What is the relevant ability?

Hi everyone. I'm fairly convinced I'm missing something here, and I'd be grateful if someone would clarify this for me.

Imagine the following:

Two characters are having a debate in a courtyard filled with people. Each character is 1) trying to defeat the other with his debating skills and 2) is trying to get the crowd on his side.

The question is, which ability would they use. When I look through the RAW I can't find an ability that I'm comfortable with. Consider:

Artes Liberales (ArM p.62) does include knowledge of rhetoric, but not the ability to use it, so that's out.

Bargain (ArM p.64) is restricted to haggling, and we're clearly not doing that.

Charm (ArM p.64) has to do with "Enticing, fascinating and endearing others to you, but only on a personal basis". These guys aren't trying to endear themselves to each other - they're verbally attacking eachother - and even if they might be said to be trying to endear themselves to the crowd, that's hardly doing it on a personal basis. For me, this strikes me as a "seduce" kind of ability.

Etiquette (ArM p.65) has to do with correct behaviour. Not really relevant.

Guile (ArM p.65) has to do with telling convincing lies and deception in general. Now, these guys might be lying, but that's not a given. I say they're not lying, so this one is out as well.

Intrigue (ArM p.65) might be the closest fit, since the RAW state that you check this ability during negotiations. Mostly though it's used for dealing and plotting and non-confrontational uses of power. What I'm looking for is the application of the knowledge of rhetoric mentioned in Artes Liberales, and that's not really negotiating.

Leadership (ArM p.65) applies when you want someone to obey your orders. IMS I've also used it when someone tries to strengthen anothers resolve, i.e. convincing someone that they want to do something that they really don't. Still, no fit.

Living Language (ArM p.66) concerns getting the message across, at higher levels in a fancy way. These guys understand each other fine, so this isn't it either.

I guess my question is clear. What skill, if any, would i use for two debating characters?

kind regards


Well, I would have to say that the scenario you suggest seems closely akin to the competitive use of Etiquette as detailed in the Jerbiton chapter of Societates.

Basically, the ability to debate is not so much a "skill" as a character trait (e.g. Communication). Since you wish, in this case, to make a spectacle of the debate wherein a crowd of observers must also be influenced to the side of one or the other debater, I would say either go with the Jerbiton Etiquette contest mechanic (Communication + Etiquette roll) or perhaps modify it to Communication + Folk Ken.

Either way would work for me.

[edited to add: If you really want to get technical you could even complicate it a bit by making it a combination of characteristics and abilities and just set the difficulty level for success higher. Since debating involves knowledge as much as the ability to convey that knowledge effectively, one could envisage Int+Comm+Etiquette(+/- Folk Ken)+ die roll as a means of going about it as well.

The nice thing about Ars is that its modular and flexible, mix and match as your own logic deems best, I say. :wink:

You'd go pick up Dynasties and Demagogues by Atlas Games, and use the Complex Debate system provided there on page 110. It has an excellent set up for an extended debate, and is even referenced in one of the Ars books as an option, but i don't remember which one...

Another option would be to use something akin to the Certamen rules, like this: Choose either Guile or Charm for attack or defense, but only one. Thus, if you chose Guile for attack, Charm would be used for defense.

Initiative: Quickness + Guile + Stress Die
Attack: Presence + Charm or Guile + Stress Die
Defense: Communication + Charm or Guile + Stress Die
Weakening: Intelligence + Artes Liberales + Attack Advantage
Resistance Total: Perception + Leadership

This would combine almost all the relevant skills

Guile and quickness would represent the ability to see an opening and act on it, thinking on your feet.

Presence shows the flourish of your argument, Communication shows your eloquence. The skills show whether or not you try to persuade to your cause (charm) or refute your enemy's (guile).

Intelligence and Artes Liberales show the expertise and acumen with which you construct your argument.

Perception and Leadership show how you can see the holes in the enemy's argument and your ability to inspire them to your cause.

And then you'd use the fatigue levels, just like Certamen, but with victory/defeat like normal, and no chance of being knocked out.

I actually kind of like it.


oooh, Ben, I like your suggestion better than mine. That definitely brings the all the facets of debate into use. Bravo! :slight_smile:

The Tytalus chapter of HoH:Societates has debate rules, very similar to what our sodalis Leonis suggests. Certamen-style.

I haven't had a chance to read that chapter, I'll have to go check it out.


Hmm and here i was looking at Societates when I made my first respone. lol.

Need to start reading more thoroughly before posting methinks. :wink:

This has even been adapted for Ars Magica :wink:

These are intended to be used with this table
atlas-games.com/pdf_storage/ ... nTable.pdf

Although I never even read the damn thing :blush: :laughing:

...while stifling a tear of nostalgia for the Disputatio ability. :wink:

D, I think your presentation, and others' analysis, shows pretty clearly that this is not a "1 roll" sort of thing (unless you really want to simplify it to that.) There are several dimensions going on here. If it was just rallying the crowd to your side, Leadership might be approp, but there's the "logic of the argument" thing here - assuming the crowd can follow it! Which also means there's a large social dynamic to add to the logic and mere force of personality - who can woo the crowd while appealing to those who can follow the argument?

I like the Certamen mechanics analogy.

I like the certamen-style system a lot. I think I was initially looking for a "debate"-kind of ability, but once I thought a bit about it, having an ability like that would really call the communication characteristic into question. The thought of "engaging" another person in verbal combat is a really appealing idea.

Thanks a lot guys. I usually just lurk here (and learn quite a bit by doing it), but when I post a question the amount of intelligent reasoning around the issues posted always pleasantly surprises me. It's a good measure of a forum when posting questions needs as much thought as answering them.

Thanks again.

It's a good measure of a question when it gets a page of responses.

You should post more often! Join the fun! Live dangerously! 8)

Having had a chance to look at the Tytalus chapter and the Demagogues&Dynasties options, I have to say that I like the option of some styles being more or less effective against others, and the method for determining the percentage of vote acquired from the Tytalus chapter, but I think the maneuvers listed in the D&D pdf are an addition that adds excellent flavor. All three options have a good use of skills, and while I think I like my distribution of skills best, I'd still want to find a way to utilize Confidence and Reputation in the options-- possibly with either being permitted as a sort of exertion option, a one time use per debate to add to one's attack or defense, reflecting a reference to the appropriate trait. Knowing and utilizing a foe's poor Reputation could be used this way, too.

Hmmm, this could work well as an alternate system to HoH:S, if the maneuvers could be converted or adjusted properly... I think that's folk ken's place in all of this, in the maneuvers rather than in the attack or defense roll proper...knowing the feel of the crowd or your opponent is good, but I don't think it fits as an attack skill.

Intrigue could replace guile on the initiative roll though, and I'd be pleased with that.


I'd say that you'd make a contested Artes Liberales roll to determine the winner of the debate on technical grounds.

I'd use Leadership to determine whether the debater can win the crowd over.