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Author Topic: [Social/Mental Conflict] Giving Them Teeth Without Forcing Game Play?  (Read 542 times)

trechriron

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This is a tad long. Sorry.

So, I was playing a game of Banthas in the Outer Rim (a Dogs in the Vineyard variant) the other day and came across a peculiar circumstance for me.

We had a social conflict. An argument about what we should do with a person who allegedly wronged another. This person wanted us to kill the wrongdoer, but as a Jedi, I wanted to do a full investigation before we passed judgement.  It became an escalated conflict involving Jedis on both sides of the argument with punching tables and walls... a knock out intense scene. I eventually lost.

So now, my character believes this person should be killed. (Later we read the book again and clarified the "setting stakes" part and agreed this stake might have been a little drastic.  Probably should have been smaller in scope. But...)

I didn't like it all! I was, in fact, pretty infuriated that I was now going to have to play out this scenario in a way that I (the player) didn't want to! Me and the GM talked things out, and he made some good points, and I think I made some too. I feel kind of douche-y for even getting all worked up in the first place. However, I am not sure how I feel about it. First some points, then my questions.  

Some Points;

  • "With Teeth" = lasting consequences with real system/mechanical effect with the same gravity that combat mechanics generally have. That's the definition we used in our discussion, so it will help this one if we can use the same definition (for me anyways :D).
  • In combat, you're character can be wounded permanently, or just lose a particular battle, or have something physically done to the character that the player may not have wanted to happen. But we commonly accept this all the time in almost every system.
  • Without teeth, any social or mental systems will be generally pointless. People intimidate other people all the time to stop something, obey commands, give up information. People are persuaded by arguments all the time.
  • Games often include mental domination, charm like powers, spells or abilities. We accept these as part of many games.
  • Some games even include afflictions, diseases, poisons, supernatural effects that get leveraged against the PCs without player choice. Again, we seem to accept that as part of many games.


My Questions:

  • Why was I so put-out over having to do something based on a social conflict but am willing to accept similar circumstances in a physical one? Have you had similar feelings?
  • How do you deal with the loss of "player choice" in your games?
  • Do you have issues with people getting worked up over it?
  • If the evil vampire dominates your PC into doing something, is that loss of player control?  Is that acceptable?
  • If I can't debate and win an argument with lasting effect, then what is the point of arguing? If I can't intimidate someone into being afraid, or stopping an action, then why try? Is the world truly a one-sided place where the PCs can do anything to NPCs, but other PCs and NPCs can't affect them?
  • Is there a way to have social/mental mechanics with teeth without affecting player choice?


Thanks for taking the time to ponder and answer!
Trentin C Bergeron (trechriron)
Bard, Dreamer & RPG Enthusiast

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Arminius

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[Social/Mental Conflict] Giving Them Teeth Without Forcing Game Play?
« Reply #1 on: September 08, 2011, 11:00:12 PM »
I dunno about your questions, and furthermore I consider Dogs to be a pretty bad game--yet somehow I find myself helping people to play it.

In this case, I think that first, you didn't have to be convinced of the argument. Losing the contest only means you lost the argument. Just like in real life, you might find yourself flummoxed and out-argued, but still believe you're right.

At least, that's how Burning Wheel, which is somewhat related, describes the social conflict rules, even though they're also often run (against the text) as "mind control". (Actually the BW rules basically say the winner of an argument has convinced the audience of people watching the argument.)

Second, the way to deal with this issue is to never set the stakes in terms of persuading a PC (just as the rules themselves say that stakes should never directly entail killing a PC) or establishing a point of fact. The stakes should have been "these Jedis & NPCs are going to execute the dude" against "these Jedis are trying to stop it". With those stakes, you're free to use social conflict to get your way, but there's never a question of mind control, just running out of social/argumentation resources on one side or the other and having to choose between giving and escalating.

Anyway, I still think that Dogs is very problematic, but that might also provide partial answers to some of your other questions.

Justin Alexander

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[Social/Mental Conflict] Giving Them Teeth Without Forcing Game Play?
« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2011, 03:22:17 AM »
Quote from: trechriron;477564
  • Why was I so put-out over having to do something based on a social conflict but am willing to accept similar circumstances in a physical one? Have you had similar feelings?
Well, there's kind of a complex gestalt of things that can contribute to this. But what it mostly boils down to is a simple dichotomy.

(1) The desire to play a role by making choices as if you were a character.

(2) The desire to play a role in the same way that an actor plays the role of Hamlet.

My guess is you fall pretty firmly into Camp #1, and so this mechanic that takes away your ability to make the choices for your character is pretty much taking away the entire reason you enjoy roleplaying.

This is often confusing to people in Camp #2 (who are happy having the game tell them "this is what your character will do" and then figuring out how to effectively and dramatically portray that). The example often proffered is dominate person: Here, too, the mechanics take control of the character away. "How is that any different?" people in Camp #2 wonder.

The distinction, however, is important to Camp #1: In the case of dominate person, the character is having control of their actions taken away from them (and I'm still playing that character who has had control taken away from them). In the case of the social conflict mechanics, OTOH, the game system is taking control of the character away from me (while the character remains in control of their own actions).

This can open up a whole new can of worms in which we debate, psychologically, how much control any of us really have over our own actions.

Personally, I'm with you. I vastly prefer Camp #1. But I also recognize that there is a price for that: It makes it incredibly difficult (if not impossible) for any sort of social conflict mechanic to be balanced. (It's like playing a game of poker where the other guy is betting hard cash and you're betting jelly beans.)
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Bloody Stupid Johnson

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[Social/Mental Conflict] Giving Them Teeth Without Forcing Game Play?
« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2011, 07:26:10 AM »
Yeah sounds like you got deprotagonized, dude.
 
Mechanics that control character behavour cross a line since its changing a character's "thoughts" or "feelings", rather than their environment/ situations. In a traditional RPG this sucks - your PC is your only way to influence events so if the GM controls it to a significant amount, you may as well go home.
 
To an extent high stakes social conflict can also be unrealistic. Really, its very difficult to actually change someone elses beliefs or opinions (unless they've arrived at them from inadequate data, and you can provide the data they don't have).There's a Pundit thread here that may be of interest, for instance.
http://www.therpgsite.com/showthread.php?t=20381

Noclue

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[Social/Mental Conflict] Giving Them Teeth Without Forcing Game Play?
« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2011, 01:22:57 PM »
Quote from: Elliot Wilen;477582
I dunno about your questions, and furthermore I consider Dogs to be a pretty bad game--yet somehow I find myself helping people to play it.

In this case, I think that first, you didn't have to be convinced of the argument. Losing the contest only means you lost the argument. Just like in real life, you might find yourself flummoxed and out-argued, but still believe you're right.

At least, that's how Burning Wheel, which is somewhat related, describes the social conflict rules, even though they're also often run (against the text) as "mind control". (Actually the BW rules basically say the winner of an argument has convinced the audience of people watching the argument.)

Second, the way to deal with this issue is to never set the stakes in terms of persuading a PC (just as the rules themselves say that stakes should never directly entail killing a PC) or establishing a point of fact. The stakes should have been "these Jedis & NPCs are going to execute the dude" against "these Jedis are trying to stop it". With those stakes, you're free to use social conflict to get your way, but there's never a question of mind control, just running out of social/argumentation resources on one side or the other and having to choose between giving and escalating.

I love Dogs. And I totally agree with this.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2011, 01:25:32 PM by Noclue »

Noclue

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[Social/Mental Conflict] Giving Them Teeth Without Forcing Game Play?
« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2011, 01:24:37 PM »
Quote from: Bloody Stupid Johnson;477611
Yeah sounds like you got deprotagonized, dude.

He actually deprotagonized himself..