Sunday, December 25, 2011

Handling Debates

by Daveybot
Handling Debates
by Tobie Abad
Originally posted last March 21, 2001

(Again, we start with some fiction)

Storyteller: "The Camarilla needs to be forged. Unless we band together, the Kindred community will fall in the fires of the Inquistion," the Toreador declared with a heavy heart. Sighing, he scans the crowd for a face reflecting agreement and focuses on yours. What do you do?

Player: Uh, I rise and begin to state that I agree with him.

Storyteller: What do you say?

Player: Can I just agree with him?

* * *

In a storytelling game, verbal warfare is one of the most interesting and engaging moments. To hell with massive fight scenes, soft-core porn moments and Deus Ex Machina... having a verbal battle with either a Non Playing Character (NPC) or a fellow player truly engages one into the mood of the game.

Sadly, being an eloquent speaker is not a common trait. And even worse, a large number of gamers tend to be shy when it comes to "public speaking."

Let's face it; at one point in time or another, we've all had players who have given their character a high (if not, to say the least, above average) rating in Charisma or Manipulation and yet fail to represent it well in their roleplaying. And we all know how much worse it gets when the very traits are necessary in a scene to be represented.

So how does one deal with this?

Here are some suggestions:
Stick to the rollsIt is the worst thing to do but a story has to go on, right?  Let's assume that your player really just CAN'T do it and isn't willing to keep trying the whole night.  Don't let the game suffer!  After all, both you and the very player will simply feel bad about it in the long run.  Not to mention this could grow into a hurdle for the player for many games to come.  And we all know the stupidity of forcing an issue to the point of losing a player we want to keep.  Keep in mind:  Gaming must be FUN for everyone.

Just ask what the player wants to say in general, have him roll, and based on the successes, handle the delivery for him.

This is obviously the last thing you should resort to. But trust me, there are times, its for the best.

Offer suggestions on the fly
The best way to do this is to be an NPC who is trying to help out. Use lines like, "I agree with him..." or "Like he was trying to express without saying..." lead the player on with indirect suggestions. After all, the rating do show that the character MUST be a good speaker. Even if it doesn't show in the game, try to keep the feel.  Perhaps even have an NPC speak loudly his favor towards the character's words, then throw in a few key points you feel the player can capitalize on and use.  If he's smart, he'll use them in the next series of declarations to enhance his message.

You can also offer suggestions directly, but in a game, I'd prefer to use small cards with the suggestion written in private than verbal ones. This allows the player to gauge the statement and spice it with his own words. It also avoids the syndrome of Parrot Talking, where the player simply repeats what the Storyteller says.  But if you have to say it, be sure to say it in a way that sounds incomplete.  Give him bullet points. He can sprout out the sentences on his own.

Last of all, this encourages the player bit by bit to start speaking better... and trust me, in the long run, you'd be surprised if this player learns to handle it on his own in the future.

FUDGE!
So the player speaks. Its horrible. And instead, the NPC agrees. Why? Because of behind-the-scenes things.

This can be the most difficult to pull off. But trust me, the benefits it grants to the player (ranging from EGO boosts, to additional plot threads forming) is astounding.  There is a world of secret events, after all, that the players are never privy to.
by Kevin N Murphy

Have the player roleplay it still, but have the dice dictate.

Take this example (continuing from above):

Storyteller: What say you?

Player: Uh, can I just agree with him?

Storyteller: Say it in character. Roll as well.
[Player rolls appropriate dice. It succeeded.]

Player: Okay, uh.. here it goes, "I think you say it well. Thats all."

Storyteller: The Toreador slowly smiles and gives a bow. With a start, the cainite rises and leaves the podium. Moving through the crowd, the Toreador rushes to leave the room.

Player: What happened?

Storyteller: Before you could move, a Nosferatu touches your shoulder and whispers, "Good move there, mate. You practically told him you're on to him. How you figured he was plotting against you and trapping you into speaking against the masses was a miracle, I must say. I guess its true what they about to you."

End example.

It takes a terrible amount of tweaking, and at times can prove to be very difficult to pull off. But successfully, I tell you, to do so successfully truly outweighs the effort.  Just don't do it too often or your players will feel they can get away with being lazy.

PRESETTING THE PLAYER
You plan to stage a major debate between the player's character and some elder who loves philosophy?

Get the player to do some homework. Even better, drag him with you to watch some movies that touch on the feel of the debate. These can range from movies like Much Ado About Nothing, to MATRIX.

While watching, tell the player to keep focus on certain key scenes, and to use them as inspiration during the game.  If you work it out well, allow the player to use "cliche" things and lines, so long as they are at least a step better than "Can I just roll?"   Also, be sure to GIVE the players moments of success.  If the player is dishing out a good point, in as much as it may feel good to throw back points at him to counter his words, consider the opponent's intelligence, access to information, and personal goals.  Maybe it would be appropriate instead to have the NPC fumble at this point.  Or maybe you can have the NPC end up breaking his calm and shouting out nonsense instead.  But if the players feel they are doing well, they become encouraged to approach more scenes with a willingness to roleplay to a flourish rather than depend on the dice rolls.

Hopefully, those suggestions help you people out in your games. Just keep in mind this little rule which many storytellers, myself included use.

When it comes to the stats of a player character, you must compare it to the player.  
While there does not have to be a direct correlation between the two stats, you must remind the player of the responsibility of portraying certain stats.    A player who is really bad at role-playing social scenes might be getting the stats just to fudge his way through social scenes using dice instead.   Likewise, a player who is really savvy with words might keep his character's social rating low, thinking he can just role-play his way through a scene and not require a roll.  

While it can be easy to let the dice dictate the final call, it won't do you any good if all social scenes are determined the same way.   Especially when it comes to debates.  Allow too much disparity and well, you might as well expect to bleed a little more in making things work out.
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