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All Rules in Social Conflicts

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Freeform Events

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 170
While you could use the Social Combat Deck or many of the existing tools in the Pathfinder RPG to run social conflict events, eventually you’ll want to shape the PCs’ encounters around a story you have created or around some unanticipated consequence of the PCs’ past actions. When planning such encounters, you may want to create freeform events that give players a more active role in developing the ongoing story. Since social conflict events are less predictable than combat encounters, the following tools and guidelines can help you ad-lib when your players do something out of the ordinary.

Creating Actions and Goals

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 170
Each freeform event you create should have a number of actions the PCs can take to achieve their goals. It’s always better to create more actions and goals than you might need, and to have a variety of them, so multiple characters can participate in the event. Often these goals will revolve around a check or taking a specific action.

Social Initiative

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 171
When you’re running a freeform challenge where wits and charm are more effective than quick reflexes, it might become important to determine the order in which different characters (both PCs and NPCs) perform their actions. In such cases, consider having each character roll a social initiative check. Rather than being Dexterity-based, a social initiative check is Charisma-based, though all other standard methods for increasing initiative (such as the Improved Initiative feat) still apply.

Freeform Checks

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 171
While the players will usually be using the standard DCs for various skill checks found in the Pathfinder RPG rules, sometimes you’ll want them to attempt skill checks for purposes not defined in the rules, but that fit within the scope of the challenge events they’re engaged in. In such cases, Table 4–1: Freeform Check DCs by Level provides some suggested benchmarks for these freeform checks.

Table 4-1: Freeform Check DCs by Level

LevelEasy Check DCMedium Check DCHard Check DC
1121722
2141923
3152126
4162228
5172329
6182430
7192531
8202633
9212734
10222839
11232941
12243043
13253144
14263245
15273347
16283448
17293550
18303651
19313752
20323854


The low values on the table above are designed as target DCs for checks that are relatively easy for PCs to complete at the listed levels. They are also typically appropriate when multiple party members might have to all succeed at the check to constitute a success, or when a character who isn’t an expert at something is forced to fill in for a particular role. The DC generally provides a 50% chance of success for a character trained in the skill but otherwise ill-suited to the task and possessing no other advantages (such as tools, spells, or magic), or vice versa (someone barely trained with plenty of other advantages). Medium values represent challenges that a single, relatively skilled adventurer should be able to overcome without assistance, but not without some risk. Hard values are appropriate for masters at particular skills, for those who possess numerous advantages with certain skills, or for checks where a large number of characters are all able to assist a less skilled character.

If the PCs typically rely on inexpensive spells and magic items to apply bonuses on certain skill checks, the DCs on Table 4–1 might be too low for your campaign. You may want to make changes to the listed DCs to account for this (in a campaign where characters on both sides of a social conflict rely strongly on such spells and magic items, the opposition will be using them, too).

Keep in mind that when PCs have invested in maximizing their success with certain skills or roles, they should feel good about those choices. Rather than simply increasing the DCs when selecting advantageous options should have otherwise made them easier—thus effectively punishing the PCs—when you create tasks with those higher DCs, create greater rewards for them as well. Thus, the players’ choices grant access to new and exciting possibilities that the characters never could have obtained otherwise (and of course, if the players are apprehensive about attempting the difficult DC, they can abandon this extra prize without experiencing a loss).

Gauging Success

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 171
While designing the challenges and goals of a social conflict, you’ll need to decide the means by which you’ll measure the PCs’ success. Listed below are three different ways to gauge success in social conflict events. Regardless of which means you use to gauge success, you will also need to determine how many successes the PCs must accumulate to achieve their overall goals.

Contest Against Competitors: Perhaps a rival faction opposes the PCs’ agenda in the social conflict. In this type of event, the PCs work to best these other factions. The PCs must either damage the reputations of their rivals in order to take them out of the running, or they must find some other way to keep those adversaries from being obstacles to their goals, such as by forming a coalition against an even more dangerous opposing faction. Contests against competitors can be highly satisfying because of the human element of the opposition, but they can also make the social conflict significantly more difficult to run, particularly if there are numerous factions. In such contests, you may need to determine the stakes and tenacity of multiple factions, and how many successes will drive each faction out of the running. These numbers should match the scope and pacing you chose for the social conflict. A fastpaced serialized conflict or one expected to last over a longer term calls for higher target numbers, as there are more opportunities to gain successes, while the reverse is true for slower, episodic pacing or shorter-term story arcs.

Goal Collection: In this type of event, overall success is assured as long as the PCs can achieve a benchmark number of goals. However, before that occurs, the characters must deal with adverse conditions that can be removed only by succeeding at the social conflict.

Race Against Time: In this type of event, the PCs must race to achieve as many goals as possible before a certain amount of time elapses. A time limit makes an event more exciting for the players. Make the reason for the time limit something interesting to the PCs and the developing story. The in-game reason for the time limit could be anything from an upcoming election, to an impending invasion, to the public’s waning interest in the issue at the heart of the PCs’ goals. When determining overall goals in a timesensitive conflict, you may wish to set multiple thresholds of victory, ordering possible outcomes from best to worst and listing a minimum number of successes for each successively better outcome.

Failing Forward

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 172
When designing any type of social conflict event, it’s always best to allow the PCs to advance the plot even in the face of a critical failure. Of course, there should be consequences for failure, but that should never be the end the story. In other words, a success moves the PCs toward victory and a failure moves their adversaries toward victory, but you shouldn’t plan a result that creates a deadlock and stalls the flow of the action. So long as a defeat doesn’t lead to the entire party’s death, it likely brings with it a variety of exciting ramifications—sometimes more so than a success might. Feel free to use the PCs’ defeats as springboards into new plots and more rewarding future victories.