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Conflict Resolution

To follow up my post about the state of the art in RPG design, I offer up this bit of wisdom from Vincent:

Conflict Resolution vs. Task Resolution

Vincent believes that the future of game design is in conflict resolution, and that task resolution is "dead." I agree with him 100%. Task resolution is the domain of an all-powerful GM that holds the reins of the story and doles out input to the players at his discretion. A lot of what makes a good GM in a task resolution game is the ability to minimize the overt force that such a system allows the GM. But why wrestle with such a system in the first place? Conflict resolution is simply a superior mechanic for RPGs played by human beings (task resolution will survive in computer RPGs, however).

As I take my next steps in talking about RPG design on this blog, I will talk from the assumption that task resolution is not worth considering as a design choice. Now's your chance to hash this out before moving on to more meaningful design stuff to come.

I will talk from the assumption that task resolution is not worth considering as a design choice.Dance, puppets! Dance to my every whim!

*ahem* I mean yes, quite, I agree with you wholeheartedly.


Umm, apparently I needed to use a break tag after the italics.

Yeah, that's a pretty bold statement there, but I also have a hard time disagreeing. Can we think of a case where task resolution IS a valid design choice.

1. When the conflict isn't worth resolving, e.g. the major conflict of the game is "I want to go up in levels so I can get a cool feat."

OK, bad example.

Ha! Good one, Tony.

But seriously... task resolution does become relevant insofar as a game is tactical or strategic. Evaluating your "chances" of completing a task is a legitemate part of strategic or tactical gaming.

If we constrain task resolution to these realms then as RPGs relate to storytelling, task resolution is not an essential part of the equation, and may even post a distraction.

On the other hand, some players would argue that strategic/tactical gaming is a part of their RPG experience.

Nevertheless, that doesn't make task resolution "state of the art". Rather I'd argue that it's been done to death and doesn't post much probability of a real breakthrough idea.

In a nutshell you are talking about Amber (Conflict Resolution - Diceless) and Rolemaster (Task Resolution - 10 Billion Charts).

The point of Task Resolution is that the future is unknown. A game master controls the ultimate destiny of the players, but it is the random "task resolution" that provides the tension and excitement to a game.

I personally hate Amber. But I equally hate Rolemaster. It is important to balance the two to create a fluid yet unknown (ie tension filled) future.

Bradon, Tony... I don't think the distinction between Task and Conflict resoltion that you are making is the same that I and Vincent mean when we use those terms.

Conflict Resolution can be of any scale, and it can be strategic and tactical. For instance, Risk uses conflict resolution (on a large scale). The conflict is: "Do you retain control of this territory?" We don't use the system to test the individual tasks of the soldiers involved. CR is about Stakes. "I am doing X to get Y, and if I succeed, then I get Y."

You can also have CR at a very small scale. "I shoot Bob." What's at stake? It could be many things: "To make Bob die," or "To get past Bob and on to the transport," or "To make Jenny love me." The thing is, we are not simply testing whether or not I successfully shoot Bob. That's task resolution. In CR, the system is testing whether or not I get the stakes.

So, yeah. Amber may or may not be conflict resolution, depending on how one interprets the system. In practice, I see a whole lot of large scale task resolution and not a lot of CR in Amber. Which to me makes that game hardly worth playing... but that's another debate.

Concrete examples of well-written CR systems include: Dogs in the Vineyard, Primetime Adventures, Trollbabe, The Shadow of Yesterday, Capes, HeroQuest, InSpectres, Dust Devils, Sorcerer, The Pool, Universalis.

Yes, yes, to Obi John you listen!

For more reference, see Vincent's article Conflict resolution in D&D.

Description, Prescription also goes into detail about the differences between Conflict Resolution and Task Resolution.

Frankly I'm still not convinced that Task Resolution is inherently bad. In fact, so far it seems like the real distinction is, "who gets to decide, before the game begins, the question of who gets to decide what happens?" In traditional Task-Resolution-based RPGs, it's always been assumed that the GM gets to decide what happens, and whether the players might like to participate as well is seldom if ever considered. A Conflict-Resolution system simply makes explicit that all the players can participate in the decision of who decides what happens, and provides rules for how.

The real distinction is that with conflict resolution there is a specific range of outcomes that everyone at the table must agree on and adhere to in the play of the game. In D&D, as a player I can do all sorts of shit in a conflict in an effort to capture the bad guy, but even if I roll 20s all over the place, the DM can still swoop in and say the bad guy gets away. With a conflict resolution system, the stakes are "do I capture bad guy or not." There's no way for the GM to get around it.

Okay, someone address the Talislanta game system in this context. The rules overview states,
"Players contribute by describing the Intent of their character's actions to the GM. Then it's the GM's job to interpret the outcome of the Action Table and how it affects the particular scene the player characters are involved in." (For reference, a modified result of 11-19 is a "full success," which means "the action achieves its intended result.")

Is this, then, a Conflict Resolution system? If not, why not?

Good question about Talislanta, Phil. My answer is, yes -- as written, the Tal system can be conflict resolution. The system reads like "abashed conflict resolution" to me. Like, "here's a system for conflict resolution, BUT the GM has final say and be sure to manipulate the results to get a good 'story'."

Tal is certainly a lot more CR-seeming than, say, D&D 3.0. Its focus on stating intent and using player-created goals for resolution are certainly steps in the right direction.

The reason I say "abashed" is, the Tal rules writer (that would be me) really can't believe that anyone would play with full-on conflict resolution.

Imagine the classic "I cut his head off" statement of intent. We always would hedge on the Tal email-list and say, "Well, his head wouldn't *really* be cut off, even if you rolled a success, unless you do enough damage to kill him." I can hardly believe this answer, now. It essentially says, "Well, you don't *really* use the result the system generates, unless the GM wants to." The alternative (i.e. clear player goals that can be achieved directly through the game system) seemed very strange, and was something to be avoided. Otherwise, those pesky players will just get everything they want, right?

Ah... those were the days. I'm glad that I've actually learned something in the past 9 years about game design.

Adding that kind of instruction into Tal would have made it longer, so I think it's okay that it's not in there.

In the "I cut off his head" example, isn't the hit points/weapon damage system working to define the boundaries of a reasonable course of action that everyone can agree upon? In other words, if your character has a dagger and is facing a dragon, I don't see why the statement of intent "I cut off his head" should be allowed, as it's not plausible. Even if I did ignore the discrepancy between the dragon's hit points and the weapon's damage, I'd say "yes, you do kill the dragon, but you stab it through the eye into its brain, you don't cut off its head."

The dagger example is starting to drift into different issues, namely authority and social contract, so I won't go into them in this comment thread. Suffice it to say, the "bad intent" of dragon head-cutting is not a problem inherent in conflict resolution. Your solution shows one way of handling it, which would be part of the "free and clear" phase of a FitM resolution system, which happens before the roll is made.

Note that you can still use conflict resolution with hit points and weapon damage and all that. Conflict resolution doesn't require "one roll" scene resolution or the total abstraction of details. You can do it at any scale you like. If you want to use hit points and armor and weapon lengths and all that, it's cool. CR is a matter of goals and stakes -- that's the important bit.

For example, Vincent thinks that D&D 3.0 is very small-scale conflict resolution, when the full combat system is employed. I think I agree with him, but I need to think about it some more.

Yeah, I knew my example was drifting into different issues, but I wanted to get those clarifications in there. Thanks.

Conflict resolution doesn't require "one roll" scene resolution or the total abstraction of details. You can do it at any scale you like. If you want to use hit points and armor and weapon lengths and all that, it's cool. CR is a matter of goals and stakes -- that's the important bit.This I think gets to the heart of what I'm trying to clarify, by bringing up the Tal system and the dagger vs. dragon combat example. The "I cut off his head" intent seems like a push toward "one roll" scene resolution. Tal doesn't explicitly forbid this sort of thing, but it seems like the rest of the combat system implicitly imposes boundaries - vague ones, of course, being it's Tal - on players' statements of intent. So, then, to make Tal "fully" a Conflict Resolution system, it'd also need explicit discussion of things like authority and social contract and other areas I'm drifting toward. Correct?

That's the second time I've used italics, and I did check the preview before publishing, and yet again it is not actually putting in a line break after the italics. That's rather annoying.

Nope. You don't need to address authority and such in order to have a "real" CR system. I think you certainly should address those issues, but it's not a requirement.

A CR system simply uses a mechanic (dice, cards, resource allocation, whatever) to judge the disposition of the stakes. If that's what's going on, then you have CR.

That's why D&D combat gets awfully close to CR when the stakes are "do I hurt this guy?" We take a bunch of factors into account, and then roll, and the system addresses the stakes. If I subtract hit points from the target, then the answer is, "Yes, you hurt him."

Contrast to a purely task-resolution based system where the rolls would only judge the discrete tasks, like "I swing my sword. Does it hit him?" There's no goal or stakes here. What happens if the sword hits or misses? TR doesn't care. It only judges the success or failure of a task. What the success or failure of that task means is left up to the GM.

The D&D attack and damage rolls don't judge the success or failure of all the tasks involved in a swordfight. They instead judge the outcome of your goal (whether or not you hurt your opponent) which is CR in a nutshell.

If only the rest of the game system worked that way.

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