Rules for Social Interaction


Role-playing games use dice to resolve events and simulate results that are out of the control of the intentions of the character. When a character wants to say something, they can; when they want to pick up a stone and hurl it, they can. What they cannot control is whether the stone hits what they want -- or whether the words have the impact that they want. It the RPG world that is resolved by the dice.

The problem is that these situations are not similar. It is difficult to have a unified set of rules that take a consistent approach to both social and physical combat while allowing the flavour of each contest to be preserved.

Social combat is :
talking your way passed a guard
charming a barmaid
swaying a crowd
convincing a judge of your innocence
changing someones opinion

One can argue that social combat should have no rules attached. You could make the same argument for physical combat. The argument goes: Let the description of the players merge with the combined will of the group, the inclination of the referee, and the impact on the story. In this way you have preserved limitless freedom of the players. With one big caveat... freedom to succeed of fail at the discretion of the referee. All players know that any success they have is based on the disposition of the referee. They can reward bad playing as well as good playing. They define what is bad playing and good playing. They can have any agenda they choose.

To most players, that level of open-ended play is not satisfactory. They can enjoy it for a while, but after a while they give up. They bend and warp to play to the referee, not the world. The narrative story loses its importance and the sub-textual cues of the GM become all-important. A great GM, immune from any impartiality, able to discern and adjudicate perfectly, may be able to avoid the inevitable crash of a game-without-rules, but most will fail. Many fail quickly and miserably.

A game without rules must fail because it is not a game without rule -- It is a game with one rule. The single eye of Sauron (the GM) adjudicates all things. One rule to ring them all.

A game that is all rule and no heart is similarly doomed. The clatter of dice and off-topic conversation dominates this game. At this point we may as well take up Yatzee.

So, we add rules to our roleplaying experience.

A good rule:

Is similar to the other rules in the game and is easy to learn.
It doesn't interfere with the imagination of the player.
It has measurable results.

What are your favourite social combat rules?

Here is an example from my magnum-opus...

All characters have six personality traits to develop. You assign six points to these traits. Your character earns experience based on how you assign these points.

Daring (Body), Physique (Body), Quickness/Alertness(Mind), Insight (Mind), Volition (Spirit),Artistry (Spirit)

These are used to evaluate your progress in the game. If you have assign more points to Physique, your character must be solving problems with strength, stamina, and endurance. This helps tie the action of the game to the advancement of the character. It also helps set up the various roles in the role-playing game.

Each trait has three skills. These form the 18 core skills of the game. There are no stats for strength, etc. Everything is based off of the core skills.

Clutch! Daring
Hit! Daring
Move! Daring
Lift! Physique
Shrug! Physique
Stay! Physique
Invent! Insight
Know! Insight
Study! Insight
Act! Quickness
Aim! Quickness
Dodge! Quickness
Charm! Artistry
Make! Artistry
See! Artistry
Believe! Volition
Control! Volition
Will! Volition

These 18 skills are always evaluated the same way. You roll two of your skill dice and add the results. You get to add a bonus for a piece of equipment that can help you. Many narrated sequences can run outside of the action queue since the order of actions is not required.
Players can always perform three actions concurrently (one is always “Act!” – the ability to change what you are doing). This allows players to focus on certain skills. If a skill is not “loaded” it can only be used passively/defensively. This is much weaker than active.
Success is measured in crowns. If I achieve the roll I need I get a single crown to spend. If I double what I need I get two crowns…etc. Core skills have very basic crowns.
Special skills relate to a core skill but only work in special situations or with specific equipment. For instance, you can only use swordsmanship with certain kinds of items. This gives you better bonuses, faster speeds, and different “tricks” that you can do with your crowns. Anyone can pick up a sword and hit with it (using HIT!), but without training you lack speed, precision, and specific turns, counter-attacks, and deflections that are invaluable in actual combat.
Social skills have “tricks” too. A debater may be able to confuse someone he is talking with as a “crown” of the debating skill (in the Charm core skill) in the same way that a swordsman can disarm an opponent by spending two crowns on a parry.
Skill preferences are special circumstances that give bonus conditions to skills. A skill preference can be as broad as a creature that gets a bonus on all skills at night, to a cultist who gets a bonus to their Shrug! Skill in the presence of blood.
This system accounts for equipment, disposition, and the strategic desires of the player. Players combine their actions for synergies. A debate could use Charm! and Know! together, but a character could also use Charm! and Act!. Instead of trying to out-think the debate, they use timing to rapid-fire some points or respond quickly. They attempt to take control of the conversation. A religious orator would use Charm and Believe. The core skill of debate is charm, but using a synergy allows you to activate the crowns/tricks of the other core skill.
The game can run in narrative action or several levels of sequenced action. Sequenced action is timed. The sequencer can run in fast, normal, or slow-motion action by changing the chunks of time that advance and how much you can do in a chunk. A character running, for instance, takes a 15 ft step during normal sequenced action, but a 45 ft step in fast action, or 5 ft in slow-motion. Moving among narrative action and sequenced action, or speeding up or slowing down time is easy. It gives the GM more tools to control the flow of the game. At the “mop-up” section of combat the speed may be increased to resolve it quickly – even resolved in the narrative timeflow. This gives the GM the option to segue into narrative action at any time.
Every skill has a speed so that it can be loaded into the Action queue when you a running in detailed action. It is unlikely that social contests are run in sequenced action, but it can be.

Example :
The rain is falling heavy on the snow. Forming a icy crust beneath your feet the ground is cold and treacherous; a thin mist forms at ground level.
The manor is made of a number of smaller buildings connected by indoor walkways. There are two archways – one leading to the upper courtyard, one leading to the lower. Both have guards positioned outside. From the lower courtyard you see the sights and sounds of tradespeople hard at work. The festival celebrations start in the morning if you are a Lord or a Maiter of the Estate. The servants will see the sun dip before any celebration can begin for them.
Blacksmiths, coopers, tanners, bakers, and cooks are all bustling below. While the doors are shut, most have the windows open.
Mike: “I approach a Guard at the upper Gate and Charm him with my Charm Skill.”
GM “What do you do? Blow him a kiss?”
Mike: “I ask him to let us pass, as we are important people.”
GM: “Okay, that isn’t a very effective tactic against a guard who has explicit orders to only let certain people in. He believes strongly in what he is doing. Roll against an 8, but take a penalty condition.”
Mike: [rolls 3d12 and gets a 7,4,12] an eleven – 1 crown. I’ll spend it on [checks notes]…making him friendly towards me.
GM: The guard shifts uneasily in his position. He begins to stammer. He looks around for someone he can ask or get a second opinion from, but sees nobody. He apologizes that he can’t help.
Rick: I go down to the lower entrance. I ask the guard about the festival preparations.
GM: They’ve been at it since early this morning. Extra guests are coming in, so the cooks been in town getting more food. The quartermaster got some more chairs and a table… but they aren’t to the ladies likin. They brought in craftsmen to alter them to her tastes. What’s yer business?
Rick- Waitin. [Rick pauses to think how he should play this. The guard doesn’t mind the pause] We are supposed to be pickin something up. We were told to meet here and wait for Lord Medron to show up and tell us what we are to do.
I take another long pause.
Don’t suppose we could wait inside?
GM: Roll your charm. I will give you a bonus condition, because the story sounds plausible. The target is an 8.
Rick: [Rolls 3d8 and gets a 3,3,5] Eight…spot on. I’ll spend my crown to make the guard see me as a credible source of information.
GM: We better wait, says the Guard. I’d let you through if I could. [The guard is now inclined to doubt the need to keep the player out. This doubt means that he will be open to other, less drastic, assistance like providing information or general assistance.]
Rick: I am right at the archway to the lower courtyard. What do I see beyond? Is there anyone there who could help me?
GM: Wet and cold and miserable, you look to the warm fires of the kitchen. The tantalizing scent of butter and warm yeast spews out the window in gusts. Working inside a large matronly woman tends to the cooking.
Rick: When she looks at me I shiver, sneeze, and then smile at her.
GM: Roll your charm. She is a5. Take two penalty conditions for the distance and fleeting nature of the attempt; but take a bonus for appealing to her motherly nature with the sneeze..
Rick:[Rolls 3d8 and gets 5,5,6] Ten!
GM: She stops what she is doing and sends a servant girl out to bring you and the guard a mug of grog each.
Mike: I come over to where they are down below.
GM: The three of you spend some time sipping on the warm grog and complaining about the weather.
Mike: Using my sleight of hand training I attempt to make the guard spill his grog.
GM: You can test against the Guard’s Act! It is a seven.
Mike [smiles] Good to know. [Rolls dice 2d8 and gets a 5 and a 3]. Eight
GM: The grog splashes on the front of the guard’s coat.
Mike: Damn! Are you okay? Let me go inside and I will get you another mug and a clean surcoat. I would hate to think what they would do if they saw you with a stained coat.
GM Roll your charm. You can take a bonus condition for his desire for some more grog. But, also take a +5 bonus for the shirt. It acts like a piece of equipment that is helping you with your skill.. Like the other guard, He is an eight.
Mike: [Rolls a 4,12, and 7] Twenty-Four! I bamboozle him! [He has tripled the check required.. so he knows that good things are about to happen. Note that the math that makes this up is 12+7 for the check and +5 for the shirt. He has three crowns to spend; plenty to spend on getting what you want.]
GM: The guard stretches out his hand and points. I have another coat in my barracks. Through there. Thanks for helping me out.
Mike: [smiles]
Rick: Nicely done.

In this example Mike’s character made the exact same roll against the second guard as he did against the first, but the result was completely different. The mechanism of the game allows the players to spend time setting up their actions.
Without the setup the deck was stacked against them. Once they look around and gathered tools to do the job (a stained coat and an empty mug) they had set up conditions more favourable for the result that they want – in this case charming their way past the guard.

Here are some crowns for the Charm! skill:

To make someone act against their own interest to assist. (3 crowns)
Betray a secret. (3 crowns)
Ignore a strongly held opinion. (2 crowns)
Change their opinion about a topic. (2 crowns)
Give on-topic information. (2 crowns)
Give off-topic information. (1 crown)
Act against fear (transfer a crown of success to them to overcome fear)
Believe that you have spoken truth. (1 crown)
Give minor assistance (2 crowns).

In my opinion this encourages the players to interact with the environment and allows them to shape the role-playing experience. The player is able to steer the role-playing more directly while not giving away the function of the Game Moderator to act on behalf of what-is-hidden.

Does anyone have any thoughts or comments?

Wow, your system is really...crunchy lol. I like the build up, that's really interesting. I could see this being quite fun in combat. Almost like a cross between D&D, WoD, and the Fate system. That's pretty cool.

I'm generally not the biggest fan of social rolls, especially in games like D&D and WoD, where they're practically useless, excepting the bluff rolls. I tend to roleplay until I feel the need to decide a conflict based on dice instead of player skill. Because some players aren't as charming as others, or as quick thinking, etc., I also tend to allow input from others, and even suggest things myself. It's always awesome when the hero has a pithy comment :)

The social system I like best really falls under the system I like best, which is Dogs in the Vineyards. The basic mechanic is you have a list of things you can do well (or poorly) in addition to basic stats, all of which are represented through a number of various kinds of dice (ie 2d8 or 1d4). You pick up everything that applies to the conflict at hand and roll it, then order them according to result. This is effectively your poker hand, and everyone tries to beat the opponent by a series of calls, antes, etc. The best part is that if you look at your dice and realize you're getting low and might not win the conflict, you can escalate it, which means you do something to redefine it. If it started out as an argument, you can decide to punch the person, meaning you get more dice to roll from the stats that involves and skills and such. I love this, because the conflict itself doesn't change, as per the cumbersome change to combat with D&D, but the tension mounts. Obviously, the more one escalates things the more dramatic the consequences will be. It's an incredibly elegant way to play out a conflict, the give and take inherent to it, and, best of all, the notion of value. You're forced at every moment to decide how much you care about what's at stake here, especially when escalating. Sometimes it's best not to start a gunfight over the temperature of the stew. It continually hammers in the consequences of every action in a tense series of reactions and decision points. I love it.

I am sure it seems crunchy at first, but I can't find any way to include the elements I want in an interaction without those rules.

If we have a pass-or-fail roll (on a d20 lets say) then I am able to win the encounter with a roll. That isn't really so bad. What I don't like is:

No partial success.
The difficulties don't scale.
They aren't tied to the choices/narrative.
Don't suffer a capricious GM.

There is no partial success. The simple version of my method is that 1 crown is partial success, 2 is success, and three is brilliant success. Crowns are evaluated in detail where needed. I scale the rules elliptically as well. Note that you could play with just three statistics (Mind,Body,Spirit) or with Six (Daring, Alertness, Volition, Insight, Artistry, Physique) or with 18(The core list). An NPC may just have 3 stats and 1 skill. You can go deeper into the rules when needed, or stay at the top level -- just like controlling the flow of time from narrative to detailed sequence.
Partial success is important because it allows the game to move forward even if they don't succeed at a roll. I wouldn't have phrased it in those terms until I read The Burning Wheel. It resonated with me how important failure was to the flow of a roleplaying game -- how interesting -- and how poorly a d20 system does to address it. If you fail a roll you should be given options that are only slightly savoury. They still lead to something eventually, but you have to work past them.

Difficulties don't scale. Throwing a judo master on his back is very difficult. If a judo master has a clutch of 12, you aren't going to slam him to his back (36) but you may just trip him up. I guess it goes to partial success again. The scale as a factor is more organic than the (10,15,20) linear scale that is presented in many games.

Got to go for now... more later.

Love to hear it. I've been sorely tempted to buy Burning Wheel, mostly because I've been looking for a fantasy system that appeals to me, since D&D grew stale a while ago and I'm more crunchy than Scott, for instance. I'm particularly interested in Luke Crane's thoughts on combat.

I agree that partial success is very important, particularly in combat. A fun combat is all about consistent, repeated effort. Your system sounds pretty awesome, to be honest. I imagine there's something of a learning curve, but I've always wanted a system that would help me in reacting to player actions and building tactical situations, something I find I generally have to force on everything but Dogs, though I don't want to just use Dogs for everything because its remarkably fine-tuned for its setting and doesn't emphasize the things I might want in another setting. Also, I'm too lazy rules wise to fiddle with a system, other than some house rules when things get annoying. I prefer to find something new, mostly for all the reasons discussed on the other thread, but also because I'm lazy lol

Any way I could get my hands on your system and give it a spin?

An example of "social combat" from my own game. This happened.

*player is making Intimidation roll as per True20 (which is no different in this regard than d20 rules)*
GM: As you raise your voice and lean in and give him 'the eyes' the three friends he has with him step closer and tense up. "You see these guys with me!? Who do you think you are to come in here and treat me like this!?"
*the player actually passed his roll against the NPCs Sense Motive based on paper, but I gave a +3 bonus to his roll to resist because of his three friends and so he ended up resisting the intimidation attempt*
Player: "Who, these guys? I crap bigger than these guys!" *the character reachers across the table, grabs the NPC by the shirt, and punches him in the face. Attack roll, Toughness saving throw (this is True20 stuff, you don't roll for damage), and the NPC is bruised. The PC has a strength of 4 (the True20 equivalent 18 from d20) so I mentlaly note to give him a +4 bonus on his next Intimidate roll if he makes one. The other PCs half drawtheir swords...something the NPC bodyguards do not have. There are two other PCs so I mentally add another +4 to the forthcoming roll (1 for each PC and one for each sword). He does indeed make this Intimidate roll and absolutely stomps on the resistance check* "Call off your chumps or none of you are walking out of here!"
GM "Okay, okay!" *he motions for his men to back off, which they gladly do* "Just tell me what you want!"

There's no real difference betwen "normal" combat rules and "social" combat rules. At least not for us. It actually IS a unified system because it all relies on the exact same die roll with one system of modifiers up or down, one die roll to resist with the same system of modifiers up or down; coupled with a scale of descriptors instead of a tally of numbers to determine"damage". As soon as we removed hit points we stopped needing different sets of rules for different situations. Hence, in my own experience, the issue doesn't lie with social interaction rules in most lies with the standard combat rules and their inability to realistically depict how combat actually works in real life. Making social interaction more like any given system's combat mechanics to find a unified theory is only spreading the problem around to other areas that were previously not infected. The disparity between social and standard combat is a symptom of a larger problem in my eyes, and making interaction more like standard rules' handling of swordplay only makes it all bigger, bulkier, more involved, and hence less immersive on the larger scale.

That's just me. You all know where I stand on throwing rules at a problem and hoping that will make it go away.

Sure, I can give you a copy. I have pulled apart the rule-book and am putting it back together. I had a number of problems with my earlier rules:

* not enough source material
* dis-organized into three sections (basic, intermediate, advanced) so that each topic got triple treatment
* re-worked a number of things
* not enough concrete examples

I've been trying to fix it, but it is time-consuming. I own my own technology company and I don't have much, if any, time to devote to cleaning it up. I have even thought about hiring a writer to fix it. I am using my developer to put up an online database for adding skills, preferences, etc as a way to sort things out. I can't drag him too far away from paying clients though.

I have an NDA as the game is an undetermined time away from release, but I would welcome the input. I have only had a few eyes on it, so it really needs more testing and critique.

Send an email to "help" at "richmayo" dot "com" and I'll hook you up with a development copy.

I forgot that I wanted to say something about this:

"If we have a pass-or-fail roll (on a d20 lets say) then I am able to win the encounter with a roll. That isn't really so bad. What I don't like is:

No partial success.
The difficulties don't scale.
They aren't tied to the choices/narrative.
Don't suffer a capricious GM."

You're absolutely correct in what you say and how it can be abused. Maybe not abused per se...more like "maligned". No, that's not it either. What I'm trying to say is that this, to me at least, is a prime example of the person using said rules just letting the rules think for them and not applying any degree of extrapolation at all to what those results acutally *mean*.

Perhaps I can illuminate this better with an example. WIth standard roll vs. DC results in the d20 system most game deisgners (and therefore most GMs) set a DC and you either pass or fail. In my opinion this is a critical failure on the part of the person using the rules...not the rules themselves. The best I've seen it handled is with Gather Information rolls in most published d20 adventures. There is in fact a scaling difficulty that allows partial success; DC 5 you learn this, DC 10 you learn that plus this, DC 15 all that plus more, DC 20 everything plus this too. Yet this extrapolation of the mechanic is completely ignored in all other applications of the rules function. Take for example a Jump's a DC 14 to cross the gap between two buildings as a PC chases an NPC across the rooftops. You pass, you make it. You fail, you fall. This, to me, is just lazy gamemastering. Since it's written that way it's what most do and they see a flaw in the rule. It *should* be more like this: DC 10 you make it but you're hanging off the ledge by your fingers, DC 12 you crossed the gap clumsily and the person you're chasing gets ahead a bit, DC 14 you're even, DC 16 you actually gain on them a bit...DC 20 you cross the gap and land on them, tumbling them to the ground under you.

This doesn't have to be mapped out on paper ahead of time either...just determine, on the fly, what the bare minimum for "success" is (in this case 14) and extrapolate from the result when it happens. It takes thought though to determine this sort of thing, especially on the fly...something most would simply rather not do.

Taking this into social interaction the same can be done rather easily. The gap between the succesful roll (lets say it's a Diplomacy roll) and the resisting roll (Sense Motive) determines the degree of success. Instead of just a switch labeled "yea or ney" you now have a way to determine degree of success. Of course, it requires the GM to be able to do that on the fly and to roleplay the results, but that's sort of the point I think. Many little add ons for the d20 rules system allow for "skill stunts" but I generally don't use any of them because I expect that from my players; it's table stakes, it's the bar for entry to sit in that chair to begin's really their one and only job and I expect them to do it without being poked from behind with the spear of the rules system. I expect them to think outside of the box and not rely on the rolls to spark their creativity. If I had different players I would probably consider using those little bits and add an egalitarian world. I'm not very egalitarian though and I would simply rather not run for those type of players. True20 uses a system built right in from first concept (with supporting Feats) that allows for the stunts and tricks with skills based on degree of success and when we were learning the nuances of that rules system we as a group got to that part and went..."Wait, what? We already do this. Let's skip this chapter and ignore those Feats because they waste our bloody time and are here for people who just can't come up with this sort of thing on their own."

Essentially, I encourage players (and they encourage each other) to voluntarily modify their DC up or down to achieve the desired result. Instead of "Can I make an Intimidate roll?" I find they are more often not asking, but stating, like so; "I make an Intimidate roll, my goal is to have him cowering and weeping, not just agreeing. I want him ot pee in his own boots, not just hand over the keys." They've set the terms for degree of success, because if cowering is a gap between roll and resist of 10, then surely a gap of 5 is still a success...just not the precise success they hoped for.

You're also bang on correct that capriciousness can be a factor; if the GM is a bone head. The sudden changes of mood or behaviour that capriciousness characterizes have no place in a good GM. If the people at the table can't trust each other to do what's right to further the enjoyment of everyone at the table then I question why they're social engaged to begin with; which opens a whole new can of worms on the topic of "social combat". I won't say that complicated or overly involved rules for social interaction aren't necessary because that arguement leads nowhere; if it works for you keep it up. I will however state that if the rules used are required solely to make sure everyone is being "fair", then the *real* social combat runs much deeper than something in the game and extends to the push and pull of those actually playing it.

I don't think anyone could successfully argue that any set of game rules can fix that paricular bit of social inadequecy. Rolepalying shouldn't be a contest, and if a group feels more rules or more specific rules are required, not for the actions *in* the world of the game, but rather to control the actions of those sitting at the table *out* of the world of the game...they have far far bigger problems.

"Hence, in my own experience, the issue doesn't lie with social interaction rules in most lies with the standard combat rules and their inability to realistically depict how combat actually works in real life."


"It actually IS a unified system because it all relies on the exact same die roll with one system of modifiers up or down, one die roll to resist with the same system of modifiers up or down; coupled with a scale of descriptors instead of a tally of numbers to determine"damage". As soon as we removed hit points we stopped needing different sets of rules for different situations."

I don't think the d20 system, modified or otherwise, does any justice to the feel of combat. I have been in all sorts of fights and an attack roll with odd damage results just doesn't do it for me. Taking out hit points is essential to any versimilitude. But it sounds like it is replaced with a shared-narrative-compact instead of a rule. The tactics that are used are evaluated by the GM and a bonus given. A+ for simplicity.

However you still have a carry-over from d20 that I don't like -- one dimensional attacks and one-dimensional damage. You get to add bonuses for description and in-game. A game system should be designed for the players, not for the GM. The players should be able to take more control of the game. Most gaming systems are written by GM's -- so this tends to get overlooked. A really smart person posted a topic about delving into the things resonated with players.

My real issue is that combat is a d20 plus your skill, plus a modifier for situation, plus a modifier for stat, plus a modifier for equipment, plus a modifier for a spell. There is math but no strategy. You always attack the same way. It is boring. Notice how you have a one-dimensional damage evaulation. It is a scale with descriptors instead of numbers. You cannot "spend" success on different results -- trips, wounds, knockbacks, fumbles, lost actions.

Knife versus sword is fun. If you are the knife weilder you have to stay busy on the outside -- keep your feet moving and pray. At one moment you decide to move in. When you do... it is over. One way or the other. You either got hit with the sword, or you are on the inside where the knife will attack faster. The sword moves faster. The knife attacks faster.

Boxing versus wrestling feels similar. The boxer has to be able to punish the wrestler on the outside. Once inside the game is over. If the wrestler can shrug the punches and the boxer cant maneuver away, the wrestler will take down the boxer and drown him in the ground.

Two on one is all about keeping your opponents in a straight line. Don't let them spread out around you.

In a real fight you need to be tactical, sometimes employing a do-or-die (all-out) attack, and sometimes defending a position and force someone to make a step into your wheelhouse.

I object to a set of rules that makes the game about rolling a twenty-sided dice. I like tactics where you can focus on:

Move and Parry (sword versus knife to keep him out... likely killing him if he tries to step in)
Hit and Parry (sword on sword -- one on one)
Shrug and move (wrestler versus boxer on outside)
Move and Dodge(knife versus sword on outside)
Shrug and Clutch (wrestler versus boxer on inside)
move and hit ( battlefield tactic)
Dodge and parry (defensive disengagement)
hit and act (samurai strategy - pre-emptive strike)
control and hit (mounted combat)

Each tactic has their own set of successes and ways that you can spend your success to win the battle. What you do at the beginning of a fight is different from what you do to finish a fight. I will set up my opponent. Get into a better position and hit him with my sword. If he is a real weenie I can just step in and clout him one. If he isn't a weenie he is defensively prepared and I have given him the advantage. Karate ni sente nashi -- in Karate there is disadvantage in the first strike.

I have trained with the best in the world - sword, ju-jitsu, karate, boxing, kickboxing, weaponry. Fumio Demura, Toshishiro Obata, Rorion Gracie, Bill Wallace, Joe Lewis, Adrian Theodorescu, Peter Urban, Greg Wojecowski, Richard Kim and they all teach strategy. Surprisingly the varied tactics of sword, wrestling, and boxing are not that dissimilar.

You are facing a quick, and nimble opponent who is using reach and disengaging from you. Do you...

* roll your d20 and hit him in the head


* describe your action, get a bonus to your d20 roll and hit him in the head


* make attacks against his legs to reduce his mobility and then run him down.
* just try to bash him in the head
* corner him in a tight space and run him down.
* force him to come to you and counter when he attacks
* entangle his weapons when he comes at you.
* continue to roll forward towards him, focusing on shrugging his attacks until he runs out of space or plants to try and really damage you.

With no mechanism for evaluating the longer list of tactics d20 has little strategy.

In game, Scott can overcome this by encouraging the role-play of tactics -- tactics that the characters, on paper, have no prediliction towards one way or the other. Players like building characters to do actions. They can build a character that is good with the counter-punch. They build him with a sword and shield so that he has a good defence and is a tough nut to crack. He stands shield side forward. His equipment and skill supports a shield defence so that he can focus on the counter-attack with the sword.

This player is better at dealing with the raging barbarian than the cool spear-maiden who uses reach. She is out of range of the sword and forces him to move to attack. That is not where he is good. He doesn't have a great move skill. He has to change tactics. He attacks her weapon with partial success. She has something bad happen (does let her spear get hit, give up her reach, or take a blow). She protects her weapon giving up her reach. He can now counter-attack as the reach defecit is gone.

They can take pride in how they resolve the combat, not just that they resolve it. D20 is all about building a character and taking him for a spin on the track. More skill and knowledge is required to build a character than to play them. In fact, once built, some characters are ridiculously easy to play. In fact, they are boring.

Tactics in building the character.
Tactics to choose what actions to focus on.
Tactics to choose how you spend the successly actions you make.
Tactics to choose how you choose which bad things happen when you fail (do you fall backwards or get hit?).

Scott gets rid of hit points so you aren't pidgeon-holed into the tactic of "bash him until his bones become dust". The rules (HP) create a paradigm of action that is unacceptible. Just like alignment.

So too in social combat. Should I lose face or accept a contradiction? If I willingly accept a contradiction, then those who evaluate based on insight may be won over to the other side. Am I the champion of the people, or the spokesperson of the erudite and educated? Rules should be two-dimensional so that I can achieve success.

I think it is important to manage failures in a role-playing game. Take social "damage" to your ability to charm the princess when you fail, because you know that your character cannot seduce the princess, but you capture her attention and imagination. Appeal to her insight and introduce her to a new philosophy. She will meet with me to discuss the nature of knowledge. This is how I can find out the information that I need. It is boring when the charming bard takes on every social role. The path to victory is multi-faceted. Use knowledge and believe instead of charm and physique.

I like a system where I have to build on a series of minor successes to create a major one. A system where I can use different skills to "attack" a social situation. Everyone is always trying to charm the princess and she has great defence against that, but you can role-play to find another weakness. Find that she is interested in dragon-lore and get a pendant that will give you a bonus.

Victory is not rolled... it is built.

Back on topic with social combat...

I agree that social and phsyical should be the same.

Hit points are stupid.

d20 has only one tactic and one result for each skill.

d20 finishes the game with the roll.

d20Scott has unlimited tactics and unlimited results. d20Scott is GM arbitrated. Players cant build a character that is better at some subtle tactics than others. The control is with the GM.

If d20 shows us anything it is how hungry for control players are. They want to be able to take more control over the game. They can only do it during the build phase in d20

"d20Scott has unlimited tactics and unlimited results. d20Scott is GM arbitrated. Players cant build a character that is better at some subtle tactics than others. The control is with the GM."

This is all great stuff, but I've singled this part out specifically. It's not so much d20Scott as True20Scott, but I won't split that hair too much. :) All I will say is that all the tactics in the moment (as opposed to tactics only when building a character) are handled by Feats. This works differently than in d20 or D&D in taht there aren't even any "class abilities" in True20. Everything is Feat, except Spells, which work like a Skill. All of the things here...

* make attacks against his legs to reduce his mobility and then run him down.
* just try to bash him in the head
* corner him in a tight space and run him down.
* force him to come to you and counter when he attacks
* entangle his weapons when he comes at you.
* continue to roll forward towards him, focusing on shrugging his attacks until he runs out of space or plants to try and really damage you.

...can be done with Feats. They can be done without them as well granting strategy on the fly, they just can't be done as well as someone who trained in them.

One more sidebar; it's important to note that the descriptors that replace HP are not arbitrary and the results and effects are not simply chosen by the GM. In the True20 rules HP are replaced with a scale of descriptors; what exactly an attack does is based on the difference between 15 + your Damage (a static for the weapon modified by your Strength, no rolling here) and the result of your opponents Toughness Saving Throw. Making it clearer, armor no longer modifies AC, it modifies the Toughness Save. Let's say I hit you for 5; the DC of your Toughness Save is 20. Your Toughness save totals to 4. You roll a 17. You beat the save by 1. You're not even hurt even though I clearly succeeded at my roll. It was just as much a matter of your choices (what you wore, etc.) that affected this as it was the die roll. Less arbitrary, less abstract. Let's say you rolled a 6. 10 total on that save. I cleared your Save by 10're Disabled. I stomp on your face when you're down and now you're Dying. I leave you there unconscious and in a round or two you're Dead. If you had rolled a 1 I just killed you with one blow. This even allows a commoner to luck out and strike down an Epic Level Whatever if he plans it well and uses some strategy to tip the odds in his favor.

Taking that back to Social Combat, there is far more similarity between it and standard combat now. The little track of descriptors (Hostile, Unfriendly, Indifferent, Friendly, Helpful) has parity with the physical track of damage descriptors and difference between the successful roll and the opposed number determines far more than just a "hit or miss" system of static DCs and such. In the end it is there planning, strategy, tactics (both during creation of a character and while playing it), and most importantly THEIR CHOICES that determines their effectiveness...not simply to roll of the die.

Skills have far more than one resultant effect if your players actually have an imagination. The control does not lie with me in the least, it is firmly in their hands at all times.

This stuff is all just awesome. Just wanted to put that out there. Now to my thoughts-

It's clear to me, at least, that True20Scott is better than standard d20. But it does still come down to an essential problem, which Gil mentioned, that problem being that success is achieved all at once or not at all. One can absolutely stack the deck in one's favor, but it all comes down to a single die roll. To go back quickly to our discussion on the thematic emphases of different games, this encourages do or die playing and emphasizes dramatic, pivotal moments. Which is certainly not a bad thing, if that's what you want, though I think d20 overemphasizes these things even for its purposes. This, inevitably, brings a particular feel to the game. It's because of this that most d20 makes a very big difference between social rolls and combat rolls, if it values the former at all. Anybody who's built a relationship over time knows that trying to represent such a thing with a single roll is just nonsensical - they take time, especially if you have a particular agenda. Some nights are a success (right, boys? :P ) and some aren't. That's why that emotional scale (which I find just as sloppy as hp) was invented, to try to represent multiple successful attempts.

I think what Gil's system brings that's really interesting is a gradual success, which does more accurately reflect reality. It's not that you can't do the things he mentioned in other systems, but that his system encourages these things, even makes them necessary. Like Chess, he's built strategic thinking into the game, by making success gradual. It's not about tripping your opponent - it's about gaining an advantage to be used in the future. While I found feats useful in d20 (I don't know True20, so I'm speaking to d20), they were clumsy and often seemed thrown out there. The point was still always to just hit the guy. Also, the game actively discouraged this strategic thinking - it was easier and usually better to just attack your opponent, instead of trying the stupid complexity of grappling or tripping, activities that are really no more difficult than pulling off a successful hit on a skilled opponent. But the game gives one more weight than the other.

I think Gil's right, to a certain extent, when he says Scott has to effectively overlay imagination when using True20. This is something you have to do whenever you play a roleplaying game (it's kind of the point), but the question becomes how much does this action detract from the power of the imaginative construct and how much does it all attention to itself, thus distracting from the drama. I guess to put it more succinctly, how natural is the meeting between rules and imagination? I find that most games fail miserably at this, mostly because rules try to overcome and limit the imagination. d20 is a great example. You can describe yourself jumping off a wall to deliver a spinning roundhouse kick to your opponents face, but that simply becomes an attack roll, perhaps with a jump check that develops into a plus 2 bonus. If you want to do more than attack, you have to take feats and so on to accomplish it. I'm really not certain, having not played either, that Scott or Gil's systems help with this.

I know I always go back to it, but I think Dogs in the Vineyard is really useful here, especially when it comes to something like Gil's thoughts on tactics. You'll have to refer to my previous posts concerning this system to really get what I'm saying here, but the jist of it is how freeform the game is. You don't have a "guns" skill or a "swords" or a "combat" or whatever. If you want to be good at guns, you write down you are, with however many dice you want to have attached and described however you like. It could be you're amazing with a rifle, but not so good at pistols, so you write "rifle expert" or something more clever. This does two things. It puts things very clearly in the players hands, to actually build their characters, less in a framework (Bob the Fighter) or more however you wish. It also tells you what the players find interesting, as the game very directly encourages you to give dice not necessarily to what you're good at, but what is interesting or important to you. So you might have a really good gun, but you put far more dice on your family pendant, because that's more important to you. Another really interesting thing is how much this relies on the already existing social dynamic among the group. The players and the GM figure out what's ok, when something is too broad or too specific. The game is flexible. My previous posts talk more about the strategic elements of the game, which I find to be useful.

I think there's something interesting stuff here regarding verisimilitude. Just how useful is that, anyway? Do we really need combat to be accurate when fighting dragons? Or is it more of a case by case basis?

"It's clear to me, at least, that True20Scott is better than standard d20. But it does still come down to an essential problem, which Gil mentioned, that problem being that success is achieved all at once or not at all. One can absolutely stack the deck in one's favor, but it all comes down to a single die roll. To go back quickly to our discussion on the thematic emphases of different games, this encourages do or die playing and emphasizes dramatic, pivotal moments. Which is certainly not a bad thing, if that's what you want, though I think d20 overemphasizes these things even for its purposes. This, inevitably, brings a particular feel to the game. It's because of this that most d20 makes a very big difference between social rolls and combat rolls, if it values the former at all. Anybody who's built a relationship over time knows that trying to represent such a thing with a single roll is just nonsensical - they take time, especially if you have a particular agenda. Some nights are a success (right, boys? :P ) and some aren't. That's why that emotional scale (which I find just as sloppy as hp) was invented, to try to represent multiple successful attempts."

-I think trying to represent any of this with any rules system is going to fail without the active involvement and reason applied by the people playing the game. If a GM asks the player to make a Diplomacy roll to win or lose a social encounter he's lazy and he's encouraging his players to be lazy. It's far more accureate (and realistic) to make that roll *just to ge tthe guy to even listen to you*. Then to make another to get him to care. Then another to get him to calm down. Then another to get him to agree. Then another to get him to do something about it. Meanwhile all kinds of delicious roleplaying going on. Any group that says "make a Diplomacy roll...okay, um...the King agrees to send troops to the border" is a dismal failure and has read far more into the rules than they should have. They've lost the whole point of the game at this point.

"I think Gil's right, to a certain extent, when he says Scott has to effectively overlay imagination when using True20. This is something you have to do whenever you play a roleplaying game (it's kind of the point), but the question becomes how much does this action detract from the power of the imaginative construct and how much does it all attention to itself, thus distracting from the drama. I guess to put it more succinctly, how natural is the meeting between rules and imagination? I find that most games fail miserably at this, mostly because rules try to overcome and limit the imagination"

-If using your imagination detracts from the imaginative construct then I need a new dictionary to understand what the word "imagination" means. Using your imagination to interpret the effects of the rules can't detract from the construct you create in your IS the construct in your imagination. You find most games fail miserably at this...I would argue that most *GROUPS* fail miserably at this and then blame the game.

"I think there's something interesting stuff here regarding verisimilitude. Just how useful is that, anyway? Do we really need combat to be accurate when fighting dragons? Or is it more of a case by case basis?"

-Verisimilitude isn't's necessary. It's the whole reason we play. By we I mean my group, not all of us. I don't strive for reality...I strive for "reality within context". Dragons are not realistic in our world, but they certainly are in a fantasy world and so the description (rules or otherwise) had damn sure better feel real to me and the players. Likewise for social better seem believable or I quit. It requires more actual roleplaying than physical combat...but again, that's the whole reason we play.

Regarding the group vs. the rules - Absolutely, the onus always lies on the group. My group just got done making D&D 4e an incredible, character driven journey of redemption, betrayal, and all that other juicy stuff. We made it work for us, though I think it fought us most of the way. I wish more groups found that as self-evident as you and I, Scott. The roleplaying is always dependent on the group.

But how much can you ask from the rules regarding an accurate depiction of social environments? I think there's a lot of interesting potential there, though I'm totally at a loss for how that could be explored. I'm not a really rules-focused GM, once I've picked a system. I do like Gil's thoughts here.

I actually tend to go even lighter on the rules than you do, Scott, in social stuff, based on your comment. I generally don't have players roll anything until it's a clutch moment and there's a potentially for something to go either way. Usually, the only "skill" or whatever I use in social situations is Bluff, cause it would be stupid to expect my players to get a lie past me when I clearly have more knowledge than any one character in the game. Other than that, tense situation or not, we roleplay it out, just because I find that more natural and I have yet to find any game that can augment that satisfactorily.

Anyway, I've got to go for now. I'll finish this comment later

Part two of the above comment.

As far as the imaginative construct, I'm sorry, I wasn't quite clear. I kind of switched from one thought to another without explaining the bridge I'd created in between. I think the important part was "how much does it call (*all was a typo) attention to itself." The thought I'm getting at is how much are you forcing this on the game itself, and possibly calling attention to the existence of that construct. To put it in terms of other topics in this thread, how much are you revealing the method and thus harming the effect, by using what could be termed a "bad trick." I think the ideal system is one you don't have to fight against, one that helps you and moves naturally from the game itself instead of working against your attempts to tell an interesting story. I still stand by my assertion that most games fail in this department, trying to legislate the story telling experience and thus destroying it. It is certainly true that the group is always at fault when a game falls apart, but asserting that the group is the only fault seems a little reductive, no?

If there is failure, it comes from both. A good group can overcome a bad game, but why bother with a bad game at all?

Verisimilitude - I certainly would not claim verisimilitude to be the reason I play. I play to tell stories. That being said, I do value verisimilitude. But I think there's an important difference here that should be brought up. There's verisimilitude (approximating reality) and then there's internal consistency (all dragons have scales). Internal consistency is a must. I don't think verisimilitude is, actually. When I play something like Spirit of the Century (pulp action genre game), I *do not* want anything approaching verisimilitude. I want every punch to knock out enemies and make a "POW!" sound. Feeling real is given by internal consistency and emotional truth, not verisimilitude.

"If there is failure, it comes from both. A good group can overcome a bad game, but why bother with a bad game at all?"

-Exactly. Why bother. I don't feel I have a bad set of rules. I don't fight it. It works fine. There's nothing to "overcome". I'm sorry that for you there is.

More and more this is starting to feel like a debate about which is a better rock band; chewing gum or lizards?

I remember when I was this philosophical about all the things behind the scenes in roleplaying, and even when it seemed I was in agreement with someone on one thing I'd find some new hair to split just for the sake if it. Now I just like to run great campaigns and talk about the methods of storytelling because I'm all out of rules debates; mainly because I'm all out of concern for the rules. Once you have something that works perfect for you and you don't feel you need to keep looking for the holy grail you'll know what I mean.

And this isn't me talking down to you or being arrogant or aloof; I think it's just me noticing we aren't even really speaking the same language.


We have butted heads over this before Scott. Your rule-set goes from "not bad" to "fine" to "perfect" within a few paragraphs (I know that you actually said "works perfect" which is different).

"I don't feel I have a bad set of rules. "
"It works fine. "
"Once you have something that works perfect for you and you don't feel you need to keep looking for the holy grail you'll know what I mean."

I don't need to draw you into an argument about rules. If we were all training for a marathon you wouldn't see the need for article after article discussing shoes. You don't care about the equipment and want to get back to training. Gpt it.

I am with Lorthyne and Tzuriel. We think we are in a triathalon and want to talk about our bikes. The only common ground is that we agree that we need shoes.

Don't hijack the thread by using the "rules don't matter" argument. I labelled the thread "RULES" for social combat. You started out talking about rules and then got upset with yourself and tried to take the rules out of the thread. Now we are back at a very familiar place.

"I think it's just me noticing we aren't even really speaking the same language."
--smirk. Ya think?

It is all good dude. You are arguing with yourself and managed to drag poor Tzuriel into it.

Let's get back to talking about rules. Feel free to join us.

Feats present problems if they are meant to introduce tactics and strategy to a game:

1. They are boolean(true/false). A character either has it or not. Improved trip is either in the toolbox or not. This means that they cannot scale. A character cannot improve their tripping; learn new ways to trip; or increase the gap between their tripping and their base attack.

2. They change the rules. Without the feat, the rules are different. With the feat the character can bend the rules in a specific way.

3. They do not scale with a character. They cannot change. They are put on either the Standard Action track, or used in place of an attack. They are measured by the same paradigm.

4. If you use feats for tactics; not selecting a feat when the character is built means that you can't use the tactic.

5. The mechanism is not carefully created. Muto-dori (stealing a sword from an attacker) is nearly impossible even when you have a master attempting to steal from a novice. Not according to the rules of d20 it is ridiculously easy with almost no consequence for failure. They are added to the game in such a way as to create game-balance.

The designers of so many games create game-balance so that every tactic is equally effective. This parity ruins the mechanism of the game. Go read the "assymetry in Roleplaying" series on this site to see why this might be a bad thing.

d20 lacks tactics because it does not give the player the ability to FOCUS on an action or tactic. I am dodging and moving. I put my shield up and drive forward. These tactics radically shift the probability outcomes. In the real world one knows that stabbing your rapier at the shield-guarded thug barrelling towards you makes little sense and has little probability of success. The best option is to step out of the way; trip them, or take advantage of the fact that they can't see well now. Every time you FOCUS on one thing, you weaken everything else. This is tactics.

Aligning probabilities is the job of the game system. Because you have a mechanism that allows you to "attempt" something is far from having the probabilities correctly aligned to asses the tactic. One rule-set can be slapped together in an evening; the other takes many years.

The rapier is easy to shrug with a shield. Chainmail won't help.

I didn't mean to threadjack, sorry. You're right though...I'm the guy with an old Schwinn and sandals. LOL.

Gil - amen as regards the d20 stuff. I'd love to hear your thoughts, however, on what we were discussing a little before, regarding the value of verisimilitude. I certainly like the idea of being able to replicate the real experience of combat in my games, but how useful is that really, when we get to the nitty gritty of telling stories? When I watch Star Wars, I don't care that lightsabers are scientifically impossible. They're lightsabers, man.

I think this problem especially comes out when talking about rules for social interaction (how's that for making sure we don't jack this thread - I used the thread name, bitch! :P ). Just how verisimilar do I want this to be? To continue with my pulp example, mostly because this is the genre where verisimilitude is least useful, I don't want it to be "real" in terms of obeying the laws of gravity and such when playing that. If I'm the pilot with a girl in every city, I don't want that to be realistic. I want to walk into a bar and have a woman within five minutes, tops. I'm not going to argue pulp is a deep genre, but the fun of it is not depth in this instance, but exercising genre tropes.

That's another interesting question - how closely are depth and verisimilitude related?

"but how useful is that [Simulation] really"

First, simulation is useful as it helps preserve integrity of action. If the mechanics are sound then a player can weigh their decision on the narrative construct of the game. There is less pull in-and-out of the action to measure the consequence and result. Imagine that a game system is like a programming language. It has to be simple to understand so that you can parse language into natural code and back again. It has to be flexible enough to allow you to tell the story that you want.

I had a number of experiences when learning 3.5 where I would could not align the narrative and the action of the game. My character with a bow drawn walks 20ft forwards but sees no targets he wants to shoot at. He can't hold because he has moved. He can't ready an action. The rules force him to wait. He has no way of translating his intent into the game meta-language. He waits. 2 opponents run right past him and through a door, which they close and lock. The character has great reflexes but can't do anything -- not even attack- as bows don't get attacks of opportunity.

I can't justify the character's actions. I can't imagine what happens. The intent of my action was to move forward to block the doorway and give myself the opportunity to attack targets who break cover. It doesn't translate to the rules. This strategy is fairly basic but does not translate into initiative-based games. This is a problem for all rule-sets that use initiative. It is a bad rule.

Simulation may be important to other people for other reasons, but for me the example above is why I like a rule to simulate well. If I cannot simulate I cannot base my actions on the story. When I have a huge disconnect from the intent and logical extension of the rules I am dissatisfied.

As far as actually modelling combat, that is less important. If I start by modelling reality I give the players and the GM a way to model all the unexpected interactions. Even if they choose to set a fun-house level of skill to tell a better story they can still make decisions based on the reality around them.

If I watch a movie I don't want to see the most accomplished pianist play the piano -- I want to see the best actor play the piano and listen to the best pianist in the soundtrack. In that instance the performance and the substance merge to form a synthesis that is more compelling than either alone.

For a fight sequence I appreciate over-the-top fight sequences that are less than realistic, as well as gritty ones.

Take a fight between a black Bear and any human on the planet. A human, without the aid of equipment, loses. Always. The human can't hurt the bear. He will shrug off almost any attempt to hurt it. The bear can out-hit, out-move, out-clutch, and out-shrug the human. The claws and teeth are natural weapons that are formidable.
With a sword it gets only a little less bleak. The world's best swordsman with a Paul Champagn blade will have problems with rapid test-cuts against targets that are not prepared correctly. A charging bear would be a very-difficult kill with a cut. The thrust is the only option (and it takes advantage of the oncoming momentum of a large object -- it will do tons of damage). Thrusts can miss vital organs. If it fails the swordsman is doomed.

I don't know of many people who want to play in a world where a black bear can kill their characters. The solution is to give players access to skills at super-human levels. This gives them survivability. If a character is a dangerous as a black bear they can get into a fight with villagers and come away most of the time. The villagers can gang up and beat the bear/character, but it is dangerous.

Reality is that there is not as much difference between humans in their abilities. The fastest runner on the planet is a bit faster than an elite runner. The best fighters have all of the elements: strength, skill, stamina, and resolve -- but an elite athlete may be on par in on or two categories. Physically and intellectually we don't deviate all that far from each other.

In roleplaying games there is a trope where each player plays an uber-human member of an elite tactical team that kills monsters. A low-level character is a meager uber-human who has just started the journey to super-god-like-uber-meta-human status. It may take many months of killing things, but he/she will get there. This is not the function of the rule-set, although it certainly supports it. If you need to play that game you must start your skill level as high and let it scale up quickly.

Think of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." These are super-heroes. They differ so wildly from the average person that they are magical. There is nothing wrong with that. What I object to is not knowing whether my character is a super-hero or a doobie. That is where rule consistency and verisimilitude (did I spell that right?) come in.

Let me put it this way. How can a character who can fight a 30' dragon be challenged to scale a 10' wall? To kill the dragon you must have the strength to puncture its hide. You must have the speed to avoid the massive attacks and reflexes to avoid a flame-thrower. The dragon is thousands of pounds of muscle and you can beat it in hand-to-hand combat. I object to having to make a jump check to clear a wall. It is inconsistent. I object to the concept that my character may be in any way normal if they can fight a dragon. That's not normal!

I hate having the miniature of a giant edge-to-edge with a little mini. It offends me. They trade blows and eventually the giant falls. It doesn't make any sense. I am okay with the giant being defeated. I could imagine this: "It swings and the character jumps on his arm and runs up the left side of him, slashing a gash in its face. The giant whirls and demolishes a stone hut. The character ducks under the blow and leaps upwards, slicing the belly of the beast. The giant staggers and falls." I'm okay with that, just not in the same game where I make a dex check to cross the bridge. Huh? it is 2ft wide. I can walk that. My character can run up the side of a giant. no. Make a dex check... seriously???

So it gets back to the critical issue of verisimilitude. You suggest the answer in your question. If my mind can linger on a roleplaying session and imagine what happened there must be consistency. The depth of the roleplaying experience is how you can dwell on the events and have them take on more life. A badly constructed ruleset forces the player and GM to have "blind-spots" that at the best are like dramatic devices (eg. asides) but at their worst completely break the belief in a consistent story.

My wife and I just watched season 2 of "24" where terrorists break into the CTU (counter-terrorism-unit) by posing as telephone repair men. They plant the bombs and our joint level of immersion drops. My wife has worked for the government processing claims. Their building is not top-secret. They push paper. There is no way in hell any visitor to their office is not escorted by security the entire time. Spouses don't drop-in. They lock their computers.

There are lots of ways to break a game. Unfortunately, many games come with pre-broken elements. When you encounter a pre-broken element you have to navigate around it like a stream passing around a rock. Sometimes the game element is so large that it can divert your whole game. You are not free to explore all opportunities. This is why I am a real evangelist of change to RPG rules. There are subtle moments of intrigue and interest that can be explored just by changing rules. If there is a rule that allows me to do something that "feels real" where the consequences of my actions make sense for both rules and narration, then I am immersed.

There is way too much rule parity in RPG's. A dagger is not much worse than a sword in these games. Really? Because the weapons are so well balanced in the game the players don't fear a tactical mis-match. They don't care about giving away a +2 flanking bonus to non-rogues. Each rule detracts from the game.

To use my favourite game as a counter-example -- everything is an action roll that tests a skill.

The number of dice you roll are based on situation.
The number of dice counted is how ready you are.
The number of faces on the dice is how good you are.
The math at the end of it is for the equipment you are using.

Everything has its place. If you want to live in the narrative you never have to worry about sequence or queue. You can use a loose interpretation system for success. Meet the number you do okay. Double the number you do good. Triple it and you have done great.

If you are in a tactical action sequence then you load your two actions with colours. When a loaded colour is called you do the action. Your successes can be spent on well-described results.

How many stats do you need? 3. you can play with 6, or 18, or any number based on those 18.

A role-playing game is a framework for action. Like a good tent it should be made out of graphite tubes: strong, light, flexible, and portable. You can put almost any shell over top of it (source-material) and it does relatively well. I do recommend that you read Scott's articles about not camping on uneven ground at the bottom of a ravine that floods. (The purpose of the extended metaphor is to suggest that a rule system is only as good as its application. I don't tend to go camping without shelter and I don't tend to go Roleplaying without rules. However, I really enjoyed our foray into Vox on the board and would game with that system in a heartbeat if I could find players inclined to join in.).

Vox was awesome. I'm so sad it didn't last. I really need to get that email sent to you concerning testing your system, though I'm not sure when I'd actually get a chance to test it lol. But I definitely wanna look it over at least. I think we've actually talked about testing your system before... *face palm*

From the wikipedia: "The problem of verisimilitude is the problem of articulating what it takes for one false theory to be closer to the truth than another false theory." Sounds like gamegrene to me lol. I think I prefer your use of the word consistency to verisimilitude - generally, verisimilitude supposes an attempt at replicating reality, which I don't think gaming is. Gaming is a construct meant to allow collaborative storytelling. It has elements of verisimilitude, especially modern or historical games, but it's not the important thing. I would say the concept is best defined as "consistency in verisimilarity." I could of just made up that last word, but it works. You have to choose what level of realism you're going for, and stick to that. A good example of failing this is the very popular Final Fantasy series, especially 7, which happens to be my favorite. It's a tired example, but all throughout the game you can use Pheonix Down to revive fallen friends. And then when the plot kills off a character, no amount of Pheonix Downs can save the day. Now I loved that game, but that's a pretty glaring problem.

It seems to me everything you're saying about D&D falls under the same problem. They aren't consistent about the verisimilitude. Thoughts?

That is the crux of it for me. I prefer to limit contrivance in my role-playing experience. This allows me to have a more visceral experience. Hit points are an artificial contrivance and true20 eliminates them. These artificial elements stack up. It is not like I can't enjoy a game with these artificial elements in them. It just means that I ignore them when possible. This does two things: one, when forced to confront an artificial element it lessens the immersive experience; two, the group collectively avoids storylines that expose these weaknesses of the rule system.

If you don't like alignment, you can play without it; but how about playing without turns? Most games can't function without the turn system even though it is an artificial contrivance. Here is a list of some artificial contrivances that I don't like:

* Hit points
* Turns
* Alignment
* Armor Classes
* Feats
* Classes
* Statistics (Stength, Dex)
* Attacks of Opportunity (a patch to a broken turn system)
* Too much algebra

On top of those basic flaws in rule creation there can be a separation between the description and the quantification of a creature or hazard. See my bear example for what I mean. What level monk can defeat a black bear consistently? I don't know if D&D means to make bears, and dragons, and giants soft and weak. Or, are these characters that beat them so tough and powerful but not possessed of any other attribute. What D&D feels like to me is that as characters level up they become more dense without their weight increasing. They are more resilient so that they can be hugged by bears, fall of cliffs, and be smashed with hammers. Perhaps they are becoming vulcanized rubber. That is what the game "feels" like to me.

Rubber heroes ... I think I have a new name for D20. :)

I can agree with almost your entire list of contrivances, which is why I switched from d20 to True20 after reading the rules (which I was quite resistant to do at first...I didn't need to switch from one flawed system to another and didn't realize how profound the subtle differences were until I read it and then started using it. It's a very different feel and experience). The only ones on your list that remain are:

-Turns (which I've always handled in a more abstract way anyway, allowing for the fact that the Turn breaks it down into "who gets to talk now and describe their action first based on how fast they are" instead of "this is the order this happens in. I remove the "stand in a line and step forward to act" feel that Turns instill by assuming that it's all pretty much happening at once. What Turns accomplish, for us, is giving the advantage to those who chose to make faster characters. Myu players make extensive use of the Readied Action so they can make an "if/then" statement about how they react to the chaotic nature of frantic situations.)

-Feats (though all "class abilities" are now reduced to Feats as well by the removal of classes for the far simpler and more logical Roles of Warrior, Adept, Expert. Feats feel very different in True20 than in d20. Truly, many of them if not most are still combat related but a fair number of them allow for some very excellent character types not possible with d20. And the fact that you get one at every single level instead of every three makes it easier to shape your character to situations as they happen. Anything you can do with a Feat you can do without it...having the Feat just means you can do it second nature instead of having to put effort into preplanning and arranging for positive modifiers. It allows those without the Feat to exert the effort mentioned by others, and it provides those with the Feat the chance to shine in their chosen fields of expertise. I find it fairly representative of "real life" in that IU can write a contest winning story in 45 minutes while others might slave over it for a week. Essentially, I don't even make a Craft (story) roll; someone withouot the Feat I have in that regard has to spend time and effort in the form of rereading and editing to influece their "blind roll" to accomplish what to me is a simple task.)

-Stats (though they're broken down to simpler numbers; they're represented by the modifier so that 10-11 becomes 0, 12-13 becomes 1, etc. I find that Stats don't take away form the feel of things. Often I need to know who is smarter, who is stronger, and who is more socially imposing/inviting and Stats let me do this without splitting apart every hair...that's what Skills are for, and why Stats modify SKills.)

It allows more flexibility to make YOUR character instead of the character types that some designer imagined. The Expert for example; I've seen it used to make an amazing fencer (without the Fighter trappings that you don't need if this is your chosen style of fighting, nor the Rogue's murderer/thief abilities you just aren't going to use). It makes Feats work in a much more fluent way so they do what I think they were intended to do from the start. An Adept could be a scholar who knows the knacks of psychologically manipulating situations (thus recreating the "Enchanter" type wizard without all the arcane subtext; or he could be a raging cyclone of destruction who shoots lightning from his eyes and fire from his mouth if the player choses that. Neither has to bow to the implied setting of a designer, nor to the concessions and trappings of the whole "it's this kind of, it's that kind of fantasy" that the traditional d20 rules hoists upon the gaming group. What Feats do for Experts (or Warriors), Powers do for Adepts. Every level an Adept can take a Feat or a Power, whatever they want to do. Powers work like Skills in practice; there's a role to use them, allowing effort (and your chosen spellcasting stat) to influence the event instead of the fire-and-forget spell system of d20. Moreover you don't "forget" them once they're used...instead they have a fatigue system attached to some (though not all) of them. You could literally cast yourself to death if you wanted to (or had to). All the choice and freedom lies in the hands of the player instead of the GM.

So given all of that I can easily concede that there are absolutely rules sets that can influence tone and style of play more than I give them credit for; I just find that they influence the feel of the system more than the feel of the setting.

I realized when I was preparing for my current campaign I found myself working in an add-on set of rules for the trust of the town that is central to the action. It still boils down to the trust score summing up a set of fluid modifiers for social interactions etc...I just didn't really realize that I do in fact do this; that being using rules to enfluence tone. I just do it in a soft enough way that even I wasn't aware I do it. The modular nature of the rules I *do* use (those being a set of modifiers applied to one die roll) makes it easy to *not* see that I am in fact flexing and changeing them to affect tone. Which is how I like it...if it's invisible to me then I know it's invisible to the players. This is the crux of my "effect not method" stance. It's not important to examine the relationship between the two, it's more important instead to examine the fact that if the method is sound then it canishes and you can focus on what's truly important...the effect.

The "plot chip" is a perfect example of me inserting a rule (that isn't really a "rule" by strictest definition) to influence tone. I'll be going into detail on that in the next Sustained Storylines piece, but in brief it is a very small stack of red chips the players have (I freakin' LOVE poker chips) that PCs can use to insert their own bits into the plot or narrative without my prior knowledge or "approval". It allows them to twist and control the storyline in crunch-time far they use them most frequently in social interactions, not physical ones as I at first thought would be the case.

Screw it; as this is the Rules For Social Interaction thread, I'll give a bit more detail here.

I at first saw them being used by the players to do things like make sure a cab comes around the corner just when they need it to follow the badguys because their engine was tampered with and they failed their roll to fix it quickly and give chase. One newer player ot our group thought they meant he could toss one at me to insert a chandelier he could swing from; he quickly ofund out that if he wants to swing on a chandelier that there is a chandelier...if it's awesome, I say yes almost always. They're more for things like "ah crap, we're boned...{player tosses red chip at GM}...the city guard patrol comes to the end of the alley right NOW" or "Being a bit of rookie the acolyte of the Filth God forgot to refill his spell component pouch this morning".

They let the players take the reins of the story from me in a major way, though still a quantifiable one because they opnly have so many of these each for each session.

What they end up being used for is more like this "this particular NPC has no chance in this interaction because I was friends with his father and he grew up looking up to me...there's no way he'd even try to argue the point" or "I slept with this female NPC six months ago and she fell in love with me, I don't need to roll to seduce her this time". Those aren't examples that have come up in game...they're just hypotheticals.

What the players have ended up doing is using these little bits of major control they can exert almost like the automatica successes in investigative scenes in the GUMSHOE system (which we took for a test spin for a twisted bit of horror I ran for them during the summer).. We hated the rest of the system and found that what it gained in some areas wasn't enough to make up for what it lost in so many other areas. Still, there were tiny conventions that exist outside the crunchy bits of most rules systems that we hung onto because they resonated with us as storytellers. I mentioned earlier in the conversation that when I *do* come across elegant little bit of that or this that I will adopt them if I think they add something to the experience. While I don't feel they are necessary they can in fact add long as they stay out of the way. I could remove them and stick to the stripped down version of True20 I use and the story wouldn't suffer; their absence wouldn't hurt anything or make the experience less enjoyable.

The craftiest use I've seen for the little red plot token so far was a player stating that an NPC was a long term choldhood friend they hadn't seen in years but was still on good terms with. It was supposed to be a difficult social interaction that slowed them down and challenged their verbal finesse (whether through roleplaying or rolling dice I didn't care); instead it was just them running inot an old friend. "Hey! Lorimer! I didn't know you worked at the hall of's Suzi doing? You two have kids yet? SIX OF THEM! Man, you've been busy. Look...I know you aren't supposed to do this, but can we have a peak at the land titles for that old fort on the hill?"

When they started using them mainly in social situations I was a bit surprised, but in retrospect it casts something into focus...the fact that they seldom use them for what I originally intended, but instead use them to exert effort upon the plot when engaged in "social combat" illustrates that they find the rules handle those other situations just fine and they're perfectly comfortbale with letting preplanning and strategy to influence the modifiers on a random die roll control their success or failure; it's in the social situations that they'd rather NOT use the rules as they are and just roleplay through it...and when they can't for whatever reason they'd rather not roll the die, they instead just twist the plot to their advantage and achieve their success that way.

Of course, later when they wish they hadn't spent them all on manipulating the storyline at the hall of records so that they could use one of them to ice up the awning across the alley that the NPC thief who broke into their room while they slept is leaping to grab during his escape they inevitably say things like "I should have just made a Diplomacy roll on that guy! Now this jerk is getting away with our whatever!" But that's the nature of trying to strategically use limited resources....

One thing I will mention is the "rubber heroes" syndrome. I hate it too. This is why I'm all for the True20 system of damage. It doesn't care what level you are at all...if you fall off a cliff you will die. Plain and simple. A bear will probably kill your 18 level character if you don't act wisely and keep your distance. Your armor doesn't make it harder to hit you, it makes it easier for you to pass your Toughness saving throw...but a bear is really strong. There's no amount of metal you could reasonably clad yourself in that is going to tip the scale in your favor if you are dumb enough to engage in close quarters hand fighting with a bear. Likewise for social interaction; you would have to be well trained ( a choice you would make not just at the start, but as your character develops; thus representing the effort of training and life focus) or very well prepared (another choice you would make by getting ready for the encounter prior to the encounter by digging up dirt, doing your research, whatever; thus representing the effort of legwork to influence a situation) to pull one over on the town counsellor...that type of encounter, after all, is what he does *for a living*.

Like the bear, he's going to be very very good at it.

GAH! If only you'd said this, Scott, in the other article! This is precisely where I was coming from. I feel like I should quote the first half of your article and leave it at that. But I'll just point out this part:

"So given all of that I can easily concede that there are absolutely rules sets that can influence tone and style of play more than I give them credit for; I just find that they influence the feel of the system more than the feel of the setting."

That's what I've been trying to say all along. And I'm not going to be humble about it either - that's what I've BEEN saying all along. You probably didn't catch it because you lacked the subtlety (and, yes, I am actually being a smug little shit here, but only because it's funny and we've finally realized we've been standing on the same ground all along here - so allow me this small moment of smug shittiness, as a friend).

I love the plot chips idea. Not sure I'll introduce it in my current game when I get back around to running it, as it's very dark and supposed to be somewhat punishing. Can they stack up on plot chips? Like if I don't use it this session I get to keep it? If I do introduce them in my next game I think I'll do away with that, if that's what you do, to encourage a little more improvisation and make even that resource seem small and surrounded by tension.

Another quote from Scott: "It's not important to examine the relationship between the two, it's more important instead to examine the fact that if the method is sound then it canishes and you can focus on what's truly important...the effect."

I do agree with you here, mostly. If a method works, just use it. But I think there's value in examining that relationship, though not as much as whether it works. I'm generally working from the assumption the method works, unless I point out otherwise. What's interesting to me is why? Yes, it's philosophical, but that's the point. I'm not trying to fix anything because nothing I have is quite broken yet. This is just fun investigation of my favorite hobby.

Now back to the first quote. That's a very interesting distinction you've made, between setting and system. See, I think the fundamental difference between us is that I like to make those the same. I don't think they actually are, but I treat them as the same. For instance, in my gangster game, I've been using WoD. If I change my setting I'll change my game, probably. To me, this becomes a very easy way to explore the differences inherent to each, and to make those plain to my players. Systems, and setting, give some advantages and some disadvantages. I like to reflect that in my game choices.

And I agree, Gil, lol. Particularly the too much algebra. I like my systems to have some visual component that implies what's going on fairly clearly. An example would be you know you're doing well in the Storyteller system when you've got 10 dice verses the other guys 3. It makes that plain when you roll all those dice.

"That's what I've been trying to say all along. And I'm not going to be humble about it either - that's what I've BEEN saying all along. "

-Just let it go friend.

"Can they stack up on plot chips? Like if I don't use it this session I get to keep it?"

-Absolutely not. They each get one chance each session to introduce their own twist outside of what players are normally able to add narrative-wise. I don't have players that would *intentionally* abuse that if they *could* stack them up over time...but a loaded gun is a loaded gun, especially if it's cocked and the safety is off. And with the plot chips the safety is most certainly off.

I think it is a great mechanism. Where did you get it from, or is it your own design?

I came up with it on my own. Perhaps somewhere in one of the thousands of roleplaying games I ahven't read it exists in some form or other but I've never seen it.

At some point in the past we had a couple of new players in our group. To encourage them to act outside of the list of actions they perceived the game "allowed" them, I introduced a little stack of blue chips for each player each session. When someone did something truly awesome the other players were allowed to reward that awesome idea with a blue chip that represented 50 XP (we were still using the basic d20 ruels at the time). It worked marvelously. Whne you do something really cool and the other four players all toss you a chip it just plain feels good. 200 XP is a drop in the bucket, but even that small motivator got the new players thinking the way the rest of the group did. When I transitioned ot True20 after finally reading it and going "Oh! It's d20, but good..." I had no way to use the blue chips because there are no experience points in True20...but the players had fallen madly in love with them.

I decided to use them instead to let players provide themselves bonuses to their rolls...the blue chips now represented a +2 of extra effort. Spend them over time, spend them all at once...not up to me, do what thou wilt.

When I began the short little horror campaign (and it was *truly* horrific...not just pulpy "horror") I saw the immense potential for imminent and sudden grisly death around every corner and turn; it was just a little summer campaign for those not taking a couple months off to camp and such and so I didn't see the need to kill them all the time; I wanted the same characters to live thorugh the ordeal. Initially I thought it would just allow us to start playing right away without taking the time to develop fully the characters' attachments to the world...a way for them to, on the fly, decide one thing each session they could control that I could not and through that tell abit of the story about their characters in a way that helped them right at that moment. Also, I wanted to put into their hands the ability to save their own asses when they were in too deep. I let them keep the blue chips but reduced them from 5 to 3 per session, and introduced the single red token as well. The very first one used was for a cab at a desperate moment. Some blackmetal groupies (oh no! a coven of wannabe satanists in over their head with the BBEG!) were leaving a concert in a crappy little dive bar and the PCs had arrived on a bus. How to keep up with the van full of dyed black misfits? My girlfriend plunks her red chip on the table and says "a cab comes around the corner right, RIGHT NOW".

Leon, the cab driver, became a major major NPC in the campaign due to what he saw that night when they asked him to wait on the curb outside the house they trailed the witches to. Had it not been for the red chip there would have been no Leon, no conspiracy of cab drivers against him, no bailing him out of jail when he attacked another cabbie at a hospital while he waited for the PCs in the parking lot, no arguement on the stoop of his little ghetto crib with his wife and sister that prompted one PC to let him stay at their house, and ultimately no driving gunfight with government agents on the freeway leading to Leon crashing his car into a burger joint. Yes yes...I did the rest of it...but he wouldn't have even entered my mind had it not been for that one use of a red chip in the first session.

After that first session...the players were sold. I've never ever seen a group feel like they had so much control over their fate as I have every session in any short or long campaign since. I'll cover this in more detail later, but for anyone that wants to use this sort of thing right away I'll say this; you can do what you want, but I explain it to players like so:

"With this get one every session and if you don't use it you can't keep it for next time SO USE get to insert plot points. You cannot use it to tell me the NPC drops dead or to make his gun misfire; but you *can* have a fly land on the sniper's nose at the critical moment so his bullet wings the president instead of blowing his head off, or to dealy the president taking the podium because he gets a call that his child has been in a car accident. You can't make an NPC just drop his sword...but you *can* make his hand slippery on his sword hilt because you remind him of his fater who used to beat him. You could put him off his game today because his mother died last night. Automatic success at picking a pocket? No. A drop dead gorgeous woman walks by right when you need a distraction to pick that pocket? Yes. Guard doesn't see you? No. Guard has narcolepsy and is asleep? Yes. has to be a plot point that gives you an advantage, not just an advantage with no real reason. If you can't flesh it out, *I* have to be able to flesh it out. It has to mean something."

Inevitably they ask a lot of questions the first few times they want to use it. It's really up to GM if the answer is "yes" or not. But the saftey truly is off...prepare to hand over a large chunk of what goes on in your setting. It's fun though; when I plan for it to be raining because it makes something harder and they tell me it clears up it's really cool. As GMs we twist the plot all the time to see them react to's fun to feel that same unpredictability, albeit in small and controlled doses. Moreover it empowers the players to take part in shaping not just an encounter...but the world itself.

Leon is proof of that.

The biggest argument for social combat is making a non-combative character as important as a combat beast. Think about it. In the real world, the fighters are the grunts. They are followers. The leaders are people who can't fight. Politicians and religious leaders the world over. George Bush could barely form a sentence and I'd kick his ass up and down the street all day. But he was President of one of the most powerful countries in the world for 8 years and sent thousands of soldiers off to die in the desert.

Zoom in to a roleplaying group. Every group should have a Face (Shadowrun term based on Face from the A-Team) who can negotiate jobs and pay, talk their way past guards and seduce people (male or female). The Face may not have any combat skills. This player gets to sit on their ass bored during combat while everyone else has fun. When it's their turn to shine, they only get a roll or two. How is that fair or fun?

I know that most people would just tell them to learn combat so that they can contribute to the group more and have more fun. But why should they?

My friend Dawn plays a Pacifist mage who cannot allow innocent people to get harmed. She is a coward, and only fights when she's cornered. She is a Healer, and something of a preacher. In almost every game system, this character would be relegated to the Roving Hospital and have very little to contribute to the game. Why should she have to change in order to have fun?

Her character is intelligent, charming, good looking and is not only in a very repected field (healer, mage) and minor nobility, but also a genuinely respected and liked person.

I could do as most of you guys say and simply give her a bunch of bonuses and have her roll. But why? Why cheapen her gaming experience?

I added social combat to my game because these non-combat characters are just as important as the combat characters to me. Imagine your fighter trying to negotiate a truce between two warring tribes. Or Setting up a business venture between three merchant houses in two kingdoms. What about a con artist working n a medieval Ponzi scheme? Yes, talking your way past a guard is simple and can be solved with a roll or two. But what if you want to do something more complex?

Social combat allows you to add to the complexity of the game and rewards characters who aren't built to destroy and kill. It also allows the GM to add a layer of complexity and drama to the story that is lacking in most games.

Imagine the group fighting past all the guards to confront the main bad guy, only to have him talk his way out of trouble. What if he, a weak but charismatic man (like Hitler) just bluffed them, holding off their attack until reinforcements arrived? Or what if he converted them, arguing his view of things so convincingly that they either doubt themselves enough to back off or switch sides completely?

Social combat adds a whole new layer of story to the game that I really love. Try it, you might like it.

"I could do as most of you guys say and simply give her a bunch of bonuses and have her roll. But why? Why cheapen her gaming experience?"

-I'm confused now. I don't know where anyone said "just give them some bonuses". Each of us is searching here for the way to do the *opposite* of cheapening the experience; six blind men describing an elephant as it were. I agreee with everything you're saying; I just don't understand how it's any different really form what everyone else is saying.

"Social combat adds a whole new layer of story to the game that I really love. Try it, you might like it."

-I think we all have in our own way, and do.

@ Scott - Come one, you've gotta let me tease a little. Just a little good-natured ribbing :P

All the best stuff comes from your players, in my experience. Even the characters I invent are reinvented, redesigned, and changed utterly by them. And almost always for the better. So giving them a direct hardline into the world and story themselves is awesome, if you ask me. I'll have to think about integrating this in future games. Like you, Scott, I tend to pick up stuff as I go along and carry it with me.

@ Calamar - That's some really interesting stuff. Is Dawn naturally a social person, or at least capable as such within your group? Because, as I expressed above I believe, I tend to leave out the rules unless they give the players some avenue of action they wouldn't have otherwise. That's why combat is more rulesy. I don't want my player to stand up and shoot me in the head when guns come out. So we use rules to litigate it. But in social situations I tend to push those out unless something comes up where we clearly can't use our natural abilities, like lying. I'm always going to know if a player's lying, as are the other players. So we roll that to maintain tension and make it a viable option. I don't think having rules is really a way to emphasize the importance of something, or at least an effective way. My games are almost entirely about social interaction, and yet we have little to no rules for that. We just spend a lot of time on it in game, that's all.

That being said, it's all up to your group. Some groups want more social rules, and that's ok with me. If they must be there, I'd prefer they came out of the group themselves, rather than being forced on the players and myself. That's why I really like Gil's system - it is dependent on player effort, and reflects what they put into it.