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.