Choices & Internal Conflicts
In a post on his blog, Gameslinger Enterprises, about the game “Montsegur 1244” Paul Tevis wrote:
“One problem I expected to have revolved around the fact that we (and especially Christina) like to use resolution mechanics to help make decisions for our characters. I realize this is a heretical view to some roleplayers, akin to rolling on the NPC Reaction Table in the way it seems to prioritize “roll-playing” over “role-playing.” However, in certain systems we’ve found ways to let the mechanics give us a “push” when we’re not sure how a character should react to something.”
This got me thinking because I’m one of those people who doesn’t like using resolution mechanics for making character choices. However, it’s not because of the dumb (and non-existent) cliché of “roll-playing” vs. “role-playing.” I love social conflict resolution mechanics, for example. But I found myself wondering why I don’t mind rolling to see if my character takes the guy’s bribe but utterly hate rolling to decide if I’m going to call the cops when I discover my character’s brother committed a crime.
Thinking things through I came to the conclusion that my issue is that I don’t really believe in the existence of internal conflicts. I believe in wholly internal choices and priorities but not conflicts. Consider, for example, that I want to buy a new video game console. I have enough money for a PS3 or an X-Box 360 but not both. The factor is where I put my money. This is a choice but it’s not a conflict. The reason I say this is because no other person’s interests are served or undermined by my decision and subsequent action.
Now consider that my girlfriend is really into Final Fantasy, which is usually a PlayStation exclusive franchise, and I’m really into first person shooters which have better multiplayer support on X-Box Live. NOW, I’m in a conflict. However, it isn’t an “internal” conflict at all. Like it or not, I’m in a conflict with my girlfriend. She might not be there but we carry our relationships around with us whether we like it or not. My decision is either going to serve or undermine her interests and I’m going to have to live with the consequences.
Given this, why am I bothered by the idea of rolling to decide whether my character calls the cops on his brother? After all, isn’t sending him to jail undermining his interests? Well, not necessarily because relationships are complex. Since we’re talking about an imaginary relationship I don’t have all the details. For all I know, my character’s brother really respects his integrity and would WANT him to call the cops. That’s what’s really missing for me in this situation. I don’t know what the brother would want and I don’t know what actions he’d be willing to take to back it up even if he isn’t here right now. Without those two things there is no conflict, just a choice.
I don’t like rolling to make choices. Making choices is why I play because I learn stuff about myself and my fellow players that way. However, I totally sympathize with the content of Paul’s comments because I know what that creative block of being pinned down in the fiction feels like. I think his phrase “give us a ‘push’” is dead on because every time I’ve felt like that there have been massive external forces (if not physically present or active) pressing in on the character and I want the dice to tell me which way he topples.
I don’t mind this because the dice are not making a character choice. They’re telling me which external force is strongest. Now that I know which force is strongest that’s what my character must make a choice about. I think we often don’t perceive it as a choice because once we know which way the forces are flowing what our character “would do” feels natural and obvious and we miss the fact that there are other things we could do in response to the flow of that force.