Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Them's Fightin' Words

Skill checks are often used counterproductively in cRPGs, diplomacy being the most obvious example. You enter a ten foot by ten foot room with an orc guarding a treasure chest. He is carrying a +1 shortbread sword. Do you:
A) Eviscerate him (get treasure plus one sword, plus 42XP for the kill)
B) Talk him into leaving the room (get treasure)

Because most RPGs still idiotically reward players for kills through character experience accumulation, the correct choice tends to be A as in a roaring AAAAaaaaaargh! as you charge into battle slicing and dicing everything in your path for maximum exp gain. Though more and more titles have begun compensating for this by offering exp rewards for successful skill checks, diplomacy implementation retains its core caveat. It makes you skip content. If you pass the skill check above, the orc denies you the pleasure of eviscerating him. If you convince the guards to take you directly to the king, you skip past the luxuriously decorated palace grounds.
I doubt this is much of an issue in tabletop games. Everybody's got work tomorrow and you kinda want to get this leg of the campaign over by nine. One of the advantages of a single-player cRPG however is advancing at your leisure, taking your time to smell the dire roses. Content quantity and not just density long ago became a crucial fixture of game reviews, with the number of hours the campaign takes to complete sometimes being displayed right below the game or module's title. Thirty-one hours of uncut, imported escapism? Damn, dat shit right there got some high street value!

So instead of punishing players for passing skill checks by denying them access to part of the product they've paid for, start punishing their characters by making these prerequisites for fights. For most of the classic skills or attributes it wouldn't be much of a transition. Pass a strength check to open the warg cages and fight them. Successfully climb up to the roc's nest to fight it. Pick the wizard's pocket for his little black book, not so you can slink away but so you can dangle it in front of him saying "neener-neener, keep-away, keep-away."

Diplomacing yourself into fights seems counterintuitive and may require conflating the concept somewhat with taunting, but can also be addressed by using diplomacy checks to get NPCs to give your character particular jobs. How do you convince the king that you're trustworthy enough to rescue his daughter from the ogre? Diplomacy! How do you convince the daughter to leave the ogre she loves, after you so cruelly beat him up? You guessed it, diplomacy. How do you convince the town crier that your story about the princess'... predilections... is true? Diplomatically, of course. Now get ready to fight the king's guards.

Diplomacy can be a pass to evisceration, not just a shortcut past it.

No comments:

Post a Comment