Avoiding "Conflict Cascade"

I have now run two sessions of Torchbearer, running the Dread Crypt of Skogenby with two different groups. Both really enjoyed the session, but both times I ran into what I am calling “Conflict Cascade” at the end, because coming up with fancy names for things is fun. It sort of looks like this:

I will try to avoid adventure-specific spoilers.

Players encounter a powerful enemy, possibly one who has a few friends along.
Players try one solution, leading to a conflict type, let’s say “convince.” They players lose to the powerful enemy, and get a condition, let’s say afraid, and the enemy is now physically hostile.

Players respond to physical hostility by trying to Drive Off the enemy. Weakened by fear against an already powerful enemy, They lose this conflict. Things get worse.

Players now attempt to Flee, but they lose this conflict …

It goes on. We get a series of failed conflicts, one leading to another, as the party gets weaker and weaker, but it’s never a decisive “kill” conflict either. They know they are outmatched. The repetitive conflicts just get boring after a while, too. It feels sort of silly starting a new conflict every few minutes when they lose the last one.

This is probably just a case of me not making the fiction of losing a conflict decisive enough, but I am wondering where the proper line is. I’m not allowed to kill the players with a non-kill conflict, and pitting them into a situation where they must choose kill in order to escape is sort of the same thing as just deciding to kill them. For instance, they fail a flee conflict and end up cornered / trapped.

When the players encounter a nasty monster and lose an initial conflict, what’s the GM move to keep them from entering this kind of pattern?


Conflicts can be pretty decisively regardless of it being a Kill conflict or any other kind.

A drive off conflict can as well end up in “You cannot go back to the goblin cave without taking a dozen arrows to the head”. Also remember that you are the one who calls for Conflicts, you might as well rule it as a single test if you don’t deem the situation worthy of a more detailed following.

In the example you gave I might have left it at the Drive Off conflict. The don’t need to Flee since the have been driven off. I could also make them test a single Health test to lose the remaining pursuers, maybe giving away the Exhausted condition and having them flee without further twists, spending turns and “subtly” pushing for them to make a camp, if I’d wish (but I would probably just left it at the Drive Off).

It’s your call.

Stay cool :cool:

What happened when they lost the Drive Off Conflict?

I don’t think I drive off conflict actually happened in my game. It actually went Convince -> Banish/Abjure -> Flee

What should happen at the end of a drive off conflict? I can say that the players run away, but where would you put them in the dungeon? Wouldn’t hostile enemies chase after them?

Similarly, when players lose a flee conflict against an enemy that would like to see them dead (and can pretty easily kill them), what do you do then?

Well, you make their lives interesting and complicated.

Lost in the dungeon being hunted by a deadly monster sounds about right.

I always interpreted Drive Off conflicts as two factions contesting to hold a “place”, so Flee isn’t a follow up unless you have a group of NPCs actively wanting to expel the characters from the dungeon (and even then, you could just have made a Drive Off conflict encompassing all the dungeon). I’d get creative with the compromises the players get out of the conflict “You are expelled from the Temple, but they don’t chase you afterwards. You cannot go back there without expecting a fight/They block the passage with a barricade.”

If the monster wants to kill them, then it would push for a Kill conflict. The characters might try to go around it, but if they keep failing, things keep getting worse. But again, is really hard to have the characters lose a conflict without compromise. You could always say “You were all Injured during the escape, but the monster retreats to its hideout, leaving you to bleed” as a compromise. Or push for a Kill.

Stay cool :cool:

The way I read the game is that if you lose a conflict, it isn’t as easy as a twist / condition. If you lose in a flee conflict, you do not get away from your enemy. In the case of an enemy specifically out to kill you, this would seem to mean certain death. Of course, inflicting death is not an option in a flee conflict.

I could see letting them get away and running into a different dangerous situation or getting lost, but that seems more like a victory with compromise than a defeat. They accomplished the conflict goal.

In my game I had them cornered by the enemy, which led to another conflict, etc. which is the situation I’d like to avoid.

I don’t think the rules say anything about getting conditions when you fail a conflict. It talks about getting conditions from compromises, but not from failing. That seemed weird to me at first, but if the conflict was actually meaningful, then losing is bad enough.

I think when you fail a conflict you get the opposite of what you wanted. In a kill conflict that explicitly means you die, but it’s no less true for the other conflicts. If you fail to convince it doesn’t mean the monster is unconvinced, it means that YOU are convinced of their point of view. The conflict cascade should have ended right there. Then I imagine that if you fail an abjure/banish it probably has a similar effect to failing a drive off. I mean, what does it mean that you fail that? It means the monsters has psychically and metaphysically overpowered you. You fleeing in mortal terror seems like the opposite of your desired outcome.

As for flee… that’s tricky. You’re right, you shouldn’t just kill uninjured characters as a result of a flee. So instead examine the motives of your baddies complexly. Why does everything have to be all “I gonna kill you now”? You tried to banish me, I’m going to torture you, Health test to avoid being injured, and maybe your endurance will impress me. Maybe I’ll lock you up until I decide what to do with you, now you have a chance to escape, which may be nearly impossible, and if you fail… now you’re injured and something evil has your number. There are options, but yeah, it’s not as simple as failing a kill or drive off.

Also, just because something is chasing you doesn’t mean it’s a flee conflict. They may be hot on your heals, only just around the corner, they’ll be here any second, what do you do? It can apply a constant pressure either immediate if they are just down the hall or subtle and ever-present if you just know that they are out there… somewhere… looking for you.

For a convince conflict, both sides have something they want. Losing that conflict just means they give in to the other sides demands (minus concessions of course), which won’t necessarily trigger another conflict (Unless the PC’s are trying to convince someone not to kill them).

The PC’s could have ran away screaming after failing to banish, with no need for a flee.

A lot of this advice makes a lot of sense! I think it’s a matter of adjusting from other systems to BW systems. I think one place where it gets weird is if you lose a convince conflict where life is on the line, or one where the outcome would directly contradict fundamental goals.

If the players fail a drive off conflict, I get that they get driven off. If they players then say something like “We charge back in” is it appropriate to insist that it be a kill conflict? (the fools).

Yes, They’ve already lost their attempt to drive the monster(s) off. They have to try a different approach.

But, the game doesn’t force the GM’s hand the way the OP assumes. They may charge in only to find the creature’s not there any more and it’s now playing a cat and mouse game with them. Or, the creature may have decided it has an even better evil plan. The GM doesn’t have to keep trying to kill the party into a conflict cascade. Unless they want to, of course.

I’d let my PC’s repeat a failed conflict attempt only if they regrouped & prepped for the conflict somehow.

ie. After failing to banish the spirit, they return to town and make some lore checks to study what they are dealing with. I’d count this as +1D supplies for the conflict and let them attempt another banish.

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