Conflict Negotiation

(This text was adopted and editted with the permission from Road to Amber-MUSH)

The primary goal of our RPG system is to facilitate an environment in which it's "safe" to be involved in conflict with players that aren't known or, perhaps, trusted.

This comes down to a couple of things:

  • Being able to prove a claim, without having to get the staff involved.
  • Establishing a formal chain of communication around a conflict.
  • Establishing boundaries around a conflict.
  • Clearly articulating the scope of consequences.
  • Being able to make and reference binding agreements.

Proving Claims

In the relatively free-form environment of a MUSH, it can sometimes be hard to figure out who has what and who did what, particularly if something took place some time ago. It can also sometimes be hard to determine what exactly was agreed to, OOC, in particular situations. What's useful in this situation, therefore, is authenticated timestamped messages, which can be used to document actions taken behind the scenes. LAmush has several systems in place that help you prove your statistics and actions. Please refer to an overview here.

We believe that this sort of formal communication, combined with time stamps, allows players to demonstrate and document who did what when.

Formal Communication

Whenever a player is involved in a conflict there are often certain people who should be kept in the loop as the situation evolves. However, there are two problems — first, one has to know or find out who those people are, and second, they have to actually be kept in the loop.

To assist with this it's useful to have some guidance as to who the people are and what part of the situation they need to be made aware of. Finally, even in a solely two person conflict that doesn't involve anyone else, there's a need to communicate in a structured manner so that everyone is on the same page in terms of understandings and expectations. The better the two players know each other the better informal communication will work out, but the more serious the conflict or the less well aquainted the players are, the greater the need for a more structured approach.

At the beginning of conflicts, expectations need to be clearly set and defined. Everyone has different tastes and different approaches to play; as well, they may bring very different assumptions to the table.

The following are some points that should be included in negotiations.

  • How many people will be involved in this conflict?
  • How often, and in what context, will conflict-related scenes be played out?
  • To what degree are things happening off-screen and in what manner will they be communicated?
  • How long will this conflict last?
  • What is the pacing of the conflict?
  • How much information will be communicated OOC?
  • How much will be pre-negotiated?
  • Is arbitration or a trusted third party needed?

These are negotiations, essentially, regarding the form that play will take.

Some people may prefer to conduct certain types of conflict via +mail or other means, while others expect everything to be scened. Other people may thing that an ongoing plot conflict may have one major event each week, while others believe they should happen daily. Even other players may consider the primary play to take place between the key people involved in the conflict, but others want to involve a lot of other parties, props or story lines that may or may not be going on elsewhere.

These are negotiations, essentially, about the form that play takes. Some people may prefer to conduct certain types of conflict via +mail or bboard posts, while others expect everything to be scened. Some people may think that an ongoing plot conflict might have one major event each week, while others want to pursue daily play. Some people may consider the primary play to take place between the key people involved in the conflict, while others want to get a lot of other people involved. Some people want to draw in a lot of props, while others want to keep things more focused and/or avoid interfering with storylines that might be going on elsewhere. People also have different conflict resolution styles, and different levels of tolerance for surprises. These are all taste and practicality issues, and both sides need to discuss their desires and expectations up front, and come to agreements on these points.


Every conflict is about something. Even if the conflict is purely interpersonal, there's always something on the line, even if it's something as abstract as hurt pride or reputation. In the end, it comes down to the stakes — what's at risk, and what changes as a result of the conflict.

We believe that making the stakes explicit leads to more satisfying conflicts between people who don't have established trust relationships with each other. It allows people to clearly articulate what, in the end, they want to get out of the conflict and what they're willing to lose.

We also believe that most players want conflicts to have limited scope — they don't want a situation spiraling entirely out of control and derailing whatever other plans they may have had for their characters. Some players are more flexible than others in this regard (and some players absolutely love unpleasant surprises), but when there isn't an established trust and the players involved are sufficiently remote from one another that they feel limited social obligation to cooperate, and/or there are significant stylistic differences between what players want out of a situation, it's better to limit the scope of the conflict to something that everyone can live with.


Conflicts have fallout.

They have consequences, things that change, things that are won and lost. This is where the story lies; in the interaction between players and the events that occur as a result.

We tend to express system things in the terms of the types of consequences that can result and the breadth of applicability. We do this because we have an eye to how something affects the color of a scene, the possible consequences, and the actual likely consequences. These new systems strongly relate the idea of naming a fact with naming a consequence, and then making those consequences into formally agreed-upon contracts.

We also push the intent of the consequences, i.e. the player's desire for a play outcome, over the specifics of the consequences. Players generally want the outcome of a conflict to be meaningful in some way - that's the intent.

Not allowing someone's victory to be meaningful also means that the loss is not meaningful and, in the end, both players have been robbed of the potential drama and good story involved in the conflict.

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Original Work is licensed under a CC Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 US License.