From Magnesium Games

Under the Hood #3 – Social Capital

Welcome to the next instalment of Under the Hood. Today, I’ll be looking briefly at the social traits in gaming.

This is an area where I’ve often found mechanics to be the least helpful. After all, for many groups, the social aspects are always played out in detail role-playing without actually using any mechanics. This can cause difficulties where a player’s ability and a characters ability are widely divergent.

And so, I’ve been looking at alternative systems for representing a character’s social advantages and disadvantages.

There are two alternative systems that I’m looking at employing in our current project. The first is a descriptive set of mechanics that defines your characters personality generally. Each trait would be on a spectrum with a personality type at each end – shy versus outgoing as an example. This helps for two reasons. Firstly, it makes social mechanics a bit more interesting and thus more likely to be played with by those more interested in the game aspect of role-playing (it’s also a tad more realistic, where being outgoing isn’t always an advantage). Secondly, for those Weavers (such as myself) who aren’t inclined to use the mechanics as much, it provides a better framework for the players to map out their characters. The ratings in each social trait help provide a foundation on which to build the character’s personality.

There are many disadvantages to this system. It may get very clunky. It struggles to deal with individual characters having different levels of shyness at different times. It works differently to the character’s other traits, meaning another system has to be learnt and dealt with.

The second system is my current preferred idea, but is still very much in its embryonic stages. Characters will have social traits as normal and, I imagine, these will be largely ignored during sessions. However, character creation will also detail the family, friends, and important acquaintances of the character and the character’s social traits will be used to affect a Weaver-maintained resource pool of trust, favours, and the like. As characters then act within the world, they will expend their social capital by asking for favours and gain more social capital by doing favours. Of course, there will also be other means for social capital to raise and fall. The system will support both individuals and organisations/communities positions on the character and will track a couple of forms of social capital (renown, love, and respect). Most importantly, all the stats for each character will fit on a single side of a character sheet (or a sheet maintained by the Weaver) and the system will be no heavier on the bookkeeping than health systems are for combat.

These ideas are only at the earliest stages of development. They may be discarded entirely or they may change beyond recognition. At this time, they’re being presented here because I’m very keen to get some feedback on how you all think systems of these types (especially the second one) could be of use to you and your gaming groups. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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