Sunday, April 4, 2021

Platesting: Negotiation System -- 1st Test

 I haven’t been posting here much! I’ve been busy with a RPG-related project that isn’t quite relevant to the topic of this blog, but I do still do occasional pen and paper work. Updates here will probably be infrequent (but not never) for a while.

Covid has been tough for playtesting, but I did finally get a chance to try out my negotiation system in a live game. I’ve actually also been using the other systems posted here in the same game, but given the slightly unusual nature of the game (it’s a single player Deep Carbon Observatory run with a player not especially interested in combat) I don’t have too many thoughts on those yet.

What’s Working

  • Overall, it feels pretty good! Every time I’ve used it, we’ve consistently created outcomes that are way more complex and interesting than either what I would have gotten out of a single roll or a simple ruling

  • The math works out way better than I was expecting. Players can usually get one concession safely out of a receptive audience, but have to play clever to get additional advantages

What’s Iffy

  • The scene-setting and starting rolls (Patience and Stubbornness) have bad pacing. The fact that the GM rolls both means there’s a lot of behind-the-screen bookkeeping while the players don’t have much to do.

    • Making one of the two belong to/be handled by the player seems like a good idea

    • Maybe even merging the two into one concept somehow. Both the players and the NPC have “NP”--”Negotation Points” and the side whose NP runs out first ‘loses’ the negotiation?

    • Also, maybe these shouldn’t be rolled--it creates a fair bit of busywork at the negotiation’s start. Maybe it’d be better to just have both be a number between 1-20 and just provide guidance on how to set the number intelligently?

  • While the concepts all make sense in my head, I don’t have a good spiel to explain the system to players yet. Patience and Stubbornness don’t have the self-explanatory nature that something like “HP” does to the average player.

  • Patience is a little abstract to judge, as well. Right now it’s this abstract mix of, like--how much does the NPC like you/how much leverage do you have/how tense is the current situation. I need a better way of framing it that makes it easier to make judgement calls on.

    • AP Example: The player is trying to convince a newt-man to put off massacring a settlement of humans they’re at war with for a few days while the player tries to broker a peace or something. They’ve been travelling with the newt for a while, but also the newt has been somewhat cynically manipulating them into acting as free mercenaries. I opted to give them 3 dice of Patience, but it felt ambiguous

  • The back and forth is a little floppy, I’m noticing. Right now the player makes an argument, then the NPC makes a demand, then the player answers the demand. It’s a weird ABA,ABA,ABA pattern that feels a little stilted (the player makes their answer than their next argument back to back). Figuring out a little ritual to put between the two beats feels like it’d make things run more smoothly.

  • Things can get a little hazy when the player makes un-asked-for concessions when answering a NPC demand. Does that count as a gift, and if so am I both rolling to reduce Patience and also add to it? Or should I just treat that as a response so strong to the request that I don’t even reduce Patience that round?

  • Semi-related, it seems fairly common for the player’s goal to evolve fluidly throughout the negotiation, as the discussion leads them to think through new aspects of the situation. I wonder if the players shouldn’t be reducing Stubbornness through their arguments, but should rather just be gaining Leverage or some other currency that they can spend on concessions mid-play.

  • The moment of reducing the NPC’s Stubbornness to 0 is a little awkward. Reducing them to 0 feels like it should be an instant ‘defeat’ moment, instead of letting them make one more Request before giving in. If I do that, though, then does that mean that the player gets to take two turns in a row if they make additional demands? It all just feels a little awkward

  • I’m also finding that it’s fairly common to find a deal that’s appealing to all parties involved before the negotiation is fully over. Like, the players will offer a gift/concession so appealing that it feels unrealistic to keep haggling--I’m finding that it feels pretty okay to just go “oh yeah, if you give them that they’ll just concede” and smoothly end the negotiation.

    • AP Example: In the above negotiation, the player offered to take the newt into the dungeon to find weapons to more fully obliterate their enemies. This felt like a good enough deal that I just ended the negotiation early

Overall, I’m really happy with how the mechanic is working so far. There are some definite rough spots, but I’ll just keep iterating on it until it works the way I want.

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