„Task vs Conflict Resolution” dichotomy aged badly. Original discourse from Big Model RPG referred to, how back in 25+ years ago various TTRPGs looked like. Back then, many mechanics and procedures indeed were mostly used to resolve one single thing, for one singular purpose („Task”). Alternatively, an entire scene or encounter was framed into a conflict. However, we have year 2022 and simply we can find thousands of TTRPGs, which have different tools and their purposes.
„Task/Conflict” dichotomy had been never intended as a end goal thought. Rather, it was just a contemporary thought about observed behaviour at the tables. What I wrote is my bag of cents about how we can name various resolution typec according to games we have in 2022. Obviously, I don’t claim it as a complete picture, and definitely this article will be outdated 25 years later…
All resolution types in a nutshell
Answering the question „What are resolution types in TTRPG?” is answering the question, why participants of the session uses elements of a game. What they want to receive in the end? I discern those five types of resolutions:
- Task resolution.
- Situation resolution.
- Scene resolution.
- Conflict resolution.
- Tension resolution.
I would like to point one thing beforehand. „Task/Situation/Scene” terminology can be viewed as a „unit of fiction” during the session. „Timefiction”, „fictiontime”, you name it. You can find various structure bits or procedures, which asks players about framing scenes or „what happens in this situation”. Resolutions related to those „units” resolve entirety of them, small or not…
„Task Resolution” is about checking out, how a single activity created a new outcome. Main purpose of a „task resolution” is to deliver a bit of fiction, which can be used further.
Primary function of „Task Resolution” is to test out capabilities of a fictional character (PC or NPC). Also, we can measure a single moment of a progress for a longer project. For instance, Downtime Actions from FitD engine belongs to „Task Resolution” by default (examples: Training, Reduce Heat [from BitD]). Those rolls checks out or how much Stress/Heat did you reduce, how much progress in long-term project do you performed. They are just a part of a larger situation, and they only introduce some bits of a fiction on their own.
You don’t need to dive into Traditional TTRPG to find numerous examples for „Task Resolution”. It’s obvious that some random Climbing check or Lockpicking test is a „Task” without special framing. Some Moves from PbtA games (like „Aid or Interfere” or „Suffer Harm”) refers to an existing situation and they resolve a relevant part of it. What can happen, when somebody aids or interfere with someone’s else action? What will happen due to enduring Harm, right in a moment?
One important thing: Elements which are just a part of larger, framed conflict, aren’t a „Task Resolution”. They aren’t resolutions on their own – they just work as a parts to play out for larger stage of a game. Initiative rolls, attack/damage rolls – they aren’t independent. Also, scripting maneuvers in Burning Wheel (or Mouse Guard, or Torchbearer) aren’t independent too, so they aren’t any „resolutions” on their own. Fiction-wise, they don’t resolve anything on their own: they just deliver an information needed to move further an encounter or conflict…
„Situation Resolution” is about checking out, what we can find out of playing a situation as a whole. At least one person makes a suggestion how they want to push the situation forward. What is „a situation” for TTRPG? It’s a current position and subjects’ status in shared imaginary space (fiction). We frame the fiction according to what we want to find out right now.
The most popular example is „Action Roll” from Blades in the Dark. Player declares intent and how they want to achieve it. They pick Action rating. We use „Action Roll” resolution, when there’s something dangerous or problematic with achieveing a given intent. This brings us a „Situation” at the table.
Example above had been inspired by games like The Shadow of Yesterday and Burning Wheel. While those games focuses on framing a situation into a conflict, „Action Roll” from BitD doesn’t really need a supposed or known opponent with belligerent agenda.
Another „Situation Resolution” examples are „Open Your Brain” Move from Apocalypse World 2nd (framing a situation about a contact with Psychic Maelstorm), „Hit the Streets” (if we find a NPC who gets something done for us?) or „Put A Face To A Name” (if The City knows a desired guy/gal.), both Moves from Urban Shadows. They don’t just show a given task – way of action – but they create and resolve an entire situation. Hence, „Situation Resolution”.
„Scene Resolution” is about checking out, how a given fiction unit with classical unities intact (time, place and action) will play out as a whole. What we can call as a „Scene” it needs to have at least one narrative question to answer beforehand („scene framing”). „Scene Resolution” should answer that narrative question. There should be a call for „framing a scene” and then to answer, what a given „scene” is desired to be about.
„Scene Resolution” methods shows us, how we can summarize an entire scene to move forward to the next one. Examples:
- Short, tight scenes in Fiasco (each scene at least answers, whether the outcome was positive or negative for a main character).
- Making a decision about consequences of a given scene in Kingdom (whether we’re going into Crossroads, Crisis or both?)
- What are Pools of choice to refresh during Refreshment Scenes in The Shadow of Yesterday? (this frames a flavor and substance of that scene).
- Every conflict, which extends to a whole scene, do have a narrative question about it. It could be something like „Do we win this combat?” or „Do we convince Baron Munchhausen to stop his stupid expensive journey and to take care of his peasants instead?”.
Keep in mind that if we call for a „exploration” of a given scene, tools used to resolve such fiction can’t be called „Scene Resolution”. After all, we didn’t make a definite, encompassing narrative question to answer. Rather, we decided to find out, what a given „scene unit” can be, only with respecting unity of place and time. I’d say that „exploring scene” term is about abstaining from unity of action.
„Conflict Resolution” is about checking out, who decides the outcome of a conflict, which had been framed in fiction. „Situation” or „scene” can be framed as a „conflict” and they must be in order to call those resolutions as „Conflict”. I suggest two criteria, which both must be met to call something as „Conflict Resolution”:
- Stakes of a conflict were introduced (open or discreet), they told us about possible outcomes.
- There are at least two competing sides or one side had been framed as a belligerent subject (or object) with their own agenda. There has to be a conflict (clash) of agendas.
Keep in mind, that „Conflcit Resolution” is not a resolution type on it’s own. I would call it as a subtype – „mode”; either „of Situation” or „Scene Resolution”. We can start calling it as a „conflict”, when situation or scene had been viewed under the lenses of a conflict. Where two subject or participants make their agendas collide. This implicates, that when we call something as „Conflict Resolution”, we consider all participants of a situation/scene as a struggling sides.
One of the side of a conflict doesn’t need to be active – it just needs to be perceived as a subject with their own agenda. In simpler words: an obstacle becomes the obstacle with their own „vision” of how it intersects with player’s intent.
Obviously, combat encounters in D&D are conflict (scene) resolution. Versus tests for resolving a duel or power struggle also are.
The very reason why I wrote about „Conflict Resolution” separately is because how many TTRPGs frames many things as a conflict. Combat, parley, chase, maneuvers, struggle against the weather, you name it. This phenomenas are so prevalent, that they should have their own several paragraphs in this article…
Trivia: „Vincent’s Admonition” („Say Yes or Roll the Dice”) originally from Dogs in the Vineyard isn’t just for framing a conflict. „Say Yes” answer means „there won’t be a conflict here” and it resolves a situation by way of saying „it happens what you said what you want to do, we move on” to the player.
„Tension Resolution” is about checking out, what are the consequences of translating the effects over time. Abstracted consequences are introduced later in a adequate moment.
At first glance, „Tension Resolution” should belong to „Task Resolution”, but it’s not independent bit of the action on it’s own. It’s an intended dependency – or lasting outcome – of a given situation or scene. „Tension Resolution” changes or transgress the condition, outcome. Sometimes it has a potential to inflict a new situation (based on suspending something in time, place and/or action). A common thing for „Tension Resolution” is that they are dependencies of another procedures or games’ structure, but they’re making their own bit of a play.
Consider a procedure, which is linked between two things (resolutions). That link is a „Tension”. Also, that link which leads to it’s own procedure can also be a „Tension”.
First examples are „Strings” from Masks and Monsterhearts, the resources to the players, to influence others. Another example is „Stress” from Blightburg; it’s a measurement of „narrativistic burden and load” on a character, earned via failed rolls or decision regarding their Traits (refusing to Compel to it). A player who currently sits on „Devil’s Seat” of another PC can spend Stress to impact or even interfere with their actions during a scene.
To some extent „Entangement Roll” in BitD also can fit to „Tension Resolution”. We introduce a new situation, which relates to how much burden our scoundrels created due to Scores they did. It’s related, but by an abstraction. I could say that „Heat” and „Wanted Levels” are „Tension”, concluded by „Entanglement Roll”…
- Wicked Ones finds out, how large is the pool for Blowback Roll (how monster’s plan deviated due to action?) or Calamity Roll (how much fuzz has been created during dungeon phase?) The larger, the chances for worse outcome – „reaction of the world”. Including the chances for a adventurer’s raid to PC’s dungeon.
- Mountain Home finds out the consequences of stirring out the life of a Region (Outsider Entanglement), but also about disturbing the settler’s life or the Mountain itself (Mountain Entanglement).
- The Engagement Roll from BitD resolves the „tension” created due to intersection of putting all preparations to the Score into the realm of abstracts (and possible flashbacks) and meeting it with the target (and it’s features). In short, we learn how well/bad the Score starts without overplanning beforehand.
Situation or Scene?
What is a „situation” and „scene”? If we look from a observer’s perspective, „scene” can contain narratives, which can be divided into more than one single situation. In another hand, in Fiasco, each „scene” should contain just a single „situation”.
What makes them different is a way of sorting out the play (narratives, you may say). „Scene” needs to have a question beforehand, what we’re going to do and for what. „Scene” can be considered as a „stage” or „phase” of a game. While we look at „Situation” from downside perspective: we resolve each because we find it interesting.
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