First test with another GM
Last night my friend Joey offered to try it. I didn't give him much specific instruction, just the general philosophy behind the tool. For his NPC, he created a grouchy farmer in a zombie-infested town, looting the bodies for any gold he could use to pay a local mercenary for protection. Sam played an adventurer here to save the town from the zombie plague.
Sam started off with some pretty aimless chat. "Nice pick-axe there. You seem to be pretty good at chopping up zombies."
Joey glanced briefly at his sheet and then responded in-character without checking any boxes. Uh-oh.
"Well, I'm doin' what I have to do, that's all."
"Lotta zombies around here?"
"Same as everywhere, I expect."
Joey started scanning the sheet more, feeling like by now he ought to have checked off something.
I had to jump in, and remind them that Sam had come to the farmer for a specific reason. I should have established this before we began roleplaying. I said, "Sam, you've been led to believe that this guy has a lead on someone who knows where the zombies come from." Sam and Joey both seemed encouraged, and resumed playing.
For the GM
Joey found it difficult to form a mental response, then check a box, then narrate. So, instead, he roleplayed his response, then looked to classify it via the boxes. This did mean that boxes got checked off and the conversation eventually came to a conclusion, but it also meant that Joey's responses came without any intent to communicate evolving Flexibility or Transparency. From his character's gruff responses, I assumed he was racking up negatives. But then, at the end, he'd filled up the positive Flexibility boxes!
I asked what he had in mind, and he said, "The guy just wanted protection, but now he's scared and worn out by Sam's interrogation and is basically ready to help."
Unfortunately, Joey had no idea what "max Flexibility" was supposed to indicate. In this case, I described it as, "Now the farmer will accept whatever Sam offers. But Sam has only made vague offers, and the farmer hasn't indicated that he likes any of them. So, uh, I guess you'd say, 'I'll help, just please do whatever you can for me,' or something."
We subsequently agreed that it would have been helpful for Joey to have the 4 conversational outcomes labeled on the sheet, to orient him with what to play towards. Rather than just smiley and frowny faces, I could include, "receptive to whatever's offered", "sees no benefit", "reveals Need", and "fears discovery". Or whatever better phrasings I can concoct.
Perhaps some sort of key, like a graphic in each box, to show what each box represents, would help to cut down on the "So which box is that?" decision time.
I don't think it's necessary to check a box before beginning to talk, but it is necessary to check a box before finishing talking. For those who want to talk first, perhaps an initial response, followed by a checked box, followed by elaboration to communicate the info represented by the box, could work.
For the Player
Sam's approach of asking a lot of non-pointed questions, rather than trying to convince or make offers, was a surprise to me. If I'd been GMing, I'd have deemed that it wasn't working, and given NPC feedback accordingly, like, "You're wasting my time, get to the point." If Sam hadn't switched tactics fast, the conflict would have ended in failure. Which I'm cool with as long as there's a learning curve.
That said, I do wonder about clearly establishing the border between "this is a social conflict" and "we're just enjoying roleplaying a chat". I think the solution is that, if the GM has an NPC marked as an Obstacle, then the conflict rules are in effect. Everything the player says still produces a mark, and playing out each mark will signal to the player what effect their chatter is having.
- If they hit a negative outcome, then the NPC can't simply say, "Well, got things to do, nice chatting with you but I must be off," because that would seem to leave the fiction at square one, ready for a second conflict from scratch. It seems vital to signal some degree of building animosity, so the players can back off before reaching a negative outcome. Or, if they persist and do reach a negative outcome, it'll make fictional sense later when they come back seeking the Reward and the NPC won't talk to them.
- If they hit a positive outcome, the NPC can say, "Well, if you need anything, just come let me know!" Then, later, when the players come seeking the Reward, they'll simply be given it with no challenge.
- If a chat is ended before hitting any outcome, then that NPC's F T Meter stays where it is, for future interactions.