Friday, February 3, 2012

Social chase mechanics

Last week, I started to dive into some thoughts on creating a social combat mechanic. Combat seemed like a good place to start, because it is an iconic type of conflict. We definitely ran into some problems, though. Combat sees a give and take, with the roles of attacker and defender shifting each round. Social encounters typically have the attacker (we were using the term "bidder") and defender ("mark") determined at the encounter level instead of the action level. Also, combat typically only ends when one side is either dead, or sees death as his only alternative to surrender. Social conflict should have easier thresholds for "tapping out."

There is another classic conflict mechanic that might address these issues. When you have a chase, you have a relatively constant predator and prey. You can also have the chase decided by fatigue, in which one side or the other simply decides it's not worth the fight anymore. That sounds pretty close to what we are looking for as a model.

Dramatic Conflicts

I will start by saying that this is not exactly a new idea. Spycraft 2.0 has a brilliant "dramatic conflict" resolution mechanic that does exactly this. They took the basic chase mechanic and turned it into a method for resolving any number of conflicts, including seduction, infiltration, brainwashing, and hacking.

Their system has a fairly simple core, with endless variety. At the beginning of the conflict, you would establish stakes for what the "predator" and "prey" would consider win conditions (typically, the "prey" simply wants to get out of the conflict intact). You then divide the space between those stakes into ten "lead" spaces. The conflict begins in the middle, at lead 5. Each round, both participants choose a tactic and make a skill check. Whoever gets the higher skill check moves the lead counter one space in her direction. The tactics chosen have various effects on the conflict (e.g., doubling the lead gain, inflicting damage on the opponent, allowing a different skill to be used for the test). If the lead gets pushed to 0, the predator can choose to use a closing tactic to win the conflict (and vice versa for the prey if the lead reaches 10).

For most social situations, this seems pretty useful. If you are attempting to convince someone to agree with you, then you are the predator. Lead 10 is agreement and lead 0 is an end to the conversation. Tactics might include Pressing the Point (you double the lead change by either winning him over if successful or alienating him if unsuccessful), Undeniable Logic (you both use Intelligence instead of Charisma for the test), or It Would Be a Shame (you use Intimidate instead of Diplomacy for the test). The interaction of the tactics chosen and the results of the tests give you an easy indication of how the conversation is playing out.

I like this system for a lot of reasons. While other chase systems have their own merits and flaws, I think I'll go with this one.

My Spin on Things

Now, I'm not going to leave it untouched. That would just be silly.

In the comments to last week's post, Ravyn made some excellent points. Particularly, that setting a threshold going into the conflict is a good way to establish a number of parameters. We are going to run with that.

The first change to the above system is that we will begin every conflict at 0 instead of 5. The bidder will rank how important winning this conflict is from 1 to 5, and the mark will do likewise. The range of the conflict will now run from the negative of the mark's threshold up to the bidder's threshold. E.g., if the bidder chooses a 4 and the mark choose a 2, the conflict will range from -2 to 4.

We do not want to simply allow the PC to always set his threshold at 5. That's neither fun nor realistic. So, we need a reason to set the threshold lower. In my system, I have also borrowed the concept of stress damage from Spycraft 2.0. This functions like hit points, except it measures how much emotional trauma and fatigue you can stand. Let's say, as an early mechanic, that each side in the conflict automatically suffers an amount of stress damage equal to their threshold every round, win or lose. If both sides put their threshold at 5, not only are they taking higher damage each round, but the conflict will last many more rounds. (As a note, this also means that the side with the higher threshold is more likely to choose risky tactics which will end the conflict early. I like the idea of people with a lot to lose acting desperately.)

So, here is a basic outline of the conflict:
  • Determine the bidder and mark, and establish what the bidder wants out of the conflict.
  • Each side sets their threshold based on how important the issue is, ranked from 1 to 5.
  • The conflict begins at lead 0.
  • Each round, the bidder and mark each choose a tactic to use in negotiation. Each tactic has special effects. If the lead is equal to or less than the mark's threshold, the bidder may make a closing argument. Similarly, if the lead is equal to or greater than the bidder's threshold, the mark may make a closing argument.
  • Once tactics are chosen, the bidder makes a Wits roll, opposed by the mark's Resolve roll.
  • If the bidder wins, the lead is reduced by 1. If the mark wins, the lead is increased by 1. If they tie, the lead remains the same.
  • Each side suffers stress damage equal to their threshold.
  • Certain tactics may require a "twist" roll. This frequently requires an additional Resolve check by both parties to avoid additional stress damage.
  • If either side reaches 0 stress, they immediately forfeit the conflict, regardless of the current lead.
  • If either side chose a closing argument and won the roll for the round, the conflict is resolved in that side's favor.
  • If both sides are still able (and willing) to proceed, a new round begins.
In the final version, I would want to build a strong list of about ten tactics for each side, plus three types of closing arguments. There would also be tips on how to invent tactics on the fly. Various feats and class abilities would open up more extreme tactics, in addition to doing such things as adjusting the starting lead, reducing the stress damage, and granting a bonus to the check. I would also want to look at building in effects for critical successes and failures.

I think that, for now, I am going to go with this option. It is still not perfect. For one thing, it feels a little too mechanics heavy, and would overwhelm the descriptions of the action. I will be looking at a couple different systems that are out there for possible ways to tweak this.

No comments:

Post a Comment