Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Die Rolling - The DMs Straightjacket

Offhandedly I’ve been working on charisma effects lately, trying to finish up the charisma stats table that I never finished to go along with strength, intelligence, wisdom and so on. And in the process of considering the effects of an individual’s power of persuasion, I’ve settled on eight primary desired outcomes. Let me emphasize, I’m not attempting any sort of complete list. The gentle reader will probably offer ones I haven’t thought of. Meanwhile, let me suggest the following behaviors that others will have regarding the character, depending upon the character’s charisma:
  • Others won’t/will offer aid when the character is in trouble.
  • Others won’t/will honor commitment they make with the character.
  • Others won’t/will return favors for things the character does.
  • Others won’t/will obey when given instructions.
  • Others won’t/will attempt to emulate the behavior, beliefs or activities of the character.
  • Others won’t/will ‘sleep’ with the character.
  • Others won’t/will sacrifice their lives for the character.
  • Others won’t/will sacrifice their morals, status or wealth for the character.
These are quite general, and are meant to be. They would apply to specific NPCs who would know the character, or at least be familiar with the character to at least a minimal degree.

Now, for my purposes, I see no reason why a roll may not be imposed to determine the likelihood of any of the above occurring. I recognize that there are some people who oppose vehemently the use of any roll to determine the behavior of an NPC, but for my money this just leaves the decision for what an NPC does in the potentially biased hands of the DM. DM’s, like people, are not so diverse in their moment-to-moment opinions on things that they can be trusted to represent the entire range of human behavior and reaction, and for that reason I think it’s necessary to force a DM to acknowledge a random element’s potential for forcing a prized NPC to once in awhile cave to the party’s desire, sacrifice a little, resist a little or otherwise behave differently than the DM’s absolutist dogma. In other words, give the party a chance. Roll a die.

For those d20 lovers out there, I propose the following table:

Of course, 3d6 could be substituted for a d20, but that's a matter of personal choice.

I am intentionally offering the above idea as one that is unfinished, since there is a vast set of modifiers that ought to apply here.  Obviously, a player's charisma for a start, but also a set for certain individuals who would be more likely to obey, emulate, sacrifice or otherwise bed the character.  A prostitute would not need a die roll to sleep with the character - but she might need a die roll to sleep with the character for free, which might occur if the character successfully rolls an 18+.

The idea here is that if the character makes a request (or arrangement) with an NPC, this would indicate the NPC's likelihood of complying.  The DM may want the NPC to lay down his or her life for the character, but that's probably a bias fitting more with the DMs plans for the campaign than with the player's actual charisma.  Players who have a 9 or 10 charisma tend to get away with murder where it comes to DMs who just want to have NPCs behave as story-assets, and that's exactly the sort of DM I don't want to be.

I wouldn't expect the above idea to be popular, since DMs are rather fond of not being restrained by dice.  That is one of the benefits of the screen.  And there is a powerful lobby online arguing for no-rolling D&D ... which strikes me as a sort of mastubatory naval-gazing, actually.  I do play a non-rolling D&D type activity - I call it novel-writing, and as I do it I do not roll dice and I am absolute god over the actions of every character.  And I do understand that occasionally multiple people get together to write novels.

For myself, I like the idea of a player have the power to insist that I roll to see if the innkeeper can be conned via charisma into letting the player stay the night for free; or if the magistrate's daughter would tumble a bit with a pretty face.  All against my own personal wishes, you understand.  As a DM I am always shooting myself in the foot, giving players all sorts of die rolls with which to control their worlds - if the players can be smart enough to remember when to roll the dice and at the right times.  That's actually not easy.

If, by chance, the gentle reader might be open to the above concept, I'm equally open to suggestions about what might constitute reasonable modifiers to the dice.  It might be fun to work up a couple hundred, or say a score for each of the eight options.


runjikol said...

Sometimes the DM need only decide if the NPC is open to such a thing happening at all. If they're not sure, let the dice decide, if they're damned sure, then the NPC maintains their chosen course. Just like PC's the free-agency of the NPC shouldn't be 'controlled' with a charisma roll - unless the same thing can happen to PC's with an NPC's charisma roll. (IMO)

James said...

Modifiers: PC fame/notoriety. Wealth & social status of those involved.

Same or similar religious, cultural, ethnic, etc., background.

Mutual friends, or enemies.

-C said...

Modifers: Dress/appearance, honor, attitude, bearing

James C. said...

I've got no problems with such a system, Alexis, and generally ad-hoc something at the table myself. I'l give the specifics of what I might formalize some thought and reply. It makes for a nice little mini-game.

runjikol: What NPC free agency? They're props for a game. If the fear is letting the players get away with murder, as DM you have your free-agency to consider. Does this make sense? Will you even allow a roll? What penalties should you apply?

runjikol said...

James C.
Players often get away with murder as part of the game. PCs are just props for the game, too. They're the props of the players. NPCs the props of the GM. My point is that the internal rules of the game, when it comes to mechanics and what can be achieved with them, I want to be consistent between NPC and PC. So if a PC can sway an NPC with a Charisma check then an NPC should be able to sway a PC with a Charisma check, too.

James C. said...

I better understand your position now, but still disagree that a mechanical equivalency should or must exist between the PCs and the NPCs. The players can be swayed by the NPCs if you, the DM, sway them.
As a DM your free-agency should never be in doubt if you're any good. It is expressed way beyond the decisions of one inhabitant of your world. Not so for the players.

Having a die mechanic for this "convincing" or "influencing" to work the other way around provides a broader spectrum of results than what might otherwise emerge if the DM must always be swayed. Basing it on Charisma would also make some sense. It grossly but effectively simulates the many possible perspectives and circumstances that might not otherwise occur to a DM on the fly. It also takes the pressure off the referee and makes him or her seem less like a contrarian pain-in-the-ass and more like a fellow participant. In my experience this serves to make things a little more fun all around.

As with all things in refereeing, the key to making it work is applying it judiciously.

James C. said...

Replace "contrarian pain-in-the-ass" with "spineless rubber stamp" above for the other extreme.

Grey said...

I'm not opposed to making a PC roll if they're behaving grossly out of character. I try to keep it to a minimum though as it cheapens things and can be generally irritating if overused. (You know you're working well when your players suggest making a roll to see..)

Inebriation, Drugs, Stubborness, Etiquette, Events earlier in the day (Could be good or bad)

I would suggest making sacrificing lives and morals even more difficult. That needs more than just a good speech to make happen most of the time.

I would also put one on there for refusal to associate or even communicate assuming they blow it badly enough. Maybe they start insulting or attack the character in question! Some people are obnoxious enough to make you turn the other direction simply by opening their mouth or showing up.

C'nor said...

@Grey: Those seem to be good modifiers. In addition I'd propose: Intelligence/Wisdom (Common sense says that your plan won't work versus "Hey! Wait! That little thing there! That's a valve on your weird steam engine thingamajig. What happens if it gets clogged? Doesn't the whole thing blow up?") Special Knowledge (That's not the right way to summon that thing.) Faction Membership (He's a member of the group trying to kill the king so any information you get about them will be bad unless you convince him you want to join them.) and Special Circumstances (The person's family is being threatened, they're under a spell, or some other case that fits the tag).