Here’s an idea for social combat that came out of the Battletech wargame, of all things.
The typical conception of combat is hit points or health levels. Reduce your opponent’s health to zero, then you get to do something to them: kill them and take their stuff, or maybe capture them and take their stuff.
In such a system, successful and enjoyable social combat should be based on the same principle: reduce their ‘social health’ to zero, then you get to do something to them. (This is by no means a new concept- see Body of Argument and Duel of Wits in the Burning Games).
So here’s my big idea: your social combat worksheet looks like a big cross.
At the center, you have your Confidence. If that box is ‘checked off’ by taking social damage, you’re somehow at the mercy of whoever did it to you.
There’s two mental stats: Reason, and Passion, and four mental modes of attack: Argument, Befuddlement, Intimidation, and Seduction.
Argument and Befuddlement correspond to Reason. Argument is based on bringing someone over to your way of thinking by using rational argument and appealing to their own beliefs. Befuddlement is based on lying, confusing, and just plain screwing your opponent up.
If you have a low reason, you’re easy to confuse, so you don’t have many boxes for Befuddlement. On the other hand, it’s really hard for people to convince you of things using socratic dialogue and rhetoric, so you have lots and lots of boxes for Argument.
If you have high reason, you can keep your wits about you, so you have more boxes to defend against Befuddlement- but at the same time, you have ingrained notions, and people who can appeal to those can easily sway you to a compromise, giving you fewer boxes of Argument defense.
(Note that your defense roll will be better though, so it’s probably still better to have high Reason.)
Intimidation and Seduction are based on Passion. Seduction is based on giving people what they want- money, power, or sex. Intimidation is based on scaring the bejesus out of people.
If you have a low passion, you don’t really care about much- your morale is low, so it’s easy to get you to waver using Intimidation. However, since you don’t really care about anything, it’s hard for people to manipulate you by playing to your goals, and you have more defense against Seduction.
If you have high passion, you can’t be swayed from your duties by mere show of force! You have lots of boxes to resist Intimidation. But, if someone figures out what you want in life, and gives it to you, you’ll do lots of things for them- you don’t have as many boxes of Seduction defense.
(And like Reason, Passion is rolled for lots of other stuff too, so it’s probably healthy to have a high Passion.)
Argument and Seduction are High Methods- they require a language in common, some knowledge of your enemy, and generally, some sort of price to be paid. The don’t work on mindless monsters. Damage from Argument and Seduction causes no penalties until the final core box is checked off- the person doing the arguing wants their new pawn at full strength!
Befuddlement and Intimidation are Low Methods- you don’t have to have a language in common, although it can help, they work on mindless monsters, and best of all, they give action penalties- the whole point is just to screw someone up. However, you have less options for what you can force someone to do.
And if you’re in court or something, and have a big entourage, that can be a big circle of people around your boxes, which the enemy has to ‘break through’ before they can get to you. Its hard convincing someone of something when they’ve got an army of sycophants telling them they’re right.