Thursday, August 8, 2013

Social Combat - When And Where

My apologies. I had thought this post went up yesterday morning at midnight, but apparently it didn't. I also haven't had a chance to check until now (11:20pm) due to work and game. So this post will go up for today. Sorry for thedelay

We've spent a lot of time talking about Social Combat, or at least I've spent a lot of time writing about it. Today I want to wrap up the series - for now at least - with talking about the how, when, and where you may want to use social/mental combat in your games. I am going to break this down into three core game categories, and talk about each one in turn. That said, shall we begin?

The Political/Social Game
This is the big one where having social combat defined is good. Done right, or at least in place and well defined, social combat allows a political game to play out with the same level of mechanical ease that systems normally handle physical combat. Even better, having defined social combat rules - and social hit points - helps to let the stats do the talking for a character.

What do I mean by that? Well, in a lot of games there are players who want to play that social/charming person but aren't really quite fast enough or witty enough with their words even when it comes to just playing the character. They often have a harder time playing the face because they feel awkward and it comes across at the game table. Others, even though their character may have charisma as a dump stat, are very good at social wit and even if they're not trying to can end up coming across as better than they should - considering their character - in social situations. Social Combat evens this field out and lets the stats do the talking more in a big situation when it comes to manipulating and subduing people to get a characters way, just like how physical combat rules helps to make sure that the barbarian hitting you with a stick hurts a lot more than say a wizard doing it.

Still, how do you do social combat in the political game? It depends on your game. It should come up for the big events. A big 'boss' fight type thing could be a public trial or an important day in the King's court with the other lords and ladies. Hit points could represent political ties, the whim of the people, or just the ability to present a winning argument. The fact that concentration = willpower (as shown in the article I linked yesterday) means that even though the "points lost" might not be relevant directly to the character, the fight for them would still be a drain on their own social and mental well being allowing freedom to go with it. After all, who wants to get into arguments and debates right after having to present a big case before the King's court?

This one is kind of a cop out because, honestly, there are a TON of genres that can fit into this. Horror and Psychological are fairly self-explanatory, but intrigue could honestly cover everything from the aforementioned political game, to a heist game, to spies and cloak and dagger. The fun thing is that with these games it is less likely going to be actual combat and more likely going to be bursts of damage that wear down on the psyche and abilities of the characters as things go along.

Characters in a Horror game are going to feel the pressure add up and build against them as they go along through the events of the game. In an intrigue game each new obstacle, even as they're dealt with, makes things harder and harder to keep in order and trickier to pull off. The stress adds up and has its impact on the character.

To put this in perspective, think of a dungeon crawl in your favorite fantasy system. Basically, instead of doing combats - though those could/should happen too depending on the game - this would be more like traps. The trap is encountered, it does its thing, and the group moves on. Eventually, when they come to the big fight the traps should have worn them down a bit to make it a 'bigger' event.

The "Normal" Game
The Normal Game is basically anything not covered by the above. More to the point though is that in this game physical combat is expected to be a big part of the game. This may not be a full dungeon crawl, but something where physical violence also happens. For this one you need to think carefully about whether or not to put in social combat. While it can enliven a game and add a new layer of depth (your Bard player will likely thank you if nothing else ;)) it can also further slow the game down. After all, if most of the game doesn't want "social" interaction to be a big deal int he game - which is possible considering they are already playing the game they want.

Still, if you do it then you can take your pick. Odds are Social Combat will be more of a side game then a main attraction - the game already has a main attraction after all - but that doesn't mean you can't do it. Some systems, like FATE Core, are actually designed to have both kinds of combat intrinsically and to work in a very cool manner where even a social character can at least be useful in a fight by helping other people out..

In these games though I think the best way to use the social combat is more sporadically. Use it to add flavor to certain encounters and make them stand out. Those villains/antagonists that strike using mental means first can become even more memorable when they're not just the guy who caused problems but caused problems that - while not physically hurting the PCs - still brought them into fights compromised in new and fun ways. Use it for variation, a spice rather than the main course, and it should work out fine.

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