Social combat in Dungeon World

Social combat in Dungeon World

Social combat in Dungeon World

My campaign calls for the PC to leave dungeon delving behind and switch their fighting kit for the fine garments of a courtier.

While Parley is a move I intend to use a lot, it is not always appropriate. They might have to simply and politely convince someone of something and/or do not have leverage on the said person.

Hence I am trying to come up with social combat mechanics to cover this type of situation. I want a system which requires players to actually think and argue their position but does not necessarily relies on their oratory skills (not everyone is a born actor/orator) or simply rely on the GM agreeing or not with the player . I confess the following has a lot to do with the social combat system in Burning Wheel.

The combat takes place in two phases which are themselves subdivided in sub-phases:


This takes place before the actual social combat

a) Each protagonist starts by summarizing clearly and concisely his/her argument/belief in the upcoming debate (“I believe the following:… “)

b) Each protagonist define his/her argument’s Hit Point using the table below for  reference:

“This is an argument/belief I believe in but do not pay much attention to”: 10HP

“This is an argument/belief I believe in strongly that I am willing to publicly debate”: 15HP

“This is a core argument/belief and I could kill for it”: 20HP

“This is a core argument/belief I am willing to die for”: 25HP 

c) The protagonists agree among themselves and beforehand the consequences of wining/losing this debate (“If I win, you will agree to this and that and take the following action. If I loose, I will agree to this and that and take the following action”). The GM insures that both outcomes are of a similar magnitude and in accordance with the arguments Hit Points (a character will not do something drastic/ illegal/which goes against his core beliefs if he or she has lost only a small argument).


The debate actually starts. The PC takes a Debate Move

When you Debate with an opponent, speak an argument in favour of your position. Let the GM speak his. Roll 2D6+CHA and see below:

10+: You have just done a masterful/highly moving demonstration. Reduce your opponent’s argument Hit Point by 1D6. Furthermore, you may choose one of the following:

• Ignore your opponent intelligence modifier when rolling the D6 for damages

• Reduce his argument Hit Point by a further 1D6. He however reduces yours by 1D4

7-9: You have the upper hand in the debate but your opponent also scores a few good points. Reduce his argument’s Hit Point by 1D6. He reduces yours by 1D4

6-: You are lost for words as your opponent ram in his argument. He reduces your argument’s Hit Point by 1D6

Additional rules

• Intelligence acts as armor. When a character reduces his argument’s Hit Point, subtract to the damage any positive Intelligence modifier he or she may have. This applies equally to NPC (Your run of the mill bad guy has a modifier of 0. A particularly craft full and suave big bad boss may have a modifier of +3). You may not regain argument’s Hit Point this way.

• You have to speak. If for whatever reason the player cannot in good faith come up with a new/unheard argument in favour of his her position, assume that the result of the 2D6+CHA is 6-

• The GM has to speak. If for whatever reason the GM cannot in good faith come up with a new/unheard argument in favour of his her position, assume that the result of the 2D6+CHA is 10+

End game:

• If you have reduced your opponent’s argument’s Hit Point and your argument’s Hit Points are still positive, you have won the debate. The consequences of the debate agreed in the prep phase take effect.

• If your opponent has reduced your argument’s Hit Points to zero and his are still positive, he/she has won the debate. The consequences of the debate agreed in the prep phase take effect.

• If both yours and your opponent arguments’ Hit Point are reduced to zero, the debate is inconclusive. You agree to disagree and stay on your original positions.

What do you think of the above rules and what would you do differently?

22 thoughts on “Social combat in Dungeon World”

  1. What I think: I don’t like them that much. 

    First, they seem to do an awful lot without the fiction part of things. Asking for people to say things in character is one thing, but your rules work even if they don’t. 

    Second, they seem too complicated for my taste.

    But that’s just me. 

    How I do: I follow the fiction, I trust the back-and-forth and I make the most of the rules as is. Parlay is just one piece of the “social combat” in DW. The other moving parts are everything else. Especially Discern Realities, Spout Lore, Defy Danger and GM moves.

    Especially things like Discern and Spout Lore : that’s where you get a leverage when you have none, and you can always find a leverage.

    Discern with clever questions forces the GM to give intel on the target, and since the GM must be honest, players can use them to get leverage. “Who’s in control here” can be golden.

    Defy Danger can be triggered by things like “they might take that as an insult” and gives pretty fun results.

    Spout can even let the players create intel they can then use as leverage or as basis for leverage.

    GM-wise, everything that an NPC says can (and if you want tense, must) be a move. “Go now or I’ll scream” is putting them on a spot. “I won’t speak to a dwarf” is showing a downside. “I might need some help” is giving an opportunity. Etc.

    For me, when the conversation is high stake and shit, Parlay is just the money shot, the finish him. If you want that duke to lend you an army – that duke who’s richer, more powerful and more reputable than us, what the hell could he want form us? – it’s gonna be a long, tense discussion before you can find your leverage. And maybe you won’t find it. But it’s always there.

  2. Question: what’s so fun about combat in DW? Hack ‘n slash? Volley? Defy danger?

    No, in my opinion the salt of combat are the Tags. Find some Tags for your court people and you’ll have more fun in debating with Defy Danger +CHA/SAG/INT

    And if you really need HP, than I would’nt give them to arguments but to the PC’s reputation (which is the only REAL thing at stakes in a royal court). Just my opinion, you know…

  3. Ah because my campaign calls for the PC to take on the role of diplomats. That’s where I find the Parley or the Defy danger not well suited… though I will keep in mind the Discern roll here as suggested by Gregory (Thanks). They will have to convince people to do things for them while other people will try to convince the same people to do otherwise (and they will have also some good arguments)

    I find Defy danger not applicable… because the PC will not necessarily be in physical danger. For example: “yes your highness… this is why we think you should ally with us rather than with our enemies, regardless of what my esteemed colleague Ambassador XYZ may have to say”. Where is the danger there? 

  4. Julien Tabulazero I just wrote some social moves. May I post them for you? Maybe you’ll like them.

    Edit: My thoughts are: if you want them to be doing courtly politics stuff, then it is much much bigger than just persuasion. It’s schmoozing, making small talk, and playing the social game. So I wrote moves for that.

  5. No I have not had a chance. What lesson could I derive some

    To further answer to Gregory, yes I wanted a system that worked both way (ie you can either role-play the exchange in character or summarise your arguments) that’s because on one hand I have a player who is an amateur actor and who will make an excellent ambassador but on the other hand I have a player who works in IT, he is not the most charismatic guy out there but he is incredibly smart and usually find very good arguments. I want it to work for both type of players

  6. Julien Tabulazero

    These are court politics move that follow the idea that court politics are petty and mostly involve being petty. One for each mental stat, and one that let’s the wealthy succeed where the poor would have to work hard. Untested, but could work.

    When you become part of a court’s web of lies and maneuverings, you are automatically welcomed into a number of social circles appropriate to your INT, WIS, CHA.

    When you insult someone with a witty barb in front of a crowd, roll+INT. On a hit, you cement your social standing over them and the crowd laughs and laughs. On a 10+, choose two. On a 7-9, choose one.

    •They don’t realize you insulted them

    •A relation doesn’t come after you for honor

    •They let something important slip while trying to keep social ground

    •You get the attention of one of their enemies

    When you work a crowd to learn about someone important (your call), roll+WIS. On a hit, you learn what social circles they belong to. On a 10+, you learn two of the facts below. On a 7-9, you learn two of the rumors below.

    •Who they associate with privately

    •What projects they’re working on

    •When they’re most available

    •Where they spend their time

    •Why they do what they do

    •How they can reached

    When you have the undivided attention of an audience and spread rumors about someone, roll+CHA. On a hit, the story is eaten up by your audience and they spread it to their own social circles. On a 10+, choose three. On a 7-9, choose one.

    •The rumor is spread far and wide

    •The rumor is difficult to shake

    •The rumor takes on a life of its own

    •The rumor doesn’t come back to you

    When you spend Coin to make others do the hard work for you, you may spend Coin to get +1 preparation, per hundreds spent this way, up to 3 preparation.

  7. This is my rumor move from AW

    Plant a rumor: when you go around, spreading a rumor, tell us what it is and roll +secret spend

    On a hit it spreads around the hardhold but on a 7-9 choose 1

    – The rumor changes into something new/unexpected

    – People heard of it but don’t believe it

    – It get’s traced back to you

  8. I feel this way is more convoluted than combat, and combat seems to be the most involved part of DW rules wise. Trying to convince someone of an idea would take multiple rolls as you try to win the debate.

    If you don’t trust in just using the fiction(or players are not great at this aspect of the game) and want to set a move or moves for social interactions you could just stick the old standbys: Intimidate, diplomacy, and bluff.  You could just use Discern Realities as Sense motive.

    Maybe something like:

    Eye to Eye:

    When you are trying to convince an NPC to see eye to eye with you, and you don’t have any leverage to Parley roll 2d6+CHA: on a 10+ You convince the NPC through your use of fear tactics, your charming persona, bold face lies, or a combination of all three. On a 7-9 the NPC is leaning your way but will still need some more convincing, or something to sweeten the pot. 

  9. There is also something I do not like with the Parlay move is that all the negotiation is summarized in a single roll. It’s all or nothing.

    It has the advantage of being quick (and works very well if you are at the bottom of a dungeon negotiating something with the local evil overlord) but not necessarily well suited in a more civilized setting where you are trying to influence people around you.

    I realize that I am probably using DW in a setting for which it was not developed (intrigue vs dungeoneering) but it is such a great game that I want to give it a shot anyway.

  10. Also your system needs a compromise rule like burning wheel has. So when I win but lost half my points then I have to give the other guy something too. When I nearly lost then he too gets most of his goal etc.

    What stops me from always going for the highest hit points variable? There should be an additional cost for doing that otherwise it will always happen.

  11. Those Monsterheart Moves looks amazing. I am not sure I can use them (since it seem to require lot’s of people sleeping with lot’s of other people in a complicated way)… but the whole game itself looks simply amazing. I will definitely put it on my list of game I want to play.

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