Koveras' Korner

The present survey provides an overview of persuasion mechanics in 15 contemporary and historical commercial pen-and-paper role-paying games (RPGs). "Persuasion mechanics" (not to be confused with "persuasive mechanics", which is another term for Ian Bogost's "procedural rhetoric") here refer to gameplay rules and procedures employed to determine the outcome of in-fiction attempts to exert social influence by or, less commonly, upon player characters (PCs) in RPGs. Due to the RPG medium's historical origins in war gaming and fantasy literature, the vast majority of rules in RPGs concern tactical combat and magical effects, while in-fiction social interactions have been often relegated entirely to "role-play" (RP), meaning that their success or failure depends mainly on actual persuasive performances and judgment calls, rather than gameplay procedures. Nevertheless, many such procedures have been proposed throughout the decades and eventually converged into a number of recurrent design patterns that we will outline in the conclusions.

The main motivation for creating this survey was to improve the quality of gameplay systems governing social action in pen-and-paper RPGs. This immediately prompts the question of whether gameplay rules for in-fiction social interactions are at all necessary, given that RPGs are already a particular from of social interaction (Montola); indeed, Marie Brennan argues that "codified rules for [social interactions] are often cumbersome and deadening to RP" (chapter "Preserving agency"). However, it is our belief that the majority of role-players do not have the social competence needed to actually role-play convincing persuasion and that, just like a good tactical simulation can teach them the basics of squad-based combat, a good set of persuasion rules can improve the quality of their role-playing by providing a mental map of the domain for them.

Beyond the search for common design patterns, other guiding questions of this survey were: How can role-playing performance be factored into the gameplay resolution of social influence attempts? How to preserve player agency when using social influence against player characters? How to simulate character relationships among each other and how to factor them into influence mechanics? And how is physical violence embedded in and contextualized by the social interactions of fictional characters and, especially, how do social interactions escalate to combat? Our answers to these will likewise be presented in the conclusions section.

The specific selection of games examined in this study is based primarily on the availability of their source materials (rule books) to the author and on his personal familiarity with corresponding game systems.

Table of Contents

Full text of the article (for printing etc.) is available here.