A Duel of Wits Problem

Ok, so first, I want to make it perfectly clear that I love the Duel of Wits. Social Conflict resolution systems are amazing and more games need them.

That said, I’m having a serious problem with the balance of the maneuvers. Specifically, there seems little reason to pick anything other than Point and Dismiss in an attempt to drive down the opponents disposition as quickly as possible. Occasionally, someone will script an Obfuscate. Rebuttal almost never get’s used because so many maneuvers defeat it, and it’s at best a zero-sum game against Point. Feint never gets used because it fails against Point or Dismiss, which are already the most common maneuvers.

This tends to make our Duels of Wits very predictable. Am I just missing something? If not, has anyone else run into this problem, and how did they deal with it?


you are missing the power of the compromise mechanics…

'why not just script point/point/point" is an ageless topic that keeps popping up on these forums. do a search and you’ll find tons of them.

the gist - if you don’t care about keeping the other person from getting a compromise, script point/point/point… but most experienced players of BW tend to script and roleplay their parts the way their characters would, and if you’re not worried about avoiding that ugly compromise, then you and your opponent aren’t setting the stakes for the DoW high enough. rebuttal is a great maneuver that i often use to keep my opponent from knocking down my body of argument, especially when even a compromise is ugly…

Another good reason to not script Point/Point/Point is the old increase of Ob for repeating oneself. I tend to give my PCs a +1Ob for making the same Point and this curbs their enthusiasm for scripting only Point.

And Incite seems to be the easiest action to gain advantage dice for- players FORK in all sorts of wises/previously stated facts for these and if their line is particularly barbed I throw in bonus dice. The past 2 duel of wits I played were won by the same first volley scripting: Rebuttal/Obfuscate/Incite. (Now the next one is sure not to be)

And you say that rebuttal is less useful because it is so easily countered, but if people are only scripting points then it’s not going to be countered.

What Jonathan said about compromises is certainly the case, the more those hurt the more the game becomes not losing your own BoA rather than just taking off the opponent’s.

I wouldn’t underestimate good ol Obfuscate.

Obfuscate is great as it’s always a vs test which means you always have a fair chance of pulling it off.

I’m sorry to say that the ‘Rebuttal prevents compromise’ argument simply does not hold up. Each die the Rebutting character puts into defense can reduce his opponent’s Point, but it also reduces the number of dice in his own attack. The dispositions are decreased at the same rate regardless. All scripting Rebuttal against Point accomplishes is to make the DOW last longer. As such, there’s no reason to script Rebuttal, and every reason not to in case the opponent does end up throwing one of those Rebuttal defeating Maneuvers in there.

Obfuscate does show up some times, because it uses different skills than Point if for no other reason, but Point is still clearly better. If the Pointing character wins, he knocks down his opponent’s disposition (and get’s a bonus on his next roll, as I recall), as it’s an all or nothing thing. The Obfuscate’s successes don’t reduce the Point’s successes in the same way a Rebuttal does. If the Obfuscating character wins, all he gets is a +1Ob to the other guy’s next action.

The idea of giving characters an increasing +Ob penalty if they keep scripting point/point/point isn’t a bad one, and I’m also in favor of giving Incite a few bonus dice, as it’s so hard to pull off and only questionably useful even when it works. Not to mention the penalties for failure! (I’m pretty sure those weren’t there in Revised, but maybe that’s wrong).

Personally, I house rule Rebuttal to give a +1D to both Offensive and Defensive pools when scripted against a Point. That way, said Rebuttal gains an advantage against Point, making it much more popular. This in turn makes the maneuvers that work well against Rebuttal (like Feint) more popular, and suddenly there’s a nice balance of Maneuvers.

Hi Oren,
Sounds like you could just use versus tests to resolve arguments in your game, rather than going to the trouble of using the DoW system.


Nah, I loves me a good DoW, although I obviously use a vs test on simple arguments that aren’t of sufficient scale to merit a Duel. The issue of point/point/point is just something that comes up with my more experienced players, and I was wondering how other people resolved it, or if there was something built into the system that I missed. My house rule works just fine for my games in any case.

Assuming both sides have equal dueling skills, yes. But that can just as easily not be the case. In fact, it’s pretty rare that all the players at the table have equal dueling skills, so it’s going to be pretty unlikely that your enemies will all match up with the players perfectly, as well.
In my experience, the only time when you can really count on most people having similar skill levels is at the beginning of a campaign, at which point, Avoid the Topic is a more powerful defense than Point is an attack. Avoid the Topic and then dropping artha on a Dismiss can annihilate a Point-Point-Pointer.

To me, point-point-point is only going to net situational advantage dice when it’s a situation for a logical debate. Any time it’s more about emotion or the players play up their characters’ character traits, regardless of tactic, you can expect a lot more advantage dice being thrown around. Especially when you Incite. There’s a difference between being an annoying smartass and saying something detailed and obscene about your opponent’s daughter.

Plus, the argument still happens in the fiction. If your opponent is all fired up and you’re just behaving like a rational robot, whether you win or lose the DoW, you’re going to appear cold and that’s going to piss that guy off a lot more than if you acted like you cared. It’s not always about winning. In fact, the best moments are frequently losing in a way that gets you some other advantage - making the winner look like a bully or proving to someone else you have their back, etc.

Eh, I think we can agree to disagree on the first two points (no pun intended). I do always try to throw in advantage dice when characters speak arguments that are clever rather than “YOU’RE WRONG YOU’RE WRONG YOU’RE WRONG!”

Don’t disregard how the skills are used. If you’re just making a cogent point using facts or if you’re trying to convince your opponent of a truth, you should be using Rhetoric. Even if your ultimate goal is to get something from your opponent, unless a particular Point is delivered from a friendlier, “see things from my perspective” kind of tone, Rhetoric is far more appropriate than Persuasion. And when you’re trying to pry out information, Interrogation is appropriate. If everyone is allowed to just ride Persuasion all day, regardless of what is said, then, yea, Persuasion is going to get bloated, DoW is a lot easier, and the fiction of every discussion becomes incredibly one-note.
I’m not saying that’s your game, I have no idea, but if you really have a bunch of characters waltzing around with 5+ in multiple dueling skills, then, yea, both sides are incredible speakers for whom it makes perfect sense to fire off a bunch of points. And if what they want in a game is to persuade people who aren’t strong of will, at that point, you might as well just say yes and move on. Only bring in a roll or a DoW when they’re facing someone who has great leverage in the situation or has great force of will or is a tremendous negotiator. At which point, Point-Point-Point could lose badly to Avoid-Rebuttal-Dismiss.

Throwing in advantage dice for just regular ol’ good arguments might actually exacerbate your problem. Again, I’d have to be at your table to know, but it sounds like you could be giving preference to cogent debate even if that’s not what’s important in the fiction. If you’re trying to keep a bereaved king whose son has just died from going to war, that’s probably not a guy who is prepared to listen to reason. There’s no problem with piling on disadvantage for trying to make clever points. The game is loaded with situational modifiers that drastically alter the validity of point-point-point. It’s just up to you to include such things.

Thanks for the advice.


6d versus 4d, BOA 8 versus 12. Tie, right? Point point point with the most likely result being a tie? The argument being that player 1 does about 3 damage a turn which knocks out his opponent in 4 turns, while player 2 does about 2 damage a turn which knocks out his opponent in 4 turns.

Okay, let’s let player 1 rebut. For proof of concept, we’ll put 1 die into defense and 5 into attack. Now player 1 does about 2.5 damage a turn and player 2 does a little more than 1.5. So player 1 wins in around 12/2.5=4.8 turns, but player 2 wins in a bit less than 8/1.5=5.3 turns. Hey look, player 1 is winning!

Why does this happen? Because while the average difference in damage remains the same (actually shifting in favor of the player with less dice who is not rebutting ever), it’s the ratio of damage dealt per turn that matters, not the difference in damage dealt per turn.

Another easy way to see this is to consider someone with 20 dice versus someone with 2. Of course they should rebut, that will almost guarantee avoiding all compromise.

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You have done more for my understanding in this one post than in all those other threads combined.

We need some +1s in this house.

To go back to compromise, your players should not want a compromise ever. Even a minor compromise should sting. A major compromise should be making them wail in agony and question if it was worth it.

Yeah, totally. The compromise mechanism is pretty much the only reason DoW works at all. If you’re going toe-to-toe on Points and you just barely eke out your “win”, it had better suck.

For kicks I’m writing a DoW simulator, where I can run scripts (or scripting strategies, like scripting randomly) against one another to see what happens over zillions of trials. The part that’s unexpectedly thorny is just resolving the actions, and so far I’ve only got Avoid, Dismiss, Point, and Rebuttal scripted.

The strategies are similarly basic - Point x 3, Dismiss x3, a random mix of Points and 50/50 rebuttals, one that just picks actions at random, and then the first vaguely smart one which scripts points against better opponents and rebuttals (with carefully chosen splits) against weaker opponents. (So far the only script that punches above its weight is the all-Dismiss script, and that’s just because it eats Rebuttal-heavy scripts alive. This will surely go away once I get more realistic scripts into the mix.)