2012-02-09 Social Skills Revisited

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The article The trouble with social conflicts was cross-posted from Stargazer’s blog to Google+ where I wrote something like the following, inspired by -C’s recent blog post on player skill:

We act stuff out to be entertaining, but in the end I think I use a system that is close to (but less codified) than what Courtney Campbell suggests in his On Ignorance of Skill Based Play blog post. I have NPCs react to quantifiable issues (wants to be bribed, wants help fighting the devils, wants to do the right thing, and so on – Courtney calls them needs, traits and desires) and I’m open about them. A little smalltalk will reveal them and then players can act on them or they can ignore them.

If you don’t want to get rid of skills, I guess you could have skill tests to help players discover more of these needs, traits and desires.

But the most important point is this: If you feel uncomfortable with a player’s acting performance dominating play, then laugh when it’s funny, gnash your teeth when it’s stupid, but at the end of the spiel, look at your NPCs needs, traits, and desires. If none of them are satisfied, then it didn't work.

As a point of personal preference, I enjoy the acting at the table because it’s funny. That’s why I prefer not to replace social interactions with dice rolling. But that doesn’t mean that social interactions cannot be quantified. Have a list of needs, traits and desires ready and pick two.

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In a recent discussion of Burning Wheel in a thread on Google+ I posted the following:

I learned about Burning Wheel by reading the long threads by Judd Karlmann about two hateful orcs doing hateful things because they wanted to, and, as I discovered, because the system invited them to do it. So my first impression was that this system invited you to play to those stereotypes. Greedy dwarves, hateful orcs, sad elves. Not sure about religious humans but whatever. In actual play, though, it never quite worked out. Some players want to play an elf but not be sad. Some players want to play a sad elf but are surrounded by people munching chips, drinking beer and making Monty Python jokes. At my table, the kind of focus I had seen in the thread about the hateful orcs just never materialized. The haggis of D&D is a better fit for table, apparently.

To provide a bit more detail: where as D&D has that moment of “I hit him in the face <roll d20> ”, BW has that meta discussion so familiar from Fate: Should I spend Artha/Bennies/Fate to improve that roll, can somebody help me, etc. This discussion always puts me off.

Or: at first I loved the idea of a mechanic resolution to discussions. Finally, the quiet player can run a boisterous character. But at the table, that’s an immersion breaker. That handful of quiet words is the awesome speech? Those lame arguments are going to convince the master of arms? No way! And so I discovered that people have social skills at the table and I prefer it when we use those skills at the table when possible.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-04-14 07:59 UTC


I think that this can be worked around by not getting into the details too much. As in “you take the bandit to the side and say something to him quietly, when you both come back, the bandit is forcing a nervous smile”. Or “you stand on the podium and make a speech that greatly raises everyone’s morale, but that cannot be repeated in detail”.

I find it much more troublesome when a socially skilled person is trying to play an asocial character, but is still using all the small tricks and sense of mood and all that.

Radomir Dopieralski 2016-04-14 13:01 UTC


Yeah, that could work. I guess there’s also the fact that enjoy some of the monkeying around at the table and skipping those details makes the game a bit less exciting for me.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-04-14 20:35 UTC


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