Task Resolution and the Passage of Time

edited August 2008 in Story Games
Over in Mendel's thread on conflict resolution:
Posted By: Max HigleyHaving seen the clarifications, try this on for size as a local definition:
"Task resolution" is about external stuff.
"Conflict resolution" is about internal stuff.

Do I successfully climb the fence? External -- resolves physical action.
("Do I get what I want?" is implied, but not explicit.)

I want to climb the fence, but someone else wants to stop me. Who gets what they want? Internal -- resolves conflicting desires.
("Do I succeed?" is implied, but secondary.)
To which Mendel replied:
Posted By: wyrmwoodMax, I don't think that works too well. After all, the conflict you mentioned doesn't resolve the conflicting desires, only the outcome of a conflict of desires.
...which turned on a light bulb for me. There's a situation I've seen come up before that hinges on exactly that fact. It goes something like this:

"I stab you."
"No, you don't. I deflect your strike."
"I try again."

Alternately:

"I pick the lock."
"No, you fail to pick the lock."
"I try again."

This doesn't happen with conflict resolution. And that pointed out something to me about task resolution: it works OK for situations where the passage of time is sufficient to render repeat attempts impossible. Here's one:

"The orcs are chasing you toward the door. You've only got maybe a minute before they catch you."
"I pick the lock."

Here, a failure substantially changes the outcome, because passing time means you can't just keep trying. That means that your desire is effectively resolved -- you may still want to pick the lock, but you no longer have the opportunity. That's interesting to me: in order to resolve a desire, task resolution relies on the passage of time to close off options. Huh.

Comments

  • edited August 2008
    Max,

    What is critical is that something change due to the action, even if it's non-mechanical. Elapsed time is only one way to do it.

    For example, in Pure Shoujo failure can be more useful than success. You spar with a classmate and he gets lucky and beats you, so you swear revenge on the spot, playing your enemies relationship.

    And sometimes repeated attempts take a flavor on their own. After all if the rogue takes 3 tries on the lock, she'll be self-conscious and there may be snickering among the party.

    The dynamics vary, but what tends to cause trouble for traditional task resolution isn't the base mechanic, it's the GM fiat as conflict resolution that sits above it. Timing is just one mechanic for introducing a known resource which measures progress on achieving a larger goal.

    Edited to Add: As an aside, I was reading the Alternity predecessor for the D&D 4E skill challenge rules, and I noticed that they heavily focused on the duration of the actions. Almost certainly these were meant to be used with some sort of time pressure to produce dramatic tension.
  • The thing you're seeing, Max, as Mendel notes in passing, is that the conflict itself is getting resolved "by task resolution" - you got the one chance to try to pick the lock, and that determined whether the orcs would catch you or not. As you yourself state, your "desire" was resolved - and that is what conflict resolution is.

    It's not at all uncommon to have conflicts resolved by a task resolution system, coincidentally. Solar System from The Shadow of Yesterday, for example, does exactly that. Likewise for Sorcerer, Dust Devils 1st edition, Dogs in the Vineyard, Spirit of the Century, Shab-al-Hiri Roach, Mortal Coil and many others. In all cases the key ingredient is a tacit acceptance of letting the whole conflict ride on this one particular task resolution cycle, instead of letting the GM interpret the significance of the task resolution in his own unreliable and subjective manner. That's what makes for a conflict resolution system as opposed to just resolving conflicts informally. (Just to clarify, there are also games that do not do this: 1001 Nights, Polaris, Zombie Cinema, My Life with Master...)

    But I guess that's only a cause for one of those endless Internet wrangles about task and conflict resolution. I can't understand how such a simple topic can be so complicated.
  • Max,
    Someone once gave a great example, and I use it all the time:
    Task Resolution:
    Player: "I pick the lock on the Safe"
    GM: "OK, you need X, roll it"
    Player: "Yay! I got it!"
    GM: "OK, you open the safe and there is nothing inside"
    Player: "But I was searching for a clue..."
    GM: "..."

    Conflict Resolution:
    Player: "I pick the lock on the Safe"
    GM: "Um, OK, but what are you trying to accomplish?"
    Player: "Trying to find a clue"
    GM: "OK, the bad guy may not have covered his tracks so well, you'll need X to figure out what he is up to"
    Player: "Yay! I got it"
    GM: "OK, the clue you were looking for was a crumpled up piece of paper in his wastebasket"

    In both scenes, the clue was in the trash can, but in Task Resolution, there is not always a way to connect Player desires with Character actions.
    I don't think one is better than the other, but you are definitely playing a different game if you use one or the other, right?
    Dave M
  • edited August 2008
    edit: crossposted with Dave
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenThe thing you're seeing, Max, as Mendel notes in passing, is that the conflict itself is getting resolved "by task resolution" - you got the one chance to try to pick the lock, and that determined whether the orcs would catch you or not. As you yourself state, your "desire" was resolved - and that is what conflict resolution is.
    What I'm pointing out is that task resolution on its own, without the constraint of the passage of time, would not resolve the desire. You could just keep trying, until either you succeed or get bored. It's only with the added constraint, which could be time or some other resource, that task resolution resolves desires. Or, to put it another way, until the thing you want is either in your possession or completely out of your grasp, your desire to have it remains unresolved. That extra thing that puts it out of your grasp is (in some games) necessary to make task resolution function as it was intended -- which highlights one reason why D&D played without keeping track of time just isn't quite right somehow.
    Posted By: wyrmwoodWhat is critical is that something change due to the action, even if it's non-mechanical. Elapsed time is only one way to do it.
    Hmm. Yes, that.

    What I was aiming at is that some task resolution designs (though, as you point out, not all of them) ensure that something will change by relying on the passage of fictional time. As Filip said, D&D is one of these, and it can be a workable approach.
    Posted By: wyrmwoodFor example, in Pure Shoujo failure can be more useful than success. You spar with a classmate and he gets lucky and beats you, so you swear revenge on the spot, playing your enemies relationship.
    This sounds like an example of a mechanical incentive (requirement?) that you move the situation forward in a manner other than what you have just attempted. Which would be outside the fiction.

    Interesting that, the difference between preventing ad nauseum repeat attempts using some properties of the imagined stuff, or using some bits outside the imagined stuff.
  • But Dave, what if my skill is "Find Clues"?

    (Just messing with you. You do know the "Safe-Cracking Example" has problems of its own, right?
  • edited August 2008
    Posted By: DInDenverIn both scenes, the clue was in the trash can, but in Task Resolution, there is not always a way to connect Player desires with Character actions.
    I really like this example too -- it's a good one, and I agree with what you're saying here. It's not quite pointed at the same thing I'm thinking of. Let me see if I can build on what you've got to show the thing I'm trying to point at:

    Conflict resolution:
    Player: "I go to the Officer's Club to search for a clue."
    GM: "When you get there, Bob tries to stall you before you enter. Let's see if you can get past him quickly enough to find out what's going on in there."
    -- presumably, engage mechanics --

    At this point, you either do or do not find a clue. If you fail, it's over -- you won't get a second chance. Now let's rewind to see how this might be handled with task resolution:

    Player: "I go to the Officer's Club to search for a clue."
    GM: "When you get there, Bob tries to stall you before you enter. What do you do?"
    Player: (some actions)
    GM's to himself: "If he gets in before 5 minutes have passed, then he catches them red-handed. If he doesn't, then the room has already been wiped down."
    -- engage mechanics --

    That's an example of a place where the passage of time is what makes task resolution resolve a conflict. Without the time element, weird things happen. The players can keep trying, and the result will be arbitrarily determined by the GM. Either you don't find anything no matter how quickly you get in, or you always catch them no matter how long it takes, or the GM chooses whatever he feels like. All of those are by fiat, railroady, illusionist, and generally no fun -- which is often how D&D turns out, when you stop keeping track of time and the other limiting resources that make the system work.

    And that's the thing I'm trying to point at: without constraints (e.g. time as a limited resource), task resolution can sometimes default into endless repetition and/or all sorts of other messy stuff. That's not to say that it's bad, or that conflict resolution doesn't also have problems, but just that task resolution has certain limitations that can be overcome when you buttress it up against certain situational elements.

    After Andy's thread about doing away with unified mechanics, I'm really rather curious to see a game that uses both kinds of resolution.
  • I'm going to suggest again that all a resolution system needs is a way of explicitly handling the effects of your actions, such that you know going into it what effects can result (obviating things like that damned safe/clue thing), and exactly what effect did result (which is kinda murky in some "traditional" systems). Even if you're limited in the kinds of effects you can try for, as long as the Effect mechanics are clear, you're good.

    Beyond that, getting the resolution system that is best for a given game is a matter of A) what terms do you want to express effects and effectiveness in, and B) what structures do you want resolution to impose on play.
  • edited August 2008
    Well, sort of. But even if you know exactly what effects can result, and you figure out exactly what effect did result, you still have the potential problem of endless repetition.

    Player: "I search for a clue." (We know you either will or will not find a clue.)
    GM: "You don't find anything." (Now we know which one happened.)
    Player: "I keep trying." (Doh...)

    I'm not saying that's a strike against task resolution, I'm just pointing out that you can avoid that with some additional constraints. As Mendel pointed out, so long as the situation changes as a result of the action (regardless of success or failure), repetition is not a problem.

    (ETA: which resolution is best is way far outside the topic of this thread.)
  • Max,
    I think that the real bugaboo of bad task resolution (and there is such a thing as good task resolution) is: "Nothing happens." Conflict Resolution can do this too, though.
    What you are saying, I have heard this before. But if you want to put an easily definable constraint on it, try this, "if you can use the mechanics and produce no result, then you are doing it wrong." See, there doesn't have to be a time constraint for Task Resolution to be fun or interesting. But, there does need to be something built into the system to prevent the "Nothing Happens" result, right?
    That's what the example that I was given and gave again was pointing towards: Nothing happens.
    Hope that helps.
    Dave M
  • Effect (with a capital E) = how the situation changes. At least, as far as I'm concerned.

    (As I said in the other thread, I think that, in practice, Mendel and I already agree on this stuff)
  • Pure Shoujo has a loose incentive - the results of an action can help convince other players of the relationships you want to inflict on your characters. But incentives behind, if you try and fail then that always affects the situation - now this is a task you have tried and failed to perform. Can you try it again? May be, may be not. But there's an odd short-circuit that appears in many games due to whiff factor, where the mechanics do not reflect the fictions definition of your character's competency, re-routing around failure becomes a necessary form of drift. This means we learn as players to treat failures as non-events, not as failed attempts. But that risks us misunderstanding failure when we encounter games where whiff factor has been designed away. To correct for our training we find the need to make failure explicitly meaningful, usually with extra consequences. But that isn't necessary if we remember that a failed attempt is actually something happening all on its own.
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