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
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?
We’re putting the Six-Step Adventure design to work, with two different adventure ideas. They haven’t been playtested (yet), but they’re examples of how the adventure design can be used for brief, but still satisfying night of role playing.
Fantasy Adventure: This one takes place in a generic fantasy setting (for example, Halberd or Tequindra). It’s a pretty straightforward “dungeon crawl,” the kind seen in RPGs since the 1970s, and that makes it a good way to try out the format in a familiar context. Don’t forget to add some unique elements to the combat encounters — a battle in an empty room or forest clearing isn’t that exciting, but add obstacles, a time limit and different locations, like a high balcony to shoot down from, or the top of a moving train, and you’re adding to the action.
Quest giver: The heroes are accompanying a merchant carrying a valuable treasure of some kind in a simple wooden box that’s magically locked. The merchant doesn’t know what the treasure is, only that he’s supposed to get it to the sorcerer who hired him.
Early encounter: The merchant and his caravan are attacked by a group of bandits. There are more bandits than the heroes can handle, so that no matter how many they defeat, the merchant is killed and the treasure taken.
Clue to final confrontation: The heroes interrogate a bandit, or (more likely) find a map to a wizard’s tower with the symbol of a rival wizard on it.
Secondary encounter or challenge: The map leads through obstacles, like a small battle with a bear, and a rickety bridge over a lake. These are meant to be brief encounters, a chance to experiment with unusual environments or unique ways to use their Specialisms.
Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite): Once over the bridge, the heroes enter the wizard’s tower and confront the wizard’s monsters — for example, a dragon or a mechanical guard, or even more bandits.
Final boss: The rival wizard himself, who uses the treasure, which has some kind of combat effect (for example, it fires a beam of energy, or creates a magical force field).
Defeating the wizard ends the adventure; the heroes can return the treasure to the sorcerer and earn gold and prestige.
Modern Adventure: Here’s a story in a more contemporary setting, with a little bit more social interaction. The heroes meet a rival team of explorers, giving them a chance to compete with or cooperate with that group. Killing off the rival team also demonstrates the danger of the adventure, without keeping the heroes from completing the story.
Quest giver: A government agent hires the heroes as a salvage team to recover a lost treasure (gold from early explorers) on a shipwreck — it’s in pirate-infested waters, so he doesn’t want to risk veteran divers.
Early encounter: The heroes are attacked by a pirate ship that wants to take them over; another salvage crew appears to help fight off the pirates. They are from a private salvage company.
Clue to final confrontation: The other crew shares the location of the shipwreck from their research.
Secondary encounter or challenge: The heroes are lowered into the ocean with other team of searchers to begin the search, but their shark cage has been tampered with, and sharks attack.
Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite): The two teams race to recover the treasure.
Final boss: No matter who recovers the treasure, the heroes and the private salvage crew return to their ships to find the government agent waiting there, with his own set of troops. The sailors on both ships are dead; the government agent wants the treasure for himself.
How do these Six-Step Adventures work in your gaming group?
Given the history of RPGs, finding ways to use the “Action” and “Wits” stats in USR is easy; Action is everything from acrobatics to yo-yo tricks (admittedly, the latter is not a common Specialism…). Wits can handle research and the supernatural, like magic and psionic combat. Ego, or social skills, are less used in role playing. A character may need to roll to intimidate, seduce or seek information listening to rumors. But the number of times Ego is used compared to the other stats means Ego almost shouldn’t even be a stat. Let’s change that, and give debaters, manipulators and schemers a chance to fight the good fight.
Social combat can be just as interesting when fought by a master. (image: celebdirtylaundry.com)
The Song of Ice and Fire RPG, and my other game, Microlite 20, have rules for social combat. For ease of use, it’s basically like standard combat, except with different Specialisms in play. In fiction, social combat is usually over much quicker than battle, so each character begins with “social hit points” equal to the highest value of his or her Ego stat (i.e. 6, 8 or 10). Each attack and defense uses Specialisms like Bargain, Stir up trouble, Stubborn or Immune to her charms.
There’s no equivalent to weapons or armor, though one Ego roll can affect the next. For example, befriending a powerful political family can help quell (or stir up) a rebellion. Allow players to describe what their characters are saying in the conversation. If it’s convincing or inspiring, grant an extra +1 to the roll.
Make a simple Wits roll as initiative, to represent the planning of meeting times and places that best suit the character’s goals. Social combat usually “heals” immediately after the combat ends. Just like standard combat, a character that loses all of his or her social hit points is defeated, but this doesn’t have to mean death or unconsciousness. Instead, political foes can be humiliated, and enemies can be outwitted (it’s much easier to trick an ogre than to try and cut it to pieces). Adventures can be just as exciting, and a lot less hazardous to life and limb.
What are the best Specialisms for exciting social combat?