Systems That Drive Toward Inner Conflict

edited March 14 in Story Games
I've been thinking about this quote:

“The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself”
― William Faulkner

While I think it's overstated, I do really enjoy narratives that hinge on inner conflict. What I'm wondering is what systems drive toward this kind of play. I have a few initial examples but I'm interested in hearing more.

Burning Wheel Beliefs: The player announces what their character believes and the GM presents situations that challenge those beliefs or puts them into tension. Inner conflict occurs when PCs must choose one belief over another, or when a belief proves untenable after a change in circumstances. Most of the game mechanics and systems are about giving granular detail to the circumstances, but I think the core of play is the drama from conflicting and changing beliefs.

Follow: Players choose a shared quest, something they individually want from the quest, and something they need from another character. Most of the conflict is interpersonal (our reasons for being on the quest don't line up) but there is also the opportunity for inner conflict. My priority is X, but I also need the approval (or love, or tutelage) of someone whose priority is Y. The inner conflict arises from whether I care more about the relationship or the quest. Similarly, if another player (or circumstance) presents a way that I can fulfill my agenda without the quest (the mercenary finds a quicker way to get rich), I have to decide whether my commitment to the quest has extended beyond my personal agenda.

Of course, I think people bring this into a lot of other systems, often with little support. What I'm thinking about is systems that consistently bring inner conflict to the core of play.

Comments

  • edited March 14
    Well, inner conflict is usually about two shitty choices.
    Hillfolk offers a bit of a acknowledgment to inner conflict, and so do Keys from TSoY.
    In Hillfolk, player characters have poles, two sides of a personal theme.
    Maybe A Dirty World and Dust Devils too?

    I don't think games are great at this. It get's a bit much if every protagonist has their own on-going struggle, that has it's own system of transformation(clock), penalty and reward.

    It's a shame there isn't much for supporting characters.

    How great is system at anything? Moderately? At best?

    Well, a system that offers no resolution would be best at keeping tension. A sense of resolve is rare in story.

    I brought up supporting characters because it's a necessary part of a story, and it's really ignored in rpgs, and it needs to be palpable to stoke inner conflict. If there's just one person trying to stoke the fire, it's gonna be hard, but if a few more players, on the same side, it'd be a hell of a lot easier. I'm sure larps have done this.


  • edited March 14
    Like in fiction, there's temptation, usually on both sides. It's often highlighted with supporting characters.

    To have that be just another hat for one person, it seems weak and complicated.

    Let's pretend we're playing an episode of M*A*S*H, what player's job is it to give the complication weight, importance, seriousness? Traditionally, I know the answer to this, but it'd be sure better if other players were involved.
    Luck's supposed to sell the emotional weight of this crisis?
  • Well, inner conflict is usually about two shitty choices...

    Like in fiction, there's temptation, usually on both sides. It's often highlighted with supporting characters.
    I think inner conflict is usually about two imperfect choices. How shitty those options are likely depends on genre. I think campaigns that have gone poorly for me have had an element of moving goalposts for inner conflict.

    I can think of an AW game I ran where my MC-ing structure involved the formula:
    -Show why you should be invested in A.
    -Show why you should be invested in B.
    -Make A and B incompatible.

    Some of the players 'bit', but most only cared about surviving and exploring, so the potential points of conflict kept whiffing. They knew anything they cared about would be compromised, so they ended up trying hard not to care.

    I think the answer to this is in BW's Beliefs and Follow's Wants: the player chooses these priorities themselves. The GM doesn't have to tempt them with priorities and the player doesn't have to go along with character motivation they're not committed to.
    Let's pretend we're playing an episode of M*A*S*H, what player's job is it to give the complication weight, importance, seriousness? Traditionally, I know the answer to this, but it'd be sure better if other players were involved.
    Yeah, I think both these systems cover this to varying degrees. Hopefully BW players make beliefs that conflict with other players. For Follow, unaligned Wants are baked in to the system.
    Luck's supposed to sell the emotional weight of this crisis?
    I don't think so. With Burning Wheel, maybe. The element of luck in resolution means that you're committing to something that might not work anyway. I think that adds to the emotional weight in some cases, though the handling time likely deflates tension elsewhere.

    I think of the element of 'luck' in Follow as carrying some of the weight for plot twists, when a betrayal happens, so players don't have to plan those out ahead of time.

  • The Mind of Margaret is a (very good) game about a person's conflicted emotions.
  • @Caroline_Hobbs That's a new one for me. I look forward to checking it out.

    I had thought about adding Downfall to my examples actually, since the hero's rebellion is always at odds with their relationship with the Pillar. Inner conflict abounds.
  • Ultimately, Sorcerer is about inner conflict made apparent via speculative fiction devices that seem to externalize it. Lots of games followed into this path...
  • edited March 15
    @Rafu This helped me realize a distinction that I also shared in the Gauntlet Forums.

    This is my tentative attempt to organize systems based on their support for meaningful inner conflict.

    Conflict within a character is entirely internalized, with multiple players representing different aspects of the same character’s inner life:
    -The Mind of Margaret
    -Bluebeard’s Bride
    -Initiations in Dogs in the Vineyard

    Inner conflict is symbolized externally as an outside force controlled by another player:
    -Demons in Sorcerer
    -Demons in Dogs in the Vineyard

    Inner conflict is a layer of interpersonal conflict, where character drives are explicit and incompatible, but are only made visible through interactions with other characters:
    -Burning Wheel (Beliefs)
    -Follow (Wants)
    -Downfall (Rebellion and Anchor)
    -Hillfolk (Drama Scenes and Dramatic Poles)?
    -Smallville?
    -Good Society?
    -Trophy?
  • I'm running My Life with Master for the first right now, and finding it extremely interesting to play. The structure of the abusive Master and the way the rules force the Minions to obey him/her/it definitely portrays an inner struggle on the part of the Minions, although it's quite different from some of the other examples in this thread.
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