Rickard: Forge games focused only on conflict scenes

From a comment by @Rickard in Please Help! with my Story Game design :):
A warning sign that I picked up from the OP was your talk about what the scenes were about. You can't focus only on the conflict scenes - you need establishing scenes too as a build-up for the conflict, and you also need scenes that takes care of the aftermath of the said conflict (i.e. more establishing scenes for another conflict).

Many of the Forge games missed this, and only build their structure of play around conflict scenes.

Also, check out While the World Ends that has an excellent structure/mechanic for this. There has been talk about the game recently.

Is there discussion somewhere about this being a problem, or is this just personal opinion?

I don't dispute that a lot of Forge games focus on conflict scenes, but I really have to question that those scenes don't handle the ramp-up and aftermath within the scene.

Comments

  • I agree with gist of Rickard's observation, as does "the Forge" - exploring the best ways to create advanced dramaturgical forms was and is an ongoing concern, particularly for the kinds of formalistic conflict-focused blood opera games Rickard means here. The first formal ideas on the matter, via various types of "intermission scenes", started to be introduced in the second wave of Forge games in 2004-05. Since then we've seen a wide variety of solutions, of course, including extreme variations like S/lay w/ Me where the entire gameplay process consists of ramping up to a single conflict per session of play.

    On the other hand, the particular kind of game that consists primarily of conflict scenes (Dust Devils is my emblematic favourite) does handle its own dramaturgy well, by being the kind of story, stylistically, that introduces situation and establishes conflict quickly (often within a single scene). Players do not, generally, find it difficult to accomodate the style of theatrical storytelling these games offer, which of course does not mean that doing things differently would be worthless.

    This style of design was popular early on, and games in this line have been developed regularly since then. The people who like them are generally speaking happy with the emphasis on relatively quick and straighforward dramatic arcs. I've been playtesting a particular fresh title (Tales of Entropy) intensively over the last year myself, and the magic hasn't really gone anywhere, I have to say.
  • edited December 2016
    I'd call that personal opinion. You don't "need" differentiated scene types any more than you need scenes at all. A particular design needs what it needs.
  • My feeling is more that if a game calls for a conflict-focused scene, that the scene also includes the ramp-up, the conflict resolution, and the denouement.

    @Rickard, I'm curious which "Forge games" fit your description. Which were you thinking of?
  • I've always interpreted Rickard's statements as pointing out a less-explored area of game design. (Which is something I definitely agree with.)

    I think that early Forge games zoomed in on conflict with laser-like focus because the designers were coming out of a culture of gaming where conflicts were, rather, avoided altogether (I had many such gaming experiences myself, and have seen people who played that way for years still carrying habits of conflict-avoidance, like a person I played In a Wicked Age... with who decided to be a bird, and would occasionally swoop in to steal someone's hat).

    Using dramatic theory, the design culture focused on Character, Conflict, and its resolution. Just like in fiction, it's a powerful tool, and very effective. For a culture of gamers coming out of a background of play which avoided or softened conflict and had no tools for resolving it much of the time, this was magical technology, and provided some fantastic gaming. (And, as Eero says above, it's still a great way to play!)

    In terms of the texts, I think there was a bit of a "fallacy in appearance": much like D&D is full of fighting rules, but a game of D&D will also have long talks in the tavern and the PCs chatting about whether their map is accurate, a lot of these Forge game texts were all about conflict, whereas the actual play of the game might have had a lot more room to breathe. (Much like how the reputation of "Forge games" is that they are for one-shot or short-term play, whereas if you look at the actual games, almost all of them assume a long-term campaign.) In other words, I don't think people actually played in this hyper-conflict-oriented way (although I've seen some people do it), although you could easily get that impression from many of the game texts.

    Conflict was, for a long time in the Forge days, perceived as central to story and game design. When those games came out, I remember people being really confused about why Apocalypse World had moves which did not address conflicts, or how Fiasco's dice could be used if they weren't to resolve conflicts. I remember Vincent writing about how the key to design was sometimes to *delay* conflict resolution, not to resolve it, and this was, at the time, a pretty controversial statement (to many). In a Wicked Age... was the first game text I remember reading which explicitly advised to stave off conflicts sometimes, keep them at bay, and "circle back later" (or something like that).

    I think that - to oversimplify grossly - people coming from a different culture of play (and, at least in rumour, mostly from Northern Europe) found this to be going overboard, as they had enough conflict going on in their gaming, and were, rather, interested in tools which created contemplative scenes or deepened simple moments. So, people coming from that perspective might have been surprised by the single-minded focus on conflict they saw (which, remember, was a reaction to lacking tension and drama in the last couple of decades of mainstream gaming) and might have looked to "fix" it.

    I very much like how modern designs are doing a good deal to incorporate elements from both extremes of the scale, and in different ways. We now seem to have games with hard-hitting conflict and other, slower, gentler, or subtler approaches all over the game design . scene. (For example, check out how, on the face of it, Monsterhearts' moves are all about in-your-face conflict, but, in practice, create a lot of subtle interactions which set the stage for confrontation later or just influence roleplay in little ways.)

    We'll have to see what Rickard has to say on the subject himself, of course.
  • It's basically what @Paul_T said: laser-like focus. The only thing that doesn't correlate to my opinions is that it's culture based: it's more a beef of mine, and I had to point this out to Swedish Forge enthusiasts too.

    In a Wicked Age, Mouse Guard, Fiasco, Zombie Cinema, Dogs in the Vineyard, My Life with Master, The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, Lady Blackbird, and also take into account that the scenario writing method "flags/bangs" is basically created around creating conflict in every scene. Some Forge games, with Sorcerer at the front, uses this method.

    To me, it's just different wrapping of the same thing, and it becomes obvious when people are playing ... and I play with a lot of different people because I nowadays only play on conventions ... when people are playing, and I can see how they sit there and trying to come up with the next conflict. It gets repetitive, for me, and after a while boring. I don't want to play a longer game with only conflicts (fights/bangs) as little as I want to play a longer game that only exist of another type of scene.

    That said; Mouse Guard and Lady Blackbird have mechanics to sometimes create non-conflict scenes.

    But I also noticed one thing when I played Black of Despair, White of Lust - a rule-light game about intriguing vampires - that the best stories were those who established the characters before the conflict scenes. Then everyone around the table understood why the conflict were important for that particular character, and why the player felt despair when having to choose.
  • edited January 2017
    I found an old post where I wanted the air this issue of mine. Here is the OP translated by me, and below is a link if anyone wants to Google translate the whole discussion.

    http://oldsite.rollspel.nu/forum/ubbthreads.php/ubb/showflat/Number/665178/

    ---

    I’ve noticed a tendency in indie games. Normal play, in all types of roleplaying games, happens through creating a story by playing different scenes. A new scene is created when time or room changes, like people going from their home to the pub or someone been on said pub for a couple of hour. Simply said, a change in environment.

    In most indie game I played, if not all, have an abnormal focus on The Deciding Roll. A scene is framed only with the thought to strive for that roll; NOTHING in the scene is allowed to happen before The Roll has happened and, when it happens, everything should explode, people should shout ”awesome”, and … everything dies out only to frame another scene with another roll. Because after The Roll, there is nothing more to strive for in the scene. The dice roll have been made; the story has taken its turn; time to move on.

    

And so it continues: new scene, dice roll. New scene, new roll, and so on. For me, it’s more repetitive than awesome. It annoy me and becomes a hindrance for the creativity I crave for, because people manically strives for a conflict in every scene. This is a generalization but still a clear tendency I noticed when playing indie games.

    It annoys me now when I’m reading Mouse Guard. Sure, I can see the point in striving for conflict because challenges are one part of what roleplaying games are about, but the whole game system in Mouse Guard are built around solving everything with dice roll. There are no finesse, only The Deciding Roll to show the way. For me, who don’t think of dice rolls as challenges, the whole thing seems pointless. Boring.

    ---

    Should be said that I played, and still playing, a lot of different games with a lot of different people on conventions. I can sometimes see how people stop for a moment to think about what could trigger a conflict in the scene so That Deciding Roll could happen. It creates a mental block.
  • This is pretty interesting, Rickard. I was thinking yesterday about how this might not be entirely a 'story game' issue.

    In other media, notably television, film, and novel-writing, there has also been a strong push towards central conflict and transformative moments in every scene. You can see this in modern successful films and novels, as well - it's a very effective formula, and it really works. It engages the audience and creates powerful emotions and strong, driving stories. That makes it a popular "formula" in all those fields.

    In those media, of course, there are also outliers who go against that trend. I thought about that recently after watching a Wes Anderson film; of course, many "independent" films in general will hew away from that formula and try to stand out by telling stories in a different format. Likewise for literature - many of our great works do not follow that kind of formula at all.

    I like the idea of promoting game design which explores all these different directions, as well. In our field - perhaps in a form of irony - it's the "independent" games which follow this kind of popular Western formula, not the "mainstream" ones (although the mainstream ones are focused on conflict in a very deliberate way, too - just that it happens to a particular form of violent conflict pretty much every time).
  • Ultimately this whole trend was just about fighting boring trad games where you have 15 minutes of fun in 4 hours; anyone for whom that wasn't a consistent problem isn't necessarily going to understand early Forge games' insistence on always driving play towards Conflict.
  • (That's an excellent point.)
  • edited January 2017
    In other media, notably television, film, and novel-writing, there has also been a strong push towards central conflict and transformative moments in every scene.
    It sounds good, but is it really so? We got David Mamet's three questions for a scene*:
    SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

    1) WHO WANTS WHAT?

    2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON'T GET IT?

    3) WHY NOW?
    But you have to remember that this is a formula made for TV with commercial in mind, where you cannot afford to loose the audience attention between commercial breaks.

    We got Freytag's dramatic triangle ...

    Freytags pyramid.svg
    ... but that one consist of scenes that not only introducing and leading up to a conflict, but also shows the aftermath of the conflict. That's not just throwing conflicts in every scene; it's establishing and contemplating too.


    * Note: Mamot is probably using the dramaturgic definition of "scene": a situation where something dramatic happens. So it's not the same thing as how we roleplaying gamers talk about scenes.
  • I feel like many early Forge games (PTA comes to mind) granted narration rights to the winner of a conflict, which I believe is how the falling action / wrap-up was supposed to be incorporated.
  • edited January 2017
    Freytag's pyramid refers to a play as a whole (specifically Shakespearean and Ancient Greek drama, which was divided into five acts) and not to individual scenes, so I don't think it's very fruitful to compare it to Mamet's scene questions, which I imagine are designed to help writers plan compelling scenes rather than to suggest a structure for them or for a drama as a whole.

    I agree with Paul_T that including conflict and change in every scene has become the norm in contemporary fiction. Certainly, if I were to write a scene that didn't advance the story into one of my scripts, it would be politely (or not-so-politely, depending on the production) cut. Every scene has to pull its weight: they cost money to film.

    The more mainstream the medium, the more likely conflict is to be included in every single scene. Here in the UK, the soaps rarely even use establishing shots!

    Sometimes conflict can be hidden in clever and delightful ways though... For example, the shawarma scene after the credits of The Avengers has a distinct three-act dramatic structure even though there's no dialogue. Go watch it again if you don't believe me. (Watch Tony.)



    Once a story is off the ground, you often miss out acts one and five (the BBC Academy trains writers to think in five acts) as act one was implied by a previous scene and act five will be included in the next scene. You get a sort-of spinning ball effect.

    I find Rickard's frustration with the repetitiveness of framing game scenes around conflict very interesting. I'm not actually very familiar with the specific games that are being criticised but the complaint makes perfect sense to me.

    When I'm writing a script, I have the luxury of exploring character and tone and setting and whatnot in my first draft - then I can incorporate the best of that material more tightly into the dramatic conflict and change for the second draft. But when I'm playing a roleplaying game, we a) don't have a unified artistic vision b) often don't know each other's or even our own characters that well and c) don't have the luxury of redrafting. I think the vibe is just to let go of a lot of a lot of the coherency we expect from a TV show and enjoy it for what it is - that's certainly what I do. I don't think I'd enjoy trying to force myself or my group not to have those flabby bits... improv is inherently messy.

    I wonder if some of the relentlessness of conflict-resolution conflict-resolution in these games comes from a mixing together of the ideas of 'dramatic conflict' from narrative theory and 'conflict' in its more usual sense to mean physical fighting or a tense argument?

    Or perhaps there's not a significant enough formal distinction between different levels of conflict? On a scene-level you might have one character petitioning for information from another and getting it, but that information is just one piece of the act-level conflict which is actually driving the story forward.

    Or maybe because there are fewer rules around character/setting/tone/humour it feels like you're not supposed to include them - the conflict part feels more important because it gets more mechanics attached to it?
  • Great post, empowermint.

    I should also add that the trend Rickard is describing is not, in my opinion, as entirely dominant as he is making it out to be.

    What do I mean by that?

    It is true that games which relentlessly drive from conflict to conflict are common and widespread, and were so particularly during the "Forge days".

    However, those games weren't the successful and popular ones. Out of the sea of "conflict-first" design, the most popular ones tended to include some balancing elements. The Shadow of Yesterday had pool refreshment scenes (which Lady Blackbird inherited), Dogs in the Vineyard had various fallout options which structured downtime somewhat, Apocalypse World has all kinds of rules which encourage introspection and quiet moments (like the rules for increasing your Hx), and so on.

    It seems to me that the most "wham-bam conflict-conflict-conflict" games, while very numerous, don't represent the most successful, popular, or visible aspect of the design sphere being described here.

    And, certainly, in the last few years, we've seen a huge interest in more introspective, slow-paced games like Archipelago, The Quiet Year, and others, like the wide spread of freeform or freeform-inspired games which are very visible in the indie RPG market at the moment.
  • I always just took "conflict" to mean the "meat" of the game, skipping the boring stuff. Not necessarily a fight, wether verbal or physical.
  • I always just took "conflict" to mean the "meat" of the game, skipping the boring stuff. Not necessarily a fight, wether verbal or physical.
    I think that technically has to do with tools/techniques revolving around aggressive scene-framing and aggressive scene-cutting.

    ( Note, I tend to like those tools)

    Use of those tools, to get to the meat in a scene based style of play, does tend to lead to a style of play that seems to endless jump from conflict scene to conflict scene, however.

    On the upside, it also tends to let you pack more exciting stuff into a shorter amount of time, since it cuts down on some very circular sorts of gaming ( endless discussions with no resolution while grubbing for a 3% cut in price with the local merchant, interrogation scenes that explore a minor suspect's entire childhood hoping for a key clue when all the main evidence has already been gained, utterly pixel-bitching every room and ten feet or corridor, endless Rube Goldberg-esque planning to knock out a pair of sentries, and so on).

  • Conflict is a really interesting thing in storytelling.

    For instance, consider how surprisingly engaging something like this is to watch:

    Ten Meter Tower (video)

    A lot of reality television is based on the same thing: it's interesting to see a person struggle, so long as it's something we can relate to, just to see what they will choose or how they will do.

    It's also interesting outside of storytelling. Why do we enjoy going to a sports event? Presumably, it would be to see athletes performing at their peak, experience the tension and uncertainty of success and failure, and to see exciting variations on situations you might have once been a part of.

    However, an "exhibition" game between two popular teams will not draw nearly the same kind of crowd as a competitive match, where victory is meaningfully at stake. Emotions get pulled into this process at a whole other level. Fascinating.
  • edited February 2017
    IIt is true that games which relentlessly drive from conflict to conflict are common and widespread, and were so particularly during the "Forge days".

    However, those games weren't the successful and popular ones. Out of the sea of "conflict-first" design, the most popular ones tended to include some balancing elements. The Shadow of Yesterday had pool refreshment scenes (which Lady Blackbird inherited), Dogs in the Vineyard had various fallout options which structured downtime somewhat, Apocalypse World has all kinds of rules which encourage introspection and quiet moments (like the rules for increasing your Hx), and so on.

    It seems to me that the most "wham-bam conflict-conflict-conflict" games, while very numerous, don't represent the most successful, popular, or visible aspect of the design sphere being described here.
    Agreed, which was an opinion of mine that started this thread:

    "A warning sign that I picked up from the OP was your talk about what the scenes were about. You can't focus only on the conflict scenes - you need establishing scenes too as a build-up for the conflict, and you also need scenes that takes care of the aftermath of the said conflict (i.e. more establishing scenes for another conflict).

    Many of the Forge games missed this, and only build their structure of play around conflict scenes."
    And, certainly, in the last few years, we've seen a huge interest in more introspective, slow-paced games like Archipelago, The Quiet Year, and others, like the wide spread of freeform or freeform-inspired games which are very visible in the indie RPG market at the moment.
    Not really what I mean with Forge games. I have no idea where to put (how to categorize) The Quiet Year, honestly, or any of Ben Robbins' very similar games for that matter.
  • Rickard,

    I'd love to hear your thoughts on the video I linked to, above. How does it relate (or not) to this conversation?
  • Burning Empires and the original version of With Great Power... both had explicit scene structures and rules for scenes without conflict as important parts of the game.
  • edited February 2017
    Conflict is a really interesting thing in storytelling.

    For instance, consider how surprisingly engaging something like this is to watch:

    Ten Meter Tower (video)

    A lot of reality television is based on the same thing: it's interesting to see a person struggle, so long as it's something we can relate to, just to see what they will choose or how they will do.

    It's also interesting outside of storytelling. Why do we enjoy going to a sports event? Presumably, it would be to see athletes performing at their peak, experience the tension and uncertainty of success and failure, and to see exciting variations on situations you might have once been a part of.
    You mention "conflict" and then three other things that is important within the conflict: relate to, uncertainty, and tension.

    When it come to the video, the first part begins with making you taking an active part. You have to paint the picture of the height; it's not shown to you. You also meet your own prejudice; there is more going on than just the conflict. Here is how I look at conflict:

    image
    https://plus.google.com/116235159947041206206/posts/7M2sZf1VWDj

    When you reached the sweet spot of a mix of participation and uncertainty, tension will arise. You participate in painting the picture, filling up the gap the director left you with, combined with the certainty of how the people will react in the video = tension.

    But the image above goes beyond pure conflict. You can create uncertainty in multiple ways, as well as participation. Railroading is normally said in roleplaying game discussions to have no participation, but good storytelling always make the audience active. Just like the video above made you fill in the gaps, just like good narrative structures like Campbell's monomyth or the Eastern Asian kishotenketsu: they make you think.

    Conflict is present in almost most Western narrative structures, but it doesn't have to be (The Man from Earth). Or the story can have conflicts in it, but the movie isn't about that; just like this three minute video shows:



    All you need is uncertainty and participation; and in this video above you get the latter from being able to relate. The video makes you think.
  • edited February 2017
    Also, mirroring occurs in Ten Meter Tower.
Sign In or Register to comment.