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  • Using "Social Manuevering"

    So, writing this because I've seen a lot of confusion around Social Maneuvering and, while I don't think I'm particularly well-suited for putting together a guide on this, I think it's necessary.

    Social Manuevering, in Chronicles of Darkness, is one of four major subsystems: Investigation, Chases, and Violence. Like these systems, it occupies a space when something as generic as an Extended Action is unsuitable for the situation, but the actual effort is small enough to not warrant an entire story devoted to it.

    In Social Maneuvering, there are three key concepts: Goals, First Impressions, and Doors. These are roughly similar to Intent, Initiative, and Health for Violence. Goals are bookend pieces wrapped around the entire system, indicating what happens when the system has reached its conclusion. First Impressions set the pace of moving through the system. And Doors give an approximate indication of difficulty. We'll go backwards.

    Doors are resistances. Social Maneuvering applies when the other party is amenable but unwilling to do what you ask. Remember that each Door is opened by a roll, likely a different Attribute+Skill pair each time, and that it needs to make sense that you'd be building trust or spending influence each time you do so. Also worth mentioning is that Social Maneuvering is, by nature, manipulation. If you are using it on someone you have a close relationship with, chances are that the end result should be a somewhat colder and more hostile relationship. Opening all the Doors is the social equivalent of backing someone into a corner: they're now doing something that they don't really want to, entirely because you put enough effort into messing with them.

    One thing to note here: Forcing Doors and Hard Leverage aren't the same thing. My read of the rules says that Hard Leverage is a special case of Forcing Doors. If you bull through their resistance in a single roll, that doesn't require that you suffer a Breaking Point in the process. Further, my read says that if you fail the roll, you take a -2 to any further attempt to perform Social Maneuvering on that person; other people have other interpretations.

    First Impressions are easily misunderstood: they're not about how much the target likes you. Remember that Social Maneuvering occupies the space between where someone is happy to do something (amenable AND willing) and where that person is completely against doing it (not amenable and not willing). First Impressions is what specifies exactly where in that gulf your request is positioned. Is this task something that your target is happy to do for pretty much anyone, as long as they're asked the right way? Better Impressions. Is this task something that your target would do for no one? Worse Impressions.

    Remember that Impressions can change during a run of the system, usually for failing to open a Door. But you can also improve your Impressions in-flight. Soft Leverage is useful: take advantage of it!

    I've so far used two terms here without being entirely clear on their distinction: amenability and willingness. Amenability is about how pliable and suggestible the target is on the subject. The more easily they're can be persuaded, the more amenable they are. Willingness is about the target's perception of the goal. The guardian of the sacred sword is not going to hand it over just because you happen to be her wife of fifty years. It doesn't matter how much she likes you: asking her for the sword is really only going to piss her off. Hostile Impressions are what happens when mere unwillingness turns into non-amenability. Which brings us to the third major piece.

    Goals are frequently forgotten, because they're so implicit in the process, but they're key to making everything work. Your goal has to be, again, something the target can be persuaded to do (amenable), but would balk at actually doing it (unwilling). Further, your goal has to be sufficiently unreachable (the target has to be sufficiently unwilling) that it takes multiple Doors' worth of rolls to actually get what you want. Choosing an appropriate goal is a big deal. Choosing the right goal can change what Impression you make at first, limit the Doors you have to get through, and completely rework the entire strategy you bring to the table.

    There are a lot of ways to handle a social circumstance. For something boring and undramatic, like snarky banter, there's clearly no point in making a roll. You might deliver a great zinger, but ultimately it doesn't matter dramatically. For something fast and hard, you should be using a single roll. Bursting into a room and yelling, "Hands in the air!"? That's a Presence+Expression (or Intimidation). For something slow but generic, consider using an Extended Action. A romantic evening where you're really trying to get some information? I'd suggest a Wits+Socialize Extended Action, with each roll taking half an hour of small talk. For Social Maneuvering, you're making several rolls using different Attribute+Skill pairs and varying equipment bonuses: that kind of complexity demands a more involved system.

    Social Manuevering shines where your strategy is complex, but the goal is simple and easily understood. When your goal is more complex, try breaking down your goal into smaller goals, and determine new Impressions and Doors for each incremental step.

    The big mistake that people make when thinking about Social Maneuvering is imagining that it's a complete and utter replacement for all social behavior in a game. That's far, far from the intended usage. The subsystem occupies precisely its own niche, and doesn't take away from the other tools available in your toolbox.

    Remember that you don't have to open Doors immediately when your Impression allows you to do so, especially if you're dry on ideas for how to open the next one. Seriously consider whether or not an Extended Action, or Instant Action, is more appropriate for what you want to do.

    Since this post was spurred by @3Comrades' posts on another thread, I'm going to give some more direct answers here:

    Originally posted by 3Comrades View Post
    if the girl likes me enough I can charm her in seconds
    If the girl likes you enough, you've already charmed her. What's your Goal in this situation? If you don't have a Goal, there's little point in using the Social Manuevering system.

    There's room for the system to be relevant here, but it all hinges on the question: why are you charming her? What does your character want?

    Originally posted by 3Comrades View Post
    it may take me weeks to convince my rivals to team up against an immediate threat.
    If the threat is immediate, then that should improve your Impressions immediately. The rules explicitly state "circumstances of their meeting", "the nature of the favor being asked", and "any other relevant factors". An immediate threat seems pretty relevant to me! If I were your ST, I'd ask how you approach them. Do you pick a method that mocks them and reminds them of your rivalry, or do you take a conciliatory route, and even offer some concession at the beginning? Do you take a moment to roll Wits+Empathy and get a read on them before you spin up, or do you just bull your way in without any concern for their opinion? Doing all the right things can push you from Hostile to Perfect pretty easily. (Hostile->Average for immediate threat; Average->Good for being conciliatory; Good->Excellent for succeeding a Wits+Empathy roll; Excellent->Perfect for offering a small concession.)

    At the end of the day, the target's player (if an NPC, then the ST) decides what Impression you've made with your opening move.

    Originally posted by 3Comrades View Post
    I mean it can take me weeks to convince my wife to get a real Christmas tree this year, but a cool charismatic person could probably sell it to her in about a week. My +3 for a close relationship doesn't make up for their much higher persuasion and presence.
    Let me propose a different conclusion to this scenario, though: you're failing to open Doors. Sure, you can roll 10 times in a single day, but you're failing every roll. Maybe she really only has one Door, and Mr. Smooth is breaking it open on his first success. You're just making zero progress. Better Impressions only mean you get to fail faster. Imagine if this had been an Extended Action instead; what interval would you assign to each roll?

    Plus, if she's that unwilling to get a real Christmas tree? That's a valid reason to drop her Impressions down a step. If you continually badger her even though you can't open any Doors yet? That can drop your Impressions, too.


    I call the Integrity-analogue the "subjective stat".
    An explanation how to use Social Manuevering.
    Guanxi Explanations: 1, 2, 3.

  • #2
    Thank you, I know you mostly wrote this on my request, and it was done well and I'm very grateful. I still think it's awkwardly described in the book and fails to make much of what you said clear, and even think tying in impressions on time is a bit strange, but I am very grateful and feel I can confidently go forward using the system.

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    • #3
      This is a fantastic explanation, Errol216. Thank you for taking the time to put it together! This will be a really useful post to link people to when the discussion comes up.


      Onyx Path Forum Moderator

      My mod voice is red. I use it so you know when I'm speaking in an official capacity, not as an indication of tone.

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      • #4
        Firstly, excellent post. Really enjoyed it and it helped me get a grasp on some of the more intangible elements of Social Maneuvering (e.g. Impressions).

        However...
        Originally posted by Errol216 View Post
        Also worth mentioning is that Social Maneuvering is, by nature, manipulation. If you are using it on someone you have a close relationship with, chances are that the end result should be a somewhat colder and more hostile relationship. Opening all the Doors is the social equivalent of backing someone into a corner: they're now doing something that they don't really want to, entirely because you put enough effort into messing with them.
        I have to strongly disagree with this sentiment. I do not think social maneuvering is inherently manipulative in a negative way. The key to effective social maneuvering is that you get your target to want to do the thing they're unwilling to do, initially. Now, clearly, the circumstances may vary, but if I'm convincing my wife to buy a real Christmas tree, maybe I can just take her on a romantic walk through the snow covered forest and show her how amazing that could all be.

        If she's pissed at me after that, well... clearly she's some sort of monster.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by FlailBot View Post
          The key to effective social maneuvering is that you get your target to want to do the thing they're unwilling to do, initially.
          This is literally the principle behind confidence tricks. The only difference is how malicious the intent behind the manipulation. Not all manipulation is.
          Last edited by Ephsy; 06-14-2016, 05:27 AM.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by FlailBot View Post
            I have to strongly disagree with this sentiment. I do not think social maneuvering is inherently manipulative in a negative way. The key to effective social maneuvering is that you get your target to want to do the thing they're unwilling to do, initially. Now, clearly, the circumstances may vary, but if I'm convincing my wife to buy a real Christmas tree, maybe I can just take her on a romantic walk through the snow covered forest and show her how amazing that could all be.
            So, yes. This is a legitimate ground to disagree on. But I actually anticipated this point of contention, which is why I qualified that sentence with "chances are". :P

            Now, I think that using Social Maneuvering in order to convince your wife to buy a real Christmas tree is silly and probably undramatic. Mechanically, that seems like the kind of thing to roleplay out without rolling any dice at all. When the situation is dramatic, though, chances are pretty good that the fact that you want her to do something she doesn't want to do, and are willing to go through the effort of convincing her otherwise? I think that that's going to strain even a close relationship.

            Social Maneuvering doesn't change the target's opinions about things. It changes their willingness to do something they didn't want to. Your wife doesn't actually want a real Christmas tree, at the end of the walk: she's just willing to let you get one. That's a huge difference, and while it's unlikely to be the last straw, it's a tally against your relationship's longevity.

            Sure, it's possible that the target does genuinely change their opinion over the course of your persuasion. But that's not actually part of the system. That's why, when your target is a player's character, they can offer an alternative even when you're 100% successful. It's so that the system can resolve a success for one player while allowing both players to maintain their character's opinions on the matter.

            Remember Goals. A Goal is always something the target will do. Not what the target will think.

            Of course, RAW, you actually can change a target's mind using a single Persuasion roll. But Social Maneuvering does not require you to ever make a single Persuasion roll, which is good since plenty of characters don't even have a dot in that skill.


            I call the Integrity-analogue the "subjective stat".
            An explanation how to use Social Manuevering.
            Guanxi Explanations: 1, 2, 3.

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            • #7
              Personally, I like using Perfect Impression for more short term goals, since the Social Maneuvering system handles that pretty well if you don't stop to think about the impression level. Convincing the hotel clerk that you really need the key or something like that should take a little more haggling than just a single roll, but it also shouldn't take months. Then again, I haven't really looked at Chase rules yet, that might cover it better.

              Something I've noticed--particularly in relation to some of the Mage powers, like Time--is that a lot of people think Doors are only removed if the target agrees with you. Some of Time's powers let you look into the future, play out all the tricks, and then open Doors without a roll. That kind of thing isn't just magicking the Doors away. It's just that you know the answer already so you can forgo the actual roll. This is true of any mundane things that let you open Doors as well: Just because you know how to open them doesn't mean they automatically open. If you look into the future and realize the perfect answer is to give them your watch... well, when you snap back to the present, but don't want to give them your watch, no Doors are going to open.

              I also like using Social Maneuvering for non-standard things. For the Whipping Boys, I used Social Maneuvering to represent torture, which is their initiation.

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              • #8
                Another thing I think people overlook is the built-in ways to change the Impression. It's common to think of "neutral first impression" as the default, and everything above or below that being reserved for people who you have a positive or negative pre-existing relationship with, but Impressions represent the effort you've put into making the mark more amenable to your request. From CofD, page 82:
                “Average impressions” call for weekly rolls, which makes the process very slow. Through play, your character may influence the interaction for a “good impression.” This may mean meeting in a pleasant environment, wearing appealing clothing, playing appropriate music, or otherwise making the situation more comfortable. This should not require a roll during a first impression, but requires one if attempted later. An excellent impression requires a roll to influence the situation. For example, you may use a Wits + Socialize to find the right people to invite to a party. Perfect impressions require further factors. It may involve leverage, or playing to a character’s Vice.
                Hostile impressions come from tense first impressions, or threatening pitches. These interactions require you ma- nipulate the impression, or to force the Doors.
                You don't automatically have a Perfect impression with your spouse just because you're married. To get that you have to put on that shirt they like, clean the house while they're out, and get them a gift or convince them that getting a real tree this Christmas will satisfy their ambition in some way (or whatever their Vice is). If you've been in a fight recently, of if you are obnoxious in how you try to convince them, you might have a Hostile impression and be unable to make any progress until you can get back on their good side.


                Onyx Path Forum Moderator

                My mod voice is red. I use it so you know when I'm speaking in an official capacity, not as an indication of tone.

                Going by Willow now, or Wil for short. She/Her/Hers.

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                • #9
                  This is an excellent write up and discussion. All I think it's missing is a discussion of Forcing Doors and after that I think you're golden.


                  I am no longer participating in the community. Please do not contact me about my previous work.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Leetsepeak View Post
                    This is an excellent write up and discussion. All I think it's missing is a discussion of Forcing Doors and after that I think you're golden.
                    To use the marriage analogy, the spouse giving you the cold treatment or withholding sex would be forcing doors, I believe.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Ephsy View Post
                      To use the marriage analogy, the spouse giving you the cold treatment or withholding sex would be forcing doors, I believe.
                      I would say that Forcing Doors would be pressuring them to make a decision right now. Something like "well, I just got my paycheck and one way or another I'm buying a tree today. What's it going to be, live or plastic?" If you also imply that they'll be sleeping on the couch if it's plastic, that's employing Hard Leverage.


                      Onyx Path Forum Moderator

                      My mod voice is red. I use it so you know when I'm speaking in an official capacity, not as an indication of tone.

                      Going by Willow now, or Wil for short. She/Her/Hers.

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