Lace & Steel
Lace & Steel is an obscure RPG created by the Australian author Paul Kidd and set in an original constructed world inspired by 1640s Europe and period novels like The Three Musketeers. Originally published by The Australian Game Group in 1989, it was reprinted by Pharos Press in 1997, which is the version we will reference henceforth. While the game is largely forgotten nowadays, it contains another example of framing social conflict in the same terms as physical violence, as well as being the only title in this survey where cards are used instead of dice for randomization.
Social and Courtly Skills
L&S subdivides the stats most relevant to persuasive interactions into "Social" (pp. 34-35) and "Courtly Skills" (p. 36), with the latter mainly accessible to characters of gentle or noble origins. Although all skill usages in the game are resolved using the same mechanic, we will not even attempt to explain here, since the selection of skills themselves is much more interesting that the mechanics attached to them.
Among the "Social Skills", the PC's main tool for influence is "Persuade", which an agent uses to "get others to perform favors that they do not really want to perform". "Carousing" is used to establish or to improve positive relations; "Leadership", to motivate and coordinate subordinates; while one of the uses of "Spin Yarn" is for cover stories (disguise). The game features not one but two distinct reconnoitering action skills, "Assess Personality" and "Detect Lie", for perceiving personality or relationships and deception, respectively. The remaining "Social Skills" run the gamut of setting-appropriate parlances: "Dancing", "Gambling", "Literacy", and "Streetwise".
Among the "Courtly Skills", "Flirtation" stands out as an alternative to "Carousing" for improving relations, albeit relying much more on the agent's erotic capital, while "Orate" can be used to hold public speeches to mobilize larger audiences. All but one of the remaining "Courtly Skills" are setting-appropriate parlances: "Etiquette", "Fashion", "Hawking", "Poetry", and "Political Lore". The last one is "Repartee", which allows characters to use the "social combat" subsystem that we shall examine next.
The game's repartee system is an inflection of its dueling system, wherein the duelists' players (the GM for NPCs) play cards from a specialized deck against each other (pp. 50-55). The 52 cards in this deck have numeric values and come in two suits ("Rapiers" and "Roses") and two types: attacks/remarks (further subdivided into "upper line", representing comments on intellectual topics in repartees; "middle line", or comments on personal appearance and circumstances; and "low line", or insults and innuendo) and dodge cards. The simplified repartee procedure (p. 92) is as follows:
- Both players draw a number of cards determined by their characters' stats.
- The players draw cards to determine whose character has the initiative and is the agent at the start of the repartee. The other character is then the patient.
- The agent player plays an attack card face-down from hand, calling out its line (not necessarily truthfully).
- The patient player plays a card face-down from hand.
- Both cards are flipped over, and the remark is resolved: if the patient's card is on the same line as the agent's and has an equal or higher numeric value, the remark is deflected; otherwise, it inflicts damage to the patient's Self-Image score (pp. 48-49). If the patient played a dodge card instead, they evade or change the subject and may seize the initiative if their played suit matches the agent's (returning to step 3).
- If the two attack cards' suits are matched, the patient may draw a card from deck (but only if they haven't suffered damage); otherwise, the agent draws a card instead.
- If the patient's played card value is higher than the agent's, they seize the initiative and return to step 3.
The repartee ends when the damage to one side's Self-Image hits a certain threshold (at which point they lose the confrontation and storm "off-stage") or one "combatant" withdraws, taking a minor hit to their Self-Image.