Saturday, June 8, 2013


On Wednesday I wrote about one of the pitfalls associated with using a player character's ability or skill score as the target number for social interactions, specifically that, if not treated with some forethought, the score comes to define the world. Seduce a marquise? Roll under Charm. Bluff a provost-martial? Roll under Charm. Persuade the king to go to war with Spain? Yeah, you get the idea.

In fact, this is one of the reasons some gamers say they don't like social skills - 'They don't make sense!' - and prefer to simply override them at will when the results don't 'fit.' They have a point with respect to the problem, but their solution - to set aside the rules when they feel like it - is, to me, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A better fix, for me, is to use smarter rules.

In Flashing Blades, the base value of a skill is the associated attribute score, which is then modified by possessing the skill, usually increasing the target number by + 1 to + 3, usually assigned at the gamemaster's discretion; frex, a character with a 12 Charm and the Etiquette skill might get a + 2 bonus, giving the player a target number of 14 to roll under on a d20 to impress a countess. Assigning ad hoc modifiers helps to alleviate some of the problems inherent in simply rolling under the attribute number, but I wanted something more holistic.

The first modifier I decided to use was the difference in Social Ranks between characters. This was something I started with Traveller, with the difference in Social Standings as a modifier to the reaction table roll, to better reflect social stratification in the Imperium. For FB, this was even more appropriate; characters with higher Social Ranks already expect to receive deference from their social inferiors, and this would be reflected in the modifiers assigned to social skill use as well.

I also wanted something more personal as well, to reflect a non-player character's individual nature, and for this I adapted a feature from another FB gamemaster's house rules for handling mistresses and courtship. In these house rules, which I discovered somewhere on the intrewebs and can no longer locate, each potential mistress was assigned a value of one to six; this number would be used in determining how loyal the potential mistress was to her lover or husband, should a player character attempt to seduce her away. I decided to expand this into a non-player character stat which reflected how amenable to suggestion that character might be. I called the new stat Tractability.

As with the loyalty rating on which it was based, Tractability is usually expressed by a number between one and six, making it a simple roll of a die to determine for randomly developed non-player characters; I did, however, leave myself the option for numbers greater than seven, for special cases. As with the BITS task system for Traveller, I wanted each score to have a verbal shorthand attached as well.

Rating Description
1 Mercurial
2 Impulsive
3 Flexible
4 Reserved
5 Unwavering
6 Intractable
7 + Inhuman

I made three - Flexible - the default value for most non-player characters. The Tractability score is used a couple of ways; as noted, it can be a modifier to the attribute-plus-skill target number for social skill rolls; it can also be used as a divisor, in keeping with a number of skill checks used in FB's published adventures, for a greater degree of difficulty; frex, Tractability 4 can be used as a - 4 penalty to a roll, or to divide the target number by four. The specific circumstances of using Tractability is the subject of the next post on social skills in Flashing Blades.


  1. Mike - your blog link to class conciousness is missing the letter l at the end of "html."

  2. Mike, I'm looking forward to the next section.

    I can also see using the Tractability rating in NPC vs. PC social combat.

    (1) If the group wants to have NPC vs. PC influence rolls, then the player assigns a Tractability rating (either permanent or temporary) to their PC before the roll. The GM then rolls for the NPC as normal and the player plays out the effect. For some players, allowing the player to set the difficulty of influencing their PC mitigates the aversion to NPC vs. PC social combat rolls.

    (2) If the group prefers not to allow NPC vs. PC influence rolls, then the GM describes what the NPC says, the player decides what the PC does. The GM rolls for the NPC and then they figure out what Tractability rating is required for the die roll to output as a result, the choice that the player made. The Tractability description then tells the group how the PC's decision appears to others. For example, if rating of 2 is required the PC or their decision appears "impulsive" while if a rating of 6 is required the PC seems "intractable."

    Note that in case (2) the goal is not to change or take away the player's decision, but only to help model how the decision affects NPC perceptions of the PC and the PC's reputation in the game world.

    1. Oooo, I like number 2 especially. Some interesting reverse engineering.