12 Feb 2014

Table Top - The Social Game

In many RPG's combat is used as an easy set up for conflict. In many cases many new groups combat is the primary conflict resolution in the campaign. Some of my best and favourite adventures included little to no combat.

Top of my list was a Legend of Five Rings session in ran back in 2002. It was a Winter Court (when the various nobles hide in their homes and play extended games of clue and back room deals) where there was only one fight but the PC's had to work out a murder that one PC pinned on the NPC that another had decided to romantically pursue. Not a single combat but the whole plot was resolved and everyone had a great time. The session and the repercussions (that were kept secret until 2007) are still talked about today. 

Another was a game of Vampire the Masquerade (2nd Edition) where desire and player goals were the focus. Not a single gun was shot and not a single blood was beaten/cut out of a unwilling victim. 
The Combat Conflict Resolution Phase
Last on the list was another L5R game where after one round of combat the players were finally able to piece together the mystery and had to come up with a solution to a complex problem of honour and political reality. 

Yet there are those that follow the following rules of discussion... 

Beating up the other guy as a way to win the conversation. 

Combat driven games can be fun as well but it can be a dangerous trap to fall into. One that can also be hard to escape. When all you have are players who build PC's for combat without any non-combat challenges then a downward spiral of combat as the only conflict takes over and the PC's never get out.

I've got a few fears with this.


I have an upcoming L5R game and I want to play a Bushi (warrior samurai) but I'm loaded with social and lore skills. Will my GM include lots of court events or social interaction that doesn't devolve into combat or worse is simply an illusion where social events are linear conflicts like a classic rail shooter with little use of the social or lore skills.

In my experience it took a lot of effort to include the social challenges within my selection of conflicts in the adventures I was running. I fucked it up a few times but more often I think I had it working and more then once it was working well...

I'm also part of a IKRPG idea. Where four of us are playing in the conflicted kingdom of Llael has been occupied by two different military forces while still clinging to some sense of rebellious freedom. It looks a lot like occupied France in WW1 and WW2.

Of the four of us, three of us will be running a game in a different portion of the occupied country. Pale Rider will be sticking to his routes with the Northern Crusade in the Protectorate of Menoth occupation zone. Ontos will handle the free Llael where I play an aristocratic alchemist who will take on a third career of spy. I have taken it upon me to run the Khador occupied zone.

I'm also stuck with IKRPG being based on a brilliant combat engine. I don't want the PC's to be bad guys. I did that for two years with a Coalition campaign in Palladium Book's setting RIFTS. Instead I want to make these Khador PC's to feel heroic even if the setting uses them far to often as the black hat in the story arc. I also want to add a series of social and political conflicts in the game.

When you see premade games you will see most folks will write them up broken into encounters. These tend to be major role-playing events sprinkled over combat encounters. I want it the other way. I want players to feel rewarded for cleaver social interaction. I want them to be encouraged to play those face characters.

First of all it provides a more rounded RPG experience. Look at all the major video game RPGs of the last console cycle as a small example. Decision making outside of combat is a major +plus in games like Fallout 3, Mass Effect and Alpha Protocol that made them not only successful but also was one of those things that made them great games.

I have an idea for a video game that includes no combat. Just social choices and exploration. I don't have the skills needed to make it but I'm gona make sure to put some of the ideas locked away in my brain onto paper and hope the idea could be used later on in the future... event though the game will never get made.

I like combat games but I also like social games.

As a GM take some time to prep for social games. Plan them as much as you would plan a combat encounter. Create props or tools before the game so you can hand out info to PC's as they discover things. Leave it up to them to share the info to the rest of the group. I did this for L5R, it was a load of work but well worth it.

Encourage your PC's to try out new things and other classes but don't forget you need to also try out new things and encourage yourself to reach out for those social moments instead of combat.

Until next time - cheers