Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!


Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 16, 2012

You know what few RPGs have anymore?

Or really, what few RPGs ever had, the D&D Gold Box games by SSI being one of the more prominant counterexamples?

The ability to talk yourself out of a general encounter. Or to parlay, in general.

Nowadays, you may get the option as a special, ‘canned’ option. But in general, you are expected to fight your way out of pretty much any encounter. Sometimes, you are allowed to flee.

If I might speculate a little bit:

From what I can gather, talking to (or bribing) an encounter to avoid combat was a less-popular but somewhat common option in pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons back in the pre-1st edition era, and continued through somewhat through the first edition era. After all, back then characters were relatively weak (and disposable), and there was no such thing as a saved game or respawning if combat went poorly… except for the possibility of a permanently Constitution-damaging raise dead, with a chance of failure and perma-death.

But as the pirates of the Black Pearl suggest, parlay is not nearly as much fun as combat. And, particularly with CRPGs, generally less profitable.  I mean, with D&D rules, if you win a fight, you get XP and loot. If you flee a fight, you might take some damage and have to heal up, but you are otherwise out very little other than time. But if you parlay, as I recall (it’s been a long time since I played Pool of Radiance & its sequels), you tend to get disadvantaged in the next combat. The failure rate (as I recall) was high. In games that let you bribe monsters, they tend to require a pretty significant chunk of change to leave you alone… unless they’d be a trivially easy encounter that you could win without breaking a sweat (and so why would you bother bribing them, or even talking to them?).

In Knights of the Chalice, it seems that most of the encounters that allowed you a chance to talk (again, these were ‘canned’) did not go well for the party if they gave the bad guy a chance to talk. They’d use the extra time to let more forces move into position or something.  Again, not much encouragement to talk.

With so little to gain, Charisma ends up becoming a dump stat, which makes the success (or likelihood of the attempt) even more remote, which makes parlay a useless option, and thus it gets removed in an effort to streamline RPGs.

And yeah, with more ‘realistic’ dungeons… would I expect a group of guards of even a rudimentary organized resistance to take the time to negotiate while I’m in the process of invading their home and slaughtering their bandit clan? No, not really. Back in the old days with mega-dungeons filled with unaligned – and often hostile (to each other) monsters, it might make more sense. The ogre might be more than happy to rat out the orcs if he thought he could profit from it, and vice versa.

It’s a pity, though. It would be interesting if some games brought back this option as a more general-purpose tool.  It would have to be reasonably useful, common, and provide some (potential) advantages over straight-up combat and looting.  And of course, it would only be available to intelligent enemies that have a language in common with you, and who might be more interested in survival than carnage.

Filed Under: Design - Comments: 12 Comments to Read

  • Rachel said,

    Persona 2 has a bizarre system of talking to the demons and getting them to like you, but I’m not sure if it counts as what you’re looking for.

  • Kevin Jackson said,

    The original Phatasy Star (back on the Sega Master System) had a talk option. It was usable with humanoids, plus there was an item and some spells that let you talk with some enemies. I don’t remember exactly how it worked (largely because I never used it), but I doubt it was worth doing. Without any mechanics to back it up (there was no way to get better at talking) it’s use would always be limited.

  • McTeddy said,

    I’ve been toying with an idea recently that builds on the concept of alternate ways to deal with threats.

    Rather than “Random Combat” the game uses Random events. You are then given a chance to decide on an appropriate action to respond such as “Hide”, “Speak”, “Run” etc.

    Success rates with then be determined based on different data. For example: No matter how high your charisma, you’ll never convince a zombie to leave you alone, and your not likely to hide from a passing group of bandits while standing on a wide open plain.

    Combat still exists in the game, but it is lethal. These options will let you pick your battles and hopefully allow a wise player to live longer.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Mount & Blade has a rudimentary system, where you’re able to buy your way out of a fight with bandits and the like. Helpful when you’re not fit to fight.

    Of course most of the time, you actually want to fight them, and they only leave you alone for a very short amount of time.

    I seem to recall NWN2: Storm of Zehir having a few options like that too, but they might have been more “canned” encounters rather than the general ones (can’t quite remember).

  • Brian said,

    hooray for ‘noncombat experience rewards’. My wife has learned to NEVER let one of my characters get a word in edgewise if she wants the encounter to become combat.

    My character Radavel (Now, technically, the god of gypsies and wayfarers) has had, at level 18, approximately twelve real combats. And most of those were resolved in less than a round with judicious application of sneak attacks.

    Charisma is NOT a dump stat in pathfinder 🙂

  • EHamilton said,

    If you read through the statistics descriptions in original D&D in the 70s, you notice that the relative importance of the six stats is almost the opposite of what it is today. Things like Strength and Dexterity had virtually no in-game effect (other than small exp bonuses), while Charisma and Intelligence have well-defined mechanics related to reaction bonuses, men-at-arms, and language acquisition. It was explicitly noted as possible to use your ability to speak “Stone Giant” in order to actively recruit a giant into your party, for example. Rather than the DM deciding in advance which NPCs where allies and which were loot-pinatas, the players were expected to negotiate their own allegiances from one encounter to the next.

    As RPGs evolved, this diplomatic aspect of the game atrophied away, leaving the statistics that formerly supported it as vestigial game mechanics that were eventually reassigned to other unrelated functions (Intelligence as the wizard’s version of Wisdom, and Charisma as a caster-stat for bards and sorcerers). It would be nice to play in a classic-style game where NPC reaction was a predictable, gameable mechanic, rather than a chance for game designers to slap you around with unpredictable GM fiat effects.

  • Corwin said,

    Do we assume that parlay in some form or another will become an integral part of FK2? 🙂

  • Kyle Haight said,

    Way back in the Stone Age, Wizardry had a small chance of any particular encounter being with a ‘Friendly’ version of the monster which you could either fight or leave in peace. The first time I made it to the bottom of the dungeon I encountered a ‘Friendly Werdna’! (For those born later than I, Werdna was the Big Bad of the game. Killing him was the *entire point*.)

    Naturally I had to leave in peace, just to see what would happen. It turns out that you get stranded in the dungeon because the game expected you to have access to Werdna’s loot in order to escape. D’oh!

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @Corwin: Alas, not all of the ideas which I think are cool will – or should – be in Frayed Knights. But you can properly deduce that I’ve at least been considering it.

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    It doesn’t make much sense to provide alternatives to combat when only combat gives XP, does it?

    I remember trying to play the original version of Cardinal Quest with a rogue, and stealth my way past most enemies. That worked until it became to difficult to avoid them… and by then I was far too weak to fight them.

    That convinced me once and for all that roguelikes should give XP for advancing in the dungeon, NOT combat. Which is exactly what Lost Labyrinth does. And I seem to remember reading somewhere that in the original D&D you got XP for gold brought back from the dungeon. How you got it was your problem: trickery, bribery, stealth, cleverness, brute force…

    Also see: WoW vs. GW2. It’s all in the reward system!

  • Barry B said,

    One of my favorite RPGs, Darklands, has this feature. It allows you to raise any of several skills (Streetwise, weapons skills, Speak Common) that could defuse am impending battle. A really eloquent leader could even talk one of those rapacious alchemists and his guards out of attacking your party on the road.

  • jwmeep said,

    Yeah, I’ve noticed that Jay tends to have ton of RPG ideas that really don’t work for Frayed Knights (that cool sounding dialog system, layered armor systems, etc). Like he said in his interview with Matt Barton “These would be good ideas for an RPG, just not this one.” Maybe oneday in the far future he will have time to make that particular RPG.

    In the meantime, more Frayed Knights is good.

    But yeah, I love being able to talk things out in an RPG, but it’s rarely encouraged. All those languages in Daggerfall were pretty useless.