I’ve noticed that a lot of my games are less about efficient builds and tougher monsters as they usually are about situations that require a resolution but involve multiple parties. Perhaps it’s from running too much Mage: the Awakening, and Legend of the Five Rings, but whenever I plan a session as of late, it always has to have at least 2 other factions involved, with their own motives and methods, aside from the players.
From a metagame angle, such a toss-up of multiple factions all struggling to further their agendas could be considered a Social Dynamics Puzzle. Let’s go ahead and start pulling this one apart to see what makes these things tick:
- Multiple Factions – The core of social dynamics puzzles is the fact that it involves multiple parties, each with something that they want out of the situation, with or without the characters’ help.
- Time Element – The conflict has to be bound to a time limit, like a window of opportunity, or a point of no return. This is important as it establishes a deadline, and a point at which the situation resolves and the world changes for better or for worse because of the decisions made.
- Complications – Nothing goes according to plan. The dice are particularly good at doing this even without GM intervention, but hidden agendas, a secret faction, incompetence or ignorance all serve to further complicate matters. These help ratchet up the tension of a situation, as loss of total control is a sure fire way to keep players on the edge of their seats.
- Negotiation – The fact that the situation features multiple factions therefore warrants negotiation and diplomacy between them. Factions may ally, or betray each other as their agendas warrant, and it becomes a dangerous game of who has more influence or control on another. Player characters make for excellent catalysts to a given political situation, and each faction may decide to test, ally with or threaten them to push the players to where they want to be.
- Espionage – Given the nature of negotiation and factions, Espionage and Disinformation are very powerful tools in resolving a Social Dynamics Puzzle. Whether it’s sneaking into a secure area and stealing information, or seducing a drug lord’s daughter for some personal information on her father, all things are permitted, for both the Players -and- their opponents.
Social Dynamics Puzzles are tough to run but ultimately rewarding if you get the hang of doing it. Players get to enjoy trying to figure out the nature of the conflict, and picking their side (or making one for that matter.) In many ways it breaks out of the battlemats and miniatures mindset and provides a fresh challenge to those who feel that there’s something more to RPGs than 1″ squares.