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How do you build a party so that they all have social roles? In some games, I often find that one character ends up dominating the social part of the campaign.

In our groups, we usually end up with someone designing a diplomat. It is nice to succeed in the area for which you designed your character, but this often leaves the rest of the group out of the cold. The rest of the group shines in combat, and this person shines outside it. This can create an interest tug-of-war in the group.

Some of this is that once people don't feel like they have a place in the conversation, they stop. But I think this is just addition to the base problem (not having something built-in that the character can offer to the situation).

So: how can you give every character a social purpose in the group?

(Note: this is not designing for effective combat)

EDIT: I want to clarify that I was asking this question from a character-design perspective, not from a GM perspective. Many of the answers have a tilt toward GM-improvement. However, many of those answers still had contained very interesting ideas, and I upvoted accordingly.

I believe my solution will be two parts:

  1. I will try to make an agreement with the other players to sink X points/ranks/whatever into social skills (whether intimidate, diplomacy, storytelling, or etiquette).
  2. I will go with Aramis's solution and ask everyone to avoid picking social skills that will step on each others toes. I hope this will encourage diversity and enable a variety of approaches.
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Keep in mind, not all of your players will necessarily /want/ a social role. :) –  qoonpooka Jun 10 '11 at 11:58
    
@qoonpooka: Good point, though our group-members generally do. Also, I am one of the players :) . –  user1637 Jun 11 '11 at 23:39
    
Ah - the "build the comment" phrase implied to me that you were asking from the GM's perspective. I think much of my advice still stands but I'll see what I would add/change from a player's perspective - mostly I'd suggest adding exploring roleplaying with your fellow players to your more mechanical solutions (i.e. talking with each other, building up your backgrounds and using that the engage with the world your GM creates etc) –  Shannon John Clark Jun 13 '11 at 7:13
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7 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The best is to have a variety of social skills in the system, and make certain not everyone has the same ones. The best example of this effect is in Burning Wheel.

There are twenty-some skills that can be classified as "social skills"...

And there's a huge difference between the following three sets of BW social skill sets:

  • Thug: Indimidate, Conspicuous, Extortion
  • Courtier: Ettiquette, conspicuous, persuasion, rhetoric, oratory
  • Sycophant: Soothing Plattitude, Persuasion, Conspicuous, Inconspicuous, acting
  • Gossip: Soothing Plattitude, Ugly Truth, Falsehood, Mimicry
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Some system agnostic advice.

First, remember that roleplaying happens (or should) at all phases of the game - it isn't just something that happens outside of combat and it should IMHO be something different than just skill checks. Opponents, even in combat, can talk to and taunt the party and if you set the right tone the players should talk in character even during combat.

Second, just because one character is the "diplomat" doesn't mean that NPC's have to address that character to the exclusion of the rest of the party. Don't be shy about engaging every character into interactions with NPC's.

Third, as others have mentioned getting your players to write up backgrounds for their players gives you (and them) hooks into those characters and helps you as the person running the game find hooks to engage each character (and equally important) each player into the roleplaying aspects of the game.

If it helps make sure that you rewarding the players for roleplaying interactions (do this mechanically if you need to) so that players don't feel like they are "wasting time" if roleplaying interactions keep their characters from "advancing".

That said, one of my favorite gaming memories was an old campaign I ran in high school (over 20 years ago to date myself) where my players (and I) were so engaged in roleplaying we went many sessions between rolling a single die and while the players didn't gain many levels over the course of the campaign they had a lot of fun - and at the end of the day that fun is why we play games.

One other "trick" I've used in the past is to create situations where there are many routes to success for the players - this includes situations which might involve combat. As your players start to realize that combat isn't their only (or even their best) option this can often help all of the players get into roleplaying (don't just let them get away with a few rolls of the die to get out of a combat situation).

For that matter it is often good to force players to describe what they are doing - the effectiveness of which may be determined by a roll of a die - but make sure that they have to describe their character and what that character is doing to cause the roll of the die.

One other tip - ask players to describe their characters at other times - such as in combat. Over time forcing the players to describe their characters - physically and "in action" helps everyone at the table (including that player) get a more nuanced sense of each character - this then greatly helps foster roleplaying between the players (and between the players and NPCs).

In terms of balancing the party this starts at character creation but it also is reflected in how you run the game - like a good host at a party (in the "real" world) you should make a point of engaging with everyone at the table - don't let anyone person (including yourself) dominate the conversation.

On tip - do character creation a joint, group exercise - make it part of the game experience and help the players come together as a party as they are making the characters. This can be tricky (there are some game systems that directly suggest this) and if you don't meet often it does take precious game time - but the effect is that every player knows a bit about each other player's characters and as a group everyone has a sense of why their characters are together as a party.

Above all get players to show what they are doing - to describe it - whether "it" is a new power in combat, how they try to track down clues or a contact in town or how they go shopping (in character).

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I'm going to go ahead and use the system I tend to play in (Dark Heresy) as the basis for my answer, because I have noticed that it tends to have the situation you desire, probably mostly by accident. Allow me to explain.

In Dark Heresy, there are a number of classes, each representing a background for the person inducted into the Imperial Inquisition:

  • Adept - Knowledge seeker class, usually a former or current member of the Adeptus Administratum (Bureaucrats, basically)
  • Arbiter - Social investigator class, either a former or current member of the Adeptus Arbites (Police)
  • Assassin - Rogue / Operator class, trained killer usually coming from a suitably secret background, but could just be a skilled mercenary
  • Cleric - Warrior Preacher, always a member of the Imperial Ecclesiarchy
  • Guardsman - Soldier class, usually a former member of the Imperial Guard
  • Imperial Psyker - Psychic class, a sanctioned psyker and member of the Inquisition
  • Scum - Rogue class, usually a former gang member
  • Tech Priest - Technician class, a member of the Adeptus Mechanicus

You will notice that aside from the assassin, each of these classes has a social role to fill. When dealing with the intractable bureaucracy of the Imperium, the Adept has all the right tools and knowledge for the job. When dealing with local police forces or attempting to intimidate the answer out of citizens, the Arbiter fits the bill. When you need to intimidate an answer out of anyone, the Assassin can work wonders. When dealing with members of the Imperial Cult, the Cleric is your go-to guy (or gal). The Guardsman is perfect when needing to deal with military authority. The psyker is usually distrusted by everyone, but other psykers will be more open. The Scum can schmooze with anyone, no matter how criminal they might be, and the Tech Priest is practically required when dealing with matters of Technology (and those who maintain it).

In other words, the character background can play a huge role. Some of this is reinforced by the way the Warhammer 40,000 setting tends to segregate knowledge, but the base idea is there. Varying the character backgrounds so that they each fit into the surrounding society in a different manner can work.

This brings me to my second point - not all social situations are alike. Perhaps you need to meet a planetary governer - the Adept, Arbiter, Cleric, or Guardsman are your best bets. Say you need to find a criminal gang boss and get information - send the Arbiter to confront, send the Scum to beguile, or send the Assassin to send a message. Varying the social situations will vary which players have the most influence, but none of them are really left out... except perhaps the Scum at the planetary governer's mansion, depending upon how many tattoos he picked up during his time in the gangs. :)

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There's nothing wrong with having a "diplomat" but there definitely is some value in having more than just them interact in the social scene. A lot of this has to do with the DM and the setting as much as it does with the players.

First, having a decent charisma score will help, especially when you get trapped and have to bluff your way out. So trying to encourage players to not make it an 8 just because they're a barbarian with a 20 strength score is a great place to start. But, what about that barbarian? Do you need to acquire key information from someone who will only talk to another warrior worthy of his time? In that case, you might want to send in your barbarian or fighter. Even if they have a lower charisma score and don't handle the social situations as well, it's better than bluff-checking every single time you talk with your diplomat to keep the guy convinced he's talking to a warrior.

If the players want to all engage in social situations, they all need to give and take. The players need to flesh out their character's personalities a lot, and the DM needs to provide encounters that will enable (if not force!) everyone to take part in the social engagement.

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+1 for "Do you need to acquire key information from someone who will only talk to another warrior worthy of his time?" Great way to make non-social oriented characters matter in these situations. –  user1637 Jun 10 '11 at 12:40
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Give everyone a plot that their character uniquely attaches to. If interactions are on a party to questgiver level, there's no reason for anyone but the designated face to speak. But if the barbarian's long lost sister shows up, he's the one who will do the talking. Give all the players plots that address them and try to balance how often each of these plots shows up.

Find the differences of opinion within the group and exploit them. Some PCs will sacrifice an innocent to save the world. Others won't. You want to find differences like these and make them come up. Then the players will talk to each other. The key is to not find a difference that will lead to fisticuffs. In my game one of the PCs was raised as a slave and another is okay with slavery. I haven't figured out a way to address that issue that won't split the party somehow (or won't have the PCs ignore the irreconcilable differences in order to keep the party together).

So, my two suggestions are PCs with opinions and PCs with unique plot. How do you acquire these things? By requesting background information on each character. Here's the background for the doppelganger in my current 4e game. I've gotten so much mileage out of this background. I wouldn't expect a 6 page background from all my players, but this one certainly paid off.

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It's fine to spread social skills out among the group, but there will still be the tendency to let "the guy who's best at it talk." The fix to this has as much to do with play style as mechanics.

Though the GM in the end can dictate a lot of this, it's reasonably easy to "manage up." You and your fellow players RP, force relationships with NPCs, seek out discussions with them. Don't ask for rolls. By exercising player fiat, you can get the GM to exercise fiat as well. If it always reduces to "make a roll" then whoever's min-maxed for that activity will dominate.

Similarly, consider the other "GM advice" in these answers and ask "What can we do as players to try to have these come to pass?" Because a lot of it is in your hands - do you seek out NPCs to talk with, do you have an interesting backstory with non-deceased NPC relatives and acquaintances and contacts in it? This will drive RP engagement from the entire group regardless of skill number.

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I tend to have one event during the game that is critical for one character: the whole quest/adventure/story would utterly fail were it not for them. This is common in literature/films/storytelling and can be used well in games. For example, Peppin and Merry do both get their "WOW" moments in LotR even though they are not the main characters of the piece.

Plus, make sure that everyone gets as much prime camera time as everybody else. Make sure that you tailor your adventure to your players not the other way around.

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-1, you didn't answer the question. How can the party be RP balanced? How can the GM help this. By requiring that each party-member be the macguffin to one quest... they don't need to perform any balancing. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 19 '11 at 14:20
    
@BrianBallsun-Stanton: This balance the on screen time and importance of each characters which in my not so humble opinion does answer the question. –  Sardathrion Nov 28 '12 at 11:12
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