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[Realms of Pugmire] Complex / Large-Scale Social action

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  • [Realms of Pugmire] Complex / Large-Scale Social action

    Greetings all,

    So in the Pugmire Chronicle I'm running, the Story has reached the point where the PCs are petitioning the realm to raise an army to deal with an Unseen incursion. They've learned there's an Unseen conspiracy that's taken over the frontier with an army of possessed and construts, and they're seeking a joint alliance between Pugmire and the Monarchies of Mau to fight back. The PCs include both Cats and Dogs, and both kingdoms had villages in the frontier which were overrun.

    This has prompted me to devise a hack which expands on social rolls, and can better handle some very large scale actions. While I could hand-wave all of it, saying "you show up, you ask for help against demons, which nobody likes; you get help" - that would be way more brief and way more convenient than I want for this story. I don't want full length movie of courtroom or parliamentary drama; I don't want to bog my players down with vote-counting details, or get into extended intrigue. It's not that type of chronicle, that's not what my players are up for. But I do want a robust skill challenge that adds some complexity, and some variability to the outcomes.
    In fact, I'd say I'm looking for something like the 'defense of Gondor battle' from LotR (especially from the movies). There's various factions they have to convince (getting past the Steward's obstruction, convincing Rohan to give aide, recruit the ghosts) - each with different goals and objections they have to tailor their arguments to - and each contributing something different to the overall results of the battle. I think that's kind of the sweet spot I'm aiming for (in this Story) to make it a meaningful and challenging turning point in the story, but not over complicate things, or veer away from the heroic action genre as the core mood.

    To do that, I wanted something a little bit more involved than Pugmire (or D&Ds) social actions. Although, I'm not really changing anything from a basic skill challenge; not really any mechanical differences, nothing a GM couldn't already do - but not really anything they're told to do either, and some extra structure to help me (as ST) figure out how I want to run things. And I'm deciding to post about it as advice to anyone else who finds it interesting, and invite discussion about social systems in general.

    Here's what I'm doing: I'm adapting "Cheer Saving Thaumaturgy" from DFRPG's Paranet Papers
    I love this system; I find it so brilliant; I can't recommend it enough. Here's my hack of it, catering to large scale political actions.
    1. The players describe what the overall goal is: what are you trying to convince the Kingdom to do?
    2. The Storyteller decides what factors (if any) would prevent the characters from accomplishing their goals: what objections to the leaders raise, who might try to impede the characters, and what are they (currently) unable to accomplish?
      If there are none, great; they get the outcome they want.
      Anything goal worth playing out should have at least one major obstacle, raised by the influential characters as an objection:
    • They need an appeal to self interest
    • They need evidence that the threat exists, and/or that the character's goal will sufficiently deal with it
    • The leaders are skeptical about the cost or risk compared to the benefit
    • There is an alternative proposal
    • It requires more resources than are immediately available, or that people are willing to give
    • The goal (or the resources given to it) might leave them vulnerable to an enemy, or another problem
    • The characters don't have the trust of the people involved
    • The characters have slighted someone of influence in the past
    • The proposed goal is missing crucial knowledge or specialized tools which would make it work
    • The people involved will have to give up something they value or an alternative they prefer
    • The people involved will be put in danger
    • The kingdom is invested in another priority or responding to a different crisis
    3. Once the objections are listed, the characters have the opportunity to run various Scenes to deal with each objection. They have many different options to overcome the obstacle, from debating with leaders (Persuade), to gathering blackmail (probably a short skill challenge involving Sneak & Search), performing a short side quest, bribing people (giving up Coin or Masterworks), making promises and side deals - whatever they come up with, really.
    4. If all the objections are sufficiently dealt with, they achieve the goal their working for - raising enough support and resources to accomplish the action. If there are any objections which they did not resolve (by choice to avoid it, or by failing the prep scene), or if any complications arose from those scenes, then they may still accomplish their goal - but with various side-effects, consequences, or reduced effects.
    The Storyteller may decide there is a minimum number of objections which must be overcome - or there are specific objections which are the crucial ones. You can also invert your perspective by stating if certain bonus objections are overcome, the goal will have even better outcomes in a particular way.
    This is an especially great way to handle various factions or groups which could decide to contribute to the goal or ignore it. For example, "if you can convince House Rex, their ships and supply lines will be a powerful asset; if you convince house Korat, there will be fierce and skilled warriors. You can accomplish your goals without either one of them, but they'll sure help a lot."
    This also leaves an easy opening to include exclusionary choices: "if you seek House Angora's support, the Church of Man won't help you no matter what." Each faction contributes different resources, but also has different objections to overcome. If they try and fail with one, maybe the other still won't help them, or maybe they can Bluff their way into the rival's good graces.

    Objections should be embodied in a particular NPC which puts a "face" on that obstacle. In that way, there can be many different ways of overcoming the objection, because it's not always about the argument itself - the person raising the objection could have hidden goals or weakness, and a variety of tactics can be employed to silence them, earn their support, or discredit them.
    You can have one NPC (the focus of the scenario) embody several different objections (the minimum required for success), as a way to spotlight where the main drama and emphasis is. But apart from this, try to limit anything additional to 1 NPC with 1 Objection.

    Even if it would "realistically make sense", do not repeat the same objection between multiple NPCs. Even if they're talking to two separate kingdoms which don't interact with each other. If the players have to repeat their arguments to every character, it's going to get tedious quickly. Instead use a symbolic, narrative victory: once that objection is overcome, it's overcome for the whole scenario, to everyone. If you feel it's necessary, you can hand wave a description of how they "present their evidence to this person next, who is impressed with it, BUT... [new objection]"; just don't make them roll dice or role play through itall over again.
    Note, however, that it's don't repeat the same objection. If they're negotiating between two warring kingdoms, each kingdom can state its hatred and distrust of the other, but spotlight different reasons for the rivalry, and find differing scenarios on exactly how they can demonstrate goodwill. Maybe the root of one kingdom's dislike is out of fear of their neighbor's military, while the other kingdom objects to their rival's shady commerce. You an add a lot of nuance to each objection (and even the one's I listed have some overlap).

    I also strongly encourage using the consequences of previous Stories, details from a character's background, and already existing side quests to be used as sources of objections and/or ways the characters can overcome them.

    Another potential way of resolving an objection is to promise something. Embarking on a side quest could fulfill this, but so could getting another group to agree to something, or the characters assuring that their goals will accomplish a particular outcome - or that they'll owe a favor afterwards. The "contingent agreement" could be a good use of earning a complication from a prep scene (failure becoming Success at a Cost). In the case of "only if you get this other group to agree to these terms", it carries the tension and risk to the next prep scene - if they fail that one, they lose two potential allies; if can be a good moment of tension, but be careful about using it: the success doesn't "feel very different", but the failure hurts twice as much.

    In the case of impediments, perhaps there's no way to get an NPC to support the outcome; they'll try to discredit the players no matter what. Unaddressed, this adds a complication to the outcome (or prevents it entirely); or they can try to overcome the obstacle by figuring out a way to silence, discredit, or be more persuasive than their opposition.

    And that about covers it...
    Like I said, there's no radical new mechanics - the "prep scenes" themselves can be covered with simple skill checks. But I think there's value in the perspective shift and more systematic way of arranging scenes and planning out how the story will play out. Hopefully it's helpful to someone else as well. Thanks for reading;
    ~Seraph Kitty

    Second Chance for
    A Beautiful Madness

  • #2
    Hmmmm, it does seems a lot like CoD Extended Actions - especially like Chases or Social Maneuvering subsystems - or Storypath Complex Actions. It's nothing wrong with some cross-systems inspirations - but both mentioned by me subsystems have much more bones than your's 'choose NPC that represent the Obstacle'. Something more like general DCs of d20 rolls, possible bonuses coming from good arguments of characters - should solid argument to NPC by more +1, +2 bonus, or Advantage to roll? Stuff like this would make it more as session usable rules.

    My stuff for Realms of Pugmire, Scion 2E, CoD Contagion, Dark Eras, VtR 2E, WtF 2E, MtAw 2E, MtC 2E & BtP
    LGBT+ through Ages
    LGBT+ in CoD games


    • #3
      This is meant to be more of a narrative tool / story design philosophy. I personally don’t think there needs to be any special mechanics or guidelines. For something a little more mechanically robust in terms of individual social rolls/scenes, I recommend this advice from a gm blog I follow. Actually, I translated some of those rules with a twist or two of my own when I made my personal Storyteller screen for my Pugmire game.

      In general, I’d say a “good argument (based on their target)” makes the action possible, and allow players to roll to either overcome an objection or to provide a new reason for them to agree. For a baseline DC I use [10+ target’s Sense Motive / Bluff / Persuade], adding +5 to DC if their particular argument doesn’t really appeal to the character. That, or just describe how likely it is to convince them in that manner, and use the default DC chart: easy = 10; medium = 15; hard = 20; very hard = 25. Or reference the “make a monster” chart and use the Save DC for the challenge rating at (or near) the PCs level. Depending on how ad hoc the scene is.

      I would save bonuses like a +/- 2 for things like equipment / circumstance bonuses: choosing an outfit or mannerism to play in to the target’s biases, meeting them in a fancy restaurant, having status in a group they respect.
      And I would only apply Advantage or Disadvantage if it directly leverages the target’s personality traits; something deeply personal to them.

      Stuff like bribery, blackmail, etc are new reasons for the target to agree, and they can roll to see if it works, but don’t provide any special bonuses.

      I also (try) to set a relationship/mood at the start of the scene, which can inform what kind of objections they have, how many incentives they need before they agree, how many rolls the party can make before they get fed up with the conversation, how big of a favor is possible, etc. It works very similar to the ChroD social impressions chart; characters can step up or down on the chart (which can be a consequence for a failed social roll) - but “Loyal” and “hostile” are special circumstances not likely to be earned (or lost) in a single interaction.

      If you want to put emphasis (and screen time) into an important social encounter, a character can have multiple objections (and different values for how “important” each one is), and may already have a few of their own reasons to agree. Each roll the players make can change a value by 1 (reducing objections or adding / increasing incentives); 2 on a Triumph. You can declare that some objections Must be overcome, or otherwise restrict possible arguments (revealed with Sense Motive or investigation checks). When the incentives outweigh the objections, they agree to what the PCs are asking. After each roll (until they agree or shut down), the NPC should have a response which keeps the negotiation going - either stating one of their objections for the PCs to overcome, stating a false one to distract them (a bluff vs sense motive), asking for a reason to agree or hinting at one they’d be persuaded by, or possibly shutting down a line of reasoning (for a badly failed roll).

      for large scale politics, I recommend tailoring the “overcome” scenes to how big the goal is and how much emphasis you want to place on it. Not every NPC needs to have an intensive back and forth; it’d be okay to reduce it down to a simple statement of intent with one roll, especially if there are going to be a lot of separate objections, or if the final goal is relatively minor. Vary it to your group’s “mileage”.
      Ordinarily, I expect that D&D style games do not want to put very much effort into social intrigue, political dealings, etc - although there’s certainly room for it. I personally want a system more complex and interesting than a simple skill check; but I’m also not going to overload my players. Like I said, LotR is kind of where I’m aiming for this scenario. But I think theses guidelines (which, again, almost all a rephrasing from Angry GM) can scale up or down pretty well for whatever a ST wants to get out of them.

      ...As I included “complex” social interaction in my thread title, I probably should have gone into all this in the OP...
      thanks for asking me to go into it a bit more.
      Last edited by Seraph Kitty; 07-21-2020, 04:25 PM.

      Second Chance for
      A Beautiful Madness