2005-02-08 : Archive 172


I want you to talk about mechanical, rigorous system that is not about conflict resolution at all.


Good situation building!


Any mechanics that are not resolution.


Hear, hear to Jasper's suggestion. We need a taxonomy of what mechanics can & do do.


Yes, Jasper! Yes!

All worthwhile rules are about conflict resolution sooner or later.

Take a situation. Let's make it a good one: 1) I hate you and I want to kill you, I can think of nothing else. Now consider the possible situations it can become: 1a) I've killed you, but I hate you no less than I did when you were alive; or else 1b) I don't hate you anymore, I consider you beneath such attention; or else 1c) I've killed you and I feel much better and now I can move on with my life.

What separates this current situation from all of those possible future situations? Resolution of its conflicts. From situation 1, do we go on to 1a, 1b or 1c? It depends! Do I kill you or not? Does that resolve my hate or not? Conflict resolution!


Dogs has a bunch of it, so I can tell you've worked on it before.

All of Dogs' rules are, sooner or later, about nothing but conflict resolution.

Character creation rules create passionate characters, all at their common "now I undertake this responsibility" turning point. Town creation and NPC rules create more passionate characters, all in their unsustainable, resolution-demanding relationships. The structure of play forces both groups into contact and demands that they act on one another. There's your opening situation as you ride into the town. The resolution rules both reveal the situation and escalate it, driving it upward to its inevitable climax. Bam! Then afterward, you have a new situation, much more stable (if rarely perfectly stable), and you ride away.

All I care about, in other words, is building a dynamic initial situation and then seeing it through. All I care about is conflict resolution.

Now so, this is the foundation. Everything I say has to be understood from here, this underlies all the rest.

The rest is: "sooner or later" leaves a lot of leeway! Creating situations, revealing them, constraining them in all sorts of groovy productive ways - some rules, it's obvious how they work, like Dogs' Fallout rules; others have subtle ripply effects throughout play, like Dogs' Elements of Ceremony.

We have a good taxonomy for rules already, by Ron:

At the top level: Character, Setting, Situation, Color, System (that is, rules about contributing and agreeing).

Character rules (and Setting rules too, probably, whan they need to) break down into Resource, Effectiveness, Positioning, Currency.

Situation rules are all about creating situations, that is, situating characters with regard to one another and elements of the setting.

System rules break down into Resolution (IIEE, Outcome) and Reward.

They all intersect: your IIEE, for instance, might call on your Effectiveness and your Positioning, which might depend on your situation and Reward, respectively; your IIEE becomes Outcome, which might contribute back to your Resource and have further Situation consequences.

It's a kick-butt taxonomy, extremely powerful. Dogs' rules fit into it fully.

But here's another way to look at it: Passionate character, turning point, locked into conflict across a moral line, fit opposition, no back door, no way out but through, escalating from situation to situation to crisis, resolving finally to a stable situation. People collaborating to make it so, in conversation overwhelmingly characterized by agreement, all contributing according to their roles. Taken together, that's what your rules should give you.

That could be a taxonomy. You could have "passionate character" rules, "character" rules, "turning point" rules, "locked into" rules, right down the line. The problem is that any particular rule - "save most or your Relationship dice to assign during play," say - is going to cross those categories pretty thoroughly. Does that rule help create passionate characters, does it lock them into conflict, does it establish a moral line for conflict to be across, does it help create fit opposition, does it deny a back door way out, does it present a way through, does it serve escalation, does it serve collaboration, does it allow the player to contribute, does it establish a role for the player with regard to contribution? Yes! All of the above.

Can we then map between the two, something like "Positioning serves the turning point, Outcome serves escalating situations, Reward serves contribution and roles"? Not really. We can talk about individual games in those terms, like this: "Dogs' Positioning rules serve to lock the character more fully into the escalating situation, where PTA's Positioning rules contribute to the resolution of one situation into another at a higher, more direct level." But we clearly can't generalize.

That's what I've got.

Ben: you want more talk about situation rules?

1. On 2005-02-08, Ben Lehman said:

Ben: you want more talk about situation rules?




2. On 2005-02-09, Vincent said:

What about 'em?

I mean, here are my main points:1) Situation rules exist.2) Their job is to create good situations, which means situations with these characteristics: blah blah blah.3) They can't do anything especially cool on their own; they need to feed into resolution, or the situation just sits there.4) After the creation of the initial situation, most of the work of creating subsequent situations will be done by the resolution rules.

I don't see where that falls short, but you do. Tell me where!


3. On 2005-02-09, Jasper Polane said:

Hi Vincent,

I'm not sure I agree with you, or maybe partially. I think there are rules which are not about conflict resolution. Most of these are setting or color rules (I think).

For example, D&D's regional feats: You can only take certain feats if your character is from the region. The feat itself gives your character Resource and Effectiveness, and is useable in conflict resolution, but feats do this anyway.But the rule itself, the "You can only take this feat when the character is from this country" part, how is it about resolution?



4. On 2005-02-09, Vincent said:

Well, there are three possibilities:1) it's a stupid rule;2) it's a rule for some resource management game I don't know or understand;3) it's a rule for creating a fit character, drawing a connection between a person's history and his or her future.

If you don't use the feat ever, the rule never adds anything to the game. If you do use the feat, the character's hometown contributes to conflict resolution. That seems reasonable to me.

(I should learn not to comment on D&D rules though. I really have no idea how the game plays or what's its deal.)


5. On 2005-02-09, Jasper Polane said:

TSOY has cultural secrets which you can only take when you're from that culture. It's more-or-less the same rule.

If you do use the feat, the character's hometown contributes to conflict resolution.

Is this the hometowns only purpose? Or is there something else?


6. On 2005-02-09, Vincent said:

I don't understand! Help me understand.

Your character's hometown is a piece of your character. It contributes to who your character is.

Who your character is contributes to what situations your character's in.

When we start to resolve those situations, what matters is who your character is, who the other characters are, and what's what in the setting.

Thus, your character's hometown contributes to resolution.

Is its only purpose to contribute to resolution? Yes, because everything's only purpose is to contribute to resolution. Resolution is where things happen; it's the culmination and fulfillment of Characters, Setting, Situation, Color and System. It's what we do.

But it contributes to resolution broadly and subtly, not just by giving you your feats. It contributes to resolution by doing its part to make your character who he or she is.


7. On 2005-02-09, Ninja Hunter J said:

Vincent, I think you're right, and the block to mutual understanding here is interesting.

If you have rules - let's say, in the form of a map - then it would appear, on first blush, that there is no conflict resolution value to that map. What's neato about a map is that it is a set of rules for all sorts of stuff. It can tell you about political factions (and therefore the political conflicts you can get into), it can tell you about the size of the world (and therefore the philosophy and economy of the place, which gets into philosophical and economic conflict), it tells you about the technology used to get around it (and therefore gives you a way to introduce long journeys or constant contact as elements). It's fodder for conflict, but it can be used in so many ways, it's unclear that that's what it is.

Why does it matter what blaster you use? Depending on the system you're using, it coule be because it's your trademark thing, a relic of an earlier story; it could be because it's the only one with enough stopping power to put down a Morhelian Monkey Beast with one shot, it could be that it reminds you of the man who carried it before you. All this stuff, though 'just' color, is really about conflict; it's all used to create or resolve conflict.


8. On 2005-02-09, Dave Ramsden said:

It looks to me like there's some terminology differences here. Personally, I'd like to see some examples of rules that people think do not contribute to conflict resolution before I worry about what all of this means. Ben, I'm lookin' at you here. However, for the example that's been given:

Like I said in a thread before, Color is designed to enhance an aspect of the conflicts to be addressed, to bring attention to them and make them meaningful. Setting provides the context, situation provides the content, color provides the emphasis and help in matching content and context.

Why is your character's homeland an issue, ever? Because having a homeland that means something to your character concept means that conflicts involving your homeland are fitting conflicts for your character.

Why does a rule about your character only being able to take X feat if they're from Y homeland contribute to conflict resolution? Because it sets that homeland apart and contributes to the knowledge of what kind of conflicts involve that homeland. It's a systematic representation of what sets that homeland apart, and thus, where conflicts might arise.

If homelands are totally unimportant to the conflicts you want to bring up in the game, don't have special rules for the homelands that set them apart. They shouldn't be an issue.

There's also the Gamist aspect of, 'if you're from homeland X, which gets access to special ability Y, that means you can't be from homeland Q, which gets access to special ability R. Therefore, abilities Y and R are mutually exclusive'.


9. On 2005-02-09, Chris said:


Assuming traditional GM/player roles- I just realized that Situation is to the GM what Character is to the players! I recognized it as conflict, but for some reason never made the jump that initial conflict IS situation- D'oh!

The GM looks to Situation as his or her focal point and means of interacting in play, while the players look to their characters. Both of them meet at the resolution system to interact. At the end of it, either or both are changed after coming out of resolution.



10. On 2005-02-09, Clinton R. Nixon said:

The TSOY cultural Secrets add to conflict resolution in another way as well. Above, Jasper said you can only get them if you're from a culture. That's not true: you can get them from being in a culture or assimilating it as well.

Which means, if you have a cultural Secret, you either:

a) Are from there.b) Went there and people liked you well enough.c) Went there and took their knowledge by force.

All of these spell out conflicts as there are always people that want to do (c) in the game. You're either for them or against them, but either way, you've got that knowledge already, so you've got a stake in the conflict.


11. On 2005-02-09, Ninja Hunter J said:


The way I've GMed (since I stopped being a jerk about it, several years ago), says what you just said: as GM, I play the circumstance and make it collide with the Protagonists in interesting ways. The difference is that the Progtagonists are what make the story intereting. To really make stuff fly, all of my circumstance has to change whenever the Protagonists make changes.


Such a cool way to put it. If you take this stuff, it's because it matters to you enough to fight for it in one way or another. I gotta think about that. It's a profound statment.


12. On 2005-02-09, Ben said:

Vincent—long reply in a few days... right now I am typing on a tiny little payphone keyboard in Midway Airport. It is pathetic.

In short—

Mechanics that help you contribute, especially as a GM.Mechanics that define turf.Mechanics that enforce color.Mechanics that negate conflicts.Mechanics that block contributions.

Plus—we know what these mechanics are—now how do we make them not suck? Can they suck?



13. On 2005-02-09, Emily Care said:

Damn, Ben. Midway!?!

Just a note: resolution mechanics are about two things,1) establishing into the sis2) providing adversity

It's a bit of a chicken and the egg to argue that every bit of the in-game environment that is created eventually ends up being about resolution, because the point of resolution is determining what gets created in the in-game environment (in which I include events).

Now the experience of adversity... that's a different story.

And Ben's list.

help you contribute this ain't apportioning ability to contribute, but assisting the creative process.making towns in Dogs does it by being easy and pertinent. my pet aspiriation would be to have the mechanics reflect the kind of experience you want the players to have. The character creation process I use in breaking the ice is something along those lines—collaborative free-association to help get creative juices flowing. Getting them used to working together and having shared ownership of story & character.

defining turf apportioning ability to contribute, authority etc. not sucking: clarity, interdependence, creation of dynamic economies & patterns of conflict creation & resolution (I'm thinking of Uni)

enforce color okay, this could be about creating an ethic amongst the contributions of all. rewards likely. the awarding of Oog points in Great Ork Gods comes to mind. could be social rewards or in-game effectiveness. Or the structure of how mechanics (resolution or otherwise) fit together. MLwM and tMW for example. making color integral.

negate conflicts and block contributions? Say more, somebody.


14. On 2005-02-09, Chris said:


Right, I've been doing the same thing, I've just been ascribing Situation to this mystery word "conflict" the whole time. More importantly, I'm seeing this sort of diagram where we have System at the middle, Situation and Character on either side of it, interacting through System, and Setting and Color both on the outside coloring and flavoring the whole thing.

Hmm. Got some stuff to think about.


15. On 2005-02-09, anon. said:

Ben—It's the purpose and definition of these things as a category that I'm finding as a sticking point, so here's my tentative definition...

"Rules that define the process of determining the conflicts and their participants."

Something just hit me there: Authority = responsibility. If you've got the authority to input on a particular thing, you've also got the repsonsibility to do so. If you have the authority to control your character's actions in a D&D game, you also have the responsibility to do so. If you've got the authority to frame scenes, you also have the responsibility to do that. There's an unspoken assumption in any game I can think of that anything not forbidden is, if not mandatory, then at least expected.

So these are rules to remove or grant responsibility for certain aspects of the conflicts. Sometimes that responsibility is taken up by the rules (encounter tables in D&D take responsibility for choosing suitable risk/reward/rarity combinations of monsters to encounter instead of the DM), and sometimes not.

How do we make them not suck? By making them engaging enough that people want to use them (DitV, frex, has an appealing method for judging contributions), by making them clear and comprehensible (D&D 3.X has nice turf-definition with its character classes), and most of all by making them functional and fit together.

Really, sounds a lot like the way you'd make any other part of the ruleset.


16. On 2005-02-09, Dave Ramsden said:

Ehe, that was me. D'oh.


17. On 2005-02-10, Jasper Polane said:

Yes, I get it. The term "conflict" was throwing me off. Reading "conflict" as "situation"

helps. I don't really think they're the same thing, however, but it might be terminology differences. I have a film theory background, and some of these things mean something else there.

Dave: "Rules that define the process of determining" seems about right to me...



18. On 2005-02-10, Tobias op den Brouw said:

OOT: sorry to hijack the thread, but if this is the Jasper Polane I know, could you mail me at tobiasopdenbrouw @ NOSPAM

And I'm ready 'anyway' with interest, Vincent. Tx.


19. On 2005-02-10, Tobias said:



20. On 2005-02-10, Vincent said:

Ben: Oh! System rules. Sweet!

I think I finally understand. I'm going to consider and say more soon.


21. On 2005-02-12, Ben Lehman said:

Yes, Vincent, system rules. That's a good term for them.

Personally, I think that there are several classes of rules here.

Emily talked about the ones she talked about. I think of everything in reference to Polaris (and maybe Tactics just a little bit) 'cause that's what I'm working on these days.

Polaris is all about turf-defining rules and "help you contribute" but it has zero color enforcement, which is sad, because color is the main selling point of the game.

Rules that negate conflicts are things like "I can fly." Like, say, the bad guy throws up a magical wall, and you say "I can fly," 'cause you can, so the wall didn't matter at all except to show off how cool you are. The point is that these rules totally bypass resolution.

Rules that block contributions are things like "you can't have a 'I build a nuke' challenge in Dogs, even though the rules say 'say yes or roll dice.'"



22. On 2005-02-14, Vincent said:

I'm going to seize on this one little remark: "The point is that these rules totally bypass resolution."

There are two possibilities.

The first is that the rule ("I can fly" is one) creates what Egri would call "jumping conflict." Instead of escalating smoothly upward to its inevitable crisis and resolution, the conflict skips steps. It escalates unrealistically, or lands on resolution without a crisis first. We the audience go, "huh? That sucked. Where'd that come from?" If it skips straight to resolution with no crisis, it's anticlimactic - that's what the word even means, resolution without climax. This is, I think, what you mean by "bypass resolution."

The second possibility is that the game's built so that such things don't bypass resolution. It's easy to see how "I fly over the wall" would not bypass resolution in Dogs in the Vineyard, for instance, as a Raise.

Dogs' rules about bypassing resolution are:

1. If something's at stake, resolve.

2. If you're resolving, limit yourself to Seeing and Raising; furthermore, you may not put forward a See or a Raise that outright gives you the stakes of the conflict.