Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Conflict Resolution

Deep magic game design, mon...

It used to be that when I looked at a new game system, the first thing I wanted was to read a gameplay snippet. Even today, I still think that your first chapter should be mostly gameplay snippet(s).

But these days I just flip ahead to the "conflict resolution" section, which is usually somewhere in the third fourth of the book. To me, a system lives or dies based on conflict resolution.

Most indie systems have simple conflict resolution systems, whereas most mainstream systems have complex resolution rules, but we're so used to them that we don't even notice. There's nothing inherently good about simple rules or bad about complex ones: it's just a tendency.

For example, in the system "Octane", your play on a roulette wheel (or simulation thereof). The rules are fairly simple, involving how many chits you have and how you bet them, and a few rules governing what happens when other players stick their big noses into your spin.

In D&D, conflict resolution is much more complex, involving multiple rolls of different kinds of dice, and often some kind of saving throw or special-rules feat/spell.

Compared to Shadowrun (which was essentially four completely separate systems glued together), it's a cakewalk.

The thing I like about complex resolution is that it offers a lot of texture. If everyone has the same abilities just with different numbers plugged in, then each person is really getting the same experience out of the game. Not only do many players want different experiences, but giving each player a different experience allows each player to contribute to the game in a different way. Classic example: mage/warrior/thief/cleric parties.

You need to be careful, of course: you'll be the bottleneck. If the differences in how various players approach the situation is too vast, then you'll waste valuable time trying to manage all of the approaches they take simultaneously.

Still, there's a lot to be said for giving each player their own "rule set". Mages have spells, warriors don't. (Didn't... they do now, and will be essentially indistinguishable from mages in 4.)

Whenever I make a game, this is at the forefront of my design.

For example, I made a LARP where everyone played psychics. Everyone had four psychic powers which were each charged in unique ways. One character could only charge one of his powers if someone asked him for help. Another would only charge his power if he was alone. A third could only get a certain power while he was in the dark, another when someone laughed, etc, etc, etc.

Even though it's the same fundamental rules, everyone's powers were different and everyone gained them in very different ways, which added a huge amount of texture to the game.

Still, the game suffered from severe bottlenecking. Too many players that needed "just a moment" of my time... it's always a tradeoff.

How about you folks? Do you prefer simple rules?


Olick said...

I don't think I prefer simple or complex rules, and it all depends on the context they are placed in, and the things surrounding the rules. I am extending this example to all games.

In fact, I think I like a system that is deliberately balanced between complex and simple. A system that is too complex runs into either bottlenecking (if the game is run by a person) or risks being so esoteric the players do not understand how the flow of the game runs rule-wise. Similarly (oppositely?), a game with too simple a system risks oversimplifying.

Unfortunately, in tabletop RPG's I have precious little experience. And the experience I do I always had thought it was more dependent on the GM than the system, as long as the system is not made horribly.

I'm not so sure thats entirely true anymore... although I still think that the GM is one of the important elements.

Craig Perko said...

In a tabletop game, the GM (or equivalent) will probably always be the most important element. Basically, a GM can choose whether to stress because the rules are too diverse or stress because the rules are too bland... :D

Ryan said...

Only because I like being contrary, but I like clever rules, that tend to be simple once you've grasped their complexities. For example, Greg Stoltze's One Roll Engine (used in Reign and several others of his recent works) that adds a wonderful level of granularity to one roll of a handful of dice by using a combination of the number of matching dice and the number rolled on the dice that actually matches to enable the one roll to apply to different parameters in different ways.

I see this as being both simple and complex. The mechanic itself is simple, roll the dice, pick out the matches and check how high the number of the matched dice is and how many matched. The application of the rule however is where it gets complex. The number of matches (or its width) shows how fast and competently the player does something, while the number shown on the dice (the height) is how favorable the circumstances were and how well the character took advantage of them.

So, for example, in a fight the width would indicate how quickly you hit someone (initiative sort of) while the height would indicate where you hit them (the higher the number the more vital the area hit).

But the understanding of how to apply this in the different situations is the complex part. Now most modern mainstream rulesets take this kind of approach - white wolf's WOD rules use the same mechanic with minor variations for all situations (which they then overburden with far too many situational modifiers), but I don't feel its particularly clever, nor does it offer the same level of granularity as Reign and the ORE does.

Craig Perko said...

That's completely tangential. The rules you describe are simple, even though they are deep, because individual players don't have specific special cases.

A wizard doesn't get to roll the dice differently, although he may roll different dice. The same basic resolution method is used in every situation.

So, even though it may have some good depth, it is still a simple ruleset.

Ryan said...

*sigh* semantics again... see this is why people have frameworks ;)

Craig Perko said...

In this case, it's more than just semantics. There is a fundamental difference in how a team interacts: if everyone has the same capabilities with different numbers attached, there's very little cohesion. The players bond less efficiently, less predictably.

Ryan said...

I really don't agree with that. Most RPG's I play nowadays have the same or similar mechanic applied to different situations, but at the end of the day the players still create characters that vary in the roles that they fill in the group. Our homebrew sci-fi uses a simple dice pool mechanic for everything and we have a scientist, psyker, diplomat and engineer - all who's major talents function in the same ways (roll your dice pool, count the number of successes) and our group cohesion/interaction is great, even when we had a new player join who was much less experienced we had no trouble there.

What I think you are getting at (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is the concept of the players maximising their personal preferred playstyle and feeling special because of it (which you mention in your 'autobiographical' story).

In some situations the rules can do that task for you by being specific to the role or character type being played - thus the player feels different and that they are the only ones who can do the vital job that they do. In the tabletop environment, at least, the same effect can be acheived by the GM and players creating an environment where this happens via the shared storytelling.

Unless, of course, you are encapsulating the character roles into what you are talking about as rules as well (eg: the ability for someone to play a mage or a warrior is a rule) which is why I made my comment about semantics.

Craig Perko said...

I don't think you understand the scope of what I'm talking about.

The difference between someone with limited ammo vs unlimited ammo, the difference between affecting one enemy vs multiple, the difference between offense and defense - these are simple combat differences, they aren't even mentioning the hundreds of noncombat differences you can have.

But they are very important: someone with limited ammunition will play their character in a deeply and fundamentally different way than someone with infinite ammo. Someone who can blammy a whole room will play very differently than someone who has to attack enemies one at a time. These are not shallow differences: they are differences that drive the character's personality, their place within the party, and their place within the game.

You can certainly expand your simple dice rolls to cover this kind of thing... at which point it's no longer simple, because each player has their own, unique methods of applying their rolls. A warrior's roll is fundamentally different from a wizard's roll even if they are doing the same basic thing.

Ryan said...

Hmm OK - I'll leave it there, we're arguing at cross purposes mainly because what I'm getting out of what you have written so far seems to jump around in terms of context, so obviously I'm just not understanding your terminology and the explanations of your thoughts, thus my semantics comments.