Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Negotiation Drama

One of our blog-followers asked me how to create a drama for the following scenario: the characters are members of the "Morrow Project" (Fun fact: in the original Morrow Project RPG you rolled 4d6-4 to get your stats generating a number from 0-20 with a strong bell curve. This was the inspiration for the JAGS roll. Additional fun fact: MP's sense of devotion to firearms modeling was responsible for the way JAGS determines firearms damage!)

These guys were frozen before a global nuclear war and are now defrosted 150 years or more later bringing high tech weapons and vehicles to a society that is partially medieval and partially Gamma World (there could be robots, ultra-tech weapons, and surviving AI-controlled installations, for example).

The PCs are peaceful in nature, seeking to rebuild--but there are now all kinds of warlords and fortress towns and such. One of the jobs of the PCs will be to negotiate peace and agreements between these towns. How would you do that with the JAGS Drama System.

Answer: Very carefully!

I don't have the mental cycles to do "all the math" (at least not right now) and I'm traveling which means that I'm not on my home PC with all its resources--however I'm going to sketch out a Drama for negotiation to show the thought process and give, hopefully, a foundation for the guy who asked to expand on if it suits his purposes. It's also quite likely I'll have made some foundational assumptions that will result in this drama being useless to him. That's fine.

I'll also note that "getting the numbers right" is a big part of this and it's not easy. This is DIY game-design almost by nature. That said, it's a powerful tool and we do give you a good deal of help. I think, in the future, we will give even more help (the Big Book of JAGS Dramas) but right now, this is what I've got.

Where To Start?
The place to start is to imagine what the actual game-play will be like. What's the imaginary situation(s) that you're thinking of? What would "roleplaying it out" be like if you could? What's at stake? Who are you up against?

Here are my assumptions:

  1. I will imagine that the PCs are generally negotiating against one person--a leader (a war lord or town mayor or whatever). This person will have a style and objectives and their town (material) and all that stuff in a "roleplaying" sense. There will likely be other parties involved but I'll assume each drama is pretty much PC-vs-1 NPC and that if you have to do 2 or 'n'-way negotiations what'll happen is you'll do them as separate dramas.
  2. Winning means you get your way (whatever that is) assuming there is any way they would agree to it. If "your way" means the death of the party you are against, it's right out. If you lose then one of two things happens (a) the situation collapses to war (or whatever the bad, unstable consequence is) or (b) the other person gets "his way." An example of this would be Town A is starving and Town B has food surpluses but doesn't want to give them up. If the negotiations fail (the PC loses) Town A will either attack Town B or be left to starve at the GM's discretion. It's possible that the food will still go but the price will be something like the able-bodied sons of Town A being forced into servitude or something bad like that. Generally once the drama is lost the GM will tell the players they can decide to take matters into their own hands but the morale of the loser will be really bad and so on.
  3. We will assume that roleplaying this out would look like a time-limited conversation of offer and counter-offer (or appeal to the good nature of one side ... or making threats or appeals to practical consequences or whatever). However we'll assume that in almost all cases there's a time-limit involved and that there's a pre-determined bad-outcome that is likely if the PCs can't intervene. Where a clear win-win scenario exists, the existence of the drama may mean that one side is simply being obstinate or irrational. In other cases there will be no clear win-win.

Determining the Type Of Drama
There are several types. The standard one is three rolls. Another kind is "open rolls" where each roll represents some amount of time passing or some other resource being used. I am going to opt for a Three Roll Drama against either a Charisma roll (Persuade, Charm, Recruit, or Intimidate), Diplomat, or a RES roll at -2 (I am putting in the -2 because I'll assume that raw RES without being combined with either skill or personal magnetism is weak for this).

Three roll dramas are good for time-limited situations. The selection of the Diplomat skill is a no-brainer: that's what it's for. The allowance of Charisma skills (which will be rolled against the target's WIL) is in there because if the team doesn't have a diplomat I'd assume that Mr. Slick (or Mr. Persuasive) is still pretty good at reaching accord. Since I want to encourage Diplomat, though, I am going to give it some other advantages as well (it can use Level 3 Advanced Maneuvers, for example).

NOTE: For purposes of the Drama I'll allow Charisma rolls to work on even "Named NPCs" so long as the actual roleplaying effects are mitigated by the GM. There are some complex reasons for this (I want to reward the ability without having a PC "mind-control" named NPCs) but essentially this would be explained to the players as "in the context of negotiations you can use your charming nature to be more effective but you still can't make them fall in love with you if I say they don't."

Difficulty Number
This is determined by the GM using the table in the book. The GM will also give the situation a "Flash Point" rating which is either Low, Medium, or High (possibly Very High) which determines how likely a failure of negotiation is to lead to war. This may be the "bad outcome" but will also be used in assessing Take Risk moves (see below).

The table is straight forward and will reward L3 (or L4) skills since it provides difficulty levels that just about require them to work properly (if the PC is entering very difficult negotiations it'll be tough to do with just a high Charisma Roll).

Choose Phase
So I go to Google and type in stuff about negotiation strategies and types of negotiators. It turns out there are a lot of these and they're all different. But I want to use some baselines from here so I come up with one that I like. Here are some URLs I looked at:

These are all good breakdowns of "who you might run into." The first one even has a matrix of types and outcomes and I love a matrix! However, I went with the third for simplicity. The GM will typically determine a person as:

  • A Fox: an I-win-you-lose deceptive type who is out for all gain and tricky to deal with.
  • A Bloodhound: a win-win type who will listen to reason if you can make sense. It notes that many foxes pretend to be bloodhounds
  • A Donkey: a stubborn or angry person with limited tools in their arsenal for discussion. They may not be tricky--but they are hard to deal with.
So the GM will secretly pick one of these. The PC can also pick one but can choose to change it for different negotiations. If the PC doesn't pick one, they are assumed to be Bloodhound.

I then looked at "negotiation tactics." There are lots of these (all the sites favor "find a win-win!" which is not helpful in a 'duh' kind of way). There's also lots (too much) of fine-grained advice around when to pretend to walk out or whatever. I don't want that level of detail--but I do want some PC/NPC interplay before we get cracking so I go with a Roshambo choose stage. I go with "Rock-Paper-Scissors." Here are the three approaches that will be chosen in secret (by the PC and the GM) before each roll:

  • Aggressive (Rock): the party is threatening the other or otherwise being highly assertive (threatening to walk, banging shoes on the table, etc.)
  • Principled (Paper) : the party is negotiating from a set of principles or conditions that must be satisfied (these can be rational in the case of a Bloodhound or irrational in the case of a Donkey--or a smokescreen in the case of a Fox--but it doesn't matter: that's their approach).
  • Accommodating (Scissors): While this stance doesn't give anything away the position is that the person is trying to be "the good guy" and looks prepared to give things up. This can be used to 'trap the other person' or might just be a submissive position for-real.
The winner of the Roshambo will gain +2 SPs If They Win The Roll. They get +0 if they don't (note: this could also give +'s to the roll or give SPs even if the winner doesn't win).

A Fox will get an additional +2 SPs if they choose one play they are strong at. This is also chosen in secret before the battle begins. Once the +2 SPs are won, though, the PC will know which play is STRONG for the Fox.

A Bloodhound will gain an additional +2 SPs for winning with Principled stance.

A Donkey will gain an additional +2 SPs for winning with an Aggressive stance.

The reason for doing this is that (a) choosing a stance and trying to figure out what kind of person you are up against seems to me to be "a lot like doing negotiations" and (b) it gives us something for other skills to do (see below). These kinds of decisions are also, simply, fun. Knowing that a person has a weighted victory towards one of the three choices makes Roshambo even more interesting: will they make their strong play and hope they surprise you with it? Or will they intentionally play a weaker hand and try to trick you that way?

The Use Of Skills
If the PCs have some skills they can bring them to bear during the drama.
  • Psychology: A psych roll at some negative (TBD) can tell what kind of person you are up against. If you make it well, you can tell what the strong suit of a Fox is. This happens before the drama starts if you can, at all, psychoanalyze the target.
  • Diplomat: This works the same as Psychology but at a -2. It'll still work though and if you are L3 or L4 you ignore that negative.
  • Con Artist: This will help with a specific move down below. It might also help "read" a person to see what move they are going to make in the Roshabo. You'd probably need L3 or higher skill to do this.
  • Lie Catcher: This would see through some moves (False Concession) and would also tell you when a Fox is masquerading as another type (i.e. the PC makes a "Lie Catcher roll" when introduced to negotiator and comes back and determines that they are 
The use of other skills gives other PCs a chance to get in on the action. It also gives a negotiator a chance to be deeper than one or two skills. If you could build this out more you could have room for negotiation teams (you could have guy who excels in detecting lies).

So each roll you get a free move and a standard move. Free moves are like "pushing it" and Advanced technique. Here are some Standard Moves specific to the drama:
  • Problem Solve: Someone on the PC's team is trying to come up with a "technical" solution to the problem. If they can succeed in the allotted time they get a big bonus--but this is difficult. The PC makes either an RES or applicable Science (or other) roll. They must beat a certain number of SPs by the end of the drama. If they succeed they get a lump sum of X SPs (TBD) based on the difficulty of the situation (this, essentially, is a second drama happening along side the first).
  • Pressure Them: This is not necessarily the same as an Assertive/Aggressive stance: it's a real threat. In this case it's the Take Additional Risk move with some roll (Strategy/Tactics) or Diplomat and, if it fails, then there is a check to see if you get WAR. This is based on the Flash Point level. If the character succeeds then they get SPs based on the negative they took. Again, the exact rules would need to be worked out for this but the basic idea is that on a given round you can take an aggressive move and risk WAR.
  • Make Concession: If you have something to give away, you get SPs based on what the GM thinks it's worth. 
  • Make False Concession: This is a "Take Additional Risk" move that uses Con Artist. You pretend to make a concession. If you fail? Maybe war. Maybe just souring negotiations. Whatever the case, it won't be good. Con Artist will see through this too.
  • Intractable. You can choose this. If your opponent chooses anything else you get +1 SP if you win the rolls. If your opponent chooses it as well whoever wins the roll gets +2 SPs. If you choose this and you lose the roll you lose 1 SP.
These moves need a lot of work to iron out and there could be more. The point here is to give player a chance to take some actions during the rolls and see how they manage it.

It's also clear I haven't explained all this all that well and I haven't even pretended to play-test it. But there's the basic thinking.



  1. Thanks, Marco. Actually, other than the fact I assumed sometimes this would be multi-handed negotiations (and I can see ways to impliment that within the framework you've done, though it makes the stance comparison more complicated), it's pretty close to what I was picturing (I'd even considered the Three Roll drama the best model). It not only gives me some place to start, but it gives me I little more inspiration on any others I might do. I also appreciate the links.

    Oh, and while I realize the various Archetypes work has to take priority, I'd definitely love me some Big Book of Dramas. :)

  2. On a completely unrelated topic, I was looking at the Endurance rules yesterday (in the context of seeing how encumbrance applied to them) and realized that while you talk about how Endurance is expended, you don't seem to discuss any rate of recovery; it just says you get them back with "rest" but no indication of how long or the like.

    (I realize the Endurance rules are pretty peripheral and a bit after-thoughish, but if they're going to be useful even for those who want them, some discussion of this is necessary).