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
I. Why Diplomacy?
II. Types of Diplomacy
III. Proposed Diplomacy System
b. Categories / Classes
d. Sample Encounter
V. Branching Storylines?
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The last discussion (on the now-archived forums) generated some decent discussion on how we could do PvP, or even expand beyoned 1v1 encounters, into 1v1v1, with NPC involvement. That content is posted below:
I think if it was done for ALL of them, it would lose the novelty... but for some of the major missions that would involve big negotiations, I think it would make the setting seem more appropriate--for instance, negotiating a treaty of some sort usually demands neutral third-party oversight.
But to extend this idea a bit, I think it could fit well in some high-level missions for you, as a Federation (or Klingon) representative, to SERVE as the moderator between two factions. I'll admit this would take some adjustment, as the current design only really takes into account 1v1 encounters.... but perhaps any of these solutions could work for 1 v 1 v 1:
1) The encounter has a countdown, and the two negotiating factions are playing against each other. The job of the Player-Moderator is to intervene and ensure that neither side's bars run out before the time limit expires. Turns go back and forth between the negotiators, but the Player-Moderator can interrupt and play an ability when necessary.... I really don't like this idea as a whole, but it could be workable.
2) Instead of just a countdown, the game plays out like a tug-of-war, in which the moderator switches to whichever side is losing (based on remaining points in various bars). This can be indicated on the screen in any number of ways, so the player can keep the argument toward the "middle ground." And as long as the countdown (whether it be a timer or number of turns) ends in that middle ground, the outcome is an acceptable compromise.
3) Like 2, but instead of ANY kind of countdown, the encounter ends when one side does, in fact, reduce one of his opponent's bars to zero. But the "compromise indictaor," whatever form that may take, still has to be toward the middle ground... basically, the player doesn't decide who wins, but they are there to ensure it's not a STOMPING.
4) The Player-Moderator actually has a two-part encounter going on. For one turn, they're playing against Side A, then they switch to Side B. So now the player has to use their skills and bars to bring down TWO opponents (and depending on how cooldowns are done, you might not be able to use the same skills on both opponents!). If the Player-Moderator succeeds, both sides reach compromise.
The more I think about it, the more I think 3 and 4 are totally workable for this sort of encounter. Due to balance issues, I would never go beyond 1v1v1. Even PvP could be Fed v Klingon, with an NPC "moderator" playing the role from #2 or #3 above--basically, you want to win, but not so quickly that you take the full NPC "aggro."
This would be akin to a PvE combat encounter in which a Fed and a Klingon are fighting a boss AND each other...... you want to win, but you also need the opponent to help you kill the boss. And at the very least, you want to be able to transfer the aggro to them when you need a break, but take it back before they die (leaving you alone to face the boss).... Yeah, this could work.
But that would, of course, be endgame-style stuff. The "standard fare" would be 1v1 encounters.
Sounds a lot like the Diplomacy system from Vanguard, which was a pretty great addition for a MMO. It was really a way to drive the games story and produce gamewide events and triggers. Done right, with the right method of play it could be a decent idea. BTW, the Diplomacy System in Vanguard was my second favorite thing about the game so I'm not knocking the idea. Only concern I have is that it might be a little more than the Cryptic Crew can handle.
Short term, absolutely.... but this would be an idea for long-term additions to the game.
If they get the idea that we don't think "Go here and read this text, then go here and click this glowy, and then go back and read more text" qualifies as "diplomatic mission content," they'll be willing to at least LOOK at working on it.
I think this is a brilliant idea for an addition. You see, for games like WOW and SWG I really get myself into the mode of 'ok, i need to grind combat in this game to do x and y' but when I first looked at STO I was relishing the possibility to play differently, I would say smartly.
The questions I have are these:
1, How would you propose the interface of such a system work? I always assume that something like this would function very well like a deck of cards (or an allocation of skills if you like) but you would have limited access and have to choose them before the encounter. These cards could be the loot of the system, and would be likened to small tidbits of information gleaned from previous diplomatic conquests and even data assimilated from enemy starship/installation computers during the course of your normal gameplay.
You could even have another form of trade in the game, essentially black market information brokerage; where by players can trade information about certain planets/empires/NPC's etc that can then be used in diplomatic gameplay through your system.
2, how do you plan on mixing an actual story into this system?
I think having a back story for a start (could be long and complex) but once negotiations start the view possibly zooms away to a bystander view, All the bystanders see are two beings engaged in highly animated conversation, but the story doesn't change at all until either party loses or comes to a compromise.
As I see it there couldn't be a branching storyline based on every decision you make in the diplomatic game because there would be far too much work required for Cryptic to keep it fresh and not seeming like the same old grind. There needs to be a viable outcome for all ending possibilities without making it boring.
For example, you arrive at a border dispute on a planet in the form of a blockade (this would be a 1 v 1 v 1 where you are the mediator).
both parties are prepared to resort to violence unless they get what they want, you wade in with your imposing Galaxy Class and offer them to board your ship to conduct negotiations in a neutral environment. Automatically you would gain an intimidation bonus (and perhaps a respect modifier from the Federation sympathetic) on the delegation.
You are given a background such as 'a new elected ruler has ousted the ex military ruler of a planet and that person has implemented a trade blockade because he feels he was unfairly ousted'
You then mediate their back and forth while making sure that neither party unfairly intimidates the other.
You make sure to keep the compromise bar (or indicator) in the 'fair' range (which would be in the vicinity of 35-65% range) to ensure that once one of the parties loses the debate that both are happy.
Depending on the outcome, there would be 3 different endings for the story, all would give different rewards to you. One would be a win for the aggressor side, Two would be a win for the defense side, Three would be a compromise and the final would be a complete break down of negotiations where hostilities would ensue and you would need to conduct 'forceful negotiations'
You mentioned above that you could gain certain cosmetics, I would suggest a different form of away team. They would function in combat just like a typical red-shirt squad (you forego the military approach because you want to appear neutral and not hostile). You would be wearing a form of formal diplomatic garb and your team would be doing the same, but more menacing. You could also include a translator who you also would acquire through winning previous diplomatic encounters.
But that away team would and should be dressed in such a way as to inspire awe and reservation in your opponents granting you a bonus to intimidation. (think of how intimidating Emperor Palpatine is with his Imperial Guard). The point here is that if the negotiations did break down and the two parties started fighting amongst themselves then you have the need to resort to violence to placate the aggressors.
All weapons would be set to stun for these encounters, after all you aren't going in to kill them, just the mediation.
Once they have settled down again you then have options yourself of setting terms that must be adhered to by both parties, all sanctioned by the United Federation of Planets.
At that point, where you had brought about a win by either side, a compromise, or you had forced UFP terms because one party got a raucous, the mission would be over. At this point is where you would gain new 'cards' that could be played, new tidbits of insider information, and if you handled it all impeccably you may get offered a new translator/aide from one of the factions which would buff a diplomatic stat or perhaps help to placate an alien race.
I think my ideas are all over the place and I am sorry for that. I really like your ideas. But it seems where I am going with it could be considered a completely different game.