When it comes to conflict, most RPGs have entire sections of the book detailed towards resolving it. There are lengthy and intricate rules to decide how combat works with various maneuvers the players can employ, and various rules for how those various maneuvers work. However, this same attention to detail falls flat in other aspects of the game, especially when it comes to social interaction. I want to talk about that today.
Charisma is a Dump Stat
The problem this lack of detail can bring up is also the reason why many people (especially those not playing sorcerors, bards, or paladins) use charisma as a dump stat. Most social engagements are role played out, not rolled out and so the players - often rightly - feel that it is ok to skimp on social skills for their character because they can simply make up for this weakness with their play. Also, while many GMs are perfectly fine with letting an entire adventure be ruined with a failed combat (often meaning a TPK,) I've found very few who will let a failed conversation bring the adventure to a weird stall. Honestly, I can't even blame that view. It would suck and doesn't sound very fun...but why not?
There Are No Social Hit Points
One of the arguments I've heard against a combat like system for social is that while we have something (similar) to hit points in how our bodies work, the same isn't true mentally. To which I must whole heartedly disagree. A person is able to deal with less crap before snapping when they've had a bad day. A person is more suggestable to certain actions when they've had certain things happen. Sure, we may recover faster from these things, and some people can do a good job of keeping how they deal with different people compartmentalized, but some people heal faster than others to - and we do have rules for that.
A Question of Focus
The real reason I think this happens is a question of focus. Most people - or at least most designers - are building their games with the idea being to focus on combat. Maybe they want the action movie feel, or maybe they want the classic fantasy adventure. Heck, maybe it is just what they want for some reason. Either way, if the game is focused on one aspect, then it should cover that aspect better than others. Which also means that a game would have to want to focus on the social - at least for some characters - to have these rules.
But Does It Have To Be Different?
The question then is, how do you make rules for an argument? Well, I'd say they don't have to be all that different from combat. John Wick made a game where the primary focus was on sex, with people winning power over others by having sex with them. It isn't a bad game, and the system used for winning the "sex fights" could just as easily work for real combat, or dancing, or even arguing.
Aside from Sexcraft, the only other game I know of with detailed rules for social combat is 'Sufficiently Advanced.' SA is a great game (disclaimer: I know/knew the developer) and even comes with a chart for handling escalation in situations so that a GM can easily tell what takes resolution priority between a baseball game, an argument, a cutting remark, and a thrown punch. Definitely worth a look, and one of those games where losing an argument can kill you (0 social HP means you can be convinced to commit suicide)
In my view, charisma is never a dump stat. The way we play, if a PC wants to convince an NPC of anything, they have to role play it. If I feel their argument has even the least bit of merit to it, that is it might be possible to believe their story, the player rolls their charisma and the NPC rolls their psyche (like willpower) to defend. I suppose their IQ (intellect) could also be used to defend now that I think about it but we've never played that way.ReplyDelete
Because of this, we've never viewed charisma as a dump stat. A funny aside, one of our players didn't understand why you needed to roll for this kind of thing because he as a person has a high charisma and has always been able to convince people of things. He never viewed it as difficult.
It was while playing the Star Wars RPG that we started using Con (charisma like) as a social weapon. Sure, it doesn't sound convincing when the player says they're really an admiral undercover to check crew performance but they're playing a con man. The con man does this kind of thing for a living.
I do use stress points, and they function something like the social hit points you describe but I've never used them if a player lost an argument although the rules don't rule that out. Maybe I'll have to expand my use of them.
That is a good way to handle it, and there are groups out there that do it. The viewpoint of "I can make up for social deficiency with play" though is fairly wide spread (I still hear about it regularly online and in person when I listen to gamers chat.)ReplyDelete
Stress points sound like an interesting system though, and a good way to work things. Cons are often like prolonged fights to maintain an identity. Having something to keep track of that sounds great. Perhaps also something to monitor how suspicious people are of your story. Hmm, there may be something there.
Some other systems with mechanics for social conflicts:ReplyDelete
- MouseGuard has excellent mechanics for resolving social conflict
- Dogs in the Vineyard has a single unified mechanic for starting a conflict at the social level and then allowing it to escalate all the way up to gun-fighting in the PCs want to take it that far.
- Spirit of the Century (which is a FATE variant) uses the same mechanics for social combat as physical, just using different stats for 'hit points', etc. The same system could be back-ported to core FATE pretty easily if you want to use it in your game.
- I seem to remember that Exalted had a system for social combat. I'm not a fan of the Storyteller system it's built on, so I've never actually tried it.
I recommend the first three systems in general as great RPG systems.
ooh, I didn't know SotC had rules for it. Same with mouseguard and dogs on the vineyard. I'll have to check those out. Thanks for the info, Dan!ReplyDelete
YOu may want to check "Debatable Actions" by LPJ Design which presents a "social combat" method for Pathfinder.ReplyDelete
It's great as you don't resolve everything with a single roll. Especially for those extended scenes.
I agree, most game developers have left Social Combat lacking or simply not addressed it at all. The current incarnation of World of Darkness does strive to correct this issue, but it isn't a D20 system. I don't think I've ever seen a D20 system that really has a good social combat system. That being said, it is a priority that we at Grimspiration Gaming are working on for our new Re-Evolution system. It isn't a D20 system, however we are currently developing a Social Combat system of rules of our own with social hit points and separate skills. The mechanics of which works very similarly to Physical Combat.ReplyDelete
I think that many beginner players get into a game for the hack and slash and excitement. For me, this can become monotonous, no matter how much variation you have in a combat you are limited by your character's abilities and still roll the same dice for the same action. Social Combat provides that element of improvisation and acting that I think is necessary for a good roleplaying game.
Good luck to anyone out there that has the ambition to create a good Social Combat system. It certainly won't be easy, but it should be fun.
FATE in general has a functional social combat and social stress mechanic. When I see you Friday remind me and I'll loan you the Dresden Files book and you can take a look at it.ReplyDelete
I'm really not a fan of the social combat mechanic in 2nd Ed Exalted, but that's probably tainted by how the GM used it when I played it.
Over all I think that in social combat there are two pertinent kinds of damage, your social standing, and your stress level. Social standing is easy enough to simulate by causing poor reactions. Personal stress level is harder because it is in many ways more of a role play thing, but I'd see causing penalties in further social situations leading to the same kind of death spiral as wound penalties in combat. I guess in the end stress is wounds now, and social standing is permanent wounds.
Burning Wheel has pretty good rules for Social Combat.ReplyDelete