Social Combat: Reusing Physical Combat System?

  • Coder

    Posting this here because I was an unintentional jerk and accidentally kind of participated in derailing an advertisement thread with this... and besides, it's relevant to far more than just one game.

    Social combat is one of those things that has always been a huge headache for games, and I've been looking more and more seriously at trying to design a solution for that.

    In particular, physical combat is easy. There's no "I found your sword-strike unconvincing"; you got hit, you got hit. Social combat, though? That's harder to define.

    Let's say you're holding a secret that could get someone you care about killed; a mother, an uncle, a lover, whatever. I suspect you're hiding something, so I +check a given stat and succeed highly, and go "Are you hiding something?" Let's say you say yes, so I immediately roll a 'manipulation' check and then say "Great, I convinced you: tell me the secret." At which point you go, "I don't want my character to die just because you rolled high manipulation", and call staff in.

    This is a giant headache for staff, and often leads to bitterness. Either the person who suddenly had to give up their secret is bitter, or the person who has amazing manipulation dice and yet didn't get to use them to learn a useful secret is bitter.

    Moreover, while physical combat usually only needs to encapsulate ranged and melee combat, social combat needs to cover a variety of things. The ones I see are:

    • Logical arguments (debate, from the head)
    • Manipulative arguments
    • Insulting/satirical arguments
    • Maybe also passionate arguments ('how can you stand by and allow...')?

    Given that, what I keep meaning to do somewhere someday is actual combat, but with various 'methods' as weapons. So just like you have big weapons that use 'huge wpn' as the skill, daggers that use 'small wpn', etc., you would have satire, logic, manipulation, etc.

    When you started a 'social combat', you'd set some sort of goal from a list of 3 or 4 'types' of combat, and the 'hitpoints' would be based off things accordingly. Are you trying to convince your opponent? Base it off willpower+perception. Or maybe you are trying to humilate them, in which case you base it off of reputation.

    Then you'd get to wield 'manipulation' (works off of charm + manipulation, countered by the higher of willpower for resistance or perception for "I see through you"), 'logic' (works off of intellect and whatever, countered by intellect), 'satire' (works off of charm and entertainment/riddles/whatever, countered by... I don't know, but something), etc.

    And you'd do 'damage' to the hitpoints—the resistance—of the other person. When someone is 'knocked out', your argument has convinced them.

    It has the benefit of reusing a lot of a given game's combat code, so social and physical combat can share a lot of functionality. Not to mention you have the fun of trying to figure out someone's weak points. High intellect, but low willpower? You want manipulation rather than logic to try to win them to your opposing viewpoint, clearly.

    And while you might STILL run into the problem of "I don't want to give up the secret that will get my loved one killed", it's less likely to be a bitter point than it is off of a single set of rolls.

    Plus, I think those sort of social combats would just be FUN to watch and to play.

    I don't know what others think, though. Since I am kind of trying to build a toolkit for stuff like this, I'm curious whether others think this would be fun...

  • One of the things I was looking at, generally, included a number of pools derived from character attributes. One was physical, one social, and one mental.

    The reason I mention this is that some of what you're describing I wouldn't necessarily call 'social', but mental -- argument and debate would fall in there to me, as would things like mind control and similar if the game has things like that. Social things are more emotionally-based in terms of how I was looking at things.

    ...and each of these can technically influence or enhance the others. For instance, a successful appeal to emotion may provide a modifier to a mental challenge, just as a good logical approach might tamp down soaring tempers or a physical threat may cause emotional distress. In other words, I look at it more as a trinity than as a binary; this is one thing I do think WoD got right in terms of core divisions.

    Edit: One of the attributes in the game is 'Identity'. It's essentially a social manipulation resist trait, in some respects. It is 'how well does the character know their own mind/understand their own core motivations'. Each point of Identity also allows the player to define one 'core motivation', which is something like 'I will not betray my team' or 'I will not kill' or 'I will not turn down the chance to make a profit' (not all of these things are necessarily moral; they're the character's essential drives).

    If a challenge would impact one of those core motivations, it grants a +/- modifier in one direction or the other; talking someone into something they already want to do is easier, trying to make them go against a deeply held belief is harder. This is something that allows a player to define their character in a way I think is highly cool, and also allows for that 'wandering personal modifier' issue that comes up so often. Plenty of people claim those as an excuse, but the system here makes them actually choose them and decide which ones are really, actually going to count.

  • Creator

    Dude hell yeah I totally want to do this in my DBZ game.

    "You were hit with a DEVASTATING Diplomatic Suggestion"

    "Well, I guess we can get pepperoni."

  • Pitcrew

    I think the closest to what is being described here is the "moves" that RfK had. Social combat had a list of defined "moves" that could be used in social combat and, if I recall, they were similar to the ones that you describe. Each move had it's own attacking and defending roll and its own measure of success. Upon success, each move imposed a condition.

    It's important to note that people are so gun shy of social combat that the system was very rarely used. However, one of the greatest scenes I had on that game was arguing with AJ in Walmart using that system.

    I think you'd want to use a very simplified system at first. I also think that something like conditions that provide the loser with two options is important to the success of social combat, I fear that if the end result is "you must tell the secret," people will just ignore the system. However, if the end result is "You may tell the secret or you may take a -1 to all social encounters for the next month" people will complain about the results less because they are still maintaining control over their character.

  • Admin

    The keys to a good social confrontation system (for me):

    • Ease of use - if it's too complex it won't be used.
    • Clarity of result. People shouldn't use them as mind control ('I win! You're no longer catholic.')
    • Overall use; this is tricky since it's a cultural trait, but the game should be encouraging social risk, PrPs and metaplot as much as the physical equivalents.
    • Allow flexibility. This always bugged me; you can be a specialized 'niche' fighter ('I'm a swordsman') and still be generally super useful in nearly every combat scenario, but the 'social arena' is so wide it's hard to be good at intimidation, diplomacy, manipulation, catching lies to match an equal range of social challenges.

    Anything I missed?

  • One of the trickiest aspects of Social Combat is that people don't want to be rolling tons of dice when they go to some bar RP, waiting for others to figure out polls, read rules, argue over results, etc. It detracts the attention from actual RP and transforms roleplay into pure mechanics.

    The only way to do social combat, in my opinion, is keep it simple so you don't disregard Social Stats but you don't make it complex enough that I will not risk wasting 6 hours of my day by going to a random bar scene only to get ambushed by someone who has the sickest combos bro.

    You expect dice to be a thing in plots, but when they take over casual RP stuff gets annoying. I would like social dice to be used more often, but for it to be not NEARLY as complex as physical combat (which I feel is needlessly deep anyways).

  • Coder

    @SunnyJ I agree, but I think the best way to handle social combat isn't by dumbing it down to a single roll or two, but to actually write coded combat for it, the same way many games have coded combat (FS3, for instance) rather than having a simple "we fight, my dice rolled higher once, I win".

    I think that would invest and engage people in it more.

    I feel that social combat should be treated on an equal footing with physical combat.

  • Admin

    I'm only talking about my own playing preferences here, but perhaps it will relate to others. So the crux of it is if social rolls enhance my roleplay I absolutely want them in it; if they detract from the experience I don't.

    At the matter's core it's as simple as that.

    So for example if I'm in a scene with 2 other people and we end up debating 'how far would that have changed my mind' or 'was empathy really the right skill to use instead of subterfuge' or even worse 'sec, let me ask staff if this is how it works' and these things aren't the exception but the rule then I want no part of it. If rolls interrupt the scene's flow and I spend more time waiting to interpret what we rolled than typing up the next pose then I don't care enough any more; I'd just want the scene to end.

    Rolls - to me - need to be extremely simple, fast and specific. I need to be able to push a pose out telling a lie, roll to see if my lie is caught or not, and then the next person sees the result and starts typing their own pose based on the result.

    I can understand some situations are more complex than others, same as (for example) a grapple roll in GMC sometimes takes a bit to navigate through all the assorted factors you need to consider, but on a day to day basis it has to not get in the way of RP.

  • Coder

    Sure, and I think a simple 'lie' or 'manipulate' command has its place. Just like I can check my combat stats for a quick "Yeah I just want to see who rolls higher" sort of contest. But there are places for actual coded physical combat, too.

    And the same way, if I hold a secret that can get you killed, I don't want someone rolling 'lie' and saying, "Oh, Arkandel said you had some information of his he wanted you to share with me" and then I blurt out your secret on the basis of a single roll and pose. I'm guessing you probably don't want me to do that either.

    Those are the scenarios that result in "Hey, is there a staffer available?" and potential bitterness.

  • Politics


    Guess what I'm also doing?

    Like @Lisse24, I have fond memories of RfK. AJ was a player that used the social roll system for everything. ("Greetings! I am (rolls dice) happy to see you!"). And that often led to amusing results, especially when he and Cai (my PC) were bowling. (Yes, my Ventrue liked to bowl, go fuck yourself.)

    My combat system is very simple. First, you have one of three positions on your side of the battlefield. Second, you have a limited variety of attacks. Third, you have some talents and tricks that be used to tip the battle in your favor. Finally, you have Drama Points to spend and thereby increase your chances of success. You get a set number of Action Points per turn, and people act according to an Initiative Order set at the beginning of the entire combat (it doesn't change by round). The objective is to be the last squad standing.

    Social combat would be the same. First, you would have one of three approaches for your side of the debate. Second, you have a limited variety of arguments, jibed, and quips to make. Third, you have some talents and tricks that be used to help you achieve your outcome. Finally, you have Drama Points to spend and thereby increase your chances of success. You get a set number of Action Points per turn, and people argue or insult one another according to an Initiative Order. The objection is to be the last person/group with any credibility.

    So, I'd limit social combat to large scale debates or situations where the PCs are trying to achieve some sort of social objective, like negotiating or bargaining to take the lead on some campaign. I don't think it'd work well to hammer someone's social standing (essentially, PvP).

  • Pitcrew

    I'm no developer and mechanics of games confuse and scare me. I'm just a player who, either by unwitting choice or random luck, has played 3 very socially-adept characters in games where it should have mattered.

    For clarity, I played Nydus (Master manipulator) and Teodor (diplomat and scholar) on Firan, and play Marius (diplomat) on Arx. This is why the topic's important to me - it's what most of my chars seem to be good at.

    Here's my challenge: Let's say Nydus is trying to manipulate PC Jason to trust him into sharing a major secret. Nydus has all sorts of manipulation dice and scores a huge success against Jason's willpower or perception or whatever. But, there's no way to force Jason's player to actually type the words, "Jason murdered his sister and ate her eyeballs." What's worse, there's no way for me as the player to know whether Jason's player is revealing the actual secret.

    It leads to a lot of calling in staffers, which no one should want.

    I will say that I did score a major success with Nydus once on a character whose player was shocked since hers had high dice in willpower and the rest. But, she played the response well and shared the secret. I have tonnes of respect for players who actually do that.

    Anyway, maybe I was helpful, maybe not. I'm intrigued to see what comes of this discussion.

  • Pitcrew

    Social combat outside of mind control-like effects should just be role-play, not system-backed. On every WoD game I've been that included the ability to wield your social stats like a bludgeon it was always misused, and a social combat system usually can't account for personality traits.

    To give a very simple example, sexual orientation. A character who has no interest in a particular gender simply shouldn't be able to be seduced by that gender's appearance stat. The only way to account for this is to have a skill or multiple skills that grant immunity to certain stats, and just like that you need to, in order to be fair, have the possibility of being immune to the other social stats too.

    I do however like @Ganymede's idea of using such a system for storytelling, not player-versus-player scenarios. I think for such circumstances it could work very well, and using a standard combat system as the skeleton would be fine, possibly preferred.

  • Pitcrew

    @Salty-Secrets What about if characters got a significant bonus in resisting attempts that go against the heart of their character.

    I'm working on a system where each character in CG gets to choose three characteristics that are used to define their character. So, one character may choose 'Refined,' 'Quick-witted,' and 'Sly.' Now, obviously, if someone tried to make that character laugh by starting a food fight, that character isn't going to be down with that. So, when resisting the attempt, the character gets a bonus. The same thing would work if a female character tried to hit on a gay guy, etc.

    I'm a firm believer that the core aspect of any character should be respected, and I get that a lot of players fear that will be denied them with social combat, but I'm not convinced that it has to be that way. I think we can recognize a players autonomy AND encourage social characters to use their skills if we set up the right system. Like others in the thread, I'm not sure that basing it on physical combat is the right system.

  • Pitcrew

    @Lisse24 That's a pretty interesting middle-ground. Personal preference will always be that I'd rather role-play social attempts against my character than leave how they react to things to a dice roll, but what you propose sounds like a good middle of the road where your personality does matter without the code needing to be overly complex.

  • Politics


    What you're describing is using social combat to coerce another player's character to do something. I'm very much against this. Social rolls, in my opinion, should only affect: (1) NPCs; or (2) PCs, to the extent of what they might think of your PC. Anything more than that is potentially abusive, and an over-reach, and, in the case of my system, your PC could opt out of doing what I want.

    Powers in WoD are an exception because they are super-powers.

  • Pitcrew

    @Ganymede said in Social Combat: Reusing Physical Combat System?:

    Powers in WoD are an exception because they are super-powers.

    Of course. I was talking about using standard social rolls on those WoD places, not the assorted powers that exist to mentally dominate others. I remember one particular nut-job I ran into used an appearance + performance roll to seduce my character through a lap-dance. Trying to appeal that my character and player weren't interested in any kind of love affair only got me called out for not role-playing the results of a roll.

    I think we're in complete agreement here on where the line should be drawn.

  • Admin

    @Salty-Secrets I think sometimes we attribute people-problems to system-problems.

  • TV & Movies

    The super powers vs non is an important point. I think people often get so wrapped up in 'dice should matter' that they lose some idea of the scope of this stuff they're asking for. There are things 'good social skills' can do, but outright controlling others, changing their beliefs, etc, is hard.

    Consider that in our modern life, we see people argue about politics, religion, various forms of personal identity and belief every day. Nonstop, 24/7, bibles worth of text across various platforms. And we also see people entrench themselves and give very little ground. While the idea of dice rolls for grand debates where one side eventually concedes has cinematic appeal, consider the occurrences of congress or parliament breaking down into insults (or even fist fights), or that the solution to these things in Roman democracy was often mob violence or assassination. Or for something less exaggerated, note that debate clubs involve judging, requiring a third party to sort it out.

    Changing belief by talking at someone is monumentally difficult, and for a host of reasons, probably not something great to pursue in coded social systems. I think plausible systems are always going to have to pivot on other parts of the system where you can translate social influence into other spheres: ie intimidation could reduce combat effectiveness, making the choice of fight or flight more weighted, whereas various forms of persuasion and diplomatic meddling probably need bigger NPC and political capital systems around them so you can influence NPCs, gain points, or even steal them from someone else (convincing them to help you). Arx is a pretty good test game for this kind of thing because it has those backends, whereas most WoD-like games will struggle with it.

  • Pitcrew

    Part of the issue comes from the fact that the medium is focused on dialogue and social interaction. By taking that out of the hands of the players and giving it to random chance, you are defeating the major reason people play the games, as well as removing what agency the player has through the medium. If we were instead playing some sort of game built around a fencing club and our matches were built around some stories we came up with, it would be the opposite. We wouldn't care as much about the social circumstances that have led our characters to fence one another. Our agency as players is tied to our fencing skills. We wouldn't care if we drew cards from a deck that said "Fencer A insulted Fencer B's mother by calling her the village bicycle. Duel!" We would be quite irate if then we said "Instead of fencing, let's just roll some dice to see who stabs whom." We're a fencing club and we're there to poke each other with rapiers. We're MU*ers and we're hear to write dialogue, for the most part.

    I have recently reached the conclusion that "social combat" that works like physical combat is a misbegotten idea. We don't have intelligence combat or anything for the mental stats, and social stats should be the same if not be entirely subsumed by mental stats into one paradigm. Social skills and such should be used only to influence NPCs and to alter the game world in a manner that benefits the PC or harm the PCs enemies. Spreading gossip, making things more expensive for an enemy or cheaper for yourself, gaining more resources with which to convince, manipulate, and coerce PCs, etc.

    Social combat should be PC A asking PC B for some secret and in exchange giving PC B bunches of money or access to certain resources or threatening to spread damaging rumors etc. Trying to interrogate a prisoner would work the same way. Either PC B tells PC A what PC A wants to know or PC A is going to chop off PC B's right hand, which comes with mechanical affect like not being able to wield a weapon. Can PC A actually get away with doing that? Depends on the social connections and resources they have to defend their actions and how much social clout PC B has to have thugs or guards or assassins come to pay PC A a visit afterwards.

    Using Arx as an example, I think the Dominion system needs tied to social stats and intelligence stats. I don't know what Apos, Hellfrog, Tehom, et al have planned for the dominion system but I would argue it needs to be very expansive, including things like underworld gangs, merchant guilds, every organization possible, merging the support system for tasks into it. The social (and perhaps mental) skills would then influence how much access to the resources of these organizations an individual has.A High Lord can move armies, direct trade, plan infrastructure, and has the entirety of the wealth of the lands under their direct control. A princess cousin to that high lord can influence those things to a lesser degree. Perhaps she has a Captain in the fealty's forces wrapped around her finger, so she can order a few troops elsewhere without the High Lord knowing. She can have a few shipments redirected or something smuggled through. Rather than defining exactly what she has access to, though, her stats give her so many chips of certain types, much like the economic, social, and military resources that are currently in the game. Thus, when she need a captain wrapped around her finger, she spends so many military resources and voila! We assume she has also had that captain admirer from her time back home, she just never utilized that advantage until now. Basically resources become intangible measures of potential tangible resources.

  • Pitcrew

    @Salty-Secrets said in Social Combat: Reusing Physical Combat System?:

    Social combat outside of mind control-like effects should just be role-play, not system-backed.

    Is physical combat outside of executions just role-played, not system-backed? If not, but social combat should be, why should anyone invest points in social skills or defenses when they can pour them into physical ones?

    I've had my own uncomfortable history with social combat... several years ago, I was wildly against it, because I thought that my immersion would be broken by someone with huge dice pools and crap-all RP skill rolling a ton of dice at me and basically posing, "You should tell me your big secret because you're dumb and I'm cool," and then expecting me to do so. In fact, when Blu and I opened up The Fifth World, we didn't have any social skills at all--that was all RP. I've come around to the fact that if you don't have social skills, all characters will be perfect (or near-perfect) liars, and you just can't really have people striving against one another in social spheres with any expectation of "fair play."

    And so, like @Sparks, @Ganymede, and @Lisse24, I'm writing a social combat system for the Furystorm system that I'm working on. It's based on A Song of Ice and Fire's social combat system, but simplified a bit, and tweaked so that it has some slight chance of working in PvP, as well as PvE. My intention is to allow a system where you can get short-term results through the use of dice, but long-term results will require lots of RP, rather than a single social combat.

    Example: I'm an agent of a rebel High Lord, and I want to convince a loyal Senator to act against the First Lord. With a single social combat, I might be able to convince him to speak out against a bill that the First Lord likes in front of the Senate, I might even be able to get him to vote against the bill, but I couldn't get him to rebel against the First Lord--that takes lots of RP.

    More controversial example: I'm trying to seduce someone who has absolutely no interest in my gender. If I roll really well, I might be able to get them to flirty playfully with me if they were the type to do so, but I won't be able to get them into bed.

    So, like aSoIaF, I use "armor" and "weapons" in social combat, and armor includes attitude (but also social standing and perhaps--I'm still pondering this--particularly strong beliefs on the subject), but I have weapons represent the relative effectiveness of the argument being used (as opposed to the persuasiveness with which the argument is being presented).

    To facilitate this, I've added a step at the start of a given round where each side gives an overview of their argument, and the defender assigns it a "weapon" based on how effective that general argument might be. Granted, there's still room for ugliness if someone decides that all arguments they don't want their character to be swayed by are Ineffective, but those people are going to be assholes no matter the system.

    If the rolls demonstrate some extreme results (an Ineffective argument cleaning up despite the penalties) there's another step in there asking the defender to talk with the attacker to come up with some suggestions on how the argument might be tweaked to better make sense of the roll.

    Example 1: Agent of a Rebel High Lord wants to get loyalist Senator to vote against a bill that the First Lord likes. In the first round of social combat, the agent's player notes that he will be appealing to the Senator's open-mindedness. The Senator's player notes that this is likely to be Weak, since the Senator is not particularly open-minded. The rolls go predictably, and the agent makes no headway (and the Senator doesn't dissuade the agent from his goal either) and poses are duly made to that effect.
    In the second round, the agent shifts his argument, stating that the character will instead emphasize a time that the First Lord didn't have the Senator's back and trying to call into doubt whether the Senator's loyalty is being returned. The Senator's player notes that this is true, and figures that the attack is Intriguing. The agent's player rolls very well (the bonus to damage and armor penetration helps), and so the Senator's player notes that there have actually been a couple of times that the First Lord didn't back the Senator that are public knowledge, so the agent could even bring up more than one. The agent's player adds this to the pose to help explain the particularly good roll.

    Example 2: Player 1: "Tiberius is going to appeal to Aemulius's love for protecting innocents by claiming that the rebels Tiberius wants him to smuggle out of the city are actually innocents the First Lord is hunting." Player 2: "That's a good idea. I think that's probably Intriguing. It would be Strong if Tiberius had evidence that they were innocents. Aemulius's is just going to ask that Tiberius give up the operation, since there's a high risk of getting caught." Player 1: "Yeah, he's pretty much accepted that. I think that's Neutral." Player 1 rolls well, Player 2 rolls poorly. Player 1: "How about Tiberius noting that a couple of the 'innocents' are women, and one is a teenager?" Player 2: "Yeah, that sounds like a great way to explain the good roll."

    I also allow the rules for Seeking Advantage, Multiple Attackers, Fighting Aggressively and Defensively, and Disengaging to be used in social combat just like in physical combat.

    I'm currently looking into adding (thanks @Misadventure for the idea) the idea that some wins may require compromise, depending on the percentage of the winner's lost SocialPoints (the social equivalent of hitpoints).

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