• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

Social mechanics - when did they become good ?

Storn

Registered User
Validated User
For me, it was Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits rules....which was brilliant framed as "you aren't trying to change the mind of your debate opposition, instead, you are trying to change the minds of everyone else around the two of you.".... that was brilliant... and how concessions was baked into the Duel of Wits process.

But PbtA also have simple and great ways that non-violent social and personal conflict is as exciting as combat.
 

Michele

Registered User
Validated User
From day one, with GURPS 3e, way back then.

I never thought "social-interaction rules are bad because we must roleplay social interactions". That way, a good actor from among the players at my table could/should convince every NPC he met. On the other hand, what about a timid, introvert player who really would have liked to play the part of an assertive and sly social-engineering smooth operator? What would enable him to do that?

I'm more than willing to give bonuses to social skill rolls for good roleplaying, of course. It's still called "role-playing".
But if a player chose to buy, say, Diplomacy-14, why should I ignore that and request him to recite his talking points to the Aquilonian ambassador, to see if he could convince me?

And when GURPS 4e came out, I still felt fine with the social-interaction rules; no need for indie stuff.
 

vini_lessa

Registered User
Validated User
Don't know if I let this clear in the OP (probably not) but my intention here is to investigate social mechanics that mediate conflict between players. Social conflict against NPCs is as simple as any other type of interaction really ("I roll my skill > success > I have things my way"), but in a player-on-player context that same structure becomes potentially problematic because the "I have things my way" part means forcing the losing side to RP in a way he maybe was not inclined to. And doing/RPing/describing things that you were not feeling like sounds like a really bad thing for a lot of people.

So, with that scope in mind...

For me 1983 with the James Bond game. I never looked back after this. It had interrogation, disguising one self and seduction. Basically what you would expect from a Bond themed game. The rules were simple, but with good choices and it also was the game that convinced me that rules should be made to give games a specific feeling (whatever feeling the designer is looking for) It does not matter if you want deep social conflict or realistic combat, it all starts with the rules.
1) D&D 3e came out, and it codified skills as a major thing and had a bunch of social skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Innuendo, Intimidate, and Sense Motive. It also had explicit rules for using each. Previous editions had always had Charisma checks and reaction rolls, but they weren't very deep. Charisma rolls were very loose and optional, and reaction rolls were optional and also just determined initial reactions of monsters if nothing else really happened. (This was important because D&D was the leading RPG, and still is.)
Skills and rules for social combat definitely predate the early '00s and even the mid-90s. They were mostly found in pretty obscure games though. Lace & Steel featured social combat rules and came out in 1989.
The first edition of Top Secret had a basic skill system where if you tried to lie/fool somebody else everybody involved rolled against each other.
They've been around in some form or another for ages. Champions has Presence Attack which was basically an early system for this and has had it at least since Champions 3e (possibly earlier).
For that matter, I would argue that the oD&D encounter mechanics were a social mechanic (and a good one, for that style of game), since they encouraged (or at least allowed) PCs to end most encounters without violence.
For me, it was Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits rules....which was brilliant framed as "you aren't trying to change the mind of your debate opposition, instead, you are trying to change the minds of everyone else around the two of you.".... that was brilliant... and how concessions was baked into the Duel of Wits process.
From day one, with GURPS 3e, way back then.
Do James Bond, D&D3e, Lace & Steel, Top Secret, Champions, oD&D, Burning Wheel and Gurps 3e do present interesting rules to mediate social conflict between players? And do they fair in regard to player agency?
 

vini_lessa

Registered User
Validated User
2) More games started experimenting with social rules, including "social combat" and other concepts. Exalted 2e, Fate, and some other games really pushed it a lot and started coming up with mechanisms other than "your character is mind controlled."
Social systems in many newer games, especially indie stuff, have more mechanical bite than they used to, while at the same time taking a lighter touch. Sounds paradoxical, but isn't, really. In the old days, it would usually come down to forcing players to have their characters behave in certain ways, whereas nowadays you are more likely to inflict some kind of condition or effect on them, that limits them mechanically, but can be played out however they see fit. IME, what most players objected to wasn't so much having a mechanic but being forced to play in a certain way
The first social mechanic that was really to my taste was in Jenna Moran's Weapons of the God (in 2005). It let Courtiers (and Taoists) place almost-Fate-style aspects on characters, and those characters then got bennies for acting in accordance with those aspects. So social-fu didn't force anyone to do anything, but it waves a carrot in front of their player to politely encourage them to roleplay a certain way.
And this is what I meant as the "good" social mechanics in the OP. Mechanics that work more like carrots/that avoid a heavy handed approach that would force players to act in ways they don't feel like acting. At least in my gaming circles and spheres, this was the "switch" that made these mechanics tolerable (and even likeable)*.

When did this trend begin, and with what games?


*Of course this is just my personal suspicion on the matter. Perhaps this "switch" didn't have half the influence I'm thinking it had, or it's mostly irrelevant anyway to most folks, I don't really know.
 

vini_lessa

Registered User
Validated User
I think what really changed - and basically on the timeline that Zeea pointed to - is not the presence of social interaction mechanics (those are actually something that's been around for ages if frequently ignored for being bad) but games starting to figure out how to set interesting stakes in social conflicts.

One of the issues earlier social systems ran into is that they were either simple or complex binary skill checks. "Do I talk the guard into letting me pass?" "Do I haggle the price down?" "Do I intimidate this impudent whelp?" etc. Without any rules for stakes, it all felt very iffy and arbitrary. The stakes of the social conflicts were never explored; they were taken for granted as being obvious from the state of play.

And that was the change. Making setting the stakes part of the mechanics, and having those stakes matter. It went from, "can my character social-fu past this obstacle," to, "what price is my character willing to pay to make this happen on top of it?"
I agree good stake-setting may have been one of the stepping stones to how those "good" solutions developed, yes. What were the first games you know to do that well?
 

downer

Fairy Tale King
Validated User
When did this trend begin, and with what games?
I think it begins with the ideas discussed at the Forge in the '00s. I think that is where the notion is born that any meaningful interaction in the game should have a mechanical effect, as opposed to the previous orthodoxy that the inner life of the characters should not be mechanically accessible, either because it is of no import (as in many old-school games) or because it is part of an ineffable connection between the player and the character. Naturally, both those attitudes butt heads with social mechanics, either because they require the player to gimp the character or require them to break the connection. When you think of the mechanics as a support for a limited set of options, though, rather than a constraint on a potentially unlimited set of options, social mechanics can be designed differently. And the concepts for that, I believe, grew out of Forge theory. So I guess that's where you should be looking. I still haven't read Sorceror, which I believe is the first game designed to put Forge theory into practice. Apocalypse World, which I believe is the most influential game to represent the developments of that theory, certainly already has this kind of social mechanic.
*Of course this is just my personal suspicion on the matter. Perhaps this "switch" didn't have half the influence I'm thinking it had, or it's mostly irrelevant anyway to most folks, I don't really know.
As noted above, the "switch" presupposes a certain approach to roleplaying games that, I think, is still a minority thing. Bewteen the old-school revival and a lot of people preferring the more traditional "internal personality model" approach to playing their characters, I don't think too many people have actually followed this "switch". But it certainly has been on the minds of game designers, so you see it implemented quite a bit.
 

Derrick Kapchinsky

Registered User
Validated User
Do James Bond, D&D3e, Lace & Steel, Top Secret, Champions, oD&D, Burning Wheel and Gurps 3e do present interesting rules to mediate social conflict between players? And do they fair in regard to player agency?
Burning Wheel does. Duel of Wits always has the possibility of ending poorly for a player. NPC's can win a DoW just as easily (or in the case of my current game, WAY more easily) as a player can and when that happens, the player is just as bound to the result as the NPC would have been. And this works the same when it's between two PCs.

So, here's how a DoW preserves player agency, as I see it:

1. Players have to agree to the stakes before hand. At the onset of a DoW, both parties have to state what their win conditions are, and if the stakes are too high for one or both parties, they can walk away before anything happens.

2. It determines actions, not thoughts. If you lose a DoW, you don't have to believe anything differently, but you do have to adjust your actions in accordance to the resolution. How a character justifies that is up to their player.

3. Compromise! Depending on how well the loser does before the DoW ends, there will be some sort of compromise. With a better showing by the loser resulting in a more significant compromise. So unless you just get totally steamrolled, there's a good chance that you'll get some portion of what you wanted.

4. Murder! And if the loser just can't accept their loss, they can ignore the result by attacking the winner. This would carry all the normal consequences for attacking someone you'd been arguing with so it may or may not be a good idea. Or.....as a more acceptable response, if the loser feels that the outcome is somehow unfair or insulting, they can challenge the winner to a duel. The winner is under no obligation to accept.

So there are a lot of ways that a player can keep at least some control over how the DoW resolves, even if they lose. Having lost a *lot* of DoW in my current game, I've found that that helps soften the blow a ton.
 

EndlessKng

An Innocent Bystander
RPGnet Member
Validated User
These probably wasn't the first to do this (and going by the mention of WOTG, appears to have NOT been), but I first remember paying attention to social mechanics somewhere between the first Dresden Files RPG and Fate Core, and saw it in a few other places as well. The big thing for me (for both CvC and NPC mechanics) was a switch to a "do it for bennies" system over coercive mechanics - that is, providing incentives rather than forcing the character based on die rolls. FATE had compel mechanics, which allowed both players and GMs to incentivize less-that-ideal actions based on an Aspect the character possesses. I saw something similar in Chronicles of Darkness too (beats for giving in to social pressure, or doing something to resolve a condition imposed by a social interaction/encounter).

Invoking the Stafford Law, you can also see far earlier elements of this in Pendragon's virtue system. The Virtues provided a guide for rp, but also a tool for other pcs to socially manipulate your character (and possibly defense against it as well). And, sometimes it was ideal to test a virtue, in the hopes of raising it with checkmarks from the roles.
 

Heavy Arms

Registered User
Validated User
Don't know if I let this clear in the OP (probably not) but my intention here is to investigate social mechanics that mediate conflict between players.
That actually makes things less cleary since you're talking about players, but seem to mean player characters. Rules for two players disagreeing are vastly different things than two players having rules to figure out what happens if their characters are in disagreement.

And a lot of the systems being discussed don't have a PC vs. NPC distinction here, and are more likely to have a PC and major NPC vs. trivial NPC distinction; hence this specific aspect isn't addressed directly much. The GM is a player too in this regard.

I agree good stake-setting may have been one of the stepping stones to how those "good" solutions developed, yes. What were the first games you know to do that well?
I'm not sure I have a good answer to this. As someone that's been invested in seeing good social mechanics since I got into the hobby, I've seen a lot of the stepping stones done well... even if squandered by the rest of the system, or only applied to some minor supplemental side-system.

I'm not sure there's really any distinct "Eureka! moment" where someone finally nailed it. There was the late 90s/early 00s trend to try, which saw a lot of designers with a lot of iterations, refine things into what we see more today. Not everything has some discrete line in the sand where there is a "pre-X" and "post-X" period. Sometimes the history of things is fuzzy and I personally think that's the case here.
 

tomas

Registered User
Validated User
Do James Bond, D&D3e, Lace & Steel, Top Secret, Champions, oD&D, Burning Wheel and Gurps 3e do present interesting rules to mediate social conflict between players?
I apologize in advance if this sounds pedantic, but are you asking about resolving social conflict between the players or their PCs?
 
Top Bottom