Thursday, August 1, 2013

Social Combat - 0 Social/Mental Hit Points

One of the cases I have heard from folks about why they don't like 'rules' for social combat is because they dislike the concept that losing an argument could cost their character his or her life. Today I wanted to talk about this concept, what it means, and how it could work in a game. Let's begin, shall we.

Dying vs. Dead
First off, in most systems I know that are out and actively in play right now at 0 HP (physical ones I mean) you don't necessarily die so much as you enter a state commonly referred to as 'dying.' When Dying your character is basically critically injured and well on their way to being dead if they don't get some sort of outside help for themselves.

The same for this could be true for Social and Mental Hit Points. At 0 Social Hit Points your character has basically lost their cool and will violently lash out at any situation. They are more prone to being manipulated and basically can't think things through as they've been thoroughly enraged/compromised socially. For mental hit points, 0 HP would mean that basically mean that you were compromised mentally. Anyone who suffers from depression likely knows what I am talking about, especially if your depression gets very bad. The kind where you just don't want to get out of bed or leave the house. Where if your home was on fire you still might not get out of bed to help yourself.

Basically, 0 HP doesn't have to mean dead, but it does mean we've entered the realm of severe consequence. And just like how the physical track's condition of being unconscious and bleeding out is done when a character hits 0 HP there are similar states for both Social and Mental tracks of health.

Kind Of Severe For A Lost Argument
Which brings us to the next point, the big point, of the fight against this. Losing an argument ending up with your character mentally compromised. To this, I simply have to ask the question, why didn't someone back down from the argument/social combat?

What do I mean? Well, the easiest form of social combat to understand is an argument. I don't mean a discussion, but an actual argument. Insults are flying, both people are trying to harm the other person with words. It's really going at it. Odds are that everyone reading this has experienced this at least once. What happened? I'd be willing to bet that either one part of the argument left the room or someone else intervened and stopped the argument from progressing.

In other words, to make the comparison to the physical track, someone ran away from a fight they couldn't/weren't winning or someone else came in and broke up the fight. Sounds reasonable right? In fact, with social engagements it probably happens all the time in real life. We're conditioned for it. The other person is "unreasonable" or suddenly the conversation just isn't "worth it" anymore and so you stop. Why? Because otherwise the consequences are going to be harsher than we're willing to deal with. Just like how in a real fight, when someone realizes their side can't win, they run away.

Social/Mental Impacting Physical Combat
The other argument that comes up a lot is when it comes to the aspect of consequences for being Socially or Mentally injured when a real fight comes into play. People say it is stupid that their mental state is impacting their physical state. And yet, is that really so strange? I mean, the standard counter argument is Batman. Batman fights by first mentally compromising his opponents. He instills fear, freaks them out, and then takes advantage of that fear to take a large group of people out rapidly and efficiently.

But that's Batman. Let's just go back to other stuff. Who here thinks that being incensed with rage is a smart idea during a fight? Sure, it can lead to overwhelming power, but it also brings about a lack of mental clarity which makes you predictable. Also, that power? Fighters who give in to anger start hitting harder, sure. But their blows also are slower and a lot more telegraphed.

So being angry is bad. How about being distracted? If all your social problems are on your mind and crushing your thoughts, how are you going to focus on your fight?

Now, for both of these I can hear the answer that some people are thinking up already. Namely, that these things are solved by not thinking about them, staying in control. In other words, discipline. Except, discipline is mental fortitude. It is mental resilience. It is, in a large part, what would give "mental hit points" to the character in the first place. And as already discussed...that's gone.

The Form Of The Fight
That is all I have for this topic for now. Next time I'm going to take some time to go over the form the fight would take. What would constitute an attack or defense. This is likely going to be more obvious than I make it sound, but still, if we're going to be discussing social combat it makes sense to actually discuss the how as well as the 'over what' aspect.


  1. While I wasn't a fan of it in a lot of ways the way that Exalted 2nd Edition handled "But losing an argument shouldn't . . . " was that you had to consistently lose social battles scene after scene draining your willpower before they could force you to believe something or agree with them. If you could avoid them for a few days you could recover.

  2. True. Social/Mental health is one of those things where most attacks that can be used should be low damage and the 'health' pools should be relatively high. I mean, an insult - even if it made you cry - isn't going to change your life or make you rethink yourself. Not without a lot of other impetus behind it.