If the stakes are low and the participants are all friendly with each other, you probably want to use Informal Negotiation. Examples include asking a friend to pick up the tab at lunch, or swapping shifts with your co-worker for the weekend so you can go to a concert.
Informal Negotiation is quick, simple, and easy -- just roll an unopposed difficulty check using any appropriate Persuasion skill. An 'appropriate' skill is one that makes sense under the circumstances; you ordinarily wouldn't Intimidate your friend into going on a roller coaster, but you might Intimidate your friend into giving up her car keys when she's drunk.
The GM will tell you your target based on how much you are asking for, who you are asking it of, and how savvy or hard-nosed your partner is. A typical DC for an ordinary deal among friends is 10. Suckage points spent on informal negotiation will usually go to the terms of the deal, rather than your negotiating itself. E.g., it wouldn't make any sense to say that you spend twice as much money on materials that you use to convince your friend to buy everyone drinks...instead, you might account for a suckage point by promising to buy the next two rounds.
Informal Negotiation cannot be aided by allies or secondary skills.
If you score a marginal success on an Informal Negotiation (short of the target by less than 10 points), you can choose to immediately enter Semi-Formal Negotiations, although this may annoy your character's friends and make your character look like a blowhard. Only hipsters sit their sweeties down for serious heart-to-heart talks about which movie is worth seeing. If you fail an Informal Negotiation roll entirely, you cannot revisit the subject with the same person for the next hour.
If the stakes are high enough that the episode or at least a relevant subplot could turn on the outcome, or if the parties are doing more than a few hundred credits' worth of business and don't know each other personally, you should probably use Semi-Formal Negotiation. Examples include buying a car, accepting a courier contract, inviting a barfly home to see your 'sketchbooks,' or convincing a judge to let your friend out on bail. Semi-formal negotiations usually last about three minutes in game time.
Semi-formal Negotiation happens in five stages:
(1) Determine who the lead PC in the negotiation is. Only 1 PC gets to play an active role in Semi-formal Negotiation regardless of how many PCs are indirectly involved. Usually, the lead PC is whoever has the highest total of (Current Wit total + Ranks in Bargain). If all the PCs are on the same 'side' of the negotiations, they may mutually agree to nominate a different leader.
(2) Determine how many offers each other 'team' in the negotiations will listen to before losing their patience and walking away. Usually there are only two teams in a negotiation, but one could imagine, e.g., a three-way deal between the government, an employer, and a labor union, or a four-way Mexican standoff. A team's Patience is equal to the cube root of its (Current Highest Individual Focus total + Highest Individual Ranks in Endure + Highest Individual Ranks in Geniality), rounded down. For example, consider the Three Stooges. Larry has 24 Focus, 3 Endure, and -2 Geniality. Curly has 15 Focus, 5 Endure, and 6 Geniality. Moe has 28 Focus, 2 Endure, and 4 Geniality. Their team's Patience score is (max[24, 15, 28] + max[3, 5, 2] + max[-2, 6, 4])^(1/3) = (28 + 5 + 6)^(1/3) = cuberoot = 3. The Three Stooges have a Patience of 3, and so if they don't like one of the first three offers they hear, they'll walk. Most teams will have a Patience of 3 unless they are unusually tired or unusually indulgent. Note that you don't know your opponents' Patience until it's too late...the GM will write down the Patience and keep it a secret.
(3) Make an attempt to discover the (each) other team's bottom line. This is an opposed skill check using any Insight skill of your choice against your opponents' highest Deception skill, with a base difficulty of 15. There are no suckage points -- instead, if you miss the target by 10 points or more, you will get no information. If you miss the target by less than 10 points, you will get a general idea of your opponent's bottom line. If you meet or beat the target, you will start to get actual numbers that quantify your opponents' positions. If you beat the target by more than 10 points, you can usually expect to discover your opponent's exact bottom line, allowing you to make the most selfish offer that will be accepted. You may wish to make a slightly more generous offer so as to preserve good relations; an opponent will usually accept an offer made at the bottom line, but won't necessarily like it. If you miss the target by more than 15 points, the GM may feed you false information without telling you that the information is false. An opponent's bottom line will usually include his relationship with you, if any. For example, your boyfriend might be willing to rent you an apartment at a lower price than a stranger would. An attempt to discover a bottom line costs 2 Wit per bottom line, which must be spent by the lead negotiator. You get one chance to discover a bottom line per offer per opposing team. You may pass on any or all of your chances to conserve Wit.
(4) Make an offer and try to convince your opponent(s) to accept it. This is an unopposed skill check using the lead negotiator's Bargain skill, aided by any one person's best relevant substantive skill, e.g., Electrical Engineering. If your team has little or no relevant substantive skill, you may substitute half of your ranks in Act or Lie (pick one), rounded up. The person with the substantive skill can be either the lead negotiator or his teammate, but not both. The GM will set a difficulty based on how close your offer is to your opponents' bottom line. A generous offer will usually have a DC of 10; a fair offer would be 15; a hard bargain would be 20, and an offer exactly at your opponent's bottom line would be 25. Offers below your opponents' bottom line have exponentially increasing DCs; e.g., attempting to walk off with a car at three-quarters the price the dealership paid for it, assuming you're not a personal friend of the dealer and the dealer isn't going bankrupt, might have a DC of 45. If you meet or beat the target, the offer will be accepted. There are no suckage points, so if you miss the target, the offer will be refused. However, if you miss the target by less than 10 points, the GM may deliver a counter-offer, which you may accept immediately if you so choose. The more you miss the target by, the worse the counter-offer will be for you. If you reject the counter-offer, or if you missed by at least 10 points, your current offer expires. Making an offer costs 3 Wit per team that you are trying to convince, which must be spent by the lead negotiator.
(5) After your current offer expires, the GM checks to see if you have any more offers remaining before the other team(s) run out of Patience. If so, return to step 3, with a cumulative +5 bonus to discovering bottom lines. For example, your fourth discovery attempt would get a +15 bonus, since it benefits from the knowledge you gained from observing how each of your last three offers were received. If not, the negotiations end. You may not discuss the same topic with the same people for the next 24 hours unless the situation materially changes. Simply offering better terms do NOT count as a material change. Examples of material changes include revealing that the ship on which everyone is negotiating has suddenly landed at your highly secure secret moon base, that you are pregnant with an opposing party's child, or simply pulling out a deadly weapon for the first time.
Formal Negotiation is appropriate when the stakes are high enough to resolve an entire multi-episode plot arc, when the number of people with an interest in what is being decided is at least an order of magnitude greater than the number of people at the bargaining table, when tensions are very high, and/or when you are dealing on a high level with an unusually stuffy and bureaucratic culture. Examples include court-martialing a renegade but highly popular ship captain, brokering a long-term smuggling deal for fire gems, settling on a custody arrangement for kids after a divorce, or holding a ceremonial audience with an Inner Core stellar governor. Even a small Formal Negotiation will take at least an hour of game time; epic Formal Negotiations can go on for days.
There are three key stats to keep track of during a negotiation:
- Confidence -- your comfort level, faith in your abilities, and sense that you are about to achieve your goals. Personal to each character; compare to Stability. Characters can make DCs against Inspire to increase an ally's Confidence. You can also make a DC against Intimidate in order to raise your Confidence at the expense of your opponent's. Making an offer that gets accepted will automatically raise your Confidence, and making an offer that gets rejected will automatically lower your Confidence. By default, everyone enters a Negotiation with 20 Confidence, although this stat may be adjusted by up to 10 points in either direction by the GM based on who has home field advantage, who is dressed appropriately, and other situational factors.
- Expertise -- your familiarity with the subject matter, your level of preparation, and your ability to know what the hell you're talking about. Personal to each character; based on your ranks highest applicable skill, plus half your ranks in the higher of your Act or Improvise skill, rounded up. Note that there is no die roll or DC for basic Expertise; it is deterministically based on your skill ranks. Each character can make a Planning DC to increase Expertise before a negotiation starts (or during a break) if you know what the negotiation will be about or who it will be with. Except as provided by skills or Planning, nobody has any Expertise at the start of a Negotiation. When a negotiating team includes a 'social' maven and a technical expert, the social maven will usually be able to rely on the technical guy's (higher) expertise level, but ONLY when the two of them are willing and able to engage in significant nonverbal communication, which uses the Encode DC. If the Encode DC is failed, the social maven will be forced to rely on his own, lower level of Expertise for several ticks.
- Tension -- the intensity of the stakes, the urge to say something, the amount of stress the discussion would place on an ordinary participant. Tension is a global stat that applies to a whole room's worth of negotiators, or, if appropriate, to a whole conference's worth of delegates. Tension is automatically affected by long silences (increased), interim agreements (decreased), and certain kinds of aggressive personal attacks or surprises (increased). You can also spend a tick to artificially increase Tension by winning a difficulty check against Antagonize, or spend a tick to artificially decrease Tension by making a difficulty check against Geniality. By default, Tension starts at 0 in a Negotiation, although the GM may set any positive starting level of Tension based on the surrounding circumstances, e.g., the air conditioning is busted in Miami (5), or there's a hostage crisis (30), or the lead negotiators had a bitter divorce three years ago (20). A Tension increase of +10 represents a conversation that has escalated into a spirited debate, and a Tension increase of +20 indicates that participants are about ready to start throwing things at each other. Only seasoned negotiators can hope to keep talks going for more than a few ticks if the Tension Level is above 20.
The Basic Framework
Like combat, negotiation proceeds by ticks, with each character theoretically having a chance to perform an action on each tick, and with most characters instead choosing simply to recover and recharge on any given tick. At the end of each tick, i.e., after every character has taken an action or declined to do so, all characters must make and win a difficulty check against the Tension in the room, or else leave the negotiation.
The most important action that you can take is to make an Offer. Like shooting a bullet at someone, an Offer is a decisive ploy to alter the future in a very specific way. Unlike bullets, Offers must contain a proposal about who will do what, when it will happen, how it will happen, and/or where it will happen.
When facing an Offer, a character may always choose to simply Accept the offer, in which case other characters will assume that he or she agrees to the terms provided and will think of the character as a liar or a cheat if he or she does not go on to honor and comply with the offer's terms. Accept is the default option; if you do not find some other way of dealing with an Offer, then it is automatically accepted.
The strength of an Offer depends on
- The offeror's Expertise;
- The offeror's Confidence;
- The offeror's relationship with the receiver (good relationships make an Offer appear stronger, and hatred makes them appear weaker);
- The generousness of the terms (generous terms make an Offer appear stronger, and stingy or selfish terms make them appear weaker).
Relationships and Terms are each ranked by the GM on a -20 to +20 scale. Your archenemy, shortly after spanking your children and making them cry, would get a -20 penalty to his offers. Your reasonably good friend, shortly after buying you a six-pack of beer in one of your preferred brands, would get a +10 bonus to his offers.
Similarly, Terms that essentially amount to "You surrender and then we torture you, despite the fact that you're the only one in the room with a deadly weapon and you outnumber us," would get a -20 penalty. A slightly more realistic set of Terms, like, "It's an even fight right now, but if you surrender and give us your name, rank, and serial number then we promise not to hurt you" might only get a -8 penalty. A somewhat generous set of Terms, like "It's an even fight right now, but if you leave now I'll forget this nasty incident ever happened and let you escape with your ill-gotten gains," might enjoy a +4 bonus.
Note that an Offer might not settle all the important Terms that are up for debate. You might propose something like "Let's settle this in the next 15 minutes or we go back to shooting each other." That fixes a definite time for when something will happen, but it still counts as an Offer. If the other side isn't especially scared or especially aggressive, they might see that as a neutral Offer that would get a Terms bonus of +0.
To calculate the Appeal of an Offer, just add up your Expertise, your remaining Confidence, the Terms bonus, and the Relationship bonus. For example, suppose you are trying to get your significant other to see the wisdom in not driving at 130 mph in a residential suburb. You open the negotiations by offering her a backrub if she slows down to 110 mph. Although your girlfriend has seven ranks in Aggressive Driving, you have only one rank in Aggressive Driving. Fortunately, you have three ranks in Improvise, so your Expertise is 1 + (3/2) = 2.5, which rounds up to 3. You are at the very beginning of the negotiation, so your Confidence is 20. The terms are relatively generous -- offering a concession that will likely be appreciated in exchange for a minor change in behavior. The GM determines that it is worth a bonus of +2. Finally, your relationship with your girlfriend is intimate and healthy and you are not fighting about anything right now, giving you a relationship bonus of +14. Adding it all up, your Offer has an Appeal of 3 + 20 + 2 + 14 = 39: a rather appealing offer, but not an irresistible one.
Making *any* offer immediately costs you 3 Confidence points up front, regardless of what happens next. If you do not have at least 3 Confidence points, you cannot make an offer.
At the end of each tick, all players must roll a difficulty check against Tension using their Bargain skill, aided by Endure Pain. Characters who are participating in the negotiation themselves cannot aid each other in enduring Tension. Characters who are brought into the room purely for moral support, however, can and probably should aid on Tension rolls, using whatever single highest skill seems appropriate. For example, a housewife who was aiding negotiations might aid with "Baking (Pastries)." A talk show host might use "Small Talk" or "Geniality." People with the "Attractive" or "Seductive" characteristic get +2 to their attempts to aid Tension rolls.
Unlike other difficulty checks, you do not have to beat the check by at least 10 points to get a Full Victory. Rather, as long as your aided score is equal to or greater than the Tension, you may continue to negotiate without any penalties.
If you fail the check by 10 or fewer points (e.g., Tension is 15; you roll a 10 and have 2 points of Bargain skill; you fail the roll by 3, which is fewer than 10), you must spend Wit points up to the target in order to stay in the negotiation (in this example, you would spend 3 Wit points).
If you fail the check by between 10 and 20 points, you storm out of the room in a fit of nervousness or anger, and cannot re-enter the negotiation for the next hour.
If you fail the check by more than 20 points, you do something highly inappropriate and embarrassing, such as throwing a chair at your counterpart or revealing your side's bottom line or deep dark secret, at the GM's discretion.
Responses to Offers
If you don't want to Accept an Offer, the main alternatives are to Reject or Deflect the offer. Like taking cover or Dodging bullets, Rejection and Deflection can pose grave risks to your fatigue pools, and quickly tire people out.
Accepting an offer can be done for free, without a DC of any kind, unless your acceptance is so patently insincere that you need to win a DC with Act or Lie to avoid having your insincerity detected.
Accepting any offer automatically lowers the Tension in the room by 3 points (-3).
Rejecting an offer requires that your Expertise plus d20 be greater than or equal to the Appeal of the Offer. Thus, people who know exactly what they're talking about can reject even generous offers with aplomb, and people who have no idea what's going on may be duped into thinking that a stingy offer is the best they can get. If you attempt to Reject an offer and fail, you must either immediately accept the Offer or spend Wit fatigue points at a 1:1 ratio to make up the difference between your score and the strength of the Appeal. To carry over from the suburban driver example, suppose your speeding girlfriend is feeling ornery and wants to reject your offer of a backrub out of hand. She has 7 ranks in Aggressive Driving, 3 ranks in Improvise, and 4 ranks in Act, so she knows a fair bit about exactly what risks she can get away with, and can bluff a bit even beyond that. Taking 7 + (4/2) = 9, she has 9 Expertise. With an average d20 roll of 10, she would have 9 + 10 = 19 points, so she would need to draw down an extra 20 points from Fatigue in order to reject the offer.
This is a massive drain, but it comes with benefits: rejecting an offer lowers the Confidence of the *opponent* who made the offer by the square root of the Offer's Appeal, rounded down. The idea is that the more appealing your offer is, the more surprised and dismayed you are when it isn't accepted. In terms of strategy, this means that you have to strike a balance between using offers to feel out your opponent and making offers that will actually be accepted -- if your offer is rejected because it was a few points too stingy, you might have to drop more than just those few points on your second offer to compensate for your lost confidence. On the other hand, if you make an offer that's too generous too quickly, you might never learn what your opponent's real bottom line is, and you could settle for much worse terms than you needed to.
In this particular case, you would lose sqrt(39) = 6.xxx = 6 Confidence points. This stacks with your initial expenditure of 3 Confidence points to make the offer, for a total loss of -9 Confidence, which is a significant drain. Your lower confidence will now reduce the Appeal of every offer you make until you can find a way to regain your Confidence.
As you can see, rejecting Offers outright is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Done properly, it can fatally weaken your opponent and put you in control of the negotiation. Done recklessly, it can blow your entire stack of Wit on one stupid gambit.
Rejecting any offer increases the Tension in the room by 2 points (+2).
Deflecting an offer means stalling, changing the subject, asking for more time or more information, or otherwise parrying the thrust of your opponent's bid. Deflection is a safer, more conservative strategy as compared to rejection. The math works the same way as Rejection does, but the person receiving the offer gets the added opportunity of making his or her choice of one of three matched skill checks. You can roll:
- Act vs. Judge Reaction
- Lie vs. Detect Lies or
- Distract vs. Inference.
If the roll comes out in your favor, add the delta to your attempt to resist the Appeal. If the roll comes out even or in your opponent's favor, ignore the roll and add nothing to your attempt to resist the Appeal. This allows you to lean on your strengths or exploit your opponent's weaknesses, and to minimize your downside risk.
For example, suppose Frederik is facing an Offer with an Appeal of 26. Frederik is not very good at nuclear physics (Expertise of 3), which is what the negotiation is about, but he is an expert at sleight-of-hand, and he has a variety of interesting facial scars, giving him a Distract skill of 14. Frederik sizes up the opposing Negotiating team using Insight and notices that the team includes Biff, who appears noticeably dull. Biff, in fact, turns out to have an Inference skill of only 2. Frederik rolls a 13 for Distract against Biff's roll of 8, giving him a Deflection score of (13 + 14) - (8 + 2) = 17. Frederik will thus get an extra 17 points to tack onto the roll he would have gotten had he been outright rejecting the offer.
This comes in handy when Frederik bombs his response roll, landing a natural 1. With a roll of 1 + an Expertise of 3 + a deflection bonus of 17, Frederik's total response strength is 21, only five points shy of the Appeal of 26. Frederik spends 5 Wit points and successfully calls Biff's attention to his facial scars, changing the subject from nuclear physics to a long, boring war story and buying Frederik some critical time.
If a Deflection succeeds, then the Offer simply goes away, and the next player may decide how to use his or her current tick. Unlike Rejection, a successful Deflection does NOT cause further confidence losses to the Offeror -- the Offeror simply wastes his or her initial expenditure of 3 Confidence.
Deflecting any offer increases the Tension in the room by 1 point (+1).
Although you cannot simply walk out of a negotiation once an offer has already been made (you can only do that on your turn to act), you can try a variety of other stupid or surprising things. For example, you can leap out the nearby window using Jump and Agility, or you can punch the Offeror in the face using Hard Melee. Many times, this will rather effectively end the Negotiations, as per the GM's discretion based on the Tension level in the room and the absurdity and violence of the gambit. If it does not, you must either accept the Offer or spend fatigue points to match the Offer's appeal up from a rejection score of 0. Gambits are thus only recommended when your character is in desperate circumstances or when you have a really, really good idea.
Besides Offers, the most important thing you can do is recover your confidence. Each tick that you spend pumping yourself up gives you +1 Confidence. You will usually want to do this fairly frequently. In terms of storytelling, this represents you half-listening to what another character is saying while you focus on how awesome you are, how righteous your cause is, marshalling logical arguments, analysing new information, or otherwise improving you ability to negotiate effectively and confidently.
You will also often want to convert Focus into Wit, to replenish your pool. You will usually get about 4 points of Wit for each point of Focus if you spend one tick of negotiation on converting one point of Focus. See Fatigue Pools for more info on the exact conversion rate. You cannot convert Sanity into Focus *during* negotiations; this requires a break.
During a negotiation, you may attempt to boost an ally's Confidence using the Inspire skill, limited by the Encode skill (because inspiring people out loud is really awkward in most social situations). The DC starts at 10 points, plus 1 point of difficulty for each point of Confidence you wish to instill, plus 1 point of difficulty for each point by which your ally's Confidence already exceeds your own. If you succeed, the ally gains the appropriate number of Confidence points. If you fail, Tension in the room goes up by 4 points.
During a negotiation, you may attempt to leech Confidence off of an opponent by Intimidating them. You cannot aid an Intimidate check that occurs during negotiations. The DC starts at 15 points, plus 1 points of difficulty for each point of Confidence you wish to steal, plus 1 point of difficulty for each point by which your opponent's Confidence already exceeds your own. If you succeed, you gain the appropriate number of Confidence points, and your opponent loses them. If you fail, your opponent gains 1 Confidence point. Either way, Tension in the room goes up by 6 points.
During a negotiation, you can take a moment to try to get a reading on another character's Expertise stat, Confidence stat, Inference, Detect Lies, or Judge Reaction skills (pick one). The GM will not usually tell you these values; without investigation, you will simply be presented with the total strength of an Appeal and have to deduce the underlying stats as best you can. Investigation uses the Insight skill, aided by Gather Information. Investigation is always a DC vs. the target's Deception skill. If after rolling, your score is higher, you will find out the opponent's skill level or negotiation stat. If your score is roughly comparable, you will be told that you do cannot gather any information. If your score is much lower, you will be informed of the opponent's skill level or negotiation stat as if you had won, but the information will likely be inaccurate! Investigation has no effect on Tension.
Call for a Break
You can call for a break as an Offer, i.e., "I Offer that we solve this problem tomorrow." This follows normal rules for offers. However, you can also ask for a shorter break of 5 to 30 minutes, in which allies can confer with each other, people can convert Sanity to Focus, and Tension can be reduced. If you call for a break, the GM will decide whether to allow the break request at his sole discretion, based on how many breaks have already occurred and whether the NPCs want to increase or decrease Tension. If an NPC calls for a break, you can decide whether to allow the break request. Tension goes down by 1 point for every 5 minutes of break, to a maximum of -6 (half an hour). Breaks do not involve rolls or DCs.
If a call for a break is rejected, Tension in the room increases by 1 point (+1).
When confidence resumes after a break, confidence is partially reset. Each negotiator gains or looses half the difference between the confidence they ended the last session at and the amount they would start the new one at (20 or appropriate adjudication). Especially long or short breaks might cause a 3/4 or 1/4 reset respectively. For example, after having a couple of offers rejected, Joe ended the morning's negotiation at 10 confidence. After a lunch break, he again comes into the negotiation in a neutral standing, so he gains 5 confidence ((20-10)/2) and will start at 15. Sally spent most of the last session strategising and observing ended the last session at 26, and will loose 3 confidence, starting at 23. Bold text