LESSON A Guide to Conflict

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY MECHANICS' started by Sir Basil, Sep 15, 2016.


  1. A GUIDE TO CONFLICT
    don’t satisfy your hero’s desires, thwart them. -- damon suede

    WHAT IS CONFLICT ?


    Plot thrives on conflict. Conflict as a literary device is the incompatibility between two or more elements, forces, or characters within the construct of a narrative. Often, it is a conflict that makes up the bulk of a narrative’s plot. However, many conflicts can take place across a single narrative. Thus, it is best to think of conflict in narrative in the following ways; a primary conflict and a series of subordinated conflicts. A primary conflict is constructed from an incompatibility between “big” ideas, whereas subordinated conflicts arise from subtle tensions or smaller forces. Where a primary conflict may be the struggle between good and evil, the subordinated conflict is the struggle between two characters, or a conflict the protagonist has with environmental stimuli. The best narratives have the message of their subordinated conflicts express the larger, primary conflict on a smaller, more personal scale.

    For an example of this; the Lord of the Rings, the primary conflict is the struggle of Man (or hobbits, elves, dwarves…) vs. Evil. However, the series is also made of smaller conflicts that remain reflective of this larger struggle. The struggle between Gandalf and Saruman provides useful example of this - Gandalf is an uncorrupted, almost idealistic wizard who believes in the salvation of the world. He is, fundamentally, Good. Saruman has given up home, and allowed himself to become corrupted by Evil. Thus, their conflict isn’t just between two characters: it’s reflective of the larger themes of the work. Saruman's character represents certain ideas, and Gandalf represents others that are fundamentally, intrinsically in conflict. Therefore, while their conflict represents their personalities and differing worldviews, it also reinforces the ideas that Tolkien was trying to present throughout the Lord of the Rings series.


    If subordinated conflict is intended to reinforce the ideas of the primary conflict; conflict must be clearly deliberate. An author chooses what forces a character comes up against. These are often classified under the “Big Five” themes of conflict. They always begin with Man versus X. Man doesn’t mean a human male. Man only means the protagonist of the work, who the audience is supposed to relate with, sympathize with, or at least is expected to understand. The conflict is often against something that is less understood than the primary character - we are not, afterall, seeing the story through the eyes of Saruman. Even if we were, the story’s conflict would still be Man versus X ; except our Man would Saruman, and our X variable might not be “Evil.” Infact, the classification of Man versus Evil is not explicitly included in the “Big Five” themes of conflict. But the “Big Five” are a useful way to understand the typical plots and confrontations that can be found within most literature. The “Big Five” are the following:

    MAN VERSUS MAN

    Man versus Man conflict is when two characters are fundamentally opposed and turn to conflict. This is probably the most common conflict, seen in many genres of film and literature. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a solitary character versus a solitary character - it could be a nation against a nation, where the protagonist embodies the ideas of that nation. More generally, however, it is the typical story of a man’s struggle against something “other”, whether that’s a monster or another man. Although there are many examples of this across media, maybe the simplest way to understand it is through the lens of superheroes. Superman fights a rotating cast of criminals - that’s his central conflict. Or, more specifically, Batman’s conflict with the Joker is an example of Man Versus Man conflict. The ideals of the two characters, Batman and Joker, are in direct conflict, and representative of larger concepts - arguably, law and chaos, sanity and madness, order and fear.


    MAN VERSUS NATURE

    Man versus Nature is a conflict where the protagonist must overcome some sort of natural phenomenon, or animal. This is generally not as abstract as natural processes, like death or plague. The latter example, plague, is more likely to occur in a Man versus Nature story; ultimately these are stories about man versus the environment that they find themselves in. These stories often have an overtone that the natural order of things is that man is greater than nature, and nature is naturally subordinate to man. However, in recent years, with environmental concerns on the rise, these stories have taken a different tone. Man is temporary; but nature is eternal. The classic example is Moby Dick, where the primary conflict is Ishmael’s struggle against the white whale, and the forces of the ocean. These are stories of survival, in a hostile world.


    MAN VERSUS TECHNOLOGY

    Man versus Technology is a more modern literary device, with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the classic example. In this form of literary conflict, a human being is pitted against technology. This conflict can be internal, such as in Blade Runner, where this trope is expressed by questioning the nature of humanity and what defines it. However, the trope can also be external, such as in Terminator, where there’s plenty of explosions and cybernetic implants that chase our human heroes. Sometimes, this is stylized as Man Vesus the Supernatural - after-all, many of us would characterize Frankenstein’s monster as a ghoul or zombie, not a machine. Or, isn’t the monster a character -- making this conflict Man versus Man? I think this classification of Man versus Technology / the Supernatural is based upon what the “man” takes issue with it. Is it Frankensteins’ creation that the man takes issue with - or the monster itself? I would argue that the man takes issue with the idea of the creation, more than the physical creation - making it a situation where it’s Man versus Process - rather than any of the more fine distinctions within it. Nonetheless, many examples of Man Versus Technology can be found in media, and it is usually an easy conflict to spot.

    MAN VERSUS SELF

    If there was a category for Man versus. Evil, this would be it. Man versus Self is where the protagonist must contend with an internalized struggle or choice. This could be a character struggling with their values, or a character who must attempt to overcome their psychological or physical limitations. Sometimes it is simply a case of self-doubt. This is also how most Greek tragedy can be classified; its man versus man’s character flaw. An oft used example of this is Hamlet, where the titular prince struggles with doubt regarding his father’s death, his own sanity, and arguably, his feelings regarding Ophelia, his mother, and Horatio. This type of conflict generally suggests that the protagonists’ actions, or inability to take action, result in the climax of the story. Hamlet’s indecision about whether or not to kill Claudius results in most of the cast’s death -- including himself. These stories often end with the destruction of the hero, because of their faults.

    MAN VERSUS SOCIETY

    Man versus Society is where the protagonist’s goals, ideas, and worldview is in direct opposition with the larger world. The protagonist in this story is isolated from the world based upon their views, and society, in general, is unable to empathize with them. This conflict is almost always an externalized one, as the conflict begins when the protagonist makes the choice to go against the grain, and make overt their misanthropy. This can be difficult to spot in media, especially if there are many subordinating conflicts where the “man” is pitted against other “men”. It’s important to note what the rival obstacles symbolize for the protagonist. A hardboiled detective, always on the wrong side of the law, who gets roughed up by dirty cops isn’t going to see the situation as Man versus Man. They are going to see it as Man versus “The System.” Although its not a pleasant example, A Clockwork Orange displays the exploits of a deliquent, and the consequences that his anti-society views have upon the world around him. It goes a step further, by showing that neither “man” nor “society” is necessarily morally right - and that’s an important distinction to make about this form of conflict, and really, all of the conflicts. None of these conflcits necessarily mean that one side is moral, and the other is not.

    These are character focused, and do not necessarily reflect the larger “theme” of a work. “Theme” in literature refers to the “central topic” that a text is presenting -- including my previously discussed idea of “Man vs. Evil”. Sometimes, this is simplified into a single word, rather than stated as a conflict. However, I think it can be argued that a theme fundamentally derives from conflict, even if it is summarized in a single word: “Love”, “death”, “family”, what have you. If we suggest that the central theme of Lord the Rings is “morality” or “hope”, that ultimately relies upon the conflict, and the very real possibility, of a Middle-Earth without morality or hope. Alternatively, the single word theme could be argued to be the goal, or desire of the characters within the text - and their success and failure in dealing with the topic. A suggested theme of the Lord of the Rings is “kingship” or “power” - consider how many characters in the text handle the idea of kinship and prowess. Aragorn’s perspective on it is certainly different than Sauron’s, Gandalf’s, and Frodo’s -- but they all grapple with these ideas in some form or another. In short, theme is the primary idea that the characters struggle with throughout the novel. The key word here is “struggle”. If Aragorn had accepted the notion of kingship immediately - he would have no journey. There wouldn’t be a character arc. As Fredrick Douglass said, in his 1857 West Indian Emancipation speech: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress”

    Obviously, conflict is important in writing. It is a tightly controlled literary technique that an author uses to reinforce their theme. Conflicts do not happen randomly in literature. Conflicts happen because the author makes the decision to create a conflict, to reiterate what is at risk within the text. Aragorn doesn’t attempt to control the Palanatir at random; he does so to express how he is different than the kings that have come before him, reinforcing Tolkien’s theme of “kingship.” However, Tolkien had the luxury of being the sole author of the Lord of the Rings. In roleplay, you aren’t the only author. You have collaborators, with their own ideas. How do these notions of deliberate conflict work differently within the context of roleplay?

    Roleplay’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness is collaboration. By definition, roleplay requires collaboration; you can’t roleplay alone. This is good, because it prevents a wide variety of world views, unique understandings of the world and characters within it, and the often diverse player base informs the writing within the roleplay. However, this can present a problem for conflict. Unlike in text, where an author is systematically working towards inter-related themes, with a primary conflict supported by subordinated conflicts, the many perspectives in roleplay can lead to a disorganized central conflict, and subordinated conflicts that happen at random. Is this a problem? It largely depends on the kind of RP you’re interested in. In more casual RP, where the goal is simply to write some interesting characters, and watch them play off of one another - then, many, disorganized conflicts makes perfect sense, and actually works well for the RP. However, if your RP is intended to have a coherent narrative, organized around inter-related themes, with a clear progression of characters; I would argue that this is a problem. Without deliberate, subordinated conflicts, the primary conflict, and, ultimately, the theme will become lost.

    This guide intends to address roleplay’s unique relationship with the idea of conflict. We will move through the various perspectives on conflict, from in-character, to out-of-character, to the perspective of a GM. We will discuss how plot and conflict interact with one another, as well as how both players and GMs can move towards a more structured form of conflict. This guide presents one view on this matter; that roleplays should strive towards being literature. However, RPs are not literature. They are closer to improvised theatre, dependent on the responses of all participants within them. However, I don’t think that and literary technique are mutually exclusive. I don’t believe that RPs’ collaborative nature impedes an RPs ability to have a strong, structured central conflict, supported by subordinated conflicts, that ultimately leads to a cohesive theme.


    MAN VERSUS GAMEMASTER


    The Gamemaster, henceforth referred to as GM, is the one who generally decides upon the primary conflict. When a Gamemaster establishes the setting of their world, and their overarching plot, they are establishing the conflict. Often times, this is some force of darkness or a kind of monsters, but it could also be a teenage bully, or the school system, what have you. Regardless of genre, there needs to be a conflict in order for their to be a plot. However, as I mentioned earlier - roleplay isn’t literature. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a plot for roleplay to happen. It can be a series of disconnected scenes that don’t relate to a greater whole, and just involve characters bouncing off of one another. But, if that’s the case, that is something that the GM establishes immediately, whether explicitly or implicitly. This is expressed within the Interest Check or OOC Signup thread for group roleplay.

    In general, Interest Checks and OOC threads begin with the GM presenting an overview of the overall story of the roleplay. GMs usually don’t specific the major themes, conflict types, or other literary terms to describe their roleplay. These OOC threads usually begin with:
    You are X, and you are against Y, for the following reasons. That is immediately a conflict, and its generally the primary one. Other times, the conflict is implied, rather than stated explicitly. The GM will state that the player characters, the protagonists, are the protagonists for a reason that will be determined shortly after the roleplay begins. The GM may also describe the world, and details about the major players in the GM’s universe - for the purpose of future interaction. The GM is often aware of what forces they’ve established that are intended to be hostile towards their “man”, and those forces consist of. These can constitute as subordinate conflicts, as they are usually comprised of the same faction that constitutes the primary conflict. Whereas in literature, the GM would know how the protagonist would interact with these potential threats, roleplay is a little different.

    The protagonists are, of course, the player-characters. The player characters are, in general, expected to fulfill a heroic or at least likeable role, and combat the “foil,”; the obstacles the GM has put into play. But player characters are still player characters - they have their own agendas, because they have their own, distinct writers. In some ways, this a virtue, as it means that the characters behave organically, unaware of the broader role that their conflicts play. They may not behave heroically, and they may not be particularly likeable. A player won’t necessarily know what conflicts the roleplay is intended to have, or how the GM sees those conflicts. However, this has consequences. What the players see as the primary conflict may not be what the GM intended - likewise, the players may see the subordinated conflicts as primary ones. Generally, this confused position arises from the GM’s lack of clarity about the primary conflict within the OOC, and the problem of pacing.

    Pacing conflict is one of the most important roles of a GM. However, pacing conflict is, as Gerry Visco of
    The Writer’s Store, describes it; an anxious process. He claims the following; “Sometimes, it's easier for the writer to avoid the conflict altogether, since conflict produces anxiety -- fiction is trouble, after all, and we want to produce some tension and anxiety.” This returns to the idea that conflict is the basis of plot - and many writers, and by extension, GMs, would prefer to avoid their created conflict. Why? In literature,the writing of conflict propels the story forward, and forces the author to decide the primary road, themes, and ideas that they want to focus on. Introducing conflict into the narrative forces the author to make difficult choices. Likewise, in roleplay. By introducing the central conflict - or conflict at all - the GM is making a difficult choice about how the setting will work, how characters will interact with the conflict, and - perhaps most unsettlingly - how the players will respond OOCly to the situation. Unlike in literature, where an author asserts their control of the story by introducing conflict, when the GM introduces conflict in their story, they are often letting go of their control.

    Often times, to delay the introduction of conflict, a RP will begin with a short period where the characters are intended to interact with one another, their personalities are established. Sometimes, there is time allotted IC and OOC for characters to make plans for how they will deal with the impending conflict, even if its not introduced yet. This gives the GM some time to ease into the idea of introducing their conflict. However, it presents its own series of problems. When the principal plot, central conflict, or even a subordinate conflict, hasn’t been presented by the GM yet - the players tend to make their own plot. Often times, this means that their characters will create a conflict, where none existed before. This is often the result of characters’ with strong personalities in the same space together, and, without the driving plotline to follow along with, the characters will turn on one another instead. When this happens, the GM’s deliberation about the principal plot may be deeply changed.

    Let’s return to the Lord of the Rings for a moment. Imagine, if you will, if the Ring hadn’t been immediately the issue at hand for the Council of Elrond, and the Fellowship was expected to mingle. Already, the Council of Elrond suffered from squabbling - but it was tempered by the setting of a council with clear hierarchy and rules. Nonetheless, Boromir, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli were at each other’s throats. Unlike in literature or film, where the scene can simply cut away after a scene of squabbling, and they can return to the tracks of the plotline as laid out by the author - RP can’t do that. Imagine that Boromir, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are all trapped in the council chambers - sans Elrond - and are intended to get to know each other, without the common threat of the Ring. Those are all characters with big personalities. They would likely eat each other alive - to the point that Legolas might try to go home, Boromir may split the party and attempt to steal the ring to deliver to his father, Aragorn might try to kill Boromir, and Gimli might split Legolas’ head. The best case scenario for this scene would be that none of the characters are willing to talk to one another, leading to a broiling sense of hostility between our so called heroes. All of this could happen before the ring is introduced as a plot device - especially with the added wildcard of different players, with different expectations of their characters.

    Although it can be useful to allow the characters to “mingle” with one another, in many cases, the lack of a strongly produced conflict can result in total anarchy, that forces the GM to utterly revise their plot. On the other hand, this does speak to the collaborative, improvisational aspect of roleplay. The conflict between characters can lead to interesting developments of its own; and the plot could become something potentially more compelling than originally intended. Some players might enjoy this more, as well.
    But, if a GM wanted to do a heavily structured roleplay, and they’re committed to their story following a certain path; there’s a problem. How can the GM solve this problem?

    Ultimately, I believe that the secret to running a roleplay that has a clear narrative structure is to be clear in the OOC.
    Clarity breeds clarity - but structure also breeds structure. Establishing initially what roles you want characters to fulfill, and asking characters to behave as if they want to work together can be a great help. Within my home Dungeons & Dragons games, I always ask that my players make good or neutral morally-aligned characters, with the stipulation that they make characters that “work well in groups.” Although roleplay has more flexibility with regards to the much reviled “alignment system”, I still believe that a GM is within their right to ask for characters that “work well in groups”. There are many possible ways to do this - have characters that are related to one another, or members of the same religion. You don’t have to cut down on character diversity, in order to make a group that works well together. In some ways, this solves the mingling problem - a character who is a team player is less likely to attach a friend of the group. Obviously, their “team player” attitude might break down over the course of the roleplay - but that’s character development. As a GM, asking for these qualities may seem selective, but is more likely to create characters who are ready to be protagonists, as opposed to characters who are ready to be reactionaries.


    MAN VERSUS PLAYER


    Players are not the root of “The Mingling Problem”, and players are not always reactionaries. However, there is a persistent problem with the player character, as a literary device. Roleplays are not literature, largely because of their collaborative nature. The player character represents a wildcard for the GM. This has its advantages; the motives of characters are genuinely unknown by not only the other players, but also the GM. Characters’ actions can be genuinely surprising for the GM, and for the other players, in a way that an author is not generally surprised by the actions of their characters. However, the player character also has its disadvantages, which makes it the strange device that it is. The player character is played by another person, who has their own agency, their own expectations for the story, for their character within it, and for the arc that they expect their character to go through. This complex situation is compounded by the layers of IC and OOC, where conflict in one can effect the actions of the other. Navigating this landscape of IC and OOC can be a difficult one, especially when there is something at stake within the roleplay - which there should be, in the form of primary and subordinate conflicts.

    What I refer to as “The Mingling Problem”, characters starting conflict with one another in the absence of a directed conflict, is not solely a player problem. Obviously, the GM has the responsibility to introduce a conflict that the players can attack as a group. However, the agency of player characters can’t be ignored. Player characters are in a unique position of power, in the way that a character in a novel isn’t. A player character can decide to leave, or decide to change the nature of the story, to serve their own interests. However, a player has the responsibility not to do that. A player , when they submit their character to an OOC, is making a decision to follow along with the plot presented in the OOC - which is why it is so important for the OOC to be clear about the central conflict. A player is agreeing to play the GM’s story. While they hold an important role in it, playing one of the protagonists, a player character attempting to change the GM’s story into something different isn’t what a protagonist does. In my Lord of the Rings example, that would be Aragorn deciding that he doesn’t like anyone at the Council of Elrond, and deciding to leave.

    When these situations arise, there is often an outcry of “- that’s just what my character would do.” This phrase is fundamentally an excuse. To reiterate, roleplay is not literature and behaves by different rules. Roleplay is, at its most base level, a cooperative game of make-believe, with emphasis on the cooperative side of it.A character does not exist in a vacuum, and their IC actions have an impact not solely on the IC level, but on the OOC level. Unfortunately, the IC and OOC distinction (IC =/= OOC) is a bit misleading as well. For an example of this, consider the player character who leaves the story, or otherwise attempts to change the story into something against the GM’s originally intended story. The character’s IC actions have a very real impact on the OOC nature of the story - and the feelings of the GM and the other players within the story. If a situation becomes “that’s just what my character would do”, there is a simple solution that doesn’t require the player to leave the roleplay, or for the roleplay to become something different than the GM intended. A player has a responsibility to change their character. If going along with the story is not something that the character would do, the character should be tweaked such that going along with the story is something that the character would do. The same goes for cooperation - the player must make the conscious choice to make their character a protagonist.

    Although this guide has primarily concerned itself with the literary conventions of conflict, and how to handle the conflicts on an IC level - it seems important to contribute a note about what happens when players disagree. If the players regularly disagree with the GM, on they have clearly entered themselves into the wrong roleplay, and players should excuse themselves as kindly as possible. However, when players disagree the situation can be a bit more tenuous. Despite my previous assertion that there is considerable overlap between the IC and OOC levels, there is also distance between the two of them. Players may not like all of the characters they interact with, but they shouldn’t have to like them. Afterall, readers don’t like all of the characters they interact with in fiction - even if they are the supposed protagonists. I fully admit that I hate Bran Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire so much that I resorted to skipping his chapters in A Dance with Dragons. However, roleplay doesn’t allow for skipping, or even skimming. In roleplay, a player is stuck with a cast of character who they may not like, who they are forced to interact with.

    Rather than seeing this as a punishment, or a mistake, players should see this for an opportunity. Even though it can be frustrating to deal with unlikable characters, it is important to consider what their role in the story is, and how they fit into the larger narrative. Although embracing a “team spirit” attitude is important, for the purposes of following through with the GM’s plotline, having tension and disagreement with these other players can speak to the ideas I initially discussed. In my Lord of the Rings example, Saruman's character represents certain ideas, and Gandalf represents an opposed system. Those characters are embodiments of the greater conflict and themes within the work. Since players may not know what the greater conflict or theme of the roleplay is until they are deep into it, it may be useful to let the conflict between characters simmer. As a player lets it simmer, the truth of the character’s motives may come to light later on. The character may present itself as the embodiment of one ideal, and the other character an opposing one - serving as an engaging subordinated conflict. In this way, OOC troubles can result in IC engagement. The problem arises, of course, when IC troubles result in OOC disinterest ; when the characters inability to get along causes apathy on behalf of the player. If characters are constantly in-fighting, on the basis of “that’s just what my character would do”, players may become bored. Players will want to get to the real “meat” of the conflict -- the primary conflict that the GM has established. Revising character motivations, on behalf of OOC concerns isn’t something to be ashamed of, and should become normalized in roleplay circles.

    However, I am just as guilty of struggling with “that’s just what my character would do.” My own experience with it comes from my days of roleplaying on World of Warcraft. I was playing a character that, after years of abuse and mistreatment, was pretty much miserable. He complained constantly about death and despair, and how he could be dead and that nobody cared about him. As one might imagine, this character wasn’t particularly inclined to do much of anything. My GM eventually took me aside, and said; “Listen. Your character is really bumming everyone out, and there’s not really any growth or development happening. Can you tone him down?” Although I was initially insulted, I realized that my GM was absolutely right. By making changes to my established character for the purpose of the story, I was able to explore new paths with him. More importantly, I was actually participate within the story that I had signed on to ; without simply having my character mope every time he came into focus. From this episode, I learned that being true to character is in some ways utterly irrelevant. The player has agency over their character, and can make changes to their character that allow the character to become part of the story without sacrificing the “truth” of their character, if such a thing exists at all.

    MAN VERSUS RAILROAD


    “Railroading” is an ignominious label in the roleplaying world. My oft-quoted friends at TV Tropes defines it as the following: the GM takes any measure necessary to ensure that there is only one direction the campaign may proceed — his planned direction. This generally takes the following forms; the GM refuses to allow for other alternative routes, or fills the game with NPCs that advise the characters about where to go. Although “railroading” is a well-hated concept, and usually the mark of an inexperienced GM, the truth of the matter is that all GMs engage in some form of railroading. When a GM establishes conflict, the world, and the characters, they are preparing for eventual casualties and options, and may not consider everything that the players would. And, they have a right to refuse the players, when the players try to do something that doesn’t work with their roleplay.

    Of course, there are points where the GM takes it too far. Magical force-fields appearing out of nowhere, to prevent the players from moving forward, or deus ex machina to get them onto the right track, are good examples of the railroading GM’s tricks. Those are the bad examples of railroading. A truly subtle GM will make an effort to maintain at least an illusion of free will, and will railroad the players based upon how they understand their players. It would be, ultimately, impossible for a GM to plan out every possibility of a group of players, especially with characters and people as diverse as those on an online roleplaying forum. Therefore, clever and yielding railroading can be incredibly helpful for the burgeoning GM, especially if they have a specific story to tell.

    TV Tropes makes a very important point in their definition of “railroading”. “Maybe the story is just worth going on the railroad for.” This is what this guide has attempted to emphasize throughout. When a player joins a roleplay, there is an implicit acceptance, on their part, that they like a GM’s story and are willing to put up with some amount of railroading for the purposes of actually experiencing the story. The TV Tropes page goes on to make the following claim; It's been pointed out that you have to be somewhat linear to actually make a story work. Many of the recent criticism of sandbox, exploration heavy video-games, such as No Man’s Sky, is that while the games offer you absolute freedom -- they’re absolutely boring. The reason being, of course, is that there’s no conflict. There’s no rails to follow, and no story to experience. You can do everything - but you end up doing nothing. While in roleplays, there are always the other characters to interact with, an acceptance of the greater plot, the great conflict, and the greater themes, can lead to a more rewarding experience. Embrace the railroad, and understand why GMs utilize it.

    ENDING THE CONFLICT

    There are many ways to introduce conflict into roleplays, but conflict as a literary device is fundamentally different than the conflict that enters roleplay. While the “Big Five” tropes may play a large role in the GM’s plot line, leading towards implied themes, everything can be thrown into chaos with the introduction of interactivity. However, players are good at creating their own conflicts and scenarios, and with the right guidance, these can become compelling plots on their own accord. The GM should be the person who establishes the primary and subordinating conflicts, but how the players interact with those conflicts should be open ended. However, I think that cooperation is ultimately the only way to make conflict work in roleplay. GMs have to be flexible enough to accommodate their players' diverse interests, and players have to understand that when they are joining a roleplay, they are accepting the roleplay's structure, narrative arc, and the established conflict. Both GMs and players have to give a little, in order to make the primary and secondary conflicts of their story come together.

    This guide is fundamentally subjective. I am a person who prefers roleplays with structured plots, a clear narrative arc, with a traditional story structure. However, I am also very aware that roleplays aren’t literature, and first and foremost : are intended to be fun. If fun isn't being achieved, its time to revise ! Nevertheless, I do believe that GMs are modern storytellers. Their ideas deserve respect and development. Players deserve to be part of the story, and have the opportunity for growth and change in their characters. These two desires are not in opposition with each other - they're not Gandalf and Saruman, battling at the tops of towers! I like to believe that everyone has the same motives going into a roleplay: tell a good story. That’s only possible with a little conflict.

     
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  2. This is a great guide to conflict for group RPs. And I loved the examples from fiction. When you mentioned Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli, and Legolas trapped in the council chambers sans Elrond, it made me snort with laughter. I almost spilled my morning coffee when I imagined the scene.
     
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