Models for encounter-level social mechanics

edited April 2017 in Story Games
I've been writing a lot of RPG theory on a small, local-language forum to an audience of half a dozen or so. It's mostly ideas I've already posted in here or that I have read elsewhere. But one new idea came up today and I wanted to write about it in English as well.

It's that social mechanics (speaking only about encounter-level, like "I roll Fast-Talk so the guard lets us in", not network-level, "Let me roll Circles to see if I have a contact in Cincinnati") serve two audiences, and because of that, often serve one or both of them poorly.

• The additive group: Players who want their character to be more capable in a particular context than themselves.
• The subtractive group: Players who want their character to be less capable in a particular context than themselves.

Additive mechanics, I've found pretty much one of those. The first is "skill rolls handle it" "Fast-Talk" example above. "I roll Intimidate to get the goblin to talk", things like that. The more involved subgames like in Fate and Burning Wheel where you Point, Counter Point, invoke their "Doubt" aspect etc also fall into this category.

There's a variant, "bonuses help me with the skill rolls", like "I get a bonus on the reaction roll because I have the advantage Beautiful Appearance", or "I invoke my aspect Savage Fury to get a reroll on that Intimidate roll".

These can be fun if they're involved like a big subgame, and you have a lot of decisions and creativity when making a character very different from you, but they can feel pretty bad if it's just a Fast-Talk, even (or especially) if you know you wouldn't be able to do it yourself. It feels like a pat on the head, a lump in the stomach. Like the gutter covers they put out for kids' bowling.

The subtractive mechanics come in two variants.

First its the above additive one, but with low stats. I really dislike this, actually. You have this great idea and leverage on the orcish captain but the dice fail you. When playing in a campaign like that, we actually asked the DM to be able to roll first, RP later, so we could RP according to what our dice showed, good or bad. (It was WFRP -- all stats are low!)

The second variant is the only one of these three that I actually like really much. It's the "fail deliberately to get reward"-method. Invoke your: Flaws to get insp, Keys to get XP, Dramatic Pole in dramasystem to get bennies, BITs in BW to get... artha iirc? Aspects to get fate points. Sometimes the reward isn't moment to moment but rather upfront, you get the reward when you take the flaw, like Disadvantages in GURPS and your mental balance in Kult 1e and 2e. That's fine, too.

It's pretty weak that after so many years of RP theory, this is all we've got. Extremely minor variations on two themes: "skill rolls", and "currency".




When it comes to "skill rolls vs RP" in encounter-level social mechanics, I've found six variants.

Four that mix RP and rolling:

The Dell'Orto model (also used in Dungeon World): You need leverage AND you need to make the roll.
• The IOR model: You need leverage OR you need to make the roll. Can sometimes be unfair since some can dump their mentosocial stats and some have to pay character-building-resource to get them high.
• The "advantage" model: You need to make the roll. Having leverage gives you advantage on the roll.
• The Fluff and Crunch Shall Never Meet model: You need to RP to roll. Whether your RP contains leverage or not doesn't matter, all that matters is the roll. The contents of the RP is ignored, the roll is what matters, but RP is needed because that's what the group desires.

I haven't liked any of these four models. When Dungeon World presented its "leverage" idea, I was fascinated, and it was a good tease for Dramasystem (see below), but then you also need to make a roll? Huh.

Two more "pure" models:
• The Dramasystem model: You need leverage. No roll needed. (This is my current favorite... or rather, I even dislike the other five of these six models.)
• The "charisma blast" model: You need to make the roll. No leverage, or even any RP, needed. (This used to be my favorite, especially with more detailed and choice-driven system like Battle of Wits or Fate Core's contests, but even with a simple "Fast Talk"-roll, until I got burned out on that sort of gameplay.)

D&D 5e, in its desire to be all things to all people, grants permission in the DMG for the DM to decide on any of the six models. (It doesn't identify the six models; it explains roughly what I've called the Dramasystem model, the "charisma blast" model, and the "advantage model", but does it vaguely enough that the other three models can find some sort of permission.

All six models can be, and often is, augmented with the "fail deliberately to get currency"-idea. I think it works best w/ the Dramasystem model. It wasn't really invented by Dramasystem, it's the old Breeyark model. "To say it, say it."

But, the way Robin Laws puts it in Unframed (which A: strips away all the tokens, and B: drills much deeper in the "how to organically judge who has leverage" part) is absolutely genious. That Unframed chapter is the best RP text I've ever read.
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Comments

  • Sandra,

    I agree with a lot of things in your post, but why did you end it with "Hey, there's this thing which is totally the best... but, I'm not going to talk about it"? :)

    Social mechanics are tricky; although I've seen some developments recently which are promising in this direction.

    I'd say that the main flaw in your model (as presented) is trying to work with social situation as a single-resolution conflict. More nuanced forms of resolution are much more effective (in the same way that a single roll for combat can feel totally unsatisfactory if you're interested in the details).

    A good system, in my opinion, works rather by creating pressures and opportunities, and then letting the players play along those lines.

    Some things to check out:

    There was a game where social conflict took place on a little map. I think it was Diaspora, but I'm not 100% sure that's the one. (Oh, a quick search gave me this, so I must be remembering right: https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?565896-Diaspora-Social-Combat-Maps.)

    I also wonder if you've played Monsterhearts (possibly the state of the art, in some respects, at least for its genre)?

    Vincent Baker's games often have interested takes on social combat. For instance, in Storming the Wizard's Tower, which kinda became Apocalypse World, it's more about *figuring out what the other person wants* than it is about winning a conflict. The easiest way to get someone to do what you want is to learn what would motivate them to do so. This works pretty well, in my experience.

    PvP social conflict in Apocalypse World allows you to create a "carrot" and a "stick" for another player to influence their behaviour.

    In old-school D&D, social conflict was handled by Reaction Rolls and GM fiat. I could see building a pretty coherent system based on judging the fiction and then applying some criteria for rerolling Reaction Rolls (with or without modifiers).

    I think it's a really fruitful area for discussion and design, and I'm glad you started this thread. I'm sure people will jump in with some other examples.
  • edited April 2017
    Paul, thanks for the quick reply! I appreciate it.
    Sandra,

    I agree with a lot of things in your post, but why did you end it with "Hey, there's this thing which is totally the best... but, I'm not going to talk about it"? :)
    Because I've talked about it at length here on S-G in a couple of other threads. I did go on and on about it in the other language though, because I hadn't talked about it there as much.
    Social mechanics are tricky; although I've seen some developments recently which are promising in this direction.

    I'd say that the main flaw in your model (as presented) is trying to work with social situation as a single-resolution conflict. More nuanced forms of resolution are much more effective (in the same way that a single roll for combat can feel totally unsatisfactory if you're interested in the details).
    Well, I did bring up Battle of Wits from Burning Wheel and I did also bring up the Social Contest system from Fate Core.

    I also caveated it with the notion that it's only encounter-level, not network-level.
    There was a game where social conflict took place on a little map. I think it was Diaspora, but I'm not 100% sure that's the one. (Oh, a quick search gave me this, so I must be remembering right: https://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?565896-Diaspora-Social-Combat-Maps.)
    I developed some fan-level stuff for Diaspora which disappeared when I deleted myself from RPGGeek. Ultimately, it worked very poorly because you were so split between trying to Take Out the opposition, vs reaching the desired state on the board. Fate Core fixed it with Contests, a much better and ultimately cleaner implementation of what Diaspora (and we fans of Diaspora) were trying to do with our more complex maps, venn diagrams and state machines.
    I also wonder if you've played Monsterhearts (possibly the state of the art, in some respects, at least for its genre)?
    I have but only when it was in beta.
    In old-school D&D, social conflict was handled by Reaction Rolls and GM fiat. I could see building a pretty coherent system based on judging the fiction and then applying some criteria for rerolling Reaction Rolls (with or without modifiers).
    Both mentioned in my OP. Reaction rolls a la D&D and GURPS, and just good old breeyark GM fiat -- hopefully aided by an underlying petitioner/granter structure a la the post I linked to above (under "other").

    Again, thanks for the feedback; I wish I was a better writer so it could've been more clear in my OP that I did go over a lot of that stuff already. :/
  • Ah, nice! I didn't know about the Fate Core stuff. Is that available in an SRD somewhere? I'd love to hear about the development from Diaspora maps to the Fate Core version, and what was gained and what was lost along the way.

    The thing about the Reaction Roll idea which you don't particularly mention (unless I missed it) is the idea that you use randomizers to influence the roleplaying, without necessarily dictating it. This trades off clarity in exchange for flexibility (which means it can work for any of the models you've described - for instance, "additive" and "subtractive" look exactly the same under that model). For some games, very appropriate. In particular, I've been thinking about other ways to do that through player judgement instead of dice rolls

    Have you seen Eero's recent posts on his "princess play" game? One of the things that happens there is that you have a die in front of your "character", and its value affects your influence over other characters. This directly and indirectly influences roleplaying.

    Other thoughts/examples:

    * Any system which allows the players input into possible outcomes (like any traditional "stake-setting" Forge conflict game). This gives the clarity of dice-rolling without the inflexibility of skill systems and pass/fail.

    * In Sorcerer, there are "social rolls", but they... don't really DO anything. Your success or failure is represented by accumulating "bonus dice", which only come into play if there is a followup roll.

    This is pretty interesting, because they still influence our behaviour. For example, if you've been charming me and winning me over, and you're holding 5 bonus dice over me for a followup action, I *definitely* don't want to piss you off or get into a fight with you... or, really, try anything against you.

    * Mendel Schmiedekamp had a game where you try to score certain cards (representing things like "friendship") while playing out scenes. Again, this doesn't resolve social conflicts, but affects how you will roleplay characters and make decisions indirectly.

    I hope designers will continue to explore this space; we've just begun to skim the surface, I think.

  • I don't want to get all defensive and to block your every suggestion, Paul. Even though that's pretty much what I'm doing in this post :/

    I am glad that you're responding to the thread.
    Ah, nice! I didn't know about the Fate Core stuff. Is that available in an SRD somewhere? I'd love to hear about the development from Diaspora maps to the Fate Core version, and what was gained and what was lost along the way.
    I linked directly to that page in the SRD in my post.
    The thing about the Reaction Roll idea which you don't particularly mention (unless I missed it) is the idea that you use randomizers to influence the roleplaying, without necessarily dictating it. This trades off clarity in exchange for flexibility (which means it can work for any of the models you've described - for instance, "additive" and "subtractive" look exactly the same under that model). For some games, very appropriate. In particular, I've been thinking about other ways to do that through player judgement instead of dice rolls
    Yes, good, that's an omission from my post and that's a style of play I really like. Similar to what I came up with for my "mechanic for finding someone" which built on the "social challenges" in Silent Legions.
    Have you seen Eero's recent posts on his "princess play" game?
    That status die looks like a very clean implementation of the "fail deliberately to get reward"-method. Shades of "playing with status" from Play Unsafe, or the hierarchy in Durance.

    Ultimately though "low status" is like a GURPS disad or a dramatic pole or tribal relationship in Hillfolk and falls pretty cleanly in that category. (Or, for that matter, "high status".) But the status die is very innovative take. (Also reminds me of the seating order in Dalmuti; I brought that idea last month in for an initiative system I'm trying out for 5e. [Just that players sit in dex order and we go around the table, nothing fancier than that...])
    Any system which allows the players input into possible outcomes (like any traditional "stake-setting" Forge conflict game). This gives the clarity of dice-rolling without the inflexibility of skill systems and pass/fail.
    What's really different between that and any other binary, ternary, quaternary, n-ary pass/fail system? Other than in PVP situations, maybe?
    * In Sorcerer, there are "social rolls", but they... don't really DO anything. Your success or failure is represented by accumulating "bonus dice", which only come into play if there is a followup roll.

    This is pretty interesting, because they still influence our behaviour. For example, if you've been charming me and winning me over, and you're holding 5 bonus dice over me for a followup action, I *definitely* don't want to piss you off or get into a fight with you... or, really, try anything against you.
    That's cool; like having a big stack of drama tokens in Dramasystem or a bunch of fate points in Fate.
    * Mendel Schmiedekamp had a game where you try to score certain cards (representing things like "friendship") while playing out scenes. Again, this doesn't resolve social conflicts, but affects how you will roleplay characters and make decisions indirectly.
    Yeah, that sounds nice. Chuubo's has something similar and it reminds me of Keys from TSOY/Lady Blackbird/MHR also.
    But, it falls in that "play out your ads/disads" category.
    I hope designers will continue to explore this space; we've just begun to skim the surface, I think.
    I hope that's true but I just see them all as pretty minor variations on these two themes.
  • I made a contest game which is kind of one big Duel of Wits, but replacing mechanical differentiation of moves with resource spending and judged roleplay. If we're still cataloging and comparing options here, might be worth a look!

    Trial High: High school clique assimilation and struggle pursued by verbal showdowns.
  • edited April 2017
    David, yes, network-level social mechanics like those in Trial High have a lot more room for growth, I feel. Like Block by Bloody Block, Boardroom & Curio, BW Circles, Illuminati, Night's Black Agents, Damnation City and a couple of others. It seems like a more fruitful field... maybe the limitations only apply to encounter-level social mechanics.

    Edit: As for the encounter-level mechanically differented moves w/ resource spending & judged roleplay in Trial High, I sort that under Dramasystem/Breeyark. "Currency" rather than "skill rolls". Does that make sense to you?
  • I guess I defined the topic of this thread a little too narrowly to be useful + the mechanical categories within that topic to be a little too broadly to be useful as well. Hope to be proven wrong though.
  • I agree with a lot of things in your post, but why did you end it with "Hey, there's this thing which is totally the best... but, I'm not going to talk about it"? :)
    Oh, NOW I get it — I wasn't clearly enough connecting Robin Laws, Unframed and Dramasystem together in the original post. Not sure how to best phrase it to tie them together? They're referring to pretty much the same thing: "to say it, say it" but with petitioner/granter in mind.
  • Sandra,

    Sorry! I'm not on the ball today. I missed connections between some things you wrote, and missed that link altogether. I will check it out!

    However: I don't understand how you're lumping these various approaches all under "these two themes". Do you mean "additive and subtractive" when you say that?

    For instance, something like Mendel's "earn cards" system has nothing to do with characters' social abilities at all, and classic Forge-style stake setting might not have anything to do with that either (although it also could, depending on how you play it).

    Here's another example: in Apocalypse World, at the end of every session you say which character got to know yours better. Then they increase their Hx, which can turn into experience rewards.

    This encourages players to look out for opportunities for their characters to get to know each other better, and can change how some scenes play out. (You might be more open, or more inquisitive, or spend more time than you would otherwise in an intimate interaction.) [I've even considered hacking the game so as to make that source of XP more present than it is currently - it's fairly minor in the game as written.]

    That's similar to the "friendship cards" concept in implementation.
    They're referring to pretty much the same thing: "to say it, say it" but with petitioner/granter in mind.
    This sounds really interesting, and you keep referring to it, but I'm totally unfamiliar with the games and texts you're referencing. As a result, I have no idea what that is whatsoever. Can you point to, or put together, a quick summary? What makes it work, what makes it work really well?

    The only concept I'm aware of there is "to look at any interaction or conversation as a situation where one person is trying to get something from the other" (that's my primitive understanding of "petitioner/granter"). That could be helpful in some situations, but I don't get a sense of brilliance or insight or, even, much tools for practical roleplaying out of that.

    I think this is a cool thread; it's getting me to wrack by brains and consider some new technology.
  • I've been writing a lot of RPG theory on a small, local-language forum to an audience of half a dozen or so.
    I don't want to de-rail your thread, but I'm really more interested in this part. I'll start another thread.

  • I really like the breakdowns in this thread! Differentiating between additive and subtractive strikes me as useful, and I think "how much does roll/positioning/roleplay matter" is the best place to look for which systems satisfy whom. I, for example, am much happier to let fictional situation and roleplay determine outcomes, with the dice maybe kinda disregarded, than I am with the reverse. A good dice system (at least like the ones I've seen) is, to me, merely useful, whereas a good player-GM back-and-forth that actually goes somewhere is awesome. The kind of design I'm most excited about is design that helps make those exchanges happen.
    David, yes, network-level social mechanics like those in Trial High have a lot more room for growth, I feel. Like Block by Bloody Block, Boardroom & Curio, BW Circles, Illuminati, Night's Black Agents, Damnation City and a couple of others. It seems like a more fruitful field...
    I should check some of those out! If you're in the mood to summarize any of their strengths, I'd be grateful. :)

    Well, except BW Circles, I've used that plenty, and I do quite like it.

    There was a good thread here a while back about reputation. I think there's a ton of interesting design space possible there for how the PCs' impressions on NPCs propagate.
    As for the encounter-level mechanically differented moves w/ resource spending & judged roleplay in Trial High, I sort that under Dramasystem/Breeyark. "Currency" rather than "skill rolls". Does that make sense to you?
    Sure! But if so, then maybe I'm seeing encounter-level design potential in currency-based systems. I doubt we've drained that well dry.
  • However: I don't understand how you're lumping these various approaches all under "these two themes". Do you mean "additive and subtractive" when you say that?
    There are two audiences; the additive group and the subtractive group. (Goes without saying but you can be in the additive group in some social contexts, like lying, while being in the subtractive group in other contexts, like reading liars.)

    There are two themes of mechanics, "skill rolls" (for reaction rolls, see next post) and "currency", the latter of which I'll now rename "limitations" because there's almost always, but not strictly always a currency involved. Skill rolls is used for both the additive group and the subtractive group, arguably poorly -- arguably poorly for both. To what extent those mechanics should replace or augment "RP" (by "RP" I mean "to say it say it") is oft quarreled over and I outlined six models that are often used.

    Limitations is intended for the subtractive group and tend to work well. You take on a disadvantage or work towards improving or unraveling a relationship for a reward. Can be upfront ("Get 15 extra character point if you take the 'Lecherous' trait") or post-hoc ("You get a Fate point if you give in to your 'Obsessed with the Chrysler Building' right now").
    For instance, something like Mendel's "earn cards" system has nothing to do with characters' social abilities at all, and classic Forge-style stake setting might not have anything to do with that either (although it also could, depending on how you play it).

    Here's another example: in Apocalypse World, at the end of every session you say which character got to know yours better. Then they increase their Hx, which can turn into experience rewards.
    [...]
    That's similar to the "friendship cards" concept in implementation.
    This falls right into "limitations" for the subtractive group, even including the former category namer, the currency. You're limiting or focusing what you're saying and how you're speaking and you get a reward for it. Or no reward beyond just a good time, as when you're taking a failure die in Fiasco or obeying the status die in Princess Play.
    This sounds really interesting, and you keep referring to it, but I'm totally unfamiliar with the games and texts you're referencing. As a result, I have no idea what that is whatsoever. Can you point to, or put together, a quick summary? What makes it work, what makes it work really well?

    The only concept I'm aware of there is "to look at any interaction or conversation as a situation where one person is trying to get something from the other" (that's my primitive understanding of "petitioner/granter"). That could be helpful in some situations, but I don't get a sense of brilliance or insight or, even, much tools for practical roleplaying out of that.
    Here's my canonical thread for it but the primary source is less than six pages; it's Laws chapter in the book "Unframed".
    I really like the breakdowns in this thread! Differentiating between additive and subtractive strikes me as useful, and I think "how much does roll/positioning/roleplay matter" is the best place to look for which systems satisfy whom. I, for example, am much happier to let fictional situation and roleplay determine outcomes, with the dice maybe kinda disregarded, than I am with the reverse. A good dice system (at least like the ones I've seen) is, to me, merely useful, whereas a good player-GM back-and-forth that actually goes somewhere is awesome. The kind of design I'm most excited about is design that helps make those exchanges happen.
    Oh, me too, most definitely. Also meshes well with finchian trap finding or Delve-style exploration.
    I should check some of those [resources for network-level social play] out! If you're in the mood to summarize any of their strengths, I'd be grateful. :)
    Block by Bloody Block is a city with pre-made factions, NPCs, tensions and a single stat to track your current level of chumminess with each faction. Becomes a basis for a very non-scripted campaign. Apparently Damnation City which I haven't read fills the same niche but better.
    Boardroom & Curio is for GURPS. It's stats and mechanics for large organizations. I have not understood it. GURPS books can be a bit hard on my brain!
    • GURPS Illuminati is a simple and straight-forward way to make and run a conspiracy. Some have said that Night's Black Agends which I haven't read, improves on it. But that, I'll believe when I see it. Illuminati was great.
    Sure! But if so, then maybe I'm seeing encounter-level design potential in currency-based systems. I doubt we've drained that well dry.
    The driest well was coming up with mechanics outside the two themes ("skill rolls" & "currency" "limitations"); but I was admittedly thinking that limitations-style mechanics have already been perfected. That still stands to find out though.



  • Now, let's talk reaction rolls. I shouldn't dismiss them out of hand. They have the potential to bridge the two categories. The order in which you do things becomes very relevant here and rolling first has a very different feel from rolling after speaking.

    What's typical of a "currency" mechanic for the subtractive group is this: You have some sort of limitation or goal. And what's typical for skill rolls is that you roll for it.

    Some roll-for-it games are set up like this: your character makes their case by you speaking for them ("to say it say it") and then you roll, and in some games the roll is influenced by what you say (the "advantage" model) and in some games its not (the "fluff & crunch shall never meet" model). This is inherently tangled and I do not like it.

    Some roll-for-it games are set up like this: you roll, and the results of the roll limits what you can say. When we were playing WFRP 3 we players were becoming very frustrated with how our dazzling oratory performances were overwritten by poor rolls. We would hold a rousing speech and then the dice would fail us. So we asked the GM to let us roll first, glance at the dice, and then say it in a way that fit the dice. (In WFRP you can see if something goes well or bad, takes time or goes quickly, takes effort or is smooth etc from symbols on the dice. That's just information for context, not an endorsement, I'm not a big fan of that detail and they changed it for their followup game, SW.) So for example one of the players got a smashing success on her "make an inflammatory speech to a crowd" roll and then proceeded by delivering an amazing speech that floored the rest of us. She the player could really deliver on that character's abilities at their best. Later, my character was tied to a sacrificial altar and rolled to plead my case. The dice indicated a quick, effortless, horrible failure. So I just said "I just spit in their faces!" and they plunged the knife into me.

    In the end, I don't like that system either. If I have arguments I want to use them, not have the dice take those argumens away from me. I used the analogy "If I say I look in the desk drawer, and the figurine is in the desk drawer, I don't want to also have to make a roll. Pixelhunting isn't improved by randomness." I just want to "to say it, say it", but taking on (or shedding) limitations as I please. (I've said many times that D&D 5e is my favorite game and this area is one where it satisifies me -- you can deliberately mess up a social situation in accordance with your flaws and you get insp.)

    Now, what reaction rolls can do for you is to have the parameters for the NPC:s behavior set unbeknownst to the players. This is something I used for my Silent Legions-inspired mechanic for finding someone; before they even started talking to an NPC I'd get a random result like "The NPC does know where the quarry is but doesn't want to reveal it for fear of being blamed." Then I'd keep that in mind as we talked out the scene, petitioner/granter style. Maybe the characters can pry it out of me, convince me to say it. Maybe they can't.

    This is fruitful, this is an area of design that worked well. Hidden limitations. (My first game design back in the earliest years of the 00:s, an implementation of the classic novel Kallocain, used hidden limitations as its primary mechanics. Character generation was based on taking a bunch of scrap notes. Some face up, like "Good chemist" [it was based on Fudge so "Good" was a skill level], some in envelopes so you didn't know what you were picking. And, some of those envelopes you were allowed to read before the game started, like "Secretly resentful of your partner's ex", and some you were only allowed to read once your character had been injected with the epynomous truth serum, Kallocain. Your character could love the state openly and not even admitt to herself how much she resented the system. However, the design never left my head because I'm a procrastinator who spends her days writing long posts in RPG forums instead of making stuff.)


    Reaction rolls that are simply "they like you" or "they don't like you" can be modified by charisma or advantages, again like GURPS, they have "reaction rolls" that a myriad of other mechanics (such as appearance and personal habits) tie into -- very interesting and an oft overlooked part of the system; many GURPS GMs seem to force a particular reaction, in accordance to "the story" but disregarding the character sheets, instead of rolling. Weirdly enough GURPS undermines the whole thing by including a "Fast Talk" skill to bypass social situations, I dislike that "Fast Talk" skill.

    However, the problem is that those reaction rolls sort of almost are equivalent to a GURPS "Fast Talk" roll, or an WRFP 3e whatever the rousing crowd speech skill was called. They can very much override what you say. If you roll a "they like you very, very, very, very much" and the players then mess up the approach, it becomes pretty weird. Or, if you roll a "they want to kill you right now" (a 1 on GURPS reaction table -- not even the worst result, 0, which is that they will go out of their way to kill you), and the players are super skillful in pleading their case and have great leverage or arguments, that also becomes pretty weird.

    So to summarize this sub-train of sub-thought, I like the idea of randomly setting the stage for the conversation as long as it doesn't predetermine the outcome. Which... seems to fall along with my like of "limitations" and dislike of "roll for it".
  • I really dislike choosing to fail to gain some benefit I can use later in roleplaying games. I feel like it pushes players away from advocating for their characters and playing with authenticity. It also tends to push things away from the moment and experiencing the narrative together. It feels too much like a release valve from the tension of play to me. Usually I also have trouble seeing what that decision even looks like in the fiction.

    I am not like against more abstract mechanics for interpersonal interactions though. I tend to enjoy how Strings in Monsterhearts and Influence in Masks get the player concerned with the tense hidden layer behind a lot of social situations and can color play even when no dice rolls are made. Just like the Sorcerer method of building a bonus pool this helps to place the player in their character's shoes for a moment. The palpable idea that this person holds something over me on the emotional level is really powerful.

    One of my favorite things about Apocalypse World is that there are move for manipulating and intimidating people, but no move for building consensus and striking a deal. Applying leverage and threats should feel tense. There's no telling how people are going to react when you put them under pressure like that. The tension of the dice roll feels right and in line with the fiction in those cases. Building consensus however should feel more like the well building of consensus we do at the table when there are no mechanisms involved.

    These days I am not really a fan of closed scene resolution like Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits. I'm not as big on stated intent either. I think it can be useful to interrogate somewhat for really nailing down what's happening in the fiction, but enshrining it usually is not my bag. I am also somewhat more interested in the microfiction of individual decisions that have fallout where we can change course on a dime. One of the things that I like about Blades in the Dark's score structure is that it is still flexible enough to say change what started as an abduction into an assassination job or what started as a tense negotiation into a gangland shootout.

    I think my favorite approach to detailed interaction is Exalted 3e's Social Influence system. All characters have a set of Intimacies, things they value, in varying strengths. In order to get other characters to do the things you want you have to use one their Intimacies to do so. If you are successful they are forced into a Decision Point. Either go along or spend Willpower and justify it with another Intimacy of the same or greater strength. The cool thing is you have to find out their Intimacies in order to capitalize on them. You can also inspire Intimacies, either generating new ones or strengthening existing ones.

    What I like about the system is that it focuses player attention on the same stuff their character should be concerned with. I'll admit I also really like that it is a compelling tactical game, every bit as layered and nuanced as combat. I get to have my cake and eat it too. What I like most about it is through the course of a conversation or series of conversations it allows room for players to adjust both tactics and strategy, completely changing course if needed. Every decision has fallout and possible lasting effects on characters.
  • edited April 2017
    A post full of interesting ideas. I'll start with the first paragraph, it'll be enough to occupy me for a long time and it argued against my own position well.
    I really dislike choosing to fail to gain some benefit I can use later in roleplaying games. I feel like it pushes players away from advocating for their characters and playing with authenticity.
    This was a missing puzzle piece for me and why a lot of the "taking on limitations" game play, which is widespread, sometimes get a lot of pushback from those I play with. I enjoy the gameplay and I'm scrambling to save it, though. Hence:

    How about when it's framed as a choice? Between keeping an core aspect of the characters personality vs gaining some diegetic benefit.

    E.g. I'm portraying "reckless". I come to a point where I can keep being that by putting myself in danger, or gain safety by avoiding danger.
    It also tends to push things away from the moment and experiencing the narrative together. It feels too much like a release valve from the tension of play to me.
    This part was also really a wakeup call for me.

    In the early 00:s, I was pushing for fewer rules, more invisible mechanics, often replacing large sub systems with my own GM fiat. We played by candlelight, the players said what they did or said in character, and we didn't have any rules. We started with Everway and a stripped down Fudge and then removed more and more and more. However, we didn't really have any real stakes or risk or agency either. Everything was my call as DM. What characters they could have, what happened to them when they tried to do things. It sucked. We had a couple of good sessions and good moments -- I sometimes passed over the torch (memorably: "You've switched brains with the big bad. Now, what was his plan?" -- we were independently discovering mountainwitching.) But mostly it was a desert devoid of agency and real stakes and tangibility. It was like entering my rambling daydreams.

    What all those compromises enabled was, however, a complete focus on the telling. We played by candlelight, never ever spoke about OC things or rules or meta things, just "I open the door and start walking down the cellar" or "How dare ye enter here, mortals?" We started every session with "See you on the other side."

    On a whim I picked up Trail of Cthulhu in 2008 and ran a session of it pretty much as is. The whole "spend points" thing was completely alien to us, really jarring. Remember, we had even stopped rolling dice, we were just talking and being completely focused on what's now called the fiction.

    Now, ten years later, that sort of meta talk has become second nature to me. Fate points here, Inspiration there, artha here, xp and levels there. I gained something for it, to be sure -- the games are much more emergent, and we /care/ much more about whether or not we make it out of that muddy hell hole alive or not. Because there's a chance that it'll go either way, it's just not the GM's whim. The word "immersion" becomes semantics, though, because what we have now is more immersive in one sense: the mechanics lets us directly engage with the lives, deaths, and consequences of the characters and their world. "You wait there for three hours? Make three encounter checks." That wait becomes agony. But what I (there's no overlapping players between the two groups) had back then is more immersive in a completely different sense. There's only the telling and everything else falls away. "You wait there for three hours. The silence somehow makes the darkness feel darker."


    I definitely threw the baby out with the bathwater when I switch to the very mechanically visible model I'm using now. Now, some folx I play with haven't gone through the same journey. And perhaps they're just as jarred as I was back when first encountering ToC in 2008. Not by everything, not by things they grew up with like dice rolls, but by things new to them, such as traits and insp.

    And, maybe it's time to bring some of that baby back.

    Out of all the mechanics I currently use or desire to use, I guess they fall into three categories:

    • Those that can stay as concessions to the gloracle; they're worth the 'jar'
    • Those that can be changed to become less jarring
    • Those that aren't worth their weight in 'jars'.

    And I'm not sure which is which.

    I'm gearing up for a new campaign after a long break from running a home group (about half a year). Between writing that OP and reading your post, my thoughts have centered around how I can bring insp and traits even more to the forefront. I've been thinking that I wanted to use more "compels", holding up an insp token and offer a choice. I've been thinking that I wanted to create some sort of mechanic that offer XP for those that keep their traits up-to-date, rewriting them between sessions. (And, though this isn't related to "subtractive" social traits, I wanted to reintroduce these dramatoken-inspired rules which we never put into serious practice.)

    But now... inspired by your post, Jonathan... I suddenly have a lot tighter design restrictions on not only those changes, but even on the existing mechanics in this vein, and a desire to tweak them.
    1. Can it be done with key phrases or gestures instead of highly noticeable code switching?
    2. Can I develop a language that helps me consistently phrase choices that feel like ones the characters would be making rather than an author would be making?
    3. Is this subsystem even pulling its weight for the group as a whole? As DM, having the characters' weaknesses have consequences is very valuable. Is it valuable enough for me? And is it valuable for the players?
    4. How about choices in this vein that the player is already doing without thinking about it, i.e. a "reckless"-traited character behaving recklessly; not as "insp"-fishing but just because the player is just consistently portraying the character. Is it beneficial or harmful to reward it?
    As for me on the player side... I remember being very frustrated in one of the earliest 5e games I played where I was deliberately trying to get insp, portraying my traits in a more and more flanderized way so the DM would notice, but he never did. Conversely, I was playing a weirdly pacifist member of a religous caste in an OSR game this Christmas. I was severely flashlight dropping but not to get insp. Just because that was the character I had committed myself to pretending to be.
  • I am just going to highlight some considerations here.

    I think it is important to not only look at what behaviors you want to reward, but also when you want to reward that behavior and how much you want to do so. I would also consider trade offs, what you want it to look like in the fiction and possible decision points.

    There are some tradeoffs involved in the immediacy of rewards. How much do you want the reward to shape moment to moment decision making? Frequency of reward also has an impact here because it is much easier to avoid over rewarding if you move your reward mechanism to the end of the session. Generally speaking, the further you move a reward out from the instance of the behavior the less pressure and impact it exerts on moment to moment behavior.

    One of the things I dearly love about Powered By The Apocalypse end of session moves and Blades in the Dark experience is that it provides the group with an opportunity to meaningfully reflect on what just happened. We get to discover things about these characters outside of the heat of moment. It also can prime the pump for discussing plans for the next session if we decide we will have a next session. This can also be a powerful jumping off point for determining stuff like whether we should change up things like how we mechanically represent a character including things like distinctions, conditions, trauma, relationships, whatever. I really like the end of the session for behavioral rewards because I feel they still have an impact overall while not necessarily pushing things too hard in the moment. It allows playing with more integrity while still making the reward a second order consideration in my opinion.

    How much you should reward a given behavior is an often overlooked part of design. We often treat player behavior like a commodity market instead of a matchmaking market. Just because a little is good, does not mean a lot is way better. For instance, just because some reckless behavior can help define the character does not mean you want them constantly engaging in it. There can be spotlight issues involved, but more importantly for me no one is really reckless all the time in every situation. I don't think we want to reward caricatures. We can say stuff about our characters through the times they choose not to be reckless and when they choose to be so without leaving rewards on the table.

    Blades in the Dark does this with its experience triggers. You can only get experience for two instances of a rewarded behavior per session. You can also combine categories like Blades does for your vice and traumas have an impact on play. You can also put conditions on it like actively hindering what you were doing or had an impact on a relationship. I would make sure you are rewarding the exact behaviors you want to reward and no other.

    You might also want to look at tradeoffs. Blades provides a wonderful example. Every time a character attempts something from a desperate position they get experience in the relevant track. The catch is that you are in a desperate position and bad things could happen. Another way to do this is that claiming a reward for something makes it true. Further play should reflect that. At the end of a session of Apocalypse World you select another character you grew closer to or further apart from. They get +1 or -1 to their Hx with you which has effects on them helping and hindering you as well as their XP. It also means that is emphatically true in the fiction and to play your character with integrity you must consider it in your play.

    I think we should also really consider what a given resource or reward really looks like in the fiction. Masks has a Teamwork pool that is built up based on coming at a situation with a solid plan. This can be used to aid rolls in pursuit of the plan. However there is also an option to act selfishly, justify how you are working at cross purposes with the team and shift labels around. Strings in Monsterhearts are another mechanic that really does a good job of dealing with more abstract psychological stuff. Instead of a general resource they belong to a particular relationship and show emotional leverage over another character. One way to handle concessions in a way that maps to the fiction better might be to have it belong to that particular character, so if you concede a conflict you have advantage over them.

    I really love this stuff. I am not a big fan of stuff like Fate points or Inspiration as written because I find it hard to map to the fiction, but representing emotional stuff in a way that feels right mechanically helps with getting the right sort of bleed that can help players play with integrity. Here we can maintain a shorter feedback loop while maintaining our interests using our human insights. Labels in Masks are a good example of this. Your stats can shift around based on the use of the Influence mechanics because they fundamentally represent how you see yourself. There is even a move for comforting a teammate if they bear their soul to you that makes use of this. It does an awesome job of bringing genuine friendship into the game.

    Decision points can also be critical and can help shape the fiction in unique ways. Meaningful decision making is the core of any game, particularly a roleplaying game in my opinion. The end of session move for Masks asks players to say whether they grew closer to the team, grew into their own image, or if they grew further apart from the team.

    If they grew closer they need to say who made them feel welcome. That character gains influence on them and player's character can clear a condition or mark experience.

    If they grew into their self image they explain how their self perception has changed and can shift stats around.

    If they grew away from the team they explain how they feel alienated from their team. They take influence away from another player's character.

    This all comes together to help say stuff about the fiction, choose between different mechanical rewards, and position themselves in the fiction. It's the kind of thing that can really help align player and character interests.
  • So my concerns are not really strictly actor stance issues. Typical play for me can often involve slipping back and forth between author, actor, and (occasionally) pawn stances from moment to moment. I am primarily concerned with the experience of being both audience member and participant even while GMing.

    At the table I want us all to value each other's characters and be emotionally invested in each other's characters and the fictional world. I want us to be curious explorers of the fiction, really feeling the tension of the moment and wanting to know more about these characters as revealed through the decisions players make on their behalf. This is the same exhilaration that comes from watching a good television show.

    I want us to really explore and ponder this stuff, sussing out some fiction to play in. This is primarily in author stance, but with an eye towards enabling actor stance for the moment of play. What's critical here is feeling as much like the character would in the moment. Too much detail here about stuff like distances, exact ammunition counts, how long recovery from injury takes and the like is actually harmful to me here. I care more about emotions, relationships, place in the setting, intuitions and the like.

    I also want compelling game play. I want to doggedly pursue character goals using skilled play of the fiction with information I can depend on. Here, I want a sense of risk, challenge, and the ability to really follow through on my understanding of the fiction and the rules of the game, but mostly the fiction. I want my decisions to be consequential. Acting with integrity becomes a constraint on action here, much like classic alignment.

    Apocalypse World was really the first game that I played and ran as written that gave me creative fulfillment, allowed me to experience rather than write the story, provided a good deal of bleed, and was fun as a game for me. It hit all the high notes. Blades in the Dark does this even more so for me. I also really enjoy Monsterhearts, Urban Shadows, The Veil, and Masks, but at times I experience too much emotional bleed for my tastes in those games. I find Edge of the Empire, Chronicles of Darkness, and Exalted 3e can be drifted this way if I just use the mechanics and ignore half of what the texts say. They are a bit heavy for my tastes though, and I do not like the Dramatic Failure rules in Chronicles that much. I also find that Stars Without Number, Moldvay D&D, and Godbound work surprisingly well with a bit of effort.

    Fate is a game I tried really hard to like, but just could not. I felt like I was playing for the fiction rather than in it if that makes any sense, could not get any emotional bleed going, and characters felt too scripted for my tastes.

    I enjoy Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Torchbearer, D&D 4e hacks, and Cortex+ for slightly different kicks. There's a bit too much focus on conflict, conflict, conflict. Intent can be tricky for me to handle as well. Still the epic clashes, blood operas, and melodrama can be a lot of fun. I like these games more as a player than as a GM.

    I also enjoy D&D as Free Kriegsspiel style war game as a guilty pleasure. My favorite game for this is Moldvay D&D. I also really enjoy Classic Traveller, Godbound, and Stars Without Number, plus all the Red Box Vancouver stuff. I really enjoy lateral decision making as a component of play.

    From time to time I can also really enjoy Principled Freeform as an activity.

    Just providing context for my feedback.
  • I'm wondering if your categories are limiting you. I admit that they're very novel ways of thinking about these things, and that alone is worth exploration, but I think as categories they have gaps.

    Additive and Subtractive

    I think your two groups -- additive and subtractive -- are interesting ways to cut the problem:
    • The additive group: Players who want their character to be more capable in a particular context than themselves.
    • The subtractive group: Players who want their character to be less capable in a particular context than themselves.
    It's not the way I think about it. To me, the division is:

    • Player Skill: Players want to rely on their own RL social skills.
    • Character Skill: Players want to rely on the social skills of their characters.

    Obviously, the Player Skill people don't even want to roll dice for tactical social encounters. If they're forced to roll, they want to roll first and then role-play the results. They are confident in their ability to role-play strong or weak social "game."

    Typically, your additive people are Character Skill people. They might not have all the social skills that their characters have, so they want the dice to make them better in social encounters.

    The Character Skill people don't want to disregard the in-game reality of the character's potential and want that to drive the fiction forward in a tactical social encounter. They want to roll. Whether they roll before narration, or roll after narration, is just technique.

    Typically, I think your subtractive people are Player Skill people. They have more than enough social training IRL to deal with social encounters handily, but want the game to throttle them back to the correct level for their characters.

    A subtractive Character Skill person wants to role-play at a basic level and have the game pull their results back to the character's level, I think.

    Rolls vs. Currency/Limitations

    You differentiate two solutions to the additive and subtractive problems:
    There are two themes of mechanics, "skill rolls" (for reaction rolls, see next post) and "currency", the latter of which I'll now rename "limitations" because there's almost always, but not strictly always a currency involved. Skill rolls is used for both the additive group and the subtractive group, arguably poorly -- arguably poorly for both. To what extent those mechanics should replace or augment "RP" (by "RP" I mean "to say it say it") is oft quarreled over and I outlined six models that are often used.

    Limitations is intended for the subtractive group and tend to work well. You take on a disadvantage or work towards improving or unraveling a relationship for a reward. Can be upfront ("Get 15 extra character point if you take the 'Lecherous' trait") or post-hoc ("You get a Fate point if you give in to your 'Obsessed with the Chrysler Building' right now").
    I'd call these Fortune and Karma. Fortune is using a randomizer to determine what happens. Karma is referring to something about the character and saying what happens as a result.

    Sure, Karma can mean that you look at your Flaws and invoke one to lose a social encounter (and gaining a benefit like Inspiration for it is a secondary matter). It can also mean that you look at your Strengths and see that you're good at this kind of thing and automatically win the social encounter.

    The other piece of the puzzle here is Drama, which is just saying it happens. Or, as you say, Bree-yark (damned kobolds). (Drama/Fortune/Karma comes from Jonathan Tweet's Everyway.) I'd say, by default in most RPGs, everything is Karma until it triggers a rule. Apocalypse World makes this way more explicit, but all games have it.

    You're talking. You ask the guard to let you in. Maybe the GM just "says yes" and lets you in (Drama). Or maybe the GM decides to "roll the dice" to see what happens (Fortune). And maybe you counter the risky dice situation by tagging one of your aspects or accepting a Fate point, or whatever (Karma).

    Talk-then-roll vs. Roll-then-talk

    You talked about the problems inherent in both of these situations. If you talk then roll, then your dice can override your narration in a way that makes no sense. If you roll then talk, you might not have the actual RL skill to role-play a great or terrible social result properly.

    In any case, these two options are a restatement of Fortune-in-the-Middle vs. Fortune-at-the-End. As the linked page makes very clear, it's about your choices, not about the dice. The dice only produce a random result. The rules determine how you interpret that result -- you can use it as loose guidance to choose your result, or you can use it to tell you the result.

    You sum up your dislike of roll-then-talk as such:
    In the end, I don't like that system either. If I have arguments I want to use them, not have the dice take those argumens away from me. I used the analogy "If I say I look in the desk drawer, and the figurine is in the desk drawer, I don't want to also have to make a roll. Pixelhunting isn't improved by randomness." I just want to "to say it, say it", but taking on (or shedding) limitations as I please.
    In which Adam proposes a new game system...

    It seems to me that the problem lies in single die roll resolution. You use "just Fast-talking" as an example of this kind of social encounter, but I don't think fast-talking has to be resolved with a single die roll.

    When you fast-talk someone in RL, you're trying to do a few things:

    1. Put forward ideas that seem plausible even if they aren't.
    2. Confuse them with a whirl of ideas so they don't think too hard about #1.
    3. Use #2 to make them uncomfortable so that getting it over with is more important than being right.
    4. As a result of #3, make them do what you want.

    It's highly manipulative and not something you do to people whom you respect or whom you need to have a friendship with later.

    If you look at where the skill lies, it's in several places:

    In #1, the PC (and/or player) needs ideas.
    In #2, the PC (and/or player) needs to be confusing.
    In #2, the NPC needs to resist being confused.
    In #3, the PC (and/or player) needs to make the NPC uncomfortable.
    In #3, the NPC resists this, passively or actively.
    In #4, the PC (and/or player) needs to drive all that to a close.
    In #4, the NPC resists this, passively or actively.

    So what if your Fast Talk rules broke things down a few more steps? You'd role-play a bit, throwing out a good idea or two and roll. This roll establishes some baselines for the encounter.

    Now the GM rolls to see if the NPC is getting confused and uncomfortable. If not, you push more.

    The NPC's success can be the kind that stops the Fast Talk encounter ("Hey, shut your stupid mouth, rogue, or I'll cut your tongue out!") or allows it to continue. The NPC's failure at any point allows you to move to #4.

    That last bit can be a result of the NPC's failure in #3. No rolls required.

    And, at any point along the way, you can sabotage your own success with your Flaws for an Inspiration point or whatever. Nothing stops that from happening. In fact, it gives more opportunities for that to happen.

    What do you think?
  • Jonathan, so far I've had really, really bad experience with my group with any sort of post-session "How did we play to our traits / goals / relationships / etc today?" talk like the XP in PbtA. I'll keep trying out stuff, but... :/ that's my experience so far. They've just shut down. We usually wrap our sessions up when we feel like wrapping them up -- and once we feel that, we/they don't have the energy to do book-keeping, especially book-keeping which requires any creativity or analysis. :/
    • Player Skill: Players want to rely on their own RL social skills.
    • Character Skill: Players want to rely on the social skills of their characters.
    That's what I started out (I was arguing for Player Skill) with but I discovered that the "additive" group and the "subtractive" group (both subgroups of Character Skill) both took to very different arguments for Character Skill, and they wanted to use very different mechanics for Character Skill. Hence the two groups.

    Heh, I edited out all mention of Fortune in the Middle, Fortune at the End, Karma, IIEE etc from my post. I kept the ideas but I rephrased them to not rely on Forge lingo; James has instructed me to always define any Forge terms I use.
    I'm familiar with them, my first post here on Story-Games eight years ago was an Everway analysis (btw I've been working on a new take on Karma/Fortune/Drama!).

    I'm feeling a little talked down to; I have to try to remember that you're also talking to any lurkers and to the bigger audience.

    I don't think "to say it say it" is Drama, though. I think it's Karma. (Bree-yark is goblins though, not kobolds.)
    Weirdly enough, I think Robin Laws' "Unframed"-model is pure Karma, even though it is core to his "Dramasystem".
    In which Adam proposes a new game system...
    So what if your Fast Talk rules broke things down a few more steps? You'd role-play a bit, throwing out a good idea or two and roll. This roll establishes some baselines for the encounter.

    Now the GM rolls to see if the NPC is getting confused and uncomfortable. If not, you push more.
    [...]
    What do you think?
    My preference for that situation is to just use what Laws put forward in Unframed. That's what I enjoy the most.
  • edited April 2017
    Our group ended up using a similar mechanic after exploring many of these and other social resolution mechanics. More than a mechanic, now it works as a dynamic procedure:

    1-Player states what she wants to do.
    2-If information to decide if it's a challenge isn't enough, the GM will ask: Ok, how do you do it? What do you say? The player is free to act this IC, just explain how she's planning the scene to go or go in and out of character freely while explaining this.
    3-The GM then evaluates the need for a roll; here the procedure can branch into different options:

    a-The information is enough to know for sure how things will go next and they turn out being positive for the player, no roll is needed. This could depend on the GM prep, the players having enough leverage, the use of one or more arguments based on common setting-logic agreed by all players, an argument based on precedent similar situations in the same campaign or even something that looks like "GM fiat" but is mostly decided on the premise of "what's more interesting, turning this into a challenge or cutting this scene short and go to an actual interesting challenge?"

    b-The information is enough to know for sure things will go wrong in an interesting way that poses a threat or challenge to the PCs, but doesn't immediately harms or drains any of their resources on the spot. No roll is needed, but (for example) it isn't like a monster attacks, it just appears before them or plainly gives sign of their presence to the players

    c-The information isn't enough to decide which kind of consequences could be more interesting. GM can either mountainwitch the group into giving her more ideas or resort to random tables of some sort. She can also offer suggerences for the players, but that's it. This can either set back the procedure to stage zero by making the GM frame additional information on the scene and asking the players their reaction.

    d-The information makes equally viable two or more possible sets of interesting consequences, no further arguments are presented and everyone knows things are being entrusted to luck, making dice-rolling decidedly interesting here. Either players or the GM call for a roll and the other side agrees. Adding/substracting mechanical bonuses is expected to emulate character skill.

    e-same as b, except that it makes sense the threat resolves immediately into some form of harm, draining PC resources. If player was warned and is expecting this, then so be it. If not, time for the GM to check the player's passive perception, ask her a perception roll to notice and/or a save roll to avoid/minimize damage. This is more or a personal choice of mine, as some old school players will perfectly be okay with less chances per GM fiat. I'd even call for death saves directly or tell the player to make another character if I were going for a more lethal atmosphere.

    (EDIT, clicked save comment too soon)

    I apply this to either combat, social or exploration. Some times my players do want to roleplay so I tell myself, why hinder them with rolls? If they make a cool RP or have a cool idea then don't know how to RP, the dice will ruin it. I can just describe how cool their character does based on their intentions. Does either their RP or intentions sound not too convincing? Then this requires a roll and they better call for all bonuses they may have because it's a matter of luck here and either success or fail are both interesting outcomes.

    And what if I need more guidance about how to make this scene interesting? Usually my prep will have some motives/objectives for the NPC, I usually fall back to these first. They may have their own traits and flaws to play here. And after that, instead of making a reaction roll, I roll for an emotion. I pick up this from Tenra Bansho Zero and its emotional matrix mechanic. It's sorta like a reaction roll, except that it doesn't necessarily affect the NPC objectives.

    You see, an NPC could have a bad day or feel some hostility against the PCs, even show some murder intent. That doesn't mean she won't be polite or that she will attack the PCs on sight.
    Sure, if this was her objective from the beginning, she would totally attack them. But if it isn't, whould she attack them if her real objective lies elsewhere? why lose her time and resources with the PCs and raise suspicion if she isn't interested in them right now, but just feeling a bit frustrated? Of course, if the PCs pick at her she might choose to vent some of that frustration on them, but things doesn't need to go too far anyway.

    This also makes sense for when PCs want the NPC to do their bidding. They can succeed at changing the NPC emotion with the roll, but that's it. At best the NPC will act as their internal logic indicates and not just as if she's been brainwashed by the PCs. At least this gives a wider range of possible consequences than a yes/no, without taking these completely out of the equation. Sometimes it's hard to come up with reactions that make sense if you are randomizing emotional reactions. Well, you can come up with an interesting twist to explain why the NPC cracked in laugh after the PCs mentioned something, but sometimes you could risk ruining your prep going too far with it. That's why it isn't too good to make an emotional random reaction the default mechanic.
  • Seems pretty nice, WM
  • edited April 2017
    I'm feeling a little talked down to; I have to try to remember that you're also talking to any lurkers and to the bigger audience.
    Definitely not talking down to you. I know you know this stuff as well as anyone.

    Because I was venturing into Forge-y territory, I wanted to explain terms for the greater audience.
    I don't think "to say it say it" is Drama, though. I think it's Karma.
    Drama is just saying what happens, right?

    Karma is usually comparing X stat to Y stat and not using any Fortune. I think Karma can also be "do you have X on your sheet?" (a boolean comparison, rather than an integer comparison), so "If you have this Flaw, you fail."

    But "to say it, say it" seems not to refer to anything on the character sheet at all, thus can't be Karma. It's pure fiat, which is Drama.

    In any case, we're now just debating semantics, and we already know what each other means, so it's not a terribly fruitful direction. I get you. =)
    (Bree-yark is goblins though, not kobolds.)
    Oh, I misremembered!
    My preference for that situation is to just use what Laws put forward in Unframed. That's what I enjoy the most.
    I apparently own Unframed in PDF, but never read it. I'll read the Robin Laws section later so I can have an informed discussion about it.
  • Thanks Sandra!
  • Yep, both Adam's and Paul's recommendations to break down the single-roll resolution is spot on. This allows the group to engage with a much fictional detail as desired, and to modulate the balance between player skill and character skill.
  • edited April 2017
    Definitely not talking down to you. I know you know this stuff as well as anyone.
    ♥! That's what I get for trying to write/read S-G in the middle of the night when I'm already in a bad mood. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt.
    Drama is just saying what happens, right?

    Karma is usually comparing X stat to Y stat and not using any Fortune. I think Karma can also be "do you have X on your sheet?" (a boolean comparison, rather than an integer comparison), so "If you have this Flaw, you fail."

    But "to say it, say it" seems not to refer to anything on the character sheet at all, thus can't be Karma. It's pure fiat, which is Drama.

    In any case, we're now just debating semantics, and we already know what each other means, so it's not a terribly fruitful direction. I get you. =)
    I'm going to make an exception to my life vow of not arguing semantics because I think it's so important & I had some plans to talk more about Karma, Drama and Fortune for a couple of future topics that I had in mind, as well.

    I'm going to go straight to the good book:
    The Law of Karma
    A hero's Elements, Specialites, Powers, Magic, and tactics determine the outcome of that hero's action.
    The Law of Drama
    The needs of the plot determine the outcome of a hero's action.
    The Law of Fortune
    A draw from the fortune deck determines the outcome of a hero's action.
    "And tactics". Most of the examples of Karma uses the character sheet and only briefly mention that the players choices in the current situation have any bearing on what's going on. All the examples of Drama, though, are about "what would be cool for the future of the plot", especially in opposition to Karma (consequences).
    When you, as gamemaster, apply the law of drama, the needs of the plot determine the outcome of events. As in a novel or play, events proceed in such a way as to make the plot and story more engaging and enjoyable. The hero succeeds if doing so helps the plot. The hero fails if that helps the plot.
    Btw, re-reading that makes me understand why Laws called his game Dramasystem. The tokens help distribute the story beats (a la Hamlet's Hit Points) in a way that automatically makes the story more enjoyable. The Unframed method doesn't have the tokens though, it's pure Karma.
    Fireson's Air score is 3, meaning it's average: he's unlikely to be able to read hieroglyphics. According to karma, Fireson probably can't get much information from the ruin's inscriptions.

    The inventor of hieroglyphics, however, was Thoth, the ibis-headed god of knowledge. If the player has determined that Fireson is from a culture that worshiped Thoth as the god of knowledge, Fireson, as a priest, probably would have learned to read hieroglyphics.
    There's a two page example of the company is searching through a cluttered wizard's study on pp 118-119 that I rememered as pretty finchian / old-school-primer-esque. While it is for the most part ("The gamemaster knows that there is no key in the room, but Opal won't know that until she's looked through the place."), there's also things in there like "What's your Water score?" and "The gamemaster hasn't made notes about a rock being used as a doorstop, but it's a good idea and he decides to run with it."

    Side note: Oh, man... while I really love Everway, and it was the only game I brought with me when I moved to this city, as I'm rereading it now I think most of my most dysfunctional GM-ing came from it. There's very little focus on actual player agency, it's all about what would happen to the characters because they are who they are. The last time I ran it around 2009 was a disaster and the biggest single catalyst for me putting my old GM style in its grave. I think I could salvage Everway by doing a lot of "draw maps, add blanks"; I did do that but I added way too many blanks and filled them myself during play. To salvage it, I should up the maps:blanks ratio a lot so there is a proper playground for the heros to have agency in and not just follow along a river quest. And, put some stats for NPCs and monsters in there before we start. OSR-ify it a little bit. And, a thing that's in Everway already but is pretty un-OSR but that I think I'll try to: really really put some of the character's Fates in there. It's been a part I've neglected but it's a big part of the game. Bangs and such. (Don't worry my dear D&D players I'd never do this in a D&D game.)

    Yep, both Adam's and Paul's recommendations to break down the single-roll resolution is spot on. This allows the group to engage with a much fictional detail as desired, and to modulate the balance between player skill and character skill.
    When I've tried it I just found that the multiple rolls added multiple points of failure. And, the more steps we did, the less necessary the rolls became but the more disruptive they also became. Mixing RP and rolling haven't been satisfying for me with any of the four models I outlined previously. OTOH, I've had reasonably fun gameplay with mixing decisions and rolling, as per Fate's more detailed "social combat" variants. But when I got hep to the Unframed model I only looked back in regret because it felt like we had found rocket fuel.
  • (As a sidenote, I'm really curious what you mean by the term 'finchian', and whence it came!)
  • "Finchian" is my coinage, after the author of Quick Primer for Old School Gaming; a booklet that completely misses the point about what makes old school gaming great (the sandboxy prep tools) but is a very good description of how to do trap finding, treasure searching and general just IIEE talk etc. He certainly didn't invent the style but it's a good shorthand name for the style.

    The first game I read that had something similar was Everway on pp 118 - 119, that extended game example helped get me started on even being able to play a roleplaying game at all, I had bounced of a couple of games before that didn't really explain how a roleplaying game worked. In those earlier games, we spent a couple of days building characters, we read the boxed intro text, looked at each other, said "now what happens?", didn't find any instructions in any of the four books in the box, and put it all back in there with sadness.
  • Awesome, thanks! And that's an astute observation about the Primer.
  • I've been working on a more systematized reaction roll ruleset over the last few weeks, with my group. If you are curious, they are very much about asking and granting.
  • edited April 2017
    I just re-read that old thread where Sandra explained how she uses the Unframed approach to me. It is full of great stuff! For anyone who just wants the synopsis for convenience, here's my best stab at it:
    - Roleplay it out.
    - When you do, keep an eye on who's petitioning and who's (potentially) granting.
    - If no one's doing either, maybe see if they're gonna, and if not, go on to the next thing.
    - If there's a reason why the granter won't grant, play that out, with that reason in mind. If there's no such reason, grant the petitioner's request!
    - When playing out a petitioner's attempt to overcome a granter's resistance, keep an eye on petitioner tactics.
    - New tactics, and new granter responses, tend to keep things dramatic and fun. Repetitions don't.
    - When you spot repetition, act quickly to cut it off, demanding either new tactics or an end to the interaction.
    Sandra, please feel free to correct me!

    I do like this approach as is, but I continue to be interested in ways to tweak its particulars to get the most out of social encounters in general, and to make it as noob-friendly and user-friendly as possible. I can imagine, for instance, that the key decision points, wherein new tactics elicit new responses, could engage mechanical inputs/outputs without ruining the basic dynamic. Which, y'know, is nice if your game otherwise does good things with such inputs/outputs.
  • Thanks for the excellent summary. One quick correction: Granter tactics also matter or should they be called "denier" tactics perhaps.

    It is my belief that any attempts to add dice rolls into the mix would suck the life out of it. However, I've added a die roll before some conversations, a roll (completely unmodified by charisma or other skills) on a table with entries like 'She knows, but don't want to tell for fear of being blamed' or 'She doesn't know, but wants to wring some money out of this situation'. Then it's up to the players to wring the truth out of it. Often it takes them talking to different people to get enough pieces to wring out the whole picture.

    An NPC gripped with fear and panic will come across differently from one driven by ennui and longing.
  • Thanks, David!
  • edited April 2017
    Obviously not what you want to discuss, but I like how games like Nerver av stål and Psychodrame controls how you play it out, or how you say it.

    Psychodrame is all about social conflict, and uses a rule system that is based on Dogs in the Vineyard, but what the game does is taking "Bluff", "Persuade", "Threat" and turn it into something that doesn't describe on it's own.

    Manipulate + Love, or Escape + Hate. Conflict in Psychodrame is played out through conversations that are affected by these attitudes and feelings. When talking about social conflicts - about playing out a conversation - I think this is the way to go. Controlling not what is being said but how it's being said, and in what way it's being said. It's the next level shit of bananbeskrivningar.
  • Sounds like something I'd be into actually… sounds like the subtractive model; you know what you want to say but you have to also convey love, hate, fear or another emotional relationship. God, my players (if you're reading this, then good! Let's talk about it!) wouldn't know an "emotional concession" if it bit them in the ass!

    Maybe it's my fault for wanting to jump into games without explaining them first.
  • Indeed; I'm a big believer that the vast majority of the games we play require not just knowledge of the rules and procedure but also need everyone to buy into the purpose behind them, and the "philosophy of play" (or creative agenda, or whatever you want to call it).

    By the way, I mentioned "stake setting" earlier. I still think that it's an incredible tool in a lot of respects, despite falling out of fashion at the Forge for a while due to overuse (every game was using it for a while). It's clumsy in a sense but incredibly flexible in another sense.

    WarriorMonk's post, above, illustrates what it looks like in play.

    Most "stake setting" games come down to defining one believable positive outcome and one believable negative outcome and then rolling to see which happens.

    This can work well for one-roll social resolution, if that's what is of interest (I personally find exploring the more subtle/lateral approaches we're touching on in this thread more interesting, because they're new and shiny), and does wonders with a group which is creatively on the same page.

    The nice thing is that such an approach forces you to consider all the aspects of the situation: what is the character doing, what is their opponent like, what do we find interesting, and so forth.

    For instance, take a character making a speech in front of a crowd. They're trying to goad them into action.

    If the character makes a stirring speech, and it seems like their appeal cannot be ignored by this crowd, your two outcomes might be:

    * "The crowd is moved, and does as the characters hopes they would."
    * "The crowd is moved by the speech, so they follow the character's suggestions, but they go overboard and their actions cause a different problem."

    However, if the character's approach was wholly terrible and we can't see it going well at all, our two outcomes might be:

    * "The crowd boos the speaker and another leader/rival appears, who takes control of the situation."
    * "The crowd is angered and they decide to make the character a scapegoat for all their problems."

    It's a nice combination of freeform/fiction-judging and taking into account fictional details (like freeform play) but still preserves a very meaningful die roll (or whatever form of resolution).
  • Generally my rule is: if you touch dice, everyone better be clear about the outcomes before the dice falls. There are some exceptions, like name generators and ranfom tables.
    But, I don't want talking scenes to be random. That's not my current trip
  • Note, though, that a "stake setting" approach isn't necessarily all that "random" in practice. For instance, you can decide that both possible outcomes are good for the character, just in different ways. Or you might make the roll about what the NPC asks for in return. Or you might decide which "stake" comes true by allocating points or voting instead of rolling. And so forth.
  • Calling variable outcomes determined by dice not "random" becomes a semantics debate.

    I want to act out the talking scenes.

    The techniques you mention turn the game into sort of a story-creation exercise. Which is a valid way to make games; Fate is built on that premise. You can convert the goings-on at a Fate table into a pretty exciting pulp story. "They torched the jacket and then hid behind the crates" can be derived from "They created the advantage 'Jacket on Fire' and then invoked the tag 'Labyrinth of Shipping Crates'". Same goes for talking scenes obv.

    But. I'm after experiencing the conversations and being present in them, not create stories where we make choices about them. That's my current trip. YMMV
  • I'm also more interested in more fluid methods, personally. However, this one is effective and should be included in any kind of "what methods are there?" discussion. Carry on!
  • Yeah, remember my "everything has tradeoffs" mantra. Stakes setting as Paul describes really and for real, if you do it with discipline, can make people's roleplayed dialogue and conversational approach really, really matter. I also think this is the solution to the overly cautious players in World of Dungeons or the like who are trying to avoid ever rolling the dice: reward their fictional positioning by making even failures "not that bad."

    Sandra, I'm curious how you'd want to handle things in, e.g., 5E, where characters have explicit skills like Persuasion and Deception.
  • edited April 2017
    I can envision a space of mechanics in the neighborhood of stakes setting that reek a bit less of "making decisions about a story," but get you many of the same advantages.

    So the stake setting procedure is something like:
    1. Player describes what their character does, maybe their meta-fictional goal.
    2. GM infers, or explicitly clarifies, what the player wants out of their action.
    3. We settle on two possible fictional outcomes that follow from the fictional action, one which gives the player what they want (or makes progress in that direction), one which does not give them what they want and creates complications.
    4. Player rolls dice to select between the two, probably with a higher weight on the favorable outcome.
    5. GM describes the fictional results.
    Player: I bellow, "WHAT SAY YOU, KNIGHTS OF EMRÊ?! WITH ME!" I want to inspire them to follow me in a charge.
    GM: Reasonable. Roll Leadership against the enemy's Shadow! If you pass they charge with you; if you fail they are too broken and exhausted for another rally.
    Player: (rolls) Pass!
    GM: The knights pour down the slope with war-cries and raised lances, you at their fore!

    Now imagine a procedure that goes like this:
    1. Player describes what their character does. Maybe they ask questions to get a sense of the probable outcomes of various approaches, from their character's perspective.
    2. GM decides on and commits to the most obvious, likely outcome to the fictional action. Maybe they explicitly share it with the table?
    3. Player rolls dice to decide between That Outcome, materially better than That Outcome, and materially worse than That Outcome, probably with about equal weight between the three.
    4. GM describes the fictional results
    Player: What's the mood of the knights? How beaten down are they?
    GM: They're bloodied and morale is low, but you see glimmers of determination in their eyes. They could break or rally, either way.
    Player: I meet each of their gazes in turn and bellow "WHAT SAY YOU, KNIGHTS OF EMRÊ!? WITH ME!" and charge down the slope!
    GM: (Privately commits to the likely outcome being the knights following the player in a charge.) Roll Leadership against the enemy's Shadow!
    Player: (rolls) About middling.
    GM: The knights pour down the slope with war-cries and raised lances, you at their fore!
  • Matt, I've given my players a modified skill list! We've been using these changes since 5e first came out, it was the first thing I did.

    These are removed completely:
    Deception
    Intimidation
    Performance
    Persuasion
    Insight

    These are changed to being used only or primarily as passives:
    Arcana
    History
    Investigation
    Nature
    Religion

    These are unchanged:
    Athletics
    Acrobatics
    Sleight of Hand
    Stealth
    Animal Handling
    Perception (usually used as a passive but for some things, like resolving in-combat stealth, it's rolled)
    Medicine
    Survival

    This change strikes unevenly at face classes and skillmonkeys but... the players know the score at character creation time. I don't think it's wrong to make this change because 5e allows all skills to be removed. I know it might look lopsided to then only remove some of them. But... there's also provisions in the DMG to talk things out instead of rolling them IIRC.

    I'm also thinking of adding a new score called "Loyalty" for compatibility when I use rules from Companion, ACKS or other books. It's derived from Charisma but calculated more oldschoolly 3: -3, 4-5: -2, 6-8: -1, 9-12: 0, 13-15: +1, 16-17: +2, 18: +3 instead of floor((score-10)/2) like the other 5e mods are. It's not for any talking scenes but it's used for things like henchmen limits or things like that. I haven't put that into place yet because I'm still trying to learn those rules.
  • I have a bunch of thoughts about lots of this stuff, but I no longer have any idea what this thread is about. Sandra, care to guide me? Or to officially call it a free-for-all?
  • Here's some guidance, David: The thread is specificially about encounter-level social mechanics, not network-level, planet-level, long political campaigns, conspiracies etc. One meeting, one conversation, one "social encounter".
  • I just love this thread.

    I'm currently thinking about *why* it is that social combat is so difficult to model, compared to physical combat, say.

    I think it might not actually be the case that social combat is inherently harder to model. Perhaps we just notice its shortcomings more as we are all using social skills in real life pretty much all the time and are generally quite good at them. Very few roleplayers, on the other hand, participate regularly in sword fights... We also have the option to literally do social combat at the table, if our PRing skills are good enough; whereas even the most hardcore of LARPers don't actually clash swords.
  • Social combat is so difficult to model because humans refuse to see the actual content of the social interactions they really actually engage in. The closer the game gets to actual social interactions, the more it feels sociopathic. The further, the more it feels divorced from reality.
  • Whoah, whoah, whoah, whoah— when did we start talking about social combat?

    That's, like, not even a thing. Combat is a horrid analogy for almost all social interaction in the games I play and run. Horrid even for the vast majority of those interactions which you might call an argument, or where someone is manipulating someone else, or where one side wants to cow or bully the other or wants something out of the other.

    An appeal is like trying to navigate a maze that only your partner can see, them guiding you by push and pull as you blindly try to find your way to their center.

    An argument is like standing in a bonfire with someone, and each of you keeps piling wood on the blaze.

    A conversation is like building a tower of blocks with someone: you place a block, they place a block, you place a block on top of those.

    None of this is like a fucking fight. Even fights aren't like fights.
  • > when did we start talking about social combat?

    tl;dr: Replace "social combat" in my post with "social encounter" or "social interaction" and I still endorse it. Also, labels are sneaky hard.

    Amusingly, we started talking about social combat on April 1st.

    There are some label problems. Let me break it down.

    social combat the label is often applied to procedures in RPGs which look like "combat, but in the social realm!". I think most of us agree those procedures embody a horrible analogy.

    social combat the label is also often applied by habit/accident to procedures or wish-there-were-procedures in RPGs which are more generally social encounters. This is lazy terminology, but happens plenty. Like above by Diaspora, Paul_T, WarriorMonk, and 2097.

    Then empowermint used social combat ambiguously - it's not clear which meaning it was meant to cash out to.

    Then I used social combat ambiguously - it's not clear from my post which meaning it was meant to cash out to. Let me now be clear - I meant it to refer to basically all social encounters. Lay out their actual mechanics in terms of those things we hide from ourselves like signaling, status hierarchies, hidden fears, etc. and the procedure will feel sociopathic. Fail to model those hidden things and the procedure will feel not just shallow but off-base.
  • edited April 2017
    We sometimes play an older board game (as a separate hobby, not in RPGs) called 手谈 which means "hand talk". Our moves are points and counterpoints in a conversation in a 2d geometrical unspoken language.

    I used 'social combat' to refer to specifically SotC, Diaspora and Burning Wheel which model encounter-level social scenes with mechanics similar to fighting scenes in preceding RPGs. (+ stated that that model is not my preference) I might've referred to their Fate Core equivalent as it too, but if I did, that was incorrect.
  • I guess the whole "it's not combat thing" is something I'm wholly behind. My preference for Dramasystem that views procedural scenes and dramatic scenes completely separately for example. Oh good morning all I'm still pretty groggy
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