Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rock-Paper-Scissors as Conflict Resolution

A couple of weeks ago the Gamer Wife and I were playing around with the silliest possible role playing concept we could think of. We wanted to create a complete, little game we could put up on rpgnow or drive-thru rpg for a couple of bucks to get a writing credit essentially (and because it's a silly game). Given the non-serious nature of the game, I wanted to the main conflict resolution system to be incredibly simple. We decided that Rock-Paper-Scissors (RPS) would be a fun and easy way to resolve conflicts. You'll hopefully be seeing more about the game in the future, but what I came to talk about today was the results of my RPS research. Keep Reading to see how to make RPS strategic!

First, I want to present my thread over at where the fine folks over there gave me some feedback on how we can add just a little dimension to RPS. Below I'm going to present the current format for our game engine and some of the ways we can tweak RPS to make it more than just a a simple three option game.

Each turn the player has an opportunity to make one RPS test either against the GM or against another player. The first player to win two out of a three match set wins the RPS test. After three rounds, you begin a new set and wipe the records of wins and losses from each player. Ties are a draw and count as losses for both participants. If the acting player wins the set, he gets what he was after. If the GM wins the set, the player does not get what he wants and may have to face a penalty. If the winner is an opposing, inactive player, that player then gets something their character is after.

Ok, simple enough - you just play sets of RPS until someone wins 2 out of the 3. Sounds pretty boring, and - worse yet - because ties are losses and you don't carry your wins into the next set, this could take forever!

Ah, but that's where the secret of the RPS engine comes into play! Built right into the system we have the ways that we can make characters unique and good at different things. To be honest, coming up with the engine was obviously pretty straight-forward, but I was really concerned on what we could do to make the characters unique. Using a fantasy example, I would imagine a game where all the characters are equally as good at using a bow and arrow, a sword, and spells would make for some pretty boring play. I don't want to get into the details of what our characters look like or do at this point (since it's kind of the gimmick and it would be cheating to give it away without the final product!), I didn't want all of our players playing the same character just with different colored hair.

To make sure this didn't happen, we've got to specifically design some space in the engine to actually tweak with. Our game, and the RPS engine that runs it, is definitely not stat-heavy. If anything it's pretty much statless but uses trait-based powers to give the players bonuses in some specific situations. There'll be a list of traits a player can pull from and they can choose three to apply to their character. These traits will then give them a bonus to tests tied specifically to the trait. Appropriateness of a trait is to be judged by the GM, but the player does get a chance to make their case before the GM decides. My RPS engine then has a couple of areas to expand outwards with.

The two areas where characters can then have power is in ties and bringing wins into a set. I'm sure there are some other ways, but one thing I really wanted to avoid was adding more options to the R-P-S arrangement. We've come up with two separate powers that a trait can give a character:

1. You win ties.

2. You can carry over one win from a set to the following set - if you didn't win one set, you basically get a win leading into the next set.

3. You have one banked win that you can then use during a set to get a round. You'll only get one for the game session, and like with the tie winning power, it has to be in a set where you're actively utilizing the trait. 

That's enough musing for now! Please, if you have other ways to extend the life cycle of RPS, please let us know!


  1. I know of two other bloggers that have written something about using RPS as a RPG conflict resolution mechanism: and

    I like your take on it, including the best out of 3 rule and trait system. I'd like to see the finished version when it's ready.

  2. Thank you very much for the kind words tenletter! I'm definitely gonna go check out that post just to see what other ideas are out there.

    Unfortunately I can't give you a definite timeframe on our game's release, but if it helps, I will say this - the theme might very well turn some people off a bit from trying the game out. That being said, it is probably zero percent offensive to any person on the entire planet. Mysterious, I know!


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