Thursday, October 10, 2013

Effective Social Rank: Gloire

Social Rank in Flashing Blades is a significant part of the game's intended reward system; more than a means of 'keeping score,' Social Rank manifests in feedbacks throughout the career system as well as the character's costs of living. In my campaign, it's also an important part of social skill checks in my FB campaign via the following house rule.
. . . I allow the difference in Social Rank between two characters to modify certain Charm-based skill checks, such as Captaincy and Seduction. I did this using the Social Standing attribute score in Traveller years ago, and Thijs Krijger, moderator of the Flashing Blades Yahoo group, used this in his house rules for mistresses (which are sadly absent from his blog). In some cases, a non-player character in the service of another may use their master's Social Rank, frex, a guard on the gate of the château de Bauchery uses the baron's Social Rank of 12 rather than his own rank of 3 in determining if a Captaincy check will persuade him to stand aside.
As noted, I originally conceived of using social position as a skill modifier while running Traveller. As in F;ashing Blades, Traveller's Social Standing is a nominal reward system, but one more closely tied to the game's lifepath chargen rules; there's also a bit of symbiosis here, in that FB's careers drew some inspiration from Traveller. In my Traveller house rule, Social Standing is more about social affinity than 'pole position'; the difference in Social Standings between a player and non-player character was divided by two and rounded down; that value was then used as a negative modifier on the reaction roll table. The effect was a feeling of 'one of us,' as reactions tended to worsen the further one went from one's own social grouping, either up or down; an 'average Joe' with a base Social Standing of 7 would be equally disadvantaged in dealing with someone of Social Standing 4 or Social Standing 9, and it reflected a de facto caste system IMTU - that's 'in my Traveller universe,' for the uninitiated.

For Flashing Blades' 17th century France, however, social status is both highly stratified and extremely competitive, so the difference between Social Rank can be either a positive or negative modifier: those with higher social status are readily and reliably able to manipulate those beneath them, as shown in the rules for influence.

Social Rank in Flashing Blades increases as characters climb the career ladder, with great wealth, and as a reward at the gamemaster's discretion. Without rewards, Social Rank tends to climb somewhat slowly, as promotions occur annually in most careers. The relatively static nature of Social Rank is actually a pretty fair reflection of Early Modern France, but for a game of swashbuckling adventurers, I feel like there should be something more than banging away toward that promotion next year . . . if you roll 9+ on 2D6. Toward that end, I added another house rule, called Effective Social Rank.

A player character's effective Social Rank may increase, as noted, as a reward, at the gamemaster's discretion. These are permanent increases in most case, and therefore basically indistinguishable from other sources of Social Rank bumps. I decided that a character could also receive a temporary increase in Social Rank as well, for some act likely to give the character a favorable reputation. The mechanism for this was simple: any character holding a Gloire point receives a + 1 bump to their Social Rank until all of the character's Gloire points are used up. The increased Social Rank provides a bonus to social skill use, as noted above, as well as entry into an organisation with a minimum Social Rank requirement; however, the character must actually achieve the required Social Rank permanently within one year of entry, or risk losing the position.

This allows player characters to gain an edge by their conduct as well as increasing access to different careers for the characters to pursue if they wish.

Now, if a character can gain a bonus for a favorable reputation, couldn't that same character also earn a penalty for infamy? Of course! Characters may earn a Black Spot, which is the subject of tomorrow's post.


  1. The relatively static nature of Social Rank is actually a pretty fair reflection of Early Modern France

    I have yet to come up with a satisfactory social rank mechanism in my campaign for this reason. The static nature of Social Rank works for Early Modern France, but not so well for a dynamic society undergoing transition, or for marginal social spaces. For example, during the Late Ming Dynasty, a rebel leader may have a high rank in the gallant underworld but none at all in regular society. A high-ranking military officer in a society with a notoriously corrupt and unpopular military would rank low amongst the commoners (not to mention the fact that, historically, most Chinese have viewed soldiers as little better than thugs). Merchants, traditionally looked upon as the parasitic lowest class of Chinese society, have, through growing wealth and power, elbowed their way into the ruling elite. Yet their social rank would depend on who you are talking to -- conservative Confucian officials would still consider the wealthy merchants as dangerous upstarts. In general, the Ming was a period when many traditional social boundaries were blurring. In light of all this, I have fallen on improvising reactions and modifiers on a case-by-case basis, rather than assigning each character a universal Social Rank attribute.

  2. I had considered the same point for various subcultures such as the criminal underworld, a court of miracles, a group of slaves, or a prison population of incarcerated criminals (as opposed to out of favor aristocrats and political prisoners). Each of these populations would have their own method of social ranking that would seem to be almost opposite to society's normal social rankings which are represented by the FB Social Ranks. A Favor from the Queen of the Beggars would be valuable well out of proportion to the Queen's FB Social Rank of 0 or 1.