While combat skills are usually straightforward—melee and shoot (or variants thereof), social skills are ridiculously complicated.
Examples from some RPG rulebooks I have close to hand:
|RPG||Combat skills||Social skills|
|Fate Core and Fate Condensed||Fight, Shoot||Deceive, Empathy, Provoke, Rapport|
|The Troubleshooters||Melee, Ranged combat||Charm, Subterfuge|
|ALIEN||Close combat, Ranged combat||Manipulate, Command|
|Liminal||Melee, Shoot||Charm, Conviction, Empathy, Rhetoric, Taunt|
|Traveller||Gun Combat, Melee||Carouse, Deception, Diplomat, Leadership, Persuade|
|Trail of Cthulhu||Firearms, Scuffling, Weapons||Assess Honesty, Bargain, Cop Talk, Flattery, Interrogation, Reassurance|
|Call of Cthulhu||Fighting, Firearms||Charm, Fast Talk, Intimidate, Persuade, Psychology|
|Tales from the Loop||None – no fighting||Charm, Lead, Empathise|
Traveller also has Gunnery (for ship combat) and Heavy Weapons (for artillery). And when it comes to melee, Trail of Cthulhu separates armed (Weapons) and unarmed (Scuffling) melee combat. I’m not sure why it needs to do that.
So it feels like we know what we want with combat: hitting and shooting things.
With social skills, however, we’re all over the place. And while there are a lot of similarities (several examples of Charm/Rapport), systems often have their own peculiarities, such as Traveller’s Leadership (used during combat) and Trail of Cthulhu’s Cop Talk or Reassurance.
I want to think that the skills are chosen to reflect the way the designer expects the game to be played. I suspect that’s why something like “Assess Honesty” is in Trail of Cthulhu: it’s important to know when you’re being deceived.
Thinking back to recent games, the social skills I’ve most often wanted are persuade, intimidate or deceive.
You can argue that charm and provoke/taunt are different styles of persuasion. (Do they need to be separate skills? I don’t know.) And intimidation is arguably just a type of persuasion (that’s how Traveller treats it).
But it feels to me that some games specialise too far—I’m not sure what the value of Rhetoric is in Liminal. And Call of Cthulhu has both Charm and Persuade. What did playtesting show? When was Rhetoric used? Were Charm and Persuade used equally and for different things?
Because characters have a limited pool of skill points, numerous social skills makes characters less effective: skills will be spread more thinly.
I’m not sure I have an answer or a conclusion. Other than were I designing a skills-based RPG, I’d have a good long look at my skills list.
As for me, I will pay more attention to my social dice rolls, record what skills I need, and revisit this subject.