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Nuances of Conflict Resolution

Started by Halzebier, December 01, 2005, 12:29:54 PM

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Bill Cook

The discussion intended to distinguish task and conflict resolution has been interesting. Eero made a comment in an earlier thread that has stuck in my mind: of course every system has both. Still don't know what to make of that, but it's intriguing. The glossary is a bit technical, bit it does the job: task resolves tasks, conflict resolves conflicts. Vincent's way of explaining conflict resolution is succinct and accessible: say yes or roll dice; set stakes. I think the assertion that "setting stakes makes resolution concern conflict" is wanting conflict resolution too much. MJ's clarification makes good sense to me, that task resolves a cause, leading to an interpretation of its effect, and conflict resolves an effect, leading to an interpretation of its cause. I'm in the camp of no conflict between game elements; it is instead between the players who control them.

I like Eero's parameters of stakes: explicitness, meaning and choice. In my play, it's unusual to set explicit stakes, unless the system requires it. (e.g. DitV, TSOY.) Even then, sometimes the formality rankles. On the other hand, it's a recurring phenomenon that I have to pin down a player as to what they're trying to accomplish (i.e. what's at stake). This usually happens when a risk-aversive player tries to squeeze multiple action into a single announcement; either that, or they make some defensive argument that something should be a certain way because of physics or rules support or whatever. I usually say, "So level with me: What would you really like to have happen?" And then they fess up, and we've got stakes. This has happened at least once that I can remember when I was the player trying to get the GM to set stakes. It was a WoD game, and through Drama, the Storyteller started interpreting the effect of my carefully won cause (i.e. provoking my sire with bait). And I just went meta. Speaking as a player, not a character at all, I insisted that he set stakes or I was going to give. (To be all DitV-ish.) And he did. What makes that not me just insisting I get my way is that I stood by the dice roll after we agreed to terms; they rolled my way that time. And without thinking, without permission, I spontaneously narrated my success.

In that example, the cause was settled beforehand as well (i.e. some kind of vampire mind power). As I think about it, providing bait was really just player provided scene framing. Another way to look at it is that we just made explicit what that mind power could do. But whether it was conflict or task resolution (which doesn't matter), I got my right of attempt for relevant impact (which does matter).

It's only when one player is outside an intersection of interest that meaning comes up. For instance, in a TROS campaign, a player announced that he gambled to earn money .. again. Though I didn't say anything about it at the time, I was thinking Christ! Who cares? What are you wanting to do with the money?

Choice is traditionally accorded to the GM. It's unusual for a player to pipe up and say, "I roll intrigue to curry her favor .. [rolls before the GM can regain his composure] .. Success! She approves my proposed trade route." You can almost imagine the GM sputtering, "Now just a damn minute! You didn't even let me set your target number!" What actually happens is everybody laughs as though you must be joking. There may be some follow up jokes, but everybody's waiting (maybe even nervously eying) for the GM to make the next prompt for input, as though only he may provide sanction.

However you do it, whether the system provides support for it or not, you've got to get what you want. Re-rolling failures is a dead giveaway for lack of meaning. Reach down between your legs .. Yes, those are your balls. Give yourself what you really want and move on. If the players are engaging in frustration play, they want the GM to shoulder the duty of input and choose what requires resolution. If they make anxious causal arguments, give them a voice in setting stakes. (WARNING: Even so, they may dread doing it. Those who seek advantage typically disdain commitment.) If they quickly cut to one open-ended cross after another, they desperately want to connect; consider your apprehension as a perceived risk to your prep. Then follow their lead or counter offer to tie them into your material. If they blather on and on about .. the hors d'oeuvres at the ballroom dance, press or frame them.

I guess I've wandered into more general GM technique. Anyway, hopefully some of this is valuable to consider.

There can be a kind of task madness that leads to dysfunctional play. Luke Crane talks about this in BW:C. I call it double jeopardy. To pick up on MJ's example, you cross the chasm, now check to keep your balance on the narrow ledge. You remain, but the thief is long gone. Check to pick the lock. The door swings open, but the way is blocked by toppled furniture. Check to clear the obstacle, etc. At some point, this becomes asshole play by the GM. Even if you use task resolution, it's advisable to negotiate the course.


Hi, Joshua -

QuoteThe obvious answer to me is that that would be boring.

In general, yes, it would be boring. But would it have to be? That's not so clear.

Let's say you're playing Dogs. The village has gone really bad, and half the able-bodied men in town are out there with rifles and pitchforks, ready to kill the Dogs to defend their heresy. One Dog wants to gun them all down - "the only way to cleanse this disease is to burn it out at the roots" - while another wants to keep chipping away at a peaceable solution, or maybe just can't bring himself to kill so many Brothers.

So the two players get into a conflict over how they're going to resolve the situation. In the back-and-forth of raises and sees, the player with the violent solution convinces the other player of his point of view. The second player goes through an internal struggle, playing his character and dealing with his own real-world feelings both, and decides that in this one case violence really is the answer. So he gives.

The characters come out with guns blazing. The GM doesn't declare a conflict; instead, the group narrates half the village going down in a blaze of gunfire. Why? Presumably, because all are agreed that the important thing was the resolution of the moral issue, and the gunplay is just an afterthought.

Now, roleplayers are a bloodthirsty lot in general, and lots of people might want the gunplay for aesthetic reasons. But it doesn't seem to me to be necessary.

It's more necessary, in general, if it's understood by everyone that this a 'kill-the-monster-or-it-eats-the-world' adventure. But that's only one kind of adventure, even if it's much more common historically. Whether you need to roll to fight the big bad at all really depends on what's at stake in the game - 'at stake' for the players.

QuoteBut even in your example, if I want the players to 'work for it' and that makes a conflict, doesn't that assume the players don't want to work for it?  That's not my experience, either.

In many situations common to traditional RPGs, yes, this is how it is. Part of this is just because traditional RPGs take a task resolution approach to their mechanics, though. We all 'know' that when there's a big foe we're 'supposed' to fight it, and it's 'supposed' to have hard rolls. Therefore everyone at the table gets into a situation which is expressing a group desire to have an interesting battle, with tension and drama on both sides. Sometimes this desire is heartfelt by the players, but sometimes it's also just 'what you do', a half-hearted desire manufactured by the expectations of the system and past gaming experience.

But there's also the case where you, the player, really wants your character to kill the monster, and you'd be just as happy to wipe him off the map using a sneaky trick or even by GM acquiescence. You want the result, not the process, and don't care how you get it.

This kind of case is much clearer in a conflict resolution game. You, the player, say "this is how I want the situation to go". If people agree, you get it; if not, you conflict. We had this in the online game I'm playing with James Holloway not long ago - I wanted to cut off this external community to preserve the purity of the faith, and another player wanted to try to bring the two communities together. So we got into a conflict about it, and I lost. The GM was fine either way, so the story basically went the way the winning player wanted. No more conflicts for the rest of the game: we organized a big pot luck for both sides, they went along with our plan, and on we rode.

In a more TR focused game we would have probably had to go on from there to have to make persuasion rolls against the Colonel at the fort and the Branch Steward, and that might have provided some drama - 'can we get the plan we wanted'? But in that game the point was for us to pass judgment, and once we did that James just let things play out. At that point the players had worked out their differences, and the game was effectively done, so we didn't engage the CR mechanics any more.

One value of using CR mechanics is that they enable players to be 'all in' more easily - Dogs is exceptional because the GM can be 'all in' too without a lot of work to ensure fairness in prep. That is, you're not addressing the conflict system primarily to find out "how should this situation go"; you might ask that, but if you do you ask yourself how you want it to go, or you talk to the group and see what they think about it, but it's not what the rolls are deciding. The rolls are deciding whose vision of how things are going to go prevails when there's disagreement.

Andrew Morris

Quote from: lumpley on December 01, 2005, 05:31:08 PMYou already gave examples.

Explicit: the roll resolves whether I get down the hallway unseen. Nonexplicit: does the roll resolve whether I get down the hallway unseen? Dunno; we left that ambiguous.

Okay, I've thought it over for a bit, and I still don't get where you're coming from. In the example above, the second roll does not have nonexplicit stakes. It just has different stakes. In the first, the stakes are whether you get down the hallway unseen, and the roll resolves that. In the second, the stakes are whether you take out the security camera, and the roll resolves that. In both cases, the player wanted his character to get down the hallway unseen, but in the first, that issue was directly resolved, while the second resolved something that might or might not lead to the player accomplishing his goals.
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Sean: Conflict resolution resolves in-game conflicts, not between-player conflicts.

When the players first agree to roll the dice, they've resolved whatever conflict they may have had. "Let's roll for it." "Yes, let's." BAM no conflict between them. Otherwise they'd keep arguing instead, right?

They can each prefer a different outcome or the same outcome or whatever. If it's a FitM system they can even keep fighting for their prefered outcome after the dice are down. But by picking up the dice at all in the first place, they've both agreed - AGREED, now - to set their preferences ultimately aside.

Quote from: Andrew Morris on December 02, 2005, 09:49:32 AMIn the first, the stakes are whether you get down the hallway unseen, and the roll resolves that. In the second, the stakes are whether you take out the security camera, and the roll resolves that. In both cases, the player wanted his character to get down the hallway unseen, but in the first, that issue was directly resolved, while the second resolved something that might or might not lead to the player accomplishing his goals.

I'm not arguing with you. Honest. You've just described the difference between conflict resolution and task resolution.

You say "might or might not." I say "we left that ambiguous." SAME THING.



That's interesting, Vincent. I know where you're coming from, and it's right to say that the agreement to roll dice is just as much an agreement as the agreement to let it go one way or another.

But look. In one sense, in a democracy, I agree to vote and to abide by the outcome of those votes (at least, until the next one). But the voting mechanic is a system for resolving disagreement between citizens. In one sense, yeah, I can take to the streets with my gun and try to change things by fire and sword, but then I'm not playing the democracy game any more.

In just the way that voting resolves disagreement between citizens, resolution mechanics in general are aimed at resolving disagreement between players. The social contract to play that game is a contract to abide by its resolution mechanics. The advantage of (what-I'm-calling, with much less disagreement in practice about what the cases of it are than we might be having in theory) conflict resolution mechanics is that they explicitly address the interactions between the players.

In-game conflicts? So whenever my fictional token bumps up against one of yours, we roll? That's not how your game works. It's not the imaginary stuff driving the player rolling except insofar as players care about it and want to take one side or the other. Whereas in a game where you have to roll to climb walls, as soon as the wall gets described, then if you want to climb it you have to roll.