Originally posted May 15, 2010.
As you’ve probably guessed, conflict without combat is one of my favorite story elements to play with (probably in part because creating characters whose primary skills are in combat, and fight scenes in general, just don’t appeal to me. It’s hard for me to visualize them without going a little too over-the-top epic.)
I thought of the article because of some backstory work I’ve been doing. As noted earlier, I took a short break from my game to try to fix it, with one of my friends running something else in my stead. Which meant chargen, which meant more backstorying. And as always, I was playing one of my squishies, and needed something conflicty for her to have done. To say that it wasn’t working at first was a massive understatement, though it didn’t help that I found it hard to get inspiration for this one to begin with. (Unlike most of the people I know, I need to either not know a world at all or know it to the point of fine detail.) Finally—and actually inspired in part by a book I was reading—I ended up winding together a rather large magical item, a location I’d gotten some ideas for earlier (and the well-meaning but at the time rather frustrating attempts my fellows made to help that sort of turned into them practically writing it for me), and the one signature spell I could think of for the character, and ended up threading it through deliberately running the verbal version of a shapeshifter’s battle to a tie. (it makes a lot more sense in context.)
The thing I really love, though, is variations on matching wits, usually through dirty politics and proxies. Not only are my favorite antagonists to create all the kinds of social manipulators who (in one case successfully, in the other case I’m hoping for success) work so well even their opponents start to like them, one of my favorite PCs to play is practically addicted to dirty politics and social maneuvering. (Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten her kind of plotline in a while. Pity, that.) The more complex the opponent’s plan is, the more interested I am. If we’re trying to turn each other’s friends against each other, so much the better. And if half the fun is the conflict itself, and baiting each other in the process, I’m ecstatic. But it doesn’t need to be limited to that. Someday I want to play a game in which the only advantage I have over my foe is that my information gathering capabilities are superior, and see how that turns out. It would be fun.
Riddling shows up a lot in my game, but not as the kind of conflict described here. Instead, I have Lysha. It isn’t trying to be enigmatic; that just sort of happens, as part of its nature. In fact, every now and then it tries very hard not to be enigmatic, and ends up tying itself into knots instead. But at the same time, it creates a difficulty; can anyone understand a word the little guy is saying?
One game I played in narrowly missed having a huge scene based around a court trial (interestingly averted by the character whom we’d tried to arrange it for in the first place). I think that would’ve been a blast; the stakes were high enough that we’d all be going at maximum skill, it’d showcase his specialties, and it had most if not all of the advantages of a good fight without that annoying risk of immediate death.
Either way, I like my conflicts bloodless—they’re so much more fun that way!