Drama = Desire + Obstacles = Conflict

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I'm going through old Forge posts (mine and others) and pulling out stuff I like. Here's an old post of mine from 2005 about Story Now gaming in Primetime Adventures.


Drama = obstacles to protagonist's desires = conflict

What does Buffy want? To go to prom (and, in the Issue sense, to Be A Normal Girl). Does she get what she wants? Yes and no. She does go to prom, but not in the way we might expect, and only after facing several obstacles between her and her goal. And her life is anything but normal.

Buffy's player sets her on a path of desire. "Buffy wants to go to prom." The player calls for a scene to get this desire on screen for the audience to appreciate. "I want a scene with Buffy, Willow and Xander talking about prom." Bang. There's Buffy's issue, big and bold. The prom ain't for slayers -- she has world-saving work to do. But Buffy's isn't having any of it. Buffy announces that she is going to the dance anyway. "I'm sure everything will be fine. I can take one night off, right?"

Now the player has done her job. She has put Buffy in motion and made her desire clear, which opens the door for conflict and thereby creates drama. By having the set-up scene, the player is essentially saying to the Producer, "Make this whole prom thing difficult for me."

So the Producer responds with his own creative input. Any number of things could happen to provide dramatic material for conflicts and player decision-making. A jilted student could release devil-dogs onto the school campus to ruin the prom. Or ghosts of previous prom-goers could show up. Or what if, gasp, nothing unusual happens? Aren't the terrors of real-life prom enough? What if Buffy asks a boy to the dance? Does he say yes? What if her date is a huge jerk? Does Buffy beat the crap out of him?

These are all possible conflicts, and the game system comes into play at each story-juncture, setting the plot off in a new direction based on the outcome of the dice rolls and narration. Conflicts give the player a chance to make key character decisions. If there are ghosts, Buffy is put to the test: How badly does she want to be normal? Will she try to ignore them to have an ordinary prom night? What happens if she does? What happens if she doesn't?

A lot of good drama is about characters who want things, and then have trouble getting those things. In PTA, the players point their protagonists at goals and the producer sets obstacles in their path, by using the conflict system. Conflicts should never be about particular outcomes that everyone at the table wants to see. Conflicts should be uncertain situations with many possible outcomes that require all the players to react and adapt to new circumstances.


[The original thread on The Forge]

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