Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Regency Romances and Social Mechanics: Part 1

This movie is  not what this post is about.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies showed up on my On Demand recently. I started to watch it, but set it aside to see if my wife would be interested in watching it with me. I read the book when it first came out and was pretty underwhelmed, so I wasn't too eager to see the film and the reviews and buzz didn't make me any more excited, but what the heck. Sometimes a mediocre movie has cool ideas for gaming so one never knows. 

But this post isn't about Zombies, but the film did remind me of this fun post from the Wine and Savages blog about using Savage Worlds to run regency style romances. The social interactions in novels like Pride and Prejudice operate in an unfamiliar and more  regimented and hierarchical social structure that what we experience in 21st century here in the West. Of course that is part of the appeal of 19th century romances or their modern Regency Romance novel successors.

And while a Regency social environment complete with social mechanics, or as it is sometimes called social combat, is not everyone's cup of tea (hopefully you saw what I did there), it is an approach that I find interesting as a way of managing the game issues related to running characters (PCs or NPCs) whose social skills differ from that of the player or GM in question. Those of you who are familiar with the issues around running a character who is considerably more (or less) charismatic, socially adept, persuasive, etc. than is the player can skip the next section.

Social Interaction in RPGs

One issue that occurs in gaming is how do or how should players (and here I include the GM) run characters whose abilities in areas like intelligence, perception, persuasion, and likeability or charisma differs significantly from the that of the player. There are a number of ways this gets done in gaming.

(1) The PC's abilities are identical to that of the players.

In this way of playing, smart, clever, persuasive players can and do run smart, clever, and persuasive characters while dull, not so bright, unpersuasive players can't, and hence don't. Traps are figured out, riddles answered, tactics provided by the player regardless of any ability or lack of ability of there PC. Here the only function of stats or abilities like Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma is mechanical. The stats control the number of spells or skills available and provide bonuses to die rolls like an initial reaction roll or a morale roll, but which typically are not used for actively persuading anyone of anything. And the rolls are not used to determine anything about what a PC feels.

This is the oldest manner in which these issues are managed dating back the early days of D&D. The upside is one doesn't have to spend any time or have a system for resolving persuasion and figuring stuff out. Either the player of the target character is persuaded by what the other player had their character say or they aren't. Either the player of the character who is trying to figure stuff out actually figured stuff out or they didn't. The downside is what while you can play someone stupider and duller than you, you can't play the Batman unless you really are as smart as the Batman in real life. And the sad truth is, no matter who you are, you aren't that smart.

(2) Players volunteer to use their PC's abilities as a guide for what the player chooses to say or do.

This method may be applied to any system and it was seen more or less contemporaneous with the first method. Depending on the player's desire and interest it works well for self-limiting, i.e. playing a character whose abilities are equal to or less than those of the player. But for obvious reasons, it doesn't really work for playing characters whose abilities significantly exceed those of the players. So every player can, if they wish, play a character who is an impulsive, unpersuasive, idiot. Which can be fun, especially for a short campaign. But you can't act like a genius of deduction like Sherlock Holmes or the Batman if you aren't yourself a genius at deduction.

(3) The PC's abilities provide modifiers, but any system is minimalist almost to the point of non-existence.

This style of play is used in rules-lite systems where a simple, single roll may be used to guide the GM in determining success. This might be a simple D100, D20, 3d6, 2d6, or what have you sort of roll. The earliest example of this was the 2d6 Reaction roll and the Morale roll in OD&D. Charisma gave a bonus or penalty to the roll. So the Charisma stat effects how NPCs react to the PC (at least initially) regardless of what the PC does or says before or after the roll.

(4) The system includes skills for social or intellectual skills. 

Examples of more elaborate skill based systems include Runequest at its family of games like Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, and Basic Role Playing, Melee/Wizard and GURPS, HERO, Victory Game's James Bond 007, Star Wars D6, and many others. Therse systems include more elaborate die rolling with skills for persuasion or even multiple skills for different kinds of persuasion e.g. emotional appeals to large audiences, fast talking one or two people for a quick result, reasoned debate, commanding troops, or haggling over prices. Now the success of the PC is typically determined by what the player says and how well or poorly they rolled. GM's often vary in how much they weigh what was said as compared to what was rolled. 

Typically in these systems PCs are immune to die rolls for persuasion by other characters (whether PC or NPC). So one obvious down side is that even though in combat PCs and NPCs are treated the same, in the area of persuasion we don't treat PCs the same as the NPCs. In fact, many gamers see this discrepancy as a desirable feature and not a flaw. 

Which shouldn't surprise anyone who has noticed that some gamers don't want their PCs to face the same physical risks as do the NPCs, hence the desire for campaigns where the PCs, like most series TV stars, never die - or if they do die it turns out that was all a dream, they get resurrected, or some other deus ex machina ensures that the series regular, I mean player character, is back again next week in the same time slot.

(5) The system also effects PCs.

Any system in (4) above can be played this way if the players choose to do so. I've had players who use die rolls or allow die rolls to influence there PC. Sometimes this is only for trivial things like does the PC like (or dislike) some new and unusual food or drink or it can be used for more consequential things like how attractive does the PC find some other character. Systems that explicitly mandate skills effecting PCs are arrived later on the gaming seen. The first that I am aware of that uses this to a large extent is Chaosiums King Arthur Pendragon. 

In Pendragon a PC could (and usually should) be effected by rolls in a way that determines feelings and to some extent resultant actions. PCs may be the targets of seduction, persuasion, intimidation, fear or even just general laziness, in the exact same way as are the NPCs. So your knight might fail to resist the alluring charms of the Lady in Green even if you, the player, might have preferred that the knight succeeded in resisting. Similarly, unlike most other RPGS, your character's bravery is effected or even determined by a stat and die roll not solely by player choice. Roll bad enough and your knight is afraid and runs away from the dragon even if you the player don't want your knight to be afraid.

Personally I find a game like Pendragon where some of my control as a player is taken away fun. I don't want to play it all the time though. Sometimes I want my character, unlike me or other real people, to be completely impervious to fear, intimidation, sloth, lust, envy, or persuasion.

Next time, what does all this have to do with Regency Romances?

Go to Part 1
Go to Part 2
Go to Part 3


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