Passionate Game Design

Sorcerer Unbound: The Nature of Conflict

I’ve encountered some people who seem to be under the impression that Sorcerer uses task resolution rather than conflict resolution. Sometimes this is because of the lack of techniques like stakes and sometimes this is because of the scale of resolution such as resolving a single whack with a crowbar. Stakes and scale do not conflict resolution make. Sorcerer does not use the term conflict resolution because The Forge theory had not yet settled on that phrase to describe the technique.

Conflict resolution means that the system operates at the level of resolving conflicting interests between characters. We only need to identify that the interests of two or more characters are in conflict and have the resolution in some way sort those interests to have conflict resolution. We don’t even need to articulate what the interests are and the interests in question can be of any level of granularity.

Example of Unarticulated Interests

A character in a bar starts getting flirty with a girl who clearly seems to be nervous about the man’s attentions.

That’s all we need to call for a Will vs. Will role in Sorcerer. We don’t know what the man wants from the woman exactly. It could be sex, information, just generally endearment. We don’t know why the woman is so nervous, maybe she’s gay or has an abusive boyfriend. We don’t know yet. All we know is that the man seems to want something and the woman seems unwilling to give it. We can establish more detail after the role decides who gets his or her way. No stakes. No goals.

Example of Small Scale

The man wants to sweep kick the legs of the woman who is about to shoot him. Clearly this is just a single moment in a much larger evolving situation. But it’s still a conflict and not a task because we have the incompatible interests of two characters. Note that we also have four possible outcomes. The man sweep kicks the woman whose shot goes wild as she falls. The woman shoots the man preventing him from kicking her. The man sweep kicks the woman but her shot lands against him as she goes down. The woman side steps the man’s kick which causes her shot to go wild. Again, notice that we have no idea what the larger scale situation is.

Contrasted with Task Resolution

A man needs to jump over a fence while chasing a woman. The fence is not a character in this situation. The man is not in conflict with the fence, he’s in conflict with the woman. To resolve the jump over the fence does not resolve the interests at hand. The fence is a complication on the conflict of the man trying to catch the woman and the woman trying to get away.

Now because there are no stakes and because conflicts can be of very small scale the result is that situation and character agenda can turn on a dime without much thought or articulation. Let me slightly reward the previous example. A woman wants to shoot a man and he wants to take the gun away from her.

After a SINGLE die roll:

The man could be bleeding from a wound as the woman menacingly advances cocking back the hammer for a second shot.

The man could be bleeding while holding a gun on an unarmed woman.

The man could be uninjured holding a gun on an unarmed woman.

The man could be prone after having just dodged a bullet.

All four of these situations are RADICALLY different from one another. I don’t know of another system that results in such RAPID changes in logistics after a single application of the mechanics. Notice that character agenda could shift immensely from the beginning of this conflict to the top of the next.

Consider that at the top of the conflict the woman could have been all about exacting revenge and by the end she might be all about begging for mercy. At the top of the conflict the man could have been trying to be sympathetic and open but by the end might decide that negotiations aren’t an option and she needs to be taken out.

Now keep in mind that the Humanity definition looms over all of this and you’ll see that the system is CONSTANTLY creating shifting opportunities for Humanity gain or loss – even mid-“combat” as unit of situation morphs into unit of situation.

Another point of confusion is the role of “helper” rolls. These can also feel like task resolution because they don’t really resolve anything at all. An example of the helper roll is the book where the character with Martial Artist Cover rolls that and then rolls over any victories to his primary Stamina roll. Another example might be rolling Lore against the Power of a demon to discover a weakness.

The reason these aren’t task resolution is because they only make sense in the context of an actual conflict. A character can only ask if his Martial Artist Cover is relevant if something else is at hand to be relevant about. Same goes for looking for the demon weakness. These rolls are a STEP in the conflict resolution procedures. They are not the resolution themselves.

I think people have difficulty figuring out when to use helper rolls. The purpose of these helper rolls is to eliminate GM Fiat when the answer to obviously relevant questions would VASTLY alter the nature of the situation. Think back to your GMing history and remember all the times a player would ask something that would require a judgment call on the part of the GM. I know these situations always made me uncomfortable because I knew my answer would greatly sway the momentum of the situation. I think some people who have been GMing for a long time have learned to shoot past that unease and make a snap judgment. I never did and now the Sorcerer rules mean I don’t have to.

Consider the situation where the player asks, “Hey, given all my knowledge of Sorcery do I know anything USEFUL about this demon?” That’s a damn good question and even if I made a judgment call we still wouldn’t know just how useful it is. The rules give us both. Roll Lore vs. Power. Roll the victories over to an action relevant to whatever it is it turns out you know. This is the idea behind the Past rules in Sorcerer & Sword. “Hey, I used to be the captain of the guard can I round up a few guys to go storm the castle?” Again, that’s a damn good question, make that Past roll. No fiat required.

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