope this begins to show the potential of the system. Tomorrow I will start by explaining how this system works among crowds of people, and following that I will start on a run-down of all the cards and how they are obtained.

Considering the various comments about money and sales that were put up on the previous post, I would hope the gentle reader could please keep such in mind over the next little while.  I have contacted those people who contributed money to the project thus far and have taken steps to return their money.  If you are someone who has not been reached, please contact me through email at or leave a comment.  If you have not made a contribution, but considered yourself willing to buy the game when it came out, I wouldn't mind a contribution / donation if you are willing.  I leave the matter in your hands.


ADD Grognard said...


Just wanted to make certain you were aware of the relationship between games and copy right.

This is the rules concerning games:

This is the reason why I haven't posted any 'meat' yet on my Forsaken Souls blog.

(and this does look pretty interesting. Stick with it :)

mike said...

This work you have done is too good to just give away. It is elegant and seems to work seamlessly within AD&D. I hope you will reconsider and delete this post.

lior said...

This is great great stuff. In your last post you wrote that you are questioning the value of this work because since inventing it you've played without it and did not miss it. However, I suspect that a lot of player groups will find your cards very enriching and facilitating.

And maybe - I don't know you or your group - by play testing your cards your game evolved in such a way that the original problem (which apparently you used to have before) is now no longer an issue? Maybe your cards are (for you at least) a learning tool more than a permanent device? And if so, isn't that plusplus awesome?

My vote: publish!

elrics said...

This is _wonderful_. If you do choose to publish it commercially, I will buy it in hardcopy and PDF. If you are determined to give it away, please accept my thanks for not keeping it to yourself. Cheers, and can't wait to see the rest!

Alexis said...

elrics, I am determined to give it away. So figure out how much you'd be willing to buy it for and donate the money.

ChicagoWiz said...

Fascinating system. I'd like to see the whole thing before really digging into it and commenting but one thing jumps out in my head... players are going to be a lot more cautious around NPCs. These cards become their AC/weapons and players need to make sure they manage them carefully.

I'm not sure what to say about your decision. I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things here after a vacation. I respect your decision and glad the experience was a good one.

elrics said...

"Alexis said...

elrics, I am determined to give it away. So figure out how much you'd be willing to buy it for and donate the money."

I will do that very thing. Thanks again.

James C. said...

I'll be donating. I was going to buy before anyway. First, it appears as though I've got some catching up to do. Damn Alexis, I was feeling all good about myself for finally getting one blog post up and you go and do three.

Arduin said...

I'd like to hear if this system is seeing play at your table still, Alexis. It's been seeing a bit at mine still, and we've been enjoying it quite a bit.

Just wondered how she's held up and expanded over the past two years for yourself and your players.

Alexis Smolensk said...

After the initial thrill wore off, my offline party voted to stop playing with it. My online party could only see ways to weaponize it, so I ceased fighting with them over it.

Arduin said...

That's a disappointment.

If you were to go back and do it again (not that this is likely), what sort of things would you want to fix, I.E. what caused your groups to set it aside?

Was it a matter of polish, or were there inherent issues with the framework? Is that something that could have been improved?

I'm trying to grasp weaponization, but mostly the only "weapon" I can think of is accumulation of a ton of bonuses to sway lots of 0-levels. I thought this was the point, the counter being other super-bonused individuals.

Ah well, it was a hell of a ride when it was being made, that's at least certain.