… they don’t’ work in a vacuum. Or rather, if there is no conflict, no amount of system can help.
I had one of those “dud – that was obvious!” moments while writing a long-ish blog post on roleplaying. It touches on applying roleplaying system to social situations.
The thing is I’ve played in a few social events in game (and have ran one or two) and most of the time it doesn’t work as well as it should. The PCs mill around, waiting for things to happen. Roleplay with some random PCs, make a fool of themselves, but the action in-game is pretty empty.
At some point I though perhaps a social combat system might solve that but it doesn’t. You need conflict. Without conflict, running a social event, like a conference or a ball, is meaningless and has no drama. Obvious. But when your playing or running a game it isn’t obvious. It requires a GM to create conflict; just having a social combat system is useless if there isn’t any conflict. And many GMs, I think are loath to artificially inject conflict in to a social event, but rather depend on the players to create “drama” by simply roleplaying. You need characters that want to “attack” the PCs for any number of reasons.
It easier when you talk about physical combat because you instantly frame the concept in your mind within actual conflict. When you say social combat, you image a social event where PCs are trying to achieve something (which may or may not actually imply conflict). Most GMs, I think, are not really sure how to handle social events in a tabletop roleplaying game. (My “long-ish blog post” has some thoughts on that… but you’ll have to wait till I’ve finished it)