Post by tedium on Jul 28, 2019 17:56:41 GMT -5
In this post I'm going to try and give an idea of what conflict is, how it applies to Armageddon, what went wrong, and how to fix it. I want to emphasize that I don't think that conflict is an attitude problem, but a structural problem in the administration and established lore of the game. Specifically, in how certain administrative rules and attitudes actually clash with the underlying conflicts of the setting.
Part 1: Conflict 101
First, lets have a quick breakdown for Literary Conflict 101: Conflict happens when people want something that they cannot have. An antagonist is literally anything that prevents someone from getting what they want. When an antagonist makes it difficult for someone to get what they want, you have conflict. That conflict is resolved when you finally deal with the antagonist and get what you want. Types of conflict are determined by the type of antagonist. There are between 4-6 types of conflict depending on genre. Four types of conflict are universal, and we'll focus on those.
* Man v. Self, where something about themselves are stopping them from getting what they want. They are their own antagonist.
Examples: the cowardly warrior, the uncertain leader, etc. Almost every story has an element of Man v. Self
* Man v. Society, where society's structure, culture, and practices prevents them from getting what they want. Society is the antagonist.
Examples: The civil rights movement, 1984, Scarlet Letter, Handmaid's Tale, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, etc.
* Man v. Man, where people stop each other from getting what they want. An individual person, or a group of people smaller than society are the antagonists.
Examples: Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, any soap opera ever, the Office. Almost every story has an element of Man v. Man.
* Man v. Nature, where the natural world stops someone from getting what they want. Wilderness, animals, or resource scarcity.
Examples: The dust bowl, the Revenant, Moby Dick, disaster movies, Lord of the Flies, Gilligan's Island, Survivor, Man v. Wild, etc.
Note: If your characters, organizations, or societies do not want something that they do not have, then they have no conflict. There is nothing to overcome and you have no story. This is very important.
Part 2: Conflict and Setting
The setting of a story determines the conflict that takes place because it shapes the scope of wants. Game of Thrones is set in a world with a hereditary monarchy, which means that one of the primary conflicts takes place over the throne. Only one person gets to be King but more than one person wants to be king. This means that a lot of people cannot have what they want. Thus, conflict.
Conflict has to be something achievable in that setting. The wants have to be possible, and your story does not start until that want is possible. I'm sure that there are a lot of toothless peasants in Game of Thrones who also want to be King, but because their wants are not remotely achievable, we don't follow them. They have no story.
This is one of the reasons why the sandbox approach allows for more story than the DM approach. When players are mechanically allowed to set their own goals and pursue them, you have more wants and have more stories. When you set goals for a player in mechanics, they have the story you have assigned them and can only operate within the bounds you have imagined.
The setting of Armageddon is based off of Dark Sun, but over time has become much more like Mistborn. Ultimately, it boils down to this: You have two types of magic. Elementalism, which exists in accordance with nature, and Sorcery, which consumes life force. Sorcerers can consume their own life force, making them preservers, or the life force of nature and other living beings, making them defilers who act against nature. Defilers and elementalists have mutually exclusive wants. Elementalists want to preserve nature, and defilers want to consume it. Defilers are generally stronger than preservers because preservers must hurt themselves to cast magic.
Tektolnes is a defiler, and fought another defiler ages ago. Tektolnes won and ruled over the wasteland of their battlefield. He built a city because life force is power, and every living being was potential magical energies. The Templars are all sorcerers who drew their magical power from Tektolnes. These days, Tektolnes is apparently dead, and the Templars draw their magical power from the black gems they put on elementalists. They essentially tap into the elemental planes through elementalists.
Every noble house performs some service in keeping Allanak running. Oash is in charge of agriculture and mages, because you need magic to grow food in the desert. Borsail handles the slaves to ensure that Allanak has a constant supply of bodies, servants, and laborers. I wouldn't be surprised if they were meant to capture witches to fuel the Templar's magic too. In the setting, each clan has a goal, and their survival is based on them performing that goal. Those goals also bring them into conflict with other groups who have opposing goals.
In the setting, at least. Most of the conflicts staff are actually willing to entertain are PvE, Man vs. Nature conflicts with gith and other spawned animals, or utterly meaningless Man vs. Man conflicts that have no hope of ever effecting the game world in any way. This means that the setting loses a lot of its shine when implemented. You can have meaningful Man vs. Nature or Man vs. Man conflicts, but staff seems really averse toward giving players anything to really chew on, or allowing them to carve out their own stories.
Part 3: Where Armageddon Goes Wrong, and How to Fix It
The problem with Armageddon, put as simply as I can, is that the driving forces of the setting are muddled by staff policy, and no clear conflicts emerge. Organizations are especially good examples of what is wrong with the game, especially given the push to get people in clans and the long standing resistance to player-created clans. What does the Arm of the Dragon want? What does Oash want? What do the Seik or Sun Runners or Two Moons want? Nothing players can effect or be effected by. They have no story for the players to participate in. In the cases where they do have an outlined goal, such as Great Merchants wanting to make coin or Borsail wanting to slave, administrative policies prevent them from pursuing those wants..
Organizations in Armageddon are different flavors of really generic archetypes. The Byn and the Arm are both soldier-clans, with slightly different moods, but they play basically the same. Their stories are not different and they often get sent on the same missions. Characters in those clans are all interchangeable. The difference between an Oash and a Fale noble, or even an Oash and a Kadian family member, is largely cosmetic and not substantive.
In my opinion the solution is really simple: First, look at the various clans and try to tweak them so that their unique wants, at an organizational level, bring them into conflict with other clans. This might mean altering some administration policies, tweaking the world to add NPCs, or altering existing NPCs. That's fine. Let the game change. Make Armageddon about survival in a ruined world, and the things people must do to that end.
Or, if staff are unwilling to do that, let players more easily create clans that perform the same roles as setting clans. Preferably both.
Here are some of, but by no means the only clan tweaks that you could make:
Borsail wants to make money slaving, and experimenting with slaves. If you won't let them compete with a player-run Kasix, and you won't let them slave players, then either let them slave NPCs or rework them because the slave angle does not contribute to the game. If you let them slave NPCs, then make sure that their slaving comes at the expense of other player-run clans, EG, slaving NPCs in the Pah, or the Rinth, or new NPCs near the grasslands. This puts them at odds with those clans who want to protect their own families and subjects.
Kadius wants to cut in on Kurac's spice monopoly, or maybe Salarr wants to cut in on their survival gear monopoly. Both have a foothold in Red Storm already. Kadius could expand their operations under the guise of silt pearl collection, while opening a brothel and spice den to compete with Kurac. They could smuggle spice into Allanak's Labyrinth to compete with Kurac there. Alternatively, Salarr could expand their operations in Storm under the guise of Silt Horror shell collection, while testing their own desert survival designs in the storms outside. They could start selling camouflage, new sunslit designs, armored climbing gloves and boots, etc. to the grebbers and raiders of the area.
The presence of the volcano near the gem has caused an increase in magics. Ruk and krath-touched animals spawn, with a slightly altered description, and produce rare materials (gems, trace quantities of metal, etc) when skinned by a skilled hunter. Allanak and the merchants want to poach them, Kurac wants to set up a base to breed magically-touched animals, and the Sun Runners, Akei, Blackwing, Seik, Arabet, etc. want to protect these creatures which are now sacred to them.
Pah tribals realize that hating elemental magic is idiotic when you drink water from the literal entrance to the Plane of Elemental Earth, rely on game that also uses it as a watering hole, and your clan's survival depends on your own mages. They become pro-elemental and pursue a very difficult way to liberate gemmed mages. This brings them into conflict with Allanak, Tuluk, and probably literally everyone else when the free mages start screwing with people.
Any player character who wants to participate in these conflicts has a clear way to do so. Join a clan, or create your own somewhere along the chain of conflict. You aren't forced to do so, and staff can keep up their own DMed events for specific players and specific clans if they choose, but the game doesn't start or stop based on the whims of whatever PC leader happens to be in charge today. If players aren't allowed to direct and guide clans, then at least give those clans some momentum to carry players in the right direction.