Some will realize that I’ve already been building up a system that guarantees the player can do a large variety of small, skill-based things, which I call my sage system. I might have already created a “gambling” ability that included “being able to buy into a game.”
Revisiting the topic: I have an NPC generator that produces an array of data points for any given character. I can determine certain details as necessary ~ such as profession or social status ~ but if I don’t, the program does it for me. It takes but a moment to load the file and click a button, and I have a fully fledged character ready to insert into my world.
From there, I know certain things about the character. I know his profession, his status in society, his personality and motivation and desire, his class and general skills, etc. I will know his relationships with other members of town and with the players. In most cases, this will be enough to play the part, to make decisions for the NPC and to respond to the players’ requests and inquiries.
Just in case it isn’t ~ in those instances where the players present interesting opportunities or they suss the NPC’s thoughts or I just bloody well don’t know if the character can be swayed or not ~ in those cases, the player can roll dice.
The base roll is generally 2d8 against the NPC’s threshold (that being a value determined by a 6d4 roll), but certain relationships and/or requests can modify that base.
A “y” on the table indicates that the request is immediately successful, while an “n” indicates that it fails.
Briefly, a job is any activity that falls within the NPC’s trade or field of expertise, while a task is something that falls outside that area; and the definition of a gift will vary from one culture to the next. And while the relationships identified are mostly self-explanatory, it should be noted that celebrity is a special category reserved for persons of exceptional social status or reputation. Finally, it is the NPC who determines the relationship, not the player. The player may think the local innkeeper is a friend when he is truly harboring a deep resentment toward the PC for his unsuccessful wooing of the innkeeper’s daughter last season (making him an acquaintance at best and more likely an enemy).
Note that this table is not meant to be all-inclusive. As it’s also a work in progress, I’ll probably make changes before testing it in actual play. There might be relationships that I’ve missed, and there’s very likely activities (or requests) that warrant their own entry. There are also going to be circumstances that deserve modifiers, either as static plusses or minuses to the die roll, or as a change to the base roll. (I should also note that Charisma provides a static modifier on all influence rolls.)
Most important, a character’s skills may provide opportunity to roll better dice or to flat out succeed under specific circumstances. A cleric or paladin might use his knowledge of the church or faith to convince a believer that a particular course of action must be pursued. A wizard or a thief might use his knowledge of mercantilism (which I see as an early study of economics and human behavior) to convince a merchant to adjust his selling price (or his buying price, if the players are trying to offload merchandise of their own). A fighter or ranger might use his skill with leadership to convince a hireling to travel deeper into a dungeon, despite the obvious dangers ~ and if used often enough, and the hireling performs well and makes his morale checks, that NPC could easily transition from hireling to follower to henchman, acquiring levels in an adventuring class and falling under the control of the player.
I don’t see this giving way to the ludicrous if only because I’m employing two standards: the first is that the DM has to make a judgment call concerning whether the player’s goal ~ getting the NPC to change his behavior ~ is even feasible; and the second is that I’m not using level as a determinant for the roll. (Of course, things can change rather quickly once we bring magic into the mix.)
I am toying with a means of applying this system to the players’ reputation as a whole but there are challenges to overcome first (specifically, understanding the practical limitations of word-of-mouth communication in a largely medieval world). Clearly there is much work to be done still.