The RPG Social Skills Monster rises from the grave

The RPG Pundit issues forth a pronouncement from his lofty citadel.

Some people have criticized my past blog entries where I argued that the best RPGs (like old-school D&D) are superior at handling actual roleplay because they DON’T have any ‘social mechanics’ and just make you actually play it out.

The common complaint is “RPGs should be fair to players though; it isn’t a competition; and if a player has a PC who should be able to do well at diplomacy or something like that, but the player himself is not very good at speaking or putting together arguments, isn’t it only fair that the GM give him a bonus??”

This isn’t really about being in “competition”, but it sounds like they’re saying that if you’re a really good roleplayer and come up with good ideas, you should roll with just your normal bonuses; but if the guy next to you is a moron who always thinks up dumb ideas or can’t roleplay worth a damn, he should get a Special Snowflake bonus so his feelings aren’t hurt.

Is that not going to create a sense of ‘unfair competition’ from the people who do not get that bonus?

Doesn’t that look like favoritism?

As far as your character failing to do things he should be able to do: the question would be WHY do you feel your character “should be able” to do those things? In an OSR game you don’t have 30 points to dump in Diplomacy so you can wave it around like a Mind-Control Superpower to avoid having to actually come up with ideas or roleplay, so that’s out.

You are in a ten foot by ten foot room. Ahead of you stands a very obvious straw man argument. Roll for initiative….

I know the role-play vs. roll-play argument about social skills is as old as the hobby itself, and it’s a distinction between what are really two distinct but equally valid methods of play. But in all the RPG sessions I’ve played, including those with plenty of social skills on the character sheet, I have never, ever seen a GM treat social abilities as if they were superpowers.

When you think about it, what is the difference between:

Player: I hit it with my axe.

GM: Roll to hit

and this:

Player: I tell the palace guard I’m on official business and have got to see the king right now

GM: Roll against your Deceit skill to see if the guard believes you.

That doesn’t look much like a superpower to me. That’s how I have always handled social skills when running a game, and how most GMs I’ve encountered handled things as well.

Why, exactly, are well still having this argument?

This entry was posted in Games and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The RPG Social Skills Monster rises from the grave

  1. Reading his full article, he talks about CHA bonuses:

    “Players who have a high CHA AND come up with decent ideas, roleplay well, and make a good argument will obviously do better than people with a high CHA who always think up dumb ideas and/or don’t roleplay their character and/or can’t string together two words. But having a high CHA still means statistically, you’ll do better than you otherwise would on account of your PC being likable even if you aren’t capable of playing him as such.”

    This is completely incoherent. He’s saying on the one hand you must role-play your interactions, but at the same time your interactions will be helped by your (probably randomly rolled) high stats. If he believed his own argument, he would be forcing his socially-awkward players to drop their charatcer’s CHA by ten points. Or he would be dropping the CHA stat (and INT, for that matter) from his games entirely and demanding pure roleplaying.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    One place where his argument falls down is that he’s conflating two thingsl how good the player’s idea is, and how well the character acts it out.