Four characters in a conflict

How have you GM’s out there handled a fourth player. The rules imply that you stick with the three action method but you rotate one character out each round. There’s also mention of having two teams in the “Too Much Danger for One Team” section of the rules (p116).

The first method seems the most simple. I don’t even know where to begin with the second option. I can see it working when there are an even number of enemies, but what happens if one team wants to join the second? Does their disposition go up by the number of new participants?

firstly, the first option is the best go-to choice and you should typically be running that scenario in conflicts if, in fact, all four are aligned with the side. There will be some conflicts that one or more patrol mates choose to stand aside from participation. In fact, that’s one of the more memorable journey conflicts I ran–that is, when a player chose to not participate in the conflict team. He still had to go along narratively, but he chose not to join the Dispo and didn’t offer Helper during the actions. It was a struggle for him to stand back, but it was true to his mouse.

So, it seems like a large team, but it works. If the team plays hard on Attack and Feint, the opposing side might end up reduced to zero in the first volley; that’s just the risk of conflicts. But that’s also rare in my experience.

Second, having multiple teams depends on using 1e or 2e rules. I highly favor the 2e rules, and I’ll only briefly chat about the 1e rules before giving a good overview and example of the 2e rules.

So, 1e rules were a little confusing and led to gigantic forum threads trying to sort through the model of multiple teams. The summary is that 1e multiple teams was a challenging mechanic that typically resulted in Player Side teams heavily smashing opposing GM Side team(s) then having to sort through some kinda of multi-faceted compromise.

And, as you’ve noted pg 116, I can see you are using 2e rules. These are much easier to handle, and a good rendition of multi-team conflicts. When I wrote the kneejerk review of 2e, I included an off-the-cuff example of multi-team conflicts which I’ll recopy here before creating another off-the-cuff example of a multi-team conflict.

  • The idea of multiple teams based on the number of mice is removed.

This will be helpful, but may create questions. I’d say the best advice here is to encourage and enable players to sit-out when the conflict isn’t really in the best interest of their PC mouse, but instead, allow a more manageable team size be formed (if there is a large patrol). I’ve found only one table group had a large enough patrol to consider multiple teams, and that wasn’t a best case example of a conflict.

  • The idea of multiple teams is presented with guidance about the scope or scale of the conflict scene. I won’t recopy rules text, but here is the summary: if the case is large or distant, GM could run two concurrent conflicts against multiple teams (probably 2) by switching back and forth between.

This means the multiple teams don’t Help each other. It means they have their own Conflict Goal. It means they have their own Compromise. It shares spotlight time back-n-forth. It discourages a large fight becoming a rout by way of multiple teams attacking a single GM team. It instructs the scope and scale of the conflict.

Here’s an off-the-cuff example:
Journey Conflict
GM Side: Winter Wilderness
Player Side: Kenzie & Sadie; Leiam & Celanawe

K & S have been dropped into the ruinous catacombs of Darkheather and must contend with the strange environment to return to Lockhaven (as a team). L & C are moving overland through Winter conditions to reach Lockhaven. Saxon sits out of the conflict favoring a Pathfinder Vs Wilderness (Darkheather) test after all is said and done.

Team K & S: goal to reach Lockhaven, Dispo, face fear, darkness, chill

Team L & C: goal to return medicine to Lockhaven, Dispo, face freezing, tracked by owl

Compromise K & S: we’ve found a breach in the cistern wall after following an underground river

Compromise L & C: the medicine bottles burst in freezing conditions; must face Fight Animal conflict against the Owl; Leiam is designated as the Black Axe by Celanawe

So, that’s just an example of how that one overall Wilderness Obstacle might be described as a multiple team conflict; because, the teams are distant from each other and must face the Wilderness conditions independent of one another. Neither would be able to Help across the distance between teams. Also, they shared the spotlight, held independent goals, accomplished independent compromises, and this allowed Saxon to sit-out from a team.

Here’s another off-the-cuff example loosely inspired by a table session from years ago (also translated into 2e):
Chase Conflict
GM Side: Fox; lost science-mice
Player Side: Team Fox-Fighters; Team Mice-Finders

Fox-Fighters have tracked a fox north of Rustleaf where science-mice have been living in wilderness to study the region; they need to chase the fox away from Rustleaf and beyond the scent border. Mice-Finders can’t imagine harassing the fox while there may be lost science-mice routed from their burrow by the beast and wandering the wilderness near the scent border.

Team Fox-Fighters: goal to chase fox beyond scent border, Dispo, face cunning fox, swampy terrain, missing scent border picket

Team Mice-Finders: goal to track lost science-mice before any are eaten by fox, Dispo, face cunning fox, swampy terrain, mysterious clues in science burrow

Compromise Fox-Fighters: we’ve driven the fox beyond the border and it will not double back to return

Compromise Mice-Finders: we’ve lost track of the science-mice and must stay in the wilderness searching; the swampy terrain is due to a previously unknown beaver pond

In this example, the fox-fighters handily defeated the opposing fox and won a minor compromise of exhaustion; however, fellow patrol mates failed to discover the fate of lost science-mice who must now be living wild. In addition, the minor compromise allowed them to foreshadow a follow-on conflict with the whole patrol together and provided the realization of a new beaver pond which may threaten Rustleaf or Pt Sumac in future. So, they shared the spotlight, had independent goals and compromises, and ensured a group of lost mice were alive by agreement to a follow-up conflict (in other words delayed risk of death in exchange for another risk in conflict).

In fact, here is a possible off-the-cuff example also loosely inspired by a shared-doc group (and mutated to fit 2e):
Fight Animal Conflict
GM Side: named NPC, Firebrand fox; other fox (later named)
Player Side: Hare-Rider-Hunters; Hare-Rider-Decoys

Grasslake militia have tracked two foxes, a male trying to impress a female, in the wilderness eastward and north during early autumn snows; they want a good killing hunt of the male before he makes a mate. The Hunters will ride into battle; the Decoy will distract the female elsewhere to keep the pair separate.

Hare-Rider-Hunters: goal to kill or maim Firebrand, Dispo, face cunning fox, snowy terrain, assist from Grasslake militia captain and hare mounts

Hare-Rider-Decoys: goal to distract and restrain female fox, Dispo, face cunning fox, snowy terrain, assist from Grasslake riders and hare mounts

Compromise Hunters: we’ve nearly been killed, but managed to maim Firebrand by crippling a back leg (causing Injured condition) and putting a spear into one eye (causing permanent blinding scar); he will not attract the female while unable to properly hunt or run

Compromise Decoy: we’ve kept the female away from the hunt until the last moment; we’re exhausted, but well enough; she gets to see Firebrand be struck by a spear to the eye and see his crippled leg; we’ve decided she now gets a name, Prairiefire, and replaces Firebrand as a dominant threat in the region

In this example, the Players wanted to join the hunt, and actually no decoy team played out, but I imagined what was happening in the distance. The Hunters won with a minor compromise and used it to greatly impact the circumstances of a dominant male fox who terrorized the Grasslake region year-upon-year; not only badly injured and scarred, but also unable to properly hunt or run, and unable to attract a mate, this fox would drift from dominance far into the eastern expanse being driven by other foxes and ultimately never returning to the region every again. In contrast, the Decoys team faced a moderate compromise which led to a new dominant female fox–although not pregnant–taking up residence near Grasslake and gaining a nickname. Fortunately, she was more of a ground squirrel hunter than hunter of mice, but still threatening.

So, the multi-team model relies on those two teams acting independently–sometimes a great distance from one another, always with distinct goals and compromise results, and frequently having a complex outcome. It isn’t wrong for a group of four patrol mice to form distinctly separate teams, but don’t do it simply due to size or a desire to allow everyone to play out an action in the volley. Use the multi-team model rarely and only when it fully serves the purpose of the session.

Thanks, KMC. I think this will make it much easier to deal with.

Thanks again for the reply, KMc.

Using the multi-team system I actually ran into a bit of a problem. (Note that one of my players majored in math and this really bothered him.)

Team is attacked by two crows. The goal of the crows is to eat the patrol’s beetle caravan and wreck the cargo. The goal of the team is to drive off the crows. Instead of skipping a person they wanted to split into two teams and handle the crows separately. I agreed and split the goals of the crows: Crow team A - Wreck cargo & Crow team B - Eat beetles.

Then we rolled disposition… Here’s where things went sideways. Disposition of Crow team A was 10 while the disposition of Crow team B was 11. “WAIT A MINUTE!,” says math major. “If we fight as one team, the overall disposition is 7+7D but if we split then it is 7+7D + 7+7D. AND we only get 1D of help? So, what is the advantage of splitting up? This system makes no sense!”

I started thinking about this and though i’m not a math major, I see his point. He’s also a bit of problem solver and offered up two “solutions” in the form of rule changes. (1) Just play as one team all the time and use four cards instead of three per round. (Even though he didn’t like the idea that the enemy would get to go four times per round regardless of their number.) and/or (2) Change the way disposition works such that the disposition for one side equals: the additive health of all characters + the Fighter roll of the fight leader.

I kind of like the second one… It seems to make more sense although I can see battles going on a bit longer.


whoa!! tell them no on all counts!! no on all counts.

First, no: not two teams for facing a foe directly in front of you. Multi-team rules in 2e intend for the action to be split across some distance that prevents the teams acting in one group against a larger opposition. The intent of the crows to wreck cargo and eat beetles is an appropriate complex goal that is fitting of a single GM side team. Then the patrol can respond to the opposition with a goal of another sort, like, “we’ll prevent the crows from damaging precious cargo even if we have to sacrifice some beetles and pull cargo ourselves later.” that’s probably not a great goal, but it’s shooting from the hip.

Second, no: GM decides whether the scene is fitting for a multi-team approach; don’t have players goad the GM into a multi-team scene. If it doesn’t look like, sound like, and walk like a duck, don’t let someone call it a duck.

Third, no: the math of two teams against one doesn’t make sense, the math of two teams against two teams doesn’t make sense. That’s a critical purpose in changing the multi-team instruction from 1e to 2e. What does make sense is a Team against Team conflict–whether PC side against GM side , or PC side against PC side. That math makes sense: most of all it inflects random results on the part of the Dispo dice roll added to a static Dispo base to ensure there is something to fight with, but also something to fight against.

Fourth, no: those solutions are not appropriate according to the rules and spirit of the rules. (1) play as one PC side against one GM side, tolerate the design as-is to play three actions in each round as designed. It is fairly frequent to have more than one round, so everyone will get a turn to act. Also, there are rare times when the conflict will be very quick, such as one action or two actions–sometimes others won’t get a turn to act. That’s the design as-is and it’s not meant to be a fair play rule to ensure everyone gets to act. It’s a fair play rule to separate the action across multiple team participants and (hopefully) develop a conflict narrative that is tense. (2) No. Just no. The designed conflict system is meant to be a more complex and more pitched exchange between two opposing forces than a single Versus test, sure; however, it is not meant to become a comprehensive and exhaustive representation of each team member’s pursuit of their goal. That’s too much going into it. A single team member represents the group by rolling dice and adding the Dispo base; all others on the team offer a single Helping die as participants. That’s the design as-is, and the GM shouldn’t adjust that for a player’s interest in winning against strong opposition–that negates the powerful Compromise portion of the Conflict system.

Fifth, no: it will not make more sense to create a knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish of each participants’ health or will combined with a single mouse (+Helpers) rolling a skill dice pool. That’s going to make less sense when combined with the compromise portion of the system. If they’ve already laid everything on the table, that’s breaking the purpose of a compromise. It does potentially make fights much longer and drags out the process into something too much like D&D’s initiative system by which the inflated hit points drags out battles into troubling, lengthy, and boring scenes which tend to devolve into, “I’ve used everything else, so I guess I’ll use my at-will power again this round.”

Having a pitched battle against two crows is a pretty good Fight Animal scene; having to defend the beetle caravan and cargo gives much more punch and purpose to the skirmish. So on the second point, that’s a workable Conflict. If it were just two crows trying to cause mischief, what is the reason for a fight, just run from them cause they are much larger. That choice to contend against the beetles and cargo being lost drives the conflict into a proper contrast: we could run and be safe by fleeing this massive challenge, or we could stand fast against such an assault and face the harrowing tournament against these fell birds of woe!" If they are on level grounds, by adding each Health rating into a combined score (even assuming the crows then become 7d +14), that’s no longer a momentous scene of bravery nor a resounding act of foolishness–it’s just a one-for-one punchfest until the final tooth gets knocked out.

The portion of the conflict system that makes most sense is pitching the small against the big. The mice facing overwhelming odds is the impetus for spending time playing out a conflict. The mice facing fairly equal odds is a better place for a Versus (even a complex Versus) scene instead. The math major is missing the point. It will take a literature major to see it properly (or maybe a mythology major).

In the 2nd Ed, you just form up one team vs the other—two teams total—and take turns taking actions. That means that one PC will sit out each round, but they can help, so it really doesn’t feel bad.