So, how do we implement this as functional?
Here are my thoughts.
The card design Telecanter made is brilliant. It contains space for an image, visible traits, and what tumblers (interactions) we can make to unlock information.
The picture and the visible traits serve the purpose of avoiding the basic confrontational stance that players always end up in to meet their goals when interacting with NPC's. The image and traits, as well as the introduction used by the Dungeon Master will provide clues as to which techniques will work best against the NPC. These traits can be generated from the link to the Character Traits.pdf (author unknown) on my sidebar, or whatever tool you use to generate NPC personalty. A automated one is online at B/X character creator.
Note that this is extremely similar to the relationship mechanic in pathfinder or various bioware relationship games. What makes this different are the locks -- activities which unlock specific behaviors or events, rather then just timed events or specific actions that increase a singular numeric score. The score is simply to track win or endgame conditions, so that the process cannot be infinitely gamed.
Designing the list of interactions first involves an iterative collections of various options that are significantly or noticeably different from each other.
- We want the list to be comprehensive, not in the extent that it be huge and cover every possible action, but in the sense that any action the player characters take could be fit within it.
- We also desire for the list to be evocative. If this were a mechanical system not dealing with sentient creatures, I would suggest a limit of 7 to 9 things. But human beings are complicated creatures, so creating a system with more options then we can easily keep in mind provides a sense of that complexity to the players (who after all, are interacting with a picture, two descriptive words, and three optional action/results.
We also have to worry about speed and conciseness. Not every option should unlock a tumbler and not every option will be good or bad. A simple way to track this is to say any unlisted option reduces the reaction level by 1. Actions that raise the reaction level (I would suggest by no more than 1) or lower the reaction level a greater amount (by 2 or 1-4 for example) would be rare and specifically noted.
An optional rule, is that a particular conversational stance, such as obsequiousness, friendly, or hostile is selected, and this gives a one time adjustment to the reaction track.
Rewards and Results
I also believe for ease of use that perhaps results of 'NPC party' should be treated as a single NPC in this case.
Comments, Thoughts, Conclusion and Two Lists
The most exciting thing about this system, is that a simplified form could be used to handle encounter checks when the players decide to parley. Factions within a dungeon could be treated as a single NPC, allowing the players to gain alliances and other rewards based off the way individual encounters go.
Even though this is the mechanical system behind NPC reactions, the experience for the players should not change. Their interactions with the NPC's should remain organic and interpreted by the Dungeon Master. Players should not feel as if they are playing a computer game, this system exists to aid the Dungeon Master in adjudicating NPC interactions impartially.
Here is a list of options for interaction:
Action Options: Drinking, Flirting/Seducing, Intimidate/Threaten, Demanding (robbing, etc.), Ignoring, Honoring, Bribing (gold/magic item/food/etc.), Trade, Question/Interrogate, Pray/Convert, Seek Aid, Offer Aid, Surrender/Grovel, Flee, Gambling,
Each of these is specific and should be individualized. If the player characters say 'we give him 100 gold', and what he really wants is food, the replay should give the players the information. "Aye, I'll take your metal, but it does little for my empty stomach."
Here are some ideas for rewards. These are less regimented and are merely meant to provide inspiration for the possible results of unlocking tumblers.
Teaching a spell, Telling about another NPC/Faction, Joining the party, Giving a quest, Handing over a reward in thanks, Telling about a trap, giving the players a map, Guiding the players somewhere, Teaching a skill, Unlocking a playable race, Unlocking a new special ability.