Genre Thought: Seduction in RPGs

I just got done watching the James Bond movie Goldfinger.  What struck me the most about it is that James saving the day hinged on one critical act, one that he pulls off in each movie – that maneuver we like to call “banging ’em to the good side.”

All his spycraft, sneaking and superspy gear and all were thwarted one after the other.   Goldfinger totally had him at his mercy, wrecked his supercar, crushed his tracking device, had a squad of Koreans sitting on his ass, and the next morning nerve gas was going to kill 40,000 Americans and then a dirty bomb would put a crimp on Fort Knox.  He only had one tool to turn to, and that tool turned the icy professional evil minion Pussy Galore into a total narc in one go.

I so want to do this in an RPG.  Sadly, seduction isn’t part of most of them, or even if allowed at the table is more of a route to quick jollies or a color-only NPC relationship and not really impactful to the plot.  But what if it were?  In another sub-group of our local gaming group, they were running Curse of the Crimson Throne and one of the PCs was a priestess of the goddess of lust, and used her wiles several times to get what she wanted, but it was a bit of a pain to adjudicate; the default D&D interpersonal stuff is too simplistic.

Let’s go back to the best likely source to model this – the actual James Bond RPG!  I picked up this lovely back in the day.  Never played it with its real rules, but did use it for a Feng Shui James Bond game.  Anyway, they have a NPC attitude track very familiar to 3e/4e D&D players – Opposed, Antagonistic, Neutral, Friendly, Enamored.  They have a whole page/subsystem dedicated to persuasion, seduction, and interrogation in turn.   For Seduction, it’s what we nowadays would call a complex skill check.  They define five stages of increasingly high difficulty:

  1. The Look
  2. Opening Line
  3. Witty Conversation
  4. Beginning Intimacies
  5. When and Where?

If you succeed all the way through the path, they reroll their reaction with a large positive modifier.  There are several of Bond’s seductees that don’t hesitate to stay bad.  (Although even they seem to not be able to resist coming back for more sometimes.)

This seems totally easy to convert to d20.  Historically, seduction has been modelled by Bluff vs Sense Motive.  I don’t know that I like that.  It’s one thing if you’re telling the waitress you’re a millionaire looking for a new wife to get a hummer in the bathroom, but many seduction attempts aren’t really deceptive per se (any more than any human interaction)…  James is usually pretty direct about his intentions, though he tries to state it in a more charming way than “I’d like to bone you.”  I prefer Diplomacy.  Or Intimidate if you’re in prison I guess.  Anyway, I’d think you could use your CHA-based social skill of choice.  (Insert Animal Handling joke here.)  What’s the difficulty?  Flat DCs?  No, that’s stupid.  Sense Motive doesn’t make sense unless it’s a bluff, and resisting via Diplomacy seems odd.  Will save is generally the measure of willpower, but there you have save vs. skill scaling problems in 3e. You want to take their current attitude into account, too (though, humorously, the Bond game does not; it’s as easy to seduce an opponent – and really, if you want this to be genre appropriate you probably don’t want that as a modifier).

It’s not d20 if you don’t have some feats to modify it!  Here’s some feats James Bond might have (besides the predictable “better at this” feats):

Slave to the Booty

If you succeed in a seduction attempt against a target, they temporarily move one component on the alignment scale in a direction of your choice.

Comin’ Back For More

If you succeed in a seduction attempt against a target, they are more liable to give in to, or even initiate, additional seduction attempts.  They get a -5 penalty on rolls to resist these attempts.

4 responses to “Genre Thought: Seduction in RPGs

  1. I had a whole seduction system worked out for 1e that ran to several A4 pages. Since we migrated to 3.5e a few years ago it has been gathering dust as it wasn’t really compatible with the 3.5e skill system but I have recently wanted to shift our game’s emphasis away from combat and I’m planning to give it a bit of an overhaul.

    The first priority though is fixing 3.5e’s broken Diplomacy rules….I kind of have some vague house rules in my head about that which need clarifying. Essentially, I regard persuading someone to like and respect you in general terms (which is handled more or less OK by the existing system) as different to persuading them to adopt a particular attitude to a specific issue – like whether to cast their vote in a particular way, or wanting to sleep with you, to offer two possible examples. And this is where the rules fall down. You could say ‘let the referee adjudicate’ but that has too much of a DM-controlling-the-plot feel to it for my liking.

    Diplomacy shouldn’t be a non-magical charming mechanic, but the rules as written in 3.5e don’t do enough to dissuade people from regarding it as such. I’ve read far too many accounts of people going ‘full munchkin’ over Diplomacy skill, turning all non-combat interactions into a one-sided affair.

  2. Yeah, I love the old James Bond game! I’ve pretty much ported the Seduction rules over to every game I’ve run since, in some form or other, allowing modifiers for particular “tactics”.

  3. @Lurkinggherkin – yeah, agree on the Diplomacy thing, it’s pretty ham-handed in its current implementation. Although with heroes, a little bit of nonmagical charming isn’t out of scope. And I’ve definitely know a couple high-Charisma people in my life that get away with stuff I never would have imagined possible.

  4. Pingback: Love: Now in New Triangular Flavor! « Intelligence Check

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