Fight Conflict and Natural Order

What happens if a player decides to put death on the line in a fight conflict with a creature high enough up the natural order that mice cannot harm it?

This came up in Grasslake when I decided to play it like a Godzilla movie with a huge, invulnerable to mouse weapons snapping turtle. One of the players declared that his mouse was going to leap onto the turtle’s head and stab with his sword to try to kill it. This after being told explicitly “you cannot kill it”. In the event he lost the conflict and was snapped up, but what if he had won? He did win a compromise and was able to blind the turtle in one eye.

Obviously if a mouse loses a conflict with death on the line they die. But if they win or score a compromise can they drive off a creature far above them on the food chain? Or are they simply told to choose a different goal as killing this foe is beyond them?

I really did not want to kill this character, but by climbing on the turtle’s head he drew its attention and the snapping turtle nature of “mean” and “snapping” took over. I also gave a very explicit statement that he was attempting an impossible action, something I almost never do. I will in extreme situations warn that something seems like a very bad idea, but I don’t like to flat out declare something impossible by GM fiat.

The rest of the patrol instantanly grasped the “Godzilla vs Tokyo” vibe and split into two teams, one evacuating the city, the other building a large fire behind the turtle to encourage it to move along. I thought this was a clever solution to the problem and as snappers are slow the turtle didn’t notice the activity by its tail until the fire was well ablaze.

If the mouse chose the conflict, it should have the stakes they set- and they must be ones allowed (in this case I think drive off might be possible, but I don’t have the book with me). If the mouse loses, they have lost a drive off conflict. If it wins,it has won such a conflict.

If the turtle starts the conflict as a result of the mouse’s failed roll (a Twist!), then for the turtle it’s a kill conflict, but for the mouse it’s a drive off, or the highest allowable if I’m wrong about the Might scale. This means that the mouse winning can only accomplish driving off the turtle. And if the mouse loses it probably winds up turtle food.

This is because the mouse’s sword can’t even really penetrate the turtle’s head. The fire might make it start, and slicing it’s soft tissues will annoy it, but a single mouse is not really capable of causing damage to the turtle.

Well, you present an interesting situation, and I need to clarify something about it.

You described that the patrol split into two teams: (1) evacuate Grasslake and (2) drive off with fire. Just looking at those two items, you’ve got a complex Fight Animal conflict already. In fact, I’m certain that in itself was a great conflict to play through.

Now, at what point did the player want to perform the special kill move? During the conflict? As a member of one of the teams? Was the player acting alone?

So, my first advice is to restrict the situation when a conflict arises in the following manner: GM has a side and Players have a side. Typically, the GM has one or more NPCs while players have one or more PCs. Generally, the GM does not have multiple teams, but players might rarely have multiple teams. Everyone among the players joins a side and a team! No loners on a third side! In fact, no third side–GM side/Player side.

When sides and teams are arranged, then discuss goals for the conflict. This is another point about the player’s declaration which is a bit confusing. Was that special kill move the entire goal, or a described Attack? If it was the entire goal, that’s a bit too specific and doesn’t respect the rules about Natural Order. I’d pause to remind said player of the rules by identifying that this beast is too far above the order of mice to be threatened by mouse weapons in such a maneuver. I’d further clarify that the patrol could work together toward killing the beast (even including the special kill move) by a follow-up conflict (possibly), but to gain the follow-up conflict, they would need to rouse the town to action in one of three ways: (1) trained and hardened soldiers, (2) cunning and tough hunters, (3) poison by science. This would mean the problem is presented, and the players would all have to agree their side was about one of those three options and willing to work hard to gain the follow-up conflict leading to a kill. In the opening conflict, they would have to set a goal that distinctly identifies the goal of causing serious Injured or Sick condition on the snapping turtle with little to no loss.

In that way, they’ve gathered a force or caused toxic shock, and are more capable of threatening the snapping turtle. It gives a chance to now engage in a Fight Animal conflict where I’d consider the snapping turtle at a lower natural order.

It is a touchy subject, and each play group might handle it differently.

I suggest making the clarity about what can or cannot be threatened with death before rolling Dispo to ensure everyone is on the same page.

If the GM allows for the kill statement to be placed in the conflict Goal, and the team wins, you can still look at the degree of compromise. I mean this regardless of whether the GM placed a kill statement in the conflict goal. I often have different stakes than the players, so just having the patrol trying to kill a beast doesn’t mean the beast is trying to kill the patrol.

Using the degree of compromise, as well as guidelines in the rules text from page 130-131, the players must place the highest effort on complete success without losing Dispo in order to really gain the kill condition. From there, also consider the guidelines in the rules text from page 115-116. That holds a lot of clues about how to really twist the circumstances of success and failure during a conflict.

The last thought I’d really consider is how much the other players agreed or played along. Were other players suggesting this would work? Were the PCs warning each other not to get in the range of that snapping jaw? Although you have loads of info as the GM, the players might not fully understand the point-of-view which the mice have of such a beastly creature. So, maybe they were forgetful of their place in the world, let it be, and develop more clear descriptions for the future to tell the players how mice feel, think, and react when faced with such outrageous bravery, terror, danger, etc.

It isn’t D&D.

In other words, the player chose suicidal. Since you didn’t force the character to fight an impossible enemy, and as we can see there were clearly better options available (running away, the strategy the players chose, etc.) he by every right should be dead.

I think you did well to blind the turtle in one eye as a reward for his heroic (although somewhat insane) efforts. If he’s gonna die, at least let him die for something.

The player who became lunch charged in on his own first. Everyone at the table tried several times to warn him off doing it. I think he had too much D&D and the expectation that combat can solve every obstacle in an RPG. If it’s there it must be so we can kill it.

I offered to let him choose a different course of action after I told him “you cannot hurt the turtle directly. Period.” He insisted, and earned an heroic demise.

The tension between the race to evacuate the town, with panicing mice, crashing buildings, and the rest against the fire building to drive off the turtle was very dramatic. All the poor turtle wanted was to lay her eggs in peace, but those pesky mice had built a town next to her beach…

I spent what I thought was plenty of time before the session emphasizing that the characters were mice. Ordinary mice. Tiny, little, puny mice. MG is not just D&D with mouse ears and tails.

I think the hardest thing for players in my games to wrap their heads around is that not every challenge can be solved through hand-to-hand combat. This is the case even in games without a natural order to enforce it.

I would have told the player that his mouse could totally try to kill the Turtle, but as a player he’d need to pick another goal. Wounding the turtle and driving him off would be fine, but he can’t kill it in a Fight conflict.

What at was the turtle’s conflict goal?

That doesn’t sound bad as an intro.

As a GM, I think after those clear warnings against harming the turtle, I would have stuck to that. And, on that note, it seems the goals were not directed at causing harm to the turtle, so when the compromise was needed, I wouldn’t have offered any visible injury to the turtle. Id’ have stuck close to the goals which the two teams had placed of evacuation and drive off. One out-of-place attack against the turtle wouldn’t have replaced the outcome of the team goals. That’s just me; I’m not trying to rehash your table session.

Now, I still recall the moment that a large group (6) finally realized together that they could not fight everything. I placed them in a Journey conflict against a severe thunderstorm. The storm had the goal: ‘The mice will die; I will leave them exhausted, lost, fatigued, and demoralized.’ (I’m kinda paraphrasing, since I don’t remember exactly)

The patrol couldn’t make a goal to kill the storm. They also made the choice they had to travel; they needed to warn a town of possible flash flood. The players even disagreed about how to proceed (and one sat out of the team; because, he didn’t want to risk the results), but the ultimate decision was to state a goal about arriving with time to warn the town. They agreed there was no way to address the storm directly.

That really changed their perspective about how to face a conflict and how to face obstacles. Once they saw that there were things they simply couldn’t ‘swing a stick at’ then they needed to learn the conflict system better in order to get what they really wanted from a compromise.

As this group moves forward, push them against Weather and Wilderness obstacles and bring up Journey, Argument, Speech, and Negotiation conflicts. Challenge them to adapt to Animal obstacles in which the need is to train, or ally with animals (such as hares, songbirds, or beneficial bugs).