So. Taking some time to reflect upon an old bugbear. I proposed the idea of cards to resolve conflicts a little more than seven years ago. Strange to think how enthusiastic I was about the idea at the time ... and how soon it was after starting this blog. The concept did not survive the online campaign; yet I shall try to paraphrase the idea, as I think of it now.
The plan was to provide the characters with different methods of changing an NPC's mind, with the concomitant idea that the NPC would be able to similarly lock down the player's decision making process, precisely in the way that combat functioned. Just as a player could force an NPC to adopt an action or opinion, the NPC could do likewise to the player.
The "methods" were based upon the speaker's class, background, previous successes, means and ability stats. Characters could therefore "reason" if they were intelligent enough, "torture" if they were an assassin, "seduce" if they had a high enough charisma and so on. Logically, as more methods for changing minds were imagined, the system could be expanded.
Resisting this, a speaker would have various resistances to having their minds changed; wisdom imposed fortitude against arguments, while stupidity defeated arguments by lack of comprehension. Thus, as the first speaker imposed a method for changing the second speaker's mind, the second speaker had a means of being bullheaded and stuck in their ways.
Fair enough. Where the system failed ... and continues to fail in my thoughts, revolved around this problem: what change of mind was permissible?
Could I, for example, impose upon an NPC to force them to give me all his property? His daughter? His life? What, exactly, kept the "convince person A to change his mind" from becoming, "mindfuck person A into being my mental slave"?
Players bent on getting the most out of the system saw it as a kind of suggestion spell. This was never the intention. My ideal was a system that the players could use to inveigle information out of a suspect, or subvert the loyalty of a person against their employer. Players viewed it as a way to get free drinks out of a bartender, "just because."
Do understand. We need to draw a line. But that line is very pernicious. There's no reason in the world why a bartender would give free drinks to strangers; particularly when we consider everyone in the world would have this power to convince every other person, since no interactive mechanic can be built to serve the players alone. Logically, a bartender, and a lot of other vendors beside, ought to have a get-out-of-jail-free card for such attempted abuses.
But say a character, charismatic, stumbles out of the woods and produces a monumentally believable reason for why they must have your horse, and right now? They show a rolled up bit of paper bound with a ribbon, they're wearing the King's livery, they're carrying a saddle to the horse that has just been killed from under them and the message must be taken to the King immediately! "And no, you can't take it, you're not an official messenger. So I'll have your horse now, sir, if you please." A die is rolled; the player makes an argument; the messenger counter-argues ... and the player loses, handing over their horse.
Could happen. But what if it is all a scam?
As I say, it is a difficult line to draw. Clearly, the problem here is not the method by which we ask [as I built the system to answer], but what we're allowed to ask FOR.
I think, maybe, that is the answer: a list of potential asks, which can expand as ideas for requests are realized, that characters are allowed to request ~ once again, dependent upon their level, status, specific reputations, ability stats and such ~ ranked from somewhat miserable requests to outlandish demands.
A character might, for example, be allowed to ask for a discount on anything, in their home town or in their home county ~ 10% off, say ~ at first level, because they are a cleric or because they have a high charisma. Or because they have a particular ability [or feat, whichever system you play]. A low-level character might be able to intercede in fights; or distract a guard; or buy their way into a card game ... but they couldn't just ask to talk to the king. They couldn't ask that a guardhouse be opened up so they could free a prisoner. They couldn't just demand any damned thing they pleased, as if they were lords of the earth.
This would firmly confine the expectations of the players to specific possibilities ... and then, the possibilities would have to be gambled for, in the way the cards were supposed to work originally. That is, just because your gambler thief could buy his way into a card game, doesn't mean he does. It only means that he can try for it.
Now, some readers will be a step or two ahead of others at this point ... just as I am building to the key point here. Some will realize that I've already been building up a system that guarantees the player can do a large variety of small, skill-based things, which I call my sage system. I might have already created a "gambling" ability that included "being able to buy into a game."
Suppose that the varying sage abilities (and I find, from moving them to the new wiki, that there are 182 sage abilities so far) serve as a template for what a character ~ any character ~ can ask for. Studies like Sure-footedness, which gives a lot of benefits to sneaking around and into things, wouldn't bring much in the way of, "What can I ask for?" But a study like Politics, which offers nothing in the way of physically empowering a character, would bring lots and lots of potential things that could be asked for.
As ever, it could be a lot of work ... but it IS a solution to something that has denied reason for a long time. An ordinary character couldn't go into a guard room and demand a room for the night, but many different kinds of functionary could. And many more things besides. An ordinary character couldn't demand a free beer, but many bards with a Performance ability could talk a bartender into one. It is simply a matter of assigning potential asks to existing abilities, as the player or DM invents the process by precedent.
The player looks at their sage abilities, and asks, "Could my player ..."
The DM answers, I think that's rational, given you have an ability that fits that request, of that particular NPC.
Then someone writes down the request so that it can be looked up later. Easy peasy.
The reason I never came up with this before is that I didn't have the sage abilities conceived of, in this form, when I was making the conflict system. And the only reason why I put the two of them together now, is that I'm moving the whole damn wiki. Ideas, being jumbled, tend to bump against one another.