12 Jan 2009

The Necessity of Questions in Conflicts

The adoption of Conflict Resolution by many games in recent years has focused on asking questions on the nature of the conflict. For instance, 'Why are you doing that', 'What are you trying to achieve', 'What do you want to happen'.

In traditional games these questions often went unasked, and were implied in the usage of the skill chosen. Combat was mostly about a series of attacks and defences, and most other skills were defined in detail, usage and scope within the rules. It is not necessarily true that the question was not present or implied, but it was rarely dwelt upon. Indeed in some groups, questions that pulled one into the meta-game were suspect at best.

There were however mechanics that supported Conflict Resolution, an example that comes to mind would be the Resistance Table in RuneQuest, which sought to provide a percentage chance of succeeding against any value of passive resistance. A heavy object would resist passively and the character had to cross reference his skill against the resisting skill to discover the chance of lifting it. The idea that the passive resistance was acting was hard-wired into the rules.

RuneQuest also grappled with that perennial situation getting past the guard.

In RQ2(1979) which itself was but a polished version of the 1978 first edition a sneak would be accomplished by Move Quietly, which on a successful roll would surprise an opponent unless he rolled a successful Listen. Listen is described as taking precedence over Move Quietly

Here we have some elements of conflicting interests. The guard is naturally watching and listening as part of his roll, and we have two opposing rolls. Boiling it down the player will only be successful if he succeeds and the guard fails. If he fails then the guard need not roll and if the guard succeeds then a success will not be enough.

However, this was frequently house ruled to take into account the Fumble and Critical rules, which led to an actual mechanical Conflict Resolution, as both results were necessary for a description of the result. RQ3(1984) had us subtracting the stealth skills from the guards skill which did away with the need for the house rules and made the rolls more task focused again, but only by adding a distinction of active listening, which brings the interests of the opposition to the fore.

As soon as games began to allow skill names that were not chosen from a set list but made up to suit, it became far more difficult to define rules that handled such issues because you could no longer have detailed skill descriptions. And, more to the point, it became possible for misunderstandings over intent. Couple with this the prevalence of universal resolution systems and you have issues of scope and skill application to handle.

Asking questions to pin down exactly what is about to be resolved becomes necessary.

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