Since I made comments a week or so ago on Vanguard’s diplomacy system, I’ve been contemplating (off and on, as time permitted) how that basic framework might be expanded upon and added to, in order to create something with even more “meat on it’s bones”, as it were. 

Don’t get me wrong: Vanguard’s system is more than a mere faction system ala EQ with a more direct interaction paradigm.  It is a rudimentary second mode of “adventuring”, with systems for generating quest arcs, area-wide bonuses, and in the future, mercantile opportunities, from what I can tell.  What it doesn’t do, however, is really add anything to the NPCs themselves… they are still basically vending machines (quest givers/merchants) and/or pinatas (monsters).  They just have more levers, or have a bill changer as well a coin slot… you get the idea.

I haven’t gotten all that much further down the road in my musings yet, but here’s some notations on what I’ve got so far…

I want a system that accommodates social interaction and other related “impulses” all with the same basic mechanics and properties.  I don’t want a Fear spell to impact the target on a completely different level than a “Threaten” action, for example… all such stresses should be able to intertwine and interact relatively seamlessly.

As I see it, there are two potential outcomes that any specific tactic of social interaction really pursues (beyond meeting the basic human need for occasional social contact, that is): attempt to generate an Emotional State, or to establish a Relational Condition.

Emotional States 

Emotional States consist of “short term” emotions such as: Anger/Rage, Apprehension/Fear, Discomfort/Disgust, Sorrow/Grief, Confusion/Distress, and so on.  Certain states, such as Frustration, can perhaps be better expressed as combinations of others, Anger and Confusion in that case, or perhaps need their own classification.  There could be positive effects as well, or the above negative might just have negative values… negative scores in anger/rage represent happiness, negative confusion/distress could be equivalent to calm/peace, and so on…

If you are familiar with the Vanguard diplomacy subgame, Emotional States can be seen as somewhat corresponding, in terms of utility, to the expression types of Demand, Reason, Inspire, and Flattery.  An ability generates Rage or Fear in an opponent, perhaps empowering the opponent to perform otherwise unavailable techniques (Rage might augment certain Threats, for example, while Fear might enable the use of certain Flattery or Appeal techniques that would otherwise be unconvincing.)

As I see it, one of the trade-offs on Emotional States could be the chance of loss of control.  Allowing too much Rage, Fear, or other such influence to build up would lead to uncontrolled responses… physical attacks, fleeing the area, etc.  In the Voyages system, built up Emotion could represent a constant drain or periodic stresses on the Spirit health/energy score, thereby indirectly impacting other activities that would depend on that value.  That could open up a whole additional set of potential skills and techniques for managing and “bleeding off” emotions…

Relational Conditions

As I see it, Relational Conditions are similar to Emotional States, with 2 important differences: they are longer term and highly targeted.  Relational Conditions would include such concepts as Loyalty, Hatred, Desire, Love, Respect, and so on.  There could be significant overlap with Emotional States, of course: short term Anger and long-term Hatred (rival NPC) would be a dicey combination, for example, in any encounter with that rival NPC.  Again, there are certain concepts that might be best exemplified by a combination of more targeted concepts (i.e. “Friendship” might be the combination of Loyalty and Respect), or perhaps they deserve their own category/slot… as the system was developed, that should become more obvious.

Techniques could exist that attempt to cultivate and improve such Relational Conditions in others, either with respect to the character, or with respect to something else in the game.  Some techniques in the Haggle/Barter system might attempt to generate (or lessen) Desire (Item) at a cost in terms of offered price, for example, to set up additional situations/techniques.  In other cases, Relational Conditions might be a side effect: merciless Taunting in a wrestling competition might randomly create long-term Hatreds in return for the short-term bonuses in terms of manipulating the opposition (via Anger/Rage) in order to win matches.

Traits and Virtues

Each character, PC or NPC, should be just a little bit different in terms of how they respond to various social stimuli/stresses.  One way to achieve that would be to assign numeric values to various personality traits/virtues which would then be used to modify the results of any related stress/stimulus.

Just a brief listing of some possible traits (based on inspiration from Freedom Fighters and Pendragon RPGs…)

Greed: desire for material goods/wealth (opposite of charitable/generous)
Ambition: pride, desire for status (opposite of modest)
Indulgent: desire for comfort i.e. food, drink, temperature, etc., (Gluttony, opposite of temperate?)
Independence: individualism, as opposed to needing to move with the crowd
Honest: truthful in word and deed (opposite of deceitful)
Adaptability: ability to accept and work with differences in others (opposite of stubborn?)
Just: concern for fairness and law (opposite of arbitrary), possibly Integrity?
Trusting: basic trust in others (opposite of suspicious), possibly “Sophistication”?
Chastity: faithfulness to sexual mores (opposite of lustful)
Energetic: personal drive and energy (opposite of sloth)
Courage: ability to control fear (opposite of cowardly); obvious impact on Fear
Pious: concern for spiritual well-being, (opposite of worldly? sophistication?)
Merciful: concern for well-being of others, opposite of cruel.  (relates to Empathy?)
Forgiving: willingness to overlook injury/insult, opposite of Vengeful; possible impact on Anger/Rage, Hatred

How best to objectively define these per individual, and how they should interact with various possible scenarios, is the question I’m still wrestling with.  What they should do, however, is give us a foundation for creating at least a rudimentary “personality” in NPCs… which should give us some additional tools to move away from the “vending machines and pinatas” paradigm.

Tactics/techniques

Just a barebones list at the moment…

  • Threaten: imply physical violence unless compliance, Fear generation
  • Taunt/Insult: ridicule and demean, Rage generation
  • Dominate: non-physical threats, usu from elevated status (“I’ll bust you to Private!”)
  • Lead: compliance via inspirational oratory (“Lets win this for the Coach”)
  • Appeal: play for sympathy
  • Reason: compliance through reasoning
  • Channel: attack specific detected weakness/flaw, not well defined
  • Flatter: play for compliance through Pride/Ambition
  • Dazzle: compliance through flawed reasoning, deceptive
  • Charm: generate positive responses via politeness, attentiveness
  • Negotiate: reasoned offers/counteroffers, willing “targets”
  • Bribe: compliance through Greed, Ambition, Indulgence
  • Blackmail: threaten thru Greed, Ambition, possibly Indulgence
  • Physical Torture: compliance/info thru application of physical attack (fear, pain)
  • Psychological Torture: attacks on Indulgence (sleep-deprivation, other discomfort)
  • Interrogation: information through a badgering, bullying Reason-related process
  • Question: information through subtly leading questioning/conversation
  • Deceive: attacks on reason, bald faced lies
  • Impersonate: attempts to convince others user is of a different identity or status
  • Seduce: compliance through offers/attacks on Chastity (usually)
  • Haggle: might involve plays on sympathy, respect, Greed, etc.

Obviously, some of these are very different than others.  It’s a good solid list, but probably not exhaustive.  My guess is that, in order to make all of these fit into a single overarching system, I’ll need to strip a level of abstraction away from each one, define each as a process and look at the similarities… should be an interesting exercise, at least.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten… I’ll have more in a while, I’m sure.  Any suggestions and ideas are welcome, of course…