I’ve been thinking recently about what might be called Social Combat and I was wondering if anyone had any ideas…

I’ve been thinking recently about what might be called Social Combat and I was wondering if anyone had any ideas…

I’ve been thinking recently about what might be called Social Combat and I was wondering if anyone had any ideas about how to implement it elegantly in FotF or DW or how the current moves might be used to create a more structured social confrontation

Currently, as I understand it, a physical combat has HP which is attacked with Damage dealt by successful Fight/Hack n Slash/Volley/etc rolls

a social combat might come down to a Negotiate roll or a Charisma-based Defy Danger/Saving Throw

The difference between the two is the 10+ outcome of a Fight roll is not “the monster dies” since it’s understood there is an HP stat which must be exhausted. On the other hand the Negotiate roll is rather all-or-nothing – if the player’s intent is to convince the king the evil baron is not to be trusted, a 10+ roll will thus convince the king. Perhaps you could make them roll more than once on the same stat to represent various stages of convincing, but that’s quite boring and unfair as you’re basically just asking them to try over and over until they fail.

There is a system called Honor & Intrigue in which social combat is represented with a social HP called Composure and there are various ’rounds’ of repartee where players and NPCs roll + relevant modifiers and a successful roll lowers the other’s Composure. Reaching 0 Composure means that person is defeated, and might storm off in a humiliated huff or spill the beans or confess to the murder etc.

I think there are situations which might call for a similarly-structured social combat where there is a Social HP to exhaust before victory. Perhaps I’m overcomplicating things, but here’s an early, very rough rule. It’s basically Fight/Hack n Slash but with an attempt to include HP into a Charisma roll.


When you engage with an intractable or uncooperative group or figure in verbal repartee, say what you want from your opponent or what you want them to do. Then describe how you want to approach your opponent (schmooze, mock, intimidate, plea, etc.). Then both sides hold 3 Composure.

When you make a verbal attack, describe what you say and how. The GM may award a +1 for engaging roleplay. Then roll + CHA

10+ your wordplay overcomes their defenses. They lose 1 Composure

7-9 you make some headway but they retort with a smart comeback. They lose 1 Composure, but retaliate

6- mark XP, you are tongue-tied or your delivery falls flat. GM makes a move

When Composure reaches 0, that character is defeated. They will storm off, burst into tears, reveal hidden information, etc. If the player is defeated, describe how your character deals with the humiliation or intimidation of their loss and mark XP.

9 thoughts on “I’ve been thinking recently about what might be called Social Combat and I was wondering if anyone had any ideas…”

  1. Can you describe for me what it is you’d like to see at the table? I also agree that Parley doesn’t feel like enough. But if other rules systems/tweaks are proposed, I’d like to be able to understand what that will look like at the table…

  2. From D&D you should check out On the NPC by Courtney Campbell. It has a mechanical system around social combat and managing PC relationships. You can probably use it as inspiration for PbtA moves.

  3. (It uses D&D reaction rolls as it’s basis, so that’s all 2d6 as well. Some of the mechanics are pretty complicated, and have that AD&D 1e vibe.)

  4. Chris Shorb essentially imagine a basic sword-&-HP fight but substituted for words-&-feelings.

    “I attack the goblin” – get an 8 on Fight – d6 damage with sword = 4 – goblin has 2 HP remaining – “the goblin strikes back at you!” – make a saving throw with DEX to dodge – get a 4 – “the goblin rakes your ribs with his war-claws!” – d4+2 damage = 5 damage, you have 12 HP remaining

    We now have

    “I antagonise the courtier” – get an 8 on Parley – [some form of social damage?] – courtier has [X amount of some social HP?] remaining – “the courtier snaps back with a withering remark about your poor breeding!” – make a saving through with CHA to shrug it off – get a 4 – “the crowd sniggers as you can’t help but blush in humilated fury!” – [social damage?] = you have [X social HP?] remaining

    Does that make sense? Sorry if I’m unclear

  5. Alasdair Lawrence So I like the fiction to be a bit more robust at the table, even for weapons combat.

    Player: “I attack the goblin”

    Me: “what does that look like on screen?”

    Player: “Oh, uh – I rip my sword from my scabbard and leap through the air onto the closest one – hopefully also the most flea-bitten!”

    Me: “Roll Hack and Slash – that’s +STR.”

    Player: “I rolled an 8…”

    Me: “I’ll give you a choice: Take a d6 damage from the goblin’s sword; or slip as you land and roll over to his buddy. His buddy grins as he takes out his dagger and tries to stab you. Oh yeah, you are starting to itch from all the fleas… What do you do?”

    So I guess my question is – the rules you outline above seem to be a good fit for a procedural game.

    “I negotiate.” “Ok Roll the move”

    “I antagonize” “Ok Roll the move”

    “I flirt” etc.

    Which is fine; but I’m wondering if there’s a way to get a little more narrative oomph. Maybe we just need 2 moves, just like physical combat has 2 (3 if you include Defend, 4 if you include Defy Danger for things that happen in “combat”).

    Oh, and what if the encounter has both Social and Physical aspects – that would be really cool…

  6. Chris Shorb I agree. The example I provided lacked narrative oompah becuase I was just trying to convey the bare-bones comparison between social and phyiscal combat

    I also agree what we basically want and need to solve this ‘problem’ is the same amount (and type) of moves as for physical combat – a verbal hack&slash, a verbal volley, Defy Danger + CHA, and a verbal Defend (which can probably just be Help or Hinder)

    now I don’t know if we even need the distinction between hack&slash and volley since range isn’t a thing really in social combat, unless we want to make another distinction like “social-volley is for hurling insults at someone from out of an anonymous crowd, social-hack&slash is for face-to-face confrontation”

    But ultimately this isn’t a particularly difficult system to invent until you get to the underlying issue – physical combat has HP and damage, social combat has nothing like that to represent strong or weak verbal “hits”

  7. I could see “Volley” being something like trying to destroy someone’s reputation at a remove – either through gossip, press releases, or something along those lines.

    Would reputation serve for HP? RP? Reputation Points? Because ultimately, social standing has to do with your reputation.

    Although now you have a new economy. And one that doesn’t feel like it serves 100%. Because while you may have a terrible rep with the police, you have a great rep with the Thieve’s Guild…


  8. I’ve used DW/PbtA for psychic/social combat before. You just need an analog for HP, to determine your system of damage, and to decide which abilities you want to use for moves.

    In one of my games, two wizards willfully sized each other up at a glance; what appeared to be a momentary silent staring contest was in fact a clash of egos played out as a brute-force socio-magical duel involving a dozen or more moves!

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