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July 23, 2013

The Primary Source of Conflict: Because the PCs Can’t Always Get What They Want

We have a seed, a dramatic question, and a hook, and that leads us naturally to the primary source of conflict. In fact, sometimes it is easier to decide on a primary source of conflict before you create a hook. The order of the steps here matter less and less the deeper into the process you go. I prefer to come up with the hook first because that usually shines a spotlight right on the primary source of conflict.

The primary source of conflict is the most obvious source of conflict, the first one the PCs will see, and the one they will be most focused on resolving somehow. In the caves above, the spiders and their desire to eat the PCs or defend their lair represent the primary sources of conflict (remember a source of conflict needs a reason to oppose the PCs or else there is no conflict). The primary source of conflict is usually visible in the hook. In fact, the call to action in the hook is usually a call to resolve the primary conflict.

Keep in mind that we haven’t done any stats or mechanics yet and that is by design. Game mechanics and statistics are the last thing you want to worry about. Stats and mechanics are not encounters. Usually, they are simply sources of conflict. And they aren’t even that. A stat block, by itself, is not a source of conflict because a stat block has no reason to oppose the heroes. At this point, we just want to identify the primary source of conflict: what is it and why is it opposing the PCs.

Ongoing Example: The Chase

Well, this is easy. Just by looking at the hook you can see the primary source of conflict: the assassin wants to escape. In fact, I’m going to overstate the case a little. The assassin will do anything to escape.

One of the big secrets of designing encounters and adventures that I am trying to sneakily reveal is that word choice is tremendously important. And the choices you make change the way you see the things you’re designing. The assassin who will do anything to escape is much more dangerous than the assassin who simply wants to escape. He is desperate. This desperation will become very important later.

Remember, every word you write down needs to serve a good purpose. Get used to reading the things you write carefully and asking why you chose one word over another.

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