RPGs in High-Def: What Social Rolling Adds to a Game

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So you’re watching your favorite role-playing game show and you see some fellow viewers in the chat discussing a mysterious sounding thing called “social rolling.” What are they talking about? Don’t panic… we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll teach you what social rolling is, how it works and make the case for why you would want to seek out a system that uses it and give it a whirl.

Social Rolling is when an RPG uses dice and skill mechanics to determine the outcome of social interactions between player characters.

For example: Captain Bard (played by Amy Dallen) wants to convince Fractal Bright (played by Amanda Powers) to join her in an insurrection against the Pac Ha. Jack, the GM, tells Amy this is a Social Convince roll and Amanda that it’s a Social Defense Roll. If Amy beats Amanda, Bard convinces Fractal to join her. If Amanda beats Amy, Fractal successfully resists Bard’s attempts at persuasion.

Sometimes referred to as “social combat”, the purpose of these types of mechanics are to make social interactions work more like traditional physical conflicts. Take the idea of a player character deceiving another player character:

Lulu (played by Gina DeVivo) suspects her brother Rayk (played by Jeff Torres) of tampering with the ship’s onboard computer. Rayk denies it, even though he did, in fact, plant a potentially dangerous worm in the system. Jack tells Jeff he’ll have to make a Social Deceive roll in order for Rayk to successfully trick Lulu into thinking he’s not lying.

In this fashion, simple mechanics can be added to numerous other basic social interactions from charming a hostile player character to giving inspiring (not to mention, buff producing) speeches to your fellow party members.

As a result, social rolling can add new dimensions of story and character play to a game. Much of the fun of an RPG comes from the chance to play someone with abilities and skills beyond your own. A player should be allowed to create a character who is more socially adept than they are as easily as a character who is stronger or faster than they are.

At a greater level, social rolling introduces randomness and uncertainty into the outcomes of social actions in a way that makes a game less predictable and more fun.

We’re all familiar with how a biffed combat roll can have everyone jumping out of their seats in surprise when the situation fundamentally changes and the party is forced down a new and exciting path. Social rolling introduces this same dynamic into the non-combat related aspects of the game.

Social rolling can also help shape your game in much more fundamental ways. The mere existence of a social mechanic in a game encourages players to create the kinds of characters you would never see in games that have only (or mostly) combat mechanics. Collin, on the show, created Good Idea because he knew that the ability to persuade and deceive other characters might well be more valuable in the Vast universe than just being physically stronger than them.

A system rich in social mechanics can add new avenues for story and character development, create an element of surprise in the unfolding of interpersonal conflicts, and encourage players to experiment with character creation in ways they’d never consider otherwise.

Looking to see how this works? Check out Vast on Alpha on Monday nights at 7 PM PST and join in the fun with us.

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