What’s in a Resolution?

January 30, 2017

So, last week we talked about Resolution Mechanics and it struck me I made a whole lot of statements using a whole lot of assumptions that I didn’t make clear. This post is about that.

So, first off, why do we need Resolution Mechanics? The short answer is to resolve disputes at the table in a way that’s fair to everyone, but that can be done any number of ways and doesn’t have to involve dice, or even game themeing at all. What Resolution Mechanics are really for is carrying the narrative forward in a way that is both within the game’s narrative style and allows the players a sense of chance and danger without actually upending their momentum.

In short, Resolution Mechanics provide the players the illusion that they lack control in just the right ways to provide an even stronger illusion that they might lose. Ideally, the players aren’t capable of losing due to sheer luck (partially because of dice statistics, partially because of rules) but they’re under constant fear that they could, in theory, lose to sheer luck.

So, what’s our narrative theme, etc, for Dungeons and Dragons?

D&D is historically associated with the 20-sided die (icosahedron). It’s a pretty good metering for randomness; each side represents a growing 5% chance of success or failure, depending on how it’s read. This makes it super easy to plot victory or success based on percentages, which once you know the basics of percentages is very intuitive. Granted, that’s four steps of “intuitive”, which itself is pretty unintuitive, but c’est la vie. We work with the polyhedrals we have and the technology we’ve developed.

So we’ve got a percentage system and a die to use it with. What are we resolving?

The biggest thing is Combat. Our d20 (“die with sides” 20, gamer shorthand) is going to be used to determine if we hit with our attacks or if we can get away just in the nick of time and shrug off the magical, psionic, or otherwise oppressive powers being exerted on us. Combat also has tons of fiddly mechanics in traditional D&D to tune the instances where you have to roll; maneuvering in space, choosing weapons and spells, wearing equipment, etc. Combat is all about manipulating that percentage chance on an active level.

On the far, far other end we have skill checks and ability checks from classic D&D. This is a simple d20 roll with no fanfare, little in the way of options, and largely out of the hands of the players and the game master. Usually there’s a simple roll, you add some kind of bonus, and then figuring out if it hits a particular target number. This is…boring. It’s also really frustrating even if it’s intuitive. It’s basically as if you’re using a roulette table to decide on whether you love someone, whether you’ll vote for someone, whether you’ll give a speech that moves people, or if you even understand the history of the place you’re in. There’s no space for expertise or capability, there’s no space for preparation or even familiarity.

So we probably don’t need armor and weapons and maneuvers and such for falling in love or singing a song. We do need, though, more options and more capability to fine tune the outcome. The roll should accentuate, rather than determine, the player’s options. That’s what we’re going to be working on in the coming posts.

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