Several years ago, there was a debate about social combat in the gaming community. It stemmed from something that happened during a convention game where one PC attempted to use the a social skill roll to convince another PC to do something. If I recall correctly, the GM didn’t allow it because social skills shouldn’t be affect player characters.
I’m of two minds on this matter. The first I can sum up pretty easily.
First, a player only controls their character in the game world and it isn’t right to have that control taken away from them.
Second, I don’t see how using social skills to control another character’s actions is any different than using combat skills, or any other skill for that matter. Game mechanics represent how characters interact with the setting. The mechanics also allow players to have characters that are different than themselves. The balding, pudgy, middle-aged guy can play a well-muscled warrior even though he’s never lifted anything heavier than his messenger bag (hey, those things can get pretty heavy). Or the high school student can play a Ph. D. in anthropology.
So if the mechanics support being stronger or smarter or better educated than we are in real life then they also allow us to be more persuasive. And the mechanics do…with non-player characters.
When it comes to social skill use between two player characters, I think of physical combat. Combat is another skill use where the outcome impacts the characters, and not always in the way they want. If two player characters fight in a game, there is a clear understanding of where things could lead. It’s understood that a character could be killed or taken out of the game in some other way. The end result is that one character will end up controlling the future of the other character in the game.
Social skills do the same thing, mechanically: control another characters actions.
There are games where social skills are made to affect player characters. There are a number of games Powered by the Apocalypse that do this with the consent of the character that is affected. When a player character uses a social skill (or move) on another player character, an experience point is offered as incentive to the affected player which they get if they allow the result to occur. The affected player can decline the experience point and have their character act however they want or accept the point and go along with the result.
So the key to the use of social skills between player characters may be buy-in and incentive. Games that use tokens or bennies, like FATE or Savage Worlds, may be able to do something similar. Whatever system, I think consent at the table is a must.