Friday, March 29, 2013

Draft rules for Social Combat in GURPS

These rules are in draft stage and posted here for the playtesters. Initial thoughts were posted here.

Social Combat rules

draft 1
Christian Blouin (


A social combat is a multi-character engagement where NPCs and PCs posture in a conceptual map. When the engagement is over, the NPCs will act according to their location in the tactical map.


Let there be a tactical engagement map made of states connected by transitions.
A state is a box representing a course of action. Each character are located in one state, and will be bound to follow the course of action corresponding to the state it occupies at the end of the engagement.
A transition is a weight expressing the distance between two adjacent states.
The distance between two states is the sum of all transition weight of the least expensive path between two states.
When prompted, a character can make a move to alter either the transition weights, the composure of another character, or the position of a character.
The composure of a character is a penalty that applies to all skill resolution of this character for the duration of the social engagement.

Game Flow

The order of play for the character is contextual and determined by the GM. This order may be set and changed to fit the situation. Some moves are opposed and call for a skill contest, some are not opposed and call for a skill check. The GM may adjust any check to reflect how great or tenuous the skill relates to the desired effect.

Possible moves

For this section, let’s assume an active character A and an optional target character T or target state S.

  • Move self (skill check):
    • How: Invoke a skill, adjust by lost composure penalty, narrate how the skill applies.
    • Outcome:
      • Success : Cross as many transitions up to the cummulative transition cost that is equal or less to the MoS.
      • Failure : People don’t buy your change of position. Character A lose composure according to MoS, up to -2.
  • Move Other (skill contest):
    • How:
      • Character A selects a target Character T
      • Computes the distance between the states of both characters.
      • A invoke a skill that can be used to move T. Move action of T toward A are done with an effective distance decreased by one. Adjust with lost composure and by distance.
      • Character T invoke a skill to resist the attack, narrate. Adjust by lost composure.
      • A and T perform a single round of skill contest.
    • Outcome :
      • Success: Character T will move through transitions, towards A and up to a cost of MoS
      • Failure : Character A lose composure according to MoS, up to -2.
    • Stigmatize/Compel (Skill check):
      • How :
        • Character A selects a target state S.
        • A invoke a skill to describe how S will either become more or less difficult to transition in or out. Narrate how the skill is used.
        • Adjust Skill level by lost composure only.
      • Outcome :
        • Success : Adjust at most MoS transition weights either up (stigmatize) or down (compel) by 1.
        • Failure : Character A lose composure according to MoS, up to -2.
    • Composure attack (skill contest):
      • How:
        • Character A selects a target Character T
        • Computes the distance between the states of both characters.
        • A invoke a skill that can be used to move T toward A. Adjust with lost composure and by distance.
        • Character T invoke a skill to resist the attack, narrate. Adjust by lost composure.
        • A and T perform a single round of skill contest.
      • Outcome :
        • If there is a winner: the loser loses as much composure as the MoS, up to 2.
        • If there is no winner: Both A and T lose 1 composure point.
    • Pass : Do nothing.
    • Wait : Declare to the GM when the character wishes to act next.
Further to lost composure and distance there are other possible modifiers that apply:

  • If a character uses the same skill in the same turn, he/she incurs a cumulative -2 penalty on the skill check.
  • In all cases, the GM may apply an additional modifier to any skill check based on appropriateness.

End of engagement

An engagement may be of a fixed length. Alternatively, it will terminate if all characters in play take a pass action.

Lasting effect of lost composure

In some settings, losing composure may persist and have lasting effects. This composure penalty would apply only if the character engages the same social circle. A minor loss of composure can lead to a loss of influence by 1, a larger loss of composure leads to a loss of influence by 2. This loss of influence applies to the base composure in the next social combat involving the same group of people.

Other than by actual roleplaying, there is a way to regain influence. The GM may ask a player how his character intends to recover from this face-losing situation. A skill is invoked, adjusted by the lost composure and any other applicable modifiers. If the check is successful, the lost influence is negated.

Experience and social combat

Achievement : If a character has contributed to achieving its goal with at least one dice roll. This is worth one point. Narrating well how the skills are used is also worth an additional point. These points can be used to negate lost influence.


  1. Is there no way to use Move Other to move a target to a state farther from the active character? In arguments, I have sometimes seen people use Fast-Talk to maneuver another person into a more extreme position.

    Alternately, is there a way to make a certain position untenable, forcing targets to move away from it either one way or the the other? Could I use Stigmatize to reduce the cost to transition to a negative number, forcing characters in this position to move?

    Also, do you have any rules on constructing the tactical engagement map? Can maps be non-linear? If so, is it possible to move a target between two states that are equally far from the active player?

    Thanks for posting these drafts. I'm interested in seeing how the system develops.

    1. Hello Chris, Moving in arbitrary directions is something that I was thinking about. Not all skills would be appropriate here, Fast-talk is an obvious one but I can see all sorts of technical fallacies being used to corner people into more extreme positions. If the desired effect is to weaken someone so that he/she can be later coerced into concessions, then I'd say it is a composure attack: the nature of the attack is to render him/her helpless for later. A reason to trying to push someone would be to distance them from others that you want to align with you. This would be more effective than a composure attack if the boundary cost is more than the maximum composure damage that is set to 2 in this draft. Pushing people away makes them harder to hit later, and they'd still defend as well. So there is a downside to moving people away. It has its place. I'll amend the draft. Thanks for triggering this second look.

      My version of stigmatize focuses on the logic jump between positions, not on the position itself. Setting the weight between two state to 0 means that someone can believably shift and no one will ever question the transition (it is sure to work). A negative position would have to be *resisted* in order to remain in place: effectively pushing out whoever is in unless they "Move Self" with a margin large enough to resist the shift. What a brilliant way to paralyze people taking on seemingly untenable positions: they'd had to spend all of their abilities to either rebuild their logic (using compel), or hang on to dear life into the state (using Move self). I'll work this in, although it makes the draft more complex than I'd like it for the moment.

      I will be posting the tactical map for the Royal Council which will launch the "Reclaiming Khazad-dum" campaign. It is non-linear. I will explain why I set the original transition weight to what they are. It is a really fun exercise to do.

      Thanks for the suggestions! I'll work some of this in when I go over it again in the coming few days.

    2. Does loss of composure eventually make you ineffective in argument? I'm thinking about how if an argument goes on long enough, someone might throw up their hands and say "Okay, I"m sick of arguing! Have it your way!" And sometimes both sides of an argument get tired and quit, even though no one has changed their mind. This could be the social equivalent of losing consciousness due to loss of HP.

  2. You need to keep this Social Combat and put it in a Pyramid issue!

    1. Given enough playtesting proving it to be fun, certainly. As long as Pyramid doesn't have an issue with my open development (by opposition to keeping the draft secret).

  3. Observation: I have observed that quick-witted people can parry an aggressive put-down (and/or varieties of shaming and mockery.) However, if number of people attempting to isolate/ostracize this person is great, it can be very difficult to recover-- especially if the differences are cultural/religious/political rather than being just a matter of raw bullying. But even in the mob-scenario, one person speaking up in your favor can completely change the tenor of the engagement. However, such a person coming to the aid of would normally face a will check unless they have enough status that the herd already follows their cues.

    1. Defending against multiple attackers would be penalized as the defender net skill degrades if used consecutively. This forces the defender to use alternatively less effective skills, thus lowering its average ability to withstand composure attacks.

      Your point on supported defense is good and should be a risky business. This reminds me of another post on my blog on supported checks. I'll try to work out whether this can be done with the rules as is, such as stigmatizing the path to the defender to increase the attack's penalty. Alternatively, a support to the defender may help with his MoS, but is liable to suffer the same loss of composure if the attack succeeds.

      Thanks for you thoughts.

  4. Can the effects of a composure attack be mitigated/reversed? Can this repair be done by someone else? Can some be built up by a 'reverse composure attack'? "On the contrary, sir. Goldo's reputation in this regard is above reproach!"

    1. I considered this for a while. However, I see composure as a non-renewable resource. It will impose a natural end of the social engagement as characters won't be able to achieve anything. Prolonging further will only result into a worst composure (and possible lasting effects). People argue until they are spent, and incapable to make others budge anymore.