Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Mechanics: Social Combat Via The Regular Contest

It is also a band apparently.
I have had situations in the past where the resolution of an argument PC versus NPC summed up as one quick contest of Diplomacy versus Will seemed to end in a weird series of attempts at fishing for a way to work around the adjudication as if it were a videogame... one even suggested coming back the next day and trying again as if the character would somehow forget in 24 hours. So today, after a random statement on a message board, I quickly cobbled together some rules using regular contests and the standard slew of social skills for dealing with an issue, let's see how that goes.


Each party in a debate has a certain threshold or tolerance for debate before they surrender and give in to the opposing party's view. This is controlled by the Will Secondary Characteristic. For each point of Will, a character has a "will point." Eg, if John Doe has 13 Will, he has 13 "WP." Most debates are between two parties, so the WP of both parties is important. This WP is the gauge that represents victory or defeat.

Depleting the Gauge

Much like the typical Quick Contests usually used by social skills, the Regular Contest model is performed the same way but repeats until one party's WP is depleted to 0 upon which point they agree to go along with the idea of the opposite party.

Example: The Nominal Straight Debate

The nominal case is two parties arguing in their best interests, until one or the other is satisfied to go along with the results. Let's pretend Tom is a Dungeon Fantasy delver trying to hawk some junk at Jane, a Dungeon Fantasy Merchant. The nominal quick contest is Merchant skill versus Merchant skill, so this will be a regular contest of the same skill instead.
  1. Both parties determine what they would like out of the transaction, and the PC, in a meta sense agrees that if he or she loses, will concede the results to the NPC.
    • Tom (skill 13, will 14, and a PC) would like to sell his wares at a tier of wealth higher than normal.
    • Jane(skill 16, will 12, and an NPC) would like to buy his wares at a tier of wealth lower than normal.
    • Tom's player agrees that this is a fair outcome if he loses the debate.
  2. Both parties role play the social transaction, then roll, loser getting the margin of loss deducted from their WP.
    • Tom explains how hard it was to come by this one of a kind sword
    • Jane says it looks very worn
    • They roll a contest of merchant versus merchant and Jane wins by 3, Tom loses 3 will points.
  3. Step 2 continues until
    1. The PC is out of points to contend
      • If this happens, then the NPC party gets to roll one more unopposed roll of skill and deduct margin of success points from the WP of the PC. The differences between the WP is important for the final adjudication.
      • Example: Tom can't think of any other good reasons Jane should buy the sword, she scoffs at his weak argument and lands some kind of stinging will breaking last argument, cementing her success.
    2. One party ran out of Will Points
      • The difference between the WPs is important for the adjudication of the result.
      • Example: Tom gets some real lucky rolls and batters Jane down to the point where she concedes that there might be some value after all, winning the haggle.
    3. The two parties actually arrive at a mutually agreed upon consensus, rendering mechanics boring and getting in the way of fun.
      • Jane says she'd like to buy it, but can't afford it because some bandits have robbed the bank so she doesn't have access to her money. She will buy it if Tom can do something about the bandits. Tom is a metagaming little scamp and knows the GM will give him something even better if he goes along with this small waylay/plot hook, so he agrees.
If the argument is over because one party lost, subtract the loser's remaining WP from the winner's remaining WP, this is the margin of victory.
  • If the Margin is 0 or negative (Almost beaten, but had more steam than the opponent) a totally neutral outcome occurs
    • Tom wins, but by a negative amount [impossible in our scenario, but let's pretend.] He basically retains the privilege of selling the item at the originally offered price or walking.
    • Jane wins, but by a negative amount, she retains the right to buy at the original asking price, or to ask Tom to leave.
  • If the Margin is small, a slight compromise is accepted.
    • Tom wins by a small amount, Jane is convinced to buy the item at a value worth half an additional wealth threshold (eg, an extra 10% instead of 20%.)
    • Jane wins by a small amount, and Tom agrees to sell for 10% less than the original asking price.
  • If the margin is large (5+) the position passes with no compromise
    • Tom wins by a large margin, he sells as if at a higher level of wealth
    • Jane wins by a large margin, she buys it at a lower level of wealth.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

Sometimes a debate is two parties trying to convince a third party. In this case, if Tom and Jane are trying to convince Prince John to go/not go to war with the "Birubites" their WP is actually both equal to Prince John's Will for the debate. Sometimes an argument seems one sided, like in an interrogation scene. Find a way to make it so that they can be in contest against each other. Maybe the interrogator has a contest of interrogation versus will to break the prisoner, but the prisoner has a contest of acting versus will if he is trying to be deceptive and convince the interrogator she knows nothing, or failing that will versus will if she doesn't want to stoop to tricks. If a character is using straight will in a debate, penalize it for all lost WP. If one character can extract themselves from the stress of the situation and reconstitute themselves (EG, the interrogator takes a break to get a deep breath and reflect on his personal beliefs that have been called into question.) they may have a chance to recover and try again against a slightly weakened opponent that doesn't have the same advantage at her disposal.
Finally, if applying situational modifiers, a fun way I think to add more tactical leverage to the situation is to allow the player/npc to decide if a bonus or penalty is applied to their effective skill or to their WP, or in the case of contesting Will versus the opponent, both at the same time.


  1. A very interesting idea for how to handle a debate was on Orbs and Balrogs some time ago. Sadly, he doesn't give the full method, wanting to refine it more first, but I'd like to see more:

    The main advantage of the Social Engineering methods in "Competitive Influence" (SE34) is being relatively short and uncomplicated.

    Another thought is to apply the idea of 'Control Points' (from Technical Grappling) to this sort of thing, representing the ability to take control of a conversation, and seize the verbal initiative. (CP generated by applying Will to the damage table, with appropriate skills generating Trained Will bonuses, and then the person who looses out has his effective Will reduced by the CP....)

    1. Technical Grappling is a book that I have unfortunately not looked at yet, even though I heard it was really good. My players don't use unarmed combat often enough for it to come up, so I'm not even operating up to 100% on the vanilla grappling rules. But from what I've heard of technical grappling, how it applies a gauge and requires leveraging force and tiring opponents, it does sound like an apt fit for the problem as well. I'll take a glance at that link though, thanks!

    2. I... don't have Technical Grappling yet either. (Too many things to buy! It's near the top of the pile for me, but other projects keep getting in the way.) But I've looked over the preview, and followed discussions on Gaming Ballistic enough to have a pretty clear idea of the base concept. Like Chris Rice (Ravens & Pennies) keeps seeing uses for Long-Term Fatigue, I keep seeing uses for Control Points.


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