12 December 2012

Earthdawn: Part 20 - Social Interactions

This is the twentieth part in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

The social portion is one of my favorite aspects in any game, and Earthdawn is no exception to this. Despite how I may enjoy it, that piece of the system isn't necessarily the easiest to grasp. The associated Talents are somewhat scattered and how they work together is poorly often poorly explained.

At the heart of the Interaction system is Charisma. Despite what is implied, there is really only one skill that is directly used for an Interaction Test (Intimidation, introduced in Kratas: City of Thieves). Beyond what you can convince your GM is a good idea, of course. The heart of the system is based around various Talents (and skills) that stack together to create bonuses and improve the attitude of the target for the actual Charisma roll. An unfortunate side effect of this is that it is hard to get reliable results without having Step 8 (2D6). Nearly all of the rolling is going to come back to a Charisma Test. Disciplines that have the ability to spend Karma on Charisma-only Tests will have a distinct advantage here, also mitigating the importance of Charisma Step 8.

For me, the attitude of the target is going to be a major factor of how things proceed, even to the point of removing the need for some rolling. There are seven attitudes, from awestruck to enemy, with neutral as the midpoint. By the rules as written, the only mechanical use for attitude is determining the Result Level required for a favor. However, that is likely one of the key uses of interaction: creating relationships that can be called on when needed (i.e. improving attitudes for favors), now or later, depending on what is required.

While this may seem like a cold way of looking at things, it is essentially correct. Frequent activities of any group include providing assistance to those in need. For those that do not explicitly purchase services, I always try to have the NPCs resurface later as someone that can provide some help in return, either on their own, or the characters seeking them out. It serves to make the world feel less like an unconnected series of episodes and give some weight to their actions, that they will come back for better or worse (my preference: both, it keeps players on their toes). For games that go on long enough, one of my favorite parts is to have the group go back to everyone they have helped throughout the course of the game and call on them for the climax. It serves to call back to all of those events throughout their career, given them a chance to see what real change they have wrought and relive those moments, then reward those choices. If a reward is warranted: though few groups will return back to the village they all but rubbed out looking for some favors.

Here is a list of all the Talents and skills that have an impact on attitude or Interaction rolls. After the very brief description will be a note regarding their status as a skill and if there are any changes, particularly to the time increments.
  • Artisan skills: Part of the Greeting Ritual, can improve attitude by one degree.
  • Conversation: Improves the attitude of multiple targets by one degree for hours equal to Conversation Rank. (Skill: minutes)
  • Diplomacy: Improves the attitude of target towards opponents by one degree for hours equal to Diplomacy Rank. (Skill: 10 minutes)
  • Emotion Song: Affects a large group of people and grants a bonus when working with the suggested emotion and causes a penalty when working against that emotion with a duration in days equal to Emotion Song Rank.
  • Empathic Sense: +1 to Interaction Tests per Success Level when taking advantage of the target's emotional state for minutes equal to Empathic Sense Rank.
  • Etiquette: Mitigates any potential issues stemming from differing customs, as well as potentially improving the attitude by one degree (Excellent Result). It lasts for a variable period, up to days equal to Etiquette Rank. (Skill: hours)
  • First Impression: Improves the attitude of the target by up to two degrees (Excellent Result) for one to two days. You quite literally only get once chance to make a First Impression. (Skill)
  • Hypnotize: Improves the attitude of the target with possible post-hypnotic suggestions for hours equal to Hypnotize Rank. (Skill: obvious)
  • Impress: Can add Impress Rank to Interaction Tests for minutes equal to Impress Rank. (Skill: limited by artisan skill)
  • Intimidation: Used in place of Charisma for Intimidation Interaction Tests and makes favors require at least one Result Level more. (Skill only)
  • Lasting Impression: Add Lasting Impression Rank to Interaction Tests against multiple targets for weeks equal to Lasting Impression Rank.
  • Performance: Can add bonus for each Result Level to Interaction Tests against multiple targets  for hours equal to Performance Rank. (Skill: 10 minutes)
  • Seduction: Improves the attitude of target by two degrees for one day and by one forever. (Skill)
  • Winning Smile: Can add Winning Smile Rank to Interaction Tests for hours equal to Winning Smile Rank.
By looking at what social abilities you have at your disposal, you can create something of a road map for an interaction once you have an idea of what you want out of it. If you are in an unfamiliar setting, Etiquette is always a good place to start. Assuming it doesn't go horribly wrong (e.g. prostate exams aren't actually a part of the troll formal greeting ritual - awkward). First Impression is a staple and the Greeting Ritual can improve attitude as well. It is quite beneficial for a social character to invest in their artisan skill, and it can also be used with Impress (and Performance) for additional bonuses. 

This could go on at great length, but the key pieces to take away are: within the system, social interactions are something of their own mini-game. If you want something (instead of just role-playing for fun), figure out what it is and what you can bring to get that. Try and get the target's attitude as favorable as possible, including an Interaction Test just to improve that, before going after what you actually want. This is usually referred to as "buttering them up". Grandmothers are particularly susceptible. Try to keep the Interaction Test for that till the end and use anything you have to improve Interaction Tests before it, Lasting Impression and Winning Smile, for example. When actually making an Interaction Test, look at how you are going about the role-play and see if you have a Talent or skill that will support that angle; do you have one that will support a different angle? Get the GM on board with this and try to get all of the bonuses you can. Unless you are a Journeyman Troubadour, you're likely to only get one shot at this. If it doesn't work, maybe Bribery is get it for you?


  1. I like that the Earthdawn social system is very robust. The wealth of social talent options for players is especially nice. Unfortunately (like most RPG social systems) the risks and rewards of any given social challenge are determined by the GM, and this can create situation where it's hard to gauge the value of certain talents. The wide variety of social talents and the intricate way they interact can also make it hard to dabble to any level of effectiveness, though it does open up opportunities for social-secondary characters to employ teamwork (if the GM is flexible on letting certain accrued bonuses apply to the group, not just the character who employed the talent). It is also worth mentioning that the Talents (being modifiers to a certain types of action) do not restrict a character from attempting the action in question. You can make a street urchin go "wow" with a display of your martial prowess without having the Impress or First Impression talents. ANd you can negotiate a peace treaty between two groups of Scorchers without needing the Etiquette and Diplomacy talents. Having those talents are huge benefits, but they are not "yes/no" activators like Read/Write Language, or Great Leap.

    At the end of the day it's a good system for representing those interactions that are not interesting enough to roleplay out, or adding drama and tension to those interactions that are.

  2. I find ED's social interaction system badly outdated and inadequate. It's not really defined in places (before Kratas there was no Intimidation, there still are no skills like Con from Shadowrun), and most of the talents and skills do exactly the same. That, and the fact that at low levels (4-7) they're almost useless, and using them (the greeting ritual for example) can be more trouble than it's worth, or even screw up the whole game session (your character critically fumbles his ritual, and gets exiled/lynched, and then you spend the rest of the game doing nothing...).
    It's a part of Earthdawn that needs a complete, coherent rewrite in a modern way.

    1. Virtually all of the actual applications that skills cover in most other games are just Interaction Tests with a required Result Level; the GM's Guide actually has all of that information. The way it works means there doesn't need to be a skill to cover every situation, Intimidation is actually strange in that regard - you could always intimidate, there just happens to be the skill to be extra good at it.

      On the whole, I would rather have a system that gives a general idea of how to go about this whole interaction thing, than a discrete social combat system. Because that is how I role play and I don't care to have an interaction bog down trying to figure out if someone has the right skill or what they right skill is for the job. If you have a skill that can benefit you, trot it out and stage the interaction around that. If you can spend Karma on Charisma tests, that is going to be a big deal, but that is a part of what those Disciplines do.

      It has some issues, without a doubt, but I actually think the biggest one is not really explaining what it is about in the first place and where it is coming from. Which is a general accusation that can be directed at Earthdawn in the first place, but Interactions deserve special mention. That and trying to figure out how to use the social abilities and what the framework that exists is for. It's not terribly friendly to just pick up and go with.