While some of the most famous characters of the many Savage Worlds are fierce warriors, incredible marksmen, and even some powerful sorcerers, some of the greatest unsung heroes are the ones that kept fights from breaking out in the first place. Manipulating allies and enemies alike fall into a trio of skills: Intimidation, Persuasion, and Taunt. These three, in addition to a few Edges and Setting Rules, have the potential to be some of the most history-altering skills of anything else.
Don't worry, we'll cover combat skills and more action oriented skills later. Here's some previous posts that I've made in this series (and we have a long way to go; probably around 10 more for Skills alone).
Part 3—Skills [Boating, Climbing, Driving]
A caveat I want to add that I don't know if I made clear in the previous post: the aforementioned "Active Skills," while active and require a skill roll to use, do not necessarily require the skill to be performed: you may still be Unskilled and attempt a Shooting roll (and Active Skill), for instance.
Let's also refresh on the rules for Tests of Will: it's an opposed roll that grants you a +2 on your next action against the target (no matter how many turns or cards go between these actions, distinguishing them from Tricks). With a raise, it also shakes the target as well. This is also assumed to have situational bonuses for very on-point digs or intimidating techniques (and appears to assume to be capped at +2).
Lastly, a refresher on the Reaction Table: these are the levels of cooperation an NPC can have towards a PC or an idea. A character that is Friendly, for example, would almost certainly be Hostile to the idea of harming his family. Whenever using Intimidation or Persuasion, all it can do is to move a character a couple of places along this track. For a refresher, the levels are "Hostile," "Uncooperative," "Neutral," "Friendly," and "Helpful."
With all that out of the way, let's jump in!
Intimidation [Active]: "Frightening an opponent through force of will, threats, or just really big guns." Narratively, this does exactly what it sounds like: intimidate people. Of course, the book only outlines a single use of this skill: the Test of Will. This is a combat action, however: if you intimidate someone, they're going to try and stay the fuck away from you because they have a not-unreasonable chance of landing a solid attack on your with that +2. This does not account for the social side of things, of which there are 2: interrogations, and forcing cooperation.
The Interrogation Setting Rule that is the most streamlined and well-integrated is found in Deadlands: Noir. The basic gist of it is that the rules are basically a special case of the Social Conflict rules, where you make your rolls opposed by the target's Spirit: the number of total successes and raises you get determines how successful the interrogation was. If the setting you're Savaging from supports it, this is an incredible judge of a characters' Intimidation capabilities.
Forcing cooperation is probably best put into mechanics by Zadmar: one minute of interaction and an Intimidation roll opposed by their Spirit cooperates as though they were "Friendly" (as though they were Persuaded) as long as they're under your influence, as well as a little while after with a Raise. The next time they see you, they're Uncooperative, or Hostile if they were already Uncooperative. Failing this roll moves them down a level on the Reaction Table.
An important thing to remember with regards to the specific die type of Intimidation: Intimidation is always opposed. That means the Intimidation score of your character is based wholly off of the Spirit of the opposing character: there are a couple of caveats to this though:
> The Wild Die: If you are a Wild Card with the Intimidation skill, your Wild Die means that you are always more likely to Intimidate Extras because you roll two dice rather than one. In addition, as far as Extras go, you have somewhere like a 60% chance of success if you have a d6 in the skill (due to the Wild Die) vs their average d6 in Spirit (with no Wild Die). So, effectively, Wild Cards are almost always more Intimidating and less likely to be Intimidated.
Persuasion [Active]: "Convincing others to do what you want them to do." Another skill that does exactly what it says on the tin: Persuasion allows you to get people onto your side. This means convincing them to lower the prices of their goods, lend you a helping hand, or even in Social Conflicts in the courtroom or in the presence of a high council. This, unlike Intimidation, is not usually opposed, and it adds your Charisma to the roll. With a decent bit of Charisma and a reasonable Persuasion skill, it's very easy to consistently persuade people to your side.
Unfortunately, failing this roll means that the NPCs mood moves down a spot on the Reaction Table, so people that talk a lot and people generally don't get angry at him for doing so probably has at least one Charisma-increasing Edge.
With regards to Charisma, by the way: always remember that Attractive and Very Attractive are only really applicable if it's actually built into the character, not the actor they're portrayed by. A character only has these if it's acknowledged in-universe that they're good-looking. The more people that identify this, the more likely the character has the Edge: Ellen Page is pretty attractive, but if her character's husband is the only person to ever acknowledge this or be influenced by this, that character may not have the Edge.
Again, Persuasion only moves people around on the Reaction Table, and is not mind control. Do not treat this as mind control.
Another use for Persuasion is bartering (opposed Persuasion vs Smarts to lower the price of an item by a small percentage), and lying (Persuasion vs Notice). Bartering is more of an in-game thing, as that's not normally the kind of thing shown onscreen, but very good liars tend to have at least a little bit of Persuasion and/or Charisma. Lastly, it can be used in Interrogations, opposed by the target's Spirit in the Social Conflict.
As a side note, when Savaging things, Persuasion can be used against other characters in the show/movie/book that might be considered a Player Character, even though the rules says it doesn't work that way. The only reason it doesn't work that way is so you don't have an awful player come in and start trying to convince the party to become his personal slaves.
Taunt [Active]: Probably the least useful of the three, Taunt is getting under someone's skin and throwing off their concentration. In combat, it functions like Intimidation except against an opponent's Smarts, and against certain enemies it may even cause them to be distracted and go after you rather than their current target (although that's a far more rare corner case).
Taunt doesn't have much of a use outside of combat except for one: Interrogations. Like Intimidation and Persuasion, Taunt can be used to trick someone into revealing information that they otherwise wouldn't (most famously in modern pop culture in this scene from the Avengers), opposed by the target's Smarts. Otherwise, it's subjectively up to the GM to decide its usage: perhaps you'd use it to draw away a rabble of guards by the gate, or simply to get someone off your back.
It's honestly one of the more niche skills of the three here, but it still very much has its place.
As a corollary, remember that Taunt isn't just getting under someone's skin or being annoying, or smarmy, or an asshole: it's doing it with an actual benefit to yourself (either in combat or in weird corner cases). And, as with Intimidation, this is opposed at all times, while Persuasion is generally not.
I know this took a long time to pop out, but I've been busy these last couple months. I'm going to try and increase my savaging activity as much as I can, but before I go, let's take a look at our good friend Inigo again:
Inigo isn't the most social of characters, but he does have an irresistible charm and good manners, which he uses a couple of times, convincing the Dread Pirate Roberts to trust him long enough to toss a rope down a cliff to him early on in the movie, and later trying to get the miracle man to help his friend (although that second time, it wasn't enough to get the guy to help: probably went from Uncooperative to Neutral).
He is, however, quite the scary man: with the massive Fezzik backing him up, he scares the crap out of a guard to cooperate with him, and he freaks the hell out of the 6-fingered man with a hell of an Intimidation roll near the end of the movie; that warrants the d6 all on its own.
Name: Inigo Montoya
Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Pace 6; Parry —*; Charisma 0; Toughness 5
Skills: Boating d6, Persuasion d4, Intimidation d6
*Parry not listed due to not listing Fighting yet
As always, leave questions and comments and complaints about how long between posts I take below.