Why is having a social "combat" system a good thing

I saw a great example of this recently, playing Fiasco with my wife’s side of the family. They’re all amateur actors, but my sister-in-law’s a professional actor. Her characterizations were marvellous, hypnotic. At one point, my other SIL, Leslie, was supposed to be winning a scene (she’d been given a white die by the rest of us, signifying a good outcome), but her actress counterpart was laying it on so thick, dominating the scene, that she maneuvered Leslie into a ‘good outcome’ of her own design, that looked pretty much like losing to me.

Both these points are very good!

Actually, I don’t consider myself an asshole, but I did experience playing a crazy Dwarven Battlerager (think Troll Slayer, but with beliefs of immortality - reborn from the earth, as well), and I was appalled when the other players just followed my character around were he nearly got them killed multiple times. A player in my old group is very clever and socially skilled, he himself insists on rolling for skills - as he wants to simulate characters.

We never seem to have problems with a scrawny kid playing a 200 pound muscled barbarian, why can’t everyone (try their best) at playing suave and clever Face-men(women)?

Before social combat rules, we actually spent 4 hours in D&D arguing over what kind of boat to buy. Neither could dominate the other and no one was willing to murder over it. Worst session ever.

Now such a discussion can take 10 minutes if we get stuck. Yay social combat!

I think the issue with the OotS forum is that most people on it are familiar with D&D, D&D, and more D&D. The D&D social rules are basically built on the principle of completely hijacking all character choice without the players having any control of whether they are even in the social conflict, which is why the social skills (in the editions that have them) have clauses where they can’t be used on PCs. With Burning Wheel, the player decides to put their character in every social conflict there is, which is a completely different paradigm.

Don’t forget you can haggle over stakes with the GM before the roll. If the stakes seem unbalanced or out of story, then a minute chatting to the GM before the dice fall can be spent resolving things better for you. Off course, the dice can still royally screw you anyway.

I don’t have any problem with the concept of “loosing control of your character”. It’s a game. We lose control of our characters all the time, with every test we fail.

Why should a game have a “physical” combat system, anyway ?

I can think of a couple of examples from recent sessions that are great arguments for the system:

  1. My mage was hard up to get this elf to give him a reward for the elf’s rescue from a prison. The elf thought that a ‘thank you’ was good enough. There was a duel of wits, with the stakes being:
    Curil (the mage) “You owe me a big favor for saving you from wasting away.”
    Eionvyn (the Elf) “You will help me steal my ship back from Bevin (other player who owns the ship the elf made)”

Curil lost, but gave Eionvyn’s body of argument a severe beating, so was able to get a compromise. He would help convince Bevin to give up the ship with Eionvyn’s help, and in return would have his walking staff further enchanted by the elf. This also created a new belief for Curil and lays the ground for some fun inter-party drama.

  1. Our party seems to be incapable of visiting a town and not having someone try and murder our collective faces off, even if we’re doing something stupidly simply like shopping for some supplies. This typically results in leveled buildings, mortal wounds, and all kinds of unpleasantness. Par for the course, I failed a circles test trying to find an old friend who was going to help me get to a book I wanted. I found him, but some religious types at the bar were less than pleased to see two catamites chilling together.

Instead of the usual “God damnit, I cast The Fear and start throwing Shards around like it’s going out of style. Here we go again.” approach, I used my character’s oratory with a bajillion forks to try and talk my way out of it. Our other mage chimed in to help, but has a cursed aura on him so that whenever he meets new people, there’s a DOF roll to see if he accidentally white-fires some poor sap. Naturally, he obliterated the head priest who I was talking to.

Again, this would normally be where magic gets hurled about and the party adds another place to the list of “places we can’t go back to now, you stupid mages”. I again attempted an oratory roll (Ob 8 ) to get everyone to calm down and focus on getting help. Forks and helping die amassed 14 dice to hurl, and we squeaked by with 8 successes. In the end the priest was going to recover due to me finding the ship’s doctor, I got to copy a page from the book, and the whole of the port city was not particularly interested in curb-stomping the party.

Social combat for fun and profit!

Actually, I’m a big fan of social combat rules largely for the reasons people have already said. I’ll say my personal favorite ones again though:

  1. It eliminates the “player-wall”, as I call it. Specifically, you, the GM, can never, EVER, persuade PCs to do anything, ever. In fiction and in real life, we’re persuaded all the time to do things that fit society or accepted responses or whatnot. But not in tabletop gaming for some reason. In fact, it’s rare to get a “reasonable” response to offers from NPCs or agreements or anything else really.

  2. Creates movement: What I mean here is, it pushes the story in places where, usually, you’d either have no movement at all, or it wouldn’t be something you could do. For example, I’m currently running Burning Empires. In the game, one of the major NPCs was stealing funds from the government in order to fund a new secret police (obstensibly to protect the government from its enemies of course). The PCs confronted him and we ran a duel of wits with interesting stakes. What came out of that was a massive compromise on both sides - the PCs got to have one of their people as part of the new police, but the characters were not allowed directly to monitor his activities with the police. Which leads to the third one…

  3. Stuff happens I’d never have thought of. Mostly, because one rarely wins the DoW without having to compromise, so we end up having to really think of good conditions for that. And that means for me, the GM, surprise and interesting situations. As a GM in the past, before games like BW, I’d have all these elaborate plans and what not, which would go more or less how I’d thought they’d go. Now, with Social Conflict mechanics, things can twist and run in ways no one anticipated. It’s me as audience now rather than performer (which is how the usual GM/Player split felt to me).

Nicely said, Stan.

Thanks. Really, seriously, the DoW is one of the things that has me always coming back to Burning games despite other things that sometimes frustrate. I’ve destroyed/imploded/lost two groups over these games, but dammit, the DoW is one of those things that just SINGS mightily. So I’ve introduced a third group to them (though THIS time it seems to have stuck).

Even other social combat systems pale in comparison, in my opinion (I’m specifically thinking of Strands of Fate and Savage Worlds - both have social conflict stuff, but lack the sheer awesome of Burning, and I’ve used both for short campaigns; Diaspora’s is a different beast altogether which was…interesting…).

But even those are a minimum for me now. It’s hard for me to take a game seriously without them, for the reasons I said above. The “players never changing their minds ever” especially. I can think of a billion, billion wasted hours roleplaying something that really ought to have been a rather straightforward “deal, negotiate, shake hands” thing. In real life, that’s what I’d have done, and since, usually, I’m not dealing with psychopaths, we can reach an agreement of sorts. But not in RPGs for some reason. Unless the GM threatens death, NOTHING moves socially.*

*Naturally, YMMV. Sure, I’ve roleplayed with folks who DIDN’T do the above (I can think of a CoC Delta Green campaign in GURPS that just worked on the social level). But that’s really rare. Like the book says, it’d be awesome if we bunches of adults could do social things without bullying, cajoling, and the like, but that just doesn’t happen. Haven’t we seen it a thousand times? One guy in the group pushes the others towards whatever, talks over them, and then turns that ability on the GM, arguing until the GM gets tired of it. No real “roleplay”, just browbeating.