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Monday, 21 September 2015

A Quick Note on Using Social Skills vs. Actualy Roleplaying It

In any game that has social skills, rather than roleplaying, you can run a game without roleplaying more easily than one that has no social skills, unless you run the latter purely as a miniatures skirmish.

That's because in any situation that demands roleplay, in the game with social skills, you can just say "i try to charm/seduce/enchant/intimidate/impress/honor person x" and then roll a die and the die roll can tell you whether you did it or not.
In a game with no social skills, you actually have to roleplay.

The great rebuttal people try to offer to this point is that if you have explicit social-skill rules in a game, that means that it's somehow encouraging people to do more social scenes, whereas D&D with no social skills is just encouraging combat somehow.  This is a bit like saying that giving people a ton of tofu will encourage them to eat more meat, while not having tofu on the table means people will forget all about bacon.

In my experience most of the time "the system encourages it" mentality actually causes LESS reliance on roleplaying (and more reliance on 'story points' or having "five dots in diplomacy" or whatever).  That's not the sort of encouragement you need or want.  Any "encouragement" that makes how well you roleplay the character irrelevant if you roll the wrong die result is not actually encouragement, it's discouragement.  It's telling you "don't worry about trying to portray the character, just put your points in the right skills".


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  1. The "Player Skill vs. PC Skill" debate is as old as the game, and isn't just about games with an explicit skill system (i.e. OSR vs new school) This same issue came up around "Charisma checks" in old games before there were ever skills called "Bluff" or "Diplomacy".

    I remember old issue of Dragon Magazine forums where writers would ask "What if my player's PC has an 18 Charisma (or Intelligence or Wisdom. etc) but the player isn't that adept at ?"

    The challenge is that if, as an out of character human am not good at thinking on my feet or expressing myself eloquently, I may have a hard time coming up in character "fast-talk" to get past the guard.

    But my con-artist character concept with an 18 Cha (or Int) should be able to bluff his way past a low-level functionary,,, so in essence, I am punished for not being a fast-talker in the real world because my roleplaying may not be enough to convince the DM, whereas my attribute or skill check would have been enough,

    We don't make players lift a portcullis to prove that their 18 Str character can Bend Bars / Lift Gates... yet we hinder social skill characters by not allowing them to roll their attribute or skill check and instead make them "play it out".

    I'm not certain that is fair. But I think there is an easy answer, and it can be built right into the rules of any game regardless if it uses attribute checks or skill checks for social skills.

    In the rules, it should state the the DM that the player must attempt to role play the social skill in order to be given the opportunity to roll the die to use the skill.

    I know it seems a bit artificial, but what it could do is help those players who aren't great at roleplaying in character get more comfortable with their character while not penalizing them for wanting to play a character that may have verbal, knowledge or social skills that would be above what they can do in "Real Life" at the table.

    It just a matter or educating DMs and helping players cross that 3rd person "my character does this" to 1st person "Good day, sirrah. I have an appointment with the Regent!" role-playing.

    This is a role-playing as a process issue, not a game mechanics issue.

    1. I say make the players try to bend bars and lift gates! We can just assign stats based on the player, V&V style!

    2. I agree with Marty. And I think THAT is THE most reasonable argument against the lack of social skills: not having them can make it impossible for the players to play a character whose social skills are different from his own.

      (For the record, I agree with the Pundit in that it's stupid to think the lack of social skills encourages people not to engage fictionally, through their characters in social situations; I do think the opposite -a lot of social skills and/or social mechanics should at least tempt the players to engage fictionally, through their character, in social situations- is somewhat right, but is not absolutely determinant.)

  2. that should say "...player isn't adept at [insert social / knowledge situation]?"

  3. I most heartily agree with this post. :) In my latest campaign I gutted all of the social skills and stats. I don't think I will miss them at all.

  4. Social skills seem daft to me. The game is not a literal 1-to-1 translation of the world. The GM should use judgement and decide that if that argument was presented by a slick smooth talker (high CHA) would it be persuasive. Doesn't matter the exact words (the player is not actually speaking in Gondorian or Cimmerian after all) but the intent and thrust of the conversation and argument. That's role playing, that's the whole point, act it out. Play the Role.

    1. I agree, but that's usually not how it happens. In many, many games I've played, the DM used the player's ability to judge success versus using the attribute score.

      So a rule or mechanic should be spelled out that says, in essence (not literally) "Don't penalize the players for nice being a slick as their characters."

    2. Heck, why not literally that? It's clear.

  5. I always follow the rule that if the player makes a great speech or argument in character, then that can make the task roll easier (bonus to skill, reduction in difficulty, whatever). But not the reverse: a player who makes a bad speech just rolls normally. This encourages players to roleplay the scene, but doesn't penalize the ones who aren't as good at it as their characters.

    1. I partly agree with you. I don't apply penalizers to the quality of the player's speech, but I can apply penalizers if the argument the player is using is very far from what would actually be likely to convince their subject. Of course, this can also apply to people speaking very eloquently (if they're speaking eloquently but knowingly or not their argument is a really bad one to attempt).