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Social vs other PCs

Mr Fox

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Chosen, I'm not sure if it's cool to repost this or not. It comes from this weeks Drive-Thru RPG newsletter and I'm pretty sure the intent was to share this, but if you deem it inappropriate then fell free to delete. I know on this site we've have some pretty heated discussions at times about what could/should be done in terms of one character using social abilities against another. Scott Gastineau came up with a pretty nifty solution to the problem... kudos to him for an innovative idea.

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Rolling the Roleplay?

Frequent contributor Scott Gastineau posed a really good topic to me for discussion.

"How do you feel about the PCs using their social skills to manipulate other PCs. Some gamers think it is their right. Others reject the concept with religious zealotry. Personally, I have no problem with it and lean towards the side of allowing it."

This may well be the most infamous and rancorous debates in gaming. Both sides of the issue have powerful arguments and strong feelings about it.

Those in favor of allowing game mechanics to allow one PC to directly impact the roleplaying decisions of others often present the following points -

* A PC with high combat stats can use them to directly affect a social-based character, anywhere from restraining them to outright killing them.

* A PC who focuses more on magic can have her way with a character who focuses on social and interaction skills.

* The vast majority of gamers do not possess the skills and abilities of their characters. Just as a player's character gets to swing a sword or shoot a gun far better that he might be able to in real life, so too can a player create a character who is far more charming or commanding than she normally can manage in day-to-day interactions.

* Folks who spend points on making characters who are charming or intimidating feel they should get the benefit of that "better than me in real life" concept just as much as the battlers and other specialists can.

On the other side of the debate -

* "No one's going to tell me how to role play. My character is mine, period."

* Allowing social skills to influence PCs is essentially giving those characters mind control.

* PCs actually attacking other PCs (with swords, guns, magic, or whatever) is very rare, and in many cases highly discouraged. It just doesn't happen enough to justify allowing social "attacks."

* Allowing social skills to be use like that will invite all-to-frequent PC-to-PC "roll-offs," effectively corrupting the pace and essence of the game.

I'll be honest. For the vast majority of my gaming life, I've fallen squarely in the second camp. I've always felt that you simply shouldn't play a persuasive, charismatic, leadership-oriented character unless your nature ran in that direction. I never wanted dice rolls interfering in player-driven discussions. The concept was just... utterly alien to me.

In recent years, I've finally been able to see the other side's points. There are reasonable arguments to be made for allowing a certain equity between combat characters (and those with other specialties) and socially-oriented characters.

And, frankly, it is odd that Gabriel the Mistress of Song can convince the Bandit King of Layland to lay down his arms, but she can't convince Rat Vance to stop picking her pocket.

So I was thinking about this while I was swimming today (this, mind you, is where I do a lot of "mental writing" for this game-zine; I swim half-an-hour every day in order to remain a functioning human being). I managed to come up with what I think is a workable middle ground idea that at least some of you might feel comfortable employing.


It's fairly simple, really. It's predicated on the assumption that the game you are playing has some kind of bonus system for player characters - hero points, bennies, action points, etc.. If your game doesn't have such a thing, either add one in (a token that's worth a +2 on any roll, for example), or just come up with an experience bonus if that fits. Whatever it is, let's call it a "Bonus Token" for ease of use.

Whenever a player character attempts to affect another PC with a social-type skills, roll as normal. If he succeeds, the target of the challenge then chooses whether she will play out that she's convinced or swayed in some way, or she will ignore the result and remain determined to not accede to his wishes.

If she plays along, she gets a Bonus Token. If she doesn't, the guy who tried to affect her gets one.

If there are multiple folks being affected, there's a Bonus Token at stake in each challenge. Eith enough refusals, the social character can end up with a lot of good karma.

This is an abstraction, no doubt. It is, very simply, a gift system that honors the efforts of the socially-focuses character (using non-violence to influence his group) while preventing such influence to be abused. It also rewards the other players for also honoring their ally's talents and gifts.

There you go. Use to your liking.

I gotta con to go to. Perhaps I'll test this idea there.

~ SPF (10-12-2010)

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I updated your post to include a few links to their newsletter. It is ok to post something from somewhere else (provided you aren't taking everything they have), but you need to make sure that you supply a link as well as the name.

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I'm a big fan of the "hero point for GM fiat" system of Mutants & Masterminds and this seems like a brilliant application of it, in an area I've typically fallen on the "it's my PC and I'll do what I wanna" side of.

I think this could apply to NPCs just as equally - if the GM decided that Superman persuading Lex Luthor that maybe his genius can be put to better use than death-rays and a ruthless mega-corporation is not going to happen despite that really good roll, Lex stays evil and Superman gets a hero point he can later use to throw a steel girder through Metallo's chest.

As for PC versus PC, honestly: any game where the PCs are attacking or stealing from each other is one I don't want to be in in the first place, so social systems for PC interaction have never been that big a deal for me. If they were, this would be an ideal way to handle it.

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Whilst I agree with Mike that being part of an adversarial PCs game isn't high on my agenda, I believe that any grouping of personalities will naturally compete on physical, mental and social levels as they get to know one another and learn respect for each other's capabilities. This happens all the time in fiction: how many times have we seen groups of heroes or villains have personality conflicts or even outright feuding within the group structure? I think rivalry or competition is healthy for a group of PCs.

The key is that the feuding or conflict can and will be resolved. I occasionally remind the players in my TT game that any conflict damn well better be a friction between characters and not the players themselves. It should be a character and story development point (best of all worked out loosely in advance between the players themselves) that will lead to a resolution and tell an interesting tale in the process.

If I think that the conflict is devolving into non-stop poo-flinging between two players attempting to score points off each other, I step in and get them back on track.

To that end, I fall somewhere between the two camps outlined in Fox's quoted post above. I think that a character's abilities and statistics should play a part in the game, and that even other PCs should acknowledge them. I also think that if a player has marginal capacity for guile, charm and trickery, they are going to find it hard to play a con artist. "But my character is wittier and more charming than me!" is fine. Sure they might be, but if a player doesn't have the imagination to cook up at least a basic outline of how Jack the Bard smooth-talks his way past the palace guard, then maybe they should play a character whose gifts they can visualise better. The best combat players are those who can visualise their fighter's actions in a duel and take into account the terrain and any obstacles, after all. It's no different for social characters. Role-playing should take precedence over roll-playing.

Additionally, a social character's player should realise and accept that when they walk around rolling their huge dice pools and making everyone love them regardless of how they actually treat those people, they are no better than the big hairy dude going around slapping folks and stealing their lunch money. It's bullying, and one of the wonderful things about bullies in fictional settings is that unless they change they always get some manner of comeuppance. It's a Law of Narrative Causality. grin

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