Company Picnic

COMPATIBILITY: These rules suggestions assume that your game has a significant number of skills or skill-like traits. It further assumes that if those skills are used in combination with an ‘attribute’, that they could be separated and linked with another attribute relatively easy on the fly. If none of those are true of your game, this plug-in is likely incompatible.

Thog the Barbarian, socially inept idiot, is the champion of drinking contests, and they love him. Forsythe from accounting is hugely dull to outsiders, but his stories about the copy room key and, ahem, where it’s been, were the hit of the company picnic. Sometimes, social aptitude has very little to do with being generically diplomatic or intimidating or any such thing; sometimes, it’s all about the context.  That’s what these suggestions are all about.

Most experience GMs have had a moment at some point where they allowed a non-social skill to be used socially. If Marius wants to impress the Countess by improvising poetry, well, poetry isn’t a social skill necessarily, but we’ll treat it like diplomacy for this; Marius can use his charm in place of his wits to make the roll. By deliberately and explicitly creating situations where this kind of thing takes place now and then, the GM can give their players opportunities to use their characters in new ways. Here’s how:
  • The Picnics: Choose a fistful of places in the setting the characters are likely to visit over the next session or two; for each, think of an interesting thing that has a social element (but isn’t necessarily primarily social), and might be happening there when they visit. So, say, an illicit seasonal ritual just outside of town, the preparations committee for an annual imperial procession, a high-stakes gambling game, the hunt for a missing child in the woods.
  • The Skills & Conditions: For each such event, assign a skill or two that ‘acts as social’ (and define which social use, as needed). So, for the ritual, religious knowledge might act as a disguise or acting skill if trying to infiltrate; if a character visits the processional committee meeting, knowing about nobility might act as diplomacy if the character is willing to take part in meeting protocol. And so on.
  • The Benefits: For each “picnic”, there should be some benefit for notable success (or some problem evaded). Using a survival skill as if it was leadership, to organize a large group and find a missing child, comes with accolades. Helping out the processional committee impresses them - and most of them are town councilors.
  • The Prompt: This preparation isn’t all that helpful unless the players know about it. You can prompt them about these little side bits either in or out of character, as desired, but don’t force it; the idea here is opportunity, not to set up hoops to jump.

From the opposite side of the game, if the number of skills a given character actually has is relatively small, it can be interesting to have players go through each skill they possess (or a set number of them), and consider these things:
  • Their “community of practice”: Who did they learn the skill from, and who appreciates the use of it enough that it becomes the basis for some kind of social interaction? Almost every skill a character has, unless it was self-taught, comes with some group or community of others attached; skills are one way into where your character came from.
  • The conditions for use: Under what circumstances does it act like a social skill, when dealing with those people? After all, even the hardiest drinking champion, relaxing with a crazed tribe of raiders, can’t use their poison resistance socially until liquor enters the picture.
  • Approval & Notation: After considering these things, the player can give a quick proposal to the group describing their thoughts. If the group thinks that the group and uses work, the player should likely make a quick note of it - either one that is clearly mechanical, such as “Acts like intimidation when dealing with Jongleurs”, or something generally more evocative, like “The lore I learned at the feet of the Monks of Al-Mahra”, whichever way strikes the group as more useful to their purposes.

The somewhat more intense version of this idea is to dispense with social skills altogether, and use everything else as social skills. This isn’t as odd as it sounds.  For groups that prefer to roleplay out social interactions, only resorting to the dice when there’s a factor that’s hard to play through involved, many of those skills are secondary appendages, a cruft that can be done without; the value is in acting it out, and the ‘normal’ die rolls are a factor that doesn’t actually deserve to be weighed into the equation. By restacking the actually social elements that are actually useful to this style into other skills, the excess can be done away with.  For other groups, social interaction rules (and even social conflict rules) can drive a game forward in new and awesome ways. In such groups, while this extreme is likely a bit much, changing up the mechanics in the ways described earlier can still act as the equivalent of setting fight scenes in different kinds of terrain (ones where, say, night vision or balance become deeply important); such changes can put a new face on game bits that might otherwise be a little too predictable.