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I have a Song of Ice and Fire (SIFRP) game running right now. Each player has 2 PCs:

  • An adventurer - a character designed for traditional RPG activities like fighting and sneaking and hunting
  • A noble - a character designed for House intrigues; logic, persuasion, seduction, etc.

This has lead to some really competent PCs because players didn't have to choose. They got to make 2 specialists each. Now, I'm cool with this, it's sort of why I ran the campaign this way.

And I have no trouble making a fight that can challenge the fighty PCs; terrain, numbers, traps, armor, arrows, weather - I can make it hard for the water dancer and the scrappy singer alike.

But I'm having trouble with intrigues. I choose notable figures from the campaign guide, use their stats for suitable NPCs, and my silver-tongued PCs have them wrapped around their fingers by the second round. Short of populating their neighboring houses with short-fused monsters who fly off the handle when things don't go their way, what can I do? Is it the system or is it me?

I find that SIFRP is a pretty good game, but I ended up throwing its system out entirely. Last time, I switched to in the middle and this time I substituted my own system based on twin pillars of cruelty and handwaving right from the get-go.

Is the social combat broken in the same way that realm-management is? Or am I just screwing everything up?

I pushed to run this game in , but my players were reluctant. Now I think I should have dug in my heels. Can someone help rescue my SIFRP campaign?

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D&D/Pathfinder often runs into the same problem with Diplomacy. It's a DC X check to make someone friendly. By the party is 10th level those checks are fairly easy for someone who focuses on Diplomacy, like a bard. –  C. Ross Mar 23 '12 at 12:25

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Over the years, social management systems in games like this have often seemed weaker to me than other parts of a game. SoIFRP has a fairly robust system, though which I find if you treat it like combat can have good results no matter the disparity between 'levels' of the participants in an Intrigue.

A key point I find useful to remember is that in most cases involving dialogue and interaction, no one leaves unaffected. Keeping the human reaction to what is going on in the forefront of your mind as GM during each stage of the scene, whether it be manipulation, seduction, persuasion, intimidation or what-have-you, helps keep things on an even keel. By running the intrigue with the idea that at the very least they will walk away from this with something to say about their opponent's statements or reaction ("What an idiot!" or "How clever!" and so on) no matter the outcome, they will always have some weight.

In the specific case you present, the characters are highly adept at this sort of thing and should be rightly feared as persuasive men and women. As the GM, you have discovered that they can get what they want from people easily. The challenge doesn't really lie in letting them use these abilities or in changing the system to reduce their effectiveness, it lies in making the use of them interesting for everyone and allowing the NPCs to react as they would.

Suggestions:

  • Bring Allies: If entering negotiations with the PCs, give the NPCs the opportunity to forge alliances and connections with other NPCs who will back them up and balance out the encounter, providing them with improved ratings and giving them a chance to recoup composure (Assist, Manpulate, Mollify,Read Target). The idea here is not to prevent the PCs from being effective, but to keep the Intrigue interesting, give it nuances and challenges, and have it have broader effects on the game.
  • Layer the approach to the people with decision-making ability: Create defensive buffers of retainers and officious windbags between these social warships your players have created. Make them work for what they want and in so doing provide an ongoing stream of hooks, rumuors, and supposition for both the players and the NPC community to work with as a result.
  • Attach Conditions: Create webs of inter-related promises and commitments which persuasion alone will not be able to overcome. While the target may earnestly want to yield to the characters, they simply cannot roll over without dealing with agreements that have already been put into place. These conditions will have the bonus side effect of causing chain reactions of events if altered to benefit the PCs and both good and ill may rise from that. Additionally, nothing comes for nothing, and a person being strung along on empty promises will run out of string eventually.
  • Avoidance: No one likes to be manipulated or made to feel like a tool. If the characters do not work to maintain good will among those they are verbally pushing around, it should not be assumed that the attitude of the NPCs toward them remains cordial. As relationships deepen even good friends may come to say, "What have you done for me lately?" Situational modifiers based on the results of past Intrigues, plus the reputation of the PCs, plus the desire to simply never get into a room alone with them can all add a level of realism and challenge to the PCs quest to get what they want.
  • Go to War: Having Intrigue devolve into combat is a problem and unsatifying, to boot. However, as the PCs run roughshod over the balance of power, someone somewhere will get their feathers ruffled enough to commit troops to the field if things tilt too far in any particular direction. Let them.... and let the Kingdom know who is to blame.

Ultimately, as it states in the question, the PCs were designed to be social intrigue powerhouses. The game will have to allow them to be so, but it does not have to just lie down and take whatever they dish out. Use the system to challenge them, extract conditions and leverage from them, have the NPCs react naturally, band together, and seek help, and remember with sharp detail all the promises they have heard before.

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This may not be the answer you are looking for, but it seems to me like you broke the system when you allowed your players to create two separate characters for two separate parts of the game, for they simply created characters that are good at one thing, and one thing only.

You say you are basing the characters they are encountering on NPCs in the book. These are all "natural" characters. If they are nobles, they have grown up learning to ride a horse, fight with a sword, they might have trained their athletics, perhaps they are cunning thieves or they have some understanding in various languages.

In any case, they have spent their experience in a wide array of different things, as befits a noble character who can't just be a good fighter or a good negotiator. Take a look at Edward Stark, you can easily create a character that will kill him, or you can easily create a character who will convince him to do something, but it is difficult to make a character who can do both at the same time.

By allowing your players to sink all their resources into a single thing, you have created the fantasy world equivalent of a person who started playing piano when they were 4, and did nothing besides playing piano for the next 20 years.

Then you have that piano player compete against somebody who has a job, who has children, who has to focus his attention on other things, and perhaps only plays piano once or twice a week.

Of course that guy who has done nothing but play piano is going to win! But the moment that piano player has to get a real job because the world decides that piano is no longer something that exists, he's basically useless because 20 years of experience went into something he is no longer doing.

So instead of simply allowing your nobles to constantly talk their way out of things, have them deal with other problems. Perhaps somebody is trying to frame them. Have them be attacked by bandits en route to the meeting.

Make your players realize that being good at one thing, and one thing only, comes with its own problems.

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Difficulty and Impossibility I think the core issue of most social interaction/combat systems is that they assume that everything is up for grabs. You can literally convince someone that black is white should you roll well enough.

Work out the core-tenets of your NPCs - the things they just won't be shifted on no matter what. Then work out their other goals, beliefs, alliances etc and attribute a degree of difficulty to each of those and apply this as a modify to any tests. A negative difficulty is fine as well, some times folks don't need much convincing to do something they really want to do anyway.

Consequences Under some circumstances it's reasonable to up the stakes a bit. Failing to get a treaty might not just mean no treaty - it might also mean you look weak in the eyes of your fellow nobles. A failure to convince a mercenary captain to ditch his current employer might mean that he percieves you as dishonest and makes extra efforts against you or bad-mouths you to everyone he meets.

Finally If the system isn't achieving your goals I'd advocate pushing it more into the background and highlighting roleplaying over the system.

Now - I'm not advocating ignoring social stats/skills/traits etc but rather stepping back from pure rolling-for-success to a more abstract low-system approach of taking them into consideration when your NPCs interpret what the PCs say and do.

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I'm not sure you're familiar with this game. There's a full social combat system and the setting places social intrigue on a level of importance equal to or greater than combat. –  gomad Mar 25 '12 at 23:45
    
Oops - sorry was confusing it with another system I'd read recently :-S Post edited to make sense ;) –  Gaxx Mar 26 '12 at 8:22
    
No problem! I have +1ed your answer now for the bits about NPC beliefs. –  gomad Mar 26 '12 at 23:12

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