Monday, February 4, 2013

How to win friends and Influence People.

As a transhumanist, a social radical, and as someone with an antagonistic relationship with money, I'm fascinated by the concept of Social Capital and Reputation Economies.  Eclipse phase won my heart as a game that makes reputation economies a central part of the premise, but their mechanics are very gamist and not very realistic. In Apocalithic, of course, there's nothing BUT reputation economies. So I've been thinking about how to really model a reputation economy. And fortunately for me, FATE lends itself fairly well to implimenting my ideas on the topic.

I have no ambition  so great as the esteem of my fellow man. 

The first thing any FATE reputation system needs is a Social Capital stress track. This is the game;s measure of how much social capital you have built up.  You'll also want to link it to a skill that determines your length. I'd suggest making a new skill, Reputation, that serves as the social version of Physique. Mostly it serves to determine your social stress track, but it may have other uses related to throwing your "weight" around socially. In my games this skill usually absorbs all the trappings of the Contacts skill.

So what does Social stress mean? It means you're tapping into the social good will you've built up with the community. As long as you don't overflow your stress track, you're still in everyone's good graces. Getting taken out, however, is a problem. That means you're tapped out, you've been taking more than you're giving back, and everyone knows it. As long as you're tapped out, no one will grant you any favors. Unlike other stress, Social stress sticks around until you do something to heal it.

Listen, I need a Favor

But that's just the basis for tracking a character's social capital. What does a transaction in the reputation economy look like? The central idea here is a new type of task resolution, which I'm calling a Conversation. (Negotiation would be a more accurate term, but I wanted to keep within the alliterative naming structure task resolution has currently.) In a conversation, one character wants something from another character, a favor of some sort. We'll call that person the Seeker, and the person they're asking the Giver.  Both Seeker and Giver need to belong to a shared community, and the seeker may not have tapped out their social stress track. Like a contest, a conversation proceeds in a number of exchanges.

On the first exchange, the characters start by talking. Talking is a variation on Creating an advantage, and the goal is to learn something about the other person. The players make opposed checks with the appropriate skill. In Core, this is probably Rapport Vs Empathy, as the Seeker tries to make friendly and the Giver tries to figure out what they want. The Seeker might roll empathy if they're trying to figure something out about the Giver, like what they need you can offer. One or the other party might use intimidation if this isn't a friendly situation. The narrative will inform this part. The results of this action are below
  • Seeker succeeds with style: The Seeker learns of or gains an advantage related to impressing or learning something about the Giver, along with 1 free tag. 
  • Seeker succeeds: The Seeker gain a boost related to learning something minor about the Giver. 
  • Tie: Pleasant small talk of no importance. 
  • Giver succeeds: The Giver gain a boost related to learning something minor about the Seeker. 
  • Giver succeeds with style: The Giver learns of or gains an advantage related to impressing or learning something about the Seeker, along with 1 free tag. 
Talking can go on as long as both parties want, but sooner or later you have to get to the point. After the first exchange, either party may choose to proceed to Asking for a Favor. In most cases, this is an opposed Rapport vs. Rapport check. One or both sides of the check may be modified by the magnitude of the favor, see below. The following results are possible:
  • Seeker succeeds with style: The Giver now has an option. They either grant the Seeker their perfectly reasonable request, or word gets around and they take social stress equal to their margin of failure. If the giver chooses to take social stress, the Seeker may choose to do one less point of stress in exchange for a boost
  • Seeker succeeds: As above, but without the boost
  • Tie: The Giver grants the Seeker their request, and both parties receive a boost related to a having a mutually satisfactory exchange. 
  • Giver succeeds: The Seeker now has an option. They either don't get what they want, or the they get what they asked for at the cost of social stress equal to their margin of failure. 
  • Giver succeeds with style: As above, but if the seeker chooses to take social stress, the Giver may choose to do one less point of stress in exchange for a boost.
You may use boosts or invoke advantages like normal on this check. That's what all those boosts and advantages you gained making small talk are for! In fact, you also have an additional way to use aspects on this check. You may choose to add your invocations to the other character's roll instead of to your own. It's also worth noting that Consequences can be used to lessen stress taken just as you could in a conflict. 

The strategy here is complex. The best possible scenario for the seeker isn't succeeding with style, it's tying. But hitting that sweet spot is difficult, and dangerous because it's so easy for the other player to invoke an aspect to take you off the tie. So you might want to go for a solid win. But it's the loser of the contest who has the choice of how the contest turns out. Either they're giving the other person what they wanted (or not getting what they wanted), or they're taking social stress. It's lose/lose, but you choose the loss. Thus if you REALLY want that favor, you might want to actually lose the check in order to make sure that choice is yours. You can choose to play it cooperatively or more coercive.  Of course, if the giver is predisposed to give anyway, they may just pile their bonus on the seeker's roll and be done with it. 

Boosts that result from the outcome last beyond the Conversation. They represent the way the community at large regards the interaction. They aren't very long lasting, though. A day or two at most. Boosts like "you're so generous" or "I can't believe what a jerk he was to you" are appropriate here. In You may use these boosts in like normal for social checks within the shared community, but they have another use. If you have any social stress, You may spend a boost gained from an asking a favor check to clear the lowest ranked stress box you have marked off. This is how you recover your social capital. 
So basically on success with style, you're increasing your social capital at the expense of the other person, while on a tie you're mutually increasing each other's social capital.

How big a Favor?

One favor isn't like another. The magnitude of a favor matters a lot. But how big is a favor? Fortunately, we get to rate this on the ladder.  Once you've given a favor a rating on the Ladder, add that value as a bonus to the final Asking for a favor check at the end of the conversation. Of course, that assumes that the Seeker isn't offering a thing in exchange, which likely isn't true. The seeker may offer the giver something in exchange for what they're seeking, in which case the value of that favor is added to the seeker's roll.

The Giver decides what level they thing the favors in question are at based on how much each party values what's being asked for. There are several metrics you might use to judge value, but I like to think of it in terms of time. An Average favor is something the Giver can grant on the spot, with little cost to themselves. A fair favor asks for a few hours of the givers time, or something it would take them a few hours to replace. A good favor is about a day's worth of time. A great favor would be several days. A Superb favor would require a week or two, a Fantastic favor a month, and so on. Basically how much effort will you the Giver have to go through to give this favor, and how much effort will what's being offered save them? The key here is that a favor's value all in the eyes of the Giver, and not the Seeker.

In a society where Status is a huge deal, simply interacting with someone of lower status might be seen as a favor equal to the difference between your Reputations skills. I'm a little wary of this mechanic, though, as it seems like it's double-dipping reputation. Of course, if your higher status is expressed in an aspect, you could invoke as a fair favor (which grants +2 on your roll, like any other invoke.) Similarly, in a society where time and attention are of the essence, even taking time to have a conversation constitutes a minor favor.

We're old Friends, aren't we?

This kind of negotiation is for acquaintances, people who share a community but aren't close friends. If one or both parties have an aspect that describes a positive relationship between them, then you don't use this mechanic. Instead, the Seeker compels the aspect with a Fate point, and the Giver either accepts the compel and receives the Fate Point, or has to spend a Fate point to buy off the compel, costing both of you a Fate point. Do that often enough, though, and people might rethink being your friend!


  1. Very interesting stuff! I may steal some of this back for my own experiments. :)

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