About two years ago I did a post on Social Combat where I touched on some of the basic issues with the idea of systems having social combat rules, but didn't go all that much in depth to how it worked. It's been irking me for a while, but I'd mostly left it out of sight and mind. Recently, that article came back up when I was browsing around the internet and I wanted to revisit it. Only, this time, I wanted to go more in depth and I figured the best place to start was with the concept of Social Hit Points. Shall we begin?
Physical vs. Mental/Social Combat
A lot of times when you talk about Social Combat for RPGs people don't like it because it doesn't add up in their head. I mean, how do you throw a verbal punch? How do you track social and mental damage? Why should I die because I lost an argument? I mean, some of it sounds silly right off the bat (i.e. dying when you lose an argument) and some of it not so much. One of the interesting things though is that a lot of people I've spoken to or read about over the years dislike the idea of hit points for a social/mental conflict because it's just not how those things work. These same people are often ok with hit points for physical confrontation not because it does a great job of adequately representing physical injury, but because it's what we have and we need some way to track damage the body has taken. The thing is, when I started to really think about it, I think that hit points are actually a much more accurate way to represent social/mental damage than they are to represent physical damage.
The Stubbed Toe Death
How many times have you been playing in your RPG when someone does anywhere from 1 to 4 hit points of damage to the big bad and everyone then breathes a sigh of relief because those were the last hit points the monster had? No matter that the monster shrugged off 30-100 damage hits earlier and throughout the fight while it kept going and ransacking the party. It ran out of HP and now it is dead. An astute GM would say that it succumbed to its wounds. An astute system might argue that HP doesn't represent your actual damage threshold but how good you are at avoiding taking a lethal hit. With that system the 1-4 damage wasn't a low damage hit, the monster was just to tired to turn it aside and so the character took a good hit and died from it.
The thing is, this system is still flawed. Lets look at another example. Fighting games (video games) also use a HP system for their fighters in the life bar. Odds are that if you've played a fighting game you've seen a fight end when a blocked jab just barely does enough chip damage (damage done through a block) to end the fight and secure victory. No matter that moments before the fighter showed no sign of injury and had successfully blocked giant beam cannons and been kicked through buildings. That little jab ended the fight.
Now, this isn't impossible, but think about it in terms of real life - or better yet, movies and cinema - how likely are you to buy that the hero who just shrugged off being batted through a wall is going to drop unconscious because the dwarf clapped her on the back too hard or a ratling bit her hand? It doesn't make much sense, and it is kind of anti-climactic and odd to say the least. But it is something we all accept and are used to. It is simply put a problem with the HP system, and yet..
The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back
And yet that very phenomenon is something we all experience and accept as part of everyday life when it comes to social and mental conflict. Think about it. Odds are you've had a friend who has been going through a rough patch. Maybe their dad died, they lost their job, they got dumped by their significant other, or some other horrific event. When you hang around them you take care to be nicer to them and keep them cheered up. Even if they seem like they have it all together. Why? Because we all expect that anything could set the friend off.
Hell, let's go to the extreme. Sarah has had her parents killed, been kicked out of the holy order of knights, failed to protect her husband from a dragon, and is now drinking her sorrows away at a tavern when some annoyingly happy pipsqueak of a halfling jostles her and spills her tankard of ale. How many of you envisioning that scene just winced for what is coming for the poor halfling? Sarah has had a bad day, and while her ale being spilled is incredibly minor, especially compared to what she has just managed to go through with head held high, we'd all understand if that was what made her snap.
Simply put, mentally (or socially) Sarah is at 1 HP from all the crap that has just happened to her when the tankard spill does its pitiful 1-2 HP of damage. Only, in this situation, the violent reaction and loss of control is not only accepted but something we would all expect and can relate to. Simply put, it makes a lot more sense for Sarah to hit a losing condition from this light damage, then if it were the physical counterpart.
Letting Off Steam
Just like HP works with Physical Combat, Social HP can regenerate just as fast. In fact, even more believably so. Let's go back to our physical examples. Jeff the Paladin gets into a fight with a dragon and he comes out of it with 1 hp. He's been slashed by claws, thrashed by tail whips, buffeted by wings, and dropped from 100 feet up through several levels of scaffolding. There isn't a spot on him that isn't black, blue, purple, or cut and bleeding. He then goes to see a healer who rolls really well on a non-magical healing check and suddenly Jeff is back at near full HP. He has somehow, non-magically, healed almost all of those wounds, bruises, and cracked bones in a little under 12 hours. Even if they're still visible, they leave no physical/mechanical harm. Totally practical and makes sense, right? Yeah, sure.
On the other hand, let's go back to Sarah.We'll be a bit nicer to Sarah this time and say she's only been kicked out of her Holy Order of Warriors which has led to her being rejected by her family and many of her friends. Only, the thing is Sarah wasn't kicked out because of a failure on her part but because of political manipulations of a rival. She's pissed. Pissed at the injustice of the situation. Pissed at the foolishness of her superiors. Pissed at how far up their asses everyone's head is. She's about half a step from just ripping someone in half, or being pushed over the brink into full on depression on rage. Sarah's friend recognizes this problem and brings her out to the tavern. Sarah and her friend have a few drinks when an unlucky halfling spills Sarah's ale. She loses it. She lets the Halfling have a piece of her mind. The halfling fires back and next thing you know there is a huge bar brawl (not a fight, but a brawl.) The next day, in a little under 12 hours, Sarah is still angry but she's nowhere near as pissed. She let out a lot of steam at the bar the day before and now - with a much clearer head - she can focus on her problems.
Doesn't that make a lot more sense?
I'm going to leave this off here today and come back tomorrow with the concept of 0 Social Hit Points, 0 Mental Hit Points, and what either of these things could mean for a character, why they are just as dangerous as 0 Physical Hit Points, and ways to prevent that from happening.
For now, comments?