The Limits of Persuasion in RPGs

So, the question is, how much should a character get accomplished simply by being persuasive?

I brought up this question on our Guild forums after my character talked an NPC into shooting himself. Mikko, who has written a couple of articles for the block, answered that (and I’m paraphrasing) “persuasion shouldn’t be Charm Person”. I agree, but on the other hand, that’s not very helpful.

But in order to explain the situation, I have to go into some details:

My character, known as Marlowe, a name she chose herself, has certain qualities that certainly help here. She’s extremely charismatic, very quick-witted and very persuasive. She also has nerves of steel and a reputation for sadism when provoked. She’s quite proactive, but doesn’t really have weapons besides her ability to talk.

So, Marlowe was following a spy, who had infiltrated a faction and was feeding information to an outsider group. At the same time, that very same group was trying to assault the same area. Marlowe, and her ally TP, caught up with him. Since Marlowe is useless in a fight, she stepped back and let TP handle the situation. Well, apparently, TP isn’t much better and after a short fight, he was in dire need of help, so Marlowe stepped in.

She reminded the pursued person of his situation. He might be able to finish off the two of them, but behind him there was a blood-thirsty cult of people out for his blood, in front of him his “allies” were killing people and not being very choosy about who they shot, and our spy couldn’t really even identify himself in any way. There was nowhere to run.

The pursued party decided then to take another way out and shot himself in the neck (where the chip in which his memories were stored resided).

From a rules point of view, this was highly unlikely, even though Marlowe is a master (mistress?) of her craft. She had situational hindrances (pretty bad ones) and a high difficulty. I did have some once-per-session kind of resources available to her, so I used up everything, but the aforementioned hindrances were still pretty bad. I rolled very well, so she succeeded.

Should this have succeeded? Again, persuasion skills shouldn’t be Charm Person spells, but its not that easy. Suppose Marlowe was very good with a gun instead. Maybe had a similar level of skill with firearms. She would have resolved the situation easily and no-one would have thought twice about whether it should have happened that way. In my mind, weapon skills shouldn’t be inherently more powerful than other skills, so imaginative use of other skills, especially in ways that fit the character perfectly, should be rewarded.

We also know people are highly suspectible to persuasion in many ways. We don’t want to admit to it, but we have all probably been persuaded into something we shouldn’t have been, like poor contracts. We also know people join cults, for example. Actually, even intelligent people. Actually, usually intelligent people, because intelligent people are good at connecting the dots, even if there is no actual connection there.

If you haven’t seen this yet, take a look at this:

Could someone do that to you? I know you’re sceptical, but there’s nothing that would actually protect you from such techniques. If you know where the weak points in the human mind lie, you can abuse those and manipulate people in ways you wouldn’t think is possible.

Still, Derren Brown shows on the video how its done.

So, could someone in real life talk someone into shooting themselves? If the conditions were right, I can’t see why not. I wouldn’t let people do it all the time in RPGs, but that one time, maybe. I don’t think Marlowe is going to try it again any time soon, though, because in fiction using the same trick over and over just isn’t interesting.

(Oh yeah, there’s also the genre consideration here, but I don’t think its worth actually discussing, because its only relevant in situations where you either can’t do it at all, or you have some sort of superpower you can use to do it.)

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