Con Conflict Characters

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I was asked at a Con recently how I got conflicts into my games – so much happening from three or four statements. Not sure if it’ll translate to text well, without the full demo, but here’s a stab at giving people the first go at getting some intra-party rivalry into their convention games.

Firstly, there’s the perception from a player’s point of view that whatever is on the character sheet is fact. You tell them Geoff is a great bloke and they trust him, and initially at least they will. You tell them that Geoff is a greedy, manipulative heartbreaker, not to be trusted… and they’ll take that on board too. So tell one person one thing and the another player another and you’ve got instant conflict as soon as Geoff walks in the room and asks for a volunteer. You can add things in subtly to this too to add or subtract from a side of the conflict. For example, Mick might hate Geoff, and although Pete has got nothing on the character sheet about Geoff, he may well have “You trust Mick implicitly, he saved your life.”

You can add in things like “you hate all men” or “distrust foreigners” and you can see how you build up a web of different allegiances. Its best to keep a little “relationship map” (as the dirty left field hippies call it, but real men have been doing it for years) with arrows pointing on of who likes/dislikes who. Go crazy and use different colours for positive and negative relationship and attitudes if you like. You can also build up relationships or views on factions, organisations, or social groups. These may even conflict. i.e. “you love Geoff, but he works for Games Workshop and you think they’re two headed fascist lizards, Geoff really promotes them”.

Another good technique is to leave things vague. Tell one player “something happened between you last night and its left you cold”. No need to say what it is let the players work it out in game. Similarly, you can give the other player “she’s suddenly gone cold on you after last night and it was special wasn’t it?” – equally vague but sending the player off in a different direction about what may have gone on. This can fall down if players trust too implicitly in what is written as fact, so it behoves the referee to point out at the start of the game that stuff written on the sheet is the character “perception” of things, rather than an impartial reality.

It’s important to keep things balanced too. If one person hates Geoff, but five love him, the player on the wrong side is going to get a pretty rough time. Of course, stronger players will make more out of their views than quieter ones, but you can’t account for who’s going to play what at a convention, so it’s best to just keep it balanced and have more than one “thing” on the table. So don’t just have one issue the characters might disagree on – have several and give people a mix of views – and leave some things on which there is no scripted information – it’s up to the players to sort it out.

Do we need an example? Maybe, here goes:

Let’s say it’s a cowboy game and we have four player characters. We’re going to daisy chain them so that they like someone but dislike someone else.

Tonto (Indian Brave with old ways oath)
Old Man Jenkins (trapper and bigot)
Maverick (hustler and gambler)
Preacher Man (travelling preacher saving souls)

We won’t tell the players what to think of each other, just give characters conflicting world views:
Jenkins is foul-mouthed and dislikes Redskins (Tonto), Tonto sticks to his beliefs and despises the depravity of pale faces (Maverick), Maverick wants to live in a world of hedonism and sin, and can’t stand do-gooders (Preacher), Preacher wants to bring civility to the West and can’t abide cussing and blaspheming (Jenkins).

You can immediately see that there are other conflicts beyond the initial set up. The Preacher might disapprove of Tonto and his injun ways. Or they may respect each other as deeply religious individuals, you could nudge it either way. You can set up friendly relationships in a different circle or merely “push back” to get things fiery – the relationship one way is positive, the other negative.

Jenkins respects the Preacher and hopes he’ll forgive his sins after a patchy life, Preacher desperately wants to save Maverick and with whether his insults to show him the light, Maverick has had a hard life and empathises with the bullying Tonto gets, Tonto values the old Jenkins for being to survive a proper frontier life, casting aside the trappings of “civilisation”.

Add another layer on top, with spokes of the wheel going in a different order and direction and you’ve got tons of potential – just be careful not to overdo it – it’s easy to over egg the pudding and have too many plates for people to keep spinning. Two or three strong central ideas is plenty and the more generic one liners like “Stick to the old ways, abhor new technology” are better than a paragraph of complex minutiae.

The key to then stirring it up if no-one is biting is to change people’s views by events in play (another good reason to have a general or world view, rather than Tom hates Geoff). You might have a character who is loyal to a company – but then discovers that the company does Bad Things. Maybe the person you distrust, it turns out is on your side. Again, it’s a case of moderation. If everyone is already pushing backwards and forwards readily, there’s no need to keep throwing verbal hand grenades in.

Hope that’s of some initial use. If you want to know more, just ask…

Gaz (Evil).

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