Deterministic resolution is a type of resolution in which conflicts are resolved procedurally according to the game mechanics of the system, but in which there are no random elements. Deterministic resolution is referred to as karma in the terminology of GNS Theory and the Big Model.
Deterministic resolution mechanics are solely dependent on the initial conditions and player inputs to generate an outcome. If two different instances of resolution have the same initial conditions (including, if relevant, the player resources available to participating players) and the same choices of input are made, then the outcome will be the same.
Varieties of deterministic resolutionEdit
The most basic form of deterministic resolution is a straightforward comparison between statistics or traits. If two characters are engaged in a sword duel, then the winner will be whoever has the better skill (or equivalent trait) in that area. Characters may also be able to use fictional positioning to temporarily improve their score in specific circumstances. This is largely the approach taken by Amber, one of the earliest diceless role-playing games from 1991. (Although strictly speaking Amber's resolution defers to the GM to decide on outcomes, making it a form of judgement resolution heavily influenced by comparison of statistics.)
However, simple comparison of traits is not always desirable. It can mean that a character's capabilities and limitations are known and can't be easily exceeded (they may never be able to win a sword duel against a superior opponent, regardless of fictional positioning), and it can reduce uncertainty and tension for the players, making the experience less enjoyable. As such, more recent games that use deterministic resolution have incorporated new methods, including player resources and hidden information.
Player resources may be metacurrency or other spendable points. In deterministic resolution mechanics that use these sorts of player resources, the outcome implied by the characters' traits can be swayed by spending player resources. The number of points or resources that are available to the characters are part of the resolution's initial conditions. The key question in many conflicts then shifts away from "Who is better?" to "Who is willing to give up the most to win?" or "Who wants it more?" This is the case in Undying, a Powered by the Apocalypse game inspired by Vampire: The Masquerade. Spendable resources are also used in games by Jenna Moran, such as Nobilis and Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine.
Player resources do not need to be fungible points or metacurrency, however. For example, a game in which resolution is determined by playing cards can be deterministic if cards are held by players throughout the game, rather than drawn as part of the resolution mechanic. That is, if players have a hand of cards that they will keep, their hands are part of the initial conditions of the resolution, even if their hand was randomly determined by the events leading up to the conflict. The player knows that playing a better card gives them a better chance of succeeding in this resolution, but will mean that they do not have as much chance to succeed in future resolutions. Choices like these are common in board games, but rare in role-playing games.