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Catering to various tastes

Some thoughts about conflict and task resolution, resolution mechanisms and whether it's possible to have different players using different resolution types simultaneously.

Without wanting to go to much into the difference between task and conflict resolution, I'd say it's mainly a matter of scope. A conflict can be resolved with one or more tasks. For example, "Reducing my brother's pride" is a conflict that can be resolved using a ridicule task, "defeating the evil overlord" is a conflict that is likely to require several tasks, or possibly even sub-conflicts.

Most games have task resolution and let conflicts take care of themselves. Each PC has a skill package and the system resolves attempts to use these skills. Conflicts are resolved when one side is defeated. Because in most games the only measure of status is Health or Hit Points, defeat can only utimately be brought about by killing or physical restraint.

The usual defence here is that players don't like to be told what their character is doing so being persuaded by an NPC through mere skill use rather than failing to detect a lie, or a big bribe, is seen as anathema to the concept of player character. Some games, such as Dying Earth, do have explicit mechanisms for the task of persuading PCs but there isn't always an mechanism for enforcing the results. This can lead to some sulking amongst players.

Other games have an explicit conflict resolution mechanism. For Dogs in the Vineyard, the rule is that GM should agree with PC actions, and when he doesn't a conflict starts. This conflict is resolved thtough escalation from talking to fisticuffs to guns, if necessary. Conflicts are almost always of a moral nature and the stakes are decided up front. It could be "I persuade him to quit drinkin'" against "He whoops my sorry ass", or "I follow his trail" against "I become hopelessly lost and lose face with the Mountain Men". Dogs, as such, does not have a task resolution mechanism. Capes is a game in which all player interaction is through creation and resolution of conflicts. But again, there is no task resolution.

Various games have ways of changing the scope of a contest although these systmes are not explicitly for moving between task and conflict. Hero Wars differentiates between simple and extended contests by introducing APs (mechanically these change the distribution shape of likely rather than changing the likely outcome). The Shadow of Yesterday has "bringing down the pain" which works in a similar way. Both systems focus on the resolution of a contest with more detail than in usual to highlight the importance of the contest in the game. TSoY also has an added rule that this is the only way that you can get rid of a major NPC. It's probably the same in most instances of HW, it's just not explicitly stated.

To make games exciting it could be said that there needs to be a decent chance of success without eliminating the possibility of failure. A purely narrative point of view might also suggest that failure is just as interesting as success. In any case, what's important in the game is player involvement. So in task resolution games you don't want to eliminate characters early on (and usually there's plenty of healing around to deal with this problem) and in conflict resolution games you don't want the scope of the conflict to be so big as to resolve the whole game in one short conflict.

At this point it's probably sensible for me to note that I've opposed narrative games with task resolution which, to my mind, means that I don't think Hero Wars is a narrative game. Which I don't, so that's OK. My evidence is that it not only employs task resolution but that also there is no requirement for any kind of explicit stake or premise in a contest, except for nebulous states of victory or defeat (and in my experience of HW, they do tend to the rather nebulous).

More later.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 9th, 2005 07:16 pm (UTC)
About Dogs, I'm pretty sure that there's only one set of binary stakes. So it's "I persuade him to quit drinking" vs. "I don't persuade him to quit drinking." But stuff can come up in the narration -- so for instance, it might be that I don't persuade you to quit drinking because you black my eye, but it's not stated up front.

It's an extension of "say yes or roll the dice:" "I persuade him to quit drinking." "The hell you do. Roll."
Aug. 11th, 2005 12:13 pm (UTC)

You say: Without wanting to go to much into the difference between task and conflict resolution, I'd say it's mainly a matter of scope. A conflict can be resolved with one or more tasks.

You don't want to go into the difference, but I still like to comment on this (and I think that you, like everyone else, likes comments). I don't see it as a difference in scope, but a difference in whether you try to do something or achieve something. Since English is my second language, I hope the difference between them is what I think it is, but I better explain.

Have you read Vincent Baker's Conflict Resolution vs. Task Resolution (scroll down a bit on the page)? He has an example of a character trying to break into a safe. In task resolution the main question would be if he gets into the safe, and after that it would be decided if he gets dirt on the villain. In conflict resolution the main question would be if the character gets dirt on the villain and exactly how he got it would be secondary.

I see it as a difference between what gets decided by the dice roll. In task resolution all you know is that he gets into the safe, but it still up to the GM (this is practically always the case in task resolution) to decide if you find some dirt or just find some legal papers. In conflict resolution all you know is that he gets dirt on the villain, but exactly how he gets it is up to the player or GM.

I just thought the distinction was too important to overlook. If you have already thought about this, please ignore this comment. There's a big difference between looking at task vs. conflict as a difference in scope or as something fundamentally different. Systems that would make it possible to move between task and conflict resolution would look different depending on what view you have of them.
Aug. 11th, 2005 06:05 pm (UTC)
Hi! I'm quite happy to talk about conflict v task, just not in what I was writing. And what I've been writing is rather messy and meandering but it's good of you to drop in and comment.

Yep, I've read that piece of Vincents and I don't necessarily agree with what he says. I'm sort of with him on the first part, it being about what is at stake, but I don't agree about the second part, i.e. scope. I think conflict resolution will always encompass one of more tasks. There have been similar debates on the Forge too.

In his first example, the conflict is resolved with one task, a weapon attack. In the second the conflict has several tasks, the first of which is the combat, and the second of which is using the remaining time to get to the ship.

I see conflict as about what's at stake and task about how that's accomplished. The difference might just be a matter of definition.

One interesting thing is that in traditional games conflicts are not usually explicit and so resolution is much more difficult to establish, except for the black and white case of dead/alive. In the more structured new school games there is much more allowance for different kinds of results, which leads, in my opinion, to a better game. Or at least one with more possibilities.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )