Acceptable Weight of Conflict Resolution

Note: This post has content disclaimers.

Role-playing games inevitably contain some form of conflict resolution mechanism. Even the rules-lite Fiasco has the mechanism of either the player frames the scene or determines how the scene ends.

System Survey

Dungeons and Dragons has hit points as the primary currency for use during conflict resolution. If you run out of them, you are out of the fight or dead, depending on your version.

Diaspora and other Fate-based cousins, have stress tracks (health, composure, and wealth) along with consequences. So long as you only take stress, you are fine; But once you have a consequence, the bad times are just beginning.

Burning Wheel has body of argument dice or injury dice, depending on your flavor of conflict. If you run ouf of body of argument dice, you lose your Duel of Wits; Accumulate too many injury dice and you may be incapacitated or more likely begging for mercy.

Short-Circuiting the Standard Method

In Dungeons and Dragons, there are plenty of methods that short circuit hit points. The dreaded level drain, in which a month or more of hard work is undone via a specters could embrace; The annoying stat drain, in which you get a little weaker and have to recalculate your bonuses. In older editions of D&D this wasn’t so bad, but ability damage in Dungeons and Dragons: Third Edition (3E 📖)> was an actuarial pain in the ass); The save vs. death, throw the dice and pray you live.

In Diaspora, I could hand out consequences, but that goes against the design; I can do stress damage, but the decision of taking a consequence is up to the player.

In Burning Wheel, as part of a failed test, I’ve handed out Light wounds; I haven’t gone so far as giving out a Midi, as I’m a bit skittish about delivery that kind of injury via Game Master (GM 📖) fiat. Maybe, as my understanding of Burning Wheel develops, I’ll hand out the Midi – after all, that -2D can be a boon when you are attempting to advance a skill.

Providing Enough Player Agency

Dungeons and Dragons, at its core, is merciless. If you get hit by save vs. death, you’d better hope you’re a high level cleric and a lucky one at that. Otherwise, bam, you are eaten by a grue. You can’t get help from your team, nor do you have a luck pool to draw on. You are dead, and your companions are already looting your body.

Diaspora and Fate in general, provide ample opportunities for a player to fudge a conflict in their direction; One roll of the dice can be modified by free-tagging aspects, spending fate points to tag aspects, or re-roll a horrific dice roll.

Burning Wheel provides numerous ways of improving your odds; First you can solicit help both from others and by FoRKing in your own skills. Then, you can opt to spend your Artha both before and after the roll.

Resolving a Big Deal with One Roll

For me, both Diaspora and Burning Wheel provide enough touch points in a dice roll for me to say “I’m satisfied with how this conflict was resolved.” I may not like that my character picked up a moderate consequence, but I had the opportunity to spend Fate points to avoid the consequence.

Contrast this with Dungeons and Dragons (D&D 📖) where I have little recourse against Ability Drain; Either the specter hits me or it doesn’t.

This also highlights the fact that I’m okay with Diaspora and Burning Wheel using a single dice roll to adjudicate a much larger deal than Dungeons and Dragons. If I, the player, have ample opportunities to influence the test (even if it’s likely to fail), I am much more willing to accept the outcome.

And in Fiasco, I simply want to see everything go up in flames!