Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Rules of Conflict in Dallas

I found this on

Previously, we learned that each 'Episode' of Dallas:  The Television Role-Playing Game consists of four or five 'Scenes,' each of which begins with a 'Director Phase.'  Every Scene has three Phases:  Director, Negotiation, and Conflict.  In the Director Phase, the Director provides information to the players, individually and/or as a group.  The Director also introduces plot devices and (non-player) characters, which are typically represented by cards.  Examples of plot device cards include 'Senator's Press Conference' and 'Deed to Southfork.'  Characters that are not player characters can either be 'minor' or 'organizational.'  Minor characters are individuals, like Alexis Blancher (J.R.'s secretary) or the intentionally vague 'Secret Informer.'  Examples of organizational characters include 'Ewing Oil' and 'Local Press.'  Some plot devices or non-major characters may begin an Episode under the control of a major character and some may be left “up for grabs.”

In the Negotiation Phase, “players, power, or anything else and make agreements to support each other...”  The Director may allow players to engage in negotiations “away from the table and away from other players.”  The Director determines the duration of the Negotiation Phase.

Conflict occurs in the aptly named Conflict Phase.  The mechanics of conflict are similar to those used in Illuminati, which Steve Jackson designed the year following Dallas' release.  Conflict consists of one character attempting to “Affect” another character.  There are four types of conflict:  Persuasion, Seduction, Coercion, and Investigation.  Each type of conflict correlates to a character “Ability” (i.e., attribute) of the same name.  Each Ability has an Affecting Value and a Resisting Value.

Generally, in a conflict, the appropriate Value of the Resisting character is subtracted from the appropriate Value of the Affecting character.  The player controlling the Affecting character must roll the difference or less on 2d6 in order to be successful.  With a difference of one or less, the attempt is impossible, but with a difference of twelve or more, the attempt is automatically successful.  Players can use 'power' to enhance an Affecting or Resisting Value of any character he or she controls during a single conflict.  'Points' of power increase a Value on a one-to-one basis except for Coercion; each point of power increases the applicable Coercion Value by three.  Expended power is not available until the next Scene.  Power belonging to a minor or organizational character can only be used to increase its own Resisting Value, but apparently can do so as often as necessary during a turn.  A player cannot contribute power to a conflict that does not involve his or her characters (but power may be 'given' or 'loaned' during the Negotiation Phase).

Some characters have Luck Values.  If an Affect attempt is successful against such a character, its Luck can be used,  If the player rolls the character's Luck Value or less on 2d6, “the otherwise successful Affect attempt is unsuccessful.”

During a Conflict Phase, the Director determines the turn order for players by whatever means the Director deems appropriate.  Each player is limited to three Affect attempts.  For each Affect attempt a player forgoes, he or she may “Protect” a character in his or her control.  “A Protected character has its Resistance increased by 3 to any one Affect attempt against it.”  A player may opt to Protect without regard to turn order.  I would assume that a character cannot be 'multiply Protected' for a given Affect attempt, but can a player 'spend' another Protect when Resisting another attempt?  I also assume that a Protect does not carry over to the following Scene if no affect Attempt was made against the Protected character.

If a character is successful in a Persuasion attempt, the controlling player opts for one of three possible results.  (1) The Affected character “must provide information upon demand.”  (2) If the Affected character is a major character, it must “relinquish control of a character or plot device.”  (3) If the Affected character is a non-major character, it will “come under the control of the Affecting character.”

A successful Seduction attempt allows the same options as a successful Persuasion attempt; however, a character can only Seduce characters that are of the opposite gender and which are not blood relations.  Also, Seduction cannot be used by or against organizational characters.*

A successful Coercion attempt offers the first two options that a successful Persuasion attempt provides.  As a third option the Affecting character may force the Affected character to “attempt to Affect, upon demand, any other character of the Affecting character's choice.”  If the Affected character is controlled by a player, I'm not certain if  this coerced Affect attempt counts against the limit of three attempts per Scene.  If a Coercion attempt fails against an independent minor or organizational character, “there is a possibility of Revenge.”  This means that each of the other players can make a Persuasion attempt – presumably not counting against the three attempt limit – to control that independent character.

With a successful Investigation attempt, a character can obtain information just as with the other three conflict types; however, “Investigation may also be used against the Director to discover the identity of characters and plot devices that are face down on the table.”  If the Director determines that a character has committed an illegal act, a player who controls an organizational character with legal authority (e.g., Local Police, Texas Rangers, etc.) can use Investigation against the criminal character.  A series of Investigation successes – identification, arrest warrant, indictment, and conviction – will cause the criminal character to lose all power for the remainder of the Episode.  Each 'level' of successful Investigation against a criminal character grants the Investigating player an increasing number of Victory Points.  The severity of the crime modifies Investigation attempts to the benefit of the Investigating character.

The only organizational character vulnerable to Seduction is the “Rich Liberal Northeastern Senator's Investigating Sub-Committee.”  The biography from page 11 of the Scriptwriter's Guide states in full:
Born in Boston and raised in the New York Times and Washington Post.  Effete in outlook.  Basically designed to smear oil companies for the Senator's political benefit.  Only institution that can be seduced.  Can be stopped by any Ewing with information regarding the Senator's exact actions the night after a party when he tried to float a Mercedes in the Charles river.  The committee is regarded by most Texans as being a hapless joke.  Added for political realism.


  1. Nice work connecting Dallas to Illuminati.

    I've long been tempted to port Dallas' conflict mechanics to a new game design, maybe something like Fiasco. SPI had the skeleton of an interesting party/storytelling RPG but wrote it up like a wargame.

    1. Yes, Dallas was written up like a wargame. I attribute this to (1) Jim Dunnigan being the designer, (2) SPI being the publisher, and (3) the influence exerted upon early RPGs by their wargame progenitors. In effect, Dallas is a storytelling game with a wargame infrastructure. It is an example of evolutionary transition between the wargaming ocean and the RPG landmass, yet comfortable in neither. This paradox, along with the soap opera 'theme', has discouraged exploration and utilization of the viable mechanics.