Every NPC in Cairn Hill (including the player's siblings) will have a simple like/dislike number. The higher the number, the more that NPC will like the PC, and the more favourable their encounters will be. Right: simple. What is interesting is how those ratings will be modified.
There will be two main ways of governing character relationships.
The most interesting of these is the indirect modification of values.
Every NPC is connected by emotional links. When one NPC is dissatisfied with the PC's actions, other NPCs who closely associate with that first are going to be similarly dissatisfied. The same aplies when an NPC approves of the PC's actions.
There can also be negative links. Imagine Farmer Bob and Joe the Millwright have been feuding. By doing something which Joe the Millwright dislikes, the PC can ingratiate himself with Farmer Bob. If he does something which helps out Joe the Millwright, Farmer Bob becomes annoyed, and dislikes the PC more.
There will be different degrees of links. In the above example, imagine there's a third NPC, Baker Chuck. Baker Chuck has a mild dislike of Joe the Millwright. (Joe the Millwright, you see, overcharges Farmer Bob for the use of his mill, and overcharges Baker Chuck for the wheat he sells him. Farmer Bob hates Joe, but Baker Chuck has a milder temper; besides, he also has the option of buying from some other wholesaler.) Therefore, when the PC hurts Joe the Millwright, Farmer Bob experiences a much greater increase in his opinion of the PC than does Baker Chuck.
Simple, right? Right.
Now it gets a little more complicated. As mentioned before, every character is connected; but every character is not DIRECTLY connected. PersonA can be connected to PersonC through PersonB; in other words, PersonA has never met PersonC, but both have met PersonB, and they are thereby connected.
Imagine, in the previous example of Bob, Joe, and Chuck, that we add Sally the Prostitute. Now, Sally the Prostitute doesn't know Joe the Millwright at all. If they met, who knows, they might really hit it off, but they haven't so there is nothing directly connecting Sally and Joe. Sally the Prostitute, however, knows Farmer Bob, and she likes Farmer Bob, because Farmer Bob REALLY likes Sally the Prostitute, and despite his grumbling about the price of having his wheat ground, he has fairly deep pockets. So, when Farmer Bob's happy, Sally the Prostitute's happy. By making Joe the Millwright unhappy, the PC indirectly makes himself more liked by Sally the Prostitute. There is a network of relation here; and each event produces a kind of pulse across the network.
Now, this pulse weakens with each node through which it passes. Therefore, just because Bob is liked by Sally who is liked by Bill who is liked by Jack who is liked by Fred who is liked by Jill, and Bob hates Joe, doesn't mean that beating Joe black and blue is the surest way to Jill's heart. By the time the pulse reaches her, it will have become very faint to nonexistent.
Also note that an NPC can be acted upon in conflicting ways. Imagine we have Varasjulio the Millwright, who is, naturally enough, Joe the Millwright's good friend (birds of a feather and whatnot). Varasjulio is also very good friends with Baker Chuck. Remember that Baker Chuck has a mild dislike for Joe the Millwright. So, again, the PC beats the living crap out of Joe the Millwright. How does Chuck respond? The pulse travels first through Joe to those directly associated with him. Chuck has a mild dislike for Joe, so very bad news for Joe means good news for Chuck, and he is happy with the PC. Chuck also spreads the news to all his friends and enemies; the pulse, in other words, expands from Chuck, with the knowledge that Chuck is happy with the player; again, those who like Chuck will be happy with the player, those who don't, will not.
We can also see that, if Baker Chuck likes Farmer Bob, and vice versa, and both hate Joe the Millwright (which they do), they will be sending pulses to each other. And as each pulse generates another pulse, they will then send another pulse to each other. And so on, and so on, all the time getting happier that Joe the Millwright is now a bloody pulp. Of course, the pulses get weaker with time, so this will eventually level out. (It's when I noticed this little fact that I REALLY liked this system; who doesn't have more fun laughing at someone else's misery when he's with a friend? This system, I think, mimics human behaviour frighteningly well, although it has serious faults, and one I'm thinking of in particular; but I'll get to that later.) For now, though, we'll ignore the reciprocating happiness between Bob and Chuck, because it complicates things, and just imagine that Bob and Chuck are unrelated.
But, at the same time as the weak happiness hits Baker Chuck, a great sadness, and dislike for the player, hits Varasjulio the Millwright. Now, the pulse continues from Varasjulio the Millwright to all his relations. Varasjulio is very good friends with Chuck; therefore, a strong pulse of sadness and dislike for the player hits Chuck. (In other words, even though he was happy before, when Chuck realizes the great hurt that was done to his friend, he is much sadder. Perhaps he is even a little angry with himself for not noticing how much this would hurt his dear, dear friend.) Whether or not this negative pulse is greater than the positive pulse that hit him before would be determined by the exact value of the relationships involved; in this case, lets say that the negative is greater. Therefore, even though the direct effect on Chuck produced happiness and a liking for the PC, the end result was sadness and a dislike for the PC. Also, every pulse generates a pulse, so Chuck now sends out a negative pulse to all his acquaintances. We can see that the PC must carefully consider the web of relationships between NPCs, and the consequences of his actions.
I might as well note here, also, that the "relationship threads" are less about relationship than influence. If the PC pisses off Silent Jack, who never tells anyone his feelings, none of Jack's friends are going to care. Similarly, if the PC pisses off Big-Mouth Larry, the whole town's going to know about it, and the even will be blown out of all proportion (of course, if the whole town thinks Larry quite the ass-hole, this is a good thing).
Now, perhaps you've seen the major problem with this whole system.
In each version of this story I've told, Joe the Millwright turns out worse and worse. At first, it is simply that an unspecified bad thing which happens to him; by the end, he's a bloody mess. You undoubtedly thought it rather ghoulish of Farmer Bob to get off on that, and Baker Chuck, who only has a mild dislike for Joe the Millwright in the first place, seems also to have gotten a little thrill from it. It also seems abolutely terrible that Sally the Prostitute should be very much pleased by news of Joe's painful situation, because she doesn't even know him. Sure, perhapse Bob's told her some stories of Joe's wrongdoing, but still... But let's take a less ambiguous example.
Imagine the PC cuts off all of Joe's appendages, rapes his wife, and crushes his daughter in the mill-press. Now, in addition to simply unfortunate for Joe, which it is, this act is in itself rather bad. Even though Farmer Bob hates poor Joe the Millwright, it is hoped that he would see this act as horrendous, rather than simply a good turn for himself.
With each act is associated, not just the happiness/sadness of the individual involved, but the general "goodness" rating for that act. The act above would have a goodness rating very near to, if not the lowest, it could go.
Similarly, each NPC would have a value which determines how highly he values goodness. This determines how highly his opinion of the PC rises when the PC does something which is "good." The goodness value "travels" with the happiness pulse; everyone who gets the happiness pulse will receive the goodness value as well. The goodness value will decrease with differences relationship and by the same sort of general deterioriation from which the happiness pulse suffers, but the effect will not be nearly so pronounced; so, just because he doesn't know Joe very well personally, doesn't mean that Freddie won't dislike the PC for placing Joe's daughter in a mill-press.
Anyone whom the pulse doesn't reach is not considered to know about the event. Therefore, the goodness value will not affect him. However, an event such as the one mentioned above would have the emotional impact necessary to make the rounds of the entire town, I should think.
Some people will be only marginally concerned about the goodness value of an action. VERY few people will have a negatively correlative goodness interpretation; in other words, they won't view evil itself as good. I do this because I think it's rather realistic; why would I want a cartoonish supervillain?
It's very important, as you can see, to consider the full ramifications of every action the PC might take. Just because something seems is immediately or superficially beneficial doesn't mean you should do it. Not doing things people would dislike, but which are beneficial to you, is good. Doing things people would dislike, but which are beneficial to you, incognito, is better. Doing things people dislike, which are beneficial to you, and framing one of your enemies, is very good indeed. Of course, if you're concerned about the PC himself's morality, that brings in an entirely new dimension entirely.
Also, it will become evident that there are certain "hub" NPCs, who connect various groups, or who are directly connected to many different people. An example of this might be a local priest; he is connected to his parishioners, and to the monks in the abbey. Very quickly, the game could become a contest to curry the favour of these powerful individuals.
One further note: the web of relationships CAN be affected by the PC. The simplest way to do this is to remove a node (i.e., an NPC) from the web. Whether through kidnapping or murder, you can change the relationships between people.
For example, imagine Rick has become the puppet of one of your siblings (Rick, you weak-minded idiot... what's the matter with you?). Rick and Jan are a loving couple. Jan's sister is Theresa, whom you are actively trying to win over to your side. Jan and Theresa are very close.
Now, for some reason, you can't directly kill Rick; he's too well protected, say, or your sibling is magically monitoring him, and you can't risk his finding out. You can, however, discredit and hurt (not physically) him. If you do this overtly, you'll hurt your chances of wooing Theresa to your side, for she is closely connected to Rick through Jan (in truth, Theresa thinks Rick's an ass-hole, and that Jan would have been better off without him; but when Jan comes running to her crying because the PC had Rick publicly castrated (in a manner of speaking), Theresa's not going to think too highly of our gallant hero, the PC). You could get a peon to do it, but your peons are useless idiots. The simplest, crudest way around this is simply to kill or kidnap Jan (without it being discovered that you did it, of course). Once this is done, Theresa will no longer be related to Rick; in fact, she will return to her original dislike of him, and won't mind one bit when you publicly humiliate him.
You can also directly manipulate the relationship values themselves, through Sympathetic Magic, which deals with relationships. The more extreme a value (towards love or hate), the harder it will be to modify, but it's still extremely useful.
Now, you will see other problems here: there is no allowance made for variance in moral codes, or any other types of esteem, such as fawning over professional athletes and such. Also, it does not very well express the extreme emotional reactions resulting from some very specific actions.
For example, Sue is fairly reticent, generally. The more she dislikes/hates the character the less she is willing to talk to him. When she hates him the most, all she say is "..." (RPG-ese for "my silence speaks volumes".
Now, ninety-nine times of a hundred, this might be the perfect response for Sue. But that one hundredth time, when the PC bludgeons her beloved son Billy to death with a frozen trout, "..." just doesn't seem like enough.
There will also be specific, trigger/result type NPC reactions. It works something like this: "if [Billy is killed by PC], [Sue's reaction becomes: 'You bastard! You bloody bastard!' etc.]" or more generally "if [triggerEventHasOccurred], [modifyNPCReaction]". Simple, eh?
This has two main uses, as a hack, for when the NPC's reaction to an event, as governed by the above "happiness network/goodness" system, and to govern Quest-specific things, such as "if [YOU give FREDDIE the ROTTEN APPLE], [FREDDIE gives YOU the RUSTY KEY]".
That's it. I LOVE this system. So simple, yet yielding such complexity, I think. I just hope it implements well.
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