Last week we talked a bit about social combat, how hit points can work for it, and what being reduced to 0 hit points could mean for a character. Today I want to go over the ways that the damage could happen to a character. Originally this was supposed to be about the combat itself, but it occurs to me that unlike with physical harm combat is probably the least likely way for someone to take significant social or mental damage. With that said, lets begin.
Arguments = Combat
The easiest form of social combat, where both parties are simply trying to harm the other, would be an argument. I use argument and not debate or discussion because awesome in an argument the point of the discussion is lost as members of both parties simply try to assert their authority either by being louder or by simply destroying the opposition. Because of this, argument in this case could cover a full out yelling match between two people as easily as it can two people trading insults or talking trash before a sporting event.
Either way, in an argument or social combat the barbs and insults that you throw are your attack. They are defended by the thickness of the person's skin and their ability to ignore what you are saying. Just like with real combat or physical combat in games though, the damage you can do and how effective a defense against a barb would be decided by your choice of weapon (more on this later.)
The fun part about this though is that, mechanically, this doesn't have to work any different from normal combat. Once engaged in social combat a person can attack (yell an insult), defend (focus on deflecting and blocking out), heal (reassure someone what was said is BS or untrue), or reposition/move (move, leave the room.) Since social combat would work like ranged combat re-focusing efforts on a new person wouldn't involve actually moving - barring the humorous event of running into a room to insult someone, I suppose - so movement may not have as big a part, but everything else pretty easily translates over.
Choose Your Weapon
A gun is more lethal than a knife. A bazooka is more lethal than a gun. A knife is more lethal than a fist. These are rules that physical combat works on. Unfortunately, for social combat weapons are harder to define, but there still are weapons out there. Consider, for example, the person you are fighting with. Most of us will react stronger to someone we know, care about, and turst insulting us than to some stranger on the street. At the same time, there are certain hot button topics that we all have.
For example, I personally may not give a crap if you insult me personally or if you insult me based on my performance at a given task. However, if you insult my friends/family I tend to react a lot stronger. Those insults, simply put, hurt more. At the same time someone who has never known their dad, or whose dad has recently died, will likely respond strongly to insults about their parentage or their father straight out.
This variance in what is effective to people does make codifying damage hard, but it can also easily be handled in character creation or with the creation of solid characters. Knowing what is important about a character tells us what insults would work on them. Someone focused on being the best would likely care about insults that claimed they were incompetent. Someone focused on being world famous would likely care about being humiliated in public. You just have to select the weapon to the character.
Nickel and Diming
The fun thing with social combat, or perhaps the unfun depending on your circumstances, is that aside from a few big hitting issues for the most part damage done on a social scale is minor and done over time. Think about your day and how much social stress and pressure you go through. You take a lot more than you do physical stress most likely. Most social interactions, most insults, most arguments, and most other social stresses only do a little bit of damage. However, it all adds up over time. We're less likely to respond well to bad things at the end of our day than we are before we've taken all the crap that is going to happen that day.
In a sense this can be a case against having social combat or social damage in a game because the times when it would actually be super effective are limited - and can naturally be handled by a decent GM - while most other times folks just go through their game. However, that doesn't mean it can't work for some game types. After all, any game with a strong political component will likely have lots of times when folks can be nickel or dimed down at key moments. Think about it, in a politicla game when do you want to take to the leader of the king's spies? After you've had to handle a dozen other issues that day and are tired and worn down? Or at breakfast when you are fresh for the day?
Big Ticket Items
All this said, there are big ticket items when it comes to social damage. The easiest example to understand would be a breakup. We've likely all had friends - or have done so ourselves - who have gone through a bad breakup. Maybe it hit them out of the blue. Maybe they just didn't want it to hapen. Whatever the case, for a good while they are socially compromised because they just, very quickly, took a significant hit in damage. Often the one who was broken up with takes more damage than the one who does the breaking up, but it can be destructive all around.
Other events like family problems, or large cases of bad news can also do a significant amount of damage. Considering these items are more likely to happen in an RPG than real life, it does help to justify having social damage rules for more games. After all, wouldn't it be cool to be able to track - at least somewhat - just how mentally out of it the King's champion is for a given duel because he just found out that morning his wife was being arrested for treason or that his son had been killed on a battlefield a hundred miles from home?
I'm sure you have thoughts on how the damage can bedone as well. I'd love to hear them. I have one more part of this series planned which will be to talk about when to use social combat and what kind of games they can work well with (political and horror come to mind :) ) Until then, sound off in the comments. I'd love to hear your take.