I'm reading the Night Fears adventure, in which a group of teenagers dare each other to spend a night in a haunted house. The ghosts in the house attack the teens' mental stress tracks, and the result of being taken out is that the youth is so scared he flees the house.
This is a cool demonstration of the power and versatility of the "taken out" mechanic, as discussed in this blog post by the author. But I'm not sure it's taking the mental stress track seriously enough. I know Mr. Neal is trying to expand the potential of the system and shuck entrenched notions about defeat, but...
In some cases, however, people do inflict that kind of deep-seated harm to one another, crossing the line from mere social consequence into deep and abiding psychological trauma. When this kind of damage is accessible in a conflict, it marks a transition from social into mental territory and puts perhaps the direst stakes of all on the line—the individual’s mind, soul, or sense of self. These are mental conflicts, probably the rarest (or at least most potentially profound) examples of conflict you’ll see in your game. (YS217)
Mechanically the reason the ghosts can do this is their use of the Incite Emotions (Fear, Lasting Emotion) [-2] power:
[...] you gain the ability to do Emotion-Touch as a mental attack instead of a mere maneuver or block. (YS173)
Which makes it very clear that this should be a mental attack --and that this is special because it's a [-2] power-- but it feels to me that "making him so afraid he runs away" probably doesn't meet the "most potentially profound" nature of mental attacks; being able to even make this kind of attack is "no small feat" (YS217). Scaring someone away seems more like the result of a social conflict:
Social conflicts occur when the opposing agendas of two or more characters are resolved without physical violence, calling upon a different set of skills and trappings to resolve them. The damage done by these conflicts can be highly variable, ranging from simply instilling a false sense of security in the loser to ruining his public reputation and hurting his relationships. (YS215)
Emphasis mine; social conflicts clearly can influence a person's attitude and not just change their social position with others --otherwise why would Intimidation be a default social attack?
The ghosts spent [-2] Refresh to use Intimidation as a mental attack, and they're applying it in a way that seems to be a default social application of the skill.
I get the feeling that maybe my understanding of the nature of mental conflicts is confused or incomplete, and Night Fears is simply expanding on something I don't understand.
- Is social conflict at least as appropriate, if not more so, for this situation? (Is mental conflict more appropriate because the attacks are the result of ghostly presences imposing fear directly, rather than using words to instill fear?)
- If appropriate based on the above, what actions might I take to make the ghosts' attacks credibly social rather than mental?