Conflicts Escalation Theory 1611

The story of Mandy

Imagine the following situation: Mandy, the monster hunter has entered the village. She wanted to get some help from the villagers for her noble quest. After a short - and unsuccessful - barter she has decided to improve her chances. She was going to kill a monster skulking around the village to convince them to help her.

High-spirited Mandy has went to the village hall to get information about what she is facing. The clues about the nature of the beast pointed her towards the werewolf. Knowing the werewolf is vulnerable to silver she has prepared the crossbow with the silver bolts and went out there in the middle of the day to prepare a trap. She has managed to find a place where the werewolf usually roamed and she prepared an ambush in the trees, which she camouflaged.

During the night Mandy was waiting in the trees and - eventually - she has noticed a werewolf. When the beast came closer, she hit him with the silver bolt. However, the monster was much stronger than she expected; after a short fight, Mandy, forced to get down and fight in melee, has managed to cut his throat with the silver sword. Even if werewolf was ambushed and even with all the preparation Mandy has done, the werewolf has managed to wound Mandy.

Now, imagine Mandy went to the dark forest unprepared and not knowing what she is facing. It is quite likely that she would get slaughtered by the monster.

High level mechanics: circumstantial and equipment bonuses

What happened in this example is the conflict resolution system of this role-playing game. As you can see, the result is quite believable. Mandy is a trained monster hunter. Even then, before she went to the forest to handle the monster, she researched what she is facing and adapted her weapons to maximize the success. Afterwards she prepared an appropriate trap.

In terms of mechanics this means that Mandy has had the equipment bonus and the circumstantial bonus.

The equipment bonus represents having any advantage in terms of equipment and resources in the situation. It is silver weapons facing the werewolf. It is having sword and armor and fighting someone with the sword only. It is knowing what the history teacher's pet topic is while preparing for the oral exam.

The circumstantial bonus is having a tactical advantage over your opponent. It is striking from the ambush. It is having enemy immobilized. It is enemy being wounded and having problems with sleeping.

Origami club madness

Let’s apply this same approach to the different domain. Kenji is a president of the origami club. The origami club is too small and is in danger of being closed, so Kenji is going to make a speech in front of the large audience to convince some people to join the origami club.

Kenji is a good speaker. However, the audience is not really interested in an origami club especially with computer games club nearby - with a pro gamer to add. This puts Kenji in unfavourable position. So even if Kenji has some practice in public speaking and even if he rehearsed for several days, he doesn't have much chances. So he tried to create the most complex and amazing origami figures AND even he prepared some videos showing world-class origami.

However, during the speech he wasn’t able to move enough people. His speech was good and some people joined the club – but not enough. He has even pleaded to them directly, losing a lot of dignity, but it wasn't enough - the last three people he had to get to meet the quota he had to pay from his own pocket so they would join.

High level mechanics: escalation

Once again – a very difficult situation, where Kenji failed to impress the audience using his skills alone. The equipment bonus – the videos and rehearsed speech - weren’t really enough to convince people to join him.

However, Kenji has managed to keep his club even if it seems that his actions failed. How did this happen?

Esther, a prototypist, was invested in the thread “origami club fails and Kenji needs to find a way to reopen it from scratch”. Keith (an engineer controlling Kenji) was invested in the thread “Kenji manages to keep origami club afloat”. They made a conflict, Kenji’s presentations skill (with secured equipment bonus) against the difficult audience and Keith lost.

But Keith really wanted this story thread to succeed. So Keith escalated – he said that Kenji is going to throw away his dignity and plead directly begging for more people.

Esther accepted - she can use that later to improve Kenji's rival - and granted Keith a reroll. The second roll (first reroll) also failed. So Keith has decided to escalate again by paying the resource – in this case money.
Kenji is going to pay people to join his club to compound the shame.

Esther accepted (when some Origami Club members learn that SOME of them are paid and some are here for fun - a small storm is expected) and granted Keith another reroll. This time Keith succeeded.

So Keith has managed to get his story thread implemented but at cost of people remembering how he was squirming publicly and at cost of some resources (where both of those sacrifices open new potential story threads). What happened on the level of fiction - you have already read.

And back to Mandy, the moster hunter

An escalation happened to Mandy too. Martha, Mandy’s engineer was invested in some other story thread and to progress that thread she needed those villagers' help. So she had asked Nathan, the prototypist, to create a monster terrorizing this village. Nathan did not conflict that – he did what Martha asked him. So Martha has created a new story thread, a small diversion, allowing her to win the villagers trust.

Martha is invested in the story thread “villagers want to help Martha”
Nathan is invested in the thread “Martha has to pay villagers to get help”

So if Mandy manages to defeat the monster, villagers are going to trust her. They will help her. But if she doesn’t, the monster will hide and Mandy will have to pay for help (maybe even more, because the monster may be enraged now; depends on the stakes of the conflict - more on that in different article).

Martha had Mandy chat in town to get the information on the type of opponent is facing – and she heard "a werewolf".
The problem is, Martha doesn’t really know what the werewolf is weak against (she isn't a lot into fantasy). But Mandy kills monsters professionally so she should know that. Therefore Nathan told Martha cheerfully that the werewolf is vulnerable to silver. Martha declared that Mandy prepares her silver sword and bolts. Nathan did not conflict that. It is Mandy’s job. She has proper tools at her disposal.

Martha has secured the circumstantial bonus for Mandy (ambush, waiting until the monster is in position) and the equipment bonus (silver against werewolf). However, a werewolf proved to be a very dangerous opponent (and Martha rolls horribly low numbers with dice). She lost the roll, so she escalates – she wants to kill that werewolf (doesn't accept the story thread "werewolf runs away"), and sacrifices having Mandy wounded by the werewolf during the fight.

Nathan accepts and grants Martha a reroll. This time the roll was a success and a werewolf was slain, at a cost of Mandy's wound. As a consequence, villagers are going to help Mandy.

Why are those mechanics here?

The mechanism of generating equipment and circumstantial bonuses promote active player behavior. The players are trying to create sections of the world or explore a part of the world to get those bonuses. And the mechanism of escalation protects the core story threads - those story threads which are the most important for the players, because the engineers are always able to sacrifice something not to lose something very dear to them.

This also means, that some things are going to be lost and it is almost impossible for every single test to go exactly as every player wants. This means that by transferring the resources between players using the escalation and sacrifices every person sitting at the table has some chances to implement a part of their vision into the story.

Also, this creates lots of tiny little potential plots and story threads from every conflict which can be picked up by both a prototypist and engineers.

In other words, losing is a feature here - it creates the shared, varied story. Successes usually close some doors, but losses are what create those doors. And the results of the tests are not binary – they are usually quite interesting because of all the decisions and sacrifices.

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