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Steal this Mechanic: Legend’s Token and Bidding System for Social Encounters
Posted By Martin Ralya On January 11, 2012 @ 9:12 am In GMing Advice | 15 Comments
Legend is a reimplementation of the d20 System core rules from Rule of Cool — a d20 fantasy RPG that does things differently. It’s as much of a change from core d20 as d20 Modern was from D&D 3.0.
Through January 14, 2012, it’s available for a pay-what-you-like donation to Child’s Play. If you have the slightest interest in d20, it’s well worth checking out (see my recent post on Google+ for a bit more about why), but that’s not why we’re here.
We’re here to steal one very cool subsystem from Legend: the social encounter system.
A quick caveat: I’ve read the rules for this system, but I haven’t tried them out yet. I don’t see any glaring flaws, though, or I wouldn’t be writing an article about it.
Legend’s social encounter resolution involves two cool elements; the first is tokens. Every time you make a social skill check in an encounter, you earn a token for yourself — and your “target” for that social check gets to make an appropriate roll as well. They make their roll whether you succeed or fail at yours; you’re giving them the opportunity to make the roll.
Everyone who succeeds gets a token. Tokens represent capital that characters can invest in securing an outcome from that encounter, or in resisting someone else’s attempts to do just that.
So how do you use them?
To make a binding demand — to set the outcome of the encounter, in other words — you bid a token. Your opponent can meet your bid, forcing you to raise, counter your bid with a raise of their own, accept your demand, or walk away. There are consequences for each option, of course, which are spelled out in the rules.
They recommend using poker chips for tokens, which should nicely reinforce the bidding mechanic by putting you in the right frame of mind.
That’s it — that’s the whole system. It’s brilliant because it’s almost a system-neutral mechanic, oxymoron though that may be. You can use this system in literally and RPG that features social skills and skill checks, which is almost all of them.
I view Burning Wheel‘s social combat rules as the gold standard for how to make social conflicts meaningful and awesome, and those rules are eminently driftable as well, but they’re also longer and more involved. What I like about Legend’s social rules is that they add so little to a game’s footprint but look like they’d add a great deal to the play experience. I love mechanics with a high footprint:impact ratio, and this fits the bill.
I encourage you to make a donation and check out Legend on your own. It’s 180 pages, nicely laid out, bookmarked and hyperlinked, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do. And if you’ve played Legend, or used its social encounter rules, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
And if your game of choice doesn’t include social conflict rules (which too few games do), how do you make those encounters interesting?
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