Modeling social interaction

edited December 2013 in Game Design Help
I've given a lot of thought to modeling social interaction and studied how many games have done it. Some of the best examples out there are Burning Wheel (Duel of Wits) and REIGN. I'd like to have a fairly open discussion about how to model social interactions in RPGs beyond the one-simple-die-roll treatment most systems give them ("Make a Diplomacy check"). Generally off-topic here are "non-starter" directions like, "Don't do it in the first place" or "Punt and model story instead of actual interactions." I already know how to do those things, by and large.

Social systems in real life are complex networks of people. If you piss off Joe, then Joe will tell his best friend Hera you're an asshole, and Hera's reactions to you will change as a result. A one-check system like D&D 3E/4E's Diplomacy check models only a single interaction between a PC and an NPC. Everything else is left to GM fiat. It lacks rules for the larger system, including trust networks, reputation, propaganda, mass-effect speeches, and other society-affecting actions.

Social systems in real life are generally not like combat. A lot of game systems try to give social interaction the combat treatment, and that's a huge mistake. Unless you're a sociopath (and, hey, maybe most D&D characters are), you don't go around treating everyone like an obstacle to be crushed into submission or manipulated/deceived into doing what you want. Healthy people build trust, negotiate to get what they want, and generally treat others well. Treating people badly (manipulation, deceit, intimidation, and the like) are choices that players can make in the game, but they should not be the only tools available. D&D 3E/4E gives a nod to this; it offers "kind" Diplomacy as well as "mean" skills (Bluff and Intimidate, mainly).

Social systems probably should not follow the back-and-forth "exchange blows" techniques used to model combat, either. Turn-taking is probably unavoidable, as this is a game, but I definitely want to shy away from anything that feels like "roll initiative; roll to hit; roll damage."

I want a system of medium complexity. I want there to be some currency that gets moved around and "gamed." It should be around the same complexity as Basic D&D's basic combat system, or simpler.



Here's what I'd like a player to be able to do.

Build (or lose) trust. Make friends and know they'll be there for you, and test those friendships when things get rough. Earn the trust of groups of people, not just individuals. Morally bankrupt characters can choose to fake it, if they want, but trust is generally earned (tested over time). When you betray a person's or group's trust, you should lose their trust. If you burn people badly enough, they turn into enemies.

Counteract (or spread) propaganda and lies. Controlling the message is an important part of politics. A good social system lets you change and protect belief systems.

Gather (or obfuscate) useful information. Spies deal in information. They collect it personally but also use other sources. I want a system that treats useful information as a game currency, so that it's more than GM fiat and/or fictional positioning. Most games let you figure out that the King is secretly sleeping with the Duchess, but few games give you tools that help you do anything with that outside of fictional positioning. That information should be usable as leverage in some kind of social interaction, whether to earn an ally's trust, intimidate or threaten someone in the King's or Duchess's court, or spread rumors that erode public trust of the King or Duchess.

Negotiate. So much negotiation in RPGs is left to player skill. It comes down to the player making a convincing argument. I'm not saying that's a BadWrong way to play; it's just not what I'm looking for here. I want a negotiation to be a combination of a little player skill and a lot of character skill (and utilizing a fair amount of game currency). The Duchess's footman trusts you and owes you a favor for helping him when he broke that china plate, so he's probably willing (+5) to let you into the manor house and not say anything to anyone, provided you leave his name out of things. However, consider things even. Maybe his trust for you isn't so carved in stone, now that you pressed him for this favor, and if you get caught and people ask him, he might turn on you (-2) about some other issue. Or you've built a good relationship with the local smithy, buying from him all the time at fair prices, so he doesn't mind cutting you a deal on that new armor, at least this time (all handled with +/- modifiers and scores and such).

Probably other stuff, too. That's off the top of my head.



What kinds of currency do I need? What kinds of systems/actions/player interface? Can one system handle groups as well as individuals? If so, how do individuals in groups affect their groups and vice versa.

How can I avoid a cynical management of trust as sociopathic currency?
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Comments

  • Well, assuming you want to model it like basic D&D, you need HP and AC. And levels.

    Weapons, instead, become empathies. Spend enough time working with blacksmiths, selling and buying from them, and you get better at talking to them. Your attacks ignore the kind of AC they usually have.

    The system might need some kind of web of circles to present interesting strategic elements. You want to gain information about the layout of the catacombs under a castle? Well, you can talk to the architect, but you got nothing on him and he doesn't want to trust you. You could move a layer out and talk to some guards (or in a different direction some thieves), but useful information comes at a penalty (because it's second-hand.) The barkeep that usually serves those guards? Two steps removed, two penalties.

    Still, you could make up for those penalties by having gained greater trust levels. Or by gaining them in the moment.

    Are these the kinds of things you're thinking about? Are we still adding up modifiers and rolling a d20 here?

  • Are these the kinds of things you're thinking about? Are we still adding up modifiers and rolling a d20 here?

    Sure! Why not? I only used D&D as a reference because everyone knows it, though. I don't really need to model it like Basic D&D combat (and definitely don't want it to feel combative all the time). I just listed that as a level of complexity for comparison: more than one roll to resolve, and enough going on to make it strategically interesting. I imagine that characters would have different approaches to problems (i.e., classes, skills).

    I think a network diagram is a great starting point for this system. It's similar to your "web of circles" but drawn a different way and it allows for interconnected networks. It's also similar to a dungeon map in a lot of ways, so if this is a D&D thing, then players "get it" immediately. They see the King on the map and go to talk to him, but fail to detect the "monsters" in the way (his scheming Council, or the majordomo who controls the King's schedule). Add those to the map when the players discover them.

    I don't want to lose sight of the major design goal of creating a cynical/sociopathic social system. I don't want players to just work the system and treat people like tools. Every interaction should have potential human consequence for someone.
  • Have you read/played Monsterhearts or Sagas of the Icelanders? They both have great social interaction systems, each very specific to their setting.
  • edited December 2013
    Adam,

    Both trust and information hinge on people's beliefs (in the technical sense, rather than Burning Wheel sense) and habits. I could see assembling some mechanics to:

    Discover the beliefs and habits another person holds

    Try to change another's beliefs or habits - there is a risk / reward trade-off in the approach to this since presenting evidence against a belief can easily strengthen it...

    Try to change your own beliefs or habits

    Handle contradictions among beliefs and habits - contradictions are normal, but habits tend to beat out beliefs.

    Let beliefs evolve / devolve into habits - as you forget why you do something or hold a position.


    Off the top of my head, this could be done Apocalypse World / Monsterhearts style or with a tweak of FATE-style aspects.

    I think the belief / habit dichotomy reflects long term trust better than some pool which is built and then lost. After all you may learn that your friend is actually a lying bastard, but that doesn't always instantly break your habit of trusting him.

    - Mendel

    Edited to add example:
    As an addendum, beliefs can also handle things like the con artist trick of being caught in a small lie in order to earn someone's trust - it encourages a belief that "so and so is a bad liar", which can make it harder to act suspicious. On the flip side the con artist would have a harder time with the mark if they have the belief "I am an honest, law-abiding person" and an even harder time if they have the habit of being an honest, law-abiding person.
  • Relationship maps are going to be important here. A map like this provides a snapshot of a community but is static so there needs to be ways to add, subtract and alter information on the map as you play. Could a game be made that was totally focused on just those pieces?

    I use a game in psychotherapy called "Bob's Brain" that simulates social interactions to help clients gain better knowledge of how cognitive behavioral therapy "self talk" works. The idea is that we are in a constant conversation with ourselves and that often we have internal conflict (that is worth listening to).

    The players/clients are all part of Bob's brain. Each has a voice. I assign a few players to be the rotten parts of Bob's brain - their job is to make blatantly bad decisions to stir the pot. I present the group with a situation Bob is in and ask "What do you do?" We then have an awkward silence where everyone waits for someone else to say something (BTW this is part of the therapy - being able to tolerate awkwardness more is a useful thing). Eventually someone says something. I then keep things moving by asking "Any other ideas?" The next idea might build on the first one or contradict it. New characters get made up and the situation is developed. If people agree then there are no dice rolls but if two people won't give in on a point there is a simple dice rolling contest, high roll wins, to see which idea wins out. As decisions are made I step in and move events along by adding new complications.

    In a recent game the players had Bob's girlfriend Trixie confront him at a part for paying too much attention to other women. She ended up sleeping with Bob's best friend Butch. Bob then had to decide if he wanted to dump her but was torn because, as one player said "But Trixie is HOT!" Poor Bob was torn...

    The next week we followed Trixie in how she dealt with the fall out of the last game. Do you walk home drunk from the party? Do you go off with the creepy guy who was hitting on her? When new characters like this pop up, I assign one player in the game to speak for them so there is a little role playing going on amid the discussion.

    It's a fun game and really gets people opening up about social interactions. They can't help but reveal their own thoughts but do so in a way that provides social cover because it is a game. This game doesn't use a relationship map because it needs to be spontaneous and free flowing to work for therapy but it is an example of a way that totally steps away from RPG tropes about social interaction to simulate it in a different way.

    I need to buckle down and write a book about Bob's Brain so other clinicians can use it. I'm a not a good academic!

    Chris Engle (LCSW LCAC - just to be official and all)
  • Diaspora uses maps as the basis for social combat, representing differences between social positions or points of view.
  • Have you read/played Monsterhearts or Sagas of the Icelanders? They both have great social interaction systems, each very specific to their setting.
    Alan,

    Yeah. I've run a few sessions of Monsterhearts. All of the moves are very personal, though. None of it seems to handle the larger social interactions I'd want in a game. Also, it's very sociopathic! Your main move is to get a String on someone else and use it to compel their behavior. I want tools that model healthier social interaction than high school monsters.

    I own Sagas and plan to play it soon. Does its treatment of social interaction extend to the larger scale, and is it less combative/sociopathic?
  • Mendel,

    I like your Fruitful Void approach to trust. It kind of neatly ties up the "discover info about a person or group" with the "use info about a person or group," too.



    Chris,

    The network becomes the primary tool here. Beliefs are /about/ something else, and all that stuff can be captured on a relationship map (network diagram). Just write a couple words on each arrow to summarize what X believes about Y.

    It's not enough to know that X and Y have a relationship. It's a piece of information but it's the least you can know. Then you have to interact and explore to learn more about that relationship. What does X believe about Y? What does Y believe about X? And beliefs are complex and multilayered.

    Note that when I say "network," it doesn't have to be circles and lines on a big sheet of paper. It can be an index card per person or group, with a list of relationships on each card, and a set of beliefs under each relationship. That's just another representation of the network.

    And, yes, capturing what X believes about X is just as interesting as anything else. Good call.
  • One thing I've noticed about social interactions is that simulating them is VERY hard. They are just so many layers and things can go off in odd directions. One way around this is have the representation of the network (be it a map or cards or whatever) but really focus on "What happens next".

    So a person has power. That's cool but what is more cool is what they do with it. So say I have super powers but I only use them to crush beer cans with my mind. That is not much of a move. The relationship I have with others comes from what they do next. My move is to crush a can. They think it's cool, creepy, frightening, etc. When they act that way what do I do next?

    The Titanium video offers a great example of this.

    Looking at what happens next narrows down the infinite posibilities to a more manageable level.

    Chris
  • Alan,

    Yeah. I've run a few sessions of Monsterhearts. All of the moves are very personal, though. None of it seems to handle the larger social interactions I'd want in a game. Also, it's very sociopathic! Your main move is to get a String on someone else and use it to compel their behavior. I want tools that model healthier social interaction than high school monsters.

    I own Sagas and plan to play it soon. Does its treatment of social interaction extend to the larger scale, and is it less combative/sociopathic?
    Like I said--each is specific to the setting. MonsterHearts is sociopathic because teenagers plus monsters. Take a close look at the "growing up" moves if you haven't already--they're what happens when your character has finally matured enough to have non-sociopathic interactions.

    Saga's social interaction moves are less sociopathic, but like MH, they're on the personal scale and are carefully tailored to the setting. In Sagas, a lot of the moves are about the gender dynamics of the setting. (Though there are a few moves in the back of the book that deal with things like religion and politics).

    I'm not recommending that you steal these systems, so much as that you borrow inspiration from them--strings/bonds as a social currency that can be spent in specific ways informed by the setting dynamic.

  • Yeah, strings/bonds as trust works pretty well. Add Mendel's layer on top of that, and when you can tag a belief that acts like an instant bond. Tagging a belief probably means activating that belief with some kind of mechanic, be it a fiat/positioning mechanic or a die roll.

    In D&D:

    Player: I want to get into the Duchess's bedroom and take a look around.
    DM: Too many guards. You'll almost certainly get caught by one of the footmen or other servants.
    Player: Can I get Roberto to cover for me and get me in? "Roberto, old friend. It's been a while..."
    DM, as Roberto: "Yes, and I didn't get to thank you properly for your help. I really appreciate it."
    Player: "Well, maybe you can help me out. I need to get into your Lady's chambers for a minute. I won't steal anything, I promise."
    DM, as Roberto: He's really uncomfortable. "Ummmm, I really can't help you."
    Player: Roberto owes me. He has a belief about that, right?
    DM: Yeah, here's the card. He believes that he wouldn't have his job if it weren't for you and that he owes you a favor (one box). But he also believes that he'll get fired if he breaks the rules (three boxes).
    Player: So I'll Assure him about getting fired and Collect a Debt for the favor he owes me.
    DM: Can you really protect him against getting fired?
    Player: Probably not, but I'm desperate. Plus, really, he'll only get caught if I do. Roll?
    DM: For the debt, sure. DC 15.
    Player: *rolls* 17. Close one.
    DM, as Roberto: "I'd love to help you out, but I can't take the risk. If I get caught letting people into her chambers, I'll be out of a job, and no one in this city will give me work."
    Player: What's the Assure DC?
    DM: Show me how you assure him first.
    Player: I put my hand on his shoulder. "Roberto, no one is gonna catch me, which means no one is gonna catch you. I'll be in and out in a minute."
    DM: Okay, make your Assure roll, DC 15.
    Player: *rolls* Got a 22, which is more than 5 over. Two successes.
    DM: Okay, so that temporarily eliminates two of his fear boxes but he still has one. He'll proceed but he'll consider the debt paid and I'll cross off that belief.
    DM, as Roberto: "Ummm... well, I can distract Cecili and Horess for a minute. Just a minute though! And then we're even."
    Player: All right. I'm doing it. "I'll wait till you get the room clear, then I'll get in and out as fast as I can. I really appreciate it, friend."
    DM, as Roberto: "Don't ask for any more favors." He's obviously a bit cold now.

  • edited December 2013
    So the thing about Strings as a currency, is that it's not just a "social mechanic", it's a "game mechanic" - it's a currency that let's you manipulate the main things that the game is about. It just happens that the main things the game is about is social manipulation, with combat and problem solving being specifically flagged as a secondary goals.

    But in a game like D&D, combat and problem solving are the primary goals. Social stuff is one of the ways you can accomplish those goals. So it doesn't make sense to have a super complicated social system when the game isn't about social stuff. It's not about managing a web of secrets and favors and social standing. It's about adventure and fighting and puzzle solving, with social interactions being a type of puzzle to solve.

    So this thread is confusing me, because it wavers between "build a better social system that I can tack on to an adventure game" (which I think is a horrible idea) and "build a social system focused game that could maybe be used in an adventure game type of setting but would really be a different game" (which I think is a much better idea). So what are you trying to do, Adam? Cause the thread keeps leaning toward the tack-on system, which I think is horrible.

    Houses of the Blooded handles this by giving you a generic bennie currency that you can use for both adventurey stuff and social stuff, without differentiating between the different kinds of uses or who you got what from. With the Blood & Tears LARP rules, it goes even further, making the exchange of tokens be almost the only system that happens at all.

    And the best thing about that kind of system is that it works just as well between players as it does for player/GM interactions - actually it maybe works better! You offer (not force, which removes a lot of the sociopathic nature of it) a player a bennie token for them to accept a suggestion. Maybe you're suggesting that you have a connection in your background that you are then going to try to use as leverage in the conversation. Or maybe you suggest that they let you get away with something. Or other things. If you choose to accept the bennie token, then it happens.

    The bennie tokens also have other uses. So by giving someone a token, you have made them a little more powerful, and in return, you have gotten what you want. Basically, it's an OOC bribe.

    The beauty of the system is that it gets right to the heart of what is difficult about social systems. A social system is always, at the end of the day, asking you to accept a suboptimal choice for your character, when it gets used on your player character. And usually doing so without giving you anything in return, except maybe "more chewy story-stuff". Which is fine, and all, but eventually you get to a point where you don't really want the chewy story-stuff and what you really want is to have your character make the optimal choice this time, and you start to resent the fact that the system is taking away your character's choices because the other guy has high social stats and keeps telling you what to do.
  • The social moves in Apocalypse World (and Storming the Wizard's Tower) seem to get halfway to what you want. You know, the moves where you roll, add your character's relevant whatever, and get some game currency ("hold") you can use to influence NPCs in non-combat situations.

    Like D&D, they only affect the immediate interaction, but they're a pretty intuitive little subsystem, rather than being A Whole Other Thing(TM), which I know as a player I vastly prefer.
  • Rob,

    D&D is an adventure game because all the tools are adventure tools. If it had social tools, it could be used as a different kind of game, as long as you changed the reward cycle. I'm imagining something like E6 with a social system tacked on, and XP for solving problems, not for killing monsters or looting. Leveling up would gain access to new social feats.

    But it doesn't have to be D&D. I don't really have anything specific in mind right now. I'm between games in my 13th Age slot, and my other slot is short-length indie stuff (1-3 sessions of different indie games).
  • Adam, how much of the process you envision should be left up to player wits vs mechanics?

    How much PC and NPC behavior should be governed solely by their player vs by mechanics?

    I've been interested in the same stuff you are for a while, but every time I playtest a system that uses dice for these interactions, it winds up nerfing the character play. And I hate nerfing character play. So then I find myself moving more toward systems which resolve nothing but track everything, which have been a useful memory aid but little else.
  • edited December 2013
    Just read up briefly on E6. Wasn't familiar with that. Looks like a neat mod that fixes a lot of what I hate in 3/3.5 ed. Thanks for turning me on to that.

    But even if you want to play D&D E6, the things your group is wanting to do focuses on killing monsters and solving problems, right?

    You're not planning to play a game where 70+% of play is focused on courtly intrigue, maintaining face, establishing and maintaining relationships, etc. right? Cause if you were going to do that, why would you run it using D&D?

    Your example isn't a "social game" interaction. It's a goal-focused puzzle - the player is trying to pick a lock, but the lock happens to be a person, not a piece of machinery. Your example is not about a social interaction, even though it has lots of fiddly bits. It's a manipulate attack, just a long complicated one, with more things to keep track of afterward.

    As long as the goal of the player interaction is always going to be to overcome an obstacle - monster, puzzle, social challenge - in return for a reward - information, gold, etc - the interaction is going to be in "adventure game" mode and you're just creating a type of challenge.

    Also, when the mechanic is used on the players themselves, you're going to end up asking them to make suboptimal choices.

    And if you're not subjecting the players to the same rules, then you definitely don't have a social mechanic at all. You have a challenge arbitration mechanic.

    I just want to make sure we know what our apples are and that we aren't calling the orange colored bumpy skinned things apples.
  • Also. Another thing to consider. The more crunchy and memory-focused your social mechanics are, the tighter your cast needs to be. (Which may be a good thing - I don't like the "cast of thousands" approach that often happens in D&D campaigns.)

    In other words, if your mechanic includes remembering that Roberto no longer do favors for PC, then that's something you need to track for Roberto. If you have a huge cast of NPCs, you are going to need to keep track of how a lot of people feel about each PC.

    The nice thing about a generic token economy is that it doesn't have to be NPC-specific. If the PC runs out of tokens to bribe the GM with, then what they want to do doesn't work this time, even if you're asking an NPC you have a good relationship with. Much less tracking.

    Plus, they are spending a token that can also be used in the other things the game is about, like combat.

    For 4e, for example, I could see maybe spending a Healing Surge to make something special happen.
  • Yeah, strings/bonds as trust works pretty well. Add Mendel's layer on top of that, and when you can tag a belief that acts like an instant bond. Tagging a belief probably means activating that belief with some kind of mechanic, be it a fiat/positioning mechanic or a die roll.

    In D&D:

    Player: I want to get into the Duchess's bedroom and take a look around.
    DM: Too many guards. You'll almost certainly get caught by one of the footmen or other servants.
    Player: Can I get Roberto to cover for me and get me in? "Roberto, old friend. It's been a while..."
    DM, as Roberto: "Yes, and I didn't get to thank you properly for your help. I really appreciate it."
    Player: "Well, maybe you can help me out. I need to get into your Lady's chambers for a minute. I won't steal anything, I promise."
    DM, as Roberto: He's really uncomfortable. "Ummmm, I really can't help you."
    Player: Roberto owes me. He has a belief about that, right?
    DM: Yeah, here's the card. He believes that he wouldn't have his job if it weren't for you and that he owes you a favor (one box). But he also believes that he'll get fired if he breaks the rules (three boxes).
    Player: So I'll Assure him about getting fired and Collect a Debt for the favor he owes me.
    DM: Can you really protect him against getting fired?
    Player: Probably not, but I'm desperate. Plus, really, he'll only get caught if I do. Roll?
    DM: For the debt, sure. DC 15.
    Player: *rolls* 17. Close one.
    DM, as Roberto: "I'd love to help you out, but I can't take the risk. If I get caught letting people into her chambers, I'll be out of a job, and no one in this city will give me work."
    Player: What's the Assure DC?
    DM: Show me how you assure him first.
    Player: I put my hand on his shoulder. "Roberto, no one is gonna catch me, which means no one is gonna catch you. I'll be in and out in a minute."
    DM: Okay, make your Assure roll, DC 15.
    Player: *rolls* Got a 22, which is more than 5 over. Two successes.
    DM: Okay, so that temporarily eliminates two of his fear boxes but he still has one. He'll proceed but he'll consider the debt paid and I'll cross off that belief.
    DM, as Roberto: "Ummm... well, I can distract Cecili and Horess for a minute. Just a minute though! And then we're even."
    Player: All right. I'm doing it. "I'll wait till you get the room clear, then I'll get in and out as fast as I can. I really appreciate it, friend."
    DM, as Roberto: "Don't ask for any more favors." He's obviously a bit cold now.

    I'm not sure if all that is any more fun or enjoyable than GM fiat, or even a simple Diplomacy check.

    What are you trying to accomplish with such a subsystem? What effects within the gameplay are you looking to produce?
  • Good thread. Duel of Wits feels more like a negotiation than an actual duel of wits to me (someone who has negotiation as a solid 30 percent of his work day), it's really really good. Negotiation is about who opens first, who responds, the medium of the negotiation (in person, over the phone, by text, by e-mail, by letter), who has the leverage and who has the greater desire, and who portrays all of these things to the other. It's so important, and fun, and cool, and I just know games can make these things solid and work. But very few games have glanced in that direction.
  • Caoimhe, I'm trying to put some mechanical teeth into the social system so it's as interesting as combat in terms of tactics and system-contact.

    I mean, we don't need a combat system in D&D 3E. We could all describe our moves in detail and let the GM determine if we managed to block that death knight's slash. But it's a lot of fun to roll dice and activate powers. The system rewards us for using those things effectively, and when we succeed enough, we earn more powers and we're more effective, but now we have bigger problems.

    I want that in a social system. I want a game where people solve problems socially instead of with weapons, except as a rare, last resort. I want the game to offer gadgets and doodads for nonviolent interaction, just like it does for violent interaction. I want a reward cycle tied to that so that characters get more effective at social stuff over time, but they face bigger and bigger social problems.
  • The main advantage that @Adam_Dray's solution provides is modeling the fiction with the rules. It makes the bonds and pulls of trust exist on both levels (fiction and rules), with interaction between them. This makes it fictionally and mechanically rewarding to master the system and get yourself into a place that makes sense.
  • I'm not challenging Adam's approach, I'm just trying to coax some more out of the background assumptions.
    I want a reward cycle tied to that so that characters get more effective at social stuff over time, but they face bigger and bigger social problems.
    Can you give an example of this? Is there a type of fiction this models that you're thinking of?
  • I'm reading your question as "I don't understand what you want, so I'll ask more questions," but it's hard not to read your questions as "I don' t believe that the thing you want is actually a thing."

    Examples: Pretty much any tv series where people grow up and learn from their mistakes and get less inept at social interaction. Off the top of my head, "The Practice," "The Wire," "Game of Thrones" (for some characters, anyway), "Scandal," "The West Wing," "Burn Notice."

  • Adam, have you looked at any of the Cortex+ games? Both Smallville and Leverage do some interesting things with modeling different types of social interactions in a way that is on par with (or usually better than) how physical altercations work in their systems.

    Smallville does some interesting things with relationship tracking that is kind of like the trust building you are talking about. It's very non-sociopathic relationship play, even though the state of your relationship with a character has a huge impact on how you roll dice in challenges that involve that character.

    Leverage does lots of stuff (potentially the whole focus of the game, depending on what you are heist-ing) with gathering information. And it delves into negotiation quite a bit.

    And both games, as you later clarified you wanted, downplay violence and make it more of a last resort than a first option.

    I'm not saying you shouldn't try to build something because something similar has been done. I'm just wanting to encourage familiarity with other interesting attempts along similar lines. No sense in re-engineering the wheel without at least looking at the other round things other folks have made.
  • Adam, I've got a system in the works that might actually be what you're looking for here. I don't think it's about exactly what you want, but it might be close enough that you could easily tweak it. The game is tentatively called Blackmailed Kingdoms, and the characters are envoys sent by the king to convince trouble-making city-states to stop doing what they're doing. The system is largely about convincing through profit and coercion, with ongoing consequences based on what sorts of tactics you used to get your way.

    For example, if you convince the local lord that he'll benefit from a new trade policy, then you plant a Seed die for his potential allegiance and gratitude if it works out that way, and a Weed die for his potential enmity and deal-breaking if it doesn't. These dice are then rolled at various points in the game to see how things progress. Character skills, tactics, and rolls influence the initial state of these arrangements. Do well, and the lord assumes things will work out and gives you a long leash. Do okay, and the lord is suspicious and short-fused. Do poorly, and he won't agree with you in the first place, thus wasting the time and money you've spent on him.

    There are also additional Weeds for doing shady stuff that would be frowned upon, either by a shared culture or by the specific culture you're dealing with. Even if you and the lord are both happy with a bribery arrangement, it'd still be bad for you if news spread to his peers, or to the next city you go negotiate with.

    Seeds and Weeds can get better (smaller dice), worse (larger dice), or disappear when they're rolled. The results can impact not just the PCs' mission, but also the PCs personally. Getting found out for a murder, for instance, might invoke a revenge plan against your loved ones back home. The more you gain a bad rep in the kingdom, the easier your enemies will find it to pursue their schemes against you unimpeded. Conversely, if everyone loves you, the guys en route to kill your spouse might quickly get ratted out.

    Finally, there's a resource game here, where the PCs have pools of money and services to spend, such that you can simply buy a more favorable outcome than the dice would otherwise dictate. Each NPC has a status ranking, which acts as a multiplier for how much you need to pay them to sway them. The rich and powerful can do great things for you, but you have to pay them a ton, while an errand from a street kid here and there is limited but cheap.

    Virtually zero percent of the math is done, so I can't hand you a thing to play next week, but if this sounds like something you'd like to discuss further, just let me know!
  • I'm reading your question as "I don't understand what you want, so I'll ask more questions," but it's hard not to read your questions as "I don' t believe that the thing you want is actually a thing."
    Sorry, the first is my intent, not the second.
  • The interesting thing about Smallville (now Cortex Drama) is that you are rewarded for having bold statements about relationships that nonetheless do not fully encapsulate how you feel, and punished with slower advancement if you spend a long time carefully crafting milquetoast "i feel this but this, and that but only if this, and the other, but not if this" relationship statements. Basically if you say "I HATE HIS GUTS SO BAD" and then fall in love with him and jump his bones, you get character advancement and if you are like "meh he's all right" and treat him like he's all right, you don't.
  • Rob, I haven't touched Smallville and Leverage yet, and I really want to. Thanks for those tips!

    David, let's do this. Get something vaguely playable and I can probably convince my group to give it a try. Maybe we can do a "guest GM" thing if you want to drive up to Laurel, MD, on a Tuesday evening. Blackmailed Kingdoms sounds really cool.

  • Thanks! Alas, I can't get to MD on a Tuesday.

    What means of discussion do you prefer? I'm down for email, phone, Google Hangouts, whatever. If you whisper me your info, I'll be in touch. There's much work left to be done on this game, but I'm always more productive when I have someone to discuss my projects with, so perhaps I can get to Vaguely Playable before too long.
  • Hey, interesting discussion!

    My thoughts:

    Just like combat, social interaction is very complex and impossible to model in a way which feels completely real.

    So, is the focus here to "create a social interaction system which is Super Realistic and Fun to Play"?

    Because I think that, just like "creating the most realistic combat system ever!", it's not a very functional goal.

    The games and systems which have worked really well (e.g. Monsterhearts, Kagematsu, maybe My Life with Master) all do not attempt to model some specific real-life thing, but rather aim to create a specific type of gameplay, and then use mechanics which put pressure on the players and characters to do stuff which is cool and dramatic (or at least relevant to the theme of the game).

    Just like you can cut the Gordian Knot of "my awesome combat system!" by specifying how simple/complex you want your system to be, how heavily you want luck to be involved, and what player skills you wish to challenge (should combat be "balanced/fair"? how much time should it take up? how much should a clever opponent benefit over a more skilled character?), in this case the design of the game itself (and the goals you place in front of the players) will be a much better guide to any kind of design effort.

    Once again, consider how much weight a game like Monsterhearts achieves with Strings (a very simple and not terribly nuanced mechanic, modeling, really, just one thing). It's more important to focus on gameplay, player decisions, and the premise or theme of the game.

    Dave's points on the drawbacks to an activity which is fairly easy to model with everyday human skills are also solid.

    My favourite approaches so far (mostly untested!) have had to do with behind-the-scenes judgement or valuation, like how the hero assigns points of Love and Pity in Kagematsu. Just like the skilled referee in an OSR-style wargame can feel more responsive and realistic than a set of rigid rules, human judgement, I suspect, may be more effective in creating certain social dynamics and making them feel real.
  • Mendel had a few interesting games which used this principle. Players could have secret goals (to have two characters develop a believable relationship, like friendship or trust or rivalry), and other players, without knowing those goals exist, make judgements on which characters have relationships with each other.

    Old Forge-style "stake setting"-type mechanics have some potential here, too. You tell us what your character is doing. We decide what positive effects could result ("Yeah, it's believable that Roberto would help you out here!") and what could go wrong ("You're being so pushy that Roberto might be offended enough to report your attempt to the authorities, instead"). We roll some dice (or whatever), and we get some mix of possible outcomes - good, bad, or mixed.

    I could see this being pretty fun or interesting if those outcomes were written down secretly, and only revealed when they come true. ("Ooh, that's a bad roll. Sounds like the second-to-worst-possible outcome is what you get here. Lisa, flip over your card and tell us how Roberto reacts!" "He's seriously pissed off and says you'd better get out of here, because in five minutes he'll be reporting you to his boss!")
  • Hey, interesting discussion!

    Just like combat, social interaction is very complex and impossible to model in a way which feels completely real.

    So, is the focus here to "create a social interaction system which is Super Realistic and Fun to Play"?

    Because I think that, just like "creating the most realistic combat system ever!", it's not a very functional goal.

    Oh, god. I never said that was my goal, did I? For one, most combat systems seem totally, totally unreal to me. But they're fun. And sufficiently complex to present interesting choices in play.

    That's the thing for one-roll-resolution social systems. They turn out not to be very interesting in play. If you're playing D&D 3E, you have a dozen cool powers on your sheet, and they're all for killing. They're most likely not for helping you forge trust between the Elf Queen and the Gnomish Ambassador. Instead, most games call that "role-playing" and expect the players and GM to muddle through it with little help. You role play for ten minutes and make one die roll against a skill that might cover maybe 50% of what you acted out. That's dissatisfying for me.

    Compare that to combat in 3E. It gets broken down into rounds. Initiative matters. You have to manage your range/engagement, movement, turn order, and various personal resources like hit points, spells, and limited powers. You have to decide if you stay in the fight or get out before you die. You have healing and boosts and other things to help you. Does that model real combat? Not in the slightest. Is it fun? Hell yeah. Imagine D&D combat with a one-roll-resolution system.

    Moreover, by putting all the buttons and levers (currency) in the combat system, that's where the reward system ends up focusing. Every time you level up, you get better at combat, and combat becomes more interesting. Social interaction...? never gets more interesting as you level up in D&D. At least, not on the character sheet.

    I don't buy that social interaction in the way I want to model is "easy to model with everyday human skills." Sure, we all interact socially every day, but that doesn't mean we know how to build trust between two enemies or how to lead a nation. If leadership were easy, everyone would do it. Everyone knows how to fight in real life, too, right? Just hit the other guy with your weapon. Easy.
  • I'm with Adam. I wasn't thinking it's easy with human skills.

    I was just pointing out that RPGs can challenge those skills directly, in a way that you can't challenge your real-world combat skills in RPG combat. When I roleplay social interactions, I'm used to getting some mileage out of my ability to read the other party, ask questions that'll make them reveal their position, lie convincingly, make stuff up on the spot, give threatening stares, etc. Replacing all that with a bunch of game-mechanical strategy has its drawbacks for me.

    On the other hand, it's rare to find a group where everyone is actually stoked about performing and arbitrating real social challenges. So a good, fun ruleset for this sort of thing would definitely have its place. My personal sweet spot for these rules would be a system in which the unique details of each fictional situation are indispensable to the game-mechanical strategy, but failing that, an equivalent of D&D combat (which is often rules-motivated but dressed up with great fictional color) would still be fun.
  • Oh, guys, I'm on the same page as you.

    Adam: I didn't mean that you were, quite literally, looking for "the most realistic social conflict system ever". Of course not! I was just trying to say that it's hard to create one when your goals are that vague: the ones I've seen work well all very confidently plug into some other aspect of the game (e.g. Dogs in the Vineyard's social conflicts), and weren't designed in a vacuum. That also means they're hard - or maybe impossible - to transplant into a different context.

    Maybe the word "easy" was poorly chosen as well. I just meant that we can quite believably re-create a discussion or an argument at the table, in a way that we can't re-create a chase down a raging white water canyon or someone trying to crack a safe in a high-security prison.

    I'm talking about this stuff:
    When I roleplay social interactions, I'm used to getting some mileage out of my ability to read the other party, ask questions that'll make them reveal their position, lie convincingly, make stuff up on the spot, give threatening stares, etc.
    Yeah, so, carry on!
  • Gotcha!

    I truly believe people just think they know how to do social things better than they actually can. Sure, we've all lied convincingly (and we probably haven't all fought in sword combat or rafted white water) but probably few of us have convinced a hostile crowd to change their minds or brokered a high stakes deal.
  • edited December 2013
    If I want to play a game which is all about interpersonal relationships, I fall back on one of a number of personal favourites

    - CortexPlus Drama (Smallville / Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide) ( http://bit.ly/1fno4nr )
    - Dramasystem (Hillsfolk) (http://www.pelgranepress.com/?cat=222)
    - Fate using Mark Diaz Truman's Factions rules for Fate Core ( http://bit.ly/1fnnK8j )
    - Various AW Engine game (Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts or Sagas of the Icelanders)
    - Fiasco

    Of those Fiasco fails to meet your requirements - it models the fiction, not the social interactions.

    The other four are fantastic. I would strongly suggest looking at all four, but I'll pull Sagas of the Icelanders for special note. Not only does it model social interaction. It manages to model an entire culture, along with social attitudes and traditions through the mechanics !

    Edit: Just realised my post suggest Fiasco isn't fantastic. I need to point out Fiasco is also astounding. I excluded it not due to any degree of inferiority, but because it didn't meet the OPs criteria.
  • Thanks for the suggestions, Declan!

    I put Smallville and Leverage on my Christmas list, so hopefully someone will get them for me. If not, I'll grab a PDF in January. I have Hillfolk and Sagas of the Icelanders, but haven't had time to tear into them yet. I'm very familiar with FATE but haven't see Mark's factions rules.

    I'm dubious that those systems give social interaction the same level of treatment they give combat -- well, Sagas probably does, since combat is already pretty lightly systematized in AW games.

    And yes, Fiasco is outstanding. =)


    At core, though, I want a social interaction system to model certain things as currency so that it can be "gamed" (not in the pejorative sense) and tied to the reward system. At the least, I want to model trust or reputation or the like. (Mountain Witch does this well, on a small scale.)
  • edited December 2013
    EDIT: Lost a long post with a revamp of the mechanic, giving it a second try now. I'm fixing it for d20 with a splash ok fate.

    Whenever a social interaction arises, roll initiative and set combat turns as usual, identify and do the next for each spokesperson.

    1) Secretly roll and assign a d12, d10, d8 and d6 to the next situational stats as you like or makes sense for the character's state of mind. Keep all dice hidden or show them indicating which one is assigned to what, if you want, depending on how your character is reacting to the other person, by either using his/her poker face or openly showing what they think/feel at the moment. The opponent doesn't necessarily have to believe it either way. The stats are:

    ConfidenceThis stat will work as a bonus to a d20 roll to avoid being pushed into anything trough a conversation. It will be situational-dependant and closely related to the character background. A Fighter would feel more confident on a battlefield and quite uncomfortable on the court, while for a Bard, it would be the opposite. Is also affected by group support or opposition, so add +1 for each positive influence and reduce it by 1 for each negative influence. Can't go over the highest die value nor drop it under 2 on the setup (if you rolled a 1, change it for a 2 even with no positive influence). And no, your character's charisma doesn't affect this score.

    Intimidate rolls will be made against a d20 roll+ the character's confidence (which will be revealed then). If it fails, confidence rises by the difference. If successful, the victim's confidence is reduced by the difference in rolls. When it reaches 1 the Player replaces it for a d4 to indicate degree of negative confidence (1 is insecure, 2 is Shaken but apply only a -1 to all rolls, 3 shaken but with the full -2, -4 is frightened. If character also loses it's patience when in this level of fear, it becomes panicked).

    Character can still hide his/her fear in this stage, as long as they roll for bluff successfully. However, going into fear has these effects:
    -inhabilitates the use of the Intimidate skill, which will be replaced by Bluff rolls. (like the character is trying to act brave even when all her confidence is gone)
    -If the character can't flee or get help of any sort, they will concede anything asked by the other side, though it can still roll for bluff to hide their fear and make it look like the character is giving up because he/she doesn't care or gets some kind of benefit with it.


    Patience. Add the character's Wisdom mod to the chosen die. Reduce it by one if the character's starting status is angered or hostile (Rage counts for this too) Minimum starting value is 2 anyway. Patience will decrease as the conversation goes on (for each roll the character fails), but may be re-rolled to get a new random number if the situation changes or if the focus of the conversation/goal changes. When it reaches 1, character loses it's temper, but their reaction will depend on the character, situation and other stats. It will be related to either flee or fight anyway, though not always in a physical sense.

    Satisfaction. Add the character's Constitution mod to the chosen die. Increase if the character is well fed, had a good rest or has engaged in a satisfying leisure activity, etc. Otherwise, decrease it. When it reaches 1 character will be in a state of desperate need, though it can be either related or not to the matter discussed. Will react to that need inmediatly anyway, and definitely make an action, probably interrupting the conversation unless it's about getting whatever they need. Also, recude it if character fails to resist temptation to fall pray of a specific need. If it's at top value, the character will be happy, won't feel like needing something at that moment and will be more inclined to share resources, concede a point, and be more considerate in general.

    Trust. Add or reduce your Intelligence mod to the chosen die as you see fit, if tou trust or distrust the character. Might get re-rolled if some information arises to put one of the characters in a different light. Decreases when the character realizes it's being lied or manipulated into doing something, or there's a chance that this will happen in the future. Increases with actions or other real proof of concern from the other person about their actual well being or of their beloved, and succesful sense motive rolls increase it by the difference against the bluff or diplomacy roll of the opponent.

    So, on your turn you can (choose any two in any order you like):
    -Measure your opponent roll for spot to reveal either the opponent's satisfaction or patience die. roll for sense motive to reveal their confidence or trust die. Opponent can resist by rolling their bluff skill. Reduces patience of whoever got the lower roll. Target can choose to show the dice before the roll; doesn't lose patience in that case.
    -Initiate an argument roll for the appropiate skill: Intimidate, Bluff, Diplomacy (and come on, roleplay it a bit at least, or just explain what your character is doing if you really can't, don't just roll the dice). Opponent can resist by rolling sense motive or a d20+confidence when nothing else is applicable. If defense fails, character doesn't have to do or concede anything inmediatly, only if their confidence reaches 1.
    -Make small talk Allows for a change of subject. confidence. Only once per encounter, otherwise the player loses a patience pointand everyone listening makes a will save against the player's confidence roll, or loses one point of patience.

    Or you can (choose only one):
    -Make a pause allows you to think and switch one point from any dice to another under an appropiate argument.
    -Fast talk an opponent: roll a d20 and add Int to distract your opponent, against an spot or sense motive roll for them.

    Now, for Identity I'd prefer to use two things: level of relevant class and some fate-like Aspects that players would acquire while playing, or perhaps the character can have 3 initial aspects for free through character background. Anyway, these could be used each session as a one-time bonus for any roll where they could be relevant. Say, If my character will argument something from their perspective as a 15th level fighter, then he could mark it as used and add 15 to that roll. About Aspects, these should gain a point on each session that the player applies or the GM compels it. Or maybe per level. Anyway, these aspects should also lose points and even dissapear if player isn't using them. So If I've been using My father's Sword my character should be able to swear over it about something and make an impression on their oponents with it.

    Each boon granted or concession given by a character will reduce one of these stats according to the situation. If I'm giving my +5 longsword to an adventurer I'll probably loose a bit of confidence, satisfaction or trust, depending on who I'm giving it to and what I'm left with.

    Oh, also, never forget to add the character's emotions over this, specially for NPCs, it will bring a lot of life to it and make avery social encounter quite different. Either use Tenra-Bansho's emotional matrix or my deck if you don't already have anything similar.
  • edited December 2013
    Wrong thread, never mind
  • I like those as variables, W-Monk. I think for the gameable system Adam wants, the players should have options that trade these variables off against each other. Like, a "Proof of past dealings" move, which builds Trust but costs Patience.

    I like the concept of situation-based Confidence, but I can't tell what it'd be used for other than "can't intimidate". Perhaps apparent Confidence could imply leverage and confer better bargaining position? "I'm prepared to walk away from this if I don't get exactly what I want," that sort of thing?
  • Seems to me a character's sense of identity should be of high importance here. When you negotiate with someone, you are helping them to construct and/or deconstruct stories about themselves. And since as roleplayers, that is exactly what we are here for, seems like that should be a very visible part of the system.
  • Updated version of the mechanics
  • I dig that idea, Burr. I could see it being 1% of some negotiations (the ones which are basically about trade and prices) and 99% of others (especially if one can lose or gain face in front of one's crew).
  • Paulo,

    I finally had time to really read through your system. It has a lot of clever ideas in it. I'm still a bit concerned that it's what I call a "sociopathic" system. That is, it's largely about treating other people as obstacles to overcome or tools to use. Or maybe I'm not understanding it correctly.

    How would you handle this situation: You have a project and you need to recruit five skilled and quirky volunteers to do the work but follow your vision. You need to assemble the team, explain your direction, and manage their morale and personality quirks. Some of them get involved because they like you personally; some, because they believe in your vision, at least as far as they understand it, but that might change as they generate creative ideas that conflict with your vision; some of them do it for the challenge of the work.

    This is a very typical team-building exercise that occurs in management almost every day in business. Maybe they're paid employees and not volunteers, but highly paid professionals often aren't motivated primarily by the money (or can go somewhere else and make the same money).
  • I'm not sure you can build a believable (note I don't mean "realistic") social interaction system that doesn't allow for sociopathy. Still, it's possible to make them such that the players have some investment in not always dicking over everyone else in the game world.

    If you haven't seen it check out Levi Kornelsen's Ouroboros Engine. The main thing it does that I like is to flip over the "social hit points" conceit. Mathematically, it mostly doesn't matter, yet it just seems more satisfying. In sum, physical or mental burdens on characters produce weariness, and attempts at seduction or enticement--as the system calls it--leverage that weariness. Most NPCs are presumed to be carrying at least a little weariness; PCs have theirs tracked as part of play.

    I think some systems have called this leverage, maybe Fate? I don't recall for certain. At any rate, it changes the fictional positioning--you're not beating down some resistance, you are offering to lighten someone's burdens. If they are satisfied with life, singing a merry tune, you're not going to be able to fast-talk, seduce, or cajole them. Intimidation is a different thing, handled in the usual violence-like fashion.
  • I don't mind allowing for sociopathy; I just don't want to encourage or require it.
  • As I've been thinking through the minutiae of negotiations, there's a lot there that isn't very dramatic. No one watches movies about haggling. In the movies, usually side A is trying to convince side B not to do something immediately disastrous, or A & B are trying to trick each other into revealing valuable secrets which will inform some urgent course of action. Accordingly, I wonder if the gameable social mechanics ought to be reserved for situations with some sort of immediate threat, leaving more peaceable stuff to a simple roll. Whaddaya think, Adam?

    Some NPC dispositions to produce movie-style dangerous negotiations:
    - If we don't have a deal, maybe I should kill you to remove a potential complication.
    - Now you know too much about my organization/plans, how can I trust you to walk away?
    - I'm gonna blow this thing up if you don't give me what I want.
    - I can't/won't actually blow anything up, but I'll bluff like crazy to get what I want.
    - I'm gonna blow this thing up because I don't think what I really want is possible. (So convince me it is!)
    - I'm gonna do this awful thing unless you can come up with a different thing I want more and promise me that.
    - Just tell me; don't worry, I won't use it against you. (Actually, I will.)
    - My purpose may be benign, but if you insult me or make me look bad, I will snap and go homicidal.
    - Earn my trust by doing something awful or compromising.
    - Now that we're partners I will be an unwelcome presence in your life (spying, threats to loved ones, etc.).
    - I'll frame you for this.
  • Immediate threat? No, that's not how I'd put it, but maybe you mean the same thing that I do. Something important should be at stake.

    "You have to build a strong team, or your mission will fail before it even starts."
    "Your girlfriend is losing interest in you, because you're unwilling to take some risks. Can you come out of your shell?"

    Reading your examples, I think we're on the same page. It just doesn't have to be life-and-death all the time. I think it comes down to "roll the dice or say yes," right?
  • edited January 2014
    "Something important should be at stake." Agreed, but I think that bears some refining. What counts as "important"? My list is a big chunk of what the Action-Adventure genre considers important.

    Of course the system could be agnostic on that, but I don't know many (any?) gameable, crunchy systems that don't have specifically defined moving parts like "to hit" and "damage", suitable for one type of situation (e.g. combat) but not others.

    "Roll or say yes" by itself doesn't tell me what stuff I shouldn't just be saying yes to. I assume some statement of "in this game, this is something you have to roll for" is called for.

    "All social conflicts" strikes me as broader than "all fights", but maybe I'm wrong.
  • I generally think that's okay to be left to the table to figure out: where to say yes, where to roll the dice.
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