A Rising Tide
The base mechanic set presupposes two skills which allow for social manipulation: Rhetoric, and Oratory. Rhetoric handles one-on-one situations, whereas Oratory is related to swaying crowds. In base, these are simple rolls with dice results against fixed targets. One roll, and the deed is done.
This feels unsatisfactory to me, so I’m expanding upon it. Although the end result is potentially a few more rolls, I’m hoping it opens more doors to roleplay as now there are specific levers that can be manipulated and prepared for by the canny player.
Objections and Patience
In social combat, there are now two base stats that define the encounter:
Objections refer to those stumbling blocks a PC will have to overcome in order to get their way with their target audience. Conceptually, these are the “hitpoints” of the encounter. When they run out, the PC has won. Should Objections ever rise above their starting value by a specific amount, the PC has lost. Their audience will remember this encounter, potentially making future situations harder and therefore starting Objections higher.
Patience refers to how long their target is willing to let the PC argue with them. When patience runs out, the encounter is over and the PC has lost the social combat.
Objections and Patience generally range from 1 to 5, though specific circumstances may drive them higher.
Social Combat appears in two forms Uncontested (the PC attempts to convince the audience of something) and Contested (Both sides are trying to convince the other). Both situations resolve in a similar way:
Compounded Criticals increase the impact on each stat by 1. So a Critx2 Success has an impact of +2/-3
For Contested rolls, the Roll Result is final comparison in the PC’s favour. For Example, the PC rolls a Crit Success, and the NPC rolls a Success, the Roll Result is a Success in the PC’s favour.
Typical difficulty is 65 for social combat. Appropriate specializations and situational modifiers can move this in either direction.
Hooks are special traits an NPC may have that allow them to be manipulated a little easier. They are generally discovered through roleplay and are usually only useable once. When a PC decides to invoke a Hook, its value is subtracted from Objections without any need to roll. That hook, unless otherwise stated, is now gone. Should the hook not be expended, it cannot be used in the same encounter nor for a reasonable amount of time thereafter.
For example, perhaps the PC has seen their Noble audience attending the disreputable Copper Towers brothel. This Noble definitely doesn’t want their spouse to know of their behaviour. The PC reminds the Noble of this inappropriate daliance, and Objections fall by 3.
Using a hook, and then failing the combat, will almost always earn the PC an enemy.
Fear and Intimidation
At any time, a PC can shift to Fear tactics however once this road is stepped on, it cannot be stepped off of without a Critical Success with the intention to de-escalate the situation. The de-escalation acts as any other social combat round, but has no beneficial impact on Objections regardless of roll.
Failing an intimidation-based social combat tends to have deliterious effects on the PC. Perhaps the villagers become angry and seek to lynch the PC. Or maybe the wealthy merchant is now their enemy. On the other hand, the reward of success tends to be higher.
Fears are specific handicaps that an NPC (or, maybe, a PC) may have. Perhaps the audience are arachnophobes. Fears act like Hooks in intimidation situations, and some Hooks can be used as Fears. Unlike Hooks, they are generally not permanently expended when used, they do however deplete when the PC loses.