Desert Nomad: How to win friends and influence NPCs in Black Desert
Welcome back, fellow Desert Nomads. I don't know about y'all, but since last week's column (and the official launch of Black Desert), I've spent almost every last iota of my spare time immersing myself in the game and exploring its many labyrinthine pathways into which time seems to vanish without notice. There's no denying that Black Desert is a complex (and sometimes obtuse) game, and there are many systems that could use some explication. None of them, however, has caused the same degree of befuddlement that I've seen wrought by the Amity system, which allows players to make friends with the game's many NPCs for fun and profit. This week, I've decided to take it upon myself to try and demystify some of the system's more arcane mechanics, which is as much for my benefit as anyone else's.
But before we begin, here's a shameless plug: I'm happy to announce that our official Black Desert guild, which I've creatively named Massively_OP, is now up-and-running on the Orwen server, and the proverbial gates are wide open for any and all who wish to join us. If you'd like to join, you can add me in-game (my family name is "Eloquin"), poke me on Twitter (@Matt_DanielMVOP), or join the guild's Discord channel using this link, which will hopefully work. Now then, enough appetizers; let's move on with the main course.
Every major NPC -- which is to say, NPCs with whom you can actually interact, like merchants, questgivers, and so on -- in Black Desert has an attribute called Amity, which is a numerical rating that measures how much the NPC likes your character. Increasing your amity level with a given NPC can unlock certain perks provided only to people said NPC likes enough, including new quests from questgivers, a larger selection of items for purchase from a vendor, and things of that nature. As far as I've discovered so far, none of the amity-related bonuses are likely to be essential to your success in the game, but there are still plenty of great benefits -- like a larger fence for serious farmers like myself -- to be gained by taking a little time to get to know the NPCs. Just like in real life, it's not strictly necessary to make friends, but it sure makes things a hell of a lot better.
Unlike many people in the real world, however, NPCs don't determine how much they like you based on things like how recently you've showered or how punchable your face is; the only thing they care about is whether you can hold a conversation. But of course, since NPCs aren't advanced enough to pass the Turing test (yet), you go about doing this by way of playing a conversation minigame. The minigame, while not particularly complex in and of itself, isn't very clearly explained in the game, so let's take a look at its inner workings and see if we can shed some light on the situation.
In order to initiate a conversation with an NPC, you just interact with the NPC in question and click the Conversation button displayed at the top of the dialogue panel. Before you're able to strike up a conversation with an NPC, you must first gain knowledge of a certain number of the topics in which the NPC is interested. Here, I'd like to introduce Alfredo, Velia's favorite arms dealer named after a pasta sauce. He's going to be our demonstration subject today. Under my cursor in the screenshot below, you can see the Conversation button in question. Those numbers on the right inform me of how much energy it will cost to have a conversation with Alfredo (2) out of my current total (44). The window on the left displays the area of knowledge in which Berman is interested, Imps (Balenos), and below that is a list of all of the topics in that category. You can see that topics I haven't yet unlocked are displayed as question marks. But despite the solitary gap in my knowledge, I know about eight of the nine subjects, which is more than enough to pique Alfredo's interest in chatting with me.
But wait, what if you don't have enough knowledge to initiate conversation with that one NPC who you're just dying to talk to? In this case, the Conversation button will be greyed out, as demonstrated in the screenshot below. As you can see in the screenshot below, Jemkas Wyrmsbane is interested in talking about the beasts of Serendia, a subject on which I am almost entirely ignorant. The little speech bubble over the Conversation button informs me that, if I want to strike up a conversation with Jemkas, I need to know about at least six of the topics in the Beasts (Serendia) category, and I currently stand at a measly three.
Mousing over the undiscovered topics in the window on the left isn't going to help you figure out what you need to know, but fret not; there's another way. Instead, open up your knowledge interface (default hotkey 'H') and find the subject about which you wanna learn more, and then mouse over the undiscovered entries. This will show you the entry's title, and while that doesn't tell you exactly where to learn about it, it does at least give you a general idea of where to look (or, if you're in a hurry, some key words you can plug in to Google for a quick answer).
Anyway, back to Alfredo. In addition to the conversation button and list of topics that I mentioned earlier, you can also see how much Amity he currently has for me in the bottom right-hand corner. As you can see from my single point of Amity, Alfredo and I aren't exactly buddies; let's see if we can change that. Clicking the Conversation button will bring you to the Conversation minigame screen, which looks like this:
There's a lot of info to digest here, so let's break it down. First off, let's take a look at the panel labeled "Current Amity." Like the display in the bottom-right of the initial interaction screen that I showed you earlier, this shows Alfredo's current amity level. You may have also noticed in the earlier screenshots that there were a few icons surrounding Alfredo's amity rating. These icons denote what will be unlocked by increasing my amity rating with Alfredo, and their locations around the "Amity Ring" provide a rough estimate of how much amity I'll need to unlock each of them. Mousing over any of these icons will provide a bit more information on the respective unlock. For instance, we can see from mousing over the first question-mark icon (which represents a quest, natch), that reaching the specified amity level will unlock the quest called "Daphne's Matchlock."
The panel at the top, which is labeled "Wealth" for reasons beyond my comprehension, displays Alfredo's current Interest Level and Favor. These statistics don't mean anything right now (though they will shortly), but it's worth pointing out that they will change a bit from interaction to interaction. Below that, in the panel labeled "Interaction Result," you can see statistics about, predictably enough, the results of the previous interaction. We haven't had an interaction yet, though, so all those stats are just big, fat, goose eggs.
Now, let's look at the right side of the screen. The first thing you'll probably notice is the Owl, which is Alfredo's zodiac sign. As you can see, on his zodiac sign there are four circles, each connected to another by a line. I'll be referring to these as "Topic Slots," because that's where we'll be placing the topics we wish to discuss. As an aside, you may remember earlier that I talked about how you have to have knowledge about a certain number of an NPC's interests before you can initiate a conversation with them.
Well, the exact number of topics you need to know about is determined by the NPC's zodiac sign. For instance, the Owl sign has four Topic Slots, so I need to know about at least four topics (enough to fill each one) before I can converse with Alfredo. Other signs, such as the Shield (pictured to the left), have a different number of Topic Slots and therefore require knowledge of more or fewer topics in order to initiate conversation. It's also worth pointing out that you will gain favor more quickly if you have the same Zodiac sign (chosen at character creation) as the NPC with whom you're talking.
At the top of the right side of the screen is the requirement text. This is what tripped me up the first few times I tried the Conversation minigame because I'm unobservant and completely missed it, but it's absolutely essential to successfully increasing an NPC's amity level. In this case, my goal in the conversation is to spark Alfredo's interest three consecutive times. The requirement changes with each conversation, so be sure to keep an eye out to make sure you're doing what it asks of you. Sometimes, the requirement is downright unintuitive -- for instance, the game may task you with failing to spark the NPC's interest a certain number of times. Why? Who knows, maybe some NPCs just enjoy being bored to death. Just do what it tells you, OK?
Last, but certainly not least, we come to the bottom right side of the screen, where you'll see five circular icons. These are my available topics of conversation. In order to play the minigame, I have to assign one topic to each of the four slots above. But before we do that, let's take a look at what each topic is comprised of. If you mouse over any of the available topics, you'll see a panel like the one in the screenshot to the left. Here, you can see all of the relevant statistics for the given knowledge topic. Let's break 'em down. First, under the "Wealth" header, we have the NPC's Interest Level and Favor regarding the selected topic. These don't mean much on their own, but they are used to calculate the stats in the next section, which is what really matters.
Under the "Interaction Effects" header, there are two statistics: Sparking Interest, and Interest. Sparking Interest is, predictably enough, a rating indicating how likely it is that the selected topic will spark the NPC's interest, which is of course of particular note to us since our objective is to spark Alfredo's interest three times in a row. The game helpfully provides the overall chance of sparking interest in the form of a percentage, shown in parentheses. As far as I can determine, the percentage is calculated by simply dividing the Interest Level of the topic by the Interest Level of the NPC.
For example, the Steel Imp topic in the screenshot has an Interest Level of 29, and Alfredo has an Interest Level of 33, and my calculator tells me that if you divide 29 by 33, the result is 0.87 repeating (which is something like 87.87%) which rounds up to the 88% displayed in the game. Math aside, all you need to know is that the closer a topic's Interest Level is to the NPC's Interest Level, the more likely it is to spark his or her interest, and if the topic's Interest Level is equal to or higher than the NPC's, then it's guaranteed.
Then there's the Interest statistic. This one is a bit of an anomaly to me, and maybe someone can shed some light on it in the comments. I was, despite my lack of mathematical prowess, able to puzzle out the way that the Interest stat is determined: It's the difference between the topic's Favor stat and the NPC's Favor stat. Again, using the above screenshot as an example, the Steel Imp has a Favor stat of 22-27, while Alfredo's Favor stat is 17. The difference between 22 and 17 is 5, and the difference between 27 and 17 is 10, hence the Steel Imp's Interest stat comes out to 5-10.
The problem is that, despite more or less figuring out how it's determined, I'm not 100% sure what it does, but from what I've seen (and as I will hopefully be able to demonstrate in a minute), the best guess I have is that it plays some part in determining the amount of Favor that successfully sparking the NPC's interest in a given topic will reward.
Last, but not least, is the "Next Combo Effect" stat. This one's pretty self explanatory, as the text below the header explicitly states what it does, but there are a couple of points that could use elaboration. Again, we'll use the Steel Imp topic from the screenshot as an example. The Steel Imp's "Next Combo Effect" text reads, "After 5 turns, Interest Level will be reduced by 3 for 2 turns." So, the first thing to clarify is that when it says "After 5 turns," that includes the turn on which the Steel Imp is activated. The second thing to clarify is that when it says "Interest Level will be reduced by 3," it means that the NPC's Interest Level will be reduced. Since, as we established above, the likelihood of a given topic sparking an NPC's interest rises in direct proportion to how close the topic's Interest Level is to the NPC's Interest Level, lowering the NPC's Interest Level means that the topics affected by the combo bonus will be more likely to spark his or her interest.
I know that's all more than a little confusing, but let's put it into practice and see if that dispels some of the confusion. So, as we previously established, our objective in this conversation with Alfredo is to spark his interest three times in a row. With that in mind, I want to fill each Topic Slot with a topic that has a high chance of sparking Alfredo's Interest. If possible, it would also be nice to use topics that have combo bonuses, like the Steel Imp's, that lower Alfredo's Interest Level, making it easier for subsequent topics to spark his interest. I'm not going to clutter up the article with screenshots of each topic's stats, but here's a rundown of each so you can check my math if something seems off:
1. Steel Imp Wizard -- Interest Level: 41 -- Favor: 2-6 -- Sparking Interest: 41 (100%) -- Interest: 0-0 -- Next Combo Effect: After 4 turns, Interest Level will be reduced by 2 for 2 turns.
2. Imp Wizard -- Interest Level: 34 -- Favor: 31-40 -- Sparking Interest: 34 (100%) -- Interest: 14-23 -- Next Combo Effect: None.
3. Steel Imp -- Interest Level: 29 -- Favor: 22-27 -- Sparking Interest: 29 (88%) -- Interest: 5-10 -- Next Combo Effect: After 5 turns, Interest Level will be reduced by 3 for 2 turns.
4. Imp Amulet -- Interest Level: 30 -- Favor: 39-44 -- Sparking Interest: 30 (91%) -- Interest: 22-27 -- Next Combo Effect: None.
Once all of my topics have been placed in their assigned topic slots (which I've labeled in the screenshot below such that the numbers correspond to the topics in the above list), the "board," as I'll be calling it, looks like this:
A couple of things to point out here. First, you'll notice that the lines between the Topic Slots have now turned into green arrows. These arrows indicate the direction in which the conversation will "flow," which is to say that it will start at #1 (Steel Imp Wizard), move to #2 (Imp Wizard), then to #3 (Steel Imp), then to #4 (Imp Amulet), then back to #2, and finally back to #3. The second thing to note is that there is now a blue dot on the line between #1 and #2 and the line between #1 and #3. This is to indicate that the topics in #2 and #3 will be affected by a combo bonus. In this case, both are being affected by the combo effect of Steel Imp Wizard (#1), though it's worth noting that, since the effect takes four turns to activate, both slots will benefit from it only during their second activations.
Now that all of my topics are in their desired slots, all that's left is to click the "Conversation" button at the bottom of the screen, and the game takes care of the rest. Let's watch, shall we?
OK, so as I hope you could see, after I click the Conversation button, the minigame begins by "activating" the first slot (which I assume does some kind of RNG stuff behind the scenes, though I'm not sure exactly what), and after the activation is complete, a little blue smiley face pops up next to the slot, indicating that the topic successfully sparked Alfredo's interest (confirmed by the Interaction Result panel). However, it's also worth pointing out that the "Accumulated Favor Level" increases to 1, despite the fact that the Steel Imp Wizard's Interest rating (which I was assuming determined the possible amount of favor gained) was 0-0, so either I'm wrong about Interest determining the amount of Favor gained, or I gained a single favor simply for sparking his interest.
Anyway, next it's the Imp Wizard's turn to activate, and it also succeeds in sparking Alfredo's interest. The Accumulated Favor Scale rating also jumps from 1 to 20, which does in fact fall within the range of the Imp Wizard's Interest rating (14-23), so there's still some possibility I'm right. Then it moves on to the next topic, the Steel Imp, which again sparks his interest and also increases the Accumulated Favor Level to 47 -- a 27-point difference, which is substantially outside the range of the topic's Interest rating of 5-10, which it would seem pretty thoroughly discredits my suggestion that Interest rating determines Favor gained.
I'll cut out the play-by-play there -- I'm sure you folks can see the rest just fine -- but the takeaway here is that I have absolutely no idea what Accumulated Favor Level or Maximum Favor Level indicate. I did, however, succeed in my goal of sparking his interest four consecutive times, and so I earned 26 total amity for doing so. Keeping with the trend of my having no idea what I'm doing, I also have no idea how the amount of Amity gained for a successful Conversation is calculated, so if any of you more arithmetic-savvy folks wanna enlighten me, I'd be more than happy for the assistance.
At any rate, you may notice that, when the minigame completes, I'm given two options: "Continuous Interaction" and "Exit." The latter of these options needs no explanation, but the former is less straightforward. You can think of "Continuous Interaction" as a kind of double-or-nothing scenario. If you choose this option, you'll play another round of the minigame with a new objective. Accomplishing the objective nets you an additional conversation's worth of Amity (however much that may be) without having to pay any energy, but failing means that you gain no Amity at all, meaning that your initial success is essentially nullified. If you succeed at a Continuous Interaction attempt, you can do it again and again until you exit or fail, adding an interesting layer of risk-and-reward calculations to the mix.
Although I'm sure that this (not so) little demonstration isn't suddenly going to make the Amity system crystal clear to y'all -- mostly because it's still not even crystal clear to me -- I do hope that this little adventure into the workings of the Conversation minigame have helped some of you to understand, at the very least, what the hell you're supposed to be doing, exactly. Like last week, I invite and encourage anyone with more complete knowledge of the Amity system (and/or better understanding of basic math) to take to the comments to fill in the blanks. And, just because I'm sure someone in the comments will say something about it, yes, I know that there are guides to the Amity system on the internet, but in addition to my deeply ingrained aversion to anything even approaching plagiarism, I'm actually kind of enjoying (albeit in a somewhat masochistic kind of way) the process of puzzling out the mystery. As always, thank y'all for reading, and please do stop by next week for more Black Desert adventures in the next edition of Desert Nomad.