StanTheMan

Using the Social Encounter Rules for Debates, Law Making, etc.

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As some may know, I've got lots of historical and political games on my mind. One of the settings I've pretty much finished working on is a Roman Republic game. Next on my list is a Warlords of Alexander game (based on the super-excellent fan-made PDF by one of the main writers of BRP, Paul Elliot) set in an ancient Greek city-state, where politicking will happen. In both cases, I'd like players to be of the sort that will try to push through laws and such, or get large scale agreements with government, such as it is.

First off, I REALLY like the social encounter rules; fills a hole which sadly many RPGs have, and since I like politics and the like in games, I love such mechanics and ideas. In general, for what I need, they'll work splendidly since the "social encounters" will be one off things (canvasing for election on election day, pushing through a contentious, emergency measure in the Senate; both of those are "in the moment" things, or encapsulate a lot of background things into one main roll, in my opinion).

However, one thing I noticed is that the part where it talks about "defeating" the opponents or reaching compromises is based on Strain (or Strain/Wounds for NPC faceless crowds). There will be times when debates really will be over time; a law can have several discussions, over time, as details are hammered out and feathers unruffled. Perhaps a measure is so unpopular (and opposition so fierce) that it'll be a lengthy battle to get it done (say, arguing the Senate around to going to war with Carthage). In these cases, the Strain rules for social encounters don't really work, since, surely, Strain would be healed with a day or so. The rules don't really say what to do about healing in the case of "minions", since they don't encapsulate ever needing them past the initial encounter they're in. Like, I've visions of a demagogue type PC haranguing crowds for days on end before finally working them up enough to storm the King's palace or whatever.

So, how to deal with this? As far as I read it, the Social Encounter rules don't. The only fix I've in mind, at the moment, is to declare that the strain (hah!) of dealing with trying to pass contentious legislation doesn't allow proper rest, and so Strain stays between encounter "rounds" of passing said legislation. Only problem is, that leaves the door open to engaging a character in, say, a fist fight, knocking off some Strain, and that guy getting taken out the next day in the council chamber from a searing bon mot. Doesn't seem fair (and before you say it, yes, i know there's a direct link between one's stress and one's ability to give attention to things - I've read Kahneman as well, but still...).

Thoughts folks? How to simulate what I'm trying to? Or am I pushing too far?

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My little idea for you. You could introduce some kind of "Debate points" (call it as you want) to your game. Say, to force a law that makes you go to war your players need to get the advantage of 3 Debate points. So,

  • Day 1, your players start to convince the Senate - you use normal rules with Strain... and PCs win - meaning they have earned +1 Debate point. So the mood is OK and the talks continue on
  • Day 2 - PCs win resulting they now have +2 Debate points.
  • Day 3 they lose which means they go back to +1.
  • Then on days 3 and 4 they win and have +3 Debate points meaning the Senate agrees to go to war. 

A nice tweak would be each Debate points grants a boost die to future checks. Maybe some laws are already so unpopular that the talks start at -2 Debate points. Maybe during the evening some news about enemy activity has reached the city-state and on the next day all checks get difficulty reduction and so on ;) Hope it helps

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I think you've pointed out a shortcoming in the rules, so I'm glad you brought this up. You're right that convincing someone of something isn't always a one-encounter proposition. Another example of this might be a court trial, which can stretch on for days and shouldn't all come down to just one hour-long social encounter. So here are some ideas:

Idea 1) Abstract things a bit more. Follow the social encounters rules as is, but tell your players that the back-and-forth of structured turns represents days' worth of effort rather than one single encounter. The advantage of this is that it lets you keep the rules as written without significant tweaks. The downside is that it likely removes some of the drama from these sorts of scenarios.

Idea 2) Adapt the Mass Combat rules from Star Wars. This abstracts everything out while still giving your PCs a prominent role in the scenario. It would take some tweaking and adjusting to use those rules, but it might be a fun way to represent a full social press of a large-scale debate involving multiple people, with the PCs playing some key roll in the negotiations that can be played out in more detail.

Idea 3) Do something akin to what Padre suggest above by dividing the debate up into different propositions, each of which gets debated on its own, and each of which is its own social encounter. So, for a trial, say, you wouldn't just run it as one encounter, with the defense arguing the guy's innocent and the prosecution arguing that he's guilty. Instead, you'd have a social encounter with each witness, over each key piece of evidence, and then finally at the end for closing arguments. Maybe keep track of who wins each point (like Padre's Debate Points idea) and use that to give boosts (or even upgrades) on the closing argument roll. This strategy would make Talents like Grit and Rapid Recovery really valuable, which your social characters will probably appreciate. 

Some food for thought. Let us know what you come up with!

Edited by SavageBob

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2 hours ago, PadreBoniface said:

My little idea for you. You could introduce some kind of "Debate points" (call it as you want) to your game. Say, to force a law that makes you go to war your players need to get the advantage of 3 Debate points. So,

  • Day 1, your players start to convince the Senate - you use normal rules with Strain... and PCs win - meaning they have earned +1 Debate point. So the mood is OK and the talks continue on
  • Day 2 - PCs win resulting they now have +2 Debate points.
  • Day 3 they lose which means they go back to +1.
  • Then on days 3 and 4 they win and have +3 Debate points meaning the Senate agrees to go to war. 

A nice tweak would be each Debate points grants a boost die to future checks. Maybe some laws are already so unpopular that the talks start at -2 Debate points. Maybe during the evening some news about enemy activity has reached the city-state and on the next day all checks get difficulty reduction and so on ;) Hope it helps

It does help indeed! It reminds me of the social conflict thingy in Savage Worlds, actually. Hmm. That WOULD be simple. And effective. and keeps all the rules where they are more or less, which I like...

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43 minutes ago, SavageBob said:

I think you've pointed out a shortcoming in the rules, so I'm glad you brought this up. You're right that convincing someone of something isn't always a one-encounter proposition. Another example of this might be a court trial, which can stretch on for days and shouldn't all come down to just one hour-long social encounter. So here are some ideas:

Idea 1) Abstract things a bit more. Follow the social encounters rules as is, but tell your players that the back-and-forth of structured turns represents days' worth of effort rather than one single encounter. The advantage of this is that it lets you keep the rules as written without significant tweaks. The downside is that it likely removes some of the drama from these sorts of scenarios.

Idea 2) Adapt the Mass Combat rules from Star Wars. This abstracts everything out while still giving your PCs a prominent role in the scenario. It would take some tweaking and adjusting to use those rules, but it might be a fun way to represent a full social press of a large-scale debate involving multiple people, with the PCs playing some key roll in the negotiations that can be played out in more detail.

Idea 3) Do something akin to what Padre suggest above by dividing the debate up into different propositions, each of which gets debated on its own, and each of which is its own social encounter. So, for a trial, say, you wouldn't just run it as one encounter, with the defense arguing the guy's innocent and the prosecution arguing that he's guilty. Instead, you'd have a social encounter with each witness, over each key piece of evidence, and then finally at the end for closing arguments. Maybe keep track of who wins each point (like Padre's Debate Points idea) and use that to give boosts (or even upgrades) on the closing argument roll. This strategy would make Talents like Grit and Rapid Recovery really valuable, which your social characters will probably appreciate. 

Some food for thought. Let us know what you come up with!

I thought about Idea 1 (something similar happens in Diaspora for Fate; their social conflict system is neat, but seems to be set up to take lots of in-world time, and for the players to not do things in-between the hours or days long turns that can exist). So, that's my issue there.

Two is right out I think but I see where you're going for. I MIGHT think about it though; I can imagine certain sorts of social engineering are more like battles than even social encounters (say, getting people to adapt to and accept your rule as Principes Inter Pares, who's been secretly supplanting the function of the state for years...

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20 minutes ago, StanTheMan said:

I thought about Idea 1 (something similar happens in Diaspora for Fate; their social conflict system is neat, but seems to be set up to take lots of in-world time, and for the players to not do things in-between the hours or days long turns that can exist). So, that's my issue there.

Two is right out I think but I see where you're going for. I MIGHT think about it though; I can imagine certain sorts of social engineering are more like battles than even social encounters (say, getting people to adapt to and accept your rule as Principes Inter Pares, who's been secretly supplanting the function of the state for years...

Yeah, doing mass social combat might be more appropriate for a game where there's some huge PR push (like a political campaign in a modern setting) that the PCs are a part of, perhaps. Maybe one of them is trying to get elected, or is the campaign manager for a candidate.

I'm unfamiliar with the Roman system you're trying to represent, so sorry all my examples come from modern day. Would the sort of encounters you're thinking of break down into individual debating points or propositions, per the third idea?

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I'm with the others in this thread, it seems you're focusing on attacking the law making session rather than the various conversations that happen prior to the law making session. I think if you focus on those conversations, with the out come swaying a voter on your side, would be perfect for your campaign.

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The Strain mechanic could even still be there but you can give someone a separate Threshold of sorts equal to their Strain but have that be attacked over the course of the debate/discussion. It could even be more like Wounds in that it takes time to heal rather than 15 minutes or one night of rest. In this manner, you can still use the social combat rules and not have to deal with the fact that the Senator could get taken out by an errant child bumping into him on the street.

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I think the social encounter rules cover this really well and allow for multi-stage negotiations/ persuasion situations and so on and there are many ways you can work multi-stage negotiations to build on what has been suggested. As per pages 118-121 which cover most of the grounds for such negotiation/discussion /politics you can break down a challenging interaction into stages - each an encounter- some or all of it may be decidable by logic as per 'mutually agreeable solution' p.121 with no dice involved- if realistically the involved NPC's would agree, or even if they'd negotiate further that may not need dice, however if they'd be unlikely to agree- especially if the request(s) (or demand(s) even) are likely to annoy them for example if they're a lot more take than give or one-sided, or perhaps negotiations have stalled as both sides are still pushing for a better deal and getting nowhere then the dice might come into play along with any talents, abilities or other influencers.

 

Maybe if it's a really tough social tug of war something happens in between- the PC's have the opportunity (or the NPC requests/demands it) to go off to do something that improves their chances of the interactions going their way, there are many examples but off the top of my head for example maybe they're after trying to get an entity of questionable loyalty to ally with them thus making their cause easier, it's a 'no' but there's a 'problem' they could help that entity resolve thus proving the both-ways benefit of the agreement/arrangement, thus the PC's go off on that side mission/quest, if it works out maybe they've won over the other negotiating party- sessions may present their own opportunities for this, negotiations are sometimes 'won' outside of the negotiation by helping another party to the negotiations with their aims, although if the die roll goes badly when negotiations resume, there is of course no guarantee that the favour will put the PC's in good favour- they may just have been used somewhat by the other party- your story and how it evolves can determine the path and detours and destinations of such interactions.

 

Combat and social encounters may also go back and forth or at least interplay- think of those computer battle games you may have played where nation A won't ally with you but later you've become really powerful with lots of resource (perhaps giving nation A a hard time with regular attacks as well) and then, changing its tune, nation A comes back with a very different attitude asking to ally with you, or nation B has torn yours to shreds (or watched your other enemies do so) and offers to ally with you knowing you may have no choice but to accept, even though you know there will be a cost either of tribute or equivalent payment or/and having to get involved in their conflicts you may prefer to avoid but you need the support to survive so it's a forced hand.

 

If it's getting crowds on-side to spark a rebellion or get elected or get the political powers behind your cause for example is key then it can also happen in the background as a side process- and this can be a way to challenge your players- maybe subtle feedback to hint at their progress, but they need to mention from time to time maybe things like- oh, this would be good P.R. we should definitely make sure the people hear about this, if they're doing this maybe they're winning the populous over, if they're being less smart and missing such opportunities (or events are conspiring against them and giving them a 'bad press' as it were- they are losing favour and support) - then maybe it won't be so easy- you can put in nice little touches like that (and without giving the game away too much maybe set it up between the lines in an intro that smart thinking and making the most of opportunities to build influence could be a good thing), not sure if there's anything for this already in the system (still learning it myself) but if not or even if you want to expand on it you could have a system such as tokens to track negative/positive influence with key groups which could be the general public or the powers that run things- whatever is key in your story. You could give players a choice of having these visible (less challenging- always there as a reminder) or unseen (more challenging- more difficult game as they'll have to be more aware of their performance in this area without having that visual cue.)

 

There are many ways this could also be 'fed' more significantly as a focus part of a session too as well- maybe a rally if you need to drum up some support from the public or you call a special political session to address an issue (but what might opposing sides who have different ideas do to challenge or disrupt things)

Lots of things can affect social encounters from character motivations and flaws to pressures they may face - who is making what demands of them (which wont only be the PC's, other influencers may help build or weaken the PC's negotiating powers, such as people protesting or campaigning for/against their cause). Remember also cool or vigilance (initiative if relevant- prepared or sudden social situations) p95 and similarly prep time- if there's a gap between negotiations have either side readied themselves more in between, how have events in-between unfolded and has this changed the political climate? Consider also the adventure concepts (p237) - what opposes or supports your PC's viewpoints and aims?

There are also ways you could have some fun with your own rules for situations perhaps unique to your setting/story and make the dice represent the ebbs and flows of the dialogue and its mood- perhaps for a difficult situation you come up with something where both parties roll a range of different dice and it influences the mood and tone of the conversation and the fact we sometimes read people really well, really badly, or somewhere in between- conversation is a delicate art and can easily go off course or suddenly flow swimmingly. It can change course in a single well chosen or ill-advised sentence. For this reason it may be interesting to use all the dice types for both sides of the social interaction where normally you perhaps wouldn't, something I've considered but not looked at specifics for yet. You could do this however suits your encounter/situation- you'd just have to let players know any such special case-specific rules, some ideas, just a few examples, might be:

Situation one- getting public support for a cause such as to vote for you or support your viewpoint and maybe sway government opinion as a result

Success - your efforts have got them on side, you have won them over

Advantage (positive from success or fail) - for a success, your influence is strong- even persons of another opinion are coming round to your viewpoint or offering their support / for a fail, your supporters see that things haven't gone too well and rally to try and turn the tide, redoubling their efforts, the tide of support may not be enough in your favour but remains changeable and is starting to shift

Triumph (Success special) - not only have you convinced them to back you but they're so enthusiastic about it they're telling their friends too and it's moving others to back you too

Failure - they haven't changed their views and you don't have their support

Threat (negative from success or fail) - for a success, this new support hasn't escaped the attentions of your rivals.... / for a fail, things have really backfired and you've actually turned people against your cause - either way it won't be so easy to win people over now

Despair (Failure special) - oops, perhaps you were too honest or exposed a weakness or fear behind your point of view- not only did you fail to convince but people now don't trust you or can see a weakness or there's something else that concerns them- they don't feel good at all about supporting you or your cause and fear it may have bad consequences

Situation two- interrogating or interviewing a suspect (I thought this a good example of my thought processes even though it may not fit your situation)

Success - they give you the information you need

Advantage (positive from success or fail) - success, the others in their group are a lot more cautious now and know you mean business in bringing them to justice- perhaps this dents their confidence or they curtail their activities / fail, maybe they offer a trade- something like early release or less punishment and they'll give you something useful

Triumph (Success special) - they also point you towards something else useful such as another suspect or leader or give you some similarly really useful information

Failure - they keep what they know to themselves or have nothing useful to offer

Threat (negative from success or fail) - after the interrogation they get word out that you've got this information or tried to get this information, certain persons don't like you sniffing around and that you're asking these kinds of questions...

Despair (Failure special) - they give you false information convincingly or otherwise significantly derail investigations that really sets things back

Situation three- getting governing body support such as to raise taxes, go to war, lower taxes, offer peace to an enemy, etc

Success - you're getting their backing on this one

Advantage (positive from success or fail) - regardless of which viewpoint they took, they way you conveyed your arguments impressed, respect for your political standing improves

Triumph (Success special) - you handled this so well you've something of a silver tongue for future negotiations- it's now easier to win support for your ideas because your level of respect and standing has improved, they like you taking the lead and trust your judgment

Failure - you fail to get enough support

Threat (negative from success or fail) - you win them over or fail to but they're not too impressed with how- your presentation and persuasiveness faltered somewhat so you've lost a bit of respect politically

Despair (Failure special) - you're laughed out of the argument, mocked for the weakness of your presentation, they're not convinced at all and your leadership seems weak and faltering

Of course in real play you'd be more specific about these outcomes relative to the situation and these are just examples.

On this note also maybe the wrong terminology that suggests a lack of knowledge or disconnection from the subject matter is taken into account, likewise a mistake such as recalling an event incorrectly or the other party remembering it differently if your players want a more challenging game. Also although the CRB says combat and social dialogue don't mix, perhaps sometimes they do and political debate gets a little beyond heated- you may also tweak things to allow slightly more unruly 'negotiations' if you so wish. again this may require alternation between combat and social or maybe there's a way to merge the two you can think up (maybe your rivals stirred up a riot at that rally or an interrogation has turned to something more life-threatening, there may be times the either or rule for combat/social is tricky and needs a workaround or at least to think about such potential uncertainties beforehand. I'm not sure how best you'd approach confrontational social interactions - that may need improving for a future update of the book, the two can happen at the same time, for example someone's been arrested but they're putting up a fight - may still be easy to fix by combat rounds and social rounds even though in reality both may be happening at the same time. Might need some thought beforehand- CRB p123 "you can't use weapons or combat checks to inflict strain in a social encounter. Once your character starts throwing punches, the time for talk is over." So as GM it may be worth thinking ahead of play how you'd handle potentially confrontational social encounters in the specifics of your game, remembering that if things do turn more confrontational it's going to make negotiations much harder at the very least- so does it break them all together and it turns to combat or can the situation still be calmed/diffused - how friendly or hostile social interactions are will have a massive bearing on how difficult they are, if things do turn too ugly then there may be no chance of an outcome satisfactory to all parties.)

Hope this gives you some ideas to play with, there's plenty you can do to make the politics and other social wrangling of your story and setting fun and challenging for your players, especially if you weave it into the background of their whole activity so that their influence rises and falls with their choices and the outcomes of situations they face.

Edited by Watercolour Dragon
forgot a threat resut for a fail

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On 2/11/2018 at 5:39 AM, SavageBob said:

I think you've pointed out a shortcoming in the rules

Not quite a fair characterization, I think? The Aston Martin DB11 doesn't have a mechanism that allows it to drive underwater, but it's a pretty fine automobile.

Genesys has its roots in pulp (as evidenced by the fact that the Pulp Tone rules basically consist of "end on a cliffhanger", because all the other rules are already there). Long term law passing is... not pulp.

If @StanTheMan wants House of Cards-esque rules, that's awesome. I support it 100%. But I wouldn't describe the absence of those rules as a shortcoming.

Edited by CitizenKeen

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1 hour ago, CitizenKeen said:

Not quite a fair characterization, I think? The Aston Martin DB11 doesn't have a mechanism that allows it to drive underwater, but it's a pretty fine automobile.

Genesys has its roots in pulp (as evidenced by the fact that the Pulp Tone rules basically consist of "end on a cliffhanger", because all the other rules are already there). Long term law passing is... not pulp.

If @StanTheMan wants House of Cards-esque rules, that's awesome. I support it 100%. But I wouldn't describe the absence of those rules as a shortcoming.

We can agree to disagree on the aptness of my phrasing. The thread isn't about whether these rules should be in Genesys, though; it's about how to implement something like this.

Edited by SavageBob

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When making house rules I tend to try my best to use the RAW until I have to go off the rails. So, while debate points is a good idea, I would suggest another that uses the RAW.

We have rules mechanisms in place that allow strings of task rolls that are related. One roll can easily be interpreted to affect the next roll due to interpretation of success/failure or use of threats/advantages/despairs/triumphs. A multi-day debate can start with a Charm roll on day 1 with its results adding setback/bonus or perhaps even upgrades/downgrades to the next day's roll. This also allows for changing of abilities or skills used from roll to roll. Perhaps you started with intimidating your audience with Coercion, but later turn on the Charm. For example, perhaps the debate is over whether the Senate should go to war against a frontier province. The usual skills of Charm and Negotiation may be used, but when it turns towards specific military plans Knowledge (warfare) or Leadership could also be used.

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This may have been said or implied already as I didn't read through the thread completely. Complex skill checks are what you want. Break up the whole thing into different parts which are individual social encounters in and of themselves. Each successful encounter progresses you farther along until either final success or failure. It doesn't have to be either all or nothing in one encounter. That would be much the same as one combat encounter deciding an entire adventure. If you will focus more on social encounters then you should have many much like adventures have more than one combat encounter. 

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