Resolved: Figuring Out What Happened

January 28, 2017

So, we’ve done some of the ground work for our themeing. We’ve got our classes down, we’ve got a basic idea for our construction, and we know what “D&D” is. So, how does the game work? 

The environment that D&D takes place in, a tabletop RPG with a focus on storytelling and tactical combat, there are three levels of resolution. Three tiers of granularity in how much we want to simulate the environment. Those three levels are the most simple kind of resolution (like a “strength check” for something coming up but not having a dedicated rule system), the skill resolution (like a “Diplomacy check” for something that has a rules system attached to it but it’s not very granular), and the Combat Resolution System. There’s a huge, wide gulf between type 2 and 3, while there’s barely any difference between type 1 and 2. I feel like we can do better than this.

The first thing we need to talk about is resolution in general. We’ve got a few goals in a D&D like system – we need to have  combat be deep and granular, we need a simple resolution mechanic that solves unforeseen challenges, and we need to have a skill system that is robust and encourages roleplaying.

These aren’t easy problems.

First thing first; we can keep a lot of the combat systems for now. We can keep equipment, we can keep bonuses, we can keep the idea of rolling two sets of dice (a d20 for the to-hit roll and a separate set based on origin for damage). We can leave all of that alone for now.

For why we can, well, it’s got payoff. The big thing is equipment. The rest is just flavors of what equipment does. Equipment lets you customize your starting position and your style of combat. That means that combat, and how you work in combat, is an expression of player agency. This is also frequently why you see D&D being described in combat terms; the stories of people expressing themselves frequently find their payoffs in combat. The people who find player agency elsewhere are going through a very arcane system and exploiting it for gain in some fashion. We will return to the combat mechanics, but it’s important to understand how vital player agency is.

We can also leave the bottom resolution system alone. Why? Well, it works. Guidelines for how to pull the appropriate check out of nowhere is a good fleshing out of the system, but the basic go-to of “You don’t know what to roll here? Well, roll a d20, add the relevant bonus” is simple, effective, and everyone gets it. It also doesn’t get in the way of play or storytelling. It’s simple without being simplistic.

The middle ground, though, is hard. That’s where we’ve got to dig into player agency, find what we can pull from the example that Combat gives us (and other games), and see if we can do better. I’m totally interested in anything out there anyone has to say on this as well.

The next post, I think, will be focused on that middle resolution system and Player Agency as a concept; what are skills, what kind of granularity are we looking for, and how can we attain it?

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