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"Social Mechanics": Subsidizing Social Retardation

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RPGPundit:
It is a hallmark of the generation of Swine to believe that combat in RPGs is somehow a "bad thing". That one of the things that differentiates a "good game" from a "bad game" to them is that it is not "combat focused", to the extent that they make exaggerated claims that certain games are not "combat focused" when really they pretty well are (like Exalted) when those games are on the "cool list" of the Swine for some other reason (in Exalted's case, because its a White Wolf product, and to me serves as evidence that even the vast majority of the Swine do not really believe their own swill when it comes to this issue and secretly like a good hack and slash as much as the next guy, but need games like Exalted to give them a thin veneer of respectability; the way educated people watch "artistic" films on Bravo or Showcase instead of porn on Playboy, the title of "art" helps them hide the fact that they have the same attraction to smut as everyone else).
 
Tied into this mentality is the concept that, in order for a game to be "not combat oriented", it needs to have "social mechanics", rules for social interaction that are as complicated as possible, the measure of the difference between how complex combat is and how complex social interaction is becomes the measure of how good they perceive the game to be.  A game where social interaction is actually more complex than combat is really the holy grail to the Swine, one where its just as complex or at least close to that mark is acceptable.
 
Their reasoning for this is manyfold: it takes the emphasis off combat, they say; it makes sense that if combat is done with an abstract mechanic social interaction should be as well; it evens out the playing field so that less socially adept gamers will be able to play a socially brilliant character just like an out-of-shape gamer can play a master of the martial arts. But fundamentally, all these are excuses covering up the real issue: the Swine have a fundamental failure to grasp what roleplaying is supposed to be all about, and in this misunderstanding have interpreted complex social mechanics to be a necessity that will put social interaction on par with combat in the game. Or to put it simply, these batshit crazy fuckers have been told or want to believe that combat is not "art" or "smart" and they want to make sure any game THEY play is one where social mechanics (which they've been told IS "art" and "smart") is just as important if not moreso than combat. What they miss is that social mechanics that are complex actually bring social interaction DOWN to the level of combat, not up.
 
I'll let you all in on a little secret: I don't like combat in RPGs much either. In most games I run, its rare for there to be more than two combat scenes in a game, and I like them to be over as quickly as possible. Sure, in my OD&D campaign right now there's tons of combat, but that fits the idiom of that particular campaign (note that even there, it doesn't mean that the campaign itself isn't also full of actual roleplay, it just has loads of combat too). My old Star Wars campaign back in Canada almost never had more than one fight per session (and I run eight hour sessions). And my current Traveller game has been going on now for six months, and has had exactly two combats in the entire campaign (one against a giant snake, the other an ambush by the Canadian Mafia). I don't dislike combat because its not "art", nothing about RPGs is art anyways. Nor do I dislike it because its not "smart"; since RPGs are not some kind of grand academic pursuit (note that combat scenes can indeed be "smart" in the other sense of requiring intelligence to be done masterfully: a fully roleplayed combat scene, in a game like Amber, involves a lot of "smarts" to gain the upper hand). Nor do I disdain people who run campaigns where the goal is combat (Feng Shui is a brilliant game, for ex, and its pretty much just a vehicle for running great kung-fu fights), or people who like the more rules-heavy systems where combat is highly detailed (like GURPS with all the fixings).
 
But to me, RPGs are primarily about people making characters, and fleshing out the interactions of those characters in a simulated world. Combat is something that happens in RPGs, because the characters are typically of a heroic or adventurous mold. But the real fun happens in the roleplay, in the way the characters interact with each other, and the people they run into in the world.
 
RPGs are also a vehicle to develop social skills, the ability to act, to portray a persona that is not you; and to be able to successfully manage this persona's dealings in his world. The core of the game to me, where you win or lose, is how successful you are at having your character interact with his setting.

And I do agree that a simple social mechanics can be helpful, though it is in no way necessary. OD&D has no social mechanics at all, nor does Amber, and both of these games would be generally harmed by the presence of such mechanics. A player should make every effort, if he is shy or socially inept, to come out of his shell if he wants to play a character that is socially beyond him but the DM should also be objectively fair and keep in mind if a PC is more socially "powerful" than his player (though in certain games, like Amber, survival of the fittest really applies, and socially retarded people really shouldn't bother playing those games, or if they do should be careful not to try to play a social mastermind). Its a different situation than having an out-of-shape player choosing to play a combat master, because the point of the game at the player level isn't to fight, but to play your persona. Again, if you fail to grasp that characters both fight and talk but the players of a game just talk (at least, unless you want the police to end up being involved), and that therefore a PLAYER needs to be good at talking, but not good at fighting, then you're suffering a very skewed understanding of what RPGs are for.
 
In most RPGs, a simple social mechanic is more than enough, like the diplomacy/bluff/gather info/charisma-based skills found in the True 20/D20 systems. The ideal way to run social situations is to have the player go into detail about what he's trying to do, play it out as well as possible, then roll the dice.  The DM should take into account the quality of the players performance and the result of the dice, modifying one against the other, to determine the degree of success. The die roll just acts as a general guideline for the DM of just how "socially powerful" the character is, aside from the player, and the vagaries of chance in how he delivered it in that particular scenario.  But a brilliant bluff or bootlicking or seduction acted out well by the player should trump (or at least tweak) a bad roll.
 
As soon as you get into social mechanics that are more complex than that, you're killing the whole point of roleplay. You're turning social interactions into combat, which doesn't in fact bring social mechanics "up" to the level of combat, because in a roleplaying game combat mechanics exist because combat is less fundamental to RPGs than social interaction, not more. Complex social rules bring social interaction down to the level of combat, not up.
 
The fundamental misunderstanding the Swine carry with them is that complicated social rules almost always diminish the ability to roleplay. Combat rules exist to make combat abstract because its not as important as the roleplaying. Yes, part of it is also because of RPGs' historical ties to wargames, but RPGs evolved from wargames specifically BECAUSE people wanted to move beyond combat, to move beyond an abstract mechanical game into a game where the onus was on YOU to act, to talk, to be brilliant in portraying a personality. You can "roleplay" combat too, but rolling dice to hit and damage doesn't do that. A game like Amber, where combat is a prolonged process of describing specific attacks, parrys, responses and bluffs, is an example of "roleplaying" combat. In most games, combat is abstract because the point is not to play out detailed combat scenes but to resolve combat fairly and relatively quickly in between the scenes of social interaction.
 
The great irony of the Swines' social mechanics is that it doesn't do anything other than turn social roleplay into another kind of combat, into an abstract mechanic that kills spontaneity and helps no one, unless you consider allowing lazy social retards to avoid having to actually act out their character to be "helping" them. I don't.
The key to making social interaction more important in an RPG is not to create rules for social interaction, it can't be solved by a system. It has to be done at the level of the gaming group, and can only be solved by actually fucking roleplaying it.

RPGPundit circa June 11th 2005

Balbinus:
Are you familiar with Dying Earth?  I think there the social mechanics have a real purpose, because part of the point of the game is conning and being conned in turn and the rules reflect that.

Not necessarily disagreeing otherwise, but I think Dying Earth has good reason for having those rules and that reason has nothing to do with the desirability of combat - it's by the same guy who designed Feng Shui after all.

Levi Kornelsen:
Go read Breaking The Ice.

You'll probably loathe and despise it.

Despite which, it is composed of pure, raw, and unbridled awesome.

Settembrini:
@levi: Go, read Deities & Demigods

Zachary The First:

--- Quote from: Levi Kornelsen ---Go read Breaking The Ice.

You'll probably loathe and despise it.

Despite which, it is composed of pure, raw, and unbridled awesome.
--- End quote ---

I...can honestly say I didn't care for it.  To me, it felt more like an exercise they'd do at some pop-psych relationship seminar.  Different tastes and all that.

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