Duel of Wits "It'll happen but how much will it cost?"

In the game I’m playing at the moment we’ve had a couple of DoWs in which the statement of purpose has been about how much a particular exchange of service would cost.

Last session we wanted an NPC to accept a pardon, testify against a criminal, lend his men and personal expertise and work for the council.

The NPC wanted a permanent, irrevocable status and the right to act for the city without answering to the council in exchange for testifying and accepting the pardon without making a fuss.

Unless he decided to escalate to violence it looked like we would progress to him returning to the city and testifying against the criminal. We won with a major compromise. Now that’s meant to feel a bit like losing whilst your statement is still technically honoured. But the stakes were so opposed that we just had to draw a line down the middle of those stakes and continue.

On another occasion we wanted an NPC to tell us about the secret passage the undead crawled in through for the good of the city. He wanted to tell us but in exchange for being made chief librarian. Again we compromised and now he’s the underclerk or records, a lower title.

Should we handle these things differently? A simple vs? We got mileage out of the roleplaying on both occasions but got stuck on the compromise.

What was the statement of purpose on the other side of the DoW?

I tried to write a reply, and it exploded into a blog post instead: http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2012/09/10/bwcompromise/

While what I’m recommending is somewhat of a rules drift, I think you can be a little looser with compromises in favor of NPCs, as far as sticking to NPC intent, since as the GM you’re not going to feel cheated on it. That said, make sure you don’t pull a “gotcha” compromise on players and it’s fine.

As far as the criminal example - I would have probably had the criminal only have to be under the oversight of ONE person on the Council, and the person who is most favorable to him… because that would lead to interesting, later problems.


Council positions are subject to elections in the free city of Brecht. I’d have to paraphrase his SoP below.

Ulrich wanted a permanent, irrevocable, autonomous and recognised position of protector of the city with his men.

But if he had that he’d be happy to testify, protect the city and accept the pardon. Which is everything we wanted. We didn’t want to hand him power.

The rules assume that one side winning implies the other side does not get what they want. And that was not true in this case. The more we refined what we wanted the more it became directly opposed rather than cross purposes.

That’s an interesting call Chris. That could have been a really good one.

In my groups, when we’re evaluating “DoW or versus?”, we do this very careful dance where we kind of poke at what compromises might look like. If we can come up with any kind of compromise on both sides, at least we know a DoW is possible. If not, then we evaluate if it’s really a versus, or just a straight test opposed by Will (i.e. does the other side actually want anything out of this or are they just shaking their head and crossing their arms and hoping to put this to rest forever)?

It’s a very careful dance because we don’t want to prenegotiate outcomes. We just want to make sure we haven’t come up with mutually exclusive goals, which is a dumb mistake we tend to make a lot.

Useful post, Chris. I like the tips about using authority, reputations and power as compromise fodder. You comment that logistical wrinkles are good for minor compromises; I wonder if that’s less true in Quest-type campaigns, where logistical issues are larger (travel in particular)?

Hi Michael,

I didn’t get into it, but logistics can matter, but it’s very contextual. For example, if you’re crossing the desert, giving up 3 days’ of water supplies is a BIG DEAL. Or, if you are going to fight the Undead King and someone will only offer their help if you give them your awesome magical sword, that also is a big deal.

In both cases, though, the logistics work because they end up opening the door for problems later on.

The pitfall to avoid is that players got into the Duel of Wits because there was something they cared about - but if you make them pay something in logistics that they don’t care about (“spend some more money” “Ok, sure, whatever”) it shouldn’t have been a DoW to begin with.

The other issue with logistics is that part of what makes a “deal” work is that people are negotiating up front what they want - if you suddenly pull out “And now give me 3 days water” it can change the context of the whole negotiation and the players feel cheated - “I would have argued for a different angle/I would have walked away if I knew that was being asked for”… which is where I think some groups get caught on doing compromises.

Social costs are easier to pull off because that’s always at stake just being in a social conflict. For bonus fun, you can even have the impression at stake be what the opposing side THINKS of you. (“They’ll help you, but they think you’re scheming bastards and you get the feeling if things turn sour, they will not go beyond the letter of the agreement to help.” “You lost the argument, but now they think of you as honorable and would probably be open for other negotiations in the future…”)


We recently had a sort of ‘how much will it cost’ DoW that felt a bit like a fizzle, IMO, I’m sure I could have handled it differently.

The players wanted explosives from a old ally they had (in his mind) betrayed to joining (and in fact, taking command of) an enemy faction. Because of his resentment, I added some hefty stakes - the players would have to swear to be vassals to their former ally, resuming the flow of taxes from occupied Nolloth to Keroon. They added a bunch more of their own, wanting a hefty financial reward for dispatching the liche.

In the end, winning but with a major compromise, we would up trading off the vassaldom for the reward. Once the dust had cleared, I realized the players had walked away with what they’d wanted in the first place, without any additional concessions. Duh.

Honestly I think you’re just having a Haggling test at that point. Nobody’s really being convinced of anything meaningful (will he or won’t he?), it’s just a price negotiation.