View Full Version : Idea for a new diplomacy system (bare outline only)

2008-01-16, 09:35 AM
I only just had this idea, and haven't had time to flesh it out, but I'm curious what other people think of it...

One of the things I've disliked for a while about the D&D diplomacy system is that it the only thing it really cares about is the NPC's attitudes towards the players. That is unrealistic; I think it's too much of an abstraction. It also opens the door to diplomancy by letting people lock attitudes in fanatical with a few good scores.

My alternative involves a bit more work on the DM's part, but I think it's worth it. For each NPC the players want to use diplomacy with, the DM needs to have an idea of that NPC's wants, needs, and goals in mind, as well as their prejudices and dislikes (they should have a general idea of this already.) These will be represented (but not directly to the players, immediately) in score form; they represent whatever is guiding an NPCs actions at the moment. For instance:

Grognard the guard wants women (1), gold (1), and booze (1). He doesn't want to be fired (2), and feels a sense of professionalism (1). He feels a strong mutual dislike for his wife, and enjoys making her miserable (2).

The numbers at the end represent how strong those things are; say, the things he feels a "1" for he will go after or serve as an ideal as long as there are no significant penalties involved, while the one with the "2" he will endure some moderate discomfort and make some personal sacrifices to follow.

Players can determine these things through conversation using sense motive rolls; when Grognard objects to something the PCs ask of him, say, the PCs get a sense motive roll to try and gauge why he's objecting. Of course, sometimes he might just come out and say it, too.

Now, a PC wants to influence Grognard -- perhaps they want to bribe him into letting them into a storehouse. In order to do this, they'll need to decide on an argument -- what will they use to convince him?

This is, inevitably, going to call for some on-the-fly thinking on the part of the DM. The DM might have an idea of how much Grognard wants gold, but what if they use bluff to try and appeal to his patriotism? His religion? The DM will have to have some sense of who their NPCs are in mind... but there will also be several sets of 'stock desire' guidelines for DMs to draw on. ('Most people rate money as XYZ', say.)

Anyhow, the PCs have decided the string they're going to pull; if they suck at sense motive, they might've chosen the wrong one (appealing to his love for his wife, say). Whichever one they choose, they can then make a diplomacy roll to try and modify his instinctive responses -- to convince him that his job isn't really worth keeping, or that this won't really endanger it, or to dangle gold enticingly in front of him and make him want it a bit more than he would otherwise... You get the idea.

The outcome of this roll determines how Grognard reacts. Depending on how well they roll and what they're trying to do, they might even be able to change his outlook permanently (or at least lastingly -- they could convince him to try to patch things up with his wife, but once he's away from them he'll be subject to all the things that made him hate her before.) If they roll really badly and / or choose the wrong strings to pull, he might take offense. Assuming he's still talking to them, though, they can try again, or choose a different 'string' and pull on that.

There is another catch, though. PCs have to be able to present a coherent argument. They don't have to actually RP being diplomatic any more than they actually have to be strong to have STR of 18; but they have to be able to explain, in a general sense, what leverage, argument, or 'string' they're trying to use to get Grognard to do what, and what the general shape of their argument is (the DM needs this information in any case, to determine what hidden scores in Grognard's psyche the players are rolling against.) If their connection is extremely weak, they get a penalty to their roll. People who constantly switch between plainly contradictory arguments without explaining themselves or providing a justification also get a penalty.

This leads to one other key point: Having multiple people helping you in diplomacy can be helpful. You cannot switch between contradictory arguments without a penalty; however, you can have someone else play "good cop, bad cop" or appear to present an alternate proposal. This solves one of the key problems with diplomacy -- how it often comes down to one player making all the rolls while everyone else yawns.

One possible extension of this would be to allow for 'group bluff checks' -- if your party face tells an outrageous lie, unexpectedly while the person or people you're negotitating with can see the whole group, they'll notice if anyone gets an odd expression on their face... so everyone has to roll a bluff check, though obviously the one doing the talking is the most important. Likewise, NPCs may probe friends and allies of the party face for opinions -- having a CHA of 3 should make you a liability to have around in negotiations, no matter how you cut it.

While this may all sound horribly complicated, it's actually fairly simple; the only hard part is that the DM has to know how each NPC feels about various things, even things the PC may spring on him by surprise.

So why do things like this? The primary advantage, to me, is that it turns diplomacy into actual diplomacy. People don't use diplomacy to make friends; they use it to get people to do things for them. This system connects it to believable motivations, removing much of the silliness of diplomancy; someone with epic-level results could drastically change someone's opinions and manipulate them with ease, but they can't just control them like a puppet.

One key point is that changes you make to someone's opinions can remain there and have long-lasting effects -- if the diplomancer convinces Grognard that the government needs to be overthrown for a greater good that is worth more than any individual man, they can't then turn around and ask Grognard to do something that obviously only benefits them (well, they could, but unless they connected it to the greater good, they'd be rolling against their own high roll from before.) This makes NPCs less like faceless tools to be manipulated and more like people; it also adds another layer of strategy and planning to manipulating NPCs, since you have to consider how the arguments you make to them will work a few hours from now.

Most importantly of all, though, this makes diplomacy interesting. Players have decisions to make rather than just dies to roll. Everyone has a chance to be involved; it is possible for other players to cut in and save the day by presenting a new argument when the old one seems to be lost. And all of this is done while sticking to opposed die rolls and without discarding the basic need for diplomacy (and sense motive) skills; players still have to be able to sense motive to know what strings to pull, and they have to have a high diplomacy skill to know to pull them. But diplomacy doesn't let you abstract the entire process, no more than a BAB of +20 lets you just abstract an entire battle... you still have to know where to push and pull, when to hold back or charge. Diplomacy just lets you do it effectively.

Obviously, this system is more suitable to a setting with many repeatedly-returning NPCs, though it could work anywhere. And I've left out the details of the die rolls... but the basics should be pretty self-evident.

What do you think?

2008-01-17, 03:46 AM
I think you should elaborate further, and get this to a potentially-playable level of development. I like the idea of strategic considerations in negotiation, and anything that guts diplomancy is a good thing in my book.

2008-01-17, 08:30 AM
You should check out this (http://www.giantitp.com/articles/jFppYwv7OUkegKhONNF.html) from the gaming section. I found that article very useful and I'm using its diplomacy system in my games. It has many similarities to your system.