Design Tools: Levels of resolution

Posted on June 25, 2011


Thanks to Clyde & Judd on Theory From the Closet for kickstarting this post in my mind.

In the roleplaying games I’ve played and read, it seems there are 5 distinct levels of resolution. I take them as design tools. Not every game has all of them, though I’d argue that every game would benefit from having either #1 or #2 (or both), and then all of the rest (I’ll get into why all of the rest after I detail them).

1. Task Resolution–resolving whether small, definite tasks are successful or not, i.e., The Paladin rolls to hit the Orc with his sword, and takes his head off.

2. Conflict Resolution–resolving what happens in a conflict or challenge in a broader sense than task resolution: many tasks may get resolved simultaneously in the process of resolving a Conflict. The Thief rolls his stealth to see if he gets into the palace without being seen or heard, which involves knocking out a guard, climbing over a wall, and hiding in the bushes.

3. Scene Resolution–resolving what happens in a scene. Microscope‘s Question mechanic is an example of this, where at the beginning of a scene we ask a question–“Why is your mother depressed about your brother’s marriage?”–and the question is resolved at the end of the scene. The resolution of the question triggers the end of the scene, in fact (in the case of Microscope). Often, this also contains Task resolution, Conflict resolution, or both (as far as Microscope goes, we may resolve many tasks or conflicts within a given scene, using drama mechanics).

4. Session Resolution–resolving conflicts or questions at the session level: so, what gets resolved at the end of the session. In Burning Empires, you choose session-level maneuvers for your character at the beginning of a session, and reveal them and roll for them at the end of the session, which lets us see how effective our characters were on a stage larger than the individual scenes that made up the game, and provides a narrative conclusion (resolution) to the session.

5. Game Resolution–endgame mechanics. Whatever resolves the end of the game. Many games leave this vague or leave this out, relying on the players to rely on drama mechanics to resolve it. Games like My Life with Master have specific mechanical and fictional conditions that, when met, end the game or trigger an endgame sequence upon completion of which ends the game.

What do you think? I doubt there’s much arguing with 1 & 2 these days, but I haven’t seen the rest formulated as such anywhere else.

Also, because I promised: I think every game needs 3, 4, & 5. If that sounds out of whack to you, keep in mind that most games already have them, and just use drama mechanics to resolve them. That’s fine; but it’s even better if the game tells you that’s how it’s supposed to work, and how to do it–most don’t, and just let people flounder until they figure it out on their own.  How many scenes or sessions have you played that end on an unsatisfying or unimportant narrative note? How many games?

Posted in: Processing Play, rpg