What is the perceived "Threat level" of the encounter? Say, in a town, GM's and dear readers?
If any of you answered using any math of player or monster levels, or even neutral or hostile - my question failed totaly, Pre-diplomatically and negotiationaly and logically disposition wise.
Expectation is the first key & tale-tail sign, then Perception of both sides, then Motive (displayed, told/spoken by or bias-ness, implied by race or skill/social class, or prior experiences. NEXT THE most important step Starts/Becomes the NEGOTIATION BY "perceived x2 + all parties and NPC's reactions and PRIME ( Authoritative ) speakers"
Intention (almost Never the same group to group unified expectation and intent even amongst agreeing and well known friendlies)
GM's need to Decide, then show what kind of "BALL" is being up-for grabs.
The Power Ball = Authority/Command Rights? . Mil = Submit or aggressive fight. CP = Assertive statement or demand of Rights/Authorities. Civ = First Initiating Speaker sets the innital disposition standards (I Have to tell you about X or This person Said XYZ Does this mean you're going to X and XY ?) & I'm a Noble, I Command you to stand aside! Now!
The First Word concept Disposition Ball Why Human here? (looks at weapons) So what Can I do for you?, my job is X. & Naw, kind sir i wasn't harassing your lovely maiden, ta'was a'miring how her fashion sense's match your style, your sword gems even match her rings colors (fast talk). Dare you call ME a thug pretty boy! when you're packing such a Fine set of jingling ... (Gulp) . u'am . Wands?!
The Idiot Ball Who Ever is 'socially' made to look bad or Fails to Maintain Respects (perceived as "of proper order" diplomatic situation understanding words/actions or To Tuff to Mess With)
Places one whole side or 1 or more members on both sides as either examples (good or BAD) In the Wrong. ALL Other Balls TRY to hand this off and divided as Big and many parts as wide as thought by their Reasonable standards, at-the-time as their Authority Can place it DOWN. Down Fast, Soft, Hard or even Hot IS What Diplomacy, positional negation and Command authority is mostly about.
My experience puts all encounters into three basic pre-conceived assessments at first sound, hearing of or first word spoken. Military mindset, Civil Power mindset, average 'safe' Citizen in relative comfort mindset
Military specturm = ALL unknowns are lethal, all perceived threats START off as lethal and deescalate to harmfull even if Neutrialized. Most players and character classes START here even in a "safe and equality social status" Inn. Almost all players character types Start AT this concept or are based on it, once armed or after a few Encounters.
Police spectrum = All disorder perceived ( civil / social ) or display of threat capability treated By Attitude as is hostile unless in agreeably "face/image" and Submission_to_Obeying. Lethality is considered, suspected & randomly possible. Attitudes, Self Confidence's and social pre-expectation looks, clothing & status showings are Important to Vital. Rogues, Thives and Socailites Live, breath and Act most of these standards of social command. Humaniods semi-social or intelligent have those Bones, scares and "jewelry" and furs&skulls on for a REASON.
3.5 Civil & Civilians All fights are pre-expected to be non lethal and most non Serious Wounding i.e. no brake-neck strikes and Near Mandatory pleading once their at 60% health.
Gaining respect , Braking their will to fight By Longer consequence (Duration After the fight) Threat Imply'ed, submissive show-stopper moves ( Even whao!'-man, party- we'll yield to you, Just Stop! ) and Negotiation of their weakness's. Diplomacy works if they're fighting for something NOT of their PERSONAL "I'm a bad ass, fear me" ego's.
Verbal fights THAT "Must HAVE semi to clear CAUSES (or at least later somehow decipherable. = Gossip and comfort and safety of knowing) Liers, fast talkers, and quick thinking diplomats and clamer down negotiators Rule, stomp or outright Hold this turf. ?Ever try to calm down a frantic random lady who somehow is one of the on-lookers or combatants girlfriends and accidentally start or nearly so Another or Worse Fight? ya, a pure RL Example.
Fights OF intimidation's By yelling's & cussings ect With Physical "waving a stick" or contact, grappling to bare-fists, thrown physical objects that: Risk or Move into -or could if wall/people pinned- their 10 foot sense of safety are almost to possibly conceived as a all fault risk level 1-3 "girls/women/pasty-faced gentlemen ECT. Contrast - barmaids, farm girls, exotic "wild" princesses and some wildflower noble-women are more practical or hardened exceptions.
My Suggestion once you get a good talk, motive, reason and "objectives" flow for NPC's. Reactions role played or Innital NPC's Reactions told of before the any speakers "turn" help players out more by giving them normal social steps stages to react, decide from and platform Rational Decisions.
Example, your Leader HP8-16 is Grabbed from behind in the town streets Broad Daylight by a lone Intimidating looking magic user with a shocking-grasp bringing a party member onto his knees And now Faces him Staring him down Pointing at them (or something on or around him)
First Thought? (left out, In-Combat Sub-Lethal negotiations is Clearly "Mercenary classic" turf)