Role-playing games evolved out of tabletop wargames. That’s why, for many years, games were so focused on the minutiae of combat. That focused widened as RPGs explored new genres and new design techniques. Many games have developed systems for social combat that mirrors the physical combat that’s been around for decades. Mental wounds linger and affect characters just as much as cuts, bruises, or getting kicked in the face by orcs. We’ve chosen a few games that handle social combat admirably to highlight below.
Fans of Veronica Mars will want to check out this game, where players create a small town full of mysteries and then explore them using the GUMSHOE investigation rules. These types of heroes rarely get into drawn out physical combat, so the game focuses on Takedowns, where teens toss vicious one-liners at each other to damage each other in the eyes of their peers. Exposing secrets and lies in front of friends, family, and lovers hurts a lot more than any +1 longsword ever could.
Legendary game designer Robin Laws turned his attention to one of the challenges in social RPGs: how to encourage players to back down during an argument or confrontation so that the story keeps moving forward. His solution was the DramaSystem that powers Hillfolk, which gives players who concede arguments favor points they can use later in the game to bend the narrative to their favor. The name of the game comes from the initial setting of the book, a cable-style prestige drama set in an Iron Age full of swords and intrigue. If that setting doesn’t sound interesting, the Kickstarter unlocked dozens of other settings in multiple genres, each one designed by a different renowned tabletop game designer.
Based on the DC soap opera, this game wears its intentions on its sleeves by foregoing the usual attributes of Strength and Dexterity to define characters by their values, like Duty and Love. Players use the Cortex Plus system to inflict Stress on each other, inflicting damage framed as being Angry or Afraid. Values can even shift up or down as the game goes on, reflecting character changes brought on by dramatic reveals and personal tragedies. Although the game is currently out of print, fans of current CW shows like Arrow and The Flash might want to track down a copy to play games that mix superpowers and relationships so well.
A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying
It makes perfect sense that the official Game of Thrones RPG featured rules where words hurt as much as weapons do. Not only that, but the game offers a killer hook to get a group together. At the start of a campaign, the table creates its own House of Westeros through a combination of plot discussion and random rolls to flesh out the house’s history. Then characters get made, filling out the house with the current generation of noble lords, scheming relatives and smallfolk caught up in intrigue. Older characters have better stats and skills, but younger characters have access to more luck and narrative control to help them grow into the hard men and women that end up on The Iron Throne.
Do you have a favorite moment from your campaign where someone laid the smackdown with their words instead of weapons? Tell it to us in the comments!
Image credit Evil Hat