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Author Topic: [Vocab] Task versus Conflict  (Read 26711 times)
Ben Lehman
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« on: May 10, 2005, 12:19:50 PM »

Hi.

Boy, there are a lot of threads about Task Resolution vs. Conflict resolution.  Gee whiz.

I think a lot of these are stumbling over the meanings of the terms, because they are really poorly named terms.  I'd like to take a chance to review what they actually mean.  I'm not saying anything new here.

Conflict Resolution is any resolution where the results of the roll have a meaningful impact on the situation at hand.  If you are assured that the resolution has a meaning in terms of the game, at all, then that is conflict resolution.

Task Resolution is any resolution where the results of the roll can have meaning or not, at the discretion of one or more of the players, often the GM.

That's it.  That's the whole difference.

Are we all on the same page about this?

yrs--
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2005, 12:26:29 PM »

Uhm summary:

When we are talking about Task versus Conflict resolution, we are talking about "Resolution which does not have meaningful stakes" versus" "Resolution with does."  If everyone talking about using Task resolution for anything would go back and replace it with "Resolution without meaningful stakes" in their head, it might make things simpler.

yrs--
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2005, 12:38:14 PM »

Where do you fit systems with reroll mechanisms?

For example, Verge has an initial roll (dice pool vs. dice pool) then a series of rerolls purchased with character trait resources (burn a box of a trait to reroll some of the dice). Generally, both the players and the GM are rerolling, but the conflict isn't considered resolved till the last set of rerolls. The player gets to decide when to stop spending-and-rerolling.

In my mind, this is still a conflict resolution system. But in the examples of play I wrote today, I found myself doing a bit of task resolution between rerolls. It's as if the conflict was then subdivided into tasks.

The neat thing is that narration occurred along the way, but because the conflict wasn't resolved, you couldn't narrate the conclusion (what's at stake). You could dance around it, but that's about it.
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timfire
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« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2005, 12:38:52 PM »

Umm, Ben, while I certainly understand what you're trying to say, I doubt people who don't already understand the distinction would. "Meaning" is also real squishy word, and can be twisted to mean several things. It also implies (whether you meant it or not) that Task resolution is somehow inferior to Conflict resolution.

Task Resolution is when the dice (or whatever) decide the success of an action, independant of of a meta-game goal.

Conflict Resolution is when the dice decide whether a character/player's interest is realized, most often in contrast with another character/player's opposing interest.
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Valamir
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« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2005, 01:32:17 PM »

I'm not really sure that's a very useful general description Ben.

I mean *I* know what you mean...but every old school GM in the world knows not to roll the dice for crossing the street or eating without choking.  So in their mind they're already only rolling dice if there's "meaningful stakes"

Its the fact that they're having difficulty conceptualizing even framing a situation in terms of "what's at stake" that's at the root of those threads.


The difference as I see it is this:

Conflict Resolution:  "What's at Stake?  Ok, lets roll for THAT."

Task Resolution:  "What's at Stake?  What action do I have to take to achieve that?  Ok, lets roll for THAT."
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2005, 02:34:20 PM »

I like Ralph's construction.  I'd only add that under Task resolution, the "What's at Stake" portion can sometimes be UNSTATED - that is, we are expected to infer the Stake from the task, rather than actually state the Stake.

Gordon
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xenopulse
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« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2005, 02:46:45 PM »

It might be useful, in order to keep from equating Conflict Resolution with Scene Resolution, to keep in mind that the "Let's roll that" does not necessarily have to be just one roll. It is in Primetime Adventures; in Dogs in the Vineyard, it is one roll initially, though with the possibility of adding more (Escalation); and finally, in HeroQuest extended contests, you most likely roll several times with different descriptions of what you're doing, but all the rolls are directly tied to the resolution of the conflict.
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John Kim
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« Reply #7 on: May 10, 2005, 04:40:47 PM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
Conflict Resolution is any resolution where the results of the roll have a meaningful impact on the situation at hand.  If you are assured that the resolution has a meaning in terms of the game, at all, then that is conflict resolution.

Task Resolution is any resolution where the results of the roll can have meaning or not, at the discretion of one or more of the players, often the GM.

Examples, please!!  In the other theory thread, Pete Darby brought up the example of D&D combat.  Is D&D combat Conflict Resolution?  The result of a roll has definite impact on the situation in game terms (most often hit point loss).  The same is true of a Champions Entangle or most other powers.  Do I understand you correctly here?  

By this distinction, Task Resolution would seem to be primarily freeform skill use where the results of a roll are not explicitly clear from the rules.

Quote from: Valamir
Conflict Resolution:  "What's at Stake?  Ok, lets roll for THAT."

Task Resolution:  "What's at Stake?  What action do I have to take to achieve that?  Ok, lets roll for THAT."

Again, I think examples would be much more helpful.  In Conflict Resolution, do you have to begin rolling before an action is declared?
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2005, 05:24:05 PM »

Adam -- do the mechanics of the game resolve a conflict?  If so -- conflict resolution!  That you happen to have done some tasks on the way to conflict resolution doesn't really matter for classification purposes.  Check out Dogs or Sorcerer.

Everyone else -- I think that the problem here is that you are trying to frame Task Resolution as a thing that you might actually want to do in your play at some point.  This isn't GNS.  Task resolution isn't necessarily a equal or useful method to approach a game with.  For instance, Ralph:

Quote

What's at Stake? What action do I have to take to achieve that? Ok, lets roll for THAT.


You have just come up with a very good way to turn a task resolving system into a conflict resolving system.  The issue here is now we know what the roll means -- how succeeding and failing in the task relates the conflict -- it cannot be fiated away ex post facto.  This is conflict resolution for the same reasons that Sorcerer is conflict resolution (each roll has a definite effect on later rolls) and the same way that D&D combat is conflict resolution (each roll has a countable effect and a real change into the situation.)

yrs--
--Ben
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: May 10, 2005, 06:06:07 PM »

John, you're making this far more complicated than it needs to be.  There are a zillion different ways to do Conflict Resolution just as there are a zillion different ways to do Task Resolution.  Some might have you declare actions before, some after, some during, some all three, some never.  There is no such thing as *A* Conflict Resolution system.  

Examples may well not help you because what's true in one example isn't going to be true in another because each one works differently.  Its the mindset that distinguishes one from another.  

Read what you quoted of mine again (with Gordon's addendum in mind) and try to actually conceptualize what it means.  Imagine yourself as a player in a scene.  Your character has a goal in that scene.  Now imagine yourself making some rolls.  Are you rolling to see whether your character achieves their goal DIRECTLY?  Or are you rolling to see if the character succeeds at a task that you hope will get you closer to your goal?

Lets take a simple exercise.  Your character wants to get to the top of a cliff.  That's his goal.  Ok Goal:  get to the top of this cliff.  Getting to the top of a cliff is not a Conflict.  If you stop there and say "ok, make a climbing check" you aren't doing Conflict resolution.

So take it to the next step, why does he need to climb THIS cliff right NOW?  Whatever that reason is, is the source of the conflict...the cliff isn't the conflict.  The cliff is just a manifestation of difficult.  It could be a cliff, it could be a raging river, it could be a canyon, it could be a wall, it could be an impenetrable forest, it could be a waterless wasteland....who cares.  It is only important because it stands between your character and something that's important to your character.  THAT'S the conflict.

Ok, now that you have the source of the conflict, take it to the final step.  What are the consequences of failure?  What is the reward for success?  Identify those and you you've now got the Stakes of the conflict.  If the only thing you can come up with is "what's at stake is does he make it to the top of the cliff or not" then you're still thinking in terms of Task Resolution.


We'll try a couple of examples.

1) Character's world has turned upside down and he's depressed.  As an avid rock climber he's gone to a cliff he's never been able to climb before to prove to himself he's not a loser.  The conflict is not with the cliff, the conflict is with himself.  What's at stake is "if he makes to the top his self worth will be restored.  If he fails his confidence will be shattered".  Framed this way one can see all kinds of relavant modifiers that have nothing to do with the angle of the slope, whether or not the rocks are wet, or the quality of his climbing gear.  The difficulty of the roll has little to do with the difficulty of the cliff and his ability as a rock climber is almost an after thought.  This is pure man against self...there is no question that if he can master himself he'll master the cliff.  That's the conflict.  That's what the roll should be about.  

2) Character needs to warn a village of an impending attack, the enemy has a head start but there's a short cut if only the character can scale the cliffs.  What's the source of conflict.  The ENEMY is the source of conflict.  If it wasn't for the enemy the character wouldn't need to climb the cliff...the enemy is why he needs to climb THIS cliff right NOW.  So the conflict isn't whether or not the character can climb the cliff.  The conflict is whether or not the character can warn the village.  The cliff is just a source of difficulty.  So what's at stake is whether the villagers have enough time to flee or are massacred by the enemy because the character arrives to late (or whatever).  This is a roll pitting the characters climbing ability vs what?   The difficulty of the cliff.  Hell no.  Lame.  Its against the enemy Leader of course.  That's where the conflict is.  So what should the enemy leader roll...riding maybe?  Or Command to keep his troops in line and moving forward...whatever seems appropriate.  Its not a question of who wins, the character or the cliff.  The cliff is just scenery.  Its a question of who wins, the character or the enemy leader.  Modifiers that the character could call upon might include a hatred of the enemy, a love for someone in the village, a vow to protect the innocent.  You mean to say that "Vow to protect the innocent" might give me a bonus on my climbing check?  Hell yes, why?  Because once you frame the situation as a conflict and realize what's really at stake it becomes obvious what the driving factors of the scene really are.


Do you see how that is WAY WAY different from "you need to make a climbing check, its -20 for the slippery rocks and +10 for the rope" and then if you get to the top you can continue on with whatever you were doing and if not you'll have to go around?

I don't think I can possibly explain it any clearer than that.
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John Kim
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« Reply #10 on: May 10, 2005, 08:40:43 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
So take it to the next step, why does he need to climb THIS cliff right NOW?  Whatever that reason is, is the source of the conflict...the cliff isn't the conflict.  The cliff is just a manifestation of difficult.  It could be a cliff, it could be a raging river, it could be a canyon, it could be a wall, it could be an impenetrable forest, it could be a waterless wasteland....who cares.  It is only important because it stands between your character and something that's important to your character.  THAT'S the conflict.

Quote from: Valamir
Do you see how that is WAY WAY different from "you need to make a climbing check, its -20 for the slippery rocks and +10 for the rope" and then if you get to the top you can continue on with whatever you were doing and if not you'll have to go around?

OK, that helps, I think.  I'll note that this is quite different from what Ben is talking about.  Just to clarify -- Ben explicitly says that D&D combat is Conflict Resolution by his definition.  It seems to me that from your description, D&D combat is not Conflict Resolution.  (Could you confirm that, by the way?)  

The key distinction that I see is that in your description, resolution depends on the stated reason why the character is doing the action.  So depending on how I answer why my character is climbing the cliff, the results will vary.  So, for example, suppose my PC is a callous showoff.  He doesn't care about the villagers, but another PC bets him that he can't make it to the village before the enemy horsemen.  Now the conflict might be against the other PC, to try to win the bet.  Right?  

Also, this may be yet another topic, but you interpret conflict with importance.  i.e.  The cliff is irrelevant, but the enemy leader is important.  That seems like a stylistic choice to me.  To my mind, the enemy is often a MacGuffin (to steal a term from Hitchcock) -- i.e. a vital goal to the character but relatively unimportant to the nature of the work.  As I look at this, though, this should really go into another thread.
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- John
Ben Lehman
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« Reply #11 on: May 10, 2005, 09:14:25 PM »

Uh, yeah, Ralph?  Let's get terminology straight here.

My definition of conflict resolution is pretty much straight from http://www.lumpley.com/opine.html">anyway.  Namely

http://www.lumpley.com/hardcore.html#4">Conflict Resolution versus Task Resolution
http://www.lumpley.com/hardcore.html#7">Practical Conflict Resolution Advice
http://www.lumpley.com/archive/137.html">Description, Prescription (in the comments)
http://www.lumpley.com/archive/145.html">Conflict Resolution in D&D

And a couple of other threads that I can't dig up (Vincent, if you're reading this, you've lost a bunch of comments in your archives!  Is there any way to get those back?)

I think you and John are both looking way too much at what goes into a deciding resolution event, which is fine and an interesting thing to look at, but has zip to do with stakes resolution verus non stakes resolution.

Let me pull out an old, hoary example:

I want to get dirt on the supervillain.  I pick his safe.

If we resolve "do you get dirt on the supervillain?" straightaway, it's resolution w/ meaningful stakes.  aka conflict resolution

If we resolve "do you pick the safe" and that has nothing to do with whether or not I get dirt on the supervillain at all (there could be dirt in the safe or not), that's resolution w/o meaningful stakes.  aka task resolution.

If we resolve "do you pick the safe" and it is understood that this resolution has to do with me getting dirt on the supervillain, then it is resolution w/ meaningful stakes, based on our understanding.  aka conflict resolution.

Whether or not I get a "hate the supervillain" bonus to the roll, or whether it is based purely on "investigation" or "lock-picking" or whether we just flip a coin is totally beside the point.

yrs--
--Ben
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WiredNavi
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« Reply #12 on: May 10, 2005, 09:40:35 PM »

Ben, I think you're (to put it bluntly) mistaking your interpretation of Task Resolution and its usefulness for the general one.  Task Resolution is probably not real useful in any game you like to play, but it is for some other people, especially in Sim-heavy games, where it reinforces the validity of the the world and how it behaves to have Task Resolution succeed but Conflict Resolution fail, etc.

The reason I say this is because in that case, the Task Resolution ('Do I open the safe?') may be meaningful to the players by virtue of being an accurate representation of what's going on, and demonstrating certain things about their characters.
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Dave R.

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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #13 on: May 11, 2005, 02:13:00 AM »

OK, so if this is a Vocab-check thread, we should probably put what's currently in the Forge Glossary on the table.  Here's what's there right now:
Quote
Task resolution
A Technique in which the Resolution mechanisms of play focus on within-game cause, in linear in-game time, in terms of whether the acting character is competent to perform a task. Contrast with Conflict resolution.

Conflict resolution
A Technique in which the mechanisms of play focus on conflicts of interest, rather than on the component tasks within that conflict. When using this Technique, inanimate objects are conceived to have "interests" at odds with the character, if necessary. Contrast with Task resolution.


I notice a couple of things looking at that.  One is that both definitions talk about "mechanisms of play."  As far as I can tell, that puts D&D combat into the Task bucket, as the Conflict-portion of that system is only an outgrowth of Task-specific mechanisms - there are no Conflict-specific mechanisms present.  So where people (including my brief comment) have been talking about using Task resolution to "do" Conflict resoltion, we're talking nonsense - you can use Task resolution to produce an effect LIKE Conflict resolution, but if the mechanism isn't about a Conflict, it's not (in a strict sense) Conflict resolution.

I'm not sure how helpful that is, other than pointing at the difference between the mechanism and the effect.  And I'd guess that's a blurry line - as other recent threads on this subject have pointed out, it's certainly possible to take a Task resolution mechanism and with enough, um, "clarifying additions" via discussion at the table, effectively turn it into Conflict resolution.  Is it meaningful to say "the mechanism remains Task-oriented, but we use it for Conflict resolution"?  I don't know.

The other thing I notice is that the Task resolution defintion is very specific in referring to in-game cause and linear time, whereas that for Conflict resolution isn't.  I'm reluctant to make too much of that, but maybe it's useful and accurate to say that Task resolution requires a direct connection to in-game cause and linear time, while Conflict reslution allows for an indirect connection to such issues (note that "allows for" doesn't preclude occassional direct connection, nor exclude a preference for direct connection - it's just not required).

And actually, that same reasoning applies for the use of "character competence" in Task resolution but not Conflict resolution - required-direct in Task, allowable-indirect in Conflict.

For the record, I'm fine with totally abandoning the current Glossary defintions here, but I thought going back to them might provide some insights.  I'm personally leaning towards the view that both Task and Conflict "stuff" are always happening in any resolution system, and the questions are more about what is addressed by the system, where participants are encouraged to put their attention (or where they actually put it), and how information (about Conflict, especially) is revealed and concealed as play occurs.  As valuable as noticing the difference between Task resolution and Conflict resolution is and has been, maybe it's a mistake to see them as mutually exclusive Techniques.

Gordon
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: May 11, 2005, 02:25:23 AM »

It's not a friendly start to this responce, but the word 'meaningful' is a point of debate itself, rather than a concrete fact from which to have further debates.

How about the following instead:
Conflict: Statistically significant resource expenditure
Task: Statisically minor resource expenditure

For example, if you have 100 HP and a certain mechanic might have you use up 80 HP, that's a significant resource on the line.

If instead the mechanic puts only 2 HP on the line, it's a task.


This of course purely uses the mechanical level to evaluate task and conflict, rather than any exploration level. This may seem a little rough to some.
"Well, what about if I have a character who can kill two hundred soldiers while only risking 2 HP on one roll!? C'mon! Two hundred soldiers in one roll! That HAS to be conflict resolution!"

I flatly disagree. If you design a game where PC's have 100 HP, but risk only 2 HP to kill 200 soldiers, then this game isn't about killing 200 soldiers. It's about killing about 10,000 soldiers...why else would you give PC's 100 HP? To be used, of course! And to kill 10,000 your going to have to use this mechanic around 50 times. Having to use it so often makes it task resolution, not conflict resolution. The mechanic has to be used so often, each use is resolving very little.

Take whatever number is statistically significant in your game (you know, if you run out of it you loose or you suffer negative social feedback or whatever). If a mechanic has to be used over and over again before this number is really effected, its task resolution.

I guess an exception might be where the designer gives each PC 100 HP, but designs play so they are supposed to just piddle about with 2 HP stakes. Then the designer might consider those as conflict resolutions. But who cares what the designer thinks, when the end user see's 100 HP and tries to go to town using the resource given, only inching along toward any resolution there.
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