This is a guest blog column by Geoffrey Fagan. He doesn’t have a blog himself, but participated regularly in the GURPS Forums under the username GEF.
Part IV: Influence
An Influence Roll takes the place of a Reaction Roll; use one or the other. Why do they use different mechanics? I have no idea. Influence Rolls are based on skill, which enables you to leverage the attributes on which they’re based, but they use the mechanic of a contest (against Will) and compress the range of possible outcomes (either Bad or Good, but never extremely so). Reaction modifiers generally apply to Influence skills, but there are exceptions, and the GM may waive any he wishes.
Intimidation is the Influence Skill based on Will. Since Will is cheap and valuable in its own right, this is a bargain, plus you can get lots of bonuses, for displays of strength, cruelty, larger size, for Hideous or worse Appearance (instead of a penalty!), and a +3 bonus for lying (Fast-Talk roll). Specious Intimidation (lying) can backfire, resulting in a Very Bad, rather than merely Bad, reaction if you fail.
Carousing and Sex Appeal are based on HT. Of the two, Sex Appeal applies in more contexts (but only among half of the population), and it results in a Very Good reaction, instead of merely Good, upon success. However, it’s based upon an implied promise, so you could get a rep as a tease if the promise is never fulfilled.
All other influence skills are based on IQ. Savoir-Faire is the easiest, though context-specific. Streetwise is conceptually Savoir-Faire for the street, but it’s special in that it ignores all the usual reaction modifiers, so if you load up on reaction penalties, be sure to learn this skill! Diplomacy is the hardest Influence Skill to learn, but worth it, because you get a normal Reaction Roll in conjunction with the Influence Roll and take the better result. Effectively, Diplomacy compresses the range of reaction results only on the bad side.
Of course, the GM is free to call for an Influence Roll based on other skills; likely candidates are Administration, Interrogation, Leadership, Merchant, and Teaching. Remember that the differences between these skills have to do with approach, and the context in which each approach is appropriate; any Influence skill can be used toward any goal, be it information, a fair price, or an end to hostility. “Dudley, mind your manners, young man.” “Yeah Dudley, shut up or I’ll pound ya!” Different approaches (that is, different skills) avoid the penalty for repeated attempts; technically, trying Intimidation after Savoir-Faire has failed is not a repeated attempt for Savoir-Faire.
What if you want to leverage a high attribute and the points invested in an Influence skill, but you don’t want to compress the reaction results? Well, GURPS has a general rule for using skills in conjunction: Roll the helper skill first, and modify the primary roll by + or -1 on success or failure (doubled for crit success or failure). There’s no reason why a generic Reaction Roll can’t be the “primary” in this case, effectively turning a reliable Influence skill into another +1 modifier.
Of course, you can use a secondary Influence Skill to assist an Influence Roll. Fast-Talk, whether it represents a glib deception or literal fast talking, leaving the subject no time to think things through, works well with any Influence Skill and especially Intimidation, as noted above. Other good helper skills for Influence rolls include Psychology or any related skill (Body Language, Detect Lie, and Fortune-Telling) to read the subject’s motive, and any skill that can establish rapport (Acting, Current Affairs, Connoisseurship). “Hey, how ‘bout them Giants?”
Salesmen are merchants and probably have Merchant skill, but the art of getting someone to tell you what they want or need, or convincing them that they want or need what you have to sell, and getting them to listen to the pitch is all about Influence. Intimidation is rarely the right approach, but any of the rest work fine; a good salesman probably has Fast-Talk at minimum for the “elevator pitch” and another couple chosen for his market (Savoir-Faire for the luxury boutique, Streetwise for the black market, Sex Appeal for charming his way past the “gatekeeper” receptionist, Carousing for taking the businessman out for a drink).
Interviewing uses Interrogation skill in coercive situations; that could include actual torture, or just keeping a suspect in a locked room drinking coffee with no bathroom breaks. In a non-coercive context, like a journalist getting a story, that’s just a “request for information” Reaction Roll or Influence Roll. Influence Rolls compress the results, so the best the journalist can hope to get is Good, but that’s usually enough for info. A journalist should have a toolkit of multiple approaches.
Anyone who makes his way in the world by the good will of others needs high Reaction Modifiers to get results better than Good on ordinary Reaction Rolls, but with all those modifiers, effective Influence skills are cheap! So pick up a few. Depending on your natural social environment, pick up Carousing, Savoir-Faire, or Streetwise, just to fit in, and you can always use it as a helper for a generic Reaction Roll.
This overview of social traits is by no means the last word, just my attempt to highlight the value of an aspect of GURPS rules that can be overlooked. For an in-depth treatment, see GURPS Social Engineering. For a light treatment, see GURPS Monster Hunters 2. The latter supplement outlines an abstract approach to gathering clues to track down the monster of the week, but it works just as well for finding buried treasure or a kidnapper’s hideout. Of course, requests for information and their attendant Reaction Rolls are a big part of any investigation.