Here's the text that goes with the table. As always, comments and questions are welcome.
Why Social Conflict?
Why Social Conflict rules? While one might argue that people should be willing to play the rolls against them (acting intimidated when they fail a Resist Persuasion v. Intimidation roll, or falling for it when someone uses Skilled Liar to mislead you, even though the player knows things the character does not), the fact is that success in Hackmaster is largely binary. HOW do I act intimidated? What is the effect of being intimidated on interactions with the aggressor? Is there a difference between falling for a lie by only a point or two, or when I fail by 50 points?
In short, social conflict systems exist to inform roleplaying, and provide mechanical advantages and disadvantages to mechanical acts. If you choose not to invest in Resist Persuasion and face someone with a high Intimidation skill, that choice should have consequences; likewise, if I choose to invest in Resist Persuasion, it should give me a meaningful advantage when facing interrogation over Bob, who is counting on 11/03 Wisdom... Bob shouldn't be able to say "Well, my character wouldn't be scared, no matter what the dice say!" and then do as Bob pleases anyway. I paid for my character to not be scared; Bob is just declaring his immunity by fiat.
The most basic social conflict roll is a single opposed test, with the aggressor rolling a skill based on whichever tack they intend to take, and the defender rolling an opposition skill based on that attack. This test may take very little time (Fast Talking or Distraction), or it may be an involved conversation (Interrogation or Diplomacy); this is determined by the GM. If the initial pass allows for it, a second check might be made, or the defender may counter-offer, if reasonable.
Note that many modifiers apply to these rolls; while a salesman might be able to convince you to buy a monkey, it can be Very Difficult for him to do so if you don’t want to buy a monkey, or if you don’t have the money he’s asking you for. Depending on their plan, it may also involve several different rolls, each of which is a possible point of failure for either of you… if they must convince you of a lie (Skilled Liar), in order to Persuade you to come to their room, where they might Seduce you, each of those is separate considerations, with its own difficulty (though, if you enthusiastically accept the lie, they may find it easier to Persuade you, and so on). A frequent and large modifier to this roll is one’s Encounter Reaction, as laid out on pages 66 and 67 of the GMG. A Player character does receive some advantage, here… their opponents never receive a bonus to aggressive skills based on encounter reaction. Even if you genuinely like an NPC or another player, they have no bonus to influence your PC without magic or prior social skill use.
Declining Social Conflict
It is possible to decline social conflict. However, in many cases, this represents simply going along with whatever the person wants. Don’t want to risk a Morale roll against someone trying to intimidate you? Do whatever they’re asking you to. Don’t want to endure weeks of torture? Just tell them everything, right at first. Declining social conflict will prevent you from having to fight, but may wind up impacting your honor, your purse, and your prospects.
But I Don’t Want to Do That!
Inevitably, PCs will fail social conflict rolls, either due to not beefing up their resist persuasion, or simple bad luck. They may argue that their character wouldn’t do that, that THEY are not convinced so their CHARACTER is not convinced, or that it ruins the fun if something other than a magical spell can force their character to behave precisely as the player wishes. This is somewhat analogous to arguing that their character DIDN’T die because the orc drove a spear through their chest, because it’s no fun if they have to do what they don’t want their character to do. Hackmaster is a game of choices, consequences, and, occasionally, luck eating your character like he’s a bar peanut. If you chose not to invest in Resist Persuasion or other social skills, then you are going to have a similar result in social conflicts to someone who chooses not to wear armor in physical conflicts. If you did invest in Resist Persuasion and have a horrible run of luck with the dice, well, sometimes even the dragon gets killed, and he’s got armor for days and hit points for miles. But, being a game of fairness, Hackmaster has a few remedies for those who don’t want to do what the dice tell them.
Honor, Luck, and Metagame mechanics
PCs faced with unfortunate rolls can always choose to use mulligans, reverse mulligans, bonuses, and honor burn to change the outcome. Luck points may also be used, within their restrictions, and Chivalry Points may be used to alter the roll IF it is a key, heroic roll in the story. You may use Chivalry Points to Intimidate Count Evilus, to resist his torture, or to influence the Treaty of Crag Keep, but it would not be much of a knightly story if you used them to haggle for a better price for your room or to Persuade the guards not to tell your wife about your indiscretions.
Ignoring the Results
If a player chooses to completely ignore the results of social conflict, doing whatever they like, anyway, then there is a built in mechanism for reprimanding them: the honor calculation. Each level, honor is calculated as on pages 114 and 115 of the Player’s Handbook. A player who ignores social conflict results should be judged harshly in the “General Role-Play” category… being immune to social conflict is little different than deciding that Fear of Heights was a nice bunch of BPs, and not a possibly crippling flaw in a high-wire thief.
The Progress of Social Conflict
The first part of social conflict is establishing the battlefield on which the players are facing each other; this is done through the Encounter Reaction check, as detailed in the GMG on pages 65-67. Player characters are, in most conflicts, immune to this chart… unless altered by magic or social conflict, their default reaction towards others is -2/+2… no bonus or penalty. Others, however, react to them and, should a GM choose to dice out a social conflict between NPCs, they may have different reactions to each other (a noble may be dismissive of the beggar person asking them for alms, while the beggar has a generally positive opinion of the noble).
Bonuses from a red (negative) reaction act as bonuses to defensive skill use; bonuses from a green (positive) reaction act as bonuses to aggressive skill use against the target. If, for example, Knuckles the Dwarf walks up to two guardsmen, and receives a -3/-7 reaction from the half-orc, and a +3/+7 reaction from the dwarf, his attempt to Persuade the half-orc would see the half-orc get a +10% bonus to Resist Persuasion… he doesn’t like Knuckles, he doesn’t trust Knuckles, so Knuckles is going to have to be good to get past him. Conversely, Knuckles will get a +5% bonus to his Persuasion skill against the dwarf… the dwarf thinks he’s ok, and is willing to listen. Depending on the circumstances, Intimidation, Interrogation, and Torture can be exceptions to this; if the general racial reaction to the aggressor’s race by the defender’s race is Fearful, or if the defender is Cowardly or otherwise of low Morale, encounter reaction modifiers can be bonuses to those skills… pixie-faeries are quite willing to be intimidated by grel. This is subject to GM discretion.
Once the general encounter reaction is known, the aggressor should choose her tack, and the skill associated with it, while the defender should choose his tack and the skill associated with it. The different skills have different uses and different outcomes, outlined below. In all cases, Resist Persuasion is an appropriate counter-skill to choose for defense; stubbornness will not get you far, but it can keep you from moving. Those highly skilled in other areas, however, might choose another skill; if your character is better at appraising than they are at resisting persuasion, they may fall back on that to avoid paying too much for goods, while a skilled salesman might use their own sales acumen to sell the seller on selling to them at the buyer’s price.
Social conflict then hinges on an opposed roll, the aggressive skil vs. the counter-skill; the results of this are compared to the “Social Conflict Results” table. Success, in this case, is determined as “Success for the aggressor”, while failure is “Failure for the aggressor.” In some cases, you will have instances of mutual aggression. You might find this in a diplomatic negotiation, an oratory debate, or when two burly fighters have a good-old-fashioned Intimidation stare-down. In that case, whoever wins gets results based on their degree of success; the loser of the contest does not likewise get the results of their failure.
Most social conflict is over after a single pass, which might take seconds, minutes, hours, or even days. Any success by more than 50 points, or failure by more than 25 points, results in an end to that social conflict, as there’s been a clear victor. Results in between might allow a new test; those tests suffer the results of the first test; it’s hard to intimidate someone who’s already made you stand down by force of will, and hard to seduce someone who’s already laughed you off. The table notes several instances where new tests are allowed; the GM may decide if others are appropriate.
The Skills and How They Are Used
Diplomacy: Diplomacy is best used when the goal is a long-term arrangement between groups; while it can be applied at the individual level, the nuances of diplomacy are in policy, and the give and take of interested parties and occasional non-compliance. Diplomacy’s end game is an agreement to take action, not necessarily a given action. It is often opposed by Diplomacy, where both sides are attempting to gain benefits and avoid costs.
Distraction: Distraction is about the instant; gaining attention for just a moment, to allow something else to happen. Great success at distraction results in longer distractions. It is only really opposed by Resist Persuasion; resisting the urge to look at the noisy, shiny, thing and concentrate on the task at hand.
Fast Talking: “If you can’t dazzle them with style, baffle them with :):):):):):):):).” Fast talking is a mirror to Distraction, in that its purpose is to divert the defender from paying attention to what the aggressor is doing. Fast Talking can be resisted by Scrutiny, as someone who pays enough attention to what’s happening will notice that you’re not really saying anything, and, possibly, note whatever you’re concealing.
Interrogation: Interrogation is compelling someone to answer questions without physical torture. A little bit Intimidation, a little bit Persuasion, Interrogation can be foiled by a Skilled Liar… someone capable of making the interrogator believe what they wish.
Intimidation: Intimidation is the fine art of making others consider their mortality, and its relative insignificance to your day. Success makes your opponent back down; great success may scare them off entirely. Intimidation can be resisted with Resist Persuasion, or opposed with Intimidation of your own. Intimidation can subject a player character to a morale check.
Oration: Oration is best used on large groups of people, bringing them around to your point of view by influencing their encounter reaction level. While Seduction is a targeted attack at an individual, Oration is an area of effect; trying to reverse them gets a tad weird, as the Orator who focuses on a single person lacks the fine control to tune their argument to the individual, and the seducer trying to work a crowd lacks the broad appeal. Oration can be opposed with Oration; debating an Orator and refuting their points can prevent them from affecting the crowd. Oration is one of the skills that can subject a player character to encounter reactions.
Persuasion: Persuasion is attempting to gain an immediate favor from someone, with little concrete offered in return; straight quid-pro-quo relationships are more often Diplomacy or Salesmanship, depending on the nature of the promises. Unsurprisingly, it is resisted with Resist Persuasion.
Salesmanship: Salesmanship is the art of the deal; exchanging money or goods for goods or services. It’s a matter of the give and take of cost and value; this much for so many, that much for so many more, and sweetening the deal without necessarily increasing your own cost. It can be resisted with Salesmanship, Resist Persuasion, or the appropriate Appraisal… knowing the value of something can help you avoid overpaying for it.
Seduction: While Seduction is usually thought of in carnal terms, the Art of Seduction is about improving a single person’s reaction to you. While this can involve carnal activity, it can also simply be a matter of finding out what they like and emphasizing that; a perfect cup of tea, a touch on the shoulder when they need it, or even stepping back so they can step forward. A skilled seduction artist makes their target love them; they can be foiled by a skilled actor, able to fake the responses that a seducer uses to gauge their next action. Seduction is one of the skills that can subject a player character to encounter reactions.
Skilled Liar: Skilled Liar is the art of making someone believe things that are not true. The more evidence there is, and the less immediate the circumstances, the harder it is to pull off a lie… a guilty man might believe “The guards are coming”, simply because the price of not believing it if it’s true is so high, but calmly informing a sage of meteorology that the sky is green is unlikely to be successful. Skilled Liar can be opposed with sufficient observation; noting tells that the person may not be telling the truth, as well as any evidence that what is said is not true.
Torture: Interrogation more sinister sibling, Torture “enhances” the typical questioning with the application of pain and discomfort to encourage a response. It is more likely to result in false positives than Interrogation, as desperate subjects say anything to end the torment, but has a visceral component that makes it possible with sadists and those who care less about the truth than breaking their opponents. A Skilled Liar can confound a torturer, getting them to follow false leads… though, some torturers may not care that they’ve received information.
Sidebar: Social Conflict or Simple Rolls
When should you use Social Conflict, and when you should use simple rolls? Generally, the more crucial the roll, and the more important the target, the more you should consider using Social Conflict. One does not need social conflict for every meat pie and white lie, but important interactions with important NPCs (or PCs) should fall back on basic social conflict rules.
Sidebar: PVP Social Conflict
There will come times when player characters will find themselves involved in social conflict with other player characters. Is your thief character lying about stealing from the party? Is your mage haggling with the fighter over an Illusionary Leather Armor spell? While role-playing can be used to resolve these, social conflict rules can be used to speed up the game and ajudicate cases of metagame knowledge… the whole table may know that the thief pocketed that ruby, but can their players catch it? The ambiguity can be resolved fairly with the dice, rather than an endless parade of “Did not!” v. “Did so!”