The Resolution System of Soft Horizon

Exploring Soft Horizon's Uniform Conflict Resolution Procedure

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Sand Dogs and The King Machine are stand-alone table-role-playing games published by VSCA, written by Brad Murray. They are part of an envisioned multi-verse dubbed the Soft Horizon.

I picked up both of these books via DriveThruRPG.

I have not played any Soft Horizon games, but have long admired and appreciated Diaspora’s Space Combat mini-system. Brad Murray, and company at VSCA, know how to distill systems into their most compact yet impactful form.

The scene resolution procedure spoke to me. The procedure provides a dice oracle for resolution, along with social dynamics, tapping character traits, and avoids the pitfalls of Fate’s “And I Math It!

In other words, I want to explore this system.

The Resolution System

When play comes to a situation that has risk and uncertainty, the players engage the resolution system. The referee frames the scene with the following guidance:

Try to create scenes [requiring resolution] where the players are trying to get out of trouble they are already in. Rolling dice to avoid trouble is relatively dull. Rolling dice to escape trouble has more tension.

Once the referee frames the scene, the first player to respond with an action that maps to a system method will be the primary person throwing the dice.

The referee and players establish risk and confirm the method. And the players now build a dice pool from attributes on their character sheet.

The primary may draw from their specializations, loot, bonds, and/or scars. Other players may draw from their methods or loot.

The primary rolls all of the dice, and they choose which die to use for resolution. The chosen die’s owner may be subject to the stated risk. If the chosen die is its maximum value, it may be subject to progression; The owner of the chosen die picks the benefit.

The referee then consults Table 190: Soft Horizon Resolution Result Table narrating results, and any risks made manifest.

Table 190: Soft Horizon Resolution Result Table
Die Roll Result
1-3 Fail and risk is realized
4-6 Succeed but risk is realized
7-9 Succeed
10-12 Legendary: Succeed and something awesome results

Unpacking the Resolution System

Wow! I see a lot of interaction within the resolution system.

First, the resolution system uses social initiative. The first person to declare an action that maps to a Soft Horizon character method will roll the dice. It appears that this social initiative procedure seems to minimize the time between stating conflict and engaging the oracular nature of the dice and resolution system.

A social initiative system may favor the quick to speak. So the players should be mindful of this table dynamic.

Second, the procedure leverages the system methods to establish approaches to resolution. The methods are: rescue, know, violence, socialize, endure, locate, fabricate, chase, and mischief.

When selecting a method, whether as ref or player, focus on the broader intent and not the details of the action. If the characters are trying to locate an object by interviewing people, the method is locate and not socialize.

What this does is limit the sort of play where players surf their character sheet for their best methods in order to apply them. When you concentrate on methods you will get as much diversity as you have in the scenes themselves, since the method is defined by the scene and not selected by the player.

In other words, all conflict filters through the same procedure. Don’t expect a moment by moment narration of a knife fight. Instead, use the procedure to role an oracle used to narrate the situation between “the knives come out” and “what happens next.”

Third, the process of building the dice pool helps ensure that other players can add to the narrative approach of the situation. The helping dice also bind the character’s fate to the result; Through progression or realization of the risk.

Fourth, the primary player decides which die to use for the result. This requires an example to frame the potential dice options.

The situation is the player characters have blended into a party at a castle. They know that an Ally spy has been captured and may be held there.

The primary player says: “I’m going to break away from the roaring black-tie party and hack into the home computer system to a schematics and learn where they keep the prisoners.”

The referee establishes a method of locate with a confusion risk.

The primary player offers their d10 “trace hacker” locate specialization along with the d6 from their locate method. They also add their d6 scar for “Escaped Nazi prison”.

Another player offers their d6 mischief method. They narrate that they’re drawing attention at the party by telling an outlandish tale.

A third player offers their d8 loot “Eldritch Obfuscation Ritual”, narrating a miasmic haze settling in over the security devices.

The primary player throws the dice. They get the following results, as detailed in Table 191: Soft Horizon Conflict Resolution: Scenario 1 .

Table 191: Soft Horizon Conflict Resolution: Scenario 1
Die Result Die Type Attribute Player
6 d6 Locate Primary
4 d10 Trace Hacker Primary
4 d6 Escaped Nazi prison Primary
2 d6 Mischief Second
7 d8 Eldritch Obfuscation Ritual Third

The primary player must now pick between the results. Do they choose the 7 from the “Eldritch Obfuscation Ritual” roll to get success without realized risk? Or do they choose the 6 from the “Locate” roll? They get to choose a progression Promote the die to a higher type or add a new specialization under the method/specialization used or treat result as one level higher on. There is no progression for loot Table 190: Soft Horizon Resolution Result Table . They will succeed but will also realize the risk; Unless of course they choose to treat the result as one higher.

I don’t know about you, but as a player, I’d strongly consider advancing a primary method.

The social dynamics around resolution gets interesting when the primary player yields the resolution to a helping player who has a higher roll.

Table 192: Soft Horizon Conflict Resolution: Scenario 2
Die Result Die Type Attribute Player
5 d6 Locate Primary
6 d10 Trace Hacker Primary
4 d6 Escaped Nazi prison Primary
6 d6 Mischief Secondary
7 d8 Eldritch Obfuscation Ritual Third

In the above scenario (Table 192: Soft Horizon Conflict Resolution: Scenario 2 ), what would you as the primary player pick for the die to use to determine the result? Mischief when the risk is “confusion,” and the helping player could progress that attribute? Or would you pick the more safe “Eldritch Obfuscation Ritual”.

The above two scenarios all have success without realized risk as an option. Imagine if all of the results were a 4, which would you the primary player pick?

As should be evident, the resolution system applies pressure and discussion to the table dynamics. The primary player can choose failure and point the failure at a helper. But the referee is the arbiter of realized risk. The primary player can also be “greedy” in advancement while bringing failure to the foreground.

Conclusion

The Soft Horizon resolution procedure amalgamates the dice rolling procedures of Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World, Fate, and Blades in the Dark. The result is its own micro-game.

When you go to the dice, the table casts their fate with one person’s decision making. Soft Horizon places at the foreground the competing agendas of character progression, a desire for unencumbered success, and sharing in the opportunities for growth.

The conflict resolution procedures do not encode the round by round, blow by blow, violence-based combat resolution of Dungeons and Dragons (or Burning Wheel’s Fight! sub-system). Instead, they look to the dice to move the conflict forward.

Postscript

If you aren’t already, make sure you follow Brad Murray’s/VSCA’s blog.

Also, if the system sounds interesting, check out the Soft Horizon style-guide.