Successful Use of Social Mechanics and RP

edited September 2007 in Story Games
Over on this thread, Chris from Grimm Studios said:
I’ve yet to hear a gaming story from a social system that couldn’t be done with good RP.
I've heard many, and thought this would be a good place to share some stories of mechanical reinforcement being used successfully in such a way that pure RP wouldn't have done the trick.

Chris and others, I would also like to hear how great RP lead to better stories without system interference. I think we can all learn a lot from each other if we listen with honesty and don't attempt to tear down each other's play experiences.

I think the main place I've found use for social mechanics is in situations where a social roll forces a character to accept something they don't want. Where the system pushes them further into a interesting story. Using RP to flesh out two or more paths, push them hard against each other, and then DEFINITIVELY decide on one of those paths feels like something that can't be achieved through pure RP.

Here's an example from a Primetime Adventures game:
My character Hugo, an undercover cop, is gunning to take over the gang he's infiltrating, the Flacas, from their leader Miguel. It's a total power play, attempting to dominate Miguel with everything I've got, I've got a handful of cards, and the Producer (sorta-GM) doesn't have much mojo to oppose me, so I play it totally rough. Really crowing and throwing my weight around. Then the card reveal comes.

I lose. Utterly. Looking at my character, his play in the game so far, my play in the scene, and the resources on the table, I should have won in a walk, and taken over the Flacas (perhaps with grudging support/continual small sabotage from Miguel). I didn't though, I lost. Hard. And I had to narrate my own defeat. Because the stakes were big, the fall was hard, and I ended up not only being utterly dominated by Miguel, but became his lover, as well. My character, as a result of losing a mechanical conflict, became closer to the person he was conflicting with.

This outcome would not have been possible if I had not been able to push so hard up to the mechanical tipping point, confident in the abilities my character had.

Also note that I am NOT denying the importance of roleplay in this example, just trying to establish that the effects of the system on the roleplay lead to a very different outcome than pure RP would have.
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Comments

  • One of the best examples of RP leading to a great many things changing through the game is my last character Talos. It's not something that happened quickly. It took many games of change and growth in his character, and those around him. A slow understanding of the setting, and of a fate he would have to face alone, to close the portal keeping the undead within the demon he would have to sacrifice his soul, or that of his instructor.

    The paladin who accomanied him seemed to continually let him down. His boyhood dreams of the knights and their ways was quickly crashing around him as this other player ran his paladin in a way that went against everything Talos thought they should be. His reality of what a hero was was being destroyed, and it lead to a physical fight between the two.

    This part, was not player vs. player. It was character vs. character. Neither of us saw it comming when the tension snapped, and attacks started flying. Our characters got away from us. They behaved as they should. The following question, is, ofcourse, who won?

    The rogue.

    Our pissy little halfling rogue pulled the two human clergy aside and gave them a proper dressing down. In character. When he stiffend up and asked, ok, we can only have one leader, who's it going to be. I looked at him and said "You'll do."

    He didn't want it. But he took it. Much to his, and everyone elses suprise. My character spent several sessions resolving his idol worship, and eventually began confiding in and trusting the Paladin, with some of the dark secrets the area held.

    The rogue, not part of the church, grew resentful. Eventually threatened to kill me, and left the party to figure it out on their own.

    It's a short synopsis of the interaction. But none of it needed rules. We got to edge our characters in the direction we wanted, molded by the facts at hand.

    In your example, the character you chose to play, is effectively dead. The personality is altered, possibly in a direction you wouldn't have wanted to go, and the game you sat down to play just changed from checkers to chess. Similar, but different. Sometimes, that's ok, but not always. And not for everyone. I'd rather leave the options open, and let my players decide what's fun for them, then let leave their game to the mechanics. Again, it's a personal taste.
  • Aye Chris,

    Thing about social interactions is that if you aren't cool with the way your character might change, you don't roll the dice. If you aren't comfortable and it might make your character so that he couldn't be played anymore, it doesn't go to a conflict.

    But I really dig how it does change our characters. They go on these fantastic journeys and when they are done they are different people, not just because of new powers or new stuff but because of new ideas.

    That's nifty to me.

    But it ain't for everyone.

    Welcome to Story Games, btw.

    Judd
  • In our Burning Wheel game, Aeron (played by Keith) had just led the British forces to a victory over the Saxon horde. However, unlike his battles in an earlier campaign against the Saxons, this one was won with him commanding from the rear, rather than fighting at the front. In the aftermath of the battle, Tanet, an NPC who blamed Aeron for his brother's death while against the Picts a few years earlier, confronted Aeron in front of the army. Because this was Burning Wheel, we through down in a Duel of Wits. If I won, the army would think Aeron was a coward who didn't deserve to lead them. If Keith won, the army would think Tanet was motivated solely by bad blood. Keith won, but because of the vagaries of the Duel of Wits mechanics, he had to give me a major concession. So Keith described how the army saw that Tanet was out for revenge and that Aeron was worthy of leading them, but they believed that Aeron couldn't could fight effectively in hand-to-hand combat anymore (due to a severe injury Tanet had given him in a "training accident").

    What I loved about that scene was the way that the system forced us to come up with something somewhat parallel to the conflict for Aeron to give up. He did lose standing in the eyes of some of the men (since his injury wasn't actually as bad as they thought), but he accomplished his goals. That sort of compromise is something that rarely comes up in my pure RP experiences.

    --Paul
  • So, the thing about the character being dead.

    This is pretty abstract.

    I'm a guy, right? I'm me. But I'm also me, Ben, at 2:44 PST on Friday typing on Story Games. And things happen, things as simple as what I have for lunch or as complicated as romantic relationships, physical violence, and such that fundamentally change who I am. And, what's more, I don't have total control over these things. But, in a very real way, I'm a different person after them. And, in the same very real way, the person who I was before is dead.

    I totally embrace this in my fictional characters. In myself, it scares the crap out of me.

    yrs--
    --Ben
  • Here's my point:

    I've been playing freeform chat-based games for 11 years. Those things you say about social interactions? The same is true for combat as well! I've had so many freeform fights, I can't even count them. Many of them led to awesome exchanges that you could never do in most systems.

    You don't need mechanics to model combat. You don't need mechanics to model social conflicts.

    The question for me is: what do mechanics add in either case? I don't see the case for one "needing" mechanics more than the other.
  • Posted By: Ben LehmanI totally embrace this in my fictional characters. In myself, it scares the crap out of me.
    Well, technically it scared the crap out of some now-dead version of you who first realized it (and then died of the change wrought by that realization). You've just inherited that fear, like a zombie curse.

    Heh. Yanking Ben's chain is fun.
  • Posted By: xenopulseYou don't need mechanics to model combat. You don't need mechanics to model social conflicts.
    No, of course not.
    Posted By: xenopulseThe question for me is: what do mechanics add in either case?
    That's a good question to start any investigation of a particular game system with. Yep.

    You're not looking for some general answer across all game groups and systems, are you?
  • No, of course not :) It's a specific inquiry question I use when evaluating game designs, mine or others.
  • This has been stuck in my head since reading it...
    Posted By: GrimmIn your example, the character you chose to play, is effectively dead. The personality is altered, possibly in a direction you wouldn't have wanted to go, and the game you sat down to play just changed from checkers to chess. Similar, but different.
    Thing is, (and Remi can correct me on this if I'm wrong) the only thing the cards told Remi is "you failed to take over the gang, and you failed big-time". He got to narrate his own failure and how it played out, so how is this a direction he wouldn't want to go? Granted, he as a player may not have wanted to fail this check, but he got a lot of say in the fallout, so how is this character now "dead" to him?
  • Posted By: GrimmAgain, it's a personal taste.
    Have you ever actually played any RPGs with social mechanics, though?

    I mean, you wrote that you prefer your way over the "other" way, but then your description of the other way is incorrect, as Judd and Colin point out. How can you make an informed decision?
  • And to jump to the other side of the table, I played in a Mortal Coil game with Remi and Judd at GenCon 2006. (You've likely heard this story before, but Chris hasn't, so bear with me.) I'm playing a somewhat-disaffected drummer in a magical punk band. Judd is playing our female manager/ex-greatest fan. I'm in a scene with my girlfriend, and it's start to become obvious that things aren't right between us and I'm feeling the pressure. I go for a walk, and Judd's character shows up. Judd pretty much immediately reaches for the chips to go into a conflict to get me to break up with my girlfriend, but I stop him. "Let's keep going," I say, and we play out the rest of the conversation. By the end of it, I've decided that we don't need a conflict, as I want my character to break up with his girlfriend. Not only that, but Judd and I have what was for me the most satisfying scene of the game.

    So, why didn't I want to go to the system? Because I didn't know if it was really a conflict. As it turns out, it wasn't. Sometimes the existence of a social conflict system will cause me to use it when I shouldn't, shortcutting what could turn out to be awesome scenes. When you've got a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.
  • edited September 2007
    For me, it's simple.

    "I stab you in the neck."
    "No, I step out of the way."

    Which one happens? I like to roll dice and deal with the result as a creative constraint, without too much fuss over what "should" happen. A good combat mechanic, to me, can produce all kinds of results, many of which we might not expect, but flow out of the situation we set up. Like, not only do I not stab you, but I end up on the ground with the knife sticking out of my chest.

    Of course, we could stand up and act out the stabbing and the dodging, and judge the result based on our movements and what we know about combat and such. We used to do this when we played our homebrew Kung Fu game, and it was fun. But now, I like the creative constraints that dice rolls bring.

    So:

    "I convince you to join our cause."
    "No, I remain resolute in my faith."

    Which one happens? I like to roll dice and deal with the results. A good social mechanic, to me, can produce all kinds of results, many of which we might not expect, but flow out of the situation we set up. Like, not only do I not convince you, but I end up feeling guilty that I even asked you in the first place.

    Of course, we could talk in-character, and judge the result of our debate based on what the characters say and what we know about human nature and such. We used to do this when we played Talislanta, and it was fun. But now, I like to give up total control and let the dice decide. We sometimes get results no one expected -- or wanted! -- when the scene began, and that's really fun.

    I think going to the dice is about giving up total control over the outcome. If this seems natural and fun to you, it's a good fit. For many, giving up total control over the physical well-being of your character is natural and fun, whereas giving up total control over the social interactions of your character is unpleasant. That's cool. The important thing is to find where your preference lies, and then play a system that supports that preference.

    And of course, preferences change. I used to be willing to play any kind of game system, but recently, the idea of playing a game that doesn't resolve social conflict with dice (or an equivalent) fills me with some dread.
  • Posted By: John HarperI think going to the dice is about giving up total control over the outcome.
    And the trick here is to make sure that no matter what the dice say, it will be awesome. Rolling dice when failure is uninteresting or when you cannot live with the result is teh suck.
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: ptevisRolling dice when failure is uninteresting or when you cannot live with the result is teh suck.
    And the GM section of SotC talks about precisely this subject, coincidentally enough. (To harken back to the thread that spawned this one.)
  • I'm really surprised nobody's mentioned stuff like Dogs, where the awesome social stuff is backed by BIG DICE.

    Like, you're a guest in someone's home and someone feeds you pancakes that are poisoned. And they want to make you eat them anyway, because otherwise you're not following the rules of politeness.

    And they Raise with:

    "I drizzle fresh maple syrup on the cakes in front of you, spoon some slightly unripe sour blackberries on top, and finish with some whipped cream straight from the cow."

    And push forward two dice reading 10 (demonic baking!) and 7.

    HOLY CRAP! What would have just been a minor altercation is now a REALLY BIG DEAL, because the innocent seeming social stuff is backed by BIG DICE that could destroy you.

    This kind of undercurrent is harder to get across without a lot more setup when there are no mechanics backing social stuff. The characters just, y'know, don't eat the pancakes and don't feel the weight of the social mores. Social mechanics are a way of giving weight to things like culture and habit, things which dominate our decisions all the time in normal life, often to the extent that we don't even know that our actions and behavior are being strictly limited.

    Which makes them potentially very yummy. More yummy than poisoned pancakes.
  • Am tempted now to write a game where there are complicated social interaction mechanics but fighting is resolved by "just role-play it out."

    yrs--
    --Ben
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: Ben LehmanAm tempted now to write a game where there are complicated social interaction mechanics but fighting is resolved by "just role-play it out."
    --Ben
    That was the joke behind my RevEng sheet, lo these many months ago. I'd still be thrilled if someone adopted my orphaned sheet.
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: Ben LehmanAm tempted now to write a game where there are complicated social interaction mechanics but fighting is resolved by "just role-play it out."
    Wasn't that the idea behind Pokerface, where instead of using cards to determine outcome of physical combat, you used physical combat to determine the outcome of cards?
  • Posted By: Judson LesterThat was the joke behind myRevEng sheet,lo these many months ago. I'd still be thrilled if someone adopted my orphaned sheet.
    "What I hate about this character" is the best data point I've ever seen on a character sheet. Kudos!
  • Posted By: John HarperFor me, it's simple.

    "I stab you in the neck."
    "No, I step out of the way."

    Which one happens? I like to roll dice and deal with the result as a creative constraint, without too much fuss over what "should" happen. A good combat mechanic, to me, can produce all kinds of results, many of which we might not expect, but flow out of the situation we set up. Like, not only do I not stab you, but I end up on the ground with the knife sticking out of my chest.

    Of course, we could stand up and act out the stabbing and the dodging, and judge the result based on our movements and what we know about combat and such. We used to do this when we played our homebrew Kung Fu game, and it was fun. But now, I like the creative constraints that dice rolls bring.

    So:

    "I convince you to join our cause."
    "No, I remain resolute in my faith."

    Which one happens? I like to roll dice and deal with the results. A good social mechanic, to me, can produce all kinds of results, many of which we might not expect, but flow out of the situation we set up. Like, not only do I not convince you, but I end up feeling guilty that I even asked you in the first place.

    My problem with the analogy, as I posted elsewhere, is that social interactions aren't as neat and tidy as physical ones. It would be a lot easier for someone to beat the crap out of me than to change my mind about my religious beliefs.

    I do like the idea posted above that you can only lose what you wager, so your willingness to have your character change is a necessary prelude to the die roll.
  • Discovering games with mechanics to resolve social conflicts was an eye-opener for me. I remember after playing my first game of Burning Wheel, which involved several Duels of Wits but only one fight, thinking that's the kind of game I want to play. I've played too many games where players wound up being frustrated because their character couldn't convince some other character with charm, or witty banter, or deception, simply because the other player was unwilling to be convinced (or hoodwinked or whatever). I had this exactly happen at Dexcon, playing Unistat--at least initially. My character was rightfully accused of deceiving the others. I refused to confess, and the other characters refused to believe my lies. Impasse. But Unistat uses its conflict resolution system for all conflicts, including social conflicts. So we rolled dice. But we didn't roll until all the players were happy with the stakes of the roll. Agreeing that losing the roll would change what their character's _thought_ was too much for some players, but they were willing to allow the conflict result to affect what the character did. I've used the game as the basis for Episode 12 of Virtual Play. Having the means to resolve the social conflict via mechanics was necessary to continuing that game because none of us were going to reach consensus by roleplaying. One of us might have given in, and the game might have gone on, but the fun would have been over.
    Mel
  • edited September 2007
    I hear ya, Joe.

    For me, though, what should or would happen isn't a big concern when I play an RPG. I just want cool and fun outcomes. Changing opinions, betrayals, and reversals of faith can be cool and fun, so I want those in play. The fact that they may not be common or "realistic" is irrelevant to me. Actually, I specifically do NOT want my game system to be based on realism or most-likely outcomes. I want dramatic arcs, characters who don't always act rationally or optimally, and protagonists who change. And I like to use game mechanics to cue those results, rather than freeform play.

    This issue of social combat also touches on matters of authority at the game table, which is really the root issue, for me. I write more about it over here in the parent thread.

    EDIT: To summarize my comments in the other thread:
    In a game without social mechanics, the effectiveness of your social-manipulator character is determined solely by the fiat of your fellow players. You have no recourse in the system to achieve your character's goals. If another player says, "No, you don't convince me," then that's it. You just don't. I don't like this kind of thing when I play an RPG. When I play, I want conflicts to be resolved in a consistent manner -- without resorting to fiat -- regardless of whether they are physical, social, or some other thing.
  • You don't *need* mechanics for anything, per se, you can always freeform. But good designed mechanics will steer play in certain directions, making certain outcomes & themes easier to achieve. Good mechanics shift certain creative burdens from player skill to systematic methods. That's what there good for.
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: buzzI mean, you wrote that you prefer your way over the "other" way, but then your description of the other way is incorrect, as Judd and Colin point out. How can you make an informed decision?
    Which was my point in my original post on the other thread. First play, then speak. At least, if you're going to speak adamantly.
    Posted By: ptevisSometimes the existence of a social conflict system will cause me to use it when I shouldn't, shortcutting what could turn out to be awesome scenes. When you've got a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.
    I had this thought when listening to your story on the For A Few Games More episode. It seemed like the reason that story is about a pivotal point was that you had both come to an impasse over 30 or so sessions. I wonder if you would have let it drag out so long if you had had a mechanic to resolve the conflict ready to hand all along, thus robbing it of the impact it had in the game. It points out that not all conflicts need to be resolved in any one particular scene, but can carry forward from scene to scene without resolution, building to an ultimate showdown.
    Posted By: ptevisRolling dice when failure is uninteresting or when you cannot live with the result is teh suck.
    Amen! That works for physical things too, like opening a lock or climbing a wall. Failure should be interesting!
    Posted By: John Harpercharacters who don't always act rationally or optimally
    It seems to me that the people that are devoted to modeling the ins and outs of physical things often don't want to model things that are social in nature. They want to have the dice decide if the demon eats them, but not if they fall in love with the girl or become overwhelmed with passion or are wrought with doubt. But those things happen to people and are not always under conscious control. I guess its about control over your character. Its ok if something stomps them into goo, but if they want to affect their thoughts, someone better be spending spell points to do it.
  • First off I'd like to say that I'm pretty pleased with how this thread turned out (although I'd like some more AP examples, thank you Paul and Chris and Jonathan!) I apologize for not responding to more of the content, but I wanted to hit this one point before going to bed.
    Posted By: Grimm
    In your example, the character you chose to play, is effectively dead. The personality is altered, possibly in a direction you wouldn't have wanted to go, and the game you sat down to play just changed from checkers to chess. Similar, but different. Sometimes, that's ok, but not always. And not for everyone. I'd rather leave the options open, and let my players decide what's fun for them, then let leave their game to the mechanics. Again, it's a personal taste.
    Wow, I don't see this at all in the story I wrote! How cool! What has changed that I don't want? I narrated my defeat. I set the scope of the conflict (the conversation on being able to leave certain things OFF the table in a social conflict is an important aspect). This was an important point for the character, and I had backed that up heavily through the system, which gave the Producer an idea of how to play the scene with me. I can see very little difference, in terms of outcome, between what happened to my character and what happened to Talos who went on a round-trip journey of discovery.

    Is it that it was a rapid change? This was well into session two-of-five, and I entered the conflict in order to feel more connected to something in the fiction. The conflict was between Hugo and Miguel, both well-established characters with mutual personal history. I made a big gambit and lost, and paid the price. It thrust me into new and incredibly exciting situations, but it wasn't like I was playing a character with none of the drives or personality of the one I started the game with. Hugo ended up with a more complicated relationship to the gang he was infiltrating than he did initially. Talos boiled over, got in a fight, and ended up showing his irresponsibility, giving power to another PC. Both characters changed pretty radically, it sounds like, but Miguel reached a tipping point and fell over, whereas the Talos reached points of change through slow build-up and smaller actions across a longer time.

    Both of these stories occured as a part of different, but still organic, processes. I haven't played a game longer than 5 sessions in years, so I doubt that I could achieve that slow build effect you got, but I think it would be difficult for you to rapidly build and resolve a transformative social conflict in a satisfying way like I did without some sort of system support. That's neither here nor there, though. Now I want to know more about how you play a dynamic character in a all-social-stuff-is-RP game.

    BTW, I love the mutualism in your and Paul's stories, but an awful lot of it seems to happen in the character's heads. Or is it OK to say, "The way your Paladin is acting is making me lose faith in heroes" and the other person will say, "Awesome! Lets see where it takes us!" I totally love going to the system, but having more examples like these as to when to ease off and let it ride are really instructive.
  • edited September 2007
    OK, AP examples...my first time running Dogs a few weeks ago in preparation for running it at Gateway. Holly is one of the first up to bat with an accomplishment she wanted to get from her training at Bridal Falls temple. Her character has the trait "used to drink" so she wants to play that out and resist temptation. I think for a sec and then put her into conflict with a crate full of contraband alchohol that one of the Dogs has seized. She plays her character trying to avoid the temptation to drink, I'm playing the bottles of whiskey glinting in the lamplight and filling her nostrils with the scents she knows so well. I start with the bottles just talking, calling to her, catching her eye. She pushes the crate away from her. She notices one of the corks has come loose, she sees me with steeling herself against the pull of the bottle and stoppering the bottle. That's when the bottles escalate to physical (no new dice because this is an accomplishment conflict) a drop of whiskey is on her fingertip, so close to her mouth. In the end she had the dice to overcome the battle and put the whiskey in the cellar under lock and key, taking d6 physical fallout. We definitely could have played something like this out through conversation, but the fact that the dice were going to decide who won and which raises were BIG and which blows landed gave everything an edge.
  • Remi

    I think it does come down to that it was a rapid change. There are times I want to savor a character's hang ups, etc. Mechanics Talos boiling over was a choice I made as a player to do.

    Which, ultimately, is a matter of taste. The Paladin's interaction with me was his decision, my recation was mine. I prefer that. Rather than your character is going to change now, describe how.


    buzz -

    Have I ever played a SotC or Burning Wheel or any of the 'new ones'?

    No.

    Have I ever used mechanics to handle a socialsituation?

    Yes. And it felt superflous. It wasn't that the rules weren' t good. They just seemed pointless. I never looked at the social section and said... God, I wish I could just roll some dice and handle this.
  • In a Hero's Banner game I had a social conflict with a character in which he (the Crowned Prince) wanted my backing (a Mark Lord), in his rebellion against his mad father. My character thought the lordling prince was just as mad and playing against my piety, but the rolls led to him winning in the conflict. I had to relent something (manpower) due to social pressure and the fear he might win without my help (eek!), but it didn't change my mind about the character, nor did it stop me from working out alliances to bolster my power should he lose or be a madman. Had this played out without the dice, I probably never would've relented to the pressures of the society, and just booted the prince's ass out into the cold, and that would've been in character for my character, but sometimes no matter what you feel, you're backed into a corner by social forces and you've got to give in, sometimes a little, sometimes alot. Note, that my character never changed his mind, there was absolutely zero mind control, but the pressure of the Prince's social power forced me into a corner.
  • Posted By: GrimmYes. And it felt superflous. It wasn't that the rules weren' t good. They just seemed pointless. I never looked at the social section and said... God, I wish I could just roll some dice and handle this.
    Dude! That's exactly what the difference in perception is, here. Fantastic, fantastic. This is the cusp of things.

    For you, a social mechanic is "rolling some dice and handling it". It is, in essence, encountering a social situation and ending it with a roll of the dice.

    For those of us who really dig the social mechanics, it's the exact opposite of that experience. When the right social mechanics come into play it starts something new, exciting, unexpected, and resonant. For us, the mechanic lubricates play -- it keeps it going and flowing, and prevents things from getting hung up on impasses.

    Man, that is just a vital difference in play. If you're using your social mechanics systems to end things, then you're definitely not going to enjoy them. I wouldn't either.
  • jznjzn
    edited September 2007
    Posted By: Jonathan WaltonLike, you're a guest in someone's home and someone feeds you pancakes that are poisoned. And they want to make you eat them anyway, because otherwise you're not following the rules of politeness.

    And they Raise with:

    "I drizzle fresh maple syrup on the cakes in front of you, spoon some slightly unripe sour blackberries on top, and finish with some whipped cream straight from the cow."

    And push forward two dice reading 10 (demonic baking!) and 7.

    HOLY CRAP! What would have just been a minor altercation is now a REALLY BIG DEAL, because the innocent seeming social stuff is backed by BIG DICE that could destroy you.
    When I read that example, I don't see dice making the narration more important. I see narration that is totally meaningless, tacked on to a dice move in a gambling game. It's a big deal that he's trying to poison you, but the narration of how appetizing the stuff looked is just flavor. When I've played dogs, I felt that the dice were not supporting the narrative "moves", so much as forcing us to say stuff while we played a dice game.

    I haven't played much Dogs, just 2 one shots, so it's possible the game just hasn't "clicked" with me, yet.
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: jznWhen I've played dogs, I felt that the dice were not supporting the narrative "moves", so much as forcing us to say stuff while we played a dice game.
    Interesting, I have the opposite experience. Saying stuff, but the dice flavoring how cutting a remark it really was and everyone reacting to the "blow" based on a combination of what was said and what the dice showed.

    OK another AP example. This time Burning Wheel. We ran Luke Crane's con scenario at Gateway a week ago and I'm playing the Dwarf Senechal. The elves want to use elvish ettiquette while they are in the hold, we demand Dwarfish Btw: customs be followed....Duel of Wits! The verbal volleys went back and forth with me using my amazing Stentorial Debate skill and the foppish elf all charm and persuasion aided by his generation spanning knowledge. I get the upperhand and punish him severely, but then the damn elves start singing their fucking song of wonderment and I stand drooling for two volleys. The tricky elves win, but have to give a major concession. So, its decided elvish ettiquette during the formal negotiations in the throne room, dwarvish ettiquette outside the throne room! And then, since dwarves have scene framing powers in this scenario, we immediately close the scene and frame the next scene in the dining hall three days later. Ha!

    Have I mentioned how much I love all the threads that this discussion has spawned? Thank you Chris for triggering an amazing storm of awesomeness!

    Edit: The scenario above is called The Gift
  • Posted By: John HarperFor me, though, what should or would happen isn't a big concern when I play an RPG. I just want cool and fun outcomes. Changing opinions, betrayals, and reversals of faith can be cool and fun, so I want those in play. The fact that they may not be common or "realistic" is irrelevant to me. Actually, I specifically do NOT want my game system to be based on realism or most-likely outcomes. I want dramatic arcs, characters who don't always act rationally or optimally, and protagonists who change.
    I agree with most of those. And yet, I've seen all of them in games without coercive social mechanics, so I don't inherently see any of it as a reason to favor one over the other. I constantly see characters role-played in non-optimal, non-rational ways. And I see protagonists who change in dramatic arcs. And particularly when it is in the genre to do so, I see characters played in unrealistic ways.

    For example, the Ripper campaign was a Call of Cthulhu game where we ditched the Sanity rules and instead played through our characters crumbling sanity. Most of the players grabbed this with fervor.

    I understand using mechanics as a personal preference, but I think it's being tied up with the idea of reversals of faith, betrayal, changing opinions, and so forth.

    I have an old article on the uses of mechanics for character behavior that expresses my thoughts on the usefulness of such mechanics (and I do think they have their uses):

    "Personality Mechanics"
  • Posted By: GrimmHave I ever used mechanics to handle a socialsituation?

    Yes. And it felt superflous. It wasn't that the rules weren' t good. They just seemed pointless. I never looked at the social section and said... God, I wish I could just roll some dice and handle this.
    I'd be curious to know what mechanics in what RPG. Because, honestly, what exists in games like D&D and HERO don't count, IMO.*

    * FYI, I play D&D more than any other RPG. HERO used to be the runner-up. Ergo, I am not talking from a standpoint of snobbishness.
  • I asked about this issue recently on the Shadow of Yesterday forum, and Eero Tuovinen gave me an interesting answer:

    http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=24086.msg235632#msg235632

    My philosophy is that the player does not have a pregorative to decide that his character, say, loves character X. Rather, whether the character loves, and what that love means in practice, is very much found out via the application of the conflict resolution system. Is the love strong enough to stand the tempting advances of the witch? Is the character so bound by the love that he forsakes his country? We find these things out in conflict.
    So, looking at it this way, if your PC is persuaded to do something that seems out of character... then clearly you didn't know him very well. He's not quite the guy you thought he was.

    I don't know about anyone else, but I find that idea quite exciting.
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: noclueHave I mentioned how much I love all the threads that this discussion has spawned? Thank you Chris for triggering an amazing storm of awesomeness!
    Amen to that! I've been having a hard time staying away from my computer for very long because every time I come back, there's something insightful to read.
  • John Kim: Absolutely! Freeform can, by definition almost, handle any and all kinds of play. If you use freeform for social/persona stuff, then you certainly can choose to play betrayals, reversals, protagonists who change, etc. I didn't mean to imply that social mechanics were the only way to get that stuff. I was answering Joe's concerns specifically in my reply.

    For me, the issue is who has authority over those betrayals, reversals, and changes in protags, and the methods used at the table to arrive at the results -- not so much the results themselves.
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: jhkima Call of Cthulhu game where we ditched the Sanity rules and instead played through our characters crumbling sanity.
    I'd totally play that!
    Posted By: John HarperFor me, the issue is who has authority over those betrayals, reversals, and changes in protags, and the methods used at the table to arrive at the results -- not so much the results themselves.
    Exactly, and the dice resolution can lead off in unexpected paths that I don't think would easily be reached through freeform RP. In the BW example I posted above. If we just argued it out at the table and then rolled v. int or something, we would not have likely come up with the elves winning but having to concede something to the dwarves.

    I do think its fair to say that this kind of mechanic works best in games where the GMs authority is diluted somewhat. If the GM has total control over everything except the PC, I understand the negative gut reaction to having that control seized from you and decided by mechanics. But in games where you get to change the narrative and influence NPCs, then ceding some control of your character becomes easier.
  • I find that social mechanics really serve to empower the player -- not take power away. They provide another data point to use during character portrayal. If you've done improv where someone adjusts status and emotional levels you'll see the same basic mechanism. Players in both use the benchmark to guide them and can step into character portrayal more decisively. The dice say "be cooler," or "be lamer," so you have direction to chew on.

    The only problem comes about when you get middling results, because they don't provide any direction.

    Social contests also outline the scene beforehand, but in those cases all participants give power to the dice so no one person's being picked on. Again, this eases portrayal, but a deterministic moment is not always to taste.
  • Posted By: noclue
    Have I mentioned how much I love all the threads that this discussion has spawned? Thank you Chris for triggering an amazing storm of awesomeness!

    Hey I'm glad I could help.

    Ultimately, anything that makes people question gaming status quo is a good thing. If I did anything that pushed that forward, then it was all worth it. A lot of thanks go to noclue for having the guts to say "Hey. I think you're wrong." It's why I hope I can keep my forums open to dissent, and not just have a bunch of people who agree with me. It's not really all that fun, and my ego sure doesn't need the help. I hope even people who might not listen to the podcast will stop by and challenge some of our forum users from time to time, just to keep them from getting complacent.
  • I've had a time when I would have paid good money for a social mechanic.

    The Great Pendragon Campaign, Anarchy Phase. Five knights in counsel about the fate of Sarum and moreover the passive or aggressive military stance we should take against the Saxons and our neighbours. One character, fully in-character, was all about expansion and aggression. One character (me), fully in-character, was all about careful stewardship and observation. We debated. And debated. And argued. And argued. Forty-five minutes later, not one inch had been given. In some ways it had moved beyond RP and into something else, like a tussle of player intellects and knowledge.

    It was at THAT moment that I realised what social mechanics were for. Something that could have allowed us to mechanically use our other traits to persuade the Countess of the validity of our actions or something that could have dramatically represented a climbdown. Sure, one of us could have voluntarily climbed down, but this was the impasse that slowed the game to a crawl. Never again.

    Neil
  • Posted By: vodkashokIt was at THAT moment that I realised what social mechanics were for. Something that could have allowed us to mechanically use our other traits to persuade the Countess of the validity of our actions or something that could have dramatically represented a climbdown. Sure, one of us could have voluntarily climbed down, but this was the impasse that slowed the game to a crawl. Never again.
    Hmmm... was it full-blown social mechanics that you really needed? Or did you just need to notice when freeforming the conflict had stopped being rewarding, and go to OOC discussion or to a coin toss?

    (The coin toss, I suppose, would be a rudimentary, made-up-on-the-spot social mechanic, but it's an extremely crude one and only really suitable for this kind of impasse. It's not Duel of Wits in any sense.)

    This is perhaps a job that a trad-role GM needs to take on, more than anybody else. He's got the perspective to spot when this is happening. Any other players whose PCs aren't involved in the argument need to take responsibility, too, and make an OOC interruption when they're bored stiff.


    yours,
    rob
  • Hell, I think you did resolve the situation. The resolution was: crippled by internal strife, the knights could neither mount a powerful campaign nor a careful gathering of intelligence.

    But I know whatcha mean.
  • It seems to me that much of this come down to the difference of focusing on realism or focusing on drama.

    With realism you do not want the characters to change too fast, and you want that two characters can stay in disagreement for a long time, because this is how people are in real life. For people who want this can feel that they lose contact with their character if it change in what they do not feel is natural.

    With drama you want the characters to change a lot, because it is what is most dramatic and what keeps the story going. For people who want this is most interested in characters who go through a lot of hard conflicts.

    I have seen social mechanics work well in both of these cases. When you take the realistic approach the trick is to let the player agree on if/how his character change, both in case of success and failure.

    - Anders
  • Another example from actual play. We had two players with characters that didn't trust each other's motivations. One wanted an encrypted computer file that had information about him, hidden behind a lot of security; the other was the one that was to get the file, but wanted to be able to verify that he's grabbing the correct file. So we started off with freeform role-play and it became evident that the first character wasn't going to give up any personal information to the second character and that the second character wouldn't act without any personal information, this despite the second character having been stated out to be really good at negotiations and the first one not.

    If we just let the players deal with conflicts based on which player was more persuasive -- or in this case, with players that wouldn't budge -- there really is no way to make the social conflict fit what the characters are about. We went to a straight up roll using some of the social skills that are in the game and the first player had to give up something. Even though he didn't want to, the negotiations moved to him divulging some personal information. That happened, and the game went on.

    If we didn't have that, we'd be at an impasse, and it would have eaten up a good chunk of time getting to that impasse.
  • Posted By: Joe Beason
    My problem with the analogy, as I posted elsewhere, is that social interactions aren't as neat and tidy as physical ones. It would be a lot easier for someone to beat the crap out of me than to change my mind about my religious beliefs.
    Well, sure Joe. Of course. Those situations aren't weighted equivalently. Changing your religious beliefs is weighted more like mortally wounding you. I've seen this imbalance quoted all over the threads here dealing with social vs physical. "Everyone" seems worried about these deep changes that should take several conflicts to resolve being wrapped up by one die roll. That would be a strange mechanic to me. But something that allowed one to nibble away at your resolve, slowly show you the "errors" of your beliefs, and finally convert you should take a long time view.
  • Posted By: Joe BeasonMy problem with the analogy, as I posted elsewhere, is that social interactions aren't as neat and tidy as physical ones. It would be a lot easier for someone to beat the crap out of me than to change my mind about my religious beliefs.
    I disagree. Or to be more accurate, the relevancy of your point depends on what the game is about. If the game features a fictional world in which the PC is essentially the player's avatar who the PC directs through interactions with that world, then you make a good point. However, if the game is about creating collaborative narrative, and the PC is a protagonist in that narrative, changing a protagonist's mind is no harder than beating the crap out of them. I will demonstrate thusly:

    I can say "I kick the crap out of you" in 7 words.
    I can say "I change your mind" in 4 words.
  • Posted By: QHudspeth
    Well, sure Joe. Of course. Those situations aren't weighted equivalently. Changing your religious beliefs is weighted more like mortally wounding you. I've seen this imbalance quoted all over the threads here dealing with social vs physical. "Everyone" seems worried about these deep changes that should take several conflicts to resolve being wrapped up by one die roll. That would be a strange mechanic to me. But something that allowed one to nibble away at your resolve, slowly show you the "errors" of your beliefs, and finally convert you should take a long time view.
    Thing is, the discussion here and in other threads don't point to nibbling-away mechanics, or social interactions over long periods of time. It's the here and now. "My character seduces yours." "No, he doesn't." "Roll. Ha!" "Well, shit." And the seducee walks away from the table unhappy about the game.

    Posted By: noclue
    I disagree. Or to be more accurate, the relevancy of your point depends on what the game is about. If the game features a fictional world in which the PC is essentially the player's avatar who the PC directs through interactions with that world, then you make a good point. However, if the game is about creating collaborative narrative, and the PC is a protagonist in that narrative, changing a protagonist's mind is no harder than beating the crap out of them. I will demonstrate thusly:

    I can say "I kick the crap out of you" in 7 words.
    I can say "I change your mind" in 4 words.
    If I play a game where I know up front that the equality of physical change and psychological change is equal, I'll be more into it. But folks are suggesting applying the social mechanics even in games with strong character identification.
  • Posted By: Joe BeasonThing is, the discussion here and in other threads don't point to nibbling-away mechanics, or social interactions over long periods of time. It's the here and now. "My character seduces yours." "No, he doesn't." "Roll. Ha!" "Well, shit." And the seducee walks away from the table unhappy about the game.
    And how is that different from "My Character stabs yours in the face." "No he doesn't." "Roll. Ha!" "Well, Shit."?

    I mean, I'm sure we can all come up with virtual worst cases for any rule that might lead to unfun play, but that's not really an argument against rules, is that?
    Posted By: Joe BeasonBut folks are suggesting applying the social mechanics even in games with strong character identification.
    They are?
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: Joe BeasonThing is, the discussion here and in other threads don't point to nibbling-away mechanics, or social interactions over long periods of time. It's the here and now. "My character seduces yours." "No, he doesn't." "Roll. Ha!" "Well, shit." And the seducee walks away from the table unhappy about the game.
    But that wouldn't come up in any social mechanics that I've seen. Let's use Dogs as an example, although it could be Spirit of the Century, Primetime Adventures, HeroQuest and others just as easily.

    If you go "What's at stake is, does your character get seduced?"
    Then I go, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. My character doesn't swing that way. It would never happen."

    Then a different tactic is needed. You might go, "No, see, I've got 5 bottles of wine, I'm going take advantage of you one way or another." And I could keep saying no, or I could respond, "Yikes. Okay, I want to see how this plays out."

    Or you might be stumped and I might say, "What are you really after with the seduction?" And we might find out that you really want to expose your character's attraction, or instead, you want some information I have, or some object. The key is finding what you really want. I haven't been in a situation where what a player really wanted was completely shut down.

    It's just like stabbing another player character in the face. Put it that way, that sounds terrible and potentially game/friendship ending. It's the "why are you stabbing me in the face?" that makes it a great story. And that's what sells other players on giving into the risk of going to dice.

    If Brutus decided to backstab Caesar just because with his x4 multiplier gave him a good shot at killing him, it would have been an incredibly boring story.
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: Lord Minx

    I mean, I'm sure we can all come up with virtual worst cases for any rule that might lead to unfun play, but that's not really an argument against rules, is that?

    It's not virtual, it's an example from someone's sotC session, mentioned in one of the many threads that have sprunbg up around this topic. It was my immediate "oh, yes, that is icky" agreement when I read the post that has fed my discussion on this topic.
    Posted By: Alvin Frewer
    But that wouldn't come up in any social mechanics that I've seen.
    This makes no sense. Of course it would come up, because it did come up.
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