I Rolled A '20' On My "Write Blog" Test, Or, Social Combat in RPGs: Roleplay or Rollplay?
Longest blog post title aside, this is a constantly occurring problem in literally every RPG I've ever been a part of: How do you handle social skills?
The question comes about naturally - we obviously don't act out physical combat, because we'd kill each other, but social combat is possible to do. We're all already talking, why not talk in character? However, this little assumption is a lot more involved than we think, and there are many problems that come along with simply hand waving this issue.
Roleplaying Social Interactions
The first solution to the problem is often to say that the players should roleplay through social situations. This works for the most part, and gets in close to what the entire hobby is about - acting as another character. However, it has problems with a few situations:
- A player who is more eloquent than their Fellowship 15 (CHA 3) character,
- A player who is less eloquent than their Fellowship 75 (CHA 18) character,
- A scene where a character would have greater knowledge than the player necessarily does.
In these instances, I.e., those in which the player is truly pretending to be someone they aren't, yet is limited because of the fact that they simply aren't their character, this system falls down.
What if the player doesn't truly grasp the intricacies of political life in Greyhawk because they live in Perth, Australia and have never been exposed to feudalism first hand, yet is speaking to an NPC who does, through a PC who has? What is Grom Da Smasha is being played by a post-grad English Literature student? Or Lady Esmerelda von Swartzwick is being played by a 14 year old who likes the glamour of medieval courts but hasn't read anything more poetic than the lyrics of One-bloody-Direction?
That's where the stats come in, right?
Rollplaying Social Interactions
The second solution to the problem is to have the players roll the dice to decide these situations. This works because a character with 75 Fellowship is going to be a lot better than a character with 15 Fellowship, even if the players are the opposite. However, it loses a lot of the fun, and turns what could have been a thrilling bandying of words, interesting quips and funny awkward mumblings from the socially defunct character into the clatter of dice and a quick move it along.
Surely there is a middle ground? Sort of, but not really. At least, not yet.
The "Middle Ground"
One solution that I find helps but doesn't fix the problem completely is to ask the players to describe briefly what they're going to say, in loose terms. If the player feels up to saying all of this in character, then all power to them. If they just want to outline that "Esmerelda wants to make a jab at Lord van Halwijk without him noticing, but with his hand maidens understanding", then that's fine too.
However, the pitch comes in the fact that you have to roll the dice FIRST. Roll the dice, and then act out or declare what you're going to do. If you failed the roll, shift what you say to be in accordance with that - you can recover if you act well enough, or fail if you act so poorly as to negate your good roll, but the two should balance out and come to a new number.
This requires some decision making on the part of the GM, but I find it is suitable...
There is no Best Way
There is no best way to go about it, unfortunately. I haven't found one at least. I am still looking, however, so if you have a solution, please tell me in the comments!
Anyway, sorry about this blog post. Seems I rolled a '64' against my Trade (Blogger) (Fel) of only 47. No!