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Diplomacy as an Ability - Brainstorming options

Started by Brimshack, May 23, 2010, 12:10:20 AM

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I have been trying to work my mind around the prospect of adding a special Diplomacy option to Worlds of Hurt  WOH is in principle a conventional high fantasy role-playing game (with orcs, and dwarves, and wizards, etc.). Resolution of random features is normally determined by rolling 3d8 and adding a modifier based on character stats. So, I don't get too creative with the usual conflict resolution mechanics.

One thing worth bearing in mind is that I do provide experience points for peaceful encounters. It usually works out to be less than would normally be the case for a hostile encounter, but can and do earn experience points for getting NPCs to help them. If the players talk a street beggar into telling them the best place to look for deals on the black market, for example, that's a Minor Victory, and it's worth 1 x.p., about the same as they would get for killing the guy.

Anyway, I have been avoiding the use of dice to resolve social conflict. Instead, I have the players and the GM talk it out, and the GM makes a judgement call based on the assigned motives of the NPC and the specific speech and actions of the players, etc. Now the question is; How to create a special ability that will help in social interactions without allowing a die roll to simply settle the matter? Players can take such special abilities or leave them as they see appropriate, and since there are several character builds in the game system that do focus on dialogue it would seem appropriate to enable those characters to be more effective in dialogue. What I don't want is the 3.5, "I made my diplomacy check." "Oh, well the guard let's you pass." So, I am trying to find a more subtle way of approaching the issue that will not require me to retool the entire conflict resolution system for the game.

Option One: GM Fiat Goes One Loudah. A player triggers her diplomacy ability by spending 1 point of her Persuasion Allotment (Characters have certain resources that they can only use so many times per game session. This is one of the.) This means that the NPC should behave in a manner slightly more favorable to the players, whatever that means. If she was going to kill them all, maybe now she will take them prisoners. If she was going to leave them alone, now she will give them a tip of some kind. If she was going to do business with them, now she will give them a better deal, etc.

The soundness of this approach seems to be to rest on one further question. How much do I systematize the possibilities.

Option 1a: GM Fiant is Still One Loudah. Let's say that I provide no clues at all, or just a brief paragraph description of the possibilities.

- The advantage here is that I don't have to retool anything in my game system. The issue begins and ends with a single special ability.

- The Disadvantage is that a GM can easily retro the decision as they would anyway. Only now isntead of saying the guy just wants to take you prisoner, the rationale is now that he WOULD have killed you, but since you're so cute, now he is taking you prisoner. This is less an ability that affects game outcomes than it is an imposition of red tape on the GM.

Option 1b: GM Fiat is Now One Loudah - As a System. Here I take some time to spell out a range of procedures by which a GM can decide what an NPC will do. What are her goals? What are her advanced perceptions of the party? The GM then scores the actions of party members based on their ability to influence those goals and perceptions. I then have the GM spin out the math and get a result. It's not a die roll system, so much as a scoring rubric for dialogue. Now, making things one better on the system is actually one better. A GM could hedge if she wanted while running the scoring, but this does put in place a means of getting her to commit to a set of specifics determining the result before the effect of diplomacy is applied to the situation.

- The Advantages here are that its a little less arbitrary, and that it means fleshing out the social interaction schemes for WOH a little more. Maybe this will make the game more interesting, and give players more of an idea of how to go about social interactions. What are you trying to accomplish when you talk to the faerie queen? You are trying to emphasize your compliance with her values and goals and minimize your potential points of conflict.

- The Disadvantages here are that it means yet another substantial rewrite of at least one game section when I would really like to be fine-tuning, and more importantly the extra complications might make it less fun to GM social interaction. If it adds time to prepping an encounter, this will make winging more difficult (though I could perhaps solve that with a small set of default goals ...use one of these when you don't have an elaborate character concept for the NPC. Ooh, one other down-side is that this will not work well for player characters. I'd rather have a rule that applies in principle to both NPCs and PCs, bearing in mind that it would be used mainly for PCs.

Option Two: Bribe the NPC. What if the player has an ability to bias the outcome of the other character's decisions. The Diplomat engages her ability by spending a point off her persuasion allotment, just as before. But now she declares a preferred action. ("Please don't attack the town," "Make peace with your neighbor," "Tell us how to get to the back door of the temple to the BBEGod.") The character on whom she uses the ability will gain 1 extra experience point if she complies with the request, and she will gain 1 point of malaise if she does not. (Malaise is a measure of depression and/or a longing to "snuff it". 1 point of malaise can be bought off at a cost of 1 experience point.) Now the GM simply considers the extra effect on the NPC (or conversely, the other player does this for her own character) and decides whether or not that little carrot and that little stick is enough to make a difference. It's still GM fiat, but the rule doesn't pretend to be something other than GM fiat.

Advantages: It's simple. It begins and ends with the special ability.

Disadvantages: Control over experience isn't really a Diplomacy issue, and this could be gamed (using Diplomacy on other characters just so they can get the extra x.p.). There is an easy fix for that, it costs the Diplomat 1 x.p. every time she does it). But still, it's just counter-intuitive.

Option Three: Bribery in Another Currency. Works just like option 2, but let's say the pay-off is something else, maybe a bonus or two to be taken during the course of the day if the NPC is in compliance with the wishes of the Diplomat or a penalty if she doesn't. So, let's say the Diplomat asks for instructions on how to find a secret location. If the NPC gives them to her, then the NPC can take an affinity bonus +3 on some future roll during the course of the game session. She can do this because she feels better about the goodwill she gained by helping the diplomat. The penalty could still be 1 point of malaise, but perhaps I could give the NPC a die roll. ...bearing in mind also that this ability could be used on PCs as well.

Advantage: Gives the payoff of Option two while sidestepping the problem.

Disadvantage: PCs can game this system by using diplomacy on each other. I can make a rule that says you can't do this on allies, but now it's less intuitive. Why can't you use this on allies? Maybe it's not such an issue that it can be used on allies. The Diplomat is a leader as well as a negotiator. I dunno. It still seems like the ability is spilling out of its intended niche.

So, those are the 3 options I can think of. In each case I have to admit, the Disadvantages seem to outweigh the advantages. For quick fixes, I am leaning towards option 3, but I am also thinking I should sit down and sketch out a decision matrix for NPCs and see how it plays out. If it works, then maybe 1b is the way to go.

In the interim, I thought I might type out my current ideas here and see if anyone has any suggestions.


Alright, so now I am working on schema for resolving role-playing. I'll get a chance to test it out here in a couple weeks, at least with me running it anyway. I am going to take advantage of one existing feature within the game, my trait system. These were designed to link combat with role-playing, so adding a role-playing framework will help to finish up the original design goal for traits at any rate. My biggest concern is that it may easily prove too complicated. Anyway...

Traits: These are abstract descriptors of a character. They come in opposed pairs such as fair-brute, good-evil, light-dark, compassionate-cruel. If you have a trait and you help someone else with the same trait, you can trigger an affinity bonus (+3 in combat terms, and that's on a system using 3d8 plus modifiers) to help them more. If a character attacks someone with an opposed trait, they can trigger an opposition bonus (+6 in damage). Triggering a bonus costs an allotment (which is a limited resource that reboots in between game sessions). This is normally relevant to combat, though it adds significance to role-play in the sense that players are conscious of shared traits and/or opposed traits and let their characters gravitate towards the latter. Anyway, the new system, rough draft of the schema.

The GM will role-play the scenario, having the players talk in character for the most part and assess the attitude of any relevant NPCs toward the player characters as a party. (It would probably be best if she stuck with the main NPC, unless there is specific reason to keep track of more than one. If there is a clear decision maker, then just keep track of that one.) While running through the conversation the GM will note two things (as they are perceived by the NPCs); the attitude of the NPC towards the PCs and the compatibility of their interests.

Attitude: This determines whether or not the NPC likes the PCs. There are 3 possible outcomes:

Fondness: Likes the PCs. This means she will try to help them.

Meh: Has no strong feelings about the PCs.

Enmity: Does not like the PCs. This means she will try to harm them.

Compatibility of Interests: This determines the degree to which the NPC sees the PCs as working toward common or irreconcilable goals. There are 3 possible outcomes.

Harmony: The NPC sees the player characters as pursuing goals as consistent with her own. This means she will try to facilitate their actions.

Neutrality: The NPC is not concerned with the goals of the player characters.

Discord: The NPC sees the player characters as pursuing interests contrary to her own. This means she will try to stop them.

Cross-referencing the outcomes provides for 9 total possibilities:

Fondness-Harmony: The NPC will try to help the party in any way possible, going considerably out of her way to do so if necessary.

Fondness-Neutrality: The NPC will try to help the party in any way that is convenient.

Fondness-Discord: The NPC will try to minimize any harm she does to the party while neutralizing their current efforts. If violence occurs, she will pursue her own interests, but under such circumstances the NPC will be especially open to negotiations, bartering, or truce.

Meh-Harmony: The NPC will try to help the party in any way that is convenient.

Meh-Neutrality: The NPC will will either ignore the party or help them at a price.

Meh-Discord: The NPC will seek to stop the party in its present course of action. Whether or not she inflicts harm upon them is irrelevant.

Enmity-Harmony: The NPC will seek to help the party accomplish its goals while undermining their status and health. Ideally, they will succeed in whatever they are doing with their last breath.

Enmity-Neutrality: The NPC will take no interest in the immediate goals of the party, but she will seek to harm them at the first possible opportunity.

Enmity-Discord: The NPC will do anything she can to harm the party and to stop them from accomplishing their goals.

Assessment of Attitude: How is this assessed? During the course of the conversation, the GM will record note points of affinity and opposition. She may record the creatures perceptions of the party, reducing everything to its positive or negative implications. The old slash-counting system will do just fine. This may begin with obvious trait relations. NPCs will not always know the traits present in a given party, but will for example know that orcs are "Brutes" and Dwarves are "Stalwart," both of which imply a relationship of opposition. Likewise, a human with the trait "Fair" will know that she has a relation of affinity to an elf, because elves carry that same trait. There is no need to take this to the level of an exact science or to count with precision, but whenever the balance of the player characters seem clearly to match one of the NPCs traits or its opposite, this should result in a plus or a minus.

Now, as the conversation unfolds, a GM take note of other things. Should the NPC become aware of trait relations over the course of the conversation, these too can be noted. If a player character displays compassion, for example, an NPC with the trait Cruelty will look with disdain on her and her party, resulting in a slash in the negative column. Traits manifested during the course of a conversation will be noted, even if they are not representative of the party.

The GM should also take note of any clear relations of affinity or opposition through social relations. If key members of a party clearly serve a noble to which the NPC swears allegiance, this too should count as a positive. If they clearly serve an enemy of the NPC, then this will result in a negative.

When the GM decides that the NPC has enough information to make a judgment about the party, the total balance of positive versus negative perceptions provides a measure of the NPCs general attitude to the party.

When the GM decides that the NPC has enough information to make a judgment about the party, the total balance of positive versus negative perceptions provides a measure of the NPCs general attitude to the party. The possible outcomes are as follows:

Enmity: If the balance is negative the NPC does not like the party. The more negative the balance the more contempt it feels towards the party.

Meh: If the balance is 0 through positive 2, the NPC holds no strong impression towards the party.

Fondness: If the balance is a positive 3 or higher, the NPC is positively disposed towards the party. The higher the number, the more the NPC likes them.

Assessment of Goals: This is straight up judgment call. The GM should take into account any advanced information the NPC may have as well as the statements of the PCs themselves.

Other Adjustments: The following adjustments may be aded to the mix when the Gm feels they are appropriate:

- NPCs of a cruel or evil nature may add 1 or 2 points to the negative score in determining attitude (as these characters may be prone to see cause for contempt.

- Prior Knowledge: The GM may bias the attitude by 1 or 2 points based on the reputation of the party and/or the NPCs prior encounters with them.

- A character with the special ability "Diplomat" may add 1 or 2 points to the positive record (depending on whether she has the minor or the major version of this ability ) used in determining attitude.

...okay, that's rough. It's a rough sketch of the idea. Whether or not I will actually use it is quite up in the air at this moment.

Callan S.


QuoteHow to create a special ability that will help in social interactions without allowing a die roll to simply settle the matter? Players can take such special abilities or leave them as they see appropriate, and since there are several character builds in the game system that do focus on dialogue it would seem appropriate to enable those characters to be more effective in dialogue.
What's the overall objective of play, as you've decided it? Is it about the player trying to win? If it isn't about trying to win, does the character need to be more effective? I mean, it'll have nothing to do with the game as it's not about winning?

Or is this more like one of those games where you just play out the world? I've always thought it odd to use 'effectiveness' in such a case - you should just play out the world, sans any idea X is effective and Y isn't. Just play it out, just see events.
Philosopher Gamer