Archive for October, 2017

ToEE: Conversation Skills

One last Temple post before IF Comp 2017. I keep going back to Hommlet, because I have so much unfinished business there, and because I keep hoping that getting some of that quest XP (which, it turns out, does exist) will help me get my party up to level 4 and make the combat encounters easier. But the remaining quests seem fairly intractable. Person A says “I need person B to do a thing”, but person B either doesn’t have the resources to do the thing, or is unwilling to do it, or just recursively involves person C in the problem. I thought at first that the key to all this would be the “Factions” mechanic, which gets a whole section to itself in the quest log, but that section is still empty after all this time.

I did have something of a breakthrough, though. Perhaps the unwilling could be persuaded if I had the right skills? The 3.5e rules provide several conversational skills: Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate. These are all keyed to your Charisma score, and unfortunately, as I was anticipating a game mostly about combat, I had used Charisma as my dump stat for most of my characters. The only character I had put any points of Charisma into at all was my cleric, because it plays a role in turning undead. Sure, I could sink skill points into Diplomacy, Bluff, and Intimidate specifically, and I’ll probably do so eventually, turning my rogue, who gets a ton of skill points on leveling, into the party’s conversation expert. But I can only do that on gaining levels, and that’s going slow.

The breakthrough, then, was realizing that my cleric had access to a spell, “Eagle’s Splendor”, that grants a temporary +4 boost to Charisma. And so I made my rounds of Hommlet again, checking to see if this was enough to change anything. As it turned out, it worked in exactly one case: a miller’s apprentice who wanted to change religion, but was afraid of what his master would say and wanted me to secure his permission. The spell didn’t give me enough of a bonus to change the miller’s mind, but it did get my Bluff skill to the point where I could just lie to the kid about what the miller said, and that’s apparently enough to complete the quest.

It turns out that the conversation skills work a little differently from in real D&D. There, you can attempt to lie, persuade, or scare anyone about anything, because obviously the game is freeform enough that there’s nothing stopping you. The skills just provide a mechanism for determining the consequences, in the event that the DM doesn’t want to just make a ruling by fiat. In the CRPG, however, there is no such thing as a failed Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check. If your skill isn’t high enough to tell a convincing lie, the lie isn’t even listed. The dialogue UI even puts special icons next to the affected options, to make it clear what your skills are doing. This is a pretty significant change to the feel of the thing, taking out any sense of risk. But I guess risk is more or less gone when you can save and load. The way they’re doing it is probably the best option, on the whole. Random failure in a scripted conversation seems like it would be a bad idea. If you don’t communicate the mechanics to the player, it leaves them ignorant of why they failed, and if you do, it creates a motivation to replay the same conversations over and over until they succeed. Which is how I’ve treated the combat sometimes, but at least combat is complicated enough to vary significantly between attempts. I guess this has significance for procedural conversation systems.