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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Social Combat in Roleplaying Games

Social combat! Make me what I'm not!
I saw this topic in a forum a few months ago and was beside myself with disbelief. Someone was actually lamenting the absence of a "social combat" system in the D20 core rules. This waste of time rears its ugly head every now and then, flat out annoying me.

I've been wanting to comment on this complete absurdity for some time, because it generally sticks in my craw that folks such as these seem to want to graft on a second "combat system" onto an already heavy chassis. Let me just say it upfront: no version of D20 was ever meant to have social combat rules.

Social combat is about as much in the tradition of roleplaying games, as shotguns are in bowling (an that sounds more fun). Adding such rule systems, changes the entire nature and structure of the game, from roleplaying to something else entirely. Statistical goat herding? Legislating a social combat system into any D20 descendant, based on "pure chewing satisfaction" is even worse than asking all gamers to switch to a system based on card games.

What is social combat though? According to my brief forays into the topic social combat is a system of mental combat, whereas the usual combat is physical. Yeah, okay. Uh, huh. Go play something else. (That's as close to "damn kids, get off my lawn" as it gets.)

Folks are polarized by the idea too. You either love them or you hate them. And I hate 'em with a purple passion. Mechanics for social combat suck the joy right out of the game.

The most common excuse for adding rules for social combat seems to be as compensation for players who lack ability, i.e. they can't act or they feel nervous in front of a group of friends. I'd think such rule systems, if they're not the focus of the game, would actually cause inept players to stagnate further. Their roleplay just isn't getting any better, because they're not even trying any more. Practice makes perfect, but no, they're rolling dice instead. Quite frankly, I believe social combat rules are for players who don't want to get better at roleplaying. They should be playing something else. Go find a nice card game.

I also don't think rules for social combat are all that necessary as the roleplaying situations in D&D are fairly simplistic. I mean really, how hard is it for your 6'-6" barbarian to get a girl at the local brothel? I could see adding social combat rules to say a "Top Secret" type game, where secret agents have to live by their wits. Social combat still isn't going to help you win at roulette though, Mr. Bond.

Remember this good advice? Be yourself. If you're not a social butterfly, rolling dice won't make you suave and debonair either. Dice aren't going to make you any less socially inept. Play to your strengths and please, for pity's sake, don't ask game designers to look for the "secret formula" to give you what you just don't have.

For those of you that insist, go play this and leave D20 alone.

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