This design is related to a Game Design Challenge about a game that could use aggression or not. Here’s the link for the original.
The game I designed is called The Merchants, a game that’s a open-world RPG, based on an unspecified world settled in a somehow realistic European Middle Age.
The player can customize the main character, and he is a merchant: he travel around, buying things for cheap and selling them later, for a better price. He never had any accomplishments in his life, neither his family. The player character never had any training in combat, or in languages, just his own and how to cultivate wheat.
The main problem the player faces in the beginning of the game is what to learn. As he’s a young man – the player can be a woman, but will face issues related to how they were seen at that time -, the character can try to learn how to face enemies by the combat, or by negotiating.
The combat way it’s easier: you attack someone, you defend yourself, and then attack more. You gain just a small reward, after pillaging their bodies, and that’s it. You didn’t obtain anything that will help you in the future.
However, if you speak the language of the attackers – you must learn it before, as any other language beside your own –, you can try to reason with them. They may want your wheat, and somehow you may be able to make them let you go, and after sometime sell them bread in a better price. This may be the beginning of a partnership: if you sold them the bread, in the price combined, they may protect you when you are in their territory, and they may want to sell you things they collect, and buy food you may have.
In towns, the way you go through it is similar: you rent places to sleep, go around the town to have an idea of how things work there, if necessary try to get a book on how to speak the language, and then sell your goods.
The reason why I’m focused on the languages, is to simulate different cultures, and offer a different way to level up skills. To use a language, you may not need to speak them. You can use a book, and remember specific phrases – that’s before any conversation, and it can be done anywhere safe – from the book. With time, instead of seeing subtitles in words you don’t recognize, or hearing foreign words, you begin to understand fragments of it: someone may buy wool, or someone is selling fruits. And then, after some more time, you fully understand it, or understand it enough to negotiate. The point is, the more you use the book and talk, better you’ll become.
That’s basically how everything else works. You may have problems to negotiate swords in the beginning, but after some negotiations you understand what is better to talk about. And then, after some more time, you can truly convince someone that your swords are the best, and should be bought as soon as possible.