As an old school gamer at heart, I’m not big on social skills in RPGs. It seems to me that social interaction should remain the province of ‘role-playing.’ Most modern game systems incorporate social skills, but from what I’ve seen at the table they sort of become a crutch for players. Interesting situations that could be played out between the players and the GM end up being resolved with a simple dice roll. What could be a relatively simple and straightforward aspect of the game bog down in game mechanics, dice rolls and fiddly modifiers.
The counter argument is that skills reflect the character’s abilities, not the player’s, and I suppose that’s a fair point. Not everyone is equally good at the ‘talking’ aspect of our hobby, and if they’re trying to play a more socially oriented character (say, a noble, spy or ‘face’ type), they shouldn’t be penalized just because they aren’t particularly articulate or persuasive in real-life. I suppose that a number of GM’s also like social skills because, in a way, it lightens their burden a bit. They don’t have to role-play an orc chieftain negotiating with the PCs; just have the players make a Diplomacy skill check!
So, what’s your take on social skills? Are they a vital and important aspect of RPGs, or do they get in the way of the action? Or maybe it just depends on the kind of game you’re running?