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Social Combat

This is a system of social conflict resolution based off of the standard combat system in the Core book. A lot of the ideas are adapted from or inspired by shaping combat as well, in case that wasn't obvious.

The Basic Idea

Init: Wits + Manipulation
Attack: Manipulation + Presence

||Tactics|| || ||Acc||Damage||Def||Rate|| ||Persuasion||+Comp.||+App.||+Comp.||Wits|| ||Intimidation||+Valor||+Str (P)*||+Valor||Wits|| ||Reason||+Temp.||+Int||+Temp.||Wits|| ||Zeal||+Conv.||+Cha||+Conv.||Wits|| ||Staredown||+0||+0, P**||+0||1||

(*) Intimidation does piercing damage, halving Willpower soak (though not Appearance). However, subtract a number of successes equal to one-half of the target’s Valor (rounded up) from the attack roll.
(**) see below for the special staredown rules.

Defense: Counterargument, using same set of tactics (roll Manipulation + Presence again) or topic avoidance (roll Manipulation + Socialize + Essence)
Base Damage: Charisma + successes
Soak: Appearance + Willpower

Staredowns are a special kind of social tactic, one that relies less on skill with words or body language than on sheer force of presence. A staredown can only occur at conversational ranges, as with other social conflict - the participants must be able to see each other's eyes. A staredown begins as any other social tactic, but it suffers a Speed modifier of -6 in addition to the statistics given above. Staredowns are rolled as Charisma or Manipulation + Presence, and may face counterarguments or topic changes as normal. If these fail to prevent the staredown, then both participants begin facing one another, taking no other action than to make staredown rolls.
Staredown rolls are full-round actions for both participants, and occur on the initiative of the higher-rolling character. The staredown can only be ended when one character looks away, which causes them to lose face. Social attacks made against a character who has lost face gain a +2 Accuracy bonus until the character takes a dice action to reassert him- or herself.
Staredown rolls are contested actions. Whoever wins the staredown roll each turn may either choose to deal base social damage (equal to Charisma + the extra successes on the staredown roll - this damage is piercing, reducing the oppoent's Willpower soak by half rounded down), force the other participant to look away and thus lose face, or simply maintain the staredown.
Before a staredown roll is made, either participant may choose to look away and lose face. This does not occur until after the other participant makes a free, unresisted staredown roll and inflicts staredown damage, and counts as a full-round action for both participants. On the following turn, both characters may act normally, though the loser has still lost face until they reassert themselves.

Scale of Effect

The result of social "damage" is determined by the scale on which the conflict is operating - what the stakes are, for lack of a better term. Small scale combat is minor, everyday, immediate social dispute. Large scale combat, on the other hand, is intended to be substantive, life-changing debate or persuasion. The effect of each is similar, but the scale (as you might expect) is quite different.

Small Scale Effect: If damaged, target must make Essence + Willpower roll, difficulty equal to damage successes. DBs get +1 die, Celestials get +2 dice, Solars/Abyssals get +3 dice. Success means nothing happens; failure means target is influenced.

Limitations on influence: No longer than one scene, no loss of irreplaceable resources, no violation of deeply held beliefs, no changes to overall behavior, no immediate likelihood of harm. ST’s determination of whether given outcome is within bounds of influence – some things may be small scale to certain individuals that are large scale to others, and vice versa. Examples: let me into the party, be my sex partner for the night, believe what I say on my word alone for the rest of the scene.

Large Scale Effect: Record damage on damage track, equal to Conviction + Permanent Essence. If any damage is taken, characters are at –1 to their social pools. If damage fills damage track, character is at –4 to social pools, and attacker may target any one of other three Virtues and attempt to do further damage to them. Each other Virtue has a damage track equal to its own rating. Large scale effects are permanent, and depend on which Virtue is attacked, as follows:

Compassion: A target that fills up their Compassion track has been traumatized, and can no longer apply one of their Virtues to a given context, chosen by the attacker:
  • A Compassion-traumatized character lacks empathy for a specific target determined by the attacker – civil behavior toward the target requires 1 WP per scene, and active cooperation requires a number of WP equal to their Compassion per scene.
  • A Conviction-traumatized character can no longer bear to witness an event or scenario specified by the attacker – watching passively requires 1 WP per scene, and actively engaging in the scenario requires a number of WP equal to their Conviction per scene.
  • A Temperance-traumatized character can no longer contain a passionate emotion named by the attacker – controlling this passion requires 1 WP per scene, and the cost is raised to a number of WP per scene equal to their Temperance if the emotion is actively provoked.
  • A Valor-traumatized character gains an overwhelming fear of an object or person named by the attacker – facing the terror requires 1 WP per scene, and actively challenging or attacking it requires a number of WP equal to the character’s Valor per scene.
Temperance: A target that fills up their Temperance damage track has been converted. The target’s Nature immediately changes to one of the attacker’s determination. In addition, the attacker may modify one aspect of the victim’s personality. The possible aspects are associated with the Five Elements:
  • Air: Beliefs – the attacker may add, alter or remove the victim’s system of worship or belief.
  • Earth: Code of behavior – the attacker may stipulate one action that becomes either acceptable or repugnant to the victim.
  • Fire: Passions – the attacker may create or remove one desire, interest or hobby in the victim’s mind.
  • Water: Society – the attacker may convince the victim to either join or leave a specified group.
  • Wood: Goals – the attacker may specify a new goal for the victim to achieve.
How far the victim pursues these new changes to his or her personality is determined by their Virtues, as usual. Note that the target is aware of the change, but has been successfully convinced by the attacker that the new state of affairs is superior.
Valor: A character whose Valor track has been filled is pacified. A pacified character treats the attacker as someone in authority over him or her, someone to be obeyed, if not worshiped. They will never again directly challenge the character or violate his or her direct commands, no matter how dangerous or unpleasant. This does not, of course, necessarily guarantee loyalty – just because a character realizes that the attacker is more powerful and should be obeyed does not mean that they like the attacker any more. A great deal depends on which tactic the attacker used to pacify the victim – a Persuasive character may well have earned herself a new Follower or Ally, whereas a Zealous character may gain a Cult or Influence. Intimidating characters will typically be viewed as tyrannous by their subjects, though this does not necessarily mean opposition.


Social conflict can occur against or between groups as well as individuals, and on small or large scale either way. You can use Mail and Steel rules to model this kind of discussion. In many ways, debates between groups are even more a reflection of the groups’ leaders than M&S uses. Treat this conflict as traditional Mail and Steel combat, with the following modifications:

  • Complementary units must have all 4 Virtues, not just Valor.
  • Determine the average social damage of the unit’s rank-and-file. (Calculate it as though using the tactic associated with the unit’s highest Virtue.) Add 1/4 that total to the unit leader’s social damage dice pool.
  • Take 1/3 of the average Willpower of the rank-and-file and subtract that many successes automatically from every social damage roll. This functions like an ordinary unit’s Armor Trait.
  • Though the unit’s social traits do not add to the attacker or defender’s rolls, apply the effects of Magnitude differences normally. Note that the attacker must be able to interact socially with the entire defending unit to be able to affect it. Additionally, the unit leader gains the usual benefit of any Might the unit may possess.
  • The Drill trait in this context represents the loyalty of the rank-and-file to the unit leader. This is primarily relevant for ending the debate – see below.
  • The initiative roll is the same as with normal social combat.
  • Social conflict does not inflict fatigue or force Morale rolls (it is, in some ways, one massive Morale roll), nor does Order have any effect on the debate.
  • Attacks and defenses substitute Performance for Presence. Socialize is unchanged from its use in personal conflict, however.
  • In small scale conflict, every roll to avoid influence failed by the defender results in a loss of one Magnitude from the defender, and the addition of one Magnitude to the attacker. This represents the shift in public opinion between the two leaders. Any Magnitude gained by the attacker represents members of the rank-and-file that have been influenced. For example, if a Magnitude 5 unit loses 2 dots of Magnitude to influence, the attacker will only have influenced 2 Magnitude worth of people (about 75), even though the unit will have lost far more than that (perhaps as many as 400). The remainder have become neutral, but additional gains by the attacker may convince them to join his or her side after all – for example, in the debate above, if the attacker influenced 2 more Magnitude of people, he or she would gain about 225 people, even though the defender would have only lost about 115 – the extra came from the previously-neutral characters who have now been influenced as well.
  • In large scale conflict, Magnitude multiplies the defender’s Essence + Willpower track just as it would his or her Health Levels, but the unit uses the unit’s average ratings in the various Virtues to determine when a Magnitude has been traumatized, converted or pacified. Caluclate the shift in affected members of the rank-and-file in the same way as for small scale combat, above.
  • Ending debate between large groups can be dangerous. Taking a group out of a shouting match can be very tricky, and not everyone may want to stop shouting at each other. To end a debate, the unit leader must make a Charisma + Presence roll against a difficulty of the unit’s (Magnitude – Drill + 3). This is a full action, during which the unit will not be able to defend against any attacks.
  • Staredowns in mass conflict occur solely between unit leaders, and take one action within a long turn. If both sides are not willing to particpate in the staredown, the attacker must use the "attacking a unit leader" rules and suffer the appropriate penalty to his or her attack pool in order to achieve this. In addition to social damage inflicted directly against the unit leader and the price of losing face, the loser must make an immediate Chariosma + Presence roll, including any social penalties suffered due to social damage, at a difficulty of (his or her unit's Magnitude - Drill). For every success less than the difficulty the loser achieves on the roll, he or she loses one point of Magnitude. (This is as close to a hesitation roll as social conflict normally provokes.) These lost poiints of Magnitude become neutral, and may be affected by either side's social rolls as the combat goes on.


As is the case in regular combat, extras are typically much weaker than heroic characters when it comes to resisting social effects. For small scale combat, extras roll only their highest Virtue rather then their Essence + Willpower to resist being influenced. In large scale combat, use the higher of their Conviction or the Virtue the attacker wishes to affect to determine their damage track and do not add their Essence - when this damage track is filled, the extra suffers the usual result of having that Virtue attacked without needing to progress through a second track. Also, as is usually the case when damaging extras, heroic attackers may convert 3 damage dice to an automatic success when engaged in large scale conflict.


What about charisma? It seems like it might be the attribute of choice for intimidation(or strentgh, although I see it's already in as damage) and possibly zeal/persuasion as well. Also, have you considered Seduction as an attack style, probably using App as damage and Manip as accuracy attributes. I really like the idea though, as well as the links to shaping combat.
-- Darloth

Charisma doesn't feel like an attack stat to me - it is strength of personality, and I'm inclined to take that literally. It is the core of the social damage system, though, which feels right to me. To address your specific examples, intimidation damage is Charisma + Strength, and zeal damage is Charisma + Charisma (yes, phear the charismatic zealots. Kool-Aid for everyone!). So it definitely has an effect, but Charisma isn't about knowing what to say and when - it's about how much impact what you just said has.
That said, though, you reminded me I forgot about staredowns. Gotta have my clinches in my combat-system parallel!
As for seduction, that's just a perfect example of a persuasion tactic (note that the damage is Charisma + Appearance, as you suggest). I see the tactics like this: Persuasion is about establishing an emotional bond of some type, so seuction, bribery and lying might all be part of it. Intimidation, of course, is all about fear, but also has to do with authority, so you might use it to appear to be a nobleman or general when fast-talking a guard. Reason's fairly straightforward - you're attempting to win your case on its merits. Zeal, finally, is just the ability to pull others along with your beliefs - not persuading them that those beliefs are right, necessarily, but having such faith that they start to have faith too, whether they want to or not. - Hapushet

I had been considering a system similar to this but found it FAR to complex. I LOVE your work on this and can't wait to see more. One of the things I had been working on was a system that took the various social charms into account with a more objective eye. Since one of the things commonly mentioned in social charms are seduction attempts I would like to see seduction specifically addressed as a maneuver. I would love to collaborate on this, especially with interpreting existing charms in context to this system. In any case, keep up the good work! - Vaegrim

Hunh. Two requests in a row for a seduction maneuver. I'm still not inclined to create one, for reasons I stated above (i.e., it would come out looking exactly like persuasion does now), but I am curious - what makes seduction so special? I mean, most of the seduction-focused Charms include their own system anyway, but arguing that seduction-oriented Charms demands a separate seduction focus is kind of like saying we need dual-wielding stats for all weapons because CB:N gave us a two-weapon Melee tree. Personally, I'm more interested in just using what I already have. Maybe, though, a more in-depth discussion of what's entailed by each tactic is apprpriate? The weapon write-ups in the core gave each weapons at least a sentence or two...
As for Charm assessment, feel free to post any ideas you have. I've been thinking about going through my books to look over how the various Charms would work with this system, but most (from what I recall) should either slot in fairly cleanly or have their own mechanics that I don't see the need to override. I haven't done a thorough perusal, though, so as I said, if you've got something, put it up. - Hapushet, who greatly appreciates the positive feedback thus far

Bah. Sorry, I can't honestly say I noticed Charisma there in ALL of the base damages. My mistake ^_^
-- Darloth obviously not reading hard enough

How long do rolls take? for the life-changing ones, I'd suggest longer than just a roll... maybe... a day per 'turn' so up to Wits per day? (charms could alter that, of course.) For short-term ones, maybe a scene=turn or just a few sentances (a turn=turn) each?.
-- Darloth

Having run through an encounter which we did in our game.. in which I somehow managed to get 19 successes against an essence 3 thaumaturge.. and then running through how it would work in this system, we ended up with about 10 successes left over for damage purposes.. problem is.. if it's rolled.. thats only about 3 damage successes for the short term resist.. which seems ridiculously easy.. but too much if unrolled for long term effects.. so way we'd probably work it is to have the resistance roll for short term effects being the left over successes, and you only roll for damage with long term effects, which then stops you instantly converting people. FluffySquirrel