I hate anime for pretty much the same reason I hate MMORPG:s: They turn people into boring zombies. This hate, although crippling my ability to broaden my horizons, is one thing I carry with me, since I feel that if I stop hating anime, I’m admitting defeat. Therefore it always stings a bit to find that I like something that I later realize is heavily influenced by the style.
The Ace Attorney series is one of them. The wacky characters, the general art style and the sound effects are all heavily influenced by japanese animation style. But still I like it, for it does one thing extremely well: It makes argumentation feel like combat. As it should be.
I read an article about diplomacy in role playing games. It made valid points; Diplomacy either depends on the player, which penalizes less eloquent and assertive people, or mechanics, which is usually based on a few skills that can be re-used all the time without running out of resources.
So inspiration arose. I am going to expand upon the idea the writer started; A gameplay mechanic to handle diplomacy for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. Since the game is based around combat and kicking down doors, I claim that the social situations that would require mechanics are confrontational. The players probably want information or favours out of someone, with stubborness, disbelief and lies standing in their way. So the players are overcoming obstacles. That sounds like the Skill Challenge mechanic, which I will cannibalize a bit.
First. The players are going to need to gauge their success. Just like hit points, the target has a certain amount of Resolve, depending on its intelligence, charisma and what they are doing. An orc patrol might be easily persuaded by a crafty character, but the same orc guarding a prison cell will be hard to argue with. Whenever the players make a good point, the target’s Resolve will drop, uncertainties will arise and their own logic turns against them.
Next. The players will need weapons. When trying to convince someone to give up valuable information, something more than a pretty please is needed. The players will need Angles of Attack to tackle the opponent’s arguments. These Angles are the player’s ‘hit points’; As long as there is at least one point to drive through, the battle of wits is not over. The players gain Angles from the DM by finding out weaknesses, facts and other research. Since the point of the system is to give characters that should be smarter than the players a boost, the players can also roll Insight and gain a couple of free Angles that the DM provides, from one to four.
An example. A baron of a small duchy is reluctant to give aid to a kingdom besieged by orcs. The players have come to find out why. The baron claimed that there are greater problems in the duchy that require his troops to dispel. The players are suspicious and ask around, finding out that the Baron has been aloof for a while now, and the knights roam around the countryside, but no-one has seen them do anything. The players also know about a deal between the two powers that states that in the time of need, they would assist each other. The players confront the baron, trying to get him to tell the truth. The DM gives them three angles for their research; The baron’s detachedness, the aimless knights and the deal. The paladin player states that his character assesses the baron’s behavior and rolls Insight. He rolls high and the DM states that the man seems a bit agitated around the party’s Tiefling Wizard, giving them one more angle.
When the confrontation starts, the players will decide the Angle they wish to use and the skill they wish to apply that seems relevant. The DM gives a DC to each Angle by how close to a nerve it hits. An obvious argument is difficult to get through. After deciding the angle and skill, one player rolls the skill check, with the possibility for one other player to assist. If the check succeeds, the target loses one Resolve. If the check fails, the target brushes the argument aside, removing that angle. If the players lose all the angles, the target has ‘won’, refusing to hear any more. Depending on the situation how much the players used bluff and intimidate, the target might even turn unfriendly or hostile, but regardless, he won’t hear anything else before the players discover new arguments.
Example. The debate has already lasted on the candle-lit dining table and the baron has two Resolve left. The players used diplomacy and bluff to ask about the knights and the deal, clearly upsetting the baron before he declared that because of increased monster attacks, he had to keep the patrolling in his lands to keep them safe. He is just making sure that they are really gone. The players decide to press him about his aloofness. The party’s rogue seizes the moment and bluffs that the people wish to see him more and are sad that he has not appeared. The roll succeeds, and the baron cracks a bit, losing one Resolve, mentioning that he has had problems with certain people. The paladin rolls diplomacy, trying to glean more. It fails and the baron quickly brushes the issue aside. Having saved the best for last, the Tiefling objects and confronts the baron about the people, noting that he clearly fears him, and since there are no wizards around, the reason must be because he is a tiefling. He rolls intimidate and succeeds. The baron loses his last Resolve, squeezes his wine glass and admits that they found it out; There is a cult of devil-worshipping tieflings that are blackmailing him.
Presto. A mechanic for less-assertive players to play competent speakers. Just as every character has combat stats, they also have Resolve. And just like the Skill Challenge mechanic, this is open for modification and tweaking, like setting a cap for daily allotment of Angles so that a speaker-optimized character cannot talk himself anywhere. I personally would like to move this mechanic to Star Wars Saga Edition, where nobles would actually have a mechanical field where they can reign supreme.