Sunday, April 24, 2016

Character Build: Negotiation

I don't even know
Besides combat, social interaction seems like one of the most common role play situations. For new players there can be a few stumbling blocks that need to be overcome to being effective at negotiation. Like combat, work, survival, and anything else, GURPS needs a character to have some competency in social skills before they can use them. Let's take a look at that today.

Reaction Rolls

Reaction rolls can occur the first time a player meets an important NPC, or when they petition someone for help. These are always done secretly by the GM. I have a house rule that if a player succeeds on an Empathy roll though (and they must have the Empathy advantage) they are allowed to see the roll out in the open. The table of reactions for these rolls is given in the Basic Set starting on p.560. Certain advantages and disadvantages, circumstances, and approaches can affect the reaction:
  • Charisma is a cheap advantage that can improve reactions, but it might be hard to make many levels in play
  • A good Reputation is easier to develop, but usually has a more narrow scope.
  • Good Appearance and Voice are also easy ways to increase reaction modifier, but are pretty difficult to improve after starting a campaign.
Requests made in the appropriate circumstances can also help.
  • Requesting help from a person who knows you better (and in a good way) is more likely to give positive results
  • Requesting help from people that can help will often give better results.
  • Bargaining from a position of strength also allows one to leverage themselves better.
Finally, there is the softish wiggle room area of role playing bonus for presenting arguments appropriately. If a player role plays asking for advice in a way that the requestee would respect, this could offer a small bonus, or likewise a penalty if not done correctly. Depending on playstyle, it might be appropriate to completely fiat success or failure of a negotiation just on this alone.
After an opening argument like this, the GM can roll on the reaction table factoring all modifiers and see if a positive outcome is rendered. If not, players can pursue a revision of this first decision by resorting to negotiation skills.
For more advantages to consider, check out this previous post.

The Basic Skills

Useful in general for
negotiations guidance.
There is of course, Kromm's list of the skills that every player probably needs or wants, but to iterate over them again, here are the elementary negotiation skills, these are again enumerated on p.30 of Social Engineering under Influence Skills in more detail:
  • Diplomacy
  • Fast-Talk
  • Intimidation
  • Savoir-Faire
  • Sex Appeal
  • Streetwise
All of these are in the Basic Set. These skills can overwrite a negative reaction roll, but some are especially appropriate in some situations and some are not. These are almost done as a Quick Contest, usually against Will if trying to convince one party, or against a different negotiation skill if competing to convince a 3rd party (For example, two candidate entrepreneurs asking for investment money from a wealthy backer might have a contest against each other to see which of the two is more convincing. This could be made even more nuanced by throwing in an influence roll on top of margins from the contest to see how the investor's attitude about the characters influences his decision.)
Using Complementary  Skills, a mechanic explained in several places in GURPS, and especially, most relevantly in Social Engineering, p.31, one might be able to get more bonuses to this negotiation roll by demonstrating knowledge or actions in similar veins. For example, if negotiating the construction of a bridge, Engineering (Civil) might be used to effect to strengthen an argument that it would be more useful in a specific location.

Further Reading

I specifically play a lot of Dungeon Fantasy, so this post at Dungeon Fantastic is relevant. The fundamentals of Influence Rolls are described in the Basic Set on p.359, and Social Engineering has more specific guidance for some types of negotiations starting on p.26 going up to p.32,

Other Thoughts and Closing

 I thought there was a lot more to write here than I could think of, but there are already a lot of pretty well written sources of information already, so there isn't much to add. I like the Social Engineering book a lot. Anyone having difficulty at making a character good in social situations should give it a look. I reviewed it here.
I think I said "a lot" a lot.


  1. I really like your house rule - allowing those who succeed on their Empathy roll to see the Reaction Roll. That gives Empathy a really solid game-mechanical basis, which I've often felt is a bit lacking otherwise. Nice!

    1. Glad to hear it! I've had similar thoughts on other advantages and skills having a kinda meta-power to be able to see the numbers behind the universe.


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