Conflict Resolution vs Task Resolution: FIGHT!

So there’s a conversation on Story Games about “Conflict Resolution” systems and “Task Resolution” systems, and asking which one people like better.
I liked the conversation. I’m going to distill my thoughts here.
The whoza-what-now? (where I explain what I’m talking about)
See, there are two main kinds of resolution mechanics talked about, because there are two main kinds identified in extant RPG systems, today.
Conflict Resolution: these kinds of systems are “Specified Intent” systems. That means, when the GM asks what you want to do, you say “I want to find the important papers.” or “I want to find out who knows the Emperor.” or whatever. You specifically state what you want, and the rolls that follow determine if you get it.
Task Resolution: these kinds of systems are “Unspecified Intent” systems. That means, when the GM asks what you want to do in those same two situations, you say “I want to open the lock on the safe.” or “I want to use my Charm skill on the princess.” or whatever. You specifically state what you are doing, and the rolls that follow determine if you successfully do that specific thing. Whether you get what you really wanted is not considered.
Got that? Hope so. I’m moving to the last bit.
What’s my point?
Well, I have a pretty strong preference for conflict resolution.
Why is that?
Here’s my thought: Everything interesting in RPGs is about resolving a conflict. Everything. Do I get that thing? Do I get away? Do I find my dad? Whatever.
The problem with task resolution (specifically, conflicts where ‘what you really want’ isn’t specifically … considered) is that the mechanics don’t resolve that conflict for you — they just tell you if you performed an action successfully.
The two have nothing to do with each other.
You can roll for all the successful tasks you want, but ultimately, succeed or fail, whether you actually achieve your goal is left to — well, 99% of the time, it’s up to the GM. Maaaybe opening the safe was what you needed to do to find the papers, maaaaybe the princess is the person you need to give info from. But maybe not, and if not, you just keep rolling meaningless rolls that waste time and do nothing, until you finally “click the right pixel” — something that has nothing to do with all the rolling you’ve been doing in first place.
In short, the task resolution whole system is there to keep you busy until the GM’s ready to let you have what you want. Or not.
That’s pretty shaky game design right there.
Foot notes:
((1)) “My GM wouldn’t do that,” is not a relevant argument. A good GM can counteract a bad design. The bad design, however, still exists.
((2)) Why yes, this does go back and touch on both “I want to play with all the rules” and “What do I need a GM for anyway?” (The answer, of course, is “for the FUN stuff.”)
((3))This isn’t about ‘story games’ versus ‘trad rpgs’ or anything like that — it’s about cutting right to the honest heart of the conflict and doing something with the system that RESOLVES it. Roll one die (like Trollbabe). Roll fifty (DitV). I don’t care; just so long as what we’re doing is honestly determining “do I get what I wanted or not?”


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