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Conflict: the adventure game of modern warfare


Disclaimer: I was a playtester for this game, and Kyle Schuant is a personal friend.

Games that involve modern (e.g., 1960's-present) scenarios that lean heavily on action and combat tend to fall into two broad categories, I've found.  The first is "gun porn" where the writers seem to lavish more attention on firearms than any other aspect of the game.  Although I love Twilight:2000, I find it suffers from this, at least in the 1st edition of the rules.  I know more about anti-tank weapons and different types of Soviet-made AK rifles than I ever wanted to, thanks to that.

The other type, and there is a lot of overlap between the two, are those that are very action based, but not terribly realistic.  Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, Spycraft d20 and the core "Friday Night Firefight" rules included in Cyberpunk 2020 are some examples of these.

So when Kyle Schuant said he was making an RPG, specifically one of modern warfare, it piqued my interest.  When he started bouncing ideas off of me, explaining how his rules would unfold, I was intrigued.  Finally, after many months of work, and playtesting (I myself being a playtester), Conflict: the adventure game of modern warfare has been released.

First, the basics.  The game's core rules are only a 48pp booklet that would easily sit beside the original Traveller or OD&D books.  They're of a simple construction, stapled, and feature black and white cover art and illustrations throughout.  The font is a small but readable typeface, and each page is single-column page width, excepting some pages with tables.  The rules are available on Drivethru RPG and RPG Now, through Flying Mice Games.  The two copies I have were printed through Lulu, the cover is cardstock semi-gloss and the pages within are 60# matte.

The gear required for the game are merely 2d6, paper, and pencil.  Oh, and snacks and friends.  (Kyle emphasizes Snacks as being more important than settings or rules, and I tend to agree with this).  Although the rules indicate books Bravo and Charlie (this being Alpha), those are as of the time of this review not available.  Everything you need is in this book; Bravo will cover more intensive game-mastering, while Charlie will cover equipment in more detail.

The overall setting of Conflict is simply "the modern world".  No countries or armies are named (the author is Australian, for example, but the book does not emphasize the Australian military), nor are any current or recently past wars or major events referenced.  This is entirely up to the referee, and players, to decide for themselves.

Character creation is very simple.  First, two dice are rolled for the three character attributes, Social, Health, and Education.  Social covers how seriously a character is taken in social situations (and the referee may apply this broadly from the ballroom floor to the board room), while Health covers baseline physical attributes such as strength, general wellbeing, and endurance, and finally Education establishes what formal schooling and education the character may have had.  Each value ranges from +0 to +3, with 2d6 being rolled.  A roll of 2 gives a 0 in a statistic, while a 12 gives a +3.  Most fall within +1 or +2 range, however.  As attributes modify certain situations, this suits well.

Again, using two dice, the character creates a sort of lifepath, wherein they can join some kind of service, be it military, police, first responder, etc.  As they progress, they gain certain abilities, and may continue on as they age.  Each of these turns during character construction impacts things such as Readiness, which reflects on a character's ability to act under pressure.  While "just" three attributes may seem overly simplified, one can create a fairly well detailed character running through this system.

The real star of the game, as its name implies, is the combat resolution system.  It is here where the game stays assiduously away from the aforementioned gun porn.  At the end of the day, if one is shot by a 5.56 or 5.45 round, or .223 or 7.62, it doesn't matter.  You're likely seriously wounded and will stay that way until you receive treatment.  The luck of the die roll on where you were hit (which uses a 1d6/1d6 matrix, that is, you can roll a 1 - 6 to indicate a head wound, or a 3 - 3 for a torso wound, etc.) determines whether or not you can stay in the fight, and for how long.  The ability to surprise, and the skill to thoughtfully act before your opponent can, are what is most important!

This might lend the reader to think that this is a game where there are no "big damn heroes" and you would be right.  Rushing headlong into a firefight in Conflict is a fine way to get a well crafted character dead or incapacitated to the point of unplayability.  I found during playtesting that rather than acting like Schwarzenegger in Commando, I felt more like Al Pacino in Heat's shootouts: yes hyped on adrenaline, but still trying to act in a thoughtful manner.  One playthrough had my ex-Marine character foil at least part of a bank robbery in downtown New York.  Not by going in guns blazing, but in catching two sloppy drivers unawares, at either end of a semi they had positioned as a getaway vehicle, and then after incapacitating them (and getting wounded in exchange) deciding not to rush in to the bank and start blazing away, but rather phone the police, find out where the perimeter was, and approach it with my hands up and let the Hostage Rescue Team of the NYPD do their thing.  Unlike, say, AD&D, where a party would rush enemies with swords drawn and spells firing, here I carefully considered what the "bad guys" had at their advantage.  In this case, a huge amount of civilians, plenty of cover, and enough time to prepare against a forced entry.  Being one (injured) man, having cut off the bad guys' route of egress by taking out the driver and his overwatch, I assumed I had done all I could do, and sought treatment.

That's the kind of game Conflict is.  It puts you in the driver's seat of your alternate self, but does not put training wheels on, nor give granularly chipped away hit points or life energy or what have you that you'll never feel until you reach 0.  The playtest scenario really brought that home.

So what do I think of Conflict?  For what it is (as it says on the tin), an "adventure game of modern warfare" it is immediate, visceral, and gripping.  You won't be doing backflips off of a 2nd story balcony onto the bad guy to break his neck and win the day, nor will you spend hours debating whether or not to take a skill in M4...or M4A1.  What you will do is experience a visceral, immediate sense of action, and get inside the head of a person who is on the ground seeing the bullets whiz by.

Conflict: the adventure game of modern warfare

Presentation: 8/10 - hopefully an example scenario - or many - are coming in book Bravo
Layout: 9/10 - crisp, clear text, easy to read
Playability: 8/10 - Fast, simple but detailed rules, my only concern is would this suit for a long-term campaign.

Kyle Aaron:
Thanks, Bill!

We're having great fun playing it over here. The character generation is mostly random and lifepath, like Classic Traveller. The players here rolled up - well, three psychologists, basically, and a commando. One guy had a PhD and was kicked out of the police force after a year for something or other dodgy.

The six campaign types are training - which everyone should start with, to get a feel for things without risk of their character dying - police & crime, counter/insurgency, conventional conflicts, anarchy and terrorism. And you can be on either side, as you wish. The group chose counterterrorism.

They were an intel team working with an international force assisting an understaffed UN peacekeeping force in the Republic of Frankistan in central Asia. They began with the local police having picked up two guys they believed were associated with the Squad of Righteous Fury (which sounds much better in the original Frankistani). They interrogated them and realised that one was a messenger who memorised strings of letters and numbers which the other received and decoded using a one-time pad. This second guy, they realised once they raided his house and found his concealed lockbox, and all the decoded messages he'd held onto (hey, he was an engineer, not a spy) was a former (pre-war) mechanical engineer who was preparing sites to receive shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles for the SRF, which would completely turn the war around for them. These were being smuggled into the country from Russia, with the effort led by a Russian guy - FSB or GRU - called Belayev.

They found the engineer had a holiday house in the mountains and went to check it out. They considered sending a drone to have a look, but the drones were run by the Americans and they feared the Americans would just blow it to hell, and they wanted the missiles for evidence and the Russian to interrogate. Arriving at the place with two hummers and four commandos to keep them company, they saw six SRF guys and a tall white guy - a Russian. And those guys saw them. The crew lay down suppressive fire with the hummers and assaulted the building. The SRF disappeared inside and battened down the hatches.

One of the crew crawled around the side without telling anyone, the player was a bit bored and wanted to liven things up. He got shot in the arm and decided to crawl back. He briefly considered picking up the RPG dropped by an insurgent, but then decided that if he came around the corner on his own with an RPG in the middle of a firefight, the rest of the party might mistake him for an insurgent and brass him up.

The crew took a while to get in, but eventually burst in and had a short-range firefight where a couple of the commandos got wounded, but all the SRF went down. They found several crates with cyrillic writing on them sitting in the courtyard next to a big water cistern - with det cord hastily-wrapped around them, and a line going out the back. One of them went forward under fire to cut the det cord and failed to notice the wire-frag trap, it went off and severely wounded but did not kill him. His mate pulled him back under cover.

Seeing all the det cord, the crew pulled back out of the compound and the thing went off. The missile explosives did not detonate, but their propellant certainly did. They were shielded from the explosion and fire by the water cistern and the building itself, it kept cooking off and exploding for some time. Running around the back they found the Russian and an SRF guy trying to start a motorbike while he stuffed bags with papers. They bailed him up with a humvee and he and the SRF guy surrendered.

Along the way they also got some useful tips about the local SRF, who had a shadow mayor, a local commander, and a recruiter who was always at a particular cafe.

They stopped shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles becoming part of the insurgency, which enables the international force to fly men around the country. If choppers were getting shot down the the force would either have to escalate in numbers and action on the ground and start taking more casualties, or withdraw from the country entirely.

It worked pretty well and everyone had fun. The PCs were mostly not very good fighters, but because they had good men-at-arms - er, commandos - superior firepower (the Humvees with MGs) and a plan, they were fine. One of the commandos is on his way to a medical discharge, and one of the PCs will have to spend some weeks in hospital but will be okay. Some others have minor wounds. They have victory... for now.

Kyle Aaron:
Here's another session with Bill, after the obligatory half-hour of shit-talking.


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