Thursday, 14 April 2016

Persuasion is Not Mind Control

One of the skills in Savage Worlds that often seems to cause confusion is Persuasion, and it's not uncommon to read stories about players who mistakenly view it as "mind control". While Persuasion is certainly a very broad skill, it also has many limitations, so I think it's worth exploring exactly what it can and cannot do.

The following guidelines have been condensed to keep this post concise. I strongly recommend clicking each of the [Reference] links to see Clint Black's original posts in full and in context:
  1. Persuasion can be a single roll or a protracted Social Conflict, depending on the needs of the GM and the story.[Reference]
  2. Persuasion doesn't work on PCs, although a GM might award a Benny for good roleplaying if a player allows themselves to be persuaded by a convincing argument.[Reference]
  3. Persuasion does work on Wild Cards, even though the skill description only mentions "Extras".[Reference]
  4. Persuasion can be used on any type of NPC, even animals.[Reference]
  5. Persuasion (opposed with Notice) can be used to lie or bluff,[Reference] however this shouldn't be treated as a simple lie detector test; generally speaking, it should require a particularly good Notice roll to be certain that someone is lying.[Reference]
  6. Persuasion can be used to disguise yourself as someone else.[Reference]
  7. Persuasion cannot usually be used during combat, although the GM might allow it in some situations.[Reference]
  8. Some setting-specific Edges allow Persuasion to be used for Tests of Will.[Reference]
  9. Persuasion changes only attitudes, not goals.[Reference] Although the GM might choose to rule that a particular NPC can be persuaded to follow a certain course of action, this is not an innate or automatic ability of the skill, and should never be assumed.[Reference]
  10. Persuasion is not mind control, and it can never force someone to do something.[Reference]
Changing Attitudes, Not Goals
"You're a funny guy Sully, I like you. That's why I'm going to kill you last."
-- John Matrix, Commando
One of the key points from the above list that Persuasion only changes attitudes not goals. A friendly robber may be polite and gentle with you, and might even let you keep your wedding ring, but they're still going to take your wallet. And that professional hitman who's been hired to kill you? Well, you might convince him to make your death quick, painless and dignified, but he's still going to kill you.

Of course most people have more than one goal in life, and the GM can use this reasoning to give themselves some wiggle room. A government official might be particularly greedy or vain, for example, and be highly susceptible to bribery or flattery - and a good Streetwise or Investigation roll could reveal that weakness to the players.

But the important thing is that it's entirely at the GM's discretion, and not an automatic benefit of the skill.

Players can get exceptionally high Persuasion by taking the various Charisma Edges, and this will make their characters likable and convincing (particularly for Social Conflicts), but it doesn't let them control the actions of others. If a player wants to be that convincing, have them take Arcane Background with the Puppet power, and a trapping of "silver-tongued devil".