Continued thoughts from last night, when I asked the G+ RPG folks for recommendations on games that effectively manage social space / interactions the same way that our D&D-like games map physical "dungeon" spaces
. I am not a game designer --- so please, brighter internet minds, point out my missteps and errors.
A 10' x 10' corridor, running north and south. Contrary to what we've were told in the 3.x DMG this doesn't actually limit player choice:
Player 1: Screw your railroad. I sit down on the floor.
Player 2: I stab my friend who is sitting on the floor. Does that count as prone?
Player 3: I take out my quill and design a game that doesn't suck.
Creative players could go on forever, getting nowhere, just like in any urban / social adventure. What dungeons DO make apparent are choices that yield results relevant to the adventure. Sometimes those choices are obvious (north or south) and sometimes they are hidden (the secret door concealed in the ceiling).
Dungeons don't invest time in null choices. ("The corridor runs north to south? I try walking east.") That's left to the judge to adjudicate with common sense. ("You walk into a wall.") Same too, with PC-introduced relevant choices ("I use pass wall to open a passage to the room just west of us."); the judge is expected to be able generate an in-world response on the fly.
A social adventure could be mapped the same way. Judges don't need to know all the null choices, they just need to see the choices that yield relevant results. PCs can banter all night with the attractive, sexually-ambiguous, masked noble, and that's a legit choice, but --- like sitting down and writing graffiti on the dungeon wall --- it's not a choice that's relevant to the adventure. ("Your patroness, the Seer of Inculii will be assassinated on the full-moon. If you want her continued support do something about it.")
Combined with a timeline that tracks antagonist NPC actions, and I think you might have a technique for creating a dynamic social adventure that a judge could easily grok, while allowing for meaningful players decisions. Per +Zak Smith
's suggestion, a player handout would show images of everyone at the party; the judge's social map would trace lines between the NPCs with relevant information. You might have different maps as the timeline progressed and additional NPCs were sucked into whatever nefarious plot was in the offing, etc.
Having typed this, it seems obvious, but maybe it can help another judge out there. I need to try running it, to see if it actually helps at the table.