View Full Version : [RPG Design] Bluff/Insight Mechanics for PvP

2011-01-17, 12:42 PM
QUESTION: What are appropriate ways to model a Bluff v. Insight mechanic in regards to PvP interaction?

A pair of my friends are trying out GMing for the first time and have chosen a homebrewed-but-tested system for their game. The base system ("Pantheon") was originally designed to be heavily PvP and ran mostly on DM Fiat; you would roll a Skill and the DM would interpret the result as having a particular in-game effect. This was true for all Skills - even things like "Convince" which could be used to force a PC to agree to do something. Due to the way the original system was set up, it was possible for highly specialized Charisma ("CHA") characters to basically play everyone else's characters for them. This was not fun for the other Players, and so the GMs (and nosy usual-DM me :smalltongue:) went to change it for their game.

I've always believed that Social Skills should not be used against other PCs; IMHO intra-party RP is the essence of the concept of the RPG - it should not be mitigated or substituted by abstract mechanics. As such, I usually bar the use of Social Skills against other PCs - but then again, I rarely run PvP games.

For this revised Pantheon System ("Gotham Knights") the co-GMs decided to limit by fiat the usage of Social Skills between Players - they told everyone that was the rule, and so it was. Now, by and large this fiat has worked out OK but in our first session we ran into a classic Social Skill problem: the GMs knew that Party Faction A was lying to Party Faction B - how do you treat it?

At the time, the GMs decided to start making secret Bluff v. Insight rolls. Ironically, Party Faction A did not think they were lying to Party Faction B and did not inform the GMs that they intended to lie to us; nor, for that matter, did Party Faction B consider that they might be lied to. In the end, Party Faction B ended up doing very well on its Insight rolls and detected the lying - but as Party Faction A did not think it was lying, this became very messy, very quickly.

In the end, everything turned out OK, but it got several of us thinking.

Brief Discusssion
After the events described in Background, some ideas regarding how Bluff/Insight should be modeled in the future were expressed:
(1) Players in Control
Players need to call for rolls if they're going to be made. If someone intends to lie, they should roll and pass the number to the GM. If someone wants to detect lies, they need to announce they are doing so.

(2) Characters are not Players
Whenever there is a need for a roll, the GMs need to roll it. When a Character lies, they need to make a Bluff check; when a lie is being told, Characters need an Insight check to detect them.

(3) No Rolling
Intra-party communication is the domain of pure RP. Lies, like any speech, need to be interacted with by the Players through their Characters.

There are pro's and con's for each approach, but my main concern is two-fold:

- As the system involves hidden information to some extent and skill mechanics dominate, there should be some systemic way to deal with detecting this hidden information.

- A strictly Player-activated Bluff v. Insight mechanic will make Player - not Character - abilities dominate in this arena. More importantly, unless making Bluff and Insight checks are both costly, the game will get bogged down by constant opposed checks.

I don't have much experience in running/creating this style of game, but I believe that this sort of conflict is going to pop up in pretty much every game there is. Lying (in game) to other party members is going to trigger party-destructive behavior more often than Diplomacy - people who are naturally bad at detecting lies will be far more distrustful of known skilled liars after being burned a few times; this can poison any hope of party unity, even in non-conflicted situations.
Thoughts? Examples of resolution mechanics in other systems you've found particularly helpful? Critiques of the framing of the issue?

Totally Guy
2011-01-17, 03:27 PM
The best PvP social mechanic that I've seen is the Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits.

But before looking at the subsystem, lets look at how it would be resolved between two players using just the base mechanics:

Jiminy has a Persuasion skill of 3 and a Will stat of 4
Thafray has a Persuasion skill of 5 and a Will stat of 5

Thafray wants Jiminy to collect their reward from the manor. Jiminy doesn't want to do that, the count in the manor scares him, he wants Thafray to come with him and help him in the dungeon.

Both players have stated their intents and must now state how they are going to accomplish their intent with a task. They both roleplay a persuasive argument and roll their Persuasion dice. The player with more successes wins.

What if one side doesn't have a stake?

Thafray wants Jiminy to collect their reward from the manor. Jiminy doesn't want to do that, the count in the manor scares him, he just wants to say no.

Thafray states his intent to make Jiminy do something he doesn't want to do. He then follows through with the task, his persuasive speech. Now that Jiminy is just saying no instead of rolling the dice at all he simply states that the difficulty will be equal to his Will stat: 4.

If Thafray can get 4 successes on his 5 Persuasion dice he will have convinced Jiminy to go. He might not be happy about it but it's going to happen.

Jiminy is in a stronger position here. Rolling his own Persuasion he'll get between 0-3 successes.

The third option Jiminy has is to use the Duel of Wits subsystem (http://www.burningwheel.org/wiki/index.php?title=Downloads#Duel_of_Wits). It's a lot like the first example in that the two players both have a course of action at stake. Rather than being a straight win/lose situation it is possible to have a whole multitude of compromises as the overall result. It's pretty tactical, he could still win, even as the underdog! The players need to agree stakes before embarking on this route, what will each party have to do if they were totally crushed by their opponent?

The fourth option available to Jiminy is to walk away. If he does that the argument ends there. He's left the scene. Thafray can still bother him later.

Then there's the old classic safety net. If you play the duel of wits and lose you can escalate to violence!

Falsehood works very similarly to persuasion. Your intent can be the same but the task will be a roleplayed lie or deception that gets you there. One of the GM's duties is to make sure that tasks are appropriate to the intents.

2011-01-17, 04:02 PM
I was going to jump in and talk about the Duel of Wits and Burning wheels social combat, but Glug beat me too it. So...

What he said. Seriously, it is a great system/model for social resolution using the skills on the character sheet, instead of the skills of the players.

Totally Guy
2011-01-17, 04:58 PM
There was one time I was playing in a PvP scenario as a noble knight that was love smitten for the Marchesa who was secretly a cannibalistic death cultist. I was guarding her from a con man out to steal her box of treasure.

I decided that tonight was the night that I confess my love to the Marchesa. So as I stood guard I opened the door to her room and found... she'd been attacked in the night!

In actuality it was herself performing a dark death cult ritual on herself and out of character I knew that.

But when the con man arrived at the door I wasn't so sure.

The con man's player wanted to convince me that he was innocent. The Marchesa wanted be to believe that the con man had attacked her.

They engaged the Duel of Wits mechanic against each other. I was the audience (although I did use the helping rules to aid the Marchesa).

What happened? They drew! Equal score!

This gave me loads of fuel to sent the game spinning in all kinds of directions.

My initial response was to call another for help "Pedro! This is too hard!" which was the funniest line of the session.

I then concluded that both the characters were partially right. The Marchesa had definitely been attacked and the con man definitely didn't do it. So I called a parlour scene where I reconstructed the crime and accused the barmaid by elimination!

The barmaid then went on to seduce me and I ended up giving her the ritual knife to aid with her escape! But I still tied her up so I wouldn't look stupid in front of the other characters!

It was the best session ever. And not a single NPC in sight.

2011-01-17, 05:12 PM
It's hard to come up with one rule for this. Different things work at different tables. A lot of RPGs are fuzzy on whether Spot/Sense Motive type skills are player- or DM-initiated because they don't want to override what feels most comfortable to the group.

For PvP, let the players figure it out, just like the DM does. Sometimes you need to make sure no one knows OOC that you're lying, but sometimes you actually want to tip your hand.

I agree with you that social skills should never compel the PCs though, especially in PvP. That's always kept me from getting into White Wolf's games.