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All Rules in Verbal Duels

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Setting the Scene

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 176
It is important to set the scene of a verbal duel so the PCs participating in it know what is at stake. Sometimes these conflicts are simple, two-person struggles where each duelist attempts to shut down the other’s argument. These can be fun and whimsical affairs—two duelists may engage in an argument about the merits of competing operas or fencing defenses, and the loser has to buy the evening’s drinks. Verbal duels can also be nerve-wracking conflicts in which the participants spar over some serious issue, such as a debate in front of a council of war chiefs on the merits of peace or war.

It is also important to determine whether or not the verbal duel involves an audience that can be swayed. For example, if the duel occurs between the captain of the watch and one of the PCs, the PC could be trying to get a mob to attack the tower of a corrupt high priest, while the captain is attempting to convince the crowd to disperse. Crowds often have their own motivations and predilections, and certain tactics during the duel will have a greater or lesser effect on its members, which can affect the results. Determining the nature of such crowd attitudes and how to affect them can sometimes grant a powerful advantage.

Assessing an Audience

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 176
A duelist and any of her allies who have at least 10 minutes to interact with the crowd before a verbal duel begins can attempt a check to determine an audience bias (see below). Succeeding at a DC 15 Sense Motive check allows a duelist or one of her allies to learn one of the crowd’s biases. Sometimes assessing an audience can have a higher DC if the GM feels the crowd is particularly tight-lipped or their biases are otherwise obscured. Once a character attempts a Sense Motive check to assess an audience’s biases, she can’t retry that check, even if she has more time to study the audience.

Audience Biases

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 176
When a verbal duel features an audience that can be swayed, the GM determines any types of dueling tactics that the audience either favors or disfavors. If a crowd has a negative bias against a particular tactic, duelists take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when using that tactic. If the audience has a positive bias toward a tactic, duelists gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when using that tactic. Some audiences may have even stronger biases, imparting penalties and bonuses that range from –5 to +5.

In cases where a verbal duel has no audience, there are no audience biases to track.

The GM is free to create whatever biases she would like, but each bias should be both reasonable and fit with the attitudes of the audience. A group of hard-minded wizards might have a negative bias toward allegory but applaud logic, while a rowdy group of tavern-goers could have a very positive bias toward mockery but start booing and hissing at logic. A GM does not need to create biases for all tactics, but having a handful of them can make the debate more interesting and flavorful and allow the duelist’s allies to help affect the duel by assessing and seeding the audience.

Seeding an Audience

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 176
Once she knows one or more of the crowd’s biases, a character can attempt to seed the crowd and gain benefits for her side of the verbal duel. A GM may rule that seeding a crowd is impossible or very difficult. For example, seeding a jury in a lawful society may be very difficult, and is probably illegal or even practically impossible. Audiences that can be seeded allow allies of each duelist to urge the argument in other directions.

To attempt to seed an audience, a character must spend at least 10 minutes with members of the crowd before the verbal duel begins, choose one of the audience’s biases she knows, and succeed at a Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check with a DC of at least 15. The GM may rule that the DC is higher due to the ally’s lack of familiarity with the crowd or other factors—as high as the duelist’s level + 15 or 20 for especially challenging situations.

If the character chose to seed a positive bias and succeeds at the check, the duelist of her choice gains an edge (see page 177) that can be spent when that duelist uses the tactic associated with the positive bias during the verbal duel. If the character fails the check, she can’t attempt to seed the same audience again. If the character fails the check by 5 or more, no one can attempt to seed that positive bias again in her duelist’s favor.

If the character chose to seed a negative bias and succeeds at the check, the duelist of her choice gains an edge that can be spent when that duelist counters the tactic associated with the negative bias. If the character fails the check, she can’t attempt to seed the same audience again. If the character fails the check by 5 or more, no one can attempt to seed that negative bias again in her duelist’s favor.

Both sides can attempt to seed the audience before the duel begins and can even seed the same biases, but a given duelist can only benefit from a single successful seeding of a particular bias.

Edges

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 177
Edges are gained either by seeding a bias, using some trick of a verbal dueling tactic, when an opponent decides to end an exchange, or due to some other effect. A duelist can spend an edge to reroll an associated skill check for a verbal duel tactic. Sometimes you are limited as to when you can spend an edge. For instance, edges gained by seeding positive biases can only be spent when using the tactic associated with that bias.

Gaining Edges From Skill-Modifying Abilities: Only effects and abilities that modify an ability score, modify ranks, or specifically affect a tactic apply directly to the associated skill check in verbal duels. However, effects that increase the modifier of an entire associated skill (not just circumstantial uses of the skill) grant edges instead. For instance, the spell glibness neither adds to the associated skill check nor grants edges because it only grants a bonus to some cases in which Bluff can be used, and does not increase the skill’s general modifier.

For spells and effects that do apply to a verbal duel, such as a circlet of persuasion or Skill Focus, instead of the normal modifiers to skill rolls, they grant a number of edges equal to 1/3 of the total bonus they would otherwise grant. For example, a character with Skill Focus (Diplomacy) and 10 ranks in that skill would gain two edges instead of a +6 bonus. Total up all such bonuses before dividing by 3. All edges gained in this way are limited to the particular tactic associated with the skill.

In many cases, using magic to enhance one’s verbal dueling skills is often considered gauche or even illegal. The more official the verbal duel, the more likely the chance magic will be restricted or even banned. This is often particularly true during the course of duels in a legal setting.