Vanguard’s diplomacy sphere marks a revolutionary step forward for the MMORPG genre. It allows undreamed of depths of interaction with NPCs and lets players shape the world in ways more subtle than killing its inhabitants or extracting its resources.
Diplomacy in Vanguard takes place through parley – a sort of mock combat in which the player uses his diplomacy abilities and the NPC “defends” against them. Parley is an abstract way of simulating a conversation. Each individual situation has context on either end, text scripted to let the player know the situation at the start of the parley and to make the outcome clear. Parley abstracts the argument/discussion/persuasion aspect of the conversation, so rather than picking particular conversation options from a text list, the player uses his diplomacy skills in what amounts to a conversation simulator.
A diplomat has a set amount of “persuasion” – think of it as the hit points and mana of diplomacy. If a player’s persuasion runs out before he completes his conversational objective, the fight is over and he loses experience as if he died. Players will have escape abilities that, if successful, allow them to disengage from the conversation without losing the experience. Sigil also demonstrated a diplomacy buff, swagger, that increased the amount of persuasion in the caster’s pool (and had a spectacular, Elvis-esque animation that is *not* to be missed).
As the player uses his abilities to push his agenda, whatever it may be, the NPC “fights back” – ignoring the player’s efforts to persuade, figuratively telling players “talk to the hand” as they drain their persuasion pools.
The demo quest involved a charge to make a merchant happier so he pays his taxes. The goal was to build his happiness up to the appropriate level before the player’s persuasion pool emptied. The player used abilities such as “dazzling smile” and “shoulder to lean on,” as well as the aforementioned “swagger,” to achieve his goal. When these abilities “hit,” the effect can be quite noticeable – one player move elicited a fit of knee-slapping laughter from the NPC.
There are multiple approaches a player can take; for example, he can attempt to convince the merchant they have something in common and try to build on that connection. Let me note here that the diplomacy mechanics are subject to change – it is, after all, a dramatically new system – so the following information is by no means set in stone. Right now, a player’s diplomacy abilities are based on in part on his affinity. A player with an underworld affinity may be good at intimidating people but not so talented at sweet-talking them. A bureaucrat, on the other hand, may be terrific at sweet-talking but awful at logical debate. Different NPCs will be more or less prone to the effects of different kinds of diplomats. Sigil is still considering between a skill tree and a straight class-based system for diplomacy, trying to find what works best and what will be best for players, who may take some time acclimating to the new game mechanic.
When the player successfully convinces the NPC to be happier through parley, appropriate text adding the closing context to the conversation appears in the text box. At that point, the player can return to the quest giver for his reward. In addition to the tangible reward, the player is also rewarded indirectly; because the merchant is paying his taxes, the city is running better now. The diplomacy quests are the knobs and dials players turn to run the city. And the city, running better, is able to help the players do better. While players cannot take control of an NPC city, they can exert significant influence over how it is run.
Each player city will also have NPCs associated with it. One thing the players have to do to manage their city is to deal with the NPCs. The city has statistics that can be changed, and as with NPC cities players control those statistics through, among other things, diplomacy and NPC interaction. The NPCs are a window into how the city works. Each player city will support multiple players interacting with the NPCs to help the city run.
Most player cities will not come until later in the game, but players can be citizens in an NPC city well before they can build their own. Being a citizen will help a player practice the appropriate city-management skills and also grant him benefits from helping his city. And for those players who choose not to join a player city, NPC cities will continue providing them with benefits.
Cities will need crafters for similar reasons. Guards need their swords, walls need materials, etc. Crafters supply that need. Adventurers will not be left out, either – they provide security to the city, in ways such as killing nearby threats.
Some player cities will owe fealty to NPC cities. For example, a player city in a certain location on Thestra may owe its allegiance to New Targonor. That will involve a political association that players have to massage through their diplomatic skills. To even create such a city, players may need to get the rights to do such a thing from the chancellor or vizier or other appropriate local bureaucrat. To build something like a player city or a merchant’s guild in an NPC city, players may need similar permission. This will be tough and require a “diplomatic raid.” To get the plans for the top-tier structures may involve that sort of effort to convince the king’s top advisors to hand them over. Alternatively, some of those plans may be found in the depths of a dungeon.
The latter would accentuate the interdependence between the three spheres, of which there will be a lot. To play at the top of the game, to do the very best they can do, players need all three spheres working in concert. To get to the pinnacle of the game, to have the best stuff, to build the best cities, to build the best ships, and so on, players need help from all three spheres. And while an individual player can, with enough work, excel in all three spheres, it is more reasonable to expect most players to specialize.
That’s the story on diplomacy and cities as related by Sigil at E3. The diplomacy sphere is one of the most distinguishing features of Vanguard and goes a long way toward heralding the beginning of the third generation of MMOs.