Monthly Archives: July 2013

Charisma, Socializing and FATE

How do you resolve nonviolent, nonobjective interaction in your RPG of choice?

Especially, how do you encourage your heroes to go for convincing instead of stabbing, and how do you get them to treat the outcome of a social contest as binding?

I feel like I usually don’t have the tools to do this. A lot of rules systems end up fitting their socialization minigame into a combat minigame mold, and that doesn’t work for me really well — it’s okay for an argument, and works reasonably well for a debate, and really doesn’t fit for me with anything else in the human condition.

In particular, the stats they end up using for this domain really irritate me. They are often approach-based — a skill to lie, a skill to scare, a skill to be nice, a skill to listen to other people. Maybe some others. The problem with this is that these are vast styles of interaction and are extremely limiting in actual play — if you’ve built an Intimidator, you’re going to try Intimidate on everyone you come across, resolve it as an intimidate, and not actually make any choices in game. Why would you? You’re going to resolve them the same way every time anyway!


Here’s my fix, in Fate.

You have a social skill, called Charisma (could as easily be called Empathy or something). If you want to just roll to resolve something without drilling into the details, you can absolutely roll this statistic against whatever static difficulty you’ve got as an Overcome or Create Advantage or whatever — it can be lying, scaring, befriending, whatever.

However, if you actually want to play through a conversation in more detail, then those uses aren’t available unless you have a conversational gambit you’re trying — basically, unless you have an aspect in the scene that you can use as standing for the charisma check.

Charisma becomes an Attack and Create Advantage skill only, and is used to discover and manipulate aspects on the discussion and its participants.

Want to try to befriend them? Then use aspects on yourself, your partner or the scene that indicate openness and use those on the roll against a static difficulty. These are _not_ invocations, or at least not necessarily: these are permissions, in the same sense that being in a darkened corner is a precondition to hiding. They indicate standing.

Want to try to deceive? That’s a particular use of Create Advantage. It doesn’t need any standing to do it, though, which means that you can try to pretend to be whoever (or whatever) you want, and then springboard off of that aspect.

Intimidate? Attack if you’re literally trying to scare someone into the ground in the moment; if you’re trying to shake someone down or get future behavior out of them or something, it’s much like befriend, building up a set of aspects which ultimately indicate what you’re after.

You get the conversation’s results to stick because they either result in consequences (as in the case of the attack action of intimidate, where you just break someone) whose free tag is used as a compel, or the aspects placed are sufficient that the compel can show up there.

If there’s already an appropriate aspect for what you want out of the conversation, then you can skip the whole thing: just compel immediately.

That’s what makes Charisma as an empathy-skill so powerful: you may not have to engage a lengthy game of cat and mouse with the right person. If you can find a path to get what you want as a natural consequence of either the right person or the right situation, you can propose the compel immediately and get immediate results.

RPG Skills

I’ve been hacking FATE (technically, FATE Accelerated Edition) recently because I’m planning on running a Planescape one-shot soon. Rules wonkiness follows.

One of the secret world-building tools in the GM’s quiver in the FATE system is customizing the skill list; by default the book has 18 skills, and I find that I do not use them equally, which leads to players having to guess the DM.

Too, it’s a wonderful chance to educate, since you get to answer players’ questions before they have them: it’s a usability problem. “How do I attack?” can be answered by “there’s like 10 numbers on your sheet; one of them is labeled attack; roll that!” is a very tempting situation!

But I’ve always wondered, what do these numbers (statistics, attributes, approaches, skills, whatever you call them) actually represent? Are they nouns (D&D statistics, like Strength), verbs (some D&D skills, like Spot or Notice), adjectives (… I actually don’t know many systems that went this way; it would be Strong I guess), or adverbs (FAE goes this way with their approaches).
Or be wishy-washy, and take a mix, which is what D&D actually does with its skills (Spot vs Athletics).

I’ve been kind of interested in this, so I played around with a few ways to do it. Here’s my skill list as nouns:

Attack (Melee combat, ranged combat, armies: killing people)
Strength (Lift/carry, bend bars/lift gates, grappling)
Cunning (Thievery, picking pockets & locks & traps, craft, gather information)
Athletics (Movement like jumping/swimming, sneaking, balancing, dodging)
Survival (Knowledge: Nature, navigation, spot/listen; herbalism)
Knowledge (Medicine, law, architecture, history, languages, heraldry…)
Arcana (Religion, spellcraft, spirituality, supernaturality, alchemy)
Endurance (Resist almost everything, hit points, etc)
Charisma[1] (lead, # of followers, insight)
Faction[2] (resources from faction, knowledge, faith, etc)

That’s it; pick one of those to be best at (+3), 2 to be second best (+2), 3 to be trained at (+1), and one to be horrible at (-2).

You’ve made the left-brain of a character! I can make 10 characters, each with a different apex skill, and thus ensure niche protection.  There’s all sorts of elegance here.

But then I got to wondering. Is this best? I know how to use this list, and am likely to be able to explain it to my players, but what if I wanted to get more arty?

Fight (Attack)
Force (Strength)
Finesse (Cunning)
Move (Athletics)
Hunt (Survival)
Reason (Knowledge)
Invoke (Arcana)
Endure (Endurance)
Charm (Charisma)
Believe (Faction)

It’s a little less satisfying to me!

This exercise revealed that several of my skills here are actually the same skill in drag — Knowledge and Arcana just split “education” down the middle into what you know, and focus on different halves. Others are pretty reductive or lose the shade of meaning I’d wanted — Finesse doesn’t encompass as many thief-like circles of competency as Cunning does to me, and at the same time brings in too many others.

What about adjectives?


I actually find this layout pretty satisfying — the names are pretty good for the concepts I gave them.

But it’s pretty awkward in speech, at least using my existing cadences — Make a Deadly check? Roll Strong? (I mean, I certainly hope you roll strongly, but that’s not my point 🙂 )

And it looks weird on a character sheet, to me:
Deadly: +3
Tough: +1

What’s your take? What do skills represent?

[1] Charisma is complicated; this is high for characters that are charismatic, but it is much more of an investigation skill than a “I CHARM YOU NOW” skill. More later.
[2] It’s a Planescape game;  Factions matter.
[3] Oh English, you so wacky.

What’s Your B/X?

On the venerial for a, there is a wonderful thread.

Go, read the first few pages at least and return.
Don’t worry, I’ll wait!

Modern D&Ds use the term “class” to refer to profession, which I’ve always thought was kind of strange.
Originally it was synonymous with”type”, what type of hero your character was. That’s why race as class wasn’t as galling; class was just your “flavor”.

In that thread and a spinoff thereof, AndersGabrielson suggested a division of classes that really tickled my fancy, reproduced here. I diverge both from his ideas and the thread’s framing device, but this is my soapbox; bear with me, Gentle Reader.

Hero(ine): a paladin, knight, or champion. Martially oriented, generically capable, able to improve their allies’ morale. An unreligious, “favored son of the village” paladin or even cleric; martial defender/leaders.
Trickster: a thief, rogue, traveler, troublemaker. Not as socially acceptable as the Hero(ine) nor as armed or armored, but much more adept at sneaking, stealing, lying, charming, selling, backstabbing, insinuating… Thief and bard. Martial striker/controllers, I guess.
Sage: wise man or woman; a healer and counselor and diviner and alchemist and lorekeeper. The primary spellcaster, thus wizard/druid/cleric, but probably less blasty than D&D usually is. Arcane/divine “controllers”… Spellcasters, man. 4e terminology fails me.
Prince(ss): not necessarily literally royalty, the prince(ss) is the rest of the Hero(ine)’s cleric/warlord/bard dealie. They aid and inspire their group to keep going in the face of adversity and use social grace to disarm their foes. More pure leaders, with some skill-monkey to ’em.
Free(wo)man: other names considered: servant, steward, laborer, worker. This is your Samwise, your Doli, your Nodwick, your Puddleglum; a perpetually put-upon good soul who can survive almost anything. Good at crafts, part thief, part artificer, part mule.
Familiar: a talking animal or wise pet or ancestral spirit or . A partial spellcaster and support role who bonds strongly to one or more characters in the party. A scout, sort of, and a B/X dwarf.
Outsider: foreign sorcerers, djinni, efreeti, dragonblooded. Grab-bags of spellcasting and other skills, with much more emphasis on flashy effects, but less casting in general. The B/X “elf”.

Later posters suggested some additional classes, of which the only one that appealed to me was
Beast: a talking animal or ogre or barbarian or maybe even unicorn or balrog or dragon, strong and maybe a little mystical. Ferocious.

More followups later.