USR Wednesdays: Social Combat And Regular Combat

In the original discussion on social combat, we made it a parallel to regular combat, except the main stat we’re using is Ego, not Action. The parallels can be the same for adventures, too, but they’re probably harder to recognize.

Regular combat could be:

  • a battle in a dungeon room with a handful of orcs
  • A showdown over a precarious bridge with a powerful evil wizard
  • A one-on-one fistfight with a giant robot
  • A suspenseful hunt through the building corridors, looking for a way out or the magic button that destroys the bad guy’s headquarters
Social combat in action
In this scene from “A Few Good Men,” Col. Jessup loses a social combat encounter. (image: Castle Rock Ent.)

Social combat, on the other hand, is:

  • A confrontation in a courtroom (here’s a good example, and here’s another)
  • Talking a guard into letting you pass without attracting attention
  • Getting an informant to give up the information he’s got that your heroes need
  • Rallying exhausted troops for one final assault on the enemy
  • Encouraging a crowd to join your side when all they want to do is run or turn against you

Social combat can use several Specialisms, like Intimidation, Seduction, Charm, Quick Wit, Etiquette, Detect Lies, Arrogant, and more. Each can be used just like a weapon attack, but is even more specific. A character with Plate Mail +2 can use it against any sword or axe — but a character with Detect Lies +2 isn’t going to get much use out of that Specialism when facing a character using the Specialism Intimidation.

Combat, whether it’s with Action or Ego (or Wits, in the case of supernatural powers), can be as detailed or as simple as the players want. One character’s Action + Sword might be one character’s action, after another character’s use of Ego + Fast-Talk fails to get the guard to move out of the way. Everyone has a chance to participate: the mighty barbarian, the wise sorcerer, and the quick-witted minstrel.

How will your heroes use their social combat Specialisms?

USR Wednesdays: More Archetypes

These are some of the most, well, archetypal kinds of characters found in role playing games, assembled in the Risus Companion and revisited here for USR characters in almost any setting; earlier I created archetypes specifically for modern-day adventurers.

The A-Team: A Perfect RPG Party
A warrior, a driver, a charismatic and a noble plus lots of guns and a cool van makes for a great adventuring party. (image: iofabric.com)

Some of these archetypes overlap in their suggested Specialisms or in their role in an adventuring party. That’s fine; most characters have more than one dimension to their personality, and few adventuring parties have room for a dozen heroes.

Athlete (soldier, martial artist, jock)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Endurance, Honest And Reliable (And A Little Dim-Witted), Strong, Fast
Suggested Equipment: none

Charismatic (bard, con artist, rock star)
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Inspire, Perform (music, rousing speeches, etc.), Charm, Seduce
Suggested Equipment: Musical instrument

Detective (private eye, seer, psychic investigator)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Investigate, Interrogate, Sneak, Perception, Hard Drinking
Suggested Equipment: Trenchcoat, Revolver

Driver (pilot, knight on horseback)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Driving/Piloting (multiple vehicles), Gunnery, Repair, Riding
Suggested Equipment: Vehicle — but only a basic model, one he can update and improve constantly

Mechanic
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Inventing, Repair, Research
Suggested Equipment: Tool kit, Several strange gadgets that nobody should touch unless they want to put a smoking crater in the wall

Medic (Doctor, Cleric, Therapist)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Medicine, Psychology, Chemistry (or Alchemy)
Suggested Equipment: Medicine bag

Noble (CEO, King, General)
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Leadership, Resources, Inspiration
Suggested Equipment: An unlimited amount of money (temporarily)

Outdoors (Ranger, Hunter, Scout)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Nature Knowledge, Perception, Survival
Suggested Equipment: Longbow (even for modern-day characters)

Scholar (Sage, Scientist, Professor)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Research, Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, Ancient History
Suggested Equipment: Library (of books or material on an electronic device), A weapon that he’s mastered after reading about its use in a long-extinct culture

Sneak (Thief, Spy, Assassin)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Move Silently, Observation, Remain Motionless, Lockpicking, Hacking, Agile Enough To Avoid Tripwires And Sensors
Suggested Equipment: Lockpicks, Black clothing

Warrior (Soldier, Fighter, Knight, Mystic Warrior)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Weapon Mastery, Endurance, Spiritual Control, Athletics, Unshakable Faith
Suggested Equipment: A big gun or sword, Armor

Wizard (Sorcerer, Gadgeteer)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Inventing, Spellcasting, Knowledge Of Other Worlds
Suggested Equipment: Spellbook, Devices that violate the laws of physics

Which archetypes did I miss?

USR Wednesdays: The Last Jedi

I didn’t include stats for the new heroes of the “Star Wars” films in my series on the movies, but since opening weekend is this Friday, I have a perfect opportunity to do it now. This is as of the end of “The Force Awakens.” If you’re reading this a few years later, make updates based on what’s happened in the other movies!

Rey, Level 1, 0 Experience Points
Action D10, Wits D8, Ego D6
Specialisms: The Force +2, Mechanical Repair +2, Survival +2
Hit Points: 18
Equipment: Quarterstaff +1, Blaster Pistol +1, Repair Tools
Narrative Points: 5

Last Jedi stats for USR Star Wars
They’re both making Action rolls… Finn just barely met the target number. (image: thefandom.net)

Finn, Level 1, 0 Experience Points
Action D10, Wits D6, Ego D8
Specialisms: Firearms +2, Gunnery +2, Leadership +2
Hit Points: 16
Equipment: Blaster Rifle +2
Narrative Points: 5

Poe Dameron, Level 3, 10 Experience Points
Action D10, Wits D8, Ego D6
Specialisms: Pilot +3, Navigate +2, Military Commander +2, Streetwise +1
Hit Points: 28
Equipment: X-Wing, Blaster Pistol +2
Narrative Points: 5

Kylo Ren, Level 2, 5 Experience Points
Action D6, Wits D10, Ego D8
Specialisms: Quick Temper Leading To The Dark Side +2, The Force +3, Interrogation +2
Hit Points: 21
Equipment: Lightsaber +2, Armor +1
Narrative Points: 4

What are the stats for other characters in “The Force Awakens”?

USR Wednesdays: Earning Narrative Points

The way to earn Narrative Points in a USR game is simple: have fun with the game while you’re playing it. Years ago, I ran a game of Toon, where I awarded a Plot Point (that game’s equivalent of Narrative Points) to one of my players for something I found funny. Toon, as the name suggests, is all about being cartoony, but my players took it the wrong way, deciding that the way to “win” was to get me to laugh so they could collect Plot Points, instead of telling an entertaining tale. The moral of that story is to hand out Narrative Points often, so players see that they’re available for just about any reason, and earning them is fun in itself.

You start with three Narrative Points, and may have a few more if you don’t spend all your Combat Gear points when creating a character, or when you’re using superhero rules. So you’ll probably earn 2, 3 or maybe 4 back during a typical game session — enough to keep using them all through the game.

Then again, if the players and game master agree, Narrative Points can be handed out constantly. This creates a game where players are revising the story as they go, as in a fourth-wall-breaking cartoon (Daffy Duck or Deadpool), or boosting every attack and damage roll until heroes are blowing away legions of even very tough bad guys without a sweat (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone). It’s all up to the kind of game everyone wants to play.

The Merc with a Mouth... and lots of bullets.
He’s trying to earn Narrative Points by being cartoony AND violent. (image: 20th Century Fox)

Here’s a few ways to earn Narrative Points in your USR game.

  • Good roleplaying: Help tell the story in a way that makes it more fun for everyone, and in a way that makes sense. This can be suggesting an idea that improves a scene and that doesn’t make your situation better (doing that would call for spending a Narrative Point). Suggest a better way for a monster to attack the heroes using its surroundings, or make your best effort at using the exact dialogue your character would use when talking to the king.
  • Be true to your character’s behavior: When you created a character, you came up with a general idea of how he or she would behave. In other words, this is how you would actually role play your character (that’s right, a video game RPG is not an RPG, it’s a method of collecting virtual prizes). This could be sticking to an RPG cliché (following the law of the land, even if it would be easier to cheat) or taking a cue from a character from another work of fiction (talking at a rapid-fire pace, never stopping to take a breath).

Doing what makes sense for your character, especially when it makes the situation more challenging for the heroes, can be worth a Narrative Point. It should usually just happen once per game session — a character doesn’t need to constantly be rewarded for literally being themselves. Also keep in mind that role playing games are social games about heroes; there’s always someone who wants to be the lone wolf, going off on his own adventure, or who wants to murder everyone in town. In a typical game, that may be true to the character’s personality, but it’s not much fun, and shouldn’t be encouraged by awarding Narrative Points. It probably shouldn’t even be allowed for a character, unless you’re trying to role play “Grand Theft Auto” or something.

  • Doing “cool stuff”: This covers everything else, from making everyone at the table laugh at something related to the game, to rolling really well and describing how awesome your character’s performance was for that action, to another RPG cliché, bringing pizza for the group to enjoy.

Surprisingly, most professionally published role playing games have little to say on their equivalent of Narrative Points. Savage Worlds suggests you earn Bennies for good play. Fate gives specific requirements on how to regain a Fate Point, with its jargon of “compel,” “concede,” and “invoke.” Of the games I own, Toon actually offers the most help (interesting that it’s much older than the other games, dating to 1984). Its ideas are similar to the ones I’ve listed here.

What “cool stuff” would earn a Narrative Point in your game?