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.