Chapter 2 introduced Complex Tasks, skill uses too intricate or significant to Resolve with a single check. Disarming a bomb, devising or cracking a code — these are activities far too interesting to let go with one die roll and a few modifiers. Likewise, many opposed skill uses deserve the royal treatment, and this is where “Dramatic Conflicts” come into play.
A Dramatic Conflict is an intense contest between two or more individuals. It could be a test of wills (brainwashing, for instance, or an interrogation) or a physical competition (a chase), a game of instinct and wits (an Infiltration or manhunt) or a battle of the mind (hacking). It could even be a matter of the heart (a seduction). In all cases, a Dramatic Conflict pits two or more sides against one another in a momentous struggle that unfolds like a great story, with exhilarating highs and lows, unexpected twists and turns, and eventually, a grand finale that reveals the ultimate victor.
A Dramatic Conflict looks a lot like a Complex Task, but operates quite differently. Challenges are replaced with Conflict rounds and Lead. During each Conflict round, one participant — the Predator — tries to reduce the Lead to 0, while his opponent — the Prey — tries to raise the Lead to 10 or more. Throughout, these participants choose Strategies, trying to outwit each other and seize the advantage. Strategies and Lead change over the course of every Dramatic Conflict.
The first thing to do in every Dramatic Conflict is determine Lead. This is handled differently for each type of Conflict, as noted in each description.
Conflict rounds commence thereafter, each taking an amount of time noted in the appropriate Conflict description and consisting of the following steps.
Each participant secretly chooses 1 Strategy he wishes to attempt (but does not immediately reveal it). Most Strategies feature requirements that must be met before they can be chosen — usually a current Lead range or minimum Power Rating the participant must possess.
During this step, the GC should ask whether any participants want to use abilities or other character options (many options affect a Dramatic Conflict after Strategies are chosen but before they’re revealed).
Special Note: Strategy cards are provided for every Dramatic Conflict in this book (see pages 476–490). These can help streamline the process of secretly choosing Strategies — simply provide a full set to each participant, perhaps in CCG sleeves to avoid card “marking” due to uneven scissor cuts.
The participants reveal their Strategies simultaneously and make an opposed skill check as noted in the appropriate Conflict description. Most of the time, a character’s chosen Strategy applies a modifier to his skill check.
If an opposed check winner scores a critical success, the Lead shifts by 1 in his favor. By the same token, if an opposed check loser suffers a critical failure, the Lead shifts by 1 in his opponent’s favor. During a Dramatic Conflict, critical successes and critical failures only affect Lead and modify Conflict conditions as noted in each Conflict description; the standard (Chapter 2) effects of these skill check results are ignored. Further, errors and threats have no effect during a Dramatic Conflict outside the modifications noted in each Conflict description.
The opposed skill check’s winner may choose 1 Advantage listed with his Strategy, plus 1 additional Advantage listed with his Strategy per 4 by which he wins the check. Each Advantage grants a benefit, usually one that becomes more impressive each time it’s chosen during the same Conflict round.
If the Lead is 0 or lower after the Advantage benefit is applied, the Predator wins. Conversely, if the Lead is 10 or higher after the Advantage benefit is applied, the Prey wins. The effects of each outcome are included in each Conflict description. If the Lead is 1 to 9, the Conflict continues to Step 4, and thereafter, to a newlict round.
When 2 or more characters or groups of characters work together on one side of a Dramatic Conflict, the skill checks become cooperative (see page 91). Such skill checks gain a synergy bonus from Tactics. Special Note: A participant may never “back out” after choosing a Strategy. He may concede, allowing his opponent to apply the Predator or Prey Victory result (but not both).
The participants and other nearby or involved characters may take 1 or more actions, as noted in the appropriate Conflict description. These actions represent brief opportunities during each Conflict round when drivers and passengers can attack opponents, can compare notes or consult reference materials, hackers can communicate with other members of their team, and so on.
Dramatic Conflicts are abstract, folding many variables into few statistics. They sacrifice detail for playability, and can leave some players confused about what’s happening. It’s a careful balancing act. On the one hand, intricate rules for a contest between just a few characters can leave uninvolved players cold, fostering disinterest and distraction. On the other, divorcing a Conflict’s participants from the drama of their actions is equally damaging.
As with most roleplaying endeavors, the onus falls to the GC to provide most of the flavor. Just a sentence or two per Conflict round is all that’s needed. During a Hacking attempt to control a remote drone, the winner might be told, “Your computer slows momentarily and your cursor vanishes. Somewhere in the electronic expanse, your protocols duel with the enemy’s until… Victory! The drone’s visual feed relays to your monitor for a second, displaying its location. Then it vanishes and the battle is on once again…”
Interpreting the details of a Dramatic Conflict is critical to keeping the process energetic and fresh. Inventive GCs can even use their descriptions to link the isolated match to outside events. Using the drone example, the displayed location might be near the other characters, allowing the Hacker to pass on a helpful detail to his teammates in the field.