9 Jan 2009

Deemphasising the ‘Why’ of Conflict Resolution

I have been concerned for some months about the categories of Conflict and Task Resolution.

The problem is in how the ideas have been explained. It is common to break them down into Task = What and Conflict = Why, which I don't believe is a correct interpretation.

It is probably better to define them thus:

Task resolution is concerned with the individual action that a character is performing and deciding whether that action is successful.

Conflict resolution is concerned with a character's interests in opposition to, or at least interacting with other interests, leading to a description of the resulting outworking of that clash.

This is not a new definition and is broadly in line with the Forge glossary which emphasises “conflicts of interest”.

The idea that the difference is in the 'what' and 'why' seems to be born from the concept of agenda taking a central role in the latter, but an over emphasis of this as the key difference leads to all kinds of confusion. The key difference is in how the GM defines the opposition.

Lets think of a really simple example, target practice with a javelin.

Task resolution simply requires the player to roll his javelin skill to determine if he is successful. He could have a reason and it could be emphasised heavily in the narration but that reason does not inform anything at the mechanical level.

Conflict resolution needs an opponent, we could abstract an opponent as the physics of the universe having a conflicting agenda that reflects the difficulty of the shot, or we could take the current context of the action to determine the opponent.

They may appear similar take this example that appears to fall between the two:

Player: I throw my javelin at the target.
GM: OK, but why are you even doing this now?
Player: To let out my frustration with my father!
GM: OK, so you visualise the target as your father and throw your javelin, make the roll.
Player: I get a critical!
GM: The javelin sails straight at the centre of the target and impales itself deeply with a satisfying thud, and you have to put all of your strength into pulling it out again leaving you exhausted but relived of frustration.

I would argue that this is task resolution. Yes we have a why, and yes we even have an idea of the opposing force, but there is no actual mechanical opposition, we only resolved the task at the mechanical level. I think this kind of example illuminates a current confusion inherent in the What/Why definitions and the current state of Task/Conflict theroy.

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