Vizzini: But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You've made your decision then?
Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocaine comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
Man in Black: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
Vizzini: Wait 'til I get going! Now, where was I?
Man in Black: Australia.
Vizzini: Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder's origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You're just stalling now.
Vizzini: You'd like to think that, wouldn't you! You've beaten my giant, which means you're exceptionally strong, so you could've put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you've also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
Man in Black: You're trying to trick me into giving away something. It won't work.
Vizzini: IT HAS WORKED! YOU'VE GIVEN EVERYTHING AWAY! I KNOW WHERE THE POISON IS!
How I would love to have a Dungeons and Dragons combat system that emulated the battle of wits scene in The Princess Bride.
One of the touted features of original D&D is its' encouragement of player skill. But many people find the old-school combat system lacking in that area. The main criticism of old-school combat is that deteriorates into an endless exchange of blows. While the criticism is somewhat misplaced, (after all, players should be using their player skills to either avoid combat or ensure that the battlefield is of their choosing) once combat is joined, players are at the mercy of the dice, and the vagaries of the DM, who may be permissive or not when it comes to the players' improvised combat tactics.
Some 'modern gamers' point to the 4E combat system as a solution, as it provides myriad tactical combat choices, providing some measure of player control in finding synergistic combinations of combat abilities to defeat the monsters arrayed against them. But the 4E solution feels completely artificial to me: the combat abilities rarely reflect real combat tactics, and so their selection and employment, in my mind, are examples of system mastery, not player skill. After all, if you look at the example of the battle of wits between Vezzini and the Man In Black, Vezzini is using real-life knowledge (basic psychology, geography, recent events) to try to deduce the mind of his opponent.
One of the great strengths of Avalon Hill's Magic Realm combat system is its' focus on player skill. The system itself is rather straight-forward, and uses the following 'real-life' combat principles:
- Weapon length: longer weapons hit before shorter weapons.
- Weapon speed: faster weapons hit before slower weapons.
- Character speed: faster characters act before slower characters.
- Armor: armor absorbs blows, but can be damaged as a result.
- Weapon harm: heavier weapons do more damage than light weapons.
- Attack Direction: there are three attack directions that correspond to the three dimensions: smash down, swing to the side, and thrust ahead.
- Manuever Direction: there are three manuever directions that correspond to the three attack directions: duck down, dodge to the side, and charge ahead.
- Fatigue: characters are able to perform certain exceptional actions, but doing so causes fatigue, which constrains future activities.
For example, in Magic Realm, the Dwarf is very slow. His only fast movement, that does not cause him to become fatigued, is his ability to duck down (which makes intuitive sense, since he is short). Another player, knowing this about the Dwarf, would select a smash down attack against the Dwarf, knowing that the Dwarf is most likely to use the duck manuever. Of course, in true Vezzini fashion, the Dwarf knows that other players are aware of his reliance on ducking, and so may employ one of his other manuevers, thus avoiding the smash down attack of his opponent (even if it meant accumulating some fatigue as a result).
I would be interested to learn if others have devised a way to insert player skill into their old-school combat systems, so as to transform them into a battle of wits between the players and the DM.