The Court Procedure from Lavender Hack

Social Encounters Deserve Procedures

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Cover image for “Lavender Hack: Tarantula Hawk Wasp Edition” by Phil Lewis. “A Grand Strategy Fantasy RPG. Rules for getting lost, going broke, losing friends, and making questionable assumptions about magic.”

For the past three Friday evenings, Phil Lewis has run Lavender Hack for me and a few others. We’re playtesting campaign play.

One of my favorite aspects is the presence of the court procedure. The rules of the court procedure are in-flux, but the spirit and intention are well established.

The court procedure tells all of the players, “Hey if the faction you just encountered isn’t outright hostile, you can trade and talk with them.”

Central to the court procedure is establishing goals. What do the PCs* want from the faction? And what does the faction want from the player characters?

The procedure draws inspiration from The One Ring’s social system and Burning Wheel’s Duel of Wits. It is, however, its own thing.

The presence of court procedures provides guide rails and transparency for social encounters. The players know the rules of a social encounter.

Notes from the Sessions

As I reported in our first session, we encountered some ogres. Leaning on the guide rails of the reaction roll and court procedures, we engaged an otherwise terrifying faction.

Later, through a failed knowledge roll, we learned a nasty and unwanted truth about the witch from the ogre faction. And we the players knew that the witch would see that we knew this truth. We failed (and maybe fumbled) a knowledge check. And instead of a “Whelp, you don’t learn anything” we discussed what to do on a failed knowledge check. Phil went with Reveal an Unwelcomed Truth. In hindsight, it would’ve been good to establish the risk of failure for this task. Perhaps drawing from Rob Donoghue’s enumerated Potential Risks?

When we encountered a related faction, we dove into the court procedure. And as a group, we paused to discuss, “What do we want?”

At first, we talked about a goal to learn about this group’s allegiance to the ogre faction. As we the players talked, we decided to set our goal to something more actionable: “What would it take to get you to turn on the ogres?”

The court procedure provided space for the players to think out loud and clarify what interested them. As part of the court procedure, both the referee and the players write down their goals. In other words, the Court Procedure generates notes from your session. Something you can all reference in the future. That is a handy procedure!

Closing the Loop

What I’ve found is that the court procedure closes a loop in an encounter process.

Let’s say we encounter something, and its reaction is hostility. Most rules systems provide procedures for that (e.g., roll for initiative). However, if the response is not an immediate attack, the rules leave you to role-play (and often leave little guidance).

Through the court procedure, Lavender Hack says, “So you encountered something. It didn’t outright attack you, you could Court them. And here’s what it looks like.”

Let’s dig a little deeper. In the case of an immediate attack, everyone rolling for initiative steps away from the fiction. They have time to think and process. Even as a group, they discuss what to do.

In many games that I’ve played, if you encounter a faction, the table keeps talking. Maybe a goal emerges. But the guidelines are often less obvious.

With the court procedure, Lavender Hack provides a framework to advance the game from the players talking through options and what they want from a faction (or even if they should talk with them).

The procedure pauses the fiction, and now the players talk about the purpose of this encounter. Its goals and consequences. And once those are established, the fiction resumes with players rolling dice to see what happens.

For me, I’ve found that I’m quite interested courting factions. The explicit goal setting helps shape the fictional state of the world.

update: Years ago, I wrote about Transitions in Table Top RPG. And Lavender Hack’s court procedure provides guidance to transition into a social encounter.