The Art of Persuasion revisited

Talk about firing up the wayback machine!

I mentioned the torture quest from Borean Tundra yesterday, just as an example, and it brought forth a few comments and a few ideas.

Rohan wrote a post about it years ago that stuck with me, and I think he represents most of the players like me that say, “Hey! My character wouldn’t do that! Screw the Kirin Tor!”

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone come out and say they think it was a good quest from an RP point of view, because your choice is to torture, or walk away and abadon the quest, implying that you left the Kirin Tor to find someone else to torture the guy. There are no real choices involved, the prisoner will still be tortured one way or the other, and you knew about it and did nothing to stop it.

When I mentioned the idea of having raid hard modes represent harder moral choices, the Art of Persuasion quest was one that I still think of as a lost chance at letting the player make a pesonal choice.

To fight and struggle against an implacable foe can seem very heroic on the face of it. Armor plated warrior queen facing off against fire breathing drag0n, you know the battle is either gonna be brutal, or extra crispy.

But when the choice you’re given is to have a target strapped to a chair, people standing all around you, and one of them hands you a knife and says, “Get carving”, that’s not making a choice so much as taking the path of least resistance.

But what about having quests with decision points? A quest that follows a certain chain, and then at a certain critical point offers you two choices, and each choice has a couple different quests that, regardless of which path you choose, rejoin once again into the one chain?

Let’s take “The Art of Persuasion” chain as an example.

You are a hero trying to aid the Kirin Tor out in Borean Tundra. The Mages have a problem, and it’s a big one. Mages are being abducted!

You are first tasked by the quest “Prison Break” with rescuing an abducted Kirin Tor mage. You are sent to where the mage prisons are, tasked with killing a guard to get a prison key and freeing a Mage. Good!

Once you’ve freed the Mage, your are given the “Abduction” quest. Lady Evanor, one of the Dalaran Archmages, was captured and the most likely suspects are these mage hunters and their Beryl Sorcerer allies. Time is of the essence if we are to find and rescue her!

You are to go back down there, subdue a Beryl Sorcerer, chain him up and drag him back in for questioning.

After you have brought back your Beryl Sorcerer prisoner, you are given the quest “The Borean Inquisition”. The prisoner is being prepared for questioning, mostly involving a chair with straps. You are sent to go and be ready to help in the questioning, in case you are needed.

Okay, so far so good, right? Mages are being abducted, you go free one, then word comes down that a senior senator or archmage or some other high muckety-muck just got captured, this is an emergency, we have to act fast to enact a rescue!

So you go and grab a prisoner to bring back for questioning. Since you picked the person to capture and brought them back in chains, the well being of that prisoner is your responsibility. Whatever they were before, they are helpless now in your hands.

Yes, there are questions that need answers. Yes, in the heat of battle they might have died anyway. But this changes the dynamic.

Where is Lady Evanor? What are they planning to do to her? How can we free her from her magical chains? We need answers before it’s too late! But at the same time, the prisoner cannot defend themselves. whatever you do to them is being done to someone as helpless as a babe. How do you feel about that? No worries, who cares, I’d have bathed in his blood anyway, or is it different now that he is utterly helpless and at your mercy?

So you’re sent to the tower, where the prisoner has been strapped helpless in a chair, and there is clearly going to be some torturing for information going on.

It is fortunate you’re here, <race>.

You see, the Kirin Tor code of conduct frowns upon our taking certain ‘extreme’ measures – even in desperate times such as these.

You, however, as an outsider, are not bound by such restrictions and could take any steps necessary in the retrieval of information.

Do what you must. We need to know where Lady Evanor is being held at once!

I’ll just busy myself organizing these shelves here. Oh, and here, perhaps you’ll find this old thing useful….

[You receive  [Neural Needler].]

Now, this is the perfect point where a choice could have been offered. Instead of a single “Accept” button to choose to take the quest as offered, there could have been two lines of text describing your reaction, each leading to one of two branching quests.

The decision point.

One of the lines could have said, <You take the Neural Needler.>, indicating you intend to do exactly as asked, and torture the prisoner. That could have led to the normal two follow up quests, actually performing the torture, and then the follow up of taking your information to Librarian Donathan.

But what if the other line of text read, <No! There has to be another way! Wait, I have an idea.>

By selecting that choice, you could then be sent to talk to Librarian Donathan outside, and complete that quest by saying, “You of the Kirin Tor are powerful mages. Can you make me look like one of the Beryl Sorcerers for a few minutes, make a loud noise to the north and clear your people from the tower?”

The conclusion of that quest could be Librarian Donathan casting an illusion on you to make you look like a Beryl Sorcerer.

The follow up quest? There is a loud “boom!” to the north, a cloud od dust, the tower shakes a little, and you go in the tower, conveniently empty of Kirin Tor, to “break” the prisoner out. As you grab him and do a traditional escort quest to lead him out of the tower, he could let drop pieces of info along the way, such as thanking you, and telling you he’ll meet you on the platform where Lady Evanor is held as soon as he checks in with the person who holds her key, naming him.

That would give you two quests for each decision, but the end result would be the same.

However you got it, you have information to pass on to Librarian Donathan so you know where to go and what to do to free Lady Evanor in the quest chain.

Same quest count, so there is no advantage to one or the other in terms of exploring. And the follow up quests in the chain from that point would be the same. It would all be about which you felt more approapriate to your character.

The point is, for one brief moment lasting two quests long, you could choose whether you were the kind of person who chose expedience, pragmatism, ruthlessness or outride bloodthirstiness as their character personality, or if you were the kind of character that will try to find another way, any other way than torturing a prisoner, even if that means you fail to save someone else.

On a bonus? Screw the kirin Tor and their holier than thou bullshit. How much more fun would it be to listen to them tell you how special and precious their rules make them that they won’t torture the prisoner, tell you that YOU have to get your hands bloody, there is no other way, here is your torture device we just happen to have laying around, and then YOU tell THEM that you refuse and then find a better way that could have been taken all along, if they hadn’t been so quick to decide, in their worry or concern over the fate of Lady Evanor, to jump at torturing the prisoner..

Take your neural needler, shove it up your ass, because maybe it’s time you asked yourselves some pointed questions about how committed you are to the intent behind your rules and not just the letter of the law.

Yes, my description of how to impersonate a Beryl Sorcerer and the odds you’d really get your answers is far-fetched in a real detailed novel, but for a fast-paced quest chain I think it would be satisying. 

You could get the job done, but take one of two drastically different routes to do it, and while your choice would affect nothing but your personal relationship with your character, it would still be a meaningful RP decision. 

Blizzard almost did this later on, with Cataclysm in Mount Hyjal. There is a quest given by Thisalee Crow called ‘A Bird in Hand”.

In it, you are to use a signal fire to draw the attention of Marion Wormwing, and after you distract her by beating on her for a while, Thisalee sneaks up behind her and grapples her.

You then get to do some quick interrogating.

What’s interesting to me with this quest is, you aren’t given a choice of questioning her or not, but once you’ve gotten your info, you ARE given a choice… of whether to let her go, or kill her in cold blood.

Line of text: <Order Thisalee to kill the harpy.>
Thisalee Crow says: You’re my kind of mage, <name>! We’re finished with this filth.

Line of text: <Ask Thisalee to release the harpy.>
Thisalee Crow says: You’re a better person than I, <name>. But I suppose the harpies are just pawns here.

As you can see, this is exactly what I was talking about before. You still did the questioning and, yes, torture beforehand, but afterwards you’re given two choices, two lines of text, and what will happen differs depending on what you choose.

I’m suggesting that this same kind of “two options” thing could be used to offer decision points leading to quests, just one or two quests deep, that rejoined the same quest chain when done, but would give you a choice in how your character would approach things.

What do you think? Are there other quests in the game that you think could have a very different emotional impact if you’re just given a small choice?

12 thoughts on “The Art of Persuasion revisited

  1. Most of my characters are combat pragmatists. If I didn’t get the information out of him, he was going to die. This way, he might live through it.

    How often have you gone out and decimated the random fauna around an area, just because someone wants twenty bear asses to make a new hat? What measure is a non-human(oid)?

    The way most of my characters would look at it… don’t start none, won’t be none. They started shit, they get splattered. But… it bothered me when I played the paladin. On the one hand, it just hurts. It’s not as bad as beating the information out of him with the flat side of my two handed axe. Once I stop, it’s done, no lingering wounds. That’s how I justified it to myself. On the other… I couldn’t really think of an other. She (the mage that was kidnapped) was reasonably innocent, and didn’t deserve what they’d done to her, and the only way to rescue her was to get the information. I’d have liked the option.

    This is, by the way, precisely the sort of reason I say that WoW is NOT, and will never be, a role playing game. You are given limited choices and have no way to take a third option unless it was provided to you. It’s as much ‘role playing’ as reading a lemon is having sex. In a true role playing game, I could (back when I was a tauren) have gone and punched Garrosh in the nose for being an asshat, and accepted the consequences for having done so. In WoW, I don’t even have the chance. (Now that I’m a worgen, I’ve repeatedly wanted to go punch Wrynn in the nose. But not as badly as Garrosh… Basic Campfire for warchief!) Your ‘role’ is limited to ‘either I do this quest, or I do not’. Fire the yellow attack or the blue one. Can’t use a lava lash to set a grove on fire to burn out all the spiders hiding in the trees, because it wasn’t programmed in, you have to fight them individually.

    At best, it’s an extremely complicated ‘choose your own adventure’. In a real RPG, I could have tortured him with the pokey stick. I could have beaten him about the head and shoulders with a sack of sweet Valencia oranges until he got detached retinas. I could feed him into a fireplace one inch at a time. I could have tried to explain why what Malygos was doing would destroy the world. I could have pulled a note from Benson, and “Lay a tousan’ dollar on the man.’

    Once I got the information, I could kill him, I could kidnap another one and verify the information, I could let him go, I could even blow up the kirin tor mage, make a fashionable cape from his remains and jump off a cliff believing I was Superman’s Azerothian incarnation…. in a role playing game.

    In WoW I can either do it or not, and if I do it he despawns and it’s over, you never hear from or about him again. I am a real role player; I’m the oldest of the old school. I was one of the first few people in my area to have the first edition AD&D monster manual, having ordered it in advance. (Yes, there were some games before that. Don’t harsh my roll! 🙂 So it just bugs me to have this either/or choice filled game called ‘role playing’…

    Thank you for attending this performance of Bubbles in the Stream of Consciousness Theatre, please drop the towels in the receptacles provided at the doors. (sleep deprivation is awesome stuff)


  2. Ah, this moral bankruptcy quest. :/

    ‘Cause getting someone else to do your dirty work certainly absolves you of guild, eh?


  3. @Ted…. I loved the light dark side choices, that really let you rp and get a good feel for your character. Sadly the didnt think though all the way on end gear which was tilted heavily to make you light5/dark5. So it became incumbent upon the player to be a real goody goody or a real mfa.
    I totally feel what BBB is saying here and couldnt agree more.
    If Swtor had more side stuff to do like wow’s achievements, arche, fishing, cooking ect I might have stayed there. But I found it to dull after hitting 50 and came back to the good old world of WoW.


    • @Alburet ,

      Outside of a couple of Relics, no end game gear requires Light5 or Dark5.

      I think there are analogs to achievements, and archaeology, but if you didn’t find SWTOR at 50 fun, you probably made the right choice to return to WoW.


  4. I skipped that Borean Tundra quest on my Paladin. Honorshammer simply wouldn’t have done it, so I didn’t.

    I’m curious how you like SWTOR implementation of this choice driver game play from your trial? What do you like and not like about it?


    • I honestly have not had a spare minute since the first night I leveled an Inquisitor to level 3 to get back in there.

      It’s just been writing, raiding and WoWing.

      I am such a failure at running out of things to do. I want to play SWTOR! I DO!


  5. I can recall with absolute clarity that quest in Borean Tundra.

    When I did it on my paladin, Hyperious, I actually felt kind of sick. This was precisely the type of thing his practice of the Light forbids. I wound up logging off for the night after completing that quest. I could have tolerated it a bit more if the [Neural Needler] was just something that made the victim confused or disoriented, or even mentally controlled and forced to tell the truth. With all the power of the Kirin Tor, surely they could have used mind control. Hell, any priest can do that.

    But on my warlock, who glories in the suffering of others, I was fine with it. I delighted in the torture. I even clicked it a few more times after getting the information. That’s just the kind of sadistic asshole my warlock is.

    It’s weird how much we identify with our characters, and I think the ability to create more good/evil choices in the game, without directly affecting the flow of the story lines, would be a very good addition to the game.

    There’s a questline I refuse to do on any of my toons after I did it once on Hype. It’s the one where Garrosh orders the cowardly attack on the Alliance from the rear while they’re already engaging the Scourge at the front. Whatever I may think of the Alliance, I could never dishonor an enemy by attacking them from the rear while they fought a common foe. Even though more than one of my characters would have no issue with it (some of them are just plain monsters), I as the person behind the characters cannot do it.


  6. I particularly loved the Thisalee Crow quest, and did it differently depending on what character I was playing at the time. I really wish there had been some sort of followup, even if it was a passing remark by Thisalee about our choice later. Still, it’s a good start!


  7. It’s a cute idea. What it comes down to is how many quests you’ll enjoy NOT playing. As you know it takes dev time to make each quest, so for every choice you don’t take, you could have had an extra quest (roughly). I guess there’s some coefficient you could use to balance it, EG 1% of quests have choices? This is the argument Blizz have always used for not doing more class quests… personally one reason I have all classes is so I can do all class quests. No problem! Class quests really bring the concepts alive.

    Bioware are masters of the fake choice. Often it is only the conversation that differs, so you do EXACTLY the same content for very different reasons.

    With choice comes risk. There would have to be a couple of quests where you take the “good” option and it gets everyone killed (or at least singed). Equally some “evil” options where EG the hostage dies before you get any info.


  8. I’d like to see some options regarding my character’s tendency to, without question, do anything that is asked, regardless of the credibility of the source. Let’s face it, the quests in Grizzly Hills that lead to the destruction of the trolls could have been prevented with some basic some intelligence-gathering, such as figuring out what all that stuff you gathered did, or noticing that the trolls you’ve been slaughtering are a common enemy of the Scourge and are maybe worth avoiding rather than killing.


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