Cut the Pie: a dirt simple conflict resolution system

edited February 2008 in Story Games
So you have some characters interacting in your game (I have no idea what the rest of the game looks like). you get to a point where two characters or two players want different things. To resolve these things, play goes like this:
  1. One of the two players declares two possible outcomes for the situation.
  2. The other one picks which outcome actually happens.
That's all. But I think this construction would be much more interesting in play than it is to describe.


Now, if both players have equal authority and opposed goals, you might need a rule "You don't specify who gets what". So if two PCs are fighting over an ancient holy relic, you could say "One of us gets the idol, but they also are horribly scarred in the process, OR the idol is destroyed in the battle and no one gets it." But you can't say, like "I get the idol or you get horribly scarred" because that would leave a crappy choice for the second player. Possibly the rule could even be amended to be "you declare as many outcomes as there are characters in the conflict, but the other player decides who each outcome applies to."

The thing that interests me here is that it would encourage mixed results in conflicts. Like a kid slicing a cake, you want to make the smaller half as big as possible, which pushes toward evenness in results. So you get pyrrhic or bittersweet victories or losses where you gain something. And those are good gaming material.


The other situation where this would work is if the players aren't in any way confrontational. I can imagine a game like The Court of the Empress (or another game where one player's goal is to please the other player) that used a similar setup. The most benign of GM setups would be similar: the GM proposes two outcomes, and the player picks which one they want.

Actually, with a GM and a torturous game (a la My Life With Master or Paranoia) the GM offering two horrible fates for your PC and you having to pick which one happens could also be really cool.

Comments

  • As for those situations you've described where "it wouldn't work", I actually think that it COULD be made to work by adding mechanical reinforcement of some kind to the outcomes.

    I'm thinking of something like the "Trouble" meter mentioned in that other thread.
  • I'm really digging that "you declare as many outcomes as there are characters in the conflict, but the other player decides who each outcome applies to" idea. It really could work in a diceless game, and make really interesting gaming.
  • As somehow who abhors dice, this is a really sexy idea to me.
  • Fact or Fiction.
  • edited February 2008
    "I punch you in the face. Either you fly across the room and die, or your head comes off and you die. You choose."

    The cake slicing analogy doesn't work unless the stakes are decided beforehand, one player apportions success and failure, and then another decides who gets which share. I can see this being simple in theory, but complex in practice.
  • Oh, snap, fair division as conflict resolution! Hot!

    I need to think on this a bit (IE, not when I have to go to work soon), but you could even escalate it up to more-than-two players involved in the decision making process, especially if you figured out some way to 'trim' suggested outcomes, possibly in a manner similar to Polaris's "You ask far too much" phrase. It gets really complicated if you try to involve more than three players (ludicrously so for more than four) but I think that's a complexity worth exploring at least as a little-idea-experiment. I'll give it some thought at work tonight and post some thoughts in the morning, because I think this idea is really cool. (Fair Division is one of those concepts that has always really interested me, although I'm by no means an expert)

    Another interesting tactic might be something along the lines of "One person decides who gets hurt, short of death, and how much, by the fight, the other person decides who ends up with the idol" style 'divisions'.

    Unfolding that to involve three people: Come up with three distributions-of-narration-rights. Another player chooses the right they think is best, and weaken it such that they consider it a tie with the second-best right. A third player picks which of the narration-rights they want. The second player picks one, but has to pick the one they weakened if the third player didn't. The first player gets whatever's left over.
  • edited February 2008
    Posted By: Simon C"I punch you in the face. Either you fly across the room and die, or your head comes off and you die. You choose."
    Simon, I think it's more of a conflict resolution thingie (as opposed to task resolution). And with no specification as to who. So your example would be more like:

    We get into a fistfight. Choose: one of us goes flying across the room and dies, or one of us gets our head knocked clean off our body and dies.

    Which is a bad choice to offer the other player since they have little choice but to kill you.
  • But the system doesn't actually resolve who it happens to, so this is really a stakes-setting mechanic, rather than conflict resolution. Additionally, it's a stakes setting mechanic that only works when you're both trying to get the same thing out of the conflict.

    "I'm trying to get out of the prison cell"
    "I'm trying to keep you in there, so either no one manages to open the door, or the guards come and stop the fight - you choose."

    It's not resolving the conflict at all.
  • Posted By: Simon C"I'm trying to get out of the prison cell"
    "I'm trying to keep you in there, so either no one manages to open the door, or the guards come and stop the fight - you choose."
    Hmmm... yes, there would have to be rules about what kind of stakes you set. Like, this should definitely be illegal:

    "I'm trying to get out of the prison cell."
    "I'm trying to keep you there, so either a bird flys by and poops on someone's head, or someone gets bit by a mosquito."

    Like maybe there should be a rule that at least one of the options must lead to success for each party. Which can easily mean that they would be split one to one, or that one of the options could be interpreted to give success to either party.

    Example (with the prison cell),

    choose: whoever gets what they want has to kill a guard to do it, or the guards come and knock us both senseless.

    Now, I realize that the rule I added wasn't sufficient, the concept is still broken, but I definitely think there's something there.

    Interestingly to me, this whole idea, beyond reminding me a of a MtG card, is also reminding me of A Penny For My Thoughts. Two options, choose one.
  • You cut, I choose. Nice. Sort of outsourcing stake-setting for both sides of the conflict. I play in a group where the social gravity tends toward the bleakest, most dysfunctional and disastrous outcome, but with this setup that can easily be either self-corrected or happily accommodated.

    I can see all sorts of problems with this, but nothing that can't be overcome I suspect. I want to think about this some more. I'm already working on an idea that uses fixed ranking to determine success (I have Fight 2, you have Fight 3, you always beat me always), so this is particularly interesting.
  • Posted By: Simon C"I punch you in the face. Either you fly across the room and die, or your head comes off and you die. You choose."

    The cake slicing analogy doesn't work unless the stakes are decided beforehand, one player apportions success and failure, and then another decides who gets which share. I can see this being simple in theory, but complex in practice.
    I'd fix that by saying that this pie doesn't let you cut it in a way that puts the same outcome as a portion of both choices. So "and you die" can't be a part of both pieces, the way I'd use it.
  • I'd say that you don't get to state effect, just intention.

    I'd not use "I punch you in the face. Either you fly across the room and die, or your head comes off and you die. You choose."

    I'd use "I try to punch you in the face. Either I hit you and you counterattack me afterwards, or you dodge the hit but loose your balance."

    Compromise would be the key.
  • Posted By: Simon CBut the system doesn't actually resolve who it happens to, so this is really a stakes-setting mechanic, rather than conflict resolution. Additionally, it's a stakes setting mechanic that only works when you're both trying to get the same thing out of the conflict.

    "I'm trying to get out of the prison cell"
    "I'm trying to keep you in there, so either no one manages to open the door, or the guards come and stop the fight - you choose."

    It's not resolving the conflict at all.

    A) Like most Little Ideas, it is not fully functional yet, but could be with some work. So instead of pointing out ways it could fail, why not come up with ways it could work?

    B) Add a rule that says "the Conflict must be resolved in the stakes setting" or some such. So you want to escape the jail, and I want to stop you. When I frame the stakes, one of the outcomes must include you escaping and one must include you staying put. But I get to add complications to each outcome, to try to entice you to get what I want: "You escape, but in the process murder an innocent man and now are wanted for a more serious crime, versus you stay put and your lover is set free." Maybe your freedom is worth that to you, maybe not, maybe your lover's freedom is worth more than your own. I don't know.

    C) The game might very well need strict limits on when a PC can be killed. So you can only kill PCs in the endgame or something. This isn't really a problem, since it's desirable to not kill the other characters early on in most games and leave a player with nothing to do, anyway.
  • I think keeping this task-y is a bad move.

    "you're going to kill my dad or marry my sister."

    One thing I really like about the pie-cutting is that it doesn't matter who cuts and who chooses.
  • If this can be made to work, I think it would be nearly ideal for Amber.
  • Posted By: Simon C
    "I'm trying to get out of the prison cell"
    "I'm trying to keep you in there, so either no one manages to open the door, or the guards come and stop the fight - you choose."
    See, under my proposed variant where you are distributing the right to choose outcomes in certain areas rather than the outcomes themselves, you would need to divide it into "One of us chooses whether or not the escape attempt is successful, and one of us chooses X", and if you want to get out of jail, you obviously need to make X something they consider important enough to choose that instead, and if you want to keep them in jail, likewise. So, for example, X might be "how the public reacts to the escape attempt", so the person choosing will effectively be selecting between "The prisoners escape, but are reviled by the populace and a city-wide manhunt is underway", or "the prisoners fail to escape, but news of their plight reaches the city-folk and massive protests are staged."

    Which is fun in that, if you're willing to risk your character's life for some goal, you CAN just go "One of use chooses whether or not X is successful, and one of us chooses who lives and dies." In which case, if the other person definitely wants to keep their character around, they'll choose the latter option, which means you can succeed at the task, although it may be at the cost of your character's life. Of course, if they're willing to give up their character's life to stop X, you're in trouble. But that's the nature of having multiple people willing to risk their lives for something.

    I also like how your choices of options don't necessarily have to have any causal relationship. "One of us decides whether or not the escape attempt is successful, and one of us decides who the princess realizes she's fallen in love with."

    That said, one important thing to decide: Who gets to cut, who gets to choose? I'm half tempted to say the initiator of any action needs to offer to another player: "One of us gets to cut, one of us gets to choose."

    Or you could just use something like "Say yes or cut the stakes".
  • Posted By: Benhimself<
    See, under my proposed variant where you are distributing the right to choose outcomes in certain areas rather than the outcomes themselves, you would need to divide it into "One of us chooses whether or not the escape attempt is successful, and one of us chooses X",
    That's really good. That might be the way to go with this idea.

    That said, one important thing to decide: Who gets to cut, who gets to choose? I'm half tempted to say the initiator of any action needs to offer to another player: "One of us gets to cut, one of us gets to choose."

    Or you could just use something like "Say yes or cut the stakes".
    In a game with a GM figure of other uneven apportioning of authority (like a Polaris type game) you could assign it by the roles of each player: "The GM sets stakes, player decides which" would be how I'd go with it for the first playtest in a GMful game.

    In a more even GMless game, you have someone propose their action, and someone else objects to it. Then one of them sets stakes and the other chooses. My intuition is to have the objector set stakes and the actor choose, but I'd want to playtest both options.
  • Why does that need to be mandated? When we were kids, my brother and I sorted out who cut and who chose pretty well without a rule about it. That bit of negotiation could actually be quite interesting.
  • Yeah, the best thing about fair division is that it actually DOESN'T MATTER. If you "cut" evenly, you should be happy with either piece you get. If you choose, you get the piece you think is the best one. Either way you get at least half (in your estimation) of the goods being divided.

    Of course, this is founded on the assumption that narration rights are a perfectly divisible good, which is probably flawed, but hey.
  • Posted By: Benhimselfnarration rights are a perfectly divisible good
    It's an intriguing assumption. I can't quite figure how it'll work in play, but it's an easy thought experiment to test.
  • RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE

    So a hypothetical thought refining my earlier ideas in this thread: this idea could actually work really well with an Otherkind-style mechanic. Instead of rolling dice and assigned each of them to a Danger, you divide the dangers into two groups, the other player picks one and decides if each of the dangers in that group comes to pass or not, and you get to decide if each of the dangers in the other group comes to pass or not. Thoughts?

    Maybe there's a roll-off to determine who gets to "cut" and who gets to "choose", so to speak?
  • This all somehow brings Gauntlet of Fools to mind.
  • Man, I was reading this thread and my brain was wailing at how much like Otherkind this was.

    Also, what if: you go around the table of players involved in the conflict. On each player's turn, they can either split the cake (introduce some pair of possible at-least-sort-of-opposed outcomes), or they can take a piece (resolve one pair of outcomes that a previous player introduced).

    In the simplest case, I offer two reasonable options and you choose which one happens. But say I haven't addressed what you think is an important aspect of the conflict (or I've phrased things so that the two pieces are equivalent and thus you don't care), so instead of choosing one, you add a pair of things that make me (or the next player in a multi-party conflict) think harder about what we want.

    Does that work or is there some flaw?
  • I used the initial idea here as part of my Game Chef game from that year. It did well in the contest part of GC, but when I actually playtested it, it fell apart. Probably because I was putting too many restrictions on what people could narrate as part of resolution. (YMMV, it reportedly worked for a group of Italian players. I eventually revised the game to something I'm happier with.)


    The basic "cut the pie" idea might be salvaged, though, by tweaking the parameters of decision making. Increasing the overall "Otherkind-ness" of the mechanic might help.

    Maybe something like this: When you attempt to perform a task, we define 4 possible outcomes. Then the acting player and the antagonist player take turns taking control of potential outcomes until the active player has (character skill level, between 1 and 3) outcomes under their control. If an outcomes is under your control, then you get to decide how it turns out.

    I'd want to dress that basic idea up with some other mechanics. (Dice would make it basically Otherkind. An auction or resource management minigame would be interesting as well.)
  • I used this method pretty much in my epistolary "play by email" game I came up with. Essentially, after you write your entry in the story, you offer 5 "chapter titles" to the next player. The next player had to choose one as their motivation for their next entry. But since they were chapter titles (there are rules centered around how many words you could use), it left a bit of interpretation for the player to use.
  • Take a step back into the meta: "Frame the scene or craft the choice." How far back can we go?
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