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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    \$\begingroup\$ 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? \$\endgroup\$
    – AceCalhoon
    Commented Sep 4, 2012 at 19:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 4, 2012 at 23:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 4:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akku
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 4:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Voting to close as primarily opinion based. As we can learn from trying out different RPGs, the fact there's many different ways to slice and dice these things is advantageous, and different games will present their social skills to emphasise different things. There isn't a "best" or something that works for all purposes, because any game will be inclined to want them emphasising different things. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 23:02

6 Answers 6


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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    \$\begingroup\$ This is basically what I was going to answer, except I would give it different labels. Speachcraft, Performance, Insight (observation works too) \$\endgroup\$
    – GMNoob
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 9:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @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. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 15:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @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? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMNoob
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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". \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 17:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe Entertaining would fit in? It is related to, but not encompassed by Acting. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2525
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 14:00

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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 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.) \$\endgroup\$
    – ghoppe
    Commented Sep 4, 2012 at 21:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Some games name skills with nouns, so for equivalent nouns of those same verbs: Persuasion, Presence (or Charm), and Investigation. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 4, 2012 at 22:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – starwed
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 1:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 ... Thanks for the really good ideas. If I could accept two answers, this would be accepted too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akku
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 4:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ If going for verbs, how about "understand" for the third skill? \$\endgroup\$
    – edgerunner
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 23:16

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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 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 \$\endgroup\$
    – Akku
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 7:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 15:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akku
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 19:41

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.


My point of view is that of a professional persuader. It's what I do for a living. A lot of other people do as well, and they may have different views on this. I'd like to suggest two things, though, that would make my approach more "correct." One, I'm very introspective so I've included to the best of my ability tacit learning from experience that is difficult to codify. And I'd also suggest that it is possible a successful persuasion may appear on the surface to be more similar to a different approach, but it also fits my approach, and when you concern yourself at the goings on beneath the surface, I believe this system most accurately describes how persuasion is actually done.

I break down the anatomy of persuasion into 5 phases. Introduction, Discovery, Presentation, Elaboration, and the Close. I'll get to the skills in a bit. If you understand the process, the skill list almost flows naturally from it.

Introduction - Need not be a literal introduction. You might be persuading someone you already know. The idea at this stage is to get their attention and willingness to listen.

Discovery - In classical persuasion, you discover what the other person wants by talking to them. Usually it involves direct questioning. But it could also be more subtle. Getting a "read" on the other person during an interaction. Of course, in some cases, discovery can happen outside of the person's presence. Investigation and any number of normal adventuring skills may apply to gathering the necessary information.

Presentation - This is the phase that most people think of as being the beginning, middle, and end of persuasion. If you're not always very persuasive in real life, it's because you skip right to this phase. Without knowing for sure what the other person wants, it is possible to hit on the right things by dumb luck. But that's all it is. Luck. Not skill. The skill involved in the presentation phase is about clearly communicating the proposition and framing it in a way that is appealing.

Elaboration - This phase is optional, and will be initiated by the person you're trying to persuade. They're not 100% convinced, so they still have some questions. The nature of the questions may signal to the persuader that he failed to collect all the necessary information in the discovery phase, and a skilled persuader must fall back to that to avoid failure.

Close - Typically a simple yes or no question. If you've done everything right up to this point, it should be an easy yes. If it's a no, the skilled persuader must once again fall back to the discovery phase to avoid failure.

With this in mind, the vital skill areas are: 1) Haling/Parleying/Charisma/Oration to gain that initial opportunity,
2a) Cold Reading/Lie Detection OR 2b) Questioning/Interviewing/Interrogation depending upon how you are gathering your information,
3a) Parleying/Charisma/Oration OR 3b) Lying/Con/Deception depending on whether or not what you're proposing actually does fit the other person's interests,
4a) Cold Reading/Lie Detection OR 4b) Parleying/Charisma/Oration OR 4c) Lying/Con/Deception depending on whether you're answering the questions truthfully or with lies, or whether the person you're trying to persuade is being truthful and sincere with their questions and objections.
5) Parleying/Charisma, but only if the persuasion attempt is still in doubt, otherwise success is automatic without further skill check.

So to boil the above down to a short list, I would use: 1) Parleying - Covers engaging, effective, and purposeful communication 2) Detect Lie - Covers not just lie detection but also sensing motives 3) Interview - Covers interrogation and effective questioning skills to gain desired information. 4) Deception - Covers knowingly passing false information with conviction

Each of these skills are equally important. I think it's natural to assume Parley would be the alpha social skill under this scheme, but it is not so. Remember, without knowing what it is the other person wants, persuasion comes down to dumb luck, skill is irrelevant. This makes parleying only useful in the introduction, to get a chance to "pitch" so to speak if the person isn't skilled at interview.

Detect lie is also important for two reasons. One, not everyone can be persuaded in a particular situation. Part of being a skilled persuader is finding out sooner rather than later than you're wasting your time. Two, it indicates that the all-important discovery phase may need to be revisited. Three, the biggest pit-fall in persuasion is not getting a "No" but rather the person agreeing just to shut you up then not following through with what they agreed to. A persuader worth his salt needs to be able to pick up on that.

Finally, deception, while completely unnecessary if you choose to persuade strictly honestly, can be the only means of convincing someone when it is not possible to find a proposition that serves their best interests as well as yours. It can also be used as a crutch in cases when perhaps there is a way for mutual gain but the persuader just can't think of what that might be at the moment.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I hope there's not a lot of it over the course of your day, but where does convincing folks using extortion or violence happen in this paradigm? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 16:58

I'm going to borrow from West End Star Wars definition of Force powers here.

  • Control: Getting your act together. Controlling your own emotions and expression. Calming down, raging up, maintaining a poker face etc.
  • Sense: Understanding your counterpart. Reading emotions and intentions. Appraising motives and goals. Extracting the truth from words.
  • Alter: Manipulating your counterpart. Inciting emotions. Encouraging or discouraging behaviors. Rallying supporters, disheartening adversaries.

This trio turned out to be good for emulating complex, multi-phase social challenges when we were playing WESW. I think it could work with any other system as well. Most social challenges require all of these with varying degrees of difficulty, so you have multiple interesting points of failure that can lead to interesting story twists.


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