D&D General Your thoughts on "Social Combat" systems

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Guest 6801328

Guest
FFS can we drop the semantic pissing match and just agree that, in this context, "combat system" is shorthand for "a subsystem that has interesting depth and complexity" with "single die roll resolution" representing the archetype of what we don't want?
 

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FFS can we drop the semantic pissing match and just agree that, in this context, "combat system" is shorthand for "a subsystem that has interesting depth and complexity" with "single die roll resolution" representing the archetype of what we don't want?
The thing is that there are systems out there that do treat social interaction in a way very similar to combat with hit points and damage and it's useful to be able to distinguish them from other methods of resolving complex social interactions. There are other systems that essentially have 'conflict resolution' systems which apply equally to any sort of conflict. There are also systems that use completely different resolution systems for social interaction then they use for combat - it's not particularly useful to lump these all together if we want to be clear what we are talking about.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Two additional comments:

1) I have been assuming "combat" is used in this case to draw attention to the difference in complexity between most social interaction rules and most combat rules, not to suggest that encounters should have to be adversarial.

2) I'm never going to pretend to be convinced of something just because the DM tells me that's what my character thinks. While that type of roleplaying is certainly a valid, it's just not very interesting or fun for me. If the adventure depends on me pretending to not know something, it was a poorly designed adventure.

The exception, of course, is if it's some kind of magical compulsion, which would presumably have a finite duration. And that distinction illustrates why I don't like the sort of roleplaying that @zarionofarabel is advocating: playing a character that has been permanently mind-controlled, for an entire campaign, would be (to me, anyway) not very different from being forced to play a character whose thoughts and beliefs are dictated by DM and dice.
It wouldn't be mind control though. It would be you as a player agreeing that your character does actually believe something. This all comes down to what players are and aren't willing to allow the rules to dictate. If I as a player decided that my PC is immortal and cannot take damage from attacks, what happens?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Which is much less about system and more about scenario design.
Agreed! Which is why I don’t think social encounters need a detailed resolution system like combat has.

Technically combat doesn’t really need such a system either, but the combat is part of D&D’s identity.
 

Aebir-Toril

100100101010
Dungeons and Dragons could easily use a system of social combat, but it never has, and, likely, never will. Many video games have turned social interaction into everything from a bullet hell segment to a multi-staged choice menu with leveled forms of Charisma, et cetera. If your group does not enjoy, or is not proficient in, role-playing or character dialogue, a more gamey system of social combat mechanics could work well for you.
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
It wouldn't be mind control though. It would be you as a player agreeing that your character does actually believe something. This all comes down to what players are and aren't willing to allow the rules to dictate. If I as a player decided that my PC is immortal and cannot take damage from attacks, what happens?
You would be likely to be very surprised and disappointed at some point in the game. Probably sooner rather than later.

BUT....If you could meet your demise while role playing how you rationalize that belief right up to the bitter end, I would applaud you.

(I don’t recognize your avatar name. I’m guessing you’ve missed the hundreds of pages of debate on this topic.)
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
You would be likely to be very surprised and disappointed at some point in the game. Probably sooner rather than later.

BUT....If you could meet your demise while role playing how you rationalize that belief right up to the bitter end, I would applaud you.

(I don’t recognize your avatar name. I’m guessing you’ve missed the hundreds of pages of debate on this topic.)
Well, if I as the player track my PCs hit points and I just don't allow any damage to happen to my PC, then I guess there would be no demise to worry about.

In other words, you missed my point. Rules in a RPG only work if people follow them. There is no way to force someone to follow the rules, they must abide by them voluntarily.

In a game with a "social combat" system, one of the rules is that if your side loses then your characters abide by the loss. So if your PC enters in to an argument that can convince the PC of something, then allowing the PC to be convinced is part of following the rules. Just like having your PC die when they reach zero HP, if you don't then you aren't following the rules.

(As for the part in brackets, I'm not sure what "hundreds of pages of debate" you are talking about, you will need to enlighten me. However, if it's about how games without PC death aren't fun or something, I will definitely disagree. Some of the funnest games I have ever played in didn't have PC death as an option.)
 

Aebir-Toril

100100101010
Well, if I as the player track my PCs hit points and I just don't allow any damage to happen to my PC, then I guess there would be no demise to worry about.

In other words, you missed my point. Rules in a RPG only work if people follow them. There is no way to force someone to follow the rules, they must abide by them voluntarily.

In a game with a "social combat" system, one of the rules is that if your side loses then your characters abide by the loss. So if your PC enters in to an argument that can convince the PC of something, then allowing the PC to be convinced is part of following the rules. Just like having your PC die when they reach zero HP, if you don't then you aren't following the rules.

(As for the part in brackets, I'm not sure what "hundreds of pages of debate" you are talking about, you will need to enlighten me. However, if it's about how games without PC death aren't fun or something, I will definitely disagree. Some of the funnest games I have ever played in didn't have PC death as an option.)
Unless, of course, if there's no failure condition for PCs. A character doesn't (usually) lose all agency because an NPC convinced them of something. Heck, in real life, there are many people who can lose an argument by leagues and still retain the idea that they're right. Maybe the penalty of a loss in social combat is the enemy losing respect for you, not necessarily your character being convinced of something.
 

Unless, of course, if there's no failure condition for PCs. A character doesn't (usually) lose all agency because an NPC convinced them of something. Heck, in real life, there are many people who can lose an argument by leagues and still retain the idea that they're right. Maybe the penalty of a loss in social combat is the enemy losing respect for you, not necessarily your character being convinced of something.
This presumes you care about their respect and that winning an argument is important enough to model with a set of mechanics - which of course it can be - but doesn't usually tend to be the case in D&D.

But you could definitely run a game in some kind of fantasy city state republic where public debates are a thing and PCs may involve themselves in the political life of the city. In this case losing the respect of the audience would be important.
I can recall two examples of such systems, I believe, from the D20 era. One was the Messantia box set for Conan D20 and the other was one of the Atlas games Penumbra hardcovers focused on intrigue.

(I couldn't recall if either of them were any good, mind - so much stuff from that era was just written to provide content with little playtesting).

I think this relates to the point I was trying to make earlier. Unless you're happy with a system that resolves all conflict in mechanically identical ways like Fate, it's difficult to come up with a social system that isn't highly specific to a particular kind of social interaction.
 
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zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Unless, of course, if there's no failure condition for PCs. A character doesn't (usually) lose all agency because an NPC convinced them of something. Heck, in real life, there are many people who can lose an argument by leagues and still retain the idea that they're right. Maybe the penalty of a loss in social combat is the enemy losing respect for you, not necessarily your character being convinced of something.
I think that's where most "social combat" systems are more complex than "physical combat" systems, the win/loss state. Physical combat basically has one avenue for loss, death (or inability to continue engaging in physical combat). Social combat generally needs to cover a variety of win/loss conditions.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Yet in the system I described there is no conflict (unless we use the term in such a general way as to be meaningless). The king is willing to listen to the PCs but does not necessarily want something from them. It is an asymmetrical situation. Again why do you think it is useful to describe this as a combat system?
The scenario you set up isnt a social conflict and doesnt need a confloict system to resolve.

Thats because its an attrition based logic puzzle, the player just needs to work out the points that need to be made and then make a guess at how many times they need to be made.

but do your players enjoy such guessing games?
What clues do you give out that the King might be cowardly?or concerned for his legacy?

I can see where such an approach could be used and clues given via RP but that doesnt mean a conflict based negotiation can’t be RP’d too
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
It wouldn't be mind control though. It would be you as a player agreeing that your character does actually believe something. This all comes down to what players are and aren't willing to allow the rules to dictate. If I as a player decided that my PC is immortal and cannot take damage from attacks, what happens?
Completely disparate types of scenarios.

The contention is that player characters should not have their decisions determined against the will of the player.

The PC doesn’t decide to fall unconscious when hit hard enough. The PC does decide to believe or not believe an argument. Because it is a thing that the PC decides, it must be determined solely by the player, or the player loses agency in the game.
 

Aebir-Toril

100100101010
Completely disparate types of scenarios.

The contention is that player characters should not have their decisions determined against the will of the player.

The PC doesn’t decide to fall unconscious when hit hard enough. The PC does decide to believe or not believe an argument. Because it is a thing that the PC decides, it must be determined solely by the player, or the player loses agency in the game.
It's almost like, in real life, I decide (at least to the extent that I'm in control of myself) what I believe, but not when or if I die/fall ill...
 

The scenario you set up isnt a social conflict and doesnt need a confloict system to resolve.

Thats because its an attrition based logic puzzle, the player just needs to work out the points that need to be made and then make a guess at how many times they need to be made.

but do your players enjoy such guessing games?
What clues do you give out that the King might be cowardly?or concerned for his legacy?

I can see where such an approach could be used and clues given via RP but that doesnt mean a conflict based negotiation can’t be RP’d too
"Attrition based logic puzzle"? What a bizarrely hostile reading. No it's a structure for a role-playing scene.
There's a million and one ways the pcs can find out the king is cowardly - surely that's obvious and I don't need to spell it out? Why would I need to give hints?

And yes it's not particularly a conflict. (But it does fit with how Robin Laws divides dramatic scenes into petitioners and granters. In fact, now that I think about it, it's explicitly a system for handling PC petitioning and NPC granting - for the reverse situation I don't really see the need for a system).

One of the big misunderstandings is that people tend to think that because it's sometimes said that scenes in drama need to involve conflict, rpgs also need to. The currency of rpgs is not drama but meaningful player decisions. As long as there's at least one meaningful decision to be made you have the justification for a scene.
 
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G

Guest 6801328

Guest
Well, if I as the player track my PCs hit points and I just don't allow any damage to happen to my PC, then I guess there would be no demise to worry about.

In other words, you missed my point. Rules in a RPG only work if people follow them. There is no way to force someone to follow the rules, they must abide by them voluntarily.

In a game with a "social combat" system, one of the rules is that if your side loses then your characters abide by the loss. So if your PC enters in to an argument that can convince the PC of something, then allowing the PC to be convinced is part of following the rules. Just like having your PC die when they reach zero HP, if you don't then you aren't following the rules.

Could you cite which system or RPG you are describing? Losing a "social combat", and abiding by that loss, does not have to mean that your character has to think or believe some specific thing.

(As for the part in brackets, I'm not sure what "hundreds of pages of debate" you are talking about, you will need to enlighten me. However, if it's about how games without PC death aren't fun or something, I will definitely disagree. Some of the funnest games I have ever played in didn't have PC death as an option.)

There have been literally hundreds of pages of discussion/debate in this forum about whether the DM in 5e is empowered to tell a player what his/her character thinks/believes/feels.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Completely disparate types of scenarios.
I disagree. Both are a matter of what is dictated by the rules. The fact that one is a fictional death and the other is a fictional change of mind is beside the point. The fact that numerous RPG systems model "social conflict" and "physical combat" using the same system is proof of that.
The contention is that player characters should not have their decisions determined against the will of the player.
But what about charm spells, or illusions, or psychic mind control. What if I as a player simply doesn't want my PC to be hurt by physical attacks? Again, it comes down to the rules that players are willing to follow. If one is using a "social combat" system that states that a PC who loses an argument is convinced of something, then to not have the PC act as though they are convinced would be breaking the rules. The same way not reducing HP after getting hit with an attack in a system that dictates that a PC loses HP when getting hit with an attack would be breaking the rules.
The PC doesn’t decide to fall unconscious when hit hard enough. The PC does decide to believe or not believe an argument. Because it is a thing that the PC decides, it must be determined solely by the player, or the player loses agency in the game.
No, player agency is preserved in either case as player agency is the ability of the player to make meaningful choices within the narrative. Player agency doesn't mean always being in control of what a PC thinks or feels.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Could you cite which system or RPG you are describing? Losing a "social combat", and abiding by that loss, does not have to mean that your character has to think or believe some specific thing.
Burning Wheel, and specifically it's social combat system called Duel of Wits. The result of the conflict determines how the narrative should proceed, and can determine how a PC should think or feel about something. If a PC were to engage in a conflict about what they believe about something, and agree that losing the duel will alter said belief, then losing the duel alters said belief. If the player then simply decides that their PC hasn't had their belief altered, they are breaking the rules. Rules in a RPG only work if everyone follows them. If a player refuses to allow their PC to take damage in a physical combat, they are breaking the rules. So, taking damage in a physical combat is voluntary, same as allowing a social conflict to alter how a PC thinks or feels about something.
There have been literally hundreds of pages of discussion/debate in this forum about whether the DM in 5e is empowered to tell a player what his/her character thinks/believes/feels.
Well, as 5e doesn't have a social conflict system I'm guessing you are using that as an example of how a GM can't tell a player how their PC thinks or feels. However, 5e still has charm spells and magical fear effects and such, so yes, under certain circumstances the GM actually can tell a player how their PC thinks or feels.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
It's almost like, in real life, I decide (at least to the extent that I'm in control of myself) what I believe, but not when or if I die/fall ill...
This would be a fun philosophical debate that could rage for centuries, and it has! Are we really in control of what we believe, or are all the exigent factors influencing us actually responsible for what we believe? Does free will truly exist? So on and so forth and not really a great example of why social combat is a bad idea.

It's just rules for a game. If players agree that the rules can influence how their PC thinks or feels, then said rules can influence how a PC thinks or feels. If players refuse to allow their PC to take damage in a physical combat, then the PC takes no damage. How would a DM force a player's PC to take damage in a physical combat if the player simply refused to log said damage?
 

Aebir-Toril

100100101010
This would be a fun philosophical debate that could rage for centuries, and it has! Are we really in control of what we believe, or are all the exigent factors influencing us actually responsible for what we believe? Does free will truly exist? So on and so forth and not really a great example of why social combat is a bad idea.

It's just rules for a game. If players agree that the rules can influence how their PC thinks or feels, then said rules can influence how a PC thinks or feels. If players refuse to allow their PC to take damage in a physical combat, then the PC takes no damage. How would a DM force a player's PC to take damage in a physical combat if the player simply refused to log said damage?
Damage isn't as nebulous a concept as the definition of free will under a neurological (or even a spiritual) paradigm.

A player taking damage is in no way analogous to a contract on rules influencing the emotions of a player. Of course, it's all about the contract. If your play group enjoys play-acting, and trying to embody their character, a rule which removes agency in order to enhance story is entirely reasonable. Similarly, my group has agreed to play a game, under the game's explicitly defined rule-set.

PCs take damage because the Game Master is the final adjudicator of the physical. Pretty much every convention of D&D, as well as most RPGs, rests on the idea that the player has entered into a contract wherein the Game Master can narrate the physical consequences of action. Just as in real life, we can debate whether or not I make my own decisions, but there is no debate as to whether or not I am in control of taking damage when I get hit by a bullet.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
Damage isn't as nebulous a concept as the definition of free will under a neurological (or even a spiritual) paradigm.
Agreed. Though within the context of rules for a RPG, they are one and the same, as they are both narrative constructs.
A player taking damage is in no way analogous to a contract on rules influencing the emotions of a player. Of course, it's all about the contract. If your play group enjoys play-acting, and trying to embody their character, a rule which removes agency in order to enhance story is entirely reasonable. Similarly, my group has agreed to play a game, under the game's explicitly defined rule-set.
The emotions of a player, no, the emotions of a PC however is a different matter. PCs are not players and players are not PCs. A player is the real life human sitting at the table playing the RPG. A PC is a narrative construct, or more importantly, a figment of the imaginations of the players and DM. Having a PC's beliefs changed by the result of a social conflict in no way removes agency. A player can still make meaningful choices within the narrative even after a PC's beliefs have been altered. And yes, following the agreed to ruleset is part of the contract. So, if the ruleset includes a "social combat" system that can alter a PC's beliefs then allowing those beliefs to be altered is good form as it fulfills the obligations of the contract.
PCs take damage because the Game Master is the final adjudicator of the physical. Pretty much every convention of D&D, as well as most RPGs, rests on the idea that the player has entered into a contract wherein the Game Master can narrate the physical consequences of action. Just as in real life, we can debate whether or not I make my own decisions, but there is no debate as to whether or not I am in control of taking damage when I get hit by a bullet.
As stated above, fulfilling the obligations of the contract is good form. Following the rules is good form. If a "social combat" system is part of the rules then abiding by the results of any "social combat" is good form, just as abiding by the rules governing physical things. Also, many RPGs nowadays have very few rules regarding physical things and instead lump everything physical and non-physical under the same narrative framework. In other words, the rules govern the narrative directly, whether the thing they govern is physical or not is irrelevant.
 

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