A big part of the Duel of Wits is Speaking the Part:
The problem I’ve had is that eventually, players run out of things to say. This is especially the case when presenting evidence-based arguments, such as in a trial (I had this issue when running Twilight in the Duchy Verborden, for example). But even with logicial or emotional appeals, there are only so many Points one can make without repitition.
Ultimately, this is a failure to properly match the rules the stakes: if I or the players run out of arguments before the end of the duel, then we probably should have used the Not a Big Deal rules or just done a simple versus test. But it can be difficult to determine this from the outset. Furthermore, there are times when one might want to use a more advanced subsystem for educational purposes, even if it isn’t the most appropriate (particularly in demo games, con games, etc). Finally, less experienced role-players will probably just not be as good at coming up with in-character arguments on the spot. Even amongst experienced role-players, some people are just better at coming up with arguments on the spot. You could have everything right: the climax of the campaign where everyone’s beliefs are on the line and the fate of the world hangs in the balance, but just have players who lose steam after the second exchange. It’s not their fault – this is a difficult task; there’s a reason debate teams study and rehearse arguments before the debate. But it still makes for suboptimal gameplay.
What I want to know is, how do you deal with Duels of Wits what drag on too long? Do you penalize repeated arguments? Do you end the duel early, with (presumably) both parties giving compromises but neither party fully achieving their intent?
Penalize repeating yourself, note that if you’re frustrated in real life you might as well start doing frustrated-things like Incite and Dismiss. Pretty sure you can RP a Dismiss that’s 90% ad-hominem and it’ll be just fine…
Do you have the actual scripts you and your players wrote for each exchange?
I haven’t penalized repeated arguments (though a really good argument could get an advantage die!) or ended the duel early, though I don’t see why you couldn’t end it early if both parties agreed (obviously you wouldn’t want someone to end it early to try to avoid consequences) - it’d be kind of like both parties backing out of a fight or getting tired of arguing. Context matters, but generally in that case to avoid getting mired in ambiguity, I’d say either a compromise is needed or there isn’t enough there to come to a conclusion and there couldn’t be another DoW until there was a notable change in the situation or evidence.
A DoW that fizzles during a climatic scene is definitely disappointing, though! I love DoWs, but they’re not all amazing. On a meta level, to avoid running out of things to say and making it feel more like a conversation or exchange rather than a lengthy exposition or speech (which can be better handled with an Oratory roll), I find it’s helpful to encourage everyone to keep their points really brief. Or even loosen up a little on confines of the action to include it more conversationally, again depending on context. Even a single piece of evidence may have several important things to say about it (possibly using different FoRKs to suggest different angles). Sometimes it’s frustrating to hold back a bit, but if the DoW ends early and key things are left unsaid, they can be included as part of a denouement afterwards, where you’d do some roleplaying to resolve the scene, but with an eye towards the mechanical DoW conclusion.
Sometimes it’s also helpful to remember that in real life conversations or courtrooms, points often do get rehashed or drawn out for emphasis or because people get frustrated or desperate, or talk past each other. Letting some of that infuse the DoW can make the exchange feel a little more organic. I try to own that exasperation or rehash a point to give it more emotional resonance. So if my character just objected to a proposal because it’s dangerous and I’d already said why, I might say it again with more feeling, describing the worry in their eyes or the way their voice catches. So it might be the same point, but there’d be more to it.
Doing a DoW for demo purposes won’t show it’s good side if no one’s into it, but taking a few extra moments in the set up to rachet up the tension and emphasize what’s at stake for each party can help participants get into it. That can even help a DoW in a more established game - sometimes players aren’t running on all cylinders and can use a little fire.
All that said, there’s no guarantee of an amazing DoW every time as you know. Though I find that’s true of any attempt at a climactic scene in a roleplaying game. We don’t have writers and editors and we’re all coming at a scene from different angles and sometimes the dice don’t help - it’s the unpredictable nature of the beast. But that’s also the thrill because sometimes scenes surprise us or turn out to be really exciting and remind us why we do this in the first place.
I’ve mostly avoided penalties for repetition because I think that the role-playing itself discourages repetition. I’m worried that it will just end up in the same situation – halfway through each other’s body of arguments with no argument left – but with an extra penalty to drag things out. But as a way to further encourage players to move to maneuvers like Incite and Dismiss, it might work.
Alas, I don’t. It was almost a year ago at this point. I do recall the players scripted more Points/Rebuttals than anything else. I think that was in part due to our preconceptions of how a trial should play out – i.e., in a modern trial, you rarely see anything other than Point and Rebuttal (Avoid and Incite would be prematurely ended by the judge, and Feint and Dismiss don’t fit the structure of a trial). Now none of this necessarily apply in a medieval trial, but it will still affect our expectations and how we role-play it.
These are some very good points. I’ll definitely keep this in mind!