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My Group’s Social Contract

Social contracts [1] are a popular topic here, and one that I’ve found readers often associate with TT (which is great!). That’s due in large part to Chris Chinn’s guest post, Social Contracts for RPG Groups [2], which I consider to be the definitive introduction to and overview of the concept of social contracts in gaming terms.

With as often as social contracts come up on TT, I thought it might be interesting to share my group’s social contract. Why? Because like most groups I know, our social contract is largely implicit, fairly informal and has evolved over time.

There was never a time where we all sat down and said, “Okay, let’s come up with our social contract.” And there certainly isn’t an actual physical document involved (signed in blood, one would assume) — that would just be silly.

Instead, we started out with some basics, just like Chris advises. When we first got together (although with a different player mix than we have now), we established:

There were also some other elements that went unspoken, but are really just basic social niceties:

From there, we developed other elements of our social contract over time. Here are a few examples:

The key here is that whether or not you ever say the words “social contract,” your group already has one (or if it’s newly formed, it will shortly) — and if you want it to work, be open about the elements of your informal contract that you care about. Don’t assume everyone is on the same page, and if you think something rocks or sucks, speak up.

I don’t think our social contract is perfect, and like any group of friends we occasionally run into problems — but for the most part, it’s led to three years of fun gaming and good times, and at the end of the day, that’s what social contracts are all about.

Has your group’s social contract evolved in a similarly unstructured way? Have you discussed these kinds of issues explicitly with your players? (And for the guys in my group who read TT, do you agree with my perception of our social contract?)

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#1 Comment By Jennifer Snow On August 26, 2007 @ 6:11 am

My group leaves it up almost exclusively to the GM to create/police the social contract, because I’m also in charge of a.) finding new players, b.) logging the adventure c.) setting a time and keeping everyone abreast of the schedule . . . pretty much everything, in fact.

I don’t really mind this because it’s a brand-new group playing via a method (chatroom) where I’m pretty much the only old hand . . . plus I’m the only person in the group (as far as I can tell) that likes to write up a lot of background out of game.

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On August 26, 2007 @ 8:12 am

My last game used a social contract pretty heavily. We actually sat down on the first session (which was also character creation as a group) and I outlined what I wanted to see out of the game, then asked everyone else what they wanted to see. We wrote it all down, but not as a contract, just so we would have it for later. It hasn’t really been pulled out since. We’ve all kind of payed attention to it in the back of our heads. I’ve also been able to include things that the players wanted to see into the game (like move style Zombies!), and I’ve been able to keep out themes that people didn’t really want to get into with the game.

I think having it written down isn’t a bad idea, so long as it isn’t like robert’s rules of order and strictly adhered to. We sit down to play GAMES after all, and the fun is the most important thing.

#3 Comment By stupidranger On August 26, 2007 @ 8:14 am

Our group has a similarly casually evolved social contract. We started out as a 4-person group, and as we gained members, our contract evolved to accommodate the larger group.

We have recently addressed the issue of how to handle absent players; we started with a vote to decide if we wanted to play with a single player absence. Once we decided that a single absence would be permissible, we had a group discussion on how to handle that absence.

#4 Comment By Yax On August 26, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

Social contract is not really an issue if you’ve played with the same group for a long time.

Even if you don’t discuss this issue out loud, I think the first scene of a campaign should set the tone.

If part of the group didn’t seem to enjoy the first scene or game of a campaign, then you really need to talk!

#5 Comment By Jennifer Snow On August 26, 2007 @ 8:04 pm

On the contrary, social contract can be a *very* serious issue if you’ve played with the same group for a long time. Remember: you are more likely to be killed or injured by someone you know than by a total stranger. Strangers are aware of certain minimum requirements for politeness. After a while your friends can start to take you for granted and not even realize it.

My old face-to-face group fell apart after we’d been playing together for *six years* because of social contract issues that amounted to: whining behind the GM’s back, frequent lateness, and blatant favoritism. I maintain ironclad control of my group’s social contract as a direct result of this.

One thing I think is useful for social contracts would be: always bring problems directly to the person that is CAUSING the problem. Don’t be a whiny insecure passive-aggressive twerp and try to get ANOTHER player to address the GM and hope that HE will address YET ANOTHER PLAYER. This scenario will play out in the following manner: The problem-causing person will ask the GM (or whoever actually had enough spine to finally bring the problem to them) “Well, what should I do to fix it? What sort of behavior would be better?” and the GM *won’t know*. Your intermediary’s intermediary won’t know. All you’ll do is offend the person who has no idea what you *do* want, only that you *don’t* want *something* they’re doing.

I hate being the only one in the group with enough testicular fortitude to face the facts . . . I’m the girl!

#6 Comment By Yax On August 26, 2007 @ 9:07 pm

I understand your point. I must say I have faced the problem of favoritism in a game a long time ago.

It wasn’t pretty.

But it hasn’t happened in years in my group. Maybe I’m just lucky and I have great players. Maybe I’m very unlucky and I have players that are very at whining behind the GM’s back – so good I never notice! 🙂

I guess it’s better to err on the safe side and discuss the game every now and then.

#7 Comment By MountZionRyan On August 27, 2007 @ 8:22 am

Our group has a written social contract. The main reasons for this are 1)we change GMs at regular intervals, 2) we had a hard time filling our 6th seat and wanted very clear expectations to present new recruits.

Also, while a few know each other from previous games, we mostly know each other only from this group. Having an explicit social contract was helpful as we became closer friends.

#8 Comment By ScottM On August 27, 2007 @ 9:24 pm

I have two groups; one established for a few years, the other in the process of formation right now.

My Friday night group [current, established] has not had a “social contract” discussion formally, but we’ve had a lot of discussions that have established it informally. For us:
– yawning isn’t an insult; playing Friday night after a long work week can be s low ebb, but we’ll play on best we can
– I’ll do the phone calling, site creation / maintenance, etc. and host
– The kids are welcome, but must be willing to self entertain
– At the end of a game, we’ll pitch new games, discuss them, and pick the next
– We’re currently into long term games with campaign style development.
– (plus lots more)

The new group is still coalescing. We’re communicating by email and after monthly meetups; we hope to launch by the end of September. Here are the beginnings of our contract…
– Bryan will run the first game, Saga Star Wars
– We’ll alternate hosting between Fresno and Hanford
– This group is looking to play experimental and short series games– trying out all those new and indie games in our closets
– We’ll rotate GMing at the end of a game, probably by pitch
– Group composition at the outset is fixed, but we may revisit the player list later
– We’ll meet twice a month

#9 Comment By Martin On August 30, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

I hadn’t thought about campaign guidelines as being more or less equal to a social contract — and I’ve definitely written those down before. Adding a few basic social elements to something like that seems pretty logical.

That said, I’m surprised so many GMs write out their social contracts — I really didn’t think that would be very common.

Examples of social contracts might actually be an awesome section for the reworked GMing Wiki. Thanks for sharing!