Transitioning from conversation to conflict

I’m not sure whether posting here or in discord will be better, but I’ll post here.

This has come up for me while dealing with HV in skogenby, but is a general question/request for advice:

For physical conflicts the players may be talking to an NPC before entering the conflict, and the boundary between conversation and conflict will be clear.

But when talking to an NPC before enteringing a verbal conflict (convince, trick, for example) how do you locate/define/spot/create/manage the boundary between conversation and conflict?

I had to deal with this for the first time in my last session, and struggled with it. My PCs started talking to HV, and the conversation started turning towards making deals, getting her to do what they wanted. I asked the players if they had a clear goal/intention here, but they were just feeling their way so I was reluctant to put them into a conflict.

Also I was worried that if I put them into a conflict then the players would find it more difficult to say what they actually wanted to say - they would then be thinking in terms of attack/defend/feint/manoeuvre and might have trouble just getting out what they wanted express.

One PC started asking for a deal, and another chimed in, so I decided to just have the first make an opposed roll with help from the second. But then the third PC offered himself to HV in place of Jora (a deception, he tried to have HV release Jora as the first step in the bargain), and because this was so interesting I had him roll manipulate instead. (He failed, then failed a will roll, and is now possessed). In hindsight this is all the PCs working together in different ways and at a big significant moment, so seems like good conflict material.

But I didn’t know when or how to trigger a conflict, or whether it should be convince or trick, and was also worried about squashing the flow of conversation from the PCs by making them adhere to conflict structure…

What sort of advice would you give to new GMs about this?

When the sides are at an impasse and the dialogue cannot continue, call for a versus test.

However, social conflicts make great role playing fodder. Continue the dialogue in a conflict. Each action is a part of the conversation. Play out a few lines back and forth and continue it in the next action. Let the players build out their case using the various actions.

In an argument type of conflict, you even get +1D for roleplaying the dialogue out in character.

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Thanks Koch, that is useful info as always.

How do you choose between a versus test and a conflict?
If you’re going with a conflict at what point do you switch from dialogue to conflict?
How do you choose which conflict type?
How do you make sure players (new players) can fit the dialogue they have in mind into the conflict type you choose?

A conflict is a series of rolls. It is an extended action or a sequence of actions. Think of it like a scene of a movie. Use a conflict when a single test will not suffice. Think cinematically.

Conflicts are always “important.” <----- very important

Conflicts are a serious competition.

Then, use a versus test when competing against an opponent for the rest of the situations.

  • Convincing a dragon not to eat the town = conflict for sure
  • Convincing the lenderman to give you one more day to pay your taxes = versus test is fine
  • Convincing a host family to let the whole party stay at their home = factored independent test (see Rites of Hospitality, Middarmark, p.66)
  • Convincing your parents to let stay at their home = no test (TB, p.90). However, your character will pay the price of having mom ask why you are not married constantly, remind you to clean behind your ears, and try to overfeed you dessert at every meal)

Check out p.67 under Intent. Ask some questions of the players.

In any situation (fight, convince, flee), there is the moment when the conflict is triggered. It is the point in which the GM has determined what the players want to do, and it is time for the dice to settle the matter.

In the dialogue example, I’d let them throw out a few sentences each. Let them lay out their foundation of the argument. Ask is there enough here to make it a scene of a movie? Determine if the players have a clear objective for a conflict. If so, then call it.

My recommendation for you as you start out is to try and go one step farther than you might normally go. Fight the urge to call for dice. Keep going just a little more because you will draw the players into the situation. Let them roleplay a bit. Build up the tension and keep sucking them into the action.

Doing it this way will you give you some experience and allow you to figure out what feels right. It will also make it clear which conflict the players really want and avoid having you call the wrong type of conflict without really clarifying it with the players.

P.67 lists the types.

As you are starting off, try to stick with these types until you have mastered them. Avoid the urge to make everything a custom conflict of your own making. Most of the types work fine for 95% of the situations. As you and your players become more experienced, there will be those 5% of situations where you will need to create a custom “Other” conflict type.

You want to avoid having players repeat the same narration over and over again. Hopefully, because you determined that this was a serious situation and the players had a lot to say, you avoid the situation where the players have nothing more than a single sentence argument. Also, the players can narrate in third person. They won’t get that +1D roleplaying weapon bonus, but that’s ok, because you want them to feel involved in the fiction of the scene. Having everyone engaged throughout a conflict is a part of the art of the GM. Again, if you think cinematically, you should be able to stoke the imaginations of the players.

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This is a helpful set of examples. I understand the conceptual differences and use of conflicts and versus tests, it’s just that when it comes to dialogue I find it much harder to judge.

Is that what experienced GMs typically do? I tried, but may not have asked the questions I needed to ask to get the info I needed. My players were non-committal.

More gold from the mine!
I’ll try to internalise this and act on it. How do you judge when you’ve reached the time for dice? Is it when the players start looking at you to see if they’re getting the result/effect they wanted? Is it when I, playing the npc, feel like I’m repeating myself?

Yeah, again for me this is a dilemma specific to conversational conflicts. I had two pcs apparently angling for convince, and one for trick - I wasn’t sure which way to fall. Would you do as per physical conflicts and ask the party to define a unified intent? I was worried I’d be shutting down the dialogue of one or more pcs.

Hmm that’s a good point - thinking back I did have one player more or less repeating themselves.

Yup, I hear ya. Social conflicts can be more difficult to run, and the nature of the game encourages finding other ways to resolve situations like tricking or convincing.

In regards to asking questions, yes, one way or another you have to get to the point where the player’s objective is clear and everyone at the table is aligned with the stakes of the conflict. You can simply ask them directly, or, you can roleplay through it. Just keep going if you are comfortable with dialogue. Once both sides have a clear case, then go into a versus test or conflict (if appropriate).

Regarding when to call for dice, it is the point in which you cannot continue the race or the fight or the argument without settling it any other way. But, don’t let the players push you into a conflict when there is none. That gets back to Thor’s reply in the other thread, where the players cannot just generate a test or conflict where there is none. To be clear, their actions MAY lead to a conflict, but only you can see the next step of the situation. Players cannot assume their actions will even generate a conflict, and they cannot presume to know where the obstacle is (although you can bet they will try).

If you have prepped the adventure well, you should have a good understanding of the opponent’s motivation/instinct. This is absolutely essential to figuring out where the obstacles really are (where appropriately fitting). Understanding the purpose of a conflict is the first step in determining where to draw that line.

Let’s look at the example of the previous dragon scenario.

The situation is that the party has to convince an elder red dragon to not eat a village. The dragon’s instinct is to always sleep with one eye open. From this, we can tell 1) she listens to Metallica and 2) is paranoid about hobo adventurers stealing her precious treasure. In the fiction, she is about to lay some eggs soon, and mama is HUNGRY. She’s already eaten all the village’s livestock, and the townsfolk have hired the party to make sure the dragon doesn’t eat them next.

Here, the party comes upon the dragon in her lair. They have no hope of killing this dragon, and the dragon knows it. Luckily for them, her belly is full, and she is satiated. Otherwise, they’d be toast.

As the adventurer leader lays down her sword, the dragon watches carefully. The party delivers a few lines of dialogue stating they come in peace and have an offer she “can’t refuse.” This is important because the dragon feels not threatened and stands to profit. She’ll hear them out.

Ultimately, the group has a plan and wants to convince the dragon to eat the goblins in the valley, and the villagers will bring her a steady tribute of animals and thralls each year. But, all of that is the stuff of the conflict. They still have that in their back pocket. This is going to be a hard sell, after all, the dragon could just eat all of them anyway. This is going to take some work, and a compromise of some sort is almost a certainty given the disparity between the party’s dice pool and the dragon’s. This means that, as the GM, you are pretty sure a conflict is on the horizon. But, we still don’t know what the players will do, so we play on.

Now, let’s say one of the players is not onboard with all of this and instead wants to trick the dragon. This is great roleplaying fodder. Don’t go into the conflict yet. The dragon could just sigh and mutter something like, “Oh, won’t you pesky humans figure it out and get back to me. But, don’t take too long…” Then, she smirks as she lays her head back down while the party keeps roleplaying.

On one hand, the tricky character could be a part of the convince conflict, but those lines of dialogue would be Feint or Maneuver actions. The spirit of the conflict is still to get the dragon to agree to the original terms. So, even though this character is trying alternative tactics, it fits within the larger strategy of “the offer.”

On the other hand, the party could roleplay to get the other character to agree with the original plan of the sacrifices.

Either way, there is consensus, and the adventure leader resumes the conversation with the dragon, “Ok, we’ve got an offer…”

At this point, everyone knows what they are going for. Anything beyond this point is dialogue that can play out through the conflict. Say, “OK, this is going to be a Convince conflict. If you win without compromise, the dragon will accept your offer unconditionally. If you lose, the villagers are in trouble.”

Most likely, there will be some major compromise. If the players win with compromise, the dragon might demand quarterly sacrifices from the town instead of annual, and that the party capture the goblins for her (because she doesn’t want to risk injury at this time).

If, alternatively, all the players started on the same page when they met the dragon, I would have let the initial conversation go back and forth. Even if the leader lays out the terms, there is still more to haggle over. I’d foreshadow that the dragon has a nearly insatiable appetite: “What, you think a meager annual tribute is enough?” I’d call for the conflict right after that line because I’ve set some expectations with the players. Now, this conflict becomes about what the party has to agree to and negotiate the details.

As far as fight conflicts go, the same thing applies. If the players rush into battle, you could call the conflict there. Sure. However, every once in a while, you can build up to an even greater climatic moment by continuing to roleplay. Let some arrows fly and some swords clash. Just go back and forth once or twice. This is not just fluff. You are clarifying through roleplaying. You are exploring the players’ intent and giving them opportunities to adjust before determining the conflict type. Doing it this way makes sure everyone is aligned. Plus, it builds up some excitement and momentum that will be needed to carry the group through the rest of the conflict.

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Thanks very much Koch that’s great advice, as always.

I’ll mull that over and try to get it to soak in before my next session.

One thing about choosing when to go to dice - I don’t seem to have a problem with my players wanting to jump into a conflict, I have the opposite: they want to just talk, and not go into conflict (possibly due to their, and my, inexpeience)

Would a reasonable way of identifying the time to enter conflict be when the dialogue starts to be repetitive (the player paraphrases what they just said, and I reply by paraphrasing what I just said)?

When dealing with new players (and GM) would you recommend laying it all out and explaining what’s happening?
So telling them that I’m listening for a position or intent that will trigger a conflict?

One thing that does worry me mildly is that if I let them talk it out until talking can’t go any further, then enter a convince or trick conflict, they’ll have nothing new left to say for the conflict. Is there a way to know I’ve waited to long to enter conflict?

The short answer is: all of these things will work themselves out with experience. You just gotta keep playing.

If they start to yawn, listen for the next moment of highest tension or greatest danger. Then, pull the trigger.

Before that. At the moment of highest impact or when you can’t go any further. But, if they are repeating, then that is a sign you’ve waited too long. No worries, just call for the versus test because they probably ain’t got anything more to drag it out in a conflict. Remember you aren’t railroading them into a conflict. It has to come about through the players’ actions. If they made a compelling case before a conflict triggered, but they haven’t overcome the obstacle, then use a versus test.

I guess it would depend on the circumstances. If they haven’t hit the “blocking” aspect of an obstacle, then nothing has triggered yet. Dice are needed at the point in the conversation where something has to change. If it is a simple disagreement, then settle it with a versus test. If it is an elaborate scheme, then play it out in a conflict.

If you have prepped, you have some idea of where the lines are. It boils down to “know your monsters.” If you understand their instincts and motivations, you will understand where they hold the line and when the players cross that point.

If you already know the players are heading toward a conflict, you are waiting for the moment of highest drama or impact to trigger the conflict or test.

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Thanks Koch, you’re right of course, I’m sure these things will come with experience.

In the meantime I’ll try to follow your advice, and I think perhaps putting more thought and prep into these scenarios that I know might be coming up could help too.

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This is probably stated in all the excellent advice given above, but one thing that has helped our group is to lay out the Intent of the party through dialog, roleplay, or even just straight out saying it. Roleplay is the ideal way to do it, but sometimes players have difficulty expressing what they want through description, and other times the GM is unclear as to what it is exactly that they want. I would encourage any GM to try to get the players to state what they want in character rather than “I want a Convince Conflict!”. Also, sometimes you just have to push with your Monsters. Hold onto their Instincts and Beliefs if they have one. Let that guide your dialog and what the players can get away with. The players get to guide the choice of Conflict through their actions, in most cases. However, that doesn’t mean Monsters are open to every idea they have.

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