Social Combat on the Frontier

ExileInParadise's picture
December 12, 2016 - 10:32pm
Since the dawn of role-playing games, RPGs are built around a melee and ranged combat wargame of some sort.

Newer games have experimented with a mechanic known as "social combat" which extends the concepts of the melee or ranged combat mechanic to social interaction.

So, I am going to think out loud on how to fit the social combat mechanic into Star Frontiers...

Social combat is basically a mechanism of opposed ability checks until a mental resistance is broken down.
Imagine using rules to mediate an argument or debate, and have a mechanics-only way to determine the outcome of who won or lost the argument.

Much of Star Frontiers published adventures revolve around interactions between PCs and NPCs using psycho-social skills which are unopposed checks... blunt instruments:
* The players have to convince the races of Volturnus to work together.
* Convince with Heliopes...
* The players have to calm down the sapes on Jetsom.
* Convince the Notui...
* The players have to get the Mhemne to trust them (using psycho-social and a "trust points" mechanic)
But the checks are unopposable - a player rolls the skill and succeeds or fails, the end, no hope of opposition and short-circuiting opportunities for a good verbal back and forth.

Additionally, some table games degenerate into GMs vs. players, partly through each trying to best the other in NPC interactions. An impartial mechanic, applied fairly to both sides, can help avoid this by letting players beat GMs fair and square in some encounters, and letting players be beat fair and square in other encounters, all through an objective mechanic, rather than subjective judgement.

You need four things :
1. A non-combat action that still involves conflict or opposition between two or more groups: persuasion, deception, seduction, and intimidation are four examples of non-combat conflict (that could escalate to melee or ranged attacks)

2. The "attackers" need an Ability to use to make a "social attack"

3. The "defenders" need a complementary Ability to defend against that "social attack"

4. You need a mental equivalent of "hit points" (called Stamina in Star Frontiers) that can be worn down and recharged - I am thinking a player's Leadership ability could represent their willpower for this.

A player chooses a what sort of opposed social action to try against a PC or NPC.

Two typical generic social combat "attack" actions are:
* Persuade someone, by selectively telling them truths, to do something they are initially unsure of or opposed to do.
* Deceive someone, by charismatically telling them true-sounding falsehoods into belief or action.

To make a Persuasion check (instead of 10% + 10 x psychosocial skill level check):
The Attacker rolls their Personality ability check for success or fail to charm the Defender into accepting their proposal, claim, or statement.

The Defender would roll their Logic ability check for success or fail on whether or not that claim was agreeable.

Vrusk Comprehension can be applied as a bonus to defense rolls against Persuasion checks representing the Vrusk having insight into your true goal.

If the Attacker succeeds, and the Defender fails:
The Defender's Leadership ability is weakened, temporarily losing 5, 10, or 15 points of Leadership, representing their loss of willpower to lead or dominate the verbal contest, in the same way that physical damage reduces Stamina.

If the Attacker and Defender both succeed, that social combat round is a draw.

If the Attacker fails and the Defender succeeds:
The Defender's Leadership is strengthened by 5, 10, or 15 points (back up to the player's original maximum value), representing them being emboldened by the success of their verbal riposte or counterclaim.

Rounds continued until the Attacker has worn down the Defender's Leadership to zero at which point to defender caves in and agrees to whatever the Attacker was after, or the Attacker withdraws unable to make headway, such as 3 consecutive rounds without making any successful Persuasion attacks.

To make a Deception check:
The Attacker rolls a Personality ability check against the Defender's Intuition ability.

Dralasite Lie Detection can be applied as a bonus to defense rolls against Deception checks.

Sathar hypnosis could also be re-cast into a social combat system of Sathar Logic or Leadership vs. Player or NPC Logic.

Others non-combat social conflicts could also be represented by this opposed Ability check system such as bluff, intimidation, or seduction.

The temporary point loss of Leadership is restored 10 points for each hour of non-combat activity.

The original implementation of a social combat mechanic that I saw that worked simply and well was the Myriad RPG System by Ashok Desai (Creative Commons licensed).

In it, players had Intellect, Spirit abilities.
Intellect was used to make Social attacks, and Spirit to defend against them.
These attacks wore away a player's Resolve resilience line, which was their hit points for social combat.

I am out of time for tonight and work comes early tomorrow so I must end this brain dump here.

Hopefully someone finds this idea interesting or useful enough to try.

JCab747's picture
November 5, 2019 - 11:22pm
I know this discussion is a bit old now, but I found something a while ago... but only now have been able to post it:

It's an old Dragon article that sort of fits this idea.
Joe Cabadas