GM’s Corner: Social Intrigue system

Today, we talk about social skills in other role-playing games and how ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG‘s Social Intrigue mechanics address some of the most common concerns through implementation of an optional rule set for Gamemasters.

Social mechanics seem to have a love it or hate it relationship: either Gamemasters love the complexity of the mechanics or dislike its implementation (Forge-based RPGs).

Universally, players and Gamemasters alike tend to take umbrage at systems which focus solely on “skill rolls” over role-playing to determine success. A few even employ social combat, albeit intensely mechanical in nature (Honor and Intrigue, Song of Ice and Fire). Many tabletop role-playing games don’t have social skills (early editions of D&D), instead leaning on player’s ability to influence non-player Characters through role-play. Some games, like Pathfinder, distill social interaction down to a handful of dice rolls without giving players agency or allowing role-playing to augment their chance for success. Heck – some systems actively discourage third person role-playing all together!

While we certainly see a place for these approaches, here at ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG, we think we found a great middle ground. Role-playing determines success or failure, while Skills augment the conversation. Both first and third person role-playing is supported, and rewarded. In our optional Social Intrigue system, there are two approaches a Gamemaster can take:

This is whenever Social Intrigue warrants an expedient answer through use of a Skill. For example, either the player gets the lowest price possible for a piece of equipment using Bargain, manage to Charm a doorman to let them into an exclusive tavern or even Intimidate to scare off onlookers standing around a scene of a crime. These sort of Skill Tests are very easy for the Gamemaster to rule on, distilling everything down into a single, binary result. While role-playing is still considered to be a factor, Social Class and a Character’s Order & Chaos Ranks influence the Difficulty Rating while the result of the Skill Test determines the outcome.

Complex exchanges are reserved for specific interactions, ones which require delicate wording, subtle threats and honeyed words to persuade others to consider and approve of something they’d normally not agree to do. Before complex exchanges occur, all participants discuss above board their objectives and what may be at risk. Once determined, each player selects a Skill to use – otherwise known as a Social Tactic – which will influence both the role-play and how it influences the emotions of the non-player Character they interact with. In this system, they make Social Tactics check before in depth role-playing begins. As before, Social Class, along with Order & Chaos Ranks, determine the Difficulty Rating. The results of these rolls determine emotions, otherwise called Temperaments, that the Gamemaster writes down to help guide them on how to role-play the non-player Character the players are interacting with. Success and failure matter; one can generate favorable Temperaments, whereas the other can generate unfavorable ones. After these Temperaments are generated, the Gamemaster references them throughout the interaction to determine how the non-player Characters interact with the players in return.

In the end, Skill Tests determined the general mood of the person the party interacted with, but the result of a complex exchange is resolved solely by role-playing.

Download Social Intrigue here and tell us what you think over at our web forum at Strike to Stun.