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The Impossible Dream

Resolution Mechanics I

by Hunter Logan
Mar 11,2003

 

Resolution Mechanics I
The Impossible Dream Installment #4
by Hunter Logan

Intro

Thus far, I have talked about play flow, balance of power, and player goals. This time, I want to move on and talk about something near and dear to most every designer's heart: Resolution mechanics.

Resolution mechanics are the means for getting things done in the game. When a character searches a room, attempts to run the gauntlet, or negotiate a contract, resolution mechanics determine what happens. This is a monster topic, so I will present it in two parts. The first part will cover the Three Means of Resolution.

The Three Means of Resolution

The Three Means of Resolution are loosely based on Jonathan Tweet's three means of resolution as presented in the Everway RPG and as modified by Ron Edwards in his many RPG theory discussions. Tweet's terms are Drama, Fortune and Karma. Edwards also uses them, though he applies slightly different meanings. I mention Tweet's terms as reference, but I've got my own take on them. To avoid the great onus and inertia of history, I'm not using them. I'm using the terms Chance, Ability and Intent. This is the way I conceptualize the Three Means.

Chance is random determination of what happens. Roll dice, draw cards, flip coins, and look at the results. They are random and subject to the laws of statistics. Dice are a common and popular method of generating random results in RPGs. I like dice because all dice have similar characteristics in the way they generate numbers. Here are some examples.

Ability is deliberate determination of what happens based on the capabilities of the character. If the character has the skill, if the character has a resource such as hero points, or if the character has a built-in capability that allows him to do certain things, the player can use this Ability to resolve an event. Intent is resolution based on what a player wants to happen in the game. The player makes a declaration. The declaration becomes a mechanical device for resolving events.

For example, a group of characters surrounded by enemies, running low on ammunition may make their last stand. Before the end, a player declares, "And the cavalry arrives in the nick of time, distracting the enemy and giving us the chance we need to escape." The GM allows this to happen because it's in the spirit of the game. But nothing is free, so the GM replies, "The cavalry assault breaks the enemy line, but they take very heavy casualties. It will be a long time before they can help you again."

Using Chance, Ability, and Intent

The three methods of resolution are seldom used in isolation. A resolution mechanic is rarely Chance, Ability, or Intent alone. The process for resolving events almost always includes a combination of Chance, Ability, and Intent, especially Chance and Ability.

Consider this common resolution mechanic:
Here, Intent is a qualifier. If the GM determines the player wants the character to do something easy, the TN will be low. If the GM determines the player wants the character to do something really difficult, the TN will be much higher. Then, the die result is a combination of Chance and Ability. The character's attribute and skill are both Ability. Small numbers mean the character has little ability. Large numbers mean the character has lots of Ability. Naturally, the die roll is Chance. I have a lot more to say about all this, but that will fill the next installment. As always, thanks for reading.

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