I love reading GURPS books, they are always so full of ideas that I cannot help but be inspired. GURPS Social Engineering is no exception. It clocks in at 88 pages, but there is a lot of information packed in there. It’s a surprisingly weighty pdf, but the investiture of time in reading it is well worth it.
Primarily, GURPS Social Engineering is a rules book. It expands greatly on the fairly static rules for rank, social status, and NPC reaction found in the Baic Set. The book does more than simply tweaking these systems: it actually opens them up to a level to be the focus of a campaign. One can have a social campaign using these rules, and have the focus of said campaign be mechanically supported fairly well.
One interesting thing about the way the rules are written is the fact that using these rules to run a campaign would not fundamentally change the GURPS engine, but change the focus of those rules. What I mean is that running a social-only campaign using this book would not allow one to experience social “combat” in the spirit of Fate, but it would allow for social conflict on any scale from high school bickering to a coup d’etat in an inter-stellar empire. The social conflict possible using the rules in GURPS Social Engineering is mostly about influence and nuance…it is not a fundamental change to how GURPS works.
This is a feature, not a bug. As I’ve said before, GURPS is a modular game. You want to take the parts that work to help build the game you want. In many ways it’s a toolkit of sub-systems that allow one to build a campaign framework that works well enough to emulate the genre or style your campaign will take. GURPS Social Engineering makes this eminently more plausible, by adding the rules for a campaign that doesn’t focus on strictly physical conflict.
There are a few areas where GURPS Social Engineering really shines in the rules department. The expanded rules for Rank and Social Status are very in depth, and can build one hell of a catty society. In the first chapter, High School is mentioned as a setting, I can see class conscious “mean girls” being a great Enemy Organization. Similarly, the new reaction tables are awesome. There is a reaction table for a lot of different situations where a group of PCs would want something from NPCs: Hiring, Requesting Aid, Commercial Transactions, and Confrontation with Authority are some examples.
I really like this book, as it examines a lot of social situations in which PCs can interact. I think my favorite section is the one where the author discusses taunting and intimidation. The final chapter of GURPS Social Engineering is about the line where social conflict becomes physical conflict. It’s an extremely well done look at how to provoke violence in NPCs using the rules in GURPS. There is a section on inciting a riot as well as being intimidated and or attacked by one!
The book closes with a small nod to the debate about social rules existing in RPGs at all. There are many who feel that roleplaying should be more than sufficient for all social situations in a game. I happen to agree with this in a game where social interactions or political maneuvering is not part of the game. I like any game I’m playing to support what I’m doing in it mechanically. I don’t want to play a game that works in spite of the system I’m using, and with GURPS Social Engineering , I’m now equipped to run a political game using GURPS. I’m always happy when I can do more things with GURPS.