After Dark: Standing and Social Conflict

I was asked to elaborate on social conflict and standing. I think thematically, no game heavily involving children could really work without a school or other organized social gathering place to serve as a backdrop for adventure. Scroll down to “Queen of the playground” if you just want the example without all the thought behind it.

My own son is homeschooled but that doesn’t mean that he sits in the house all day, every day. We take part in two different homeschool cooperatives where he experiences a classroom-like environment. He volunteers at a library and gets to interact with many other children there. So even without the typical school, an organized social environment still exists.

Most children however, do go to schools. While a campaign could be run during the summer, it wouldn’t make the school pointless. The character would still have friends and possibly family that attend the same school. What I’m trying to say is that school, as a concept is very important in the lives of children. A great many campaigns will probably involve important social interaction to some extent. So, it is important that the players have a system in place that is just as fun to interact with.


Before we get to the how, we should analyze the why. Why does Standing work how it does? To that end, I will list the goals that I had in mind and explain how having a social system at all is helpful as well as how Standing in particular is a good idea. As in all things Fate however, the Standing mechanic is a piece that can be removed and tweaked like anything else. The great thing about Fate is it’s robustness. If this mechanic doesn’t work for you, you can easily replace it with something else or gloss over it entirely.

Less charismatic players should still be able to play charismatic characters.

There are many players who do not know how to swing a sword without pulling something yet, those same players may choose to play a dual wielding ninja with an ancient pair of blades handed down by his ancestors. It’s one of the best parts of playing a role-playing game. The character is not you and so doesn’t need to have your limitations or benefits. You could be an exceptionally fit twenty-something who wants to play an aging cop on the edge of retirement.

When it comes to social interactions however, many times we as GMs fall short. We either lean completely on the mechanics and social interactions are treated as a stale exchange or we go the complete opposite direction and charisma is completely dependent on the player. The idea behind Standing is that social interactions can be broken down to their components and thus be just as fun and interesting as combat interactions.

Any mechanic should remain true to Fate design.

One could devise a social system that plays out like a card game (in fact, I was already working on one before I found Fate). This card game system would mean that whenever you wanted to model a social conflict, you would stop playing Fate and start playing whatever social card game I’d devised. It could be an amazing game but it wouldn’t be Fate. It wouldn’t slot together neatly.

Adding another track and tweaking the approaches to act more like “super-skills” fits within the Fate RPG paradigm. The approaches are designed to be tweaked and are already effectively “super-skills”, all that I’ve done is brought that aspect to the foreground. As for the new track, I’d briefly thought about simply using the mental track to model social “damage” as well but stress isn’t actually damage.

Stress is a measure of how much the character “still matters” in the conflict. The mental stress track is internal, it deals with how the conflict is affecting the character. Social stress is external. It deals with how the conflict affects how others perceive the character.

What you believe is as important as what you know.

This has more to do with the setting than the mechanics. For children, belief is an integral part of life. They are in transition from “believing” things to “knowing” things. As such, nothing is easily taken for granted. For the children in the After Dark setting (like the children in Stranger Things), the fantastic or horrifying can be just as real as the mundane. “Cooties” may actually be a terrible pox that is spread by touch. The monster in a story may be just as real as the monster stalking your neighborhood.

This relates to social conflict because rumors and other attacks of the sort have real weight. In real life, children and even adults have been so attacked by rumors that they’ve taken their own lives. A person can be bullied and injured without their attacker ever laying a finger on them. Furthermore, a character can be so assailed that others feel the need to attack them physically. Thus, social conflicts have are important and the control of information and belief is an integral part of any social conflict.

Queen of the playground

In this example, Karen is a 13 year old girl who believes that something is hurting kids in her school. She wanted to explore the basement of her school but can’t leave the playground without Joseph, a scheming sycophant of a 12 year old and his friends telling one of the adults to get her into trouble. Karen is a Tough(good) and Cool(fair) kid. Joseph is Smart(good) and Sneaky(fair). Karen is going to walk up to Joseph and scare him into keeping his mouth shut.

The GM and Karen’s player decide what Karen wants (For Joseph to keep quiet) and what Joseph wants (For the adults to praise Joseph). Karen’s player doesn’t want to hit Joseph as that could bring way more trouble than she needs right now. So, instead her player decides to tell all of Joseph’s friends that she knows a secret about Joseph.

Previously, while in the hallway, Karen had seen Joseph run out of the bathroom still dabbing his pants. Joseph had the temporary aspect Wet my pants after he saw… something in the stairway to the basement. Karen didn’t question him or bring it up at the time but instead, held on to the knowledge. Now, she was going to push upon it.

Karen's player rolls +2 to Cool (great).
Joseph rolls 0 to smart (good). Thats only +1 shift difference.
The Gm marks off the the 1 tick of stress.

Joseph yells at his friends, “Shut up, guys! She doesn’t know anything! She’s just a stupid GIRL!” He yells that last word like it was some kind of swear word. A disgusting thing that makes her matter less than he does.

Joseph rolls 0 to smart (good).
Karen's player rolls -1 to Cool (average). A -2 shift difference!
Karen takes the 2 tick of stress.

Karen is furious! How dare he imply that it matters if she’s a girl! She’s through playing games with him. She takes a deep breath and yells in his face, “I saw you pee yourself today!”

Karen's player rolls +1 and adds the +2 from the temporary aspect (superb).
Joseph rolls -2 to smart (average). A massive +4 shift difference!
Joseph takes the 2 stress consequence and marks the 2 tick of stress.
Karen's player decides that Joseph has earned a nasty nickname.
The GM has joseph give up the conflict.

“Stinky Joey,” someone yells. Karen starts to feel a little guilty but refuses to show it. Joseph takes a step back, looks around at his friends who all look away embarrassed. His eyes start to tear up and he runs away before his tears fall. Karen watches him run off but, looks back at the school building.

She still has to get into that basement.

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