Conflicting Task Resolution: Part 2

In part one, I talked about Task and Conflict on a very theoretical level, and set down some basic definitions.  Now let’s get to the good stuff.

As you’ll remember, in Task resolution, we have a number of steps in a conflict:

*A series of actions, each one built on the results of what came before,

*A means of determining the success of each individual action,

*A means of determining the effect of each action,

*And, a means of declaring when the conflict is ‘over

Let’s focus on step three: a means of determining the effect of each action.  How does this work in your typical task resolution game, such as Dungeons and Dragons?

*The gamemaster determines the mechanical difficulty of the action.

*The mechanical decision is made.

*The gamemaster determines the effects.

Some game masters do step three before step two, but they likely do so silently.  It’s also possible to get an effect that you really didn’t actually want- “I punch him to shut him up.”  *rolls* “Ok, you do thirty damage to the ambassador.  He’s dead.”- thus making a ‘success’ a ‘failure.’  This can also happen when the GM and a Player understand a situation differently.  It can also lead to superfluous rolls, where the player is rolling, but the GM knows it really won’t effect anything, and they’re basically wasting time.

This can be remedied by taking a page from conflict resolution: small stakes.  With conflict resolution, the outcome of a fight or scene can hinge on a single die roll, and that outcome is established before the roll is made.

This back and forth discussion that results in the stakes of conflict resolution- which for this discussion, I will call ‘big stakes’, is vital for that form of play, and enhances the communication and clarity between the players.  For the smallest things, this can be handy in D&D.

“Ok, if you roll a 25 you’ll get some useful information, and on a 35, you’ll get some really good information.  Anything lower, and you’re in the dark.”  Compare with, “eh, roll your skill and tell me what you get.”  Or to the above ‘punching him to make him shut up,’ if I was the player, I’d vastly prefer, “ok, make a strength check, target 15 to do that.  If you roll a one though, something bad will happen.*”

(*Note that I usually hate fumbles in D&D.  In some cases, an unfront warning could go a long way towards making me not hate them.)

The second tool we have at our disposal is Letting it Ride, from the Burning systems.  When Letting it Ride, you roll your skill.  Once.  You don’t roll again until your situation drastically changes.

Sneaking through a camp?  Roll stealth once.  You use it for the guards, the elite guards, and the guy you’re attacking for himself.  Searching the dungeon for traps?  Roll once.  Yeah, sometimes this mean you overcome every trap in the dungeon.  Sometimes it means you’ll hit all of them.

What’s the benefit here?  It speeds up the game, and you get to the scenes that matter.  How many times have you spent a half hour or more getting through a slew of perception or stealth checks to do one simple thing?

(In D&D, I especially recommend combining Letting it Ride and taking 10 or 20.)

The great thing?  You can turn these techniques on and off.  If you want to make ’em sweat in the Tomb of Horrors, don’t let them make just one ‘find traps’ roll.  (Warning: make this decision BEFORE any rolls are made.  If you stop letting it ride as soon as the PCs get a bad roll, you will be forever known as a big softie.)  Just hitting orcs with swords?  Don’t get all philisophical about stakes, everyone knows what’s at stake: 1d8 points of damage.

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9 thoughts on “Conflicting Task Resolution: Part 2

  1. Tim says:

    Using your example, the pace of play in D&D will shift proportionally to the extent that players are “empowered” to effect the narrative. That’s a wordy way of saying that conflict resolution would speed up D&D. The impact is huge because the “20 minutes of fun packed into 4 hours” becomes “4 hours of fun for the players and 4 hours of improvisation for the GM”. This is more than a bunch of house rules; it is a different type of roleplaying game altogether.
    Willow, please consider posting this discussion on Grumbling Dwarf as well. 🙂

  2. Willow says:

    “4 hours of fun for the players and 4 hours of improvisation for the GM.”

    After years of running 4 hour+ D&D combats, I look forward to sessions where I need only improvise. Who says that doesn’t equal fun?

  3. Tim says:

    Azazelo, to try to clarify my statement, let me expand it to “The amount of time spent in D&D doing fun, interesting things (instead of boring, grinding things) will increase with player-invested play.”

    Does your “History of Roulette” post relate to this discussion or is it just a homepage link?

  4. Willow says:

    Pretty sure Azazelo’s comment was spam. If it wasn’t I apologize- please try to phrase those questions more completely so we know you’re a real person.

  5. Rahvin says:

    Tim, there’s a lot of discussion on boards and blogs which, at least on a theoretical, standpoint debunk the conflict res = improvisation rhetoric.

    The basic ground is that a game built with a combat resolution gives you tools necessary to establish and resolve conflicts, which are the basic key components that help the GM answer, “Okay, so what happens now?”

    In a way, there’s less improvising because there’s less GM empowerment and there’s less improvising because there’s less detail. “What does the death machine look like? Does it have any noticeable power source?” If the GM says yes, the adventures over. If the GM answers no, the PCs become discouraged from thinking outside the box and the game drags on as they ask more questions or come up with more details to invesitgate.

    Ditto for searching the desk, going through the computer files, looking for backups, interrogating the desk clerk, and going through the waste paper basket for valuable clues.

    Now compare with a Dogs in the Vineyard style resolution, “Raise 11, I disable the power source.” “Raise 8, you forgot to delete the backups. See 8, raise 6, but they are encrypted.”

    And Willow, you can never “sell” improvisation. Improvisers know they can *always* improvise but even they don’t want to *have* to so when the game designer is tossing the word around, it makes people cringe.

    It also tends to startup the whole “System does/doesn’t Matter” debates up.

  6. Rahvin says:

    Is there any way to edit my comments? That first paragraph came out sounding like I was drunk.

  7. Willow says:

    It makes sense to me.

    What, you don’t see a ‘edit comment’ link under all your posts?

  8. […] Task Resolution, Part 3 In Part 1 I laid down some defintions, and in Part 2 I discussed some simple drift using techniques.  Now it’s time to go full on gonzo […]

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