In a recent discussion I had with another GM we expressed displeasure at a few common archetypes that characters tend towards. More specifically, we both expressed reservations about newly created characters not having any friends. We also expressed that Backgrounds did not solve this problem well enough. Backgrounds provide a framework for how your early life went but not the people you knew and still know. The Soldier knows they have an old military outfit but they don't know the people that are there. The sage has a letter from a colleague but it has no development why that colleague is important.
The core problem exists that in DnD 5e (and all DnD systems) characters are created and they feel like they just spawned into the world. Even adding in "Xanathar's Guide to Everything" the system doesn't give players nor DM's impetus toward having friends or contacts and therefore they always feel out of the world in the beginning stages (and oftentimes into mid-stages) of games.
Then on inspiration I said something like "what if we had characters roll Xd4 for contacts where X = Charisma Modifier?" which started the process. If we added in a small, simple, open contacts system could we ground characters in the narrative and create more opportunities for characters to roleplay in a manner that had benefits for the game? Other systems, like Shadowrun, utilize Contacts and create narratives based on these people created as associates for players at character creation. So we started defining the system.
On character creation (after picking Backgrounds) Players roll Xd4 for Contacts they have where X = their Charisma Modifier (minimum of 1d4). This determines how many Contacts they know. When calling a contact, state your request and whatever form of payment you wish to offer. They will respond in 1d6 days. Requests should be within reason of what they are able to do.
Contacts, more than friends, bring something to the table. You may be drinking buddies with the guards or friends with the barkeep but Contacts are people who can provide something you need. They will respond to simple favors depending on their expertise. Need a place to lay low, the priest of the local temple always has an attic room for you. Need to know the floor plans of the current lord's manor (for non-nefarious purposes surely), well you just happen to know the architect who designed it.
This is as far as the system has been designed. It is my hope that this system addresses the lack of grounding that characters seem to have and to add extra chances where roleplay can and will benefit forward progression. Now what would be the drawbacks, if any, to implementing a system like this? How could this homebrew be abused or underutilized? And how might that be remedied?
To note, these contacts are not allowed to become cheap tickets to magic items. A healing potion or scroll, sure. But a +1 sword is not in the cards.
As per comments, I decided xd4 on a whim but I rather prefer it to any sort of background based table system. DnD 5e afterall, is about streamlining so in my opinion an xd4 system is very streamlined.