I’m a hack addict… it’s a problem
Last session I handed my wife the conflict cards I made and she gave me a look. A look like I forgot our anniversary, her birthday, and left the baby in the car unattended for an hour… it was a look. I don’t want to get that look again guys… I’m scared.
She doesn’t like conflicts. Maybe rock, paper, scissors isn’t for everyone? Or… maybe it’s the fact that you play this rock, paper, scissors game and then have to shoehorn the story to fit the disconnected game you just played… She wants to Describe to Live. She wants to say what her character is doing and see what happens as a result. Other aspects of Torchbearer don’t put mechanics first and make the story serve them, rather, just the opposite. Can conflicts be made to do that for her?
This is my attempt to shove Describe to Live into the conflict mechanics. Most of my hacks up to this point have been thought experiments, just fiddling with the knobs to see what happens. This is something I’m actually hoping to implement in my game as soon as possible. Any feedback or thoughts are even more appreciated this time than usual.
This is probably just a first step toward getting my party of inexperienced non-gamers to buy into conflicts, but, if it works, I think it will be an important and helpful one.
Conflict Type and Disposition
When a conflict starts you still determine the type of conflict and roll disposition as normal. None of that changes.
Conflicts are a story. Initiative basically describes who the primary storyteller is. If the players have initiative then they are telling the story and their opponents are reacting. If the GM has initiative then he tells the story and the players are reacting.
A conflict starts when the players describe acting on or reacting to some entity in a way that would result in a particular conflict. This means the players almost always start with initiative.
After a versus test initiative goes to the victor. If one side could not roll (Defend vs. Feint or Feint vs. Attack) then the other side gains initiative. If the test was Independent for both parties then initiative remains as it was.
The normal rules apply for who may act and in what order. However, you do not select three actions at the start of the volley, instead, follow this procedure:
[li]The side with initiative selects a valid character to act and they declare their weapon
[/li][li]The side without initiative selects a valid character to react and they declare their weapon
[/li][li]The acting player describes what their character is doing. It must be obvious whether they are Attacking, Defending, or Maneuvering.
[/li][li]The other members of the acting side may describe help.
[/li][li]The reacting player describes how their character is responding.
[/li][li]The other members of the reacting side may describe help.
[/li][li]The acting player places a card for the action they described face down or a Feint card face down.
[/li][li]The reacting player places a card for the action they described face down or a Feint card face down.
[/li][li]Simultaneously the cards are revealed, if a character performed a Feint the player may describe how they were feinting
[/li][li]The test is rolled, and the results applied
If both sides have disposition left, repeat the entire process.
Help is described whether or not it is a Feint and applies to the Feint even if the applicable skill changes and the helpers don’t have that skill. At the very least their help will make the Feint more believable, throwing the opposing side off balance and making them more vulnerable to the Feint.
When a character describes doing something and it starts a conflict, that description is the first action of that conflict and the player that described it is the first one to act. If the GM decided it was a kill conflict because one of the players described charging in with weapons drawn, then the first player to act is that player and his first action is an attack (or a feint). If the GM decided it was a trick conflict because one of the players started spouting lies and trickery then they have the first action and their first action is spouting lies and trickery.
When you describe a Defend action you have the added option of playing a Predict card face down instead of Defend or Feint. Predict essentially means you are expecting the enemy to do something tricky and you don’t react to their initial action. Predict is identical to Defend except that the interactions it has with Attack and Feint are swapped. Attack vs. Predict would be independent for the Attacker and no roll for the Defender while Feint vs. Predict would be versus.
Note: Without this rule it is nearly impossible to lead with a Defend action. A sensible opponent would always Feint. The only reason to lead Defend would be if you know that your opponent is more concerned with avoiding a compromise than they are with winning. As a result leading defend would benefit the GM more than the players. Predict makes Defend more practical as a lead because your opponent won’t know whether a Feint will beat your action or whether an Attack will beat your action. It at least gives you a chance to have that Defend work… if you can predict what your opponent will do.
If the skill fits… (Optional)
With story leading conflicts it’s possible that players will describe something that fits a skill other than one of the proscribed conflict skills. Usually the GM will treat this as flavor and ask the player questions as per Describe to Live until an appropriate action is described and the mechanics can be engaged. Sometimes, however, the description fits perfectly with an action for this conflict type even though the skill doesn’t match. The GM can, at his discretion only, accept that action and skill for this test. This works in the same way as Describe to Live. Players cannot beg for tests using a specific skill, they simply describe their actions until the GM decides they are doing something that requires a test.
In a Drive Off conflict Beren the Dwarf may describe raising his sword over his head and threatening a band of goblins with an immanent and gruesome death. Beren is a pretty intimidating guy (albeit short) and this action is definitely something that might weaken the goblins resolve. This sounds like an Attack! If Beren doesn’t Feint then when it comes time to test Beren will be testing Manipulator as an Attack action. Of course, if he does Feint by, say, taking a swing at the goblins while their sizing up his threat and least expect it, then the test would instead be Fighter as a Feint action.
Too Many Tests!
You may still only mark at most two tests per conflict and only one per skill. If you mark a passed test for Manipulator and then a failed test for Health, and then if you later test Fighter you may not mark it.
If players are spouting more than a few sentences of flavor, they’re stalling. Maybe they’re trying to beg for a different kind of test or maybe they’re just over dramatic. Either way, the GM should say something like “the goblins are starting to move against you” or “the statesman clears his throat as if ready to interrupt” and remind them that they are in a conflict and need to act fast. The player must stop with all the flavor and get down to business picking one of the proscribed actions for the current conflict type.
Switching Conflicts (Optional)
Story led conflicts are more prone to evolving into a different conflict type than a mechanics front conflict where the story is shoehorned into the actions chosen. Consider adopting my conflict switching hack if this becomes a problem.
Does this take too much of the chaos out of the game with all the extra information each side has as they are deciding what to do? Or is it worth the cost to have the narrative drive the mechanics?
Would this slow down play too much since the participants are sizing each other up between every action? Hmm, would that even be a bad thing?
Are there any leading actions that are obviously superior or inferior? Are there any obvious reactions to a particular leading action?
Is it too hard to Defend and get disposition back? Is that even a bad thing [evil GM cackle]?