Walk, Don’t Run To Conflict
Fictional conflict is often the centerpiece of game design and as such the texts advocate “getting to the conflicts.” I believe that historically texts have over emphasized this central point from bad play experiences characterized by players spending whole sessions describing their characters shopping or having their characters sitting around chatting about their fictional lives. These kinds of play experiences were sometimes lauded as “incredible” because “we never had to roll the dice.” The central play skill was *avoiding* conflicts so as not to resort to “roll-playing.” These texts were written to show that dramatic confrontations that turned on die roll could be as emotionally engaging as any “pure” role-playing experience.
Unfortunately this idea of “driving to conflict” has been taken to a problematic extreme. What I’ve observed is groups struggling to introduce conflict into a scene if it appears that scene is about to end without one. The central play skill has shifted to *making* conflicts. This leads to all kinds of weird pseudo-conflicts over things like whether or not someone realizes something, or notices something or even feels one way or another or worse whether it’s ninjas or pirates that attack. They feel forced and contrived… and that’s because they are.
It comes down to the fact that play can be about “driving to conflict” without every single scene having a conflict in it. Indeed, for conflict to occur characters must have things over which they conflict. The difference between the kind of role-playing that early indie-texts were afraid of and good solid story building role-playing is that the scenes without conflicts point towards what conflicts will arise later. These non-conflict scenes establish key beliefs, priorities, loyalties, and passions which later elements of the narrative will threaten. With out scenes that first establish and then later update and develop these character elements “conflict” is essentially a meaningless term.
When you let go of the “must have conflict NOW” urge then play progresses much more smoothly and much more naturally. Establishing scenes becomes more about feeding curiosity, “I’d like to see how X and Y interact” or follow up action, “Given what’s just happened I’d like my character to do X.” The play skill involved becomes about *identifying* conflicts when they occur.
Sit back. Relax. Play Passionately.