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I'm building a role-playing system and am just thinking about the social skills.

In D20, you have like appraise, barter, intimidate, gather information, and then the really useful diplomacy, bluff and sense motive. In some other systems, you have lots more. I also thought about just using Charisma and nothing else. But after all I would prefer having 3 or 4 with everything captured within, as this would be the nicest solution for my system, as I use relatively broad skills with possible sub-concentrations you can pick (for example firearms, with handguns, rifles, bows, ... as concentrations).

I want to have a few as possible that can be combined as well as possible. I thought about one manipulative (barter, bluff, intimidate), one representative (diplomacy, entertain, "first impression") and one investigative (appraise, sense motive, gather information), but I don't like calling them Manipulate, Represent and Investigate.

Do you have better names? (Bonus: do you have a better idea for how you could split up social skills?)

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If the question is "what would you name these skills?" could you give us some guidance on what you don't like about "Manipulate, Represent, Investigate?" If the question is "which skills should be included?" could you give us some more information on why your current set is giving you problems? –  AceCalhoon Sep 4 '12 at 19:10
For instance, have you looked at the nWoD? Your physical power, finesse, and resistance is determined by your traits for Strength, Dexterity, and Stamina. Similarly, your social power, finesse, and resistance are represented as Presense, Manipulation, and Composure. In this way, social (or intellectual) combat can be just as intense as traditional combat. –  Joshua Shane Liberman Sep 4 '12 at 21:41
I edited the title and tags to more accurately reflect the content of the question. The skills that should be in a game are the ones that serve the design of the game—there's no universal answer, so "should" is the wrong word entirely. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '12 at 23:02
As SevenSidedDie said, the skills your game needs are the skills that you want players of your game to use. So what are those skills? Do you see investigation being a major part of gameplay? Interrogation? Intimidation? Rumour-mongering? Misinformation? Emotional blackmail? Seduction? Waling round like you own the place so that everyone else assumes you do? Does my deception skill determine whether I can invent a plausible lie, or just how convincing I am when I tell it? Letting us know what you need might make it easier for us to give you advice. –  GMJoe Sep 5 '12 at 4:40
It's a system that should be playable in any setting, even if it's set in an apocalyptic modern world at the moment, but in fact there's no direct focus which social skills are "needed". I wouldn't have thought that so many people understood my badly worded question right and gave so many good ideas. Thanks everyone. –  Akku Sep 5 '12 at 4:58

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Going with your tendency to define broad categories I would look having three core ones that have some subspecialties:

Negotiation - This is a significant skill with numerous books and training classes about it in the real world and has many sub specialities. It would encompass things like barter and would overlap, but probably not entirely subsume "diplomacy" (which is hard to define).

Acting - This is just what it sounds like, but in addition to things like stage acting it would encompass the ability to portray another personna and to simply control facial expressions. Bluff would likely be a sub-discipline.

Observation - This would be the broad category of of observing people and garnering more from what you observe. This would of course include things like Read Expression and may include Interrogation. I would recommend having investigation per se being a separate skill though. It is of course served by being able to read expressions, observe environments, and interrogate people, all of those things are useful. But the heart of investigation is putting those things together, organizing and synthesizing the data and tenaciously pursuing where they point to gather yet more data and synthesize that, and that seems like something separate for which good observation is useful but separate.

I suspect those three, and subdisciplines, would cover most of what you are looking for in RPG social skills, but it certainly won't cover every niche. WoD has a concept of "Secondary Skills" to handle things like that. For instance, juggling is probably a social skill, but it doesn't really fit under any of those (it might fit under acting but that is a stretch). That along with most other specific performance skills would probably get their own secondary skill when they came up.

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Wow. I think you nailed it. Thanks! –  Akku Sep 5 '12 at 4:55
This is basically what I was going to answer, except I would give it different labels. Speachcraft, Performance, Insight (observation works too) –  GMNoob Sep 5 '12 at 9:12
@GMNoob I think Performance might be a bit better than acting, now that you mention it, but it's a matter of taste. Insight is good, but it seems too broad too me (mathematicians and Go players both speak frequently of insight...) Speachcraft certainly isn't bad, but it just sounds awkward to me. Again its all a matter of taste and I appreciate you suggesting some alternatives. –  TimothyAWiseman Sep 5 '12 at 15:43
@TimothyAWiseman Yes, it is all a matter of taste, and also setting/ time period. But your criticism of insight seems odd to me. Aren't mathematicians and Go players engaging in (anti? :P)Social skills? –  GMNoob Sep 5 '12 at 16:23
Heh, that is somewhat my point. While insight certainly applies to social settings like ascertaining emotions and picking out lies, it also applies equally to asocial tasks like insight into mathematics, insight into Go, meditative insight into oneself, etc. It seems much too broad. I would either sitck with Observation (still a bit too broad, but not by so much) or add a qualifier like "Social Insight". –  TimothyAWiseman Sep 5 '12 at 17:13

Thank you all for your constructive ideas. I just wanted to let you know what I have chosen, how I imagine it to work in my system and why it is this way. After looking at everything you mentioned, I think there are basically only two different broad skills needed:

  • Empathy : This is your skill to observe, analyse and identify what the other person's all about. It is the skill to gain information, understand the words between the lines, sense the other characters motives. It's the social skill you need to have something coming in. Includes: sense motive, gather information, diplomacy (if you want to get information or just positive relations)

  • Acting : This is the skill to present your opinion in a clear and convincing way, to persuade, confuse or be entertaining; it's the social skill to get something out. Includes: bluff, perform, entertain (talking), intimidate, diplomacy (if you want something to happen).

Explanation: The third skill would in my humble opinion always be some combination of the other two. Both skills are usually used against each other.

Example: If you want to fast talk someone into something, it's Acting, to resist, the person uses the Empathy skill. If you want to get some information from some guy who doesn't trust you, you use Empathy against his Acting. Intimidation is a bit special here, as you can intimidate someone, and the only outcome is that he's intimidated if his Acting fails (using Acting as a defense as he can hide if he's intimidated; if he is or not is ). To find out if the lie he presents you then is true, you still have to use Empathy against his Acting.

Wording: The sensing skill is called "Empathy" because it's very broad, even if empathy is also a part of acting in a way, as the actor usually needs to hit a nerve for his audience, and therefore understand this. BUT I think it's okay to subsume "acting hits a nerve in audience" in the skill of Acting.

Weighting and skill level in the beginning: As there are only these two social skills, and as they have "offensive" or practical effects as well as defensive effects and I think they're pretty important, I would let them be pretty hard to learn (using a learning factor that multiplies the needed XP for the next level) and begin on a relatively low level for humans, so that characters have a chance to be bad at this when they spent their time in isolation or so. NPCs will have average skill levels in this.

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Wit, Charm, Logic.

Basically when asking for a skill check its not necessarily what they are doing but how they are going about it that matters.

Logic Intelligence based approach applying either rhetoric or reasoned argument in social situations.

Charm Charisma based, you are affecting others via seduction, friendliness, and/or the ability to ingratiate yourself.

Wit Wisdom based, characters out-think and outmaneuver their opponent with a quick retort and a sharp joke.

The difficulty of making any of these checks would be based on what they were doing (charm in a diplomatic negotiation and logic being used to lure a guard off post would be fairly difficult for example) and what the NPC they are trying to affect is like. The the carousing drunk could easily fall prey to a charming woman or a witty man, but logic would fall on deaf ears and he doesn't trust overly friendly men and witty women make him insecure while the staid town mayor would ignore both charm and wit, but could be won over with logic.

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This is basically the "how" it's done, not the "what" is done. I'll think about it when writing up the rules and post later on, what I've come up with. Thanks for your thoughts! +1 –  Akku Sep 6 '12 at 7:09
sure thing, I suggested it as a how vs. a what simply because a how leads back to the character's personality and abilities and is less esoteric in my mind than +7 diplomacy while still being fluid. It also encourages roleplay over rollplay in my opinion. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Sep 6 '12 at 15:55
I like these as sub-concentrations, to give players a feeling in which way they're trying to be impressive, or in which way they're trying to get information. –  Akku Sep 6 '12 at 19:41

How about some of these

  • Acting
  • Area Knowledge
  • Body Language
  • Captivate
  • Carousing
  • Connoisseur
  • Current Affairs
  • Detect Lies
  • Diplomacy
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Welcome! unfortunately this list isn't really all that helpful because it doesn't tell us why any of these are good skills. I've taken care of some of the formatting here, but it would be a much more useful list if you did a bit more work here and gave us why you chose these over say rollerblading, computer use or phreaking –  wax eagle Sep 4 '12 at 20:26

I like skill names that are simple, broad verbs. In this case, I'd go with Convince and Impress for the first two.

The third one is a little more problematic, since it's hard to capture all three actions under one verb. I'd say they're a mixture of mental and social activities. To be honest, if you're going to stick to that categorization I can't think of a better word than Investigate.

It's a little harder to suggest other break downs without knowing what other skills you've already got. In d20, Appraise was not a social skill.

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For the third, I would go with Analyze — I think if information has to be gathered before analysis, I would add another skill: Research. Alternatively, Research could cover all those bases. (Appraisal, sense, gather, analyze.) –  ghoppe Sep 4 '12 at 21:19
Some games name skills with nouns, so for equivalent nouns of those same verbs: Persuasion, Presence (or Charm), and Investigation. –  SevenSidedDie Sep 4 '12 at 22:44
I am a fan of Analyze and Research, but would consider them as mental skills, and the OP specified social. My assumption was the he's already happy with the rest of his skill list. Really that should be clarified in the original question. –  starwed Sep 5 '12 at 1:15
+1 ... Thanks for the really good ideas. If I could accept two answers, this would be accepted too. –  Akku Sep 5 '12 at 4:55

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