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Article - 'A Guide To Conflict' by Mateui

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Aug 8, 2003


A guide to conflict, a way to put some conflict into your stories.


A Guide To Conflict
By: Mateui

“Every good story needs to have problems.”

What would be of the three little pigs if there never was a wolf? Yes, you’d end up with one little pathetic boring story.

What does this have to do with RPGs? EVERYTHING! If you take a close look at them, you will realize that RPGs are really only stories. The only difference is that the interactivity is greater in RPGs than conventional tales. This eventually means that to have a good story you’ll definitely need to have conflict, which is what you will learn to do in this article.

CONFLICT: What is it?

Conflict is defined as:
1) a prolonged fight or struggle.
2) direct opposition, disagreement, or clash
3) An inner struggle

We will look at these three types of conflict and will determine how they factor into an RPG game.

CONFLICT: The First Definition

“A Prolonged Fight or Struggle.”

This is the most common and effective type of conflict. It is the reason why your story is occurring, and the reason that your main character is doing whatever he is doing to solve the problem.

This conflict appears near the beginning of the story, and is what the characters are striving to defeat or accomplish throughout the game.

Suppose that someone stole the magic crystal from Happytown. It is the main character’s job to retrieve that crystal. He will strive to accomplish this goal from the moment the crisis begins to the moment it ends, in which the conclusion of the game will be imminent.

Understand now? Great! Onto the 2nd definition!

CONFLICT: The Second Definition

“Direct Opposition, Disagreement, or Clash”

This is the second most type of common conflict. It is the minor problems that occur along the way and hinder the characters from reaching their goal and resolving the first type of conflict. Confusing? Example time!

When the main character went to the nearest town to search for the missing magic crystal he find the person that stole it. Unfortunately, the thief saw the main character and blocked him by throwing down some large crates in front of him. The thief runs to the next town.

The large crate is an example of the second type of conflict. It results in a delay of the solving of the initial conflict and is usually fairly simple and easy to solve.

Good! Last definition!

CONFLICT: The Third Definition

“An Inner Struggle”

This is the rarest yet very the most fulfilling type of conflict. It is one of the character’s struggles to understand their own values and feelings, and a result may be delayed in accomplishing the overall goal. Let us look at another example.

After the main character cleared the large crates, he finally made his way to the next city, hoping to find the criminal and retrieve the jewel. He saw the thief on the roof of a building and the main character called out to him.

“Why are you stealing the jewel?” asked the character.

“Didn’t you know that the king was using it to absorb its power to be able to control the whole world?!” cried the thief.

The criminal thus left the city and the main character was alone to over think his situation. “Is that man right? What if he is? What would I do? Is he lying?”

Did you notice how the character slowed down to think about his situation? He reviewed his personal beliefs and struggles and thus it cost him some time.

Most of the time the character will know what the right and wrong choices are, but he will go against it anyway.

Another situation involves the character being misguided and not knowing all the particular facts about a situation. (The above example.) If he knows that he doesn’t know everything, then he will lose time on thinking what everything is. (Doesn’t that sound very confusing?)

In most games it adds a more dramatic effect and better storyline if the main hero would stop to over-think their values and beliefs. It would be even better if he took the wrong path down the trail.
(This is symbolic, there are no actual paths!)

CONFLICT: When Should It Be Used?

You know all the types of conflict now, but the question arises: When should it be used? Let us go back to my grade seven English class. I clearly remember the day I learned about the plotline. Atleast that’s what I think it’s called. (Yes, I don’t actually remember, and I’m glad, ehh.. My English teacher!)

Ok, back on topic. The following is an image of a plotline. A plotline is a skeleton of any stories. It describes briefly what a story should have and in what order those things should be. Let’s look at it now.

(NOTE: Once again, I am not too sure if this ASCII art will show up correctly. If it doesn’t then I will describe what it should look like. Picture a 2D pyramid, with a little hump on the left side.)

/ 2 4
_____/ \______
1 5

1) Introduction
2) Rising Conflict
3) Resolution
4) Falling Action
5) Conclusion

The introduction is the beginning of the story where your main character(s) is introduced. You begin to familiarize yourself with him/her.

The rising conflict is the part(s) of the story where the player realizes what the main conflict is. Following that many smaller problems occur (usually consisting of 2nd and 3rd types of conflict.)

This is the part of the story where your main conflict is resolved. The bad guy is defeated/killed/etc. and the main characters are happy.

Now that the main problem is gone, all the intense action is subsiding. There are no more exciting events, but just a way to lead you into the conclusion.

Basically the ending of the game. Usually in sappy love RPGs, the main hero and his lover will probably end up getting married, and living happily ever after. In more than one part RPGs, the conclusion will leave the player hanging, forcing them to wait for a sequel.


Well, all good tales must come to an end, don’t they? This includes this article. I hope you found this info practical and informative, and I wish that it has helped you create a better game. I guess that I must say goodbye for now, but I will hopefully see you later when I write some more articles or tutorials.

Happy Conflict Making!