Conflict scripting question

Hiya, new GM and KS backer here.
After reading the rules and watching online plays (Vulgaris, Koebel and ofc Luke KS vids) I think I have a good grasp of the conflict system and what it is trying to achieve: make combat tactical, make dice rolls matter, be a cool little minigame, the unpredictable chaos of combat etc.
The only problem I have with it is the “rock paper scissory” -thing it has going is pretty much about guessing what GM is gonna script or am I getting it wrong?
I mean the GM could try to simulate creature behaviour, then again do mindless zombies do anything besides AAA? Guess they could maneuver. Feint could be considered a surprise attack so maybe that too? The end result again being that the players do not know and they can only guess how you are gonna script.
Or is it supposed to be more about a mini game between the evil GM and players? Then the players could look at GM crfeature disposition and try to think is he gonna defend to gain more or something else.

So I guess my overall question is how should the GM script and is there any actual concrete information for the players to base their tactical decisions on scripting, besides their own skills and gear?

Hello and welcome!

Yes, I think all of those are possibilities. A GM can play it straight with an AAA zombie script, or, against an experienced group, narrate a feint as a surprise. Seems like you’ve got the range of choices. Each conflict is different, and there are a spectrum of possibilities on the table. It can be all those things.

Weapons declaration is the primary key. The GM declares the creatures’ weapons first. So if you are in a Flee conflict with Thursar, and the GM declares “Gigantic Strides” as the weapon, you know (or eventually learn) there is a Defend coming up.

Hi @Vcut!

Like @Koch says, weapon declaration is key.

Also, what are the characters doing, and so how are your mindless zombies / tomb guardians reacting?

For instance, in one of our games, the PC’s cleverly funnelled a group of Tomb Guardians through narrow confines and into a barricade which they would have to crawl under.

So, yes, I could choose to script AAA as they throw themselves against the barrier.

However, I could also let the PC’s know that the Tomb Guardians were equipping Spears, and then script a Manouevre in there as their foes tried to dismantle the barricade (Impede / Gain Position).

When I’m scripting the opposition correctly, I do a certain amount of telegraphing (where appropriate - e.g. Tomb Guardians equipping shields and forming a shield wall), and think of it from the Tomb Guardians’ point of view (what have they seen, what are they aware of?).

I’m both looking to the Weapons and Nature Descriptors to inform my choices, weighing up what the PC’s are facing me with, and seeing what Disposition is at.

There’s definitely a chunk of mini-gaming in there, but I only tend to break out the mind-games when facing more cunning / knowledgeable foes!

The Vampire Lord, that bandit leader whose been pursuing the group for sessions, or your enemy is much more likely to use what they know about the PCs and script accordingly, rather than that mob of mindless undead*!

(* although the mindless undead directed by that Vampire Lord might know what to target, of course…)

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To clarify, both sides declare their weapons before choosing actions.

This is not related to action selection, but I think it’s also important: Players who really want to take charge of their fate will research and/or study their opponent before engaging it. Monsters are only able to use their full Nature in conflicts their descriptors cover. Otherwise they roll half Nature. If players can deduce their descriptors, they can try to take it in a conflict for which it’s ill-equipped.

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Thank you all for the replies. I know I am now at the stage of “you need to really do it to see how it goes”. I thought the weapon selection might affect things as well, especially on PC side, but forgot enemy selection will telegraph something as well.
The Monsters Nature descriptions and halving of nature will certainly affect things too. Then again hard to try to talk to grey ooze but certainly it could be dealt with numerous other ways besides killing. Maybe allowing dungeoneering or scout or some tests in some cases if PC’s get to observe their foe to see how they behave? Surely worth one turn of the grind:D

The conflict system is something I am a bit worried how will my players take it since it is pretty huge departure from how other systems deal with combat. I see the potential of tension and teamwork but I also see it somewhat restricting what PCs can do since players are usually accustomed to describing what they do before the roll, not afterwards. Will be interesting to see how they feel about that for sure.

IMHO, working out Nature descriptors is not a heat-of-the-moment sort of thing, except in cases where you’re observing and drawing conclusions, not necessarily testing. When it comes to testing, (again, IMO) I think it’s the sort of thing you might consult an archive or sage about. Skill-wise, I think it would come down to Hunter, Lore Master, Scholar or Theologian, with the appropriate skill coming down to creature type. Hunter would be useful for understanding beasts, for instance, while Theologian would be useful for Otherworldly things like spirits or undead.
As far as the conflict system, it’s actually less a departure than you might think. Think of it this way:

  1. There are still hit points. D&D has static hit points. You dynamically generate hit points in Torchbearer, and there are far fewer, but they’re still hit points.
  2. Attack against Attack is standard D&D combat. We handle initiative a little differently and give everyone a chance to participate in everyone else’s actions, but it’s more similar than dissimilar.
  3. The Maneuver, Feint and Defend actions are a little more outside the box with respect to D&D combat, but even D&D has options for fighting defensively or setting up an ally. I think our versions are a little more weighty and effective, but not so different.
  4. Ultimately, I think the big difference is that you really need to think like a team in Torchbearer. D&D rewards that too, but not to the same degree. If your players are into the idea of using their characters’ various strengths to collectively overcome the opposition, they should be just fine.
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It’s less scissors / paper / stone than you might think. The other day my players were fighting a giant spider. Their disposition was very low at the start of a new volley, and I guessed that they would try for a defend. I scripted a feint and the fight was over.

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Love it, @Heathen!

And it makes sense in the fic / as part of Describe to Live: the spider can see that they’re on their last legs, and need to be defensive to rally… so it decides to exploit that with a Feint.

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The conflict system in Torchbearer grants the game master a subtle, powerful tool with which they can create challenges for the players.

The advice here is spot on, but I want to reinforce that you are in control of what actions you select. You don’t just have to “play mind games” with the players. You can and should select for the opponent based on their behaviors.

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Schemes:

  • try to win: pick actions as a person playing a board game would, find at least one narrative post-hoc justification
  • naive sim: choose the plan the in-game opponents would choose, figure out what actions that corresponds to
  • knowledgeable actors: model the in-game opponents’ intelligence, creativity, etc and assume they know the game mechanics and know that the PCs know the game mechanics and etc, pick actions they would pick i.e. zombies are more likely to AAA and vampire lords more likely to sneakily strategize

My favorite two schemes are (1) just “naive sim”, and (2) “knowledgeable actors” but generate 2-4 possible scripts and then pick between them according to “try to win”. And I’m biased but I think using just those two schemes, whichever you like whenever you like, works great.

it makes sense in the fic / as part of Describe to Live: the spider can see that they’re on their last legs, and need to be defensive to rally… so it decides to exploit that with a Feint.

She didn’t kill them in the end, @Mark_Watson. Her goal was ultimately just to toy with them. Her venom makes her victims hallucinate. So she bites them and watches as they stumble on their way. If they die, she wraps them up and eats them, if they live, it’s good sport.

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I love this. I’m going to do something with this. Nice work!

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You’re welcome! I find it’s more fun when an enemy’s goal in a conflict isn’t always ‘I try to kill them’, even when they’re big and scary.

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