It Matters So Much Somewhere
This supplement uses the basic mechanics of Dark Dungeons (save vs Paralyze / Petrification) in a social sense – being paralyzed emotionally or petrified of reactions from one’s peers after acts of social aggression are directed at a character. Also the Etiquette skill, with its requirement to choose Etiquette for a particular culture, now comes into its own.
To preserve the aesthetic of OSR, in this supplement all Social Status effects are localized and optional. That way it can be used or not as a GM sees fit without it having a large ripple effect on the wider campaign. It also reduces snobbery and clique behavior to being something that a character has to “buy into” for it to matter. Although it can be very amusing and challenging. It’s also a way to equalize between otherwise utterly imbalanced characters. Not every level 20 or level 36 character is going to be treated with deference awe and respect, and that can be very funny, frustrating and a good nonviolent adventure for people to play out.
Some areas, city-states, kingdoms, baronies, dungeons and monster lairs have such a strict social hierarchy and such obsessive populations that intangible status comes to be more precious and important than magic items, gold, gems or Exalted powers. In such places, Snobbery, or “Le Snob” is everything. These tend to be, but are not always, places where there are ancient bloodlines or aristocracies competing with “nouveau riche” – recently wealthy – bloodlines or groups, and sometimes a third complication is a ruling class or species different from those over whom they rule.
Examples would be:
Extremely decadent and civilized realms that have not had war in their capitals and homelands for generations
A society of Dragons ruling over Dragon-Men, Lizardmen and non-reptilian underclasses
A dungeon ruled over by a single egotistical creature that considers any deviation from its own form and appearance to be inferior
A corrupted region ruled over by an Undead Liege where preservation of existence and intelligence brings with it an extreme paradoxical vanity
Roman and Greek style ancient civilizations
World empires where there is no real opponent capable of bringing down the empire and too many rich people with too little to do other than devote themselves to idle pursuits
“Shame Culture” societies such as medieval Japan, thirteenth century Europe and nineteenth century British Empire
In places where Snobbery exists as a real potent social force, anyone entering the realm, kingdom or empire becomes part of this system of social exclusion. Thus any culture that embraces Snobbery requires characters to generate the following characteristics, and these characteristics are automatically flavored by the culture:
[Culture] Physical Beauty
[Culture] Social Status
Physical Beauty is totally subjective. A human adventurer spending time in a dungeon where intelligent monsters have their own fashions and culture will be judged by their standards, where perhaps emerald green warty skin and folds of fat are the height of sex appeal and smooth pink skin is disgusting and affronting.
However, when a character is first forced to be evaluated for a local culture’s concept of Physical Beauty, the character is entitled to undergo a complete makeover before being judged. Since this process is artificial and somewhat illusory as well as being superficial, one never can tell who or what will make the cut as Beautiful.
For each new culture that embraces the concept of Physical Beauty, the player rolls 3d6 to randomize the character’s Physical Beauty for that culture.
Social Status is an ironbound system of rating all intelligent beings within a culture. It can have many different modifiers and can begin at a reasonably high score, but it is again entirely dependent on the culture within which one functions. It is irrelevant how high or low it is in a different culture, because the inward-looking insular cultures who use Social Status have no interest whatsoever in what outsiders think or do, except usually to dismiss or ridicule barbaric or savage practices as inferior. Social Status functions exactly like Charisma including offering bonuses. At the GM’s option, certain skills, most notable Etiquette (choose), can be rolled on Social Status instead of Charisma. In any culture where Social Status is used, even if Social Status is not replacing Charisma for skill checks, the Social Status bonus (if any) should be applied to all Charisma rolls, and vice versa. Charisma may not inspire some cultures but in such cultures Social Status will. In other words cultures strongly bound by Social Status will shame their people into acting a certain way or avoiding certain activities, for fear of what it would mean in terms of loss of face and so on.
There can be any number of situational modifiers added to a basic Social Status score: +2 with commoners, -1 with tax collectors, +3 with Dwarves, -2 with veterans of the Zognoord Border Wars, and so on. Social Status records a character’s history in the culture.
For example, a standard party of adventurers blunders into the valley city-state of Braanstein. Braanstein is a strong oligarchy ruled over by a council of Notables who are the richest, most militarily powerful or best connected people from the valley. They rule over everyone else, control all imports and outside contacts, and set the tone of fashion and manners each season. Beneath this apparent decadence there is a sophisticated tradition of byzantine politics where dinner parties make or break people.
Braanstein Physical Beauty is entirely based on athleticism and classical concepts of beauty. Be you fat, skinny, misshapen or scarred from battle, in Braanstein you are considered ugly, no debate entered into.
To generate a character’s Braanstein Physical Beauty therefore the character rolls 3d6 with modifers as follows:
-4 for visible scarring
-2 if the character is overweight
-2 if the character is underweight
-2 if the character has tattoos
-1 if the character has any kind of rash or pox
-1 if the character is short
+2 if the character has Charisma of 17
+3 if the character has Charisma of 18 or higher
Braanstein Social Status is entirely centered on local history and connections. No outsider will ever be considered more than an uncouth peasant without strenuous efforts and much roleplaying. All outsiders begin with a Braunstein Social Status of 2, no exceptions. However, that can rapidly change through roleplaying.
A King has a social status of 24 within his culture. Aristocrats such as Human (Noble) have a social status of between 9 and 20. Those connected to the King by blood or marriage will have a social status between 9 and 23. Those who are trusted in a local culture, and looked up to, will have a social status between 6 and 15. Local heroes will have a social status between 12 and 18. Those who are looked down upon or who are the victims of local bigotry will have a Social Status between -4 and 4.
Any time a character with social status offends against the local customs and etiquette they must immediately roll on Etiquette skill to try and negate the bad effect of their embarrassment on their social status. If the character has Etiquette skill but not for the specific culture in which they committed the faux pas, the Etiquette skill roll is at a -4 penalty. Passing the check means their social status receives a situational modifier, “-1 with insecure people”. Thus a person who commits a faux pas and makes the Etiquette check and whose social status is 9, now has Social Status 9, -1 with insecure people.
Failing the Etiquette check means the character must now save vs Paralyse / Petrify. If they make the save, they receive a permanent situational modifier on their Social Status specifically relating to the faux pas, for example “-1 with fellow guests who attended the Inaugural Victory Ball” or whatever else the GM decides is appropriate.
Failing the Paralyse / Petrify means the character has become socially paralysed, and loses face. Their Social Status for this culture drops by 1, permanently.
Once a character is submerged in a social milieu with Physical Beauty and Social Status there is a constant series of rumours and discussions about them. Somebody somewhere is talking about them in a positive or negative way. This “Hydra” is impossible to kill, its many heads of gossip simply perpetuate ever-wilder rumours.
A character must maintain their social status if it is below 19. At 19 and above unless the character commits a total social faux pas, their social status will not go lower than 19.
Maintaining social status means that at least once per week the character must attend a social function, whether they have been invited or not. If they have not been invited to any they must successfully crash an event. Crashing an event requires an immediate Etiquette check to get in, with a -4 penalty on the roll if they do not have the Etiquette skill for the culture in which they find themselves. Failing that means they have committed a faux pas and must make the check or save against the consequences. Passing the check means they are “in” – for better or worse.
Each week that the character does not attend a social function, they must save vs Paralyse / Petrify or lose a point of social status, unless their social status for that culture is 19 or higher. At 19 or higher their social status doesn’t drop but they receive a -1 modifer with people such as those whose event they have skipped out on. For example missing a royal party means their social status is “-1 with nobles”.
The Stab In The Back
Characters can be targeted for character assassination, or indeed attempt to assassinate someone else’s character.
This is done by finding a person or group who knows the character to be assassinated. Then through the use of persuasion and Etiquette, and outright lies and innuendo, poison of the social kind is laid against the target.
The target of the slander must then resist its effects. Without realizing quite why, the target must save vs. Paralyse / Petrify. If they pass the roll, nothing happens this time to their social status. However, there is a cumulative “no smoke without fire” effect. Each passed save means the next save is made at a cumulative -1 penalty.
Failing to save against the slander reduces the character’s local social status by 1 permanently.
If the target becomes aware of who is spreading the vicious gossip against them they can answer the challenge in one of three ways.
In Lawful societies they may challenge the slanderer to a duel, sue them in the Royal Court to force them to issue a public retraction, or publish a public announcement of their own to answer the lies.
In Chaotic societies the only option is to challenge the slanderer to a duel to the death.
In Neutral or mixed socieities the only options is to sue in the Royal Court.
Duelling does not affect the social status of either party. However, if the target survives the duel and the slanderer is defeated or killed the target is immune to any further slander attempts for 1d6 game months.
Royal Court proceedings take months or years. However, they temporarily negate any social status effects of the slander. If the target of the slander wins, their social status in that culture improves by 2 permanently. If they lose, it is reduced by 3 permanently and receives a further modifier “-2 with commoners”.
Public Announcements require both the slanderer and the target to make competing Etiquette checks. If both pass their checks, no harm is done to the target’s social status and the slanderer receives a modifier “-1 with commoners”. If both fail their checks, both receive “-1 with commoners”. If the target fails their check and the slanderer passes, the target immediately loses 1 from their local social status, no roll allowed.
Oil, Water and the Bridge
To address any lack of invitations to social functions, a character can simply hold their own. The risk is that no one turns up. A character must spend 1000gp for every point of social status they have in the culture, minimum expenditure 1000gp. They must then make an unmodified check on their social status. Each point by which they pass the check means 1d4 guests arrive to the function. Minimum number of attendees is 1d4. This means the event is successful. The character may then attempt to improve their social status by being the center of attention (check on social status), by being witty and charming (check on intelligence) or by being a charming raconteur (skill check or checks set by GM). It could also be a party where dancing is involved in which case Perform (Dance) would also be a way to earn social status.
For each such successful check the character has a 10% chance of earning 1 point of local social status, or may at the GM’s sole decision automatically earn a suitable +1 modifier with an appropriate class of local people.
Sometimes there is a time and place where snobbery, social status and local custom cut right across what the player or character find acceptable. In those times it is inevitable that the character will be out of step with local culture. When this happens the character is entitled to make an impassioned speech.
The GM must then call for a save vs. Paralyse / Petrify. Failure means the character is reduced to local social status ZERO immediately. Success means they lose 1d4 local social status to a minimum of zero, and will also receive a -4 social status modifier with an appropriate type of local as set by the GM.
It’s inevitable at some point that adventuring heroes (or villains) will end up having this happen to them. Make Etiquette checks, make the mandatory roll above, but the main thing is – ROLEPLAY it out.
Old School Revival at its best?
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