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Lt. Commander
Join Date: Dec 2007
Posts: 120
This explanation will be a bit long, but that isn’t because the system is complicated or hard to use. Picture trying to explain the combat UI and stats to someone without using any pictures—it’d take hours. It always takes longer to explain a system’s inner workings than it does to show someone how to play it.

For shorthand, check the TL;DR section and the Sample Encounter.

Star Trek Online: Diplomacy Gameplay

Preface: TL;DR
I. Why Diplomacy?
II. Types of Diplomacy
III. Proposed Diplomacy System
a. Overview
b. Categories / Classes
c. Advancement
d. Sample Encounter
e. PvP?
IV. Rewards
V. Branching Storylines?


Preface: TL;DR
The idea is to create a voluntary system of diplomatic gameplay, so that people can choose an alternative to fighting. You can build your reputation on certain systems, negotiate the return of hostages, ease down the price on those hypos… all without firing a shot.

Think of Diplomacy like verbal chess. You make a move, your opponent reacts, and you go back and forth until there is a victor. Instead of pieces, the exchange is represented by four bars: Logic, Persuasion, and Intimidation for attack, Patience for defense.

Instead of choosing from a list of pre-made sentences your character could recite, you choose from a list of skills you’ve earned with Diplomatic Skill Points. These include different attacks and defenses that use points from your bars to attack your opponents bars. (like one that costs Patience to attack your opponent’s Intimidation bar)

The skills available depend on your Diplomatic “class”—the particular style you feel best fits your character. Maybe you prefer to convince your enemy through sheer force of reason. Maybe you’re a sweet-talker, who can usually spin things in your favor. You choose the best fit. For more shorthand info, see the Sample Encounter below.

Why Diplomacy?
In short, because it’s a major part of the Star Trek universe. But that’s not the only reason. Yes, it’s a time of war, and this explains how common confrontations are… but that surely doesn’t mean the Federation has given up diplomatic methods of gaining support in other systems. It’s a way to gain allies, rather than just vanquish enemies.
From a player standpoint, it offers some engaging non-combat gameplay. Not just “Go here and scan,” or “Go here and engage in pre-fab dialogue.” Something real, interactive, player-centered, and consequential.

Types of Diplomacy
Different games have done it differently. Currently, Star Trek is offering the weakest and most limiting kind—preformatted dialogue. A lot of games try it—NPC asks a question, character selects from a list of pre-fab answers that usually boil down to “praise his genius” or “insult his mother.” Extremes. And what’s more, they put words in YOUR character’s mouth. Dialogued diplomacy is too limiting, because it is too prescriptive.
So we do away with it. A more abstract system of Diplomacy allows the PLAYER to fill in the dialogue, or not, according to their own wants and wishes. YOU decide how witty the retort was, or how scathing that attack was on your beliefs. The game just provides the vehicle to express your thoughts, rather than providing thoughts for you.

Proposed Diplomacy System

Overview:

When entering a diplomatic exchange (basically, a “battle”), a player and his/her opponent has four “health” bars. Each represents a different aspect of diplomatic engagements: Logic, Intimidation, Persuasion, and Patience. During the fight, these bars will go up and down, and where they are will determine the success of your “attacks.”
Logic, Intimidation, and Persuasion are your modes of attack and defense. You spend some from one or more bars to use an ability, and your opponent will drain them via attacks. Patience is more like your hit points. The idea of an exchange is to wear down your opponent’s Logic, Intimidation, OR Persuasion bars… but NOT their Patience.
You lose if any of your four bars are completely drained, or if your opponent runs out of Patience. You win if you drain any of the other three bars from your opponent. Think of it this way—if he runs out of patience, he’ll storm off before you can make your point.

Categories / Classes:
Recapping the four bars, think of the categories like this:
Logic: A measure of how “right” your argument is.
Intimidation: A measure of how “strong” you appear.
Persuation: A measure of how “convincing” you are.
Patience: A measure of how much longer you can continue debate.
Your offensive/defensive abilities will also fall under these categories. When you first start the Diplomacy system, you choose from one of six classes—a reflection of your character’s personality, and usual approach to discussion. Each of the categories has two classes—one primarily offensive, one primarily defensive. Each class has two high stats (one primary, one secondary), one average stat, and one low stat:

LOGIC:
1) Pragmatist (Off.)
HIGH: Logic / Intimidation
MID: Persuasion
LOW: Patience
2) Ambassador (Def.)
HIGH: Logic / Patience
MID: Intimidation
LOW: Persuasion

INTIMIDATION:
3) Dominator (Off.)
HIGH: Intimidation / Persuasion
MID: Logic
LOW: Patience
4) Stoic (Def.)
HIGH: Intimidation / Patience
MID: Persuasion
LOW: Logic
PERSUASION:
5) Advocate (Off.)
HIGH: Persuasion / Logic
MID: Intimidation
LOW: Patience
6) Empath (Def.)
HIGH: Persuasion / Patience
MID: Logic
LOW: Intimidation
Offensive classes hope to burn down the opponent’s bar before losing Patience—risky, but faster. Defensive classes hope to withstand more attacks while more slowly draining the opponent’s bars—hopefully before the OPPONENT runs out of Patience. Different strategies, both entirely viable, all dependent on the personality of the character.

Advancement
Winning Diplomatic encounters earns Diplomacy Skill Points. These points can be invested in getting new “attacks” or “defenses,” or on improving any of the four stats. Players may choose to have a lot of different ability options, or to try and off-set the inherent weaknesses of their class (while sacrificing some flexibility).
These Abilities (or attacks) may spend points from one of your bars to attack a bar of your opponents. Others may spend points from one bar to REGAIN points on another of your bars. The success of failure of an ability depends on a comparison of your bars—a Persuasion attack, for instance, would succeed if your Persuasion was higher than your opponents. Defensive abilities (since they don’t target your opponent’s bar) always land, much like “heals.”
I would also consider working random dice rolls into the exchange, such that even having a higher Persuasion doesn’t GUARANTEE you’ll succeed… but also being slightly lower doesn’t mean instant failure. In this case, the difference in points would be a modifier on the “roll.” Either way, it’s better to use an ability where you have the advantage.

Sample Encounter
You decide to open with an ability called "Angry Bluff" (Hey, I suck at naming things). This is an Intimidation attack that costs some Logic and Patience to use. If successful, it drains some Intimidation and a little Patience from your opponent.

You succeed, and your opponent loses a bit of his own Intimidation bar, and a little Patience, too. As a defensive move, he employs "Pointed Silence," which sacrifices some Patience to regain some Intimidation--essentially staring you down silently. This is obviously an important bar for his strategy.

Your turn again, and you decide not to continue attacking his Patience--he seems wiling to give that up. It's his Intimidation you want to reduce. Spending a bit more Logic, you attack with a Persuasion ability--"Lofty Boast." Unfortunately, his Persuasion was just a bit better than yours this round--your attack fails.

He counters with a blow to your Logic, since you've been neglecting losses here. "Talk in Circles" is a Persuasion attack, to make you doubt your own point--it costs some Persuasion, but hits your Logic pretty hard, and knocks out a little Patience as well.

Basically, this exchange continues until a win or loss.

PvP
While I’d certainly be open to allowing players to “duel” using this system, the primary use I see for this in the PvP sphere is more as a “competitive PvE” tool. You use it to gain favor on Neutral Zone systems, which in addition to military might can contribute toward gaining control there—allowing non-combat-oriented folks to contribute to the war effort.

Rewards
Wide-open topic. I recommend keeping rewards small, so they don’t break game balance. Avoid gear. I would focus instead on things like:

a) Allowing access to more missions, or providing bonus XP / Money from missions if you have strong diplomatic relations with the system.
b) The ability to recruit officers sooner—not better officers, just earlier access than someone with average diplomatic reputation there.
c) Cosmetics and titles – the sort of players drawn to these systems often enjoy these, too.

The bonuses to XP and money are important, so that players who choose to engage in Diplomacy gameplay aren’t left to feel like they’ve given up advancement time. You take some time to build up your diplomacy, and as a bonus you get more XP for your missions here (which actually helps you catch up on the XP you “missed” by not going straight to combat). Everyone ends up near the same place, but you take a different path to get there… and players that do both get their just a little bit faster.

The idea is that the system is rewarding enough that players will give it a shot and not feel “punished” by lost time… but also not overly-rewarding so that players feel they have to “grind diplomacy” just to stay competitive.

Branching Storylines?
Another way to handle rewards is to allow them to change depending on the results of your Diplomatic exchanges. Maybe if you beat this opponent through Intimidation, he gives you more money for your missions… but if you win through Logic, you get access to a few extra missions… or if you win through Persuasion, your recruitment here goes smoother. The way you win could also impact what other NPCs you could interact with on that system… here, the system could really show a lot of flexibility.