Collaborative Conflict Mapping

September 10, 2009

Initial Cards

The GM comes up with a barebones idea of a situation, “Struggle for the Throne”, whatever. The GM takes some index cards, and writes down a few factions, and maybe a few NPCs, and a MacGuffin or two.

Each faction/NPC should have a stake in the overall idea, and you can make more simply by thinking who would oppose one of the faction/NPCs you already have in play.

No more than 8 cards. Factions/NPCs, write down a goal or motivation.

Players Input

Players come up with their character concepts based on allying with, or against various Factions/NPCs- they should pass around the cards, make suggestions for modifications/additions (“No, but what if the Prince is really my half-brother?” “Yeah!”). The players can also suggest new Factions/NPCs if they would make sense (“Oh, we got to have a heretic splinter group from the Church!”)

If the game has explicit Flag mechanics, use this stage to set them up.


Now, you have a basic outline of the Factions, and an idea of where the PCs sit in all of this, now you add a few more cards. Come up with NPCs who dissent with their faction, or at least, have goals that differ in ways that create drama.

For longer term play, I generally like to take any given leader/representative of a faction in a scenario and give them two voices- one who leans one way on an issue, another who leans the opposite way (The ol’ Kirk-Spock-McCoy triangle) and you get some interesting stuff out of that.

Now, if there’s specific relationship mechanics, the players should tie their characters in after this is complete.

Scene Framing

Now, all you have to do is pick a group or faction, and have them do something in opposition to another, with one or more PC’s present. You know where the players stand, the players know where the NPCs stand (mostly) and everyone has context of what’s going on.


  1. I did something like this more in other direction, having a basic story map created from a Player collaborative “what we want next campaign to be about” then sprinkled with elements I thought were neat, then having Players create relationships to each others and NPC’s they created that fit into teh mix – that created a number of NPC’s and situations, from which the key factions were then created.

    E.G., one Player creates antagonistic relationship to the dwarven officer who had him drummed out of dwarven army, so a faction of dwarves with plots created etc. Two other Players create negative relationships of different sorts with a religious firebrand who has political connections, another faction there etc.

  2. I recommend having a look at Fiasco by Bully Pulpit Games. It uses clever mechanics for setting up a story that shares similarities with this- with a little work it could be re-skinned…

    • I’ll have to check it out, though I’ve been working with various forms of Conflict Web/Maps since at least 2003, it’s more a refinement than a new idea at this point.

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