Saturday, December 4, 2010

Social Interaction Rules and the Dick DM

Trollsmyth wrote a post about something Ryan Dancey said about trying to add Dogs in the Vinyard style social interaction rules to D&D. Someone named Erin replied to Trollsmyth's post with her own post, and Trollsmyth then responded to her criticism. Then Greg of Errant RPG threw in his two cents, and that's what actually prompted me to make this reply to the whole shebang.

My take?  Well, number one I disagree with Mr. Dancey that RPGs are designed to TELL stories.  At least the more traditional ones I like to play aren't.  The Forge/Indy games I've played that were designed with the express purpose of telling a story aren't very fun for me. I think this is because the stories that get told in them aren't usually very good stories.

It's not easy to come up with a good story.  Especially when you're only giving it one shot, like in an RPG session.  My buddy Paul and I have been developing our movie script for over three years now.  It took us over two years just to get the story right.  Now we're working on getting the script right (yes, there's a difference).

RPGs can be used to create stories, but they're really poor at telling a story.  The whole Edwardsian concept of 'story now' seems silly to me.  I've said it before, but I think the best stories that come from RPGs are created AFTER the game, when you recount what happened and leave out all the boring bits, or make connections after the fact that you didn't in the heat of the moment, or add a bit of gilding to the lily of what happened in the game.

Why do you think most recordings of actual game sessions are boring to listen to?  They're great fun to play, but like golf they're really not as fun as a spectator sport.  Now a properly edited video or audio recording of a game session might be interesting, because like that 'war story' told later at the pub, it cuts out all the rulebook look-ups, Monty Python quotes, and the ten minutes of real time spent carefully examining an empty room for traps and secret doors that didn't exist (or just weren't found).  They cut to the chase of the interesting NPC interactions, important combats, and PC interaction that is interesting.

That's how you can create a decent story with an RPG session.  Editing.

Now, as for the need to add social mechanics to an RPG like D&D, I've heard the arguments before many times.  Erin's post is just rehashing all the tired arguments I've heard over and over again on the internet.  Greg makes some good points in his post about his experiences dominating others in a game where diplomacy happens but it's not in the rules.  But I don't think it will typically apply to most RPG sessions.

First off, I usually only play RPGs with friends.  I think the majority of RPG groups are friends (or at least on good terms with each other even if they don't hang out besides at game time).  Con games, pick-up games at the FLGS (if you even have one anymore), tournaments--they're the exception.  Most people play with folks they know.  Because you know these people, you know who's extroverted and who's introverted.  You know who enjoys getting into character and who just enjoys the game aspect of play.  And you, as GM, can form responses to player input based on that knowledge. 

The arguments made by Erin and plenty of other people on RPG message boards and blogs--that shy players get screwed by a lack of social mechanics--maybe holds true in a game with strangers, or a Dick DM.  But with most groups, I'd assume [spare me the "assume makes an ass out of 'u' and me" quotes, please] the DM knows the players and is not a dick.  And the DM who knows the players and isn't a dick is likely to take player interactions and input relative to their knowledge of each player.

As an example, I teach English to Koreans and Japanese.  If I'm having a class, and the good students are speaking a lot, and doing well, I'm happy.  But if the poor students, or the shy students show a little bit of effort, I'm a lot happier.  When a kid who's barely said more than two or three sentences all month finally gets up and reads a paragraph from the book in front of the class, that's much more rewarding to me than if the kid who lived in Australia for 2 years gets up and reads three pages he wrote himself.

In an RPG, if there's a player who is introverted, or just cares more for the 'roll play' than the role play, or whatever, says to me, "I want to sweet talk the Duchess.  I've got a 15 Charisma."  I'll weight that statement according to what I know.  I'd likely make a Reaction Check with a bonus for the Charisma for the player's benefit, or even just decide to allow it.  Just like I'd do if the smooth talking player said, "I want to lift the treasure chest.  I've got a 15 Strength." 

And when it came time to assign rewards (XP or whatever), I would hopefully not give out less XP to the shy player for asking for that social reaction to be done through game mechanics than I would for the smooth talker to do it through role play.

The second point I'd like to make is that D&D and most traditional RPGs are NOT competitive games.  The players are not playing against each other.  They're not competing for a limited pool of XP awards.  They're cooperating to achieve goals both in game and out of game.  This is the flaw with Greg's tale of the war game with diplomacy uncoded by the rules.

Both the shy player and the smooth talker will benefit by sweet talking the Duchess.  It doesn't matter if shy just points out that his character has a high Cha and he'd like his character to do it, or if the smooth talker actually spends time chatting up the Duchess with in-character knowledge.  Either way, the PARTY will benefit from gaining the Duchess as an ally/benefactor. 

So long story short, I don't think adding more intricate social interaction rules to D&D will make it more 'fair,' nor do I think it would make D&D into a 'story telling' game.  It's already a story creating game (better in my opinion), and with a typical group of friends playing together, it will already be 'fair.'


  1. I am 100% in agreement with everything you say. I can't put it more succinctly than that.

  2. You better include social interaction rules in PotA! Haha! It's a joke! Really, my point is that sometimes people get waaaaaaaaaay too serious in their blog posts ( not saying you are LG ), and comments. People should run their campaigns the way they want, and if their players are okay with it, then it's all good. Social interaction rules, story telling or creating all aside, you're supposed to have fun, both as the person running the game, and the players.

  3. That sums up my own opinion on the matter very well.

  4. Well said. I don't think the whole social interaction thing needs an artificial system bolted on. If the DM wants this, then do it on the fly.

  5. Hmm, I fear I may have been slightly misinterpreted. My position is not "D&D needs a bulky and complex social interaction mechanic a la Dogs in the Vineyard," is it "I take issue with Trollsmyth's claim that all social interaction MUST be role-played and never ever resort to a die roll."

    I would be quite happy with a simple Charisma check (or skill roll, depending on your edition of choice.)

  6. Erin--I may have misinterpreted you. As I said, I've heard the arguments you made before, usually in the context of an argument that there MUST be rules for social situations in RPGs. Apologies if I've read you wrong.

    I get the feeling we may actually agree on how these situations should be handled.

  7. I like for there to be some rules, yes. D&D doesn't particularly need a social combat system ("I complement the Duchess on her gown, that gives me a +2 Flattery bonus to my Diplomacy skill. Now when the Bard comes in and tries to pick her up in a skeevy manner, he flanks her, and when she walks away I get an Attack of Social Opportunity...") but I feel that a die roll should be paired with player improvisation so that character ability and player ability can affect each other.

    Honestly, I don't give a fig about what Dancy said, as I don't know who the man is, nor have I read his article. My comment was about Trollsmyth's claim of "Never use dice for social interaction! It must all be roleplayed by the players." And yes, I made sure that's what he was actually claiming before I wrote my post.

  8. I wasn't advocating a complex social system for my D&D clone game, by the way. I think it should be appropriate for the system.

    In Errant, I am talking basic Charisma checks. In Synapse, I have a more complex model.

    One of the problems with designing two very different games is that sometimes you have to talk out both sides of your mouth.

  9. Greg--I do realize that. And I did enjoy reading that story of how you were able to use your own charm to win at a strategy war game.