"Social combat" systems: how?

Other RPGs

2 people marked this as a favorite.

So, i've been messing around studying RPG rule systems. One thing that I have yet to play around with is the notion of "social combat" systems.

Most social interaction (in d20 systems anyway) is handled by simple skill rolls. Same goes for all the other systems I've played: it generally comes down to the notion of diplomacy/bluff/intimidate/sense motive, simple rolls and very little in between.

So I did a bit of looking up, seeing if there were some social combat systems in other RPGs. I've yet to find the money to pay for any of them, but the comments I've seen have not been very interesting. So I'm looking for some feedback from others who have had the chance to use some. Here are a few issues I can see.

1) Can you create some sort of equivalency/analogy for "social" attack score, defense, hp, etc?

2) What "end state" (IE unconsciousness & death) can be used in a social context? What kind of "end state" can we use that doesnt make the player feel like the choices of their character are being made for them (IE, avoiding mind control).

3) How do we give social situation the same "weight" as combat when they arent (normally) life or death?

4) "loss" of a social interaction rarely means absolute failure (in RL anyway). So what kind of rules can be used to determine success/failure? How can you represent the "longer-term" interplay of social interaction with a "straightforward" (if not simple) ruleset?

Anyway, I'd love to hear some more from people who have played more formalized social interaction games.


I don't know if you've heard of Fantasy Flight Games' new Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG. It is definitely NOT d20 (it uses really awesome custom dice that generate more than just a Pass-Fail system).

They have rules that easily translate into a social combat situation.

In fact, there is a podcast dedicated to FFGs' Star Wars RPG. It is the Order 66 Podcast. Episode 6 specifically deals with Social Combat, with guest host Jay Little, who was the Lead Designer of the system.

Even if Star Wars isn't your cup of tea, listening to that episode of the Podcast could help generate ideas about how to accomplish it in the system of your choice.


Weren Wu Jen

Thank you Weren! I'll check it out.

This will be available in August from Paizo. I'm looking forward to seeing how it works.


For the moment, I feel like creating something beforehand, so as to avoid being too influenced. And as an experiment. I'll have to check that stuff out.

However you handle it, I hope that you have fun!

Keep calm and game on!


The Exchange

The Fate Core system has a social combat system, and the Fate SRD is available for free online: [url]http://fate-srd.com/[/url]

In Fate Core, social combat works exactly like physical combat, with the exception that the narrative obviously changes how the rules work. Whereas in physical combat you would use Fight and Shoot to make attacks, in social combat you would use the Provoke skill to make attacks. All the other actions, like Create an Advantage, Overcome and Defend, key off of appropriate skills: you could use Empathy to try to Create an Advantage by finding out your opponent's true motives, which they could then Defend against by using Deceive.

Damage works just like in social combat, but instead of dealing damage to the enemy's physical stress boxes the damage goes into their mental stress boxes. The thing in Fate combat is that if you take damage to one of your stress boxes you can instead opt to not take damage by taking a consequence at the appropriate stress level. Consequences are temporary Aspects (an important part of Fate vocabulary which I won't go into detail here, but suffice to say that they are narrative tags that players can use to their advantage in various ways, so if you've managed to discover that the enemy has the "Afraid of Snakes" Aspect through Empathy or something, you could then tag that Aspect to get a bonus to your actions as long as they capitalize on the enemy's fear of snakes).

The main difference is that consequences gained in social combat are bound to be, well, more mental and social, as opposed to physical consequences. Whereas in physical conflict you could give your foe the "Broken Arm" consequence as a part of your attack, in social conflict it'd probably be something closer to "Shaken" or something. The rules remain the same, the narrative is just different.

That's social attack scores, and I've already touched on the Fate equivalent of "social hp" (i.e. mental stress boxes), but how do you adjudicate for characters who might have more social hp than someone else? Well, in Fate a character's Will skill, at certain levels, gives the character more mental stress boxes. The physical equivalent is the Physique skill, which conversely grants more physical stress boxes.

So, what happens when your last mental stress box gets blown out? Well, in Fate this means that you are Taken Out of the conflict, and the person who took you out gets to decide how it looks like and the consequences of it. Obviously this needs to match with the narrative, so you can't have someone's head explode by shouting at them enough (unless you're running a superhero game where it might make sense), but in general this means that if you win a social conflict you get to decide what concessions your enemy has to make.

Now, obviously not all social interactions need to be handled as extended conflicts. If your characters are trying to haggle for a piece of mundane equipment, that would probably just be a simple Rapport versus Will contest. However, in an investigation scenario an interrogation scene where the consequence is finding out a vital clue as to the culprit behind the crime might be modeled as a mental conflict, where the consequence of the players losing would be them having nothing to pin down on the person they are interrogating and having to let them go, whereas winning the conflict might lead to the person being interrogated breaking under pressure and dishing out the dirt.

As to how to give mental conflict the same weight as physical conflict: in Fate, being taken out in a physical conflict doesn't always mean death either. Obviously if the assumption is that physical conflict should always be lethal you're never going to be able to make physical and mental conflict totally equivalent, and that's absolutely okay. Having physical conflict be always lethal informs the players about the assumptions at play, and can even encourage them to look at other approaches.

Mental conflict still carries consequences, in the form of, well, consequences. Each of the consequences you take in mental conflict carries over to further conflicts, so if you've just taken the "Getting Real Tired of This Shit" consequence as part of a conflict, that consequence will carry over to further scenes, where the GM might capitalize on it with their NPCs.

Anyway, I seem to have shat out a huge wall of text, so I'll stop now.

I dont have any experience with it, but this might be worth a look. It sounds like it's similar to what you're looking for, but perhaps more narrowly focussed.

Dark Archive

Green Ronin's "A Song of Ice and Fire RPG" has an extensive social combat mechanic, complete with attacks, defences, and stress (equivalent of wounds) mechanic.

Silver Crusade

White Wolf's Exalted has a significant social combat system, though exalted is generally not thought of as having very streamlined rules.

Been looking at doing something very similar myself. Dotting for interest

Similar to FATE, Legend of the Wulin (a game based on wuxia movies and stories) has Chi Conditions, which can represent curses, prophecies, military strategy, the effects of medical conditions, emotional manipulation, and even boring stuff like injuries. There's two types: Weaknesses penalize you when you act incompatibly with it (trying to move around with a broken leg, for example) by giving you dice penalties or weakening your Chi, and Hyperactivities, which reward you when you go along with it, via dice bonuses, faster Chi regaining, or even bonus XP.

I think it's very good for modelling social conflict, since the loser doesn't HAVE to act in accordance with it, it'll just make things harder if they don't.

Sovereign Court

2 people marked this as a favorite.

Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits system does a great job of making debates a very tactically rich experience, in my opinion. You have to outline your argument using the following actions: Avoid the Topic, Dismiss, Feint, Incite, Obfuscate, Point and Rebuttal. Then your argument is compared to your opponents and you see who's the victor, and you can continue until one person gets utterly destroyed.

Here's how we do it in WFRP3:

It is considered "influence" or "shame". Although there are some "special abilities", most things pretty much come down to trying to influence a person to do what you want and that means you've got to succeed a few times and the roleplaying has to be appropriate.

I find this system better than no system (aka, having to seduce to your GM in order to "roleplay" it properly).

[url]http://community.fantasyflightgames.com/index.php?/topic/94798-where-do-you -feel-the-social-influenceduel-of-witsshame-mechanic-needs-clarification/?p =928996[/url]

Now, there may be some dick weeds who try to abuse this or crybaby and moan that it is mind control and they will have a seizure if you have a social influence system. Tell them to grow up and play by the rules (and no, they can't "roleplay" their way out of combat death either ;)


Here's how I'd adapt it to d20:
Charisma skills vs Wisdom (or intelligence) checks as appropriate
Number of successful SKILL checks required for the player or GM to suffer the consequences are: Minimum (2) plus ability modifier. DC is set to easy, medium, hard, really hard.
Sometimes you're not going to succeed: You're never going to influence the KING, because he has advisers and can take as long as he wants.

Here are some working examples:

* Seduce the waitress into your bed..not easy b/c she gets attempted all the time. Several checks.

* Convince an ogre, whose langugae you don't even speak, during a combat, that you will give him a handful of cheese to let you go. Uh...really high DC, several rounds of checks (regardless of how low his intelligence or wisdom is).

* GM's NPC "influence" a PLAYER CHARACTER that he should go do something. Be realistic about this. GM, don't be a dick. Use this to 'inspire' adventure/clue opportunities. I think of GM vs PLAYER as a Jedi Mind Trick..the player can take it further if you like.



The sequence and consequences are this:

Social combat can take days - e.g. You go to convince the pries to exorcise the daemon out of the halfling (whether he needs it or not). He says, "come back tomorrow and we will talk again..I have headache today."

Social combat can take through the events of the evening - E.g. the foul bard in the corner is singing nasty songs about the elf's hygienic wash. You know he's in league with the Banditos de Cráneo Negro and is just trying to discredit the elf so the townsfolk don't believe the outsider.
These things could take between encounters throughout the night as the crowd shuffles in and out. By the end of the night it is decided.

Roleplaying actions between each round ACTUALLY SUBTRACT from your chances UNLESS you ACTUALLY have reason to benefit from your "player metagaming speeches" I start everyone out at -2. Then I let ACTUAL evidence gained from roleplaying allow improvements and on top of that "player metagaming speeches" then being to count.
( This was started b/c I have a player who is a great speech giver in real life..but that doesn't mean JACK in my game..just as a person in real life may be a great weight lifter and gifted philosopher, but the numbers on his character sheet don't lie if he's playing a weakling gnome barbarian idiot).

"Player Metagaming Speeches" should be rewarded, but not more than actual useful stuff in character.

Exalted 2nd ed has a social combat system that by and large copies the mechanics from normal combat, though the terms used are different. It uses the initiative system, actions, and so on, but uses different skills. It is clunky, unwieldy and often stupid... But it truly pales in comparison with the clusterf%#$ that is its social combat MASS COMBAT RULES. Ghuh...

The Exchange

Also, Burning Wheel also has a social combat system called "Duel of Wits." The way it works is that at the beginning of a Duel of Wits both sides make a declaration of intent (i.e. "if I win this Duel of Wits this is the thing you have to agree to") and then roll a check to determine their Body of Argument (basically the amount of hit points the argument has). There's a plethora of social maneuvers you can do, including points, avoiding the subject, counterpoints, and so on, and each of these maneuvers interacts differently with each other. The main purpose is to take down the opposing side's Body of Argument.

Once that happens the players look at how much Body of Argument the winning side lost: if their Body of Argument was undamaged, the opposing side has to agree to the terms they set at the beginning of the Duel. If their Body of Argument was damaged, they must make some concession to the opposing side. The nature of the compromise reached is determined by how much BoA they lost, so if they only had a couple of points left in their BoA they'd have to reach a huge compromise that probably satisfied both sides' needs.

It's a fun system: I recently started a Burning Wheel campaign pitched as "Game of Thrones with Dwarves" and we already got to use it twice. Since this game is going to revolve heavily around making oaths and dwarven internal politics I'm probably going to throw a "Your political rivals demand that you make an Oath to protect their interests or they will not support your ascent to the throne" Duel of Wits at the dwarven prince at some point.

I know I'm necro-ing my own (very old) thread, but I would like to thank all those who contributed. I've been working on these ideas more seriously and you have all provided interesting knowledge.
And to Weren Wu Jen in particular, I've played edge of the empire in the meantine, loved it, and am currently trying to adapt a similar dice-rolling system using d6 die as the basis.

Liberty's Edge

If you like d6 dice pools and social combat you could check out Mutant: Year Zero. The skills use a d6 pool and the four attributes (ability scores) can all take trauma (damage to Strength and confusion to Wits for example). You can wear someone down in a social setting as well as on the battlefield.

Since I missed the thread a long time ago, I can tell you Mythras (formerly RuneQuest 6) has an amazing generic skill resolution mechanic originally intended for crafting. In my opinion the guys at Design Mechanism are a talent that cannot be missed as you work on homebrew, even their free or cheap supplements (like the Firearms or Ships and Shield Walls supplements) are incredibly well thought out and engaging.

Anyways, the gist is you set a period of time the encounter happens in - even lengthy times like weeks or days. Then you break it up into chunks based on access and difficulty of the thing, like maybe you need to convince a lord in a week to side with you but you only see him once a day. You play things out a bit, and add any modifiers you want like a normal skill check - and on a success you gain +25% towards the goal. On a failure you gain +0%, and on a dismal failure you get -25% (or reverse on an incredible success). At the end of the time you add up the score and basically anything 50%+ (but not a perfect success) is a success while anything over 100% give additional benefit. 25% would be an extremely mixed success, and 0% or less is a dismal failure.

It's best to look at the crafting results as a guide (since it is what is printed) where 100% would be the item, 125% would have 1 embellishment (increased value or a small perk), 150% would be 1d4 embellishments. 75% is a functional but undesirable item, 50% would be a functional but very shoddy item, and 25% it a fragile item that breaks easily and looks improvised. 0% means the item is damaged during creation, and some very poor result may mean you injured yourself making it or there was some disaster in the workshop.

Ars Magica has a subsystem (in "Arts and Academe", IIRC) that you could probably get some ideas from. "The Dying Earth" is almost entirely social combat, befitting the Vancian ideal of arguing and disputing with people rather than hitting them.

I've toyed with making a d20 based one but am less than pleased with the result and I'm too damn lazy to refine it.

Community / Forums / Gamer Life / Gaming / Other RPGs / "Social combat" systems: how? All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.
Recent threads in Other RPGs