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Fate System Toolkit

Social Conflict

The social skills in Fate Core (Deceive, Empathy, Provoke, Rapport) already give groups a variety of ways to approach social conflicts, but your group can also implement a system of motivations and instincts to provide PCs more opportunities to engage NPCs in social interactions.

Motivations and Instincts

Any NPC—even a nameless guard—has two components to their social logic: a motivation and an instinct that follows from that motivation. For example, a teacher may want to safeguard his students (Motivation: Protect His Students from Harm) by keeping the players’ characters from interrogating a particular student (Instinct: Deny the PCs Access). Any attempts to produce a change will require the PCs to either alter the NPC’s motivation or convince them that a different instinct better serves the motivation itself.

You might notice that most motivations double as situation aspects that can be invoked and compelled using fate points.

Remember the Bronze Rule!

Discovering and Modifying Motivations

Of course, motivations are sometimes difficult to detect. While some NPCs will clearly announce why they are opposing the PCs—“I’ve come to avenge my father!”—most people don’t run around shouting out their internal monologues to the world. In order to discover an NPC’s motivations, the PCs need to create advantages using an appropriate social skill. Characters can pick up on small clues (Empathy), challenge the NPC through taunts or provocative statements (Provoke), or even pretend to be someone the NPC can trust (Deceive), in order to discover NPC motivations.

Once the PCs know an NPC’s motivation, they can try to alter that motivation using a variety of social skills, replacing the motivation with a urgent concern based on new information (Rapport) or attempting to falsely convince the target that their motivation is based on bad assumptions (Deceive). For example, a loyal guard (Motivation: Follow My Boss’ Orders, Instinct: Kill the PCs) might be scared off by a sufficiently impressive threat (Provoke) designed to change his motivation to Save My Own Skin.

Modifying Instincts

Rather than attempt to sway an NPC’s motivations, PCs may also create situations that demand more immediate attention or suggest that a different instinct would better serve the original motivation. For example, the PCs might start a fire (Provoke) in the lobby of the hotel to distract a hotel concierge (Motivation: Keep the Hotel Running Smoothly) or try to convince a drug lord to part with the drugs for less (Rapport) on the promise that future shipments will make up the loss on volume (Motivation: Make Lots of Money). These attempts to change the NPC’s instincts might move an NPC from Instinct: Keep the PCs Out to Instinct: Put Out the Fire! or from Instinct: Sell the Drugs at Market Prices to Instinct: Sell the Drugs Cheap. Ultimately these social interactions rely on the PCs’ ability to sell the new instinct as better serving the original motivation instead of changing the original motivation completely.

Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts

For most attempts to modify NPC motivations or instincts, the PCs will need to make overcome rolls against an active opposition; the NPC rolls an appropriate social skill to see through the deception or resist the fast talk. In some cases it may make sense to use the contest mechanics—trying to convince a judge to let someone out of jail before the judge moves on to the next case—or conflict mechanics—union and management representatives conducting a hard-nosed negotiation that leaves both sides exhausted. Players should also keep in mind that their opponents have social strengths and weaknesses: it’s easier to convince a dim-witted, loyal guard with Average (+1) Empathy and Great (+4) Will that his boss wants him to let you in to the secret meeting (Deceive to modify instinct) than it is to convince him that he should abandon his boss altogether (Rapport to modify motivation).

Michael Romero and Amarika Davis are Los Angeles homicide detectives investigating the murder of a wealthy socialite, Richard Bentley. After digging through the case, they discover that Bentley’s wife, Sandra Orastin, is the killer. Yet when they show up to arrest her, one of her security guards keeps them from getting close enough to close the case (Instinct: Stop the Cops from Arresting My Boss).

Knowing that a physical conflict would give Orastin a chance to escape, Amarika tries to talk her way past the guard, beginning with a Provoke roll to learn the guard’s motivation (create an advantage with Provoke). She has a Good (+3) Provoke and rolls well (+3), bringing her total up to Fantastic (+6). The guard, a nameless NPC with an Average (+1) Deceive, rolls decently (+2), but can’t help but reveal his motivation: he doesn’t want to get fired by letting his boss get arrested. The GM adds the aspect Motivation: Keep My Job with two free invocations, since Amarika succeeded with style. Amarika asks him why he wants to protect a killer and the guard sputters something about doing his job even though he doesn’t like it.

Michael, seizing on the aspect Amarika discovered, decides that he’s going to try to alter the guard’s instinct. He suggests that if the guard wants to keep his job, he should help the police arrest Orastin. After all, the guard will definitely lose his job if Michael and Amarika have to arrest him, too.

Michael has a stronger Rapport (+3) than Provoke (+1) skill, so he focuses on convincing the guard instead of scaring him (overcome with Rapport). Michael’s roll is average (+0), but he uses the free invocation on Motivation: Keep My Job to bring his roll up to a Superb (+5) result. The guard, with Fair (+2) Will rolls poorly (-2), and Michael convinces him that working with the police is the best way to fulfill his Motivation. Michael gains an additional boost Led by the Guards for succeeding with style.