Sunday, August 7, 2022

RPGaDay 2022 #7 System Sunday: Describe a cool part of a system that you love.

My favorite subsystem is probably social combat from Diaspora.

Diaspora is a pre-Core Fate game of gritty science fiction adventure. It's got rules for all sorts of typical science fiction stuff, like technology and spaceship combat, but it also has a social combat system that I really like.

One of the challenges of representing social influence in RPGs is that it tends to be "one and done." You make the Diplomacy/Intimidate/Seduction roll and that's how things go. This contrasts with physical combat, which usually requires several dice rolls to make anything significant. So designers have tried to make social influence more engaging, typically by borrowing and repurposing some of the physical combat rules into something that is often called "social combat."

While it may be more engaging, it often doesn't feel like something that actually resembles how people actually try to influence one another. Instead of bashing each other with swords, you've just started bashing each other with words.

Diaspora, however, does something very different. Social combat in Diaspora is based on drawing a map and moving characters around to accomplish your goal. While this map can resemble a physical space, it can also be more abstract. For example, if your goal is seducing someone at a house party, the map would be of the house and your goal is represented by a bedroom in the house. A hostage negotiation might be a simple line of spaces with "Release the hostages" on one end and "Kill the hostages" on the other.

Each player then uses their social skills to move themselves and other characters around this map. In the seduction scenario, you might use an Empathy skill to move yourself closer to your intended seducee, then Seduction to move them towards the bedroom, and Intimidate to push potential rivals away.

There are a few other wrinkles. Such as, you can attempt to "attack" someone on the board and "stress them out," but succeeding is going to remove them from the map, immune to further influence. This could be useful in the case of the romantic rivals in the last paragraph, but it's not often the best move. And with this being Fate, you can create Aspects on the other people in the scene, or even areas within the scene itself, to help or hinder social influence. So part of the house party seduction could be having the DJ play choice music to create a "Romantic music," "His favorite song" or even "Crowded dance floor" Aspect to get what you're after.

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