Verbal dueling provides a way to resolve complex and nuanced social situations, from trials to rallying rebels against a tyrant.
Below are some specific situations in which winning verbal duels might be advantageous, as well as helpful suggestions for setting up such encounters.
Countless secret organizations are leery of sharing what they know with the uninitiated. Likewise, the keepers of many archives, libraries, and troves of lore hesitate to grant access to their collections. A verbal duel—a simple, two-person affair or a more complex duel in front of the organization’s members—might help convince targets to begin dialogue in earnest and speak frankly about at least part of their secret agendas and knowledge.
A character participating in a verbal duel with a secretive person or organization might be able to earn an edge through the following.
History of Discretion: A reputation for keeping one’s mouth shut goes a long way toward gaining the trust certain tight-lipped groups. A PC who can convincingly show ties to a prominent organization during a tactic in a verbal duel (without actually revealing compromising secrets about it) gains an edge. This technique cannot be used as part of a baiting or mockery tactic, and a PC can gain only one edge per duel in this way.
Previous Knowledge: A PC can also gain an edge in a verbal duel by showing he already has some of the individual or organization’s secrets and is not using that knowledge irresponsibly (or needs more knowledge to avoid accidentally causing trouble). This technique must be used as part of a logic or rhetoric tactic, and a PC can gain only one edge per duel in this way.
Rabble-rousers, rebels, and zealots all might wish to inspire a crowd to carry out justice when official channels fail. When public officials— even scapegoats—run into such inciters, a verbal duel can spark a riot.
The Crowd: Inciting a riot using a verbal duel requires two things: a public official, who is often a scapegoat pulled into the duel, and an unruly crowd. Sometimes, such a crowd might be readily available, such as when a settlement is in open rebellion. Other times, gathering a crowd requires seizing folks’ attention.
An incidental crowd, such as a crowd at a market, generally pays attention only to particularly impressive speakers or performers. A successful DC 20 Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Perform check and the appropriate political arguments attract a small crowd of up to a dozen observers. Getting the attention of a larger group generally requires a result of 25 or 30, at the GM’s discretion. If an audience the PCs wish to incite to riot is watching someone else, an opposed Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Perform check is required against the current speaker, whether it be a performer, bazaar vendors, or a politician.
Often, a public official will arrive on the scene to investigate once the PCs have gathered an unruly crowd.
Other times, the PCs can track down an official to serve as the opposing duelist with a successful DC 15 Knowledge (local) check in anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour. The PCs also may need to deal with the settlement’s guards— at the GM’s discretion—although creative PCs may be able to convince the guards to fetch a public official for them.
Inciting the Riot: Once a crowd has turned its attention to the would-be rabble-rousers, a verbal duel ensues to convince the crowd of the necessity or justice of destruction and a show of force. If the PCs are victorious in the verbal duel, the crowd riots.
Verbal duels are appropriate for trials. Trials are usually adjudicated by arbitrators, where an official third party such as a local magistrate or lord decides criminal culpability based on the arguments between advocates for the prosecution and defense.
Trial by Jury: Some nations instead stipulate trials be resolved by juries of peers of the accused.
In these nations, local magistrates usually arbitrate trials and watch for signs of spellcasting or meddling with the jury. Magistrates and barristers, as well as a few jurors, are often educated enough to know the basic capabilities of low-level divination spells and means of foiling them, but some are not.
Witness Testimony: A witness can be called only at the start of an exchange. The witness attempts a DC 20 check of a skill that depends on the type of evidence she is giving. A witness who uses his expertise to clarify matters of physical, magical, or other evidence usually use the skill appropriate to her expertise (Knowledge for most matters, Linguistics for handwriting evaluation, and so on).
Eyewitnesses (who testify about the events surrounding the crime) and character witnesses (who testify to the sort of person the accused is) have more leeway in the skills they choose. If the witness is successful, the advocate who called her to testify gains an edge that can be used on any skill check for the remainder of the verbal duel.
The opposing advocate can then cross-examine the witness with her own tactic, thereby raising the ante and continuing the verbal duel as normal.