They say that love is a battlefield. When it comes to codifying non-physical encounters with multiple steps and varied outcomes at each point in the process this becomes even truer. The pen is mightier than the sword, and the paper knife is just as deadly. In this context this means that the rules for behaviour have just as physical and potentially dire results as hand to hand or weapon based combat. The weapons of this type include fines, legal censure, incarceration, banishment or exile, execution, etc. This is true whether you are talking about a fictional setting or a set of role-playing game rules.
One of the more interesting concepts I've seen for handling social rules in an RPG is to treat it just like combat. The interplay back and forth is interesting, but I also enjoy the idea of giving the characters a social score or several scores based on different emotional, social, and political concepts that are treated the same as the character's pool of health points--whether they are numerical points by the dozens, or wound tracks, or a limited number of dots. There are two ways to look at this. In the first the results of losing your social points are not similar to death, but more like a sense of exhaustion. In the second the full loss of these points is like the death of that character's social standing. Use a mix of the two as desired or needed. Again, looking at the results instead of the numbers gives the value of this way of thinking for fiction writing.
What these pools do are provide a look at the health of the character on several fronts beyond the physical. They are indicators of the rise and fall of the character on different levels. They may effect, or include, the character's fortunes: monetary, influence, political power, emotional strength, or even karmically. They allow for characters to attack each other on different fronts. They might choose one or they might choose several attack vectors. A hero who is no match physically for the villain might go after the villain socially in the form of undermining their finances or their position in a criminal organisation, their standing in the criminal community at large, or in the eyes of the villain's lackeys. This causes them to lose manpower and respect, and even lead to them being ousted from power, killed by a rival, or ostracised. On another front representatives of the law may go after a mobster's assets or disrupt their holding of a position in a company or on a board of directors. This leads to similar results and does a better job of disrupting the mobster than even incarcerating the mobster, and leaving his or her power base still intact.
Music: Voodoo Medicine Man by Aerosmith and Harvester Of Sorrow by Metallica.
July 11, 2012 ...and In This Corner, Social Interaction!
We have looked at settings a lot. We have touched on the character of different kinds of people here and there, as well as characters in general. Although it is difficult to avoid the subject entirely we have not implicitly looked at how people interact--or not for a while anyway. I can think of a couple examples some time ago.
This may seem like it is entirely role-playing game oriented, but anything you would put into or use in an RPG is something you make use of in any fiction writing. Almost every RPG written covers rules for physical conflict a.k.a. combat. They usually cover mental battles as well though often only in reference to unnatural powers and circumstances. A lesser number though get into social conflict or combat. This is a fascinating subject for not only myself, but also a growing number of people with which I have varying levels of contact.
How it works is that the author/game designer creates a framework detailing when and how to use rules, statistics, and dice to determine the ways that other characters react to your character's social contact with them. Also sometimes it tells you how to play your character in certain situations. The difficulty in all of this is walking the line between getting out of the way of your players playing their role, and helping them out when they need it. This is often without resorting to glossing over whole scenes. A prime example is a common skill given a name like Streetwise. This skill allows the character to, as safely as possible, make and use a criminal contact such as a drug dealer, a fence, gunrunner, or a hitman. Alternatively it allows the character to recognise gang colours, know where certain groups hang out, how mobsters deal with particular threats, etc. Players don't need to know anything about real criminals. They can just use the skill and determine their character's success and failure.
Where it runs in to trouble, but can still be useful is with frameworks such as debating rules. One character is debating a point with another. She makes her argument and then rolls to determine (using a host of rules beyond just a simple die roll hopefully) if the other character concedes the point. This can help a player who isn't a skilled debater and annoy another player who is. Other factors though exist, such as the character may not be smart enough or educated enough to be as skilled a debater as the player is. The other rules in addition to the die roll also contribute to the success or failure based on both the player's character and the other character, which may affect elements that the player isn't aware of, either because it is an unknown in the setting to them, or some secret or other motivation of the other character being debated. Like everything, it's all a matter of perspective and degrees, which relies on the rules being flexible and the arbiter of the rules (a.k.a. the Game Master/GM) to be flexible. The GM should also augment the intelligence of the rules not only as a matter of course, but also according to their needs in presenting the game world, and to fulfill the needs of the players.
Music: Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper and Kiss From A Rose by Seal.
Often one of the most unrealistic features of our fiction is the survival, and guaranteed overall success of our protagonist. The protagonist may die, but there will always be a measure of success in their goals, and full success of the authorís goal--otherwise why bother with the effort of creation. To that end the author orchestrates the protagonistís success and survival to the point of achieving the desired effect. Heroes defy the odds. This is generally a fine creative decision to make. It is not without its pitfalls though. One way this choice may fall short of expectation is when it works counter to the desired mood of the project. Another is when it belies some of the tenants set out in how other parties, and the elements they represent behave.
Here is a prime, and common, example. The setting involves an antagonistic group (the antagonists) that is supposed to be, not only vicious, but also skilled, a real group to fear. The protagonist though, waltzes through their traps and machinations, and generally makes a fool of them. The question is why? Are the antagonists really inept and not dangerous? Is the protagonist just that skilled or powerful? Are the circumstances aligned in one direction only? It may be some combination of those or is something else going on.
The question then becomes what to do when this happens, particularly if it is too late to go back and change it--more of an issue for a role-playing game, or serialised fiction (including fiction blogs) than regular writing and publishing. My first suggestion is to come up with a reason. Are there other factors? Is the head of this scary organisation--perhaps just the local head or the team leader charged with dealing with your protagonist--erratic and undermining him or herself? Likewise, is anger clouding the team's judgement after the protagonist has initially been lucky or proven to be worthy adversaries? Is there a nefarious reason why they might be taking it easy on the protagonist, but not others similar targets?
Taken in a different direction, do the protagonists have an unknown protector? Is there a third party complicating matters? Will the protagonist discover that they are being used, or are a pawn in some larger scheme? The protagonist should also perhaps consider that they have found a weakness in the antagonist's organisation and should share it with others. Consider the lives they could save, but also consider how explaining it to others, or even over exploiting it, may lead them and others into a trap that they cannot just avoid as they have so far. Of course all of these suggestions are good when you have the time to plan ahead or you have the luxury of editing the final product from start to finish.
Music: Music: Cemetary Gates by Pantera and Sleeping On The Sidewalk by Queen.