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Author Topic: Social Combat  (Read 14723 times)
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #45 on: February 24, 2003, 12:42:48 PM »

Quote from: Brian Leybourne
That's just too many dice, my friend. There has to be a better way than that...
You're opposition is based soley on the idea of it taking too much time to handle? Not on anything else? All I can say is that I disagree, then. Handling time is a matter of opinion. Yes, this adds time, but it does so for a good reason, IMO.

Personally, I imaging all this happening very slowly. That is, there would be a lot of description of the details of what's happening between rolls. So, I see it as already a long drawn out process, and the point of this sort of play. One conflict might last all session long on the one end of the spectrum, as I see it. As such I see adding new kinds of rolls as gravey. Heck, I've already proposed having entire combats occur between rounds of social combat. That would certainly slow things down.

I think we're both visualizing this very differently. I don't see the a social combat system as a replacement for playing out the social interactions, just something that happens as you go along to adjudicate the results mechanically. As you said, representative of the character's ability (not just the players). As such, this just seems to be a system for linking together all the normal rolls one might make in a normal session that pertain to a social conflict at hand.

This all said, if there's a faster way to incorporate these things into the overall structure, then great. As I said, it was just an idea to get talking about it.


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Brian Leybourne

Posts: 1793

« Reply #46 on: February 24, 2003, 01:01:39 PM »

Fair call.

One interjection though -

Roleplaying and rollplaying don't usually mix well. One particularly stellar example of where they don't is in social interactions.

What you're proposing is that you and I (say) roleplay part of a discussion, then roll the dice to see how well we did in a stats sense, then roleplay some more, etc.

The problem is (and I have experienced this very thing): One of us will make a brilliant observation or comment, a deal-breaker, an argument winner. And then we'll roll the dice and botch, which means that what we said was actually the completely wrong thing to say. Except it wasn't until we rolled dice.

Do you see what I'm getting at? It just doesn't work well when you mix dice with roleplaying in a social sense. I agree that character skill should be more important than how socially adept and quick thinking the PLAYER is (in the same way that you don't have to know how to weave a basket in real life to take the Craft: Basket Weaving skill), but in situations like the one above the results jar so badly against each other than everyone is shocked out of the shared experience and you remember that it's just a game again.

Just my 2c. I agree with everything else you said.

As for incorporating the skills into the structure better, how about making it as simple as this:

You already have your ATN's and DTN's, but when you are trying to persuade someone, you use your Persuade skill as the DN instead of the usual DN for the conversation. Or when you lie, use your sincerity skill level instead of the ATN you would otherwise use. Etc. Or, you always use the worst of the two numbers. Of the best of the two. Or whatever. That seems pretty simple, neh?


Brian Leybourne

RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion
Drew Stevens

Posts: 154

« Reply #47 on: February 24, 2003, 01:11:58 PM »


First, on roleplaying and rollplaying not intermixing- I'm of, frankly, two minds.

On the one hand, that situation you just described is absolutely, utterly and totally true.

On the other hand, I am inclined to think that it's partially just a matter of conditioning and past experience.

Imagine if combat were conducted the way most people handle social situations...

Me: I walk up to the Gol and bring my battleaxe across it's neck, severing it's head before it has a chance to react!
GM: Alright, roll your attack.
Me: ... I botched.
GM: Ah!  Well, clearly you didn't cut off his head, eh?

How is this different from

Me: So you see, Duke, going to war is not only neccesary, it's vital!
GM: A convincing arguement!  Roll the dice to see if he believes it.
Me: ... I botched.
GM: Clearly the Duke found a flaw in your arguement, and is now a staunch pacifist.

Of course, most people /don't/ describe how combat goes until the dice are rolled for precisely that reason.

And the whole 'social occurances should just be roleplayed out', I honestly think might be a self-perputating problem.  Why don't we have a system for dealing with interpersonal relationships and conflicts?  Because we roleplay it out.  Why do we roleplay it out?  Because there's no good, comprehensive system for dealing with them.  And, when you've stripped out interpersonal relationships, what's left is combat (and assorted after effects thereof).  And what do the majority of RPGs devote the majority of their pages to?  This is apart from any questions of gaming shuting out chunks of the potential market by so negelecting those relationships.
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #48 on: February 24, 2003, 02:39:03 PM »

This is one of those ancient dichotomies, Brian*. Given TROS' standard methodology of resolution, yes, it's somwhat of a problem.

What I'd suggest is something that Drew almost hit upon. What we call Fortune in the Middle or (FitM). What it means is, like in combat, you roll first and then describe the action afterwards. That is, if I do well on my roll, I describe what just what the effect is that matches the roll. As opposed to making the speech and then rolling. Yes, this takes the ability to succeed with intelligent social manipulation out of the hands of the player. But then, that's sought, no? What it leaves is the fun part, the description. And if you can't come up with something good to represent a success, you say, "And then Bob says something witty, and makes everyone laugh." Which works just fine.

This does not mean that you have to roll for everything, either. Basically, the players and GM can decide when to call for the use of the rules, and when to just wing it with "regular" role-playing.

Just one option.


*The extended argument deals with the idea of whether or not, and to what extent, a system should replace the player's ability to do something that is social or intelligent. For example, should one be allowed to use a character's deduction skill to solve a puzzle, or should the player be required to do it? The basic sides of the argument are A) allowing the system to interfere is boring, and B)allowing a system to determine results allows players to play characters with abilities greater than their own. This has been batted around a great deal, and the only consensus is that there are great differences of opinion.

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Drew Stevens

Posts: 154

« Reply #49 on: February 26, 2003, 08:32:23 AM »


I've been hammering out a number of interesting issues related to the Courtly level of social combat.  In particular-
A) Gambits (attacks, manuvers, whatever you call them) are really only attack oriented.
B) How to deal with the Court, without having to outline an absurd number of NPCs.
C) How to deal with the shifting waves of popular opinion (again, without the absurd number of NPCs)
D) How a character's reputation, presence and fame influence matters.
E) How Social and Courtly level combat interact, when you would use one and when the other.

Now then, to that end.

Points B and C I finally resolved as a Court having two 'terrains' (the Nobility and the Common Folk), where the difficulty in negiotating them is determined by how hostile they are to your proposals.  Instead of the normal penelty for failing/botching terrain checks, however, you will lose some set number of dice (that number varying between one and six, in my mental run throughs), depending on the relative power of the groups.  An alternative break is to divide the Court's terrains by the political factions therein- so that you might be in good with the Cardinalists, but the Musketters and the Commoners have it in for you.

Point A is fairly self-explanatory.  There is no direct defense in social combat.  Attacks may be blunted, but not until they've been launched.  At the same time, it isn't possible for a powerful gambit to be launched, really- they have to incubate on their own for a time.  Ergo, the Courtly Pool (must... get... better... names!) will be used to do three things-
Start a new gambit (or multiple new gambits), learn of unsprung gambits, and reduce the strength of enemy gambits (sprung or unsprung).

Points A, B and C create a new class of Gambits- Terrain influencing.  Power brokering.  Instead of directly attacking an enemy, you focus on changing the terrain- improving the attitudes towards you, and making them worse towards your enemy, and/or increasing/decreasing the power of a piece of terrain (so that it is more or less riskey to risk failing that terrain check).

Point D is a damnable bastard, which I'm still working on.  My inital thought is that at the courtly level, personal charisma starts to matter less than belonging to a politically strong faction, knowing how to manipulate people and opinion, and having the money and connections of the upper crust.  So, ultimately expect some mixture of your group's Power (if it's a terrain, from above), your Wits, and your social class to determine your Courtly pool.  Fame, I'm inclined, simply makes audiences more receptive of you- not terribly helpful, and VERY fickle if someone with the right strings decides to set themselves against you.

Point E is the other damnable bastard.  While one obvious interaction is in manipulating terrain/factions (by tromping or embarrasing someone in a debate in front of a large audience, etc), I almost feel like this is getting too focused on the terrain/factions, and is losing the focus and speed that it vitally needs to be fun.

But yeah.  Just in case anyone's still listening to my rambles :)

Posts: 306

« Reply #50 on: February 26, 2003, 09:02:06 AM »

Quote from: Drew Stevens
..But yeah.  Just in case anyone's still listening to my rambles :)

If you are having any doubts to the popularity of the crowd still reading your post, keep an eye on the "Views" #.  600+ is a respectable number IMO, and my I add that I tune in everyday during lunch to this subject to catch-up on how the discussion is evolving.  I don't have the ability or time to play-test what you have put out, but it sounds great so far to me.  Keep up the good work.

Tony Hamilton


Posts: 40

« Reply #51 on: February 26, 2003, 01:54:18 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
The basic sides of the argument are A) allowing the system to interfere is boring, and B)allowing a system to determine results allows players to play characters with abilities greater than their own. This has been batted around a great deal, and the only consensus is that there are great differences of opinion.

1st off I'd like to agree wholeheartedly with those who fall into the "B" group here.  I think that having a system for being smarter/quicker/more persuasive is a key aspect of a good rpg.  True, there arn't many systems for dealing with this kind of interaction and thats why fighters and warriors are predominant player types.  However "A" is also true in that replacing roleplaying with rollplaying lowers the game to that of a computer rpg where the NPCs respond in lifeless, repetitive blurbs based on things you've done in game but outside of the "conversation".  

Mechanics aside though, I think a good way of mixing the 2 can be found in a RPG system called Story Engine.  Released by Hubris Games originally for the Maelstrom setting.  The way that system does resolution is backwards from most.  The players announce their  intention first, make rolls, and then they describe their own actions based on whether they failed or succeded.


Player 1: I dont like the look of this.  I think theres to many of them to deal with.

Player 2: I agree.  Lets make a run for the window.  Maybe if we can get out onto the roof of the tower they wont follow.

Player 1:  Yeah.  Then we can use terrain against them.

GM:  So am I to take it that your goal for this scene is to escape onto the roof?

Players:  Yep.

GM:  Ok, roll.

GM:  (after tallying succeses)  looks like you guys barly made it.  How would you decribe your actions?

I think this system would still retian the fun of soc combat but also keep the mechanics in play.  Any thoughts?

A mind less hindered by the parameters of perfection
Drew Stevens

Posts: 154

« Reply #52 on: February 26, 2003, 02:10:50 PM »


The trouble there is it boils a social combat thing into a single roll.  And while there's nothing inherently wrong with such a thing, there's nothing inherently right with it either.  Which is essentially how it's handled now- Roll Wits or Social versus an Etiquette (Court), Orate, Diplomacy, or some other appropriate skill.

Riddle's particular method of Complex Task Resolution (Combat, Sorcery, etc) lends itself to a deeper (more crunchy) means of such resolution- which could, IMO and if properly executed, allow for a whole different venue of very real and dramatic 'stuff' that is no less exciting than anything else while not removing the role aspect from play.

Posts: 40

« Reply #53 on: February 26, 2003, 02:20:22 PM »

Well, its true that the way I expained it does seem to over simplify things.  I think the reason for that is because in my example I used only the Story Engine rules.  But I was only citing example.  I love the idea of complex rolls.  Numerous ones at that with choices of attack and defence (I've already applied some of your initial thoughts into my game)  I just mean that to keep it fun for the players, they should be able to describe their own actions  as they see fit according to the results of the roll, leaving a final description up to them (OK'd of course by the Senechal).  Its sketchy and obtuse but I think that the reverse resolution trick is the key to combining the best of both worlds

A mind less hindered by the parameters of perfection
Drew Stevens

Posts: 154

« Reply #54 on: February 26, 2003, 02:34:26 PM »

Oh, hell yeah :)

I just misunderstood the thrust of your point there.  I absolutely agree that the player should narrate the results of the roll within the world.

Posts: 254

« Reply #55 on: February 26, 2003, 09:26:51 PM »

..But yeah. Just in case anyone's still listening to my rambles :)

I'm watching too, but i really don't have anything to add. As long as the whole gamut of applicable skills (sincerity, Orate, Persuasion, et al.) can be used intelligently, I'm happy. If things look too confusing, I'll squawk! :-)

Posts: 11

« Reply #56 on: February 27, 2003, 07:18:57 AM »

Quote from: arxhon
I'm watching too, but i really don't have anything to add. As long as the whole gamut of applicable skills (sincerity, Orate, Persuasion, et al.) can be used intelligently, I'm happy. If things look too confusing, I'll squawk! :-)


Great Job so far Drew and good suggestions from everyone else!

"Reality is for those who lack Imagination"
Drew Stevens

Posts: 154

« Reply #57 on: February 27, 2003, 01:50:56 PM »

Firstus, thanks for the support :)  I am, by nature, a self-depricating and self-critical sort, but it's nice to hear postive rahs.

Second, Courtly Combat (v .02) - This is the skeletal system of the Courtly (as distinct from Social) level of 'combat', and has some drift from the traditional Riddle style of conflict resolution.  But, so it goes.  :)  Also, I'm prowling for additional Gambits and forms of Neutralization, and still don't have a good means of integrating the actions of Extraordinary Individuals (like the PCs) into the larger picture.  And lastly, it was typed in Notepad, so the formating is a little funky in a few places.

Typical Exchange of Courtly Combat
Negiotate the Climate (Designate some dice to try and avoid offending any of the factions- difficulty determined by the faction's attitude towards you, the cost determined by the Power of the faction)

Declare Gambits (Gambits are both the What and the Who- designate dice for the Gambit itself, and for keeping it secret.  One success on the secrecy check, all else being normal, is all that's needed.  Any number of Gambits may be attempted.)

Declare Neutralizations (Neutralization is the basic defense- if you know of a Gambit, you can attempt to Neutralize it.  Neutralization cancels successes of a gambit on a 1 for 1 basis, and has a slightly higher TN.)


Note that both parties declare Gambits and Neutralizations simultaniously- in play, such events play out over days or weeks, and the normal initative thinking breaks down.

Playing the Climate- Each faction will have a relationship to your own, and a Power level.  The more hostile they are, the more of a 'background' resistance there is, and the harder this background resistance is to avoid or mitigate.  Only one success is needed to suffer no backlash.  On a failure, you lose half that group's Power from your pool.  On a botch, you lose that group's full power.

As an additional note, while your own faction will have a relationship with itself- in this case, representing internal cohesion.  It's treated the same as any other relationship, however, and will normally be allied, which requires no roll.

Attitude    TN
Overtly Hostile    15
Passivly Hostile 10
Uncaring    7
Friendly    4
Allied       (no roll neccesary- automatic success)

Gambits I've Thought Of (the mechanics still need major fleshing, but this is the direction I'm headed so far).

Gambit: Persecution- Using political influence, your Faction physically intimidates, jails, and kills members of another Faction.  A typical action of tyrants who have little understanding of how to persuade rather than destroy enemies- but there are times when it can be effective.  (No Prereqs)

System: Persecution may not be secret.  Make a typical Gambit Attack- if your Successes are greater than the Targeted faction's Power, and they get no successes on their Defense roll, then the Faction has been eliminated- although a few secret stragglers may try and bring it back latter, the faction as it existed has ceased to be.

Neutralization: Martyrdom- When a group is suppressed, a savvy leader can use the extra attention as a means of generating sympathy and support.  Although it requires a skilled Orator (or likewise useful skill, level no higher than 8), many tyrants in the past have been suprised at how the tables have been turned on their secret police.

System: May only be used if your Faction is being Persecuted or under Violence.  Make a typical Neutralization roll- if you achieve even one success (Not one success in a MoS, but one success period), then take all the successes your opponent made in the gambit as bonus dice for the next exchange.  This, however, replaces the normal damping effect of Neutralization.

Gambit: Gossipmonger- Gossips and rumors are always the bane, and the court of public opinion is more based on what a few influential wags will say than on reason or evidence most of the time.  The right words in the right ears can spread a tale (true or false) like wildfire, and the harm done may be irreperable.

System: As a Gambit, Gossipmongering is primarily meant to change public opinion, without directly helping or harming a group's power structure.  Make a standard social attack, and consult the below chart for the degree of influence.  Note also that it is easier to make people hate someone than love 'em.

Actively Hostile -> Passivly Hostile: 5 successes
Passivly Hostile -> Uncaring: 4 success
Uncaring -> Friendly: 3 successes
Friendly -> Allied: 3 successes

Allied -> Friendly: 2 successes
Friendly -> Uncaring: 2 successes
Uncaring -> Passivly Hostile: 3 successes
Passivly Hostile -> Activly Hostile: 4 successes

Gambit: Spy Network- Secrecy is the lifeblood of politics, and doing one's level best to not reveal how much you know or how you know it.  To that end, the Spy Network- although politically expensive to create and maintain, a Spy Network tells you much more about enemy activities.

System: A Spy Network costs 3+X dice to start, and X dice to maintain thereafter.  However, when someone attempts to keep something secret from you, it becomes a contested action between their efforts at concealment and your spy network.  Each success your Network must be matched by the Secrecy check (plus the one for keeping it secret at all), or you learn of the gambit.

Gambit: Blackmail- Reputation is... how shall we say... very important to those who engage in politics.  And yet, most who engage in politics also have some frequently unsavory habits or history- and even if they don't, evidence can be manufactored.  The effect is the same- the leadership of a faction either become seemingly paralyzed or risks self-destruction.  Blackmail can also be used to demonstrate a threat of violence for failure to comply, or any such similiar thing.

System: Blackmail has a three die activation cost, but is otherwise made as a standard Courtly attack.  The faction leader being Blackmailed makes a choice- they either restrict the next (S) gambits and neutralizations to no more than 4 dice (S = number of success made on the blackmail check), or disregard the threat and allow the blackmail material to surface, which counts as a normal Attack with twice the number of successes.  Few opt for the later, as the consequences are so severe.

Gambit: Violence- Subtly different from Persecution is the use of Violence against a rival Faction.  Violence is a means of reducing a group's political power by direct destruction of the group's material resources and members.  It is impossible to wipe a group out through Violent means- but rivals can be effecitvely hamstrung.

System: Discard three dice, and make a normal Social attack at ATN+1.  With a number of successes equal to the target group's current Power will reduce that Power by one, to a minimum of one.

Gambit: Consolidation- Not all politics is destructive.  Indeed, the majority of Reinessenance Italy was notible as much for the rush to create and demonstrate the height of fashion and style.  The goal was to be so impressive as to deny rebuke.

System: Discard three dice, and make a normal Social attack at ATN+1.  With a number of successes equal to the target (usally one's own) faction's current power+1, increase that Power by one to a maximum of six.

Gambit: Parties and Festivals- What else do the Nobility do besides throw banquets?  What do the peasants do beyond have a festival for every third week?  Who doesn't like a party?  Quite apart from this, parties and regular meetings are a good way of helping to consolidate internal politics and maintain a firm hand on the wheel.

System: Treat a Party as a use of Gossip attempt made against your own faction to increase it's internal cohesion, which requires two fewer successes to do so.  To go from Friendly to Allied takes 1 success, and so on.

Gambit: Propaganda and Debate- Challenges another faction leader to an open debate- basically, calling them out to openly prove their faction's rightness.  Doing so is a risk, of course- failure makes you look as foolish as you would have them appear.

System: Make a standard Courtly attack.  If the gambit works, then the winner of the debate inflicts a number of successes worth of damage on the loser in the Courtly arena As the Dice Rolled In the Gambit.  A single, successful debate can be the most devestating attack possible to either the powerful or the meek.

Gambit: Simple Propaganda- Just what it sounds like.  A simple attempt to blacken another faction's name and lessen it's power.

System: Make a standard Courtly attack.  Successes = damage on the Courtly Damage chart.

Courtly Damage- Mix and Match!

On a success with a Courtly Attack that does Damage (as opposed to some other effect), then select a number of 'wound levels' equal to the total number of successes earned.

1 Success   1 Scandel
2 Successes   3 Scandel
3 Successes   6 Scandel
4 Successes   10 Scandel
5 Successes   ALL Scandel

1 Success   0 Agreement
2 Successes   1 Agreement
3 Successes   1 Agreement
4 Successes   2 Agreement
5 Successes   3 Agreement

Reputation Loss
1 Success                   Reputation Loss: 3
2 Successes   Reputation Loss: 5
3 Successes   Reputation Loss: 7
4 Successes   Reputation Loss: 9
5 Successes   Reputation Loss: 12

Note that Agreement and Reputation Loss become a little different in Courtly Combat- They are each reduced by one level every three exchanges.  Normal healing times don't mean as much as they otherwise would.
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #58 on: February 27, 2003, 02:45:19 PM »

Whoa, trying to grok. Will comment when absorbed.



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Drew Stevens

Posts: 154

« Reply #59 on: February 27, 2003, 05:23:38 PM »

A note for your grokking-

This is Not a complete system yet (the way Social Combat is, or at least is MUCH closer to).  It's unorganized, and virtually nothing has hard numbers associated with it, nor have I really sat down to contrast/compare as see if anything jumps out at me as Unstoppable.

If something looks mechanically stupid, it probally is and should be pointed it.  Bugs, not features :)
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