I have continued toying with the ideas from my last post, emailing with the members of my group, and here are some of my current ideas.
In our group, every character should have some kind of social skills. I've been talking about these skills being different from one another by using the GURPS social skill distinctions (e.g., carousing, fast talking, and diplomacy). Carousing is for a character that is lower class and works more effectively at an unstructured social situation like a bar/tavern or a party. A character with social skills of this type should not be sent to negotiate with the noble. Similarly, fast talking might be a good skill among merchants, in quick negotiations, or when trying to talk your way past a guard but might not be as useful at the aforementioned party or bar. Fast talking is more goal oriented and someone skilled at it may not know as much about "small talk". Now diplomacy is a much more complex affair, takes more time, is very formal because it is different dependent upon the social rank of those participating. Yet in my Fudge build, these would all be labeled the same "Prosocial skill".
My players responded pretty positively to the idea that each player could have their own social niche. From there, I refined the idea that even the method of interacting may be the same but by becoming aware of the "in group" even characters with similar social styles may be more suited to one interaction over another. For example, the Knight and the Cleric may both be skilled at diplomacy but if you want someone to talk with the Bishop, you send the Cleric.
I did get a little resistance to the idea of running a campaign where every character has a niche defined along either type of social skill of in group affiliation. One player commented that of course the Face is going to be better at social interactions than the gun bunny. To this I introduced two concepts; allies and cohorts.
First, the concept of allies from Savage Worlds. I'm a little tired of the concept that the group is 4-5 characters is the one and only perfectly balanced set of people for "saving the world". So, I'd like the players to rely more on allies and supporters. If you knew that you were going into a big fight in real life and knew that your fate and the fate of many others depended on it, wouldn't you bring as many people with you as you could? We're going to have to play test this to make sure that allies don't slow play down too much but I think it can work and keep specialized social roles plus "gun bunny" cohort members.
Second, I'm thinking of divided troupe play as one way of making the world more diverse and of sharing the lime light. The opening of the campaign that I'm considering asks every person to make a character that is present at a particular noble's home on a particular day. These will be the main characters of the players. Each one will have a special set of social skills and an in group. To allow players to violate the trite commandment, "Don't split the party" I want each main character to have a cohort of other people from their in group that can be played by the other players when that main character is in their unique element.
For example, the 4 main characters at the noble's house might be Ivan (Player #1) a bartender from the local tavern brought in for one night to serve drinks at a party, Giovanni (player #2) the thief in disguise as a server, Father Brunelli (Player #3) from the local church invited because he was newly ordained and is a topic of conversation, and Gregory (player #4) a leader of a local press gang hired for security. That night they all experience things that tie them together and give them a common purpose. But sometimes, it just doesn't make sense to go together. Gregory goes into a riot on the Feast of Fools to rescue a young nobleman who got in over his head while masked. Father Brunelli probably doesn't have any business being in that riot. Fortunately for us, Gregory has his second in command, Stephen (played by player #1) who is skilled with a sword, Brock (played by player #2) a former soldier with a bad attitude, and Ug (played by player #4) who carries a club the size of a small child but isn't the sharpest rock in the gravel pile. Gregory is in charge during the riot but the others, though their main characters are off stage are still part of the action. None of these troupe characters are quite as skilled (not as high level or as many points) as the main characters. Later, when Father Brunelli needs to talk with the bishop, he brings, an acolyte, a deacon, and a servant. Now we've got a fully developed world, with deep relationships, potential for complex interweaving stories, and potential for a variety types of conflict and combat.
So far, the players have liked both the these ideas well enough. Personally, I'm really excited. The main way that I know I'm excited about a campaign is that my mind starts conjuring adventures in it. Once I stepped into the combination of troupe play, those wheels started turning a mile a minute.