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…

Originally shared by Alasdair Lawrence

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.

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

  1. In Burning Wheel, the Duel of Wits is not about convincing the other side as much as it is convincing any onlookers. We even had Player vs. Player Duel of Wits trying to sway NPCs to our side. It is a small but important distinction.

    What is “retaliate”? in the 7-9 look like mechanically?

    My rebuttal (see what I did there… grin)

    10+: Make your arguments (both PC and NPC), the majority of the crowd sides with you. The adversary doesn’t have to agree, but must make a concession or lose even the minority of the crowd.

    7-9: Make your arguments. The crowd is split, if you are to get your way, you must make a concession.

    6+: Make your arguments. The crowd and supporters verbally support your adversary and might even support with actions. You’ve lost your argument, but if you totally concede, may gain support among the silent minority.

    Now, it is not just the king, but his advisers, his barons and dukes and court all come into play, leading to more cool roleplaying. Concession and negotiation are the lifeblood of good social combat. Concessions are baked into the move.

  2. Storn Cook Interesting idea! I like the sound of it as a separate move, as my original intention was more around the idea of the foe, not the crowd, being the main measure of victory. The outcome of a ‘social battle’ might be they are humilated or overruled by an onlooking group or person as in your example, or it might be that they confess or storm off or burst into tears etc.

    With regard to my ‘retaliate’ this would likely take the form of the player Defying Danger with Charisma.

    The essential dilemma of my post is I would like to be able to use the same kind of rolls and back-and-forth with Hack & Slash as with social repartee. The issue underlying this desire is that physical combat has measures of damage dealt and HP remaining to determine whether a bout is won or lost or how close we are to an outcome, whereas social ‘combat’ lacks any kind of measure or stat which can be eroded, nor does it have any way of measuring the amount of damage inflicted on that stat

  3. I agree with +Storn Cook that a Duel of Wits is about convincing an audience of the merits of your argument. There’s a mistaken perception that social moves such as Persuasion checks and Parley are some kind of mind control/Jedi mind-trick; if you roll high enough, the NPC does what you ask or changes their opinion. But realistically, people don’t do things that go against their own interests without reason. That’s why you need leverage. The leverage is the price you have to pay for the NPC to do what you tell them instead of their regular job. If you don’t have leverage, then you’re asking nicely. Everyone is looking to you to see what happens next, so make a GM move.

    With regards to the OP, I would keep it simple, like so:

    When you debate someone in front of an audience, roll+CHA. *On a hit, the audience is generally persuaded that your argument is the correct one. *On a 7-9, the GM chooses one:

    – The audience’s support for you is tepid at best.

    – You must make a concession first.

    – Your opponent will demand satisfaction or hold a grudge.

  4. One big difference between a social and a physical conflict is that nobody is physically incapacitated in a social conflict. In a physical fight, there comes a point when the loser just can’t carry on (because they’re dead, unconscious or so badly wounded that they can’t act). In a social conflict, someone can always keep arguing (even if everyone else feels that it’s all over and their friends are trying to drag them away so they don’t embarrass themselves further).

    So, to get the ongoing multi-round feeling that you’re going for, rather than exhausting Composure (and the first to run out loses), you could perhaps have a move where each side instead accumulates concessions from the other. It then becomes a game of chicken, to see who bails first rather than risk conceding more.

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