Fading Suns Designer Diary — March 2018
This month, I thought I’d be sociable and discuss social “combat”.
Fading Suns 4th Edition will have rules for using mental and social coercion and persuasion to win friends and influence Vorox. Or something like that.
Below is a brief sketch. We’re still working on the full system, so please realize that this sneak peek is provisional; there are still many details to come.
We’re all familiar with physical combat in RPGs. It’s a staple of most game systems. Most things get done by resorting to sword or gun.
Social “combats” occur, too, but they are usually resolved in most RPGs through roleplaying, or sometimes with an abstracted roll that tells you whether you got what you want or not. We provide here a more specific system for determining particular effects from such things as arguments, politicking, stand-offs — any situation where one person tries to fool or impose his will upon another.
In the world of the fading suns, a sermon can often be as powerful as a sword strike. Not deadly — words don’t kill — but they do have psychological effects. Whether it’s a noble playing mind games with a courtier, a priest exhorting a sinner to change his ways, or a merchant haggling for a better price, characters use their social skills to eke advantage from interpersonal encounters. We call this influence.
There is no Vitality equivalent for social conflict. Instead, characters contest with NPCs in a war of words, jibes, glances, gestures —any means of communication — all in order to elicit a specific response. This response is defined in game terms as a psychological state that is imposed upon a contestant. Such a state is not merely a side effect of a successful social “attack”, as it can be with physical attacks (such as Dazed, Disoriented, etc.); it’s the main goal, the purpose for the combat.
Following a success with a social skill maneuver, the player spends VP (victory points) to impose a specific state on a target and to overcome the target’s Resistance (see below). States are conditions that hinder characters or alter their behavior.
States are rated by different intensities — mild, major, severe — and the VP cost varies by intensity. Also, some states can require one or more prerequisite states that must first be imposed on a target before they can be effective.
Most states are temporary and can often be “shaken off” early by the victim. In rare instances, certain states can become permanent until therapy can help resolve them.
This system is meant to enhance roleplaying, not replace it. It offers cues to the players and Gamemaster, guiderails for navigating character interactions.
Just as there are combat maneuvers — strikes, ripostes, snapshots — there are also social maneuvers: attempts to fast-talk someone, befriend them, or eke a confession out of them.
Most maneuvers result in a target becoming affected by a particular state, so long as the influencer pays the VP cost. The social maneuver castigate can make a target spill the beans about something he’s been hiding: he’s been Castigated.
There are four skills to consider for influence: Charm, Impress, Knavery, and Perform.
Each skill has a number of social maneuvers that any character with that skill can attempt.
If the maneuver delivers its impact, the target is put into its particular state. In general, the maneuver and the state share the same name. Using Charm skill to befriend someone is to make him Befriended.
Befriend — Change the target’s attitude to like you better.
Convince — Change the target’s mind about something.
Entreat — Get the target to do something.
Castigate — Make the target reveal information or feel immense guilt.
Command — Make the target do something.
Daunt — Make the target fear or respect you.
Confuse — Make a target doubt their beliefs or the evidence of their senses.
Deceive — Make a target believe outright lies.
Mock — Scorn or humiliate someone, to anger them, dishearten them, or make them an enemy.
Use song, story, music, dance, or even magic tricks to influence an audience.
Lampoon — Make ’em laugh.
Mesmerize — Capture the audience’s attention and evoke wonder.
Rouse — Bestir the audience’s hearts and minds, bringing them to tears or elation.
The mechanics for Resistance work the same way for social influence as for any action, but a character’s social Resistance rating is different than their physical Resistance rating (which is determined mainly such things as armor).
The most common building block for social Resistance is rank in one of the three major power-blocks in Known Worlds society: noble title, church ordination, and guild commission. It is more difficult for a knight to influence a duke or cardinal than a fellow knight. In the Known Worlds, social standing has real significance, backed by metaphysical assumptions about one’s place in the Pancreator’s plan for the universe. (The specific point values aren’t important now — we’ll reveal those when the rest of the system is rolled out.)
As I write this, I now have the initial drafts for much of the core rulebook from my authors. I will be “redlining” them with glee. That’s what we call the process of editing and commenting on a draft, because it’s fairly common to use a red pen to mark errors and note changes that are needed. Of course, nowadays I can make these marks in Word on my iPad — just don’t tell the Inquisition.
— Bill Bridges, Product Line Manager