Heh, that title alone should probably spawn 50 comments 🙂
In the early days of RPG when AD&D was king, my groups eventually crawled out of the dungeons and started running more soap opera style games. Rather than clear out an orc infestation, we were more likely to be found courting maidens (or men, if one of us were in “drag”), running fiefs, and forging alliances. This being AD&D 1e (pre-nonweapon proficiencies….geez, is it that difficult to say “skill?”), the only things on our sheets even remotely related to social interaction were the Charisma and Comeliness scores (Comeliness was taken from World of Greyhawk….later Unearthed Arcana) and the occasional charm spell. As a result, we rarely resorted to dice. Everything was roleplayed out and the DM made rulings based on how well we did.
Later, social mechanics began to crop up more often in roleplaying games. Now, you actually had skills that could tell you how good you were in a social scene, with modifiers based on your sheet (in RPGs with advantages/disadvantages) and circumstance. Essentially, your character was only as good as her sheet; there was no need to roleplay except to add color to the scene. Still, old habits died hard, and it was sometimes frustrating to deliver a stirring speech to rally the troops, only to have a botched roll ruin it. On the flip side, it was painful to strip social scenes down to a couple of half-hearted dice rolls.
Over the years I’ve gone back and forth on whether mechanics should trump roleplay and vice versa. I’ve also gone back and forth on whether to modify a roll based on the roleplay. Currently, I run three games (pick up your jaw, I only run about once a week) and use two methods:
1. We heavily roleplay. However, if a character is attempting to do something of consequence, I have the player make a roll. Quality of roleplay does not modify this roll, although circumstances might.
2. We don’t roleplay much at all. Social interaction is usually third-person and to the point (e.g. “I want to Bluff my way past the guard” or “I make a Diplomacy check to renegotiate the price”).
I want to stress here that I don’t think any particular approach is good or bad. I’m currently enjoying the heck out of running all of my games. In the end, all groups should use what works best for them.
I should also point out that the method you choose can impact the mechanics. In a point-build chargen system, players may not waste points in social skills if they know they’re going to roleplay 90% of the social scenes. On the flip side, judging a player by his roleplay neglects potential “chaotic” elements to the scene that are represented by the dice (e.g. you could roleplay your butt off in a seduction scene, but if your character happens to be wearing the same dress that your victim’s wife wore when he caught her in the arms of another man three days ago, you probably aren’t going to be very successful).
So what say you? Roleplay, Mechanics, or somewhere in between?