Tasks, Conflicts, & Discords

25Feb06

Last year, Vincent took up the topic of Task Resolution vs. Conflict Resolution. Recently he answered a frequent question about it, that’s helped me with something I’ve been thinking about. He talked about it here.

I’ve been struggling with this in my own game designs, and giving a name to an elusive concept helps immensely. A Task Resolution System determines moment-to-moment activities in the SIS (e.g., “I roll my Charisma, do I say suave things, or do I spill wine all over her dress?”). A character attempts something and may or may not accomplish the specific actions he set out to do. A Conflict Resolutoin System determines which characters get their actual goals (e.g., “I roll my Charisma, do I seduce her into bed?”). A character attempts to attain some goal and may or may not secure it. I think there’s also a third type of Resolution at work: When one player wants the story to go in one direction and another player wants it to go in another direction. For lack of a better term, I’ll call this Discord Resolution. A Discord Resolution system determines which player(s) get to see their preferred turn of events in the SIS, their “heart’s desire,” if you will (e.g., “My guy’s an everyman making a play for a queen. He should get denied.”)

I think that all three of these resolution systems are functioning any time people are role-playing. Keep in mind that I’m not saying that these resolution systems are explicitly defined in text for all games, or are coupled to rules mechanics in all games. Certainly not. In a lot of traditional games, there are explicit, dice-based rules for Task Resolution, but the entire Conflict Resolution System is “The GM decides when any and all conflicts/character goals are resolved.” In these, the Discord Resolution System is often “the biggest personality wins.”

Other games do things differently. The Pool’s dice provide both Conflict and Discord Resolution (since you don’t roll if there’s no conflict). Task Resolution is: “The GM or the winner of the Monologue of Victory describes all Tasks.”

Universalis is built around Discord Resolution. That’s what all the Coin and Challenge mechanics are about. The dice are about Conflict Resolution, even suggesting that you shuffle characters around in order to set up a Conflict if you need more Coins. And the rules for narration after a Conflict roll, plus the basic Coin/Fact mechanics handle Task Resolution.

Burning Wheel Revised says explicitly in its text on Beliefs that your character should want what you want, which welds Discord Resolution to Conflict Resolution (at least on the player side). Then, the Intent and Let It Ride rules weld Conflict Resolution to Task Resolution, allowing everything to be settled with one series of rolls.

A “classic” D&D dungeon crawl with no cheating or fudging has explicit, dice-based Task Resolution. The implicit Conflict Resolution is: “If your characters can succeed at the assortment of Tasks necessary to bring my characters’ hit points down to zero before I do, you achieve your goal.” Discord Resolution is assumed to be welded to Conflict Resolution because everyone wants their character to survive and thrive.

In With Great Power…, I specifically instruct players to name their Stakes as “how their character wants the scene to end.” I then provide an opportunity for the player to decide how he wants the scene to end, by giving them the option of playing a high or low card. So, the card rules are not a Task Resolution system because they do not establish specific actions/tasks/events in the SIS (it’s the Scripting-Penciling-Inking rules that take care of that). The card rules are a Conflict Resolution system because they settle the Stakes of the Conflict. They also provide for a Discord Resolution system because players can voluntarily choose a card that reflects their own desires for the scene.

I think this distinction of Discord Resolution vs. COnflict Resolution is why I’ve never been real enthusiastic about “Narration Trading” or “Conch Passing” that was all the rage in ’02. The unspoken assumption was that you always wanted your character to do well, and, for me at least, that isn’t always the case.

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10 Responses to “Tasks, Conflicts, & Discords”

  1. The thing this post makes me realize more sharply than ever before was the oddness created when all of your ability to frame and use discord resolution is based around your character’s abilities.
    I mean there are some games that get away from this (the Pool has for sometime, and other games like Polaris have a different stance on it) — but the default for most games is not just “your ability to have your character complete tasks in the SIS is tied to character abilities” (task resolution based on character stats), or even “your ability to acheive the result you want with your character is based on your characters abilities” (conflict resolution based on character stats), but actually gets to the point of “your ability to state anything about the flow of the game with authority is based upon your characters abilities” (discord resolution based on character stats).
    Now obviously WGP is a step away from that standard, for reasons you point out. But even there the players ability to push the game is focused fully through their character.
    Now the interesting thing is that many of the “story creation games” that have started moving away from this mode have discarded it completly. Now we have a growing generation of games in which your characters abilities don’t matter at all. How strong your character is not only doesn’t effect your ability to say something about the game with authority, it may not have anything to do with how much your character can lift in the game world — or it may simply not be relevant.
    For me I think the games that get the closest to the sweet spot are those that divvy out resoultion for different levels in different ways. I like task resolution to be tied to character ability. I like conflict resolution to be tied partly to character ability and partly to player resources. And I like dispute resolution to not have much (if anything) to do with the characters at all.

    • Good points, Brand. This disconnect between character ability/desire and player authorial power is, I think, one of the reasons I have a tough time running PTA. Because PTA’s Story Arc should play right into its Discord Resolution. “It’s your character’s spotlight episode. Your authorial voice is stronger this time.” However, with the way PTA defines Stakes, Discord is tied to Conflict: You always want what your character wants. It doesn’t leave much room for Dramatic Irony, although Fan Mail helps.
      As for “those that divvy out resoultion for different levels in different ways.” That’s a tall order. The reason it’s tricky is that a player’s authorial desires (Discord level) may very easily run counter to the character abilities (Task level). For example, “I know my character’s Strength is rated really low, but this is her True Love that she’s fought and bled for. She should really be able to lift that rock off of him.” A way around this (or at least the WGP way around this) is to let the player be successful on the Discord & Conflict level (i.e., play a high card for Scripting), but then tailor the description to take character ability into account on the Task Level (i.e., Pencilling and Inking that she’s found a lever, or tricked the supervillain into pushing the rock off, etc.)

      • Oh I know it’s a tall order, but I don’t think its impossible. It would have to start as a correct mode of framing, and of OOC communications.
        Shock had an example like this where at one point two players think they’re in conflict then realize they aren’t. One is a spy who wants to get away with information, the other wants to figure out the first character is a spy. So they get all up to do conflict, and then don’t because there isn’t any — as they both agree that the spy can get away with the information while the other figures out that the first is a spy.
        Now that works because it pretty much uses the non-mechanical rules and social interaction around the table to solve the discord, and at that point there is no need for the conflict resolution to happen.
        Similar things could probably be worked out as part of the actual mechanics of a game. Step one of any dispute situation is to figure out what level it is on, and thus what level it needs to be addressed at. Do you not want your character to fight my character at all? (Discord) Do you want your character to have the potential to fight my character, but have us argue it out through our character’s social skills? (Conflict) Do you just want to dodge my blow with my poison knife? (Task) And so on.
        Having the ability to know where it is you’re “disagreeing” with the other folks, and to fine tune your response to deal with the actual point of conflict in a way most suited to it, is all the awesome.

  2. How would you classify the resolution in Polaris?

    • How would I classify Polaris? Probably incorrectly, as I haven’t played the game. But here goes.
      I think the choice of which ritual phrase to use is Discord Resolution. Since a player limits the ways in which his Heart/Mistaken can respond, he’s asserting that the narrative can go his opponent’s way, But Only If he gets X in return. Polaris nicely addresses Brand’s point above, insofar as all players have equal access all the Ritual Phrases.
      I’d say that the “predicate” of those Ritual Phrases, and the original statement that kicks off the whole Ritual Phrase-thing is the Conflict Resolution. It deals with the intent and desires of the fictional characters.
      And I think the specific description of what happens is the Task Resolution, sorta like The Pool.
      Does that seem right to you?


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