Yes, I know, when speaking of Star Wars geeks or role playing games, Social skills don't immediately come to mind. But what I'm actually referring to are Social skills in the Star Wars D6 game system. These are a character's ability to Command, Con, Charm, Persuade, etc.. I know there are a lot of gamers who chafe at the idea of such skills. The main argument here is that by having skills like this you are actually detracting from the roleplay experience. Instead of the player coming up with a lie to get past the stormtroopers, you just roll Character's Con skill and see what happens. Many feel it should be up the player to figure out challenges- it shouldn't left to a skill roll.
First of all, I would like to say that I agree wholeheartedly. A skill roll should never be allowed to take the place of player ingenuity and thought. To do so reduces any game to an exercise in dice rolling. However, I still feel that such skills have merit. After all, in a role playing game we are not playing 'ourselves'. In most cases we're actually playing a character quite different from our real selves. They're Stronger, Faster, Smarter, more Charismatic, etc. Why then is it okay for us to play someone who is stronger or faster, but our character's mental and social abilities should set to our own? In my book that isn't okay. That's why game systems HAVE stats like Intelligence and Charisma and all the skills associated with them. I don't think many gamers can claim to be a 'supra-genius'. Not all of us are master con-artists or political speakers, either. But that shouldn't prevent you from playing the archetypes.
So what is the answer, then? How do you balance skill levels and role playing. Well, I'm proud to say that the Star Wars D6 rulebook actually speaks to just this thing. I'm paraphrasing here a bit, but essentially, the 'official' word on this was:
"It is often a good idea to use a combination of roleplaying and die rolls to figure out what happens. If a player comes up with a brilliant plan, con or persuasive argument and explains it IN CHARACTER, that should count for a lot more than a die roll. On the other hand, if a character has a high level of skill, but the player isn’t quite as eloquent in getting his ideas across, the GM may want to depend more upon die rolls to determine success or failure (as long as the player is making an honest effort).
GMs should reward players’ ingenuity and intelligent roleplaying with bonus modifiers. Conversely, if the players insist on doing something that isn’t too bright, the GM-run non-player characters should get a bonus modifier to reflect poor player character decisions."
There. That's how you do it. Skills are a framework on which you build, they should never replace actual player-generated ideas. I do feel they should have an impact, though. Only rarely do I just give an automatic success on a social skill roll- no matter how persuasive the argument. Why? Well for a couple reasons.
Even a great idea or argument can be ruined if it is poorly delivered. Say your character stammers or sweats or seems uncomfortable when presenting an argument. People could be put off by that, even if what you're saying makes sense. Don't believe me? Just look at the Nixon vs. Kennedy debate. Nixon made some good arguments, but he didn't LOOK good while saying them. Kennedy had more Charisma. Better social skills.
From a purely gamist perspective, Social skills are important as they are another place a character can spend experience points. If someone wants to be a great commander or learned scholar then they should have to put the points into it, just as a master marksman would have to with his combat skills. If Social and Intelligence based skills were simply 'covered' by how well a player plays, then the actual game stats themselves could just be used as 'dump' stats. A player would never need to develop them.
And this leads me to the flip side of the coin. If a player DOES take Charisma or Intelligence as a dump stat, then, with a social skill system, there IS a piper to pay when it comes to interactions with NPCs. No matter how good a con a player thinks of, they could still be sabotaged by their character's lack of social 'dexterity'. A character who chooses to have low social (or intelligence) skills should be willing to play a character who is none-too personable or bright.
So what am I saying? Well, to all those 'haters' out there, I say that Social Skills are a useful and logical extension of any skill system when you're playing a character who is NOT yourself (social/mental capacity-wise). However, in a solid game system, with a good GM, such skills should never take the place of role playing.