The TV show Psych has some of the best writing on TV these days. I’ve been watching it this week while I get over a head cold, and I was watching an older episode from Season 3 that had one of the best examples of a social challenge that I could ever have found without even looking.
First, let me explain what I mean by a social challenge. Most role-playing games have dice mechanics for “how do I beat someone up?” Because when we’re rolling dice around the table, we do not throw punches at each other to test our ability to knock out an NPC. If we did, there would be a lot fewer people willing to GM! The resolution mechanics are used for physical challenges or combat.
Social challenges occur when someone wants something, usually from another person, and they need to convince that person to give or do it. The challenge is when the other person is reluctant, and then we engage in a battle of words to convince them to do that thing. A real-world example might be a parent convincing their teenager to clean their room. You don’t want to haul off and hit the kid- -you need to convince them to clean his room.
Getting back to Psych, this is the scene I’m talking about:
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The basic structure of the scene:
- Shawn says he’s looking for information.
- Pookie resists telling him anything.
- Henry attempts bribery.
- Pookie resists bribery– he indicates that skill is not going to work.
- Shawn attempts to deceive Pookie.
- Henry assists Shawn by backing his story up.
- Pookie believes Shawn.
- Pookie tells the sleuths everything.
So, I want to break this video down in terms of game mechanics, as it would appear in different systems: