Social Combat – Intrigued but Uncertain

I just wanted to make a quick post on some of my thoughts about Social Combat. I added a link to Social Combat rules under my Scion House Rules post. These rules have been modified from Exalted 2nd Edition for use with Scion and I have been thinking about this concept for a couple of days.

What is Social Combat?

Social Combat is a rules system that allows the players to “fight” using social abilities as they would using physical abilities. This includes all kinds of debates as well as attempts to intimidate or convince someone. While the only rules I have seen thus far are for the Storyteller system the concept is rather intriguing and I wonder if rules could be created for any system.

Why Social Combat?

A lot also depends on the kind of game you are playing and how you are playing it. When I use to run Dungeons and Dragons I often felt that it was a board game with a plot tacked on. This doesn’t always appeal to me but my players enjoyed it for the most part. In D&D (again, the way I ran it) it was very important to pay attention to what you could do in combat. Combat happened every session and was a large part of the time consumption for the campaign. On the other hand in my Werewolf game we went several session that saw no combat and a few that saw minimal amounts of it. Combat did still take some time to complete of course but there was a lot more to do that was not simply “beating the bad guy”.

A lot of people enjoy making social characters. Playing someone that is attractive and charming or highly manipulative or a good leader or whatever is a neat concept for a lot of people. However rolling dice and beating the bad guy is also fun. Too often the combat players in a game get more real time in the sun. It simply takes much longer to have a physical altercation with a group of mutant orderlies than it does to trick the guard at the gate into giving you a day pass for the mental institution you are trying to infiltrate. Most players know about this when making their characters and most try to have some utility in combat because of this.

Some would make the argument that in social situations the combat guy is useless, so why shouldn’t the social guy be useless in combat situations? Again I emphasize how much longer the combat situations traditionally take as compared to the social ones.

The Pros of a Social Combat System

As I already stated I see one of the pros of a Social Combat System being more equal treatment of social characters as far as game time is concerned. Another pro is that those characters get to roll more dice, which some people may not enjoy but a lot of people do. Along with these things I would say that having better outlined rules for social confrontation could be a good thing.

The Cons of a Social Combat System

I am certain some people prefer a fast and loose system for resolving social interaction and would thus consider a Social Combat System cumbersome. I myself can see many situations where it would feel unnecessary and interrupting. On the other hand would tricking a drunk security guard into giving you his keys be any different than attacking that same drunk security guard? If you were willing to go to combat turns to beat him up maybe you should be willing to go to social combat turns to trick him. Either way the outcome seems inevitable.

Another large problem with Social Combat is that it can easily feel a bit like mind control. Having your character be forced to trust someone will bother a lot of players and yet that is exactly the kind of thing that can happen. In truth, this should happen normally. Players expect to be trusted when they are incredibly charismatic but when a very charismatic enemy tries to convince the players of something they want to be able to shrug it off. Perhaps having a better system will bother the players but at least it does create a system.

My Conclusion

I like the Scion system because of its stunt dice. In social combat this feels almost more important as players should be encouraged to actually make an argument rather than simply say “I make my argument”. For those unfamiliar with the system, stunts are well described actions that get bonus dice added to them so players are rewarded for describing their attacks and using the environment around them. This does many things including making the story more memorable and making the gamemaster’s job easier.

Well, I really don’t have one. This was just something that has been on my mind and I thought it might be interesting to see if I could get anyone else’s opinions on it. I like the idea of giving social characters more time and I like the fact that when a person is playing a social character but they themselves are not smooth talking they could at least have their stats to fall back on.

While we do not require the player of a combat character to successfully strike a moving target in order to hit his imaginary opponent, but I have often seen players say something stupid and seen their social characters be penalized for it.

As I said, I am still unsure about this but I very much encourage some discussion!

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    Scott Says:

    I think a social combat system has lots of potential.

    Personally I’ve gone both ways on it in the past, though perhaps never quite to the level of a social combat.

    If the character needs to do something relating to a social skill there are times when it is best role played, and then I’ll simply judge their attempt and have NPCs react. The problem there of course being that some situations come up where the player may not be super suave, for example, but their character is supposed to be.

    At the other end of the spectrum might be a straight dice roll, as you said “I make my argument” and roll, then go from there. This often feels wrong too, as most of the flavor of the interaction, the character cleverly duping a desk guard and so on, is lost in the reduction to a simple die roll. In physical combat there’s usually a wealth of detail about character locations, aspects of the environment that come into play, descriptions of attacks and their results, and more – shouldn’t some of this be made available to the social characters as well?

    I have no experience with it, but the Scion system using stunt dice sounds like a good way to go. Have the player take his or her best shot at duping the guard through fast talk and charm, grant their performance some dice, then factor the character’s stats into the interaction as well. I like the opportunity to reward players for good role playing, but allow those who aren’t up to it to still have a shot when their character’s stats are there.

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    Yes, I must agree with many of your points. A clutz can play a warrior or athelete in every RPG system, but in order for someone to play a character much smarter or more charismatic than themselves is really hard. This bugs me. More on that topic:
    http://transitivegaming.blogspot.com/2007/11/pet-peeves-regarding-attributes.html

    As far as the Social Combat system from Exalted, and porting it over to Scion, I think it’s a poor fit. That system uses temporary Willpower to track how well you’ve convinced, tricked, or intimidated someone. There’s a couple problems with that.

    Willpower totals max at 10 in Scion, for both puny mortals and the most strong-willed Gods. So, it doesn’t really scale as you go up, and almost all PCs start at 70% of maximum. Social attributes, however, have a higher cap, and Epic socials expand almost geometrically (+46 automatic successes at the top level). Social characters will wrap the gods around their fingers with fairly minimal XP investment.

    Rather than scaling up the willpower pools, the designers just made lots of knacks that restore spent willpower, especially in Demigod and God (but those knacks can be purchased by Hero-level characters). In fact, there’s several different knacks that refresh someone’s entire willpower pool for a single point of legend (and Gods have over 100 legend points). Two characters both armed with that power would render each other immune to ever being dissuaded.

    I’d guess by Legend 5 or so it’ll break down almost completely. You’ll always succeed at persuading someone if you talk to them in private, but are incapable of affecting groups of 2 or more. That just doesn’t sound like fun.

    A possible solution would be to create a new stat that works similar to willpower, and is the target of social combat, but which scales up like Epics and/or can’t be refreshed infinitely via knacks like some sort of M:TG combo deck. But that may be a lot of work to implement.

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