Hey you! It's gosh darn Whatever wedensday! And you know what that means don't you? No! You don't it could be anything. What? You read the title? Crap.
I'm gonna scream to you about campaign social links. So what is that? 1.) It's a mechanic ripped from my favourite game series and thrown into any tabletop roleplaying game. 2.) It's a system for organizing downtime. And 3.) It's a way to reward and encourage roleplaying in your game, while giving it a bit of mechanical crunch.
Enough beating around the bush, let's get to how it works: Simply put, you divide up a section of downtime, free time, or non adventuring time and allow each player to decide on what to do with that time, with a focus on spending time roleplaying with eachother or NPC's. And then provide mechanical rewards based on those actions, typically with a specific arc in mind.
Let's see how it plays out: The crew of the Lightningbug, an agile and beat up midsize space cruiser, have docked at a familiar space station for repairs. It should be two days before the ship is fixed. So the GM decides each party member gets 1 block of time. Captain Ray Spaceblaster decides he's going to slip into the local watering hole, Hailey's comet, and spend some time pitching woo at the complex and gorgeous smuggler Alerina Le'grand. The last time they spent together Alerina had offloaded a stolen empire laserpistol onto Ray, she'd insisted he was doing a favour by taking it. This time she notices that he's held onto it all these months, even though it's finicky and doesn't shoot right, she's so flattered she decides to help him out. The two spend a romantic evening firing laser blasts at empty cans in the cargo bay, permanently improving Ray's skill with laserpistols. Meanwhile the ships's mechanic Morgan Ficksit decides she doesn't want her baby, the ship, to be left entirely in the station manager's hands. She decides to spend her block of time helping with repairs. In the process she meets the distinguished welder Alex Ironhull and the two start a promising friendship when Alex gives the ship a plasma resistant plating free of charge as thanks for a truly stimulating conversation about Zero point energy conductors. Meanwhile security chief Galthrax Goldax calls home to their hive to make sure that all 37 children and 8 spouses are alive and well and well fed, and maybe to transfer a few credits from the latest job to make sure little Glorban get's that surgery they need. Seeing their family strengthens Galthrax's resolve, they know that no matter what they have to make it home alive, earning a permanent bonus to resist slipping through death's door.
Generally speaking the GM lays out ahead of time an arc and progression for all the major interesting characters that can be hung out with and picks a reward for each time. Often this might be 10 scenes and 10 benefits, but sometimes more or fewer is appropriate. These are typically small bonuses that don't do much to shift the balance of power, but still enough that when it comes into play the player is reminded of their connections.
Depending on the length of the game it might also be suitable to not provide a benefit each time. For example if Ray Spaceblaster had sold that laserpistol, or even just wound up saying something particularly uncharming he might make it only halfway through that step along Alerina's social link, earning some quality time at the bar, but not making it out to the cargo bay for some practice. You can typically break each step towards another benefit into 2 halves. One half is given just for spending some time, and the other by either good roleplaying, such as giving a thoughtful gift, saying the right things, or having done something personally meaningful to that character since last time. Or for very long games you could break each step into third's or quarters, but usually you'd be better off adding more different social links than making each one require more investment.
You can also feel free to allow players to spend their blocks of time together, playing off each other, and even assign them bonuses for doing so just like any other social link. After all the connection between players is perhaps the most important one in your whole game! It only makes sense to grow and nurture that bond. Just don't fall into the trap of giving out social link benefits anytime the party hangs out, make it clear these are only for during blocks of time that could be used to interact with other npc's.
Of course sometimes a player might want to do something else. In games with crafting mechanics they might want to spend some time crafting, or working out, or practicing their skills. This is fine too, and they should still receive some kind of reward or benefit, but typically it shouldn't be as rewarding as the benefits for spending time with people, and if you take the above advice about splitting each step into halves then spending time alone should be less than half as beneficial as spending it with someone else. The whole point is to encourage roleplaying after all.
It's important to make clear that this system is designed for specifically allocating benefits and setting aside time for roleplaying, it's not meant to replace little interactions. Ray blowing Alerina a kiss across a crowded room so she can mime shooting it down is still absolutely good roleplaying, it just doesn't give an on the spot bonus. Likewise it's important to keep in mind how much session time you want to devote to this system. If you decide to set aside 4 "Blocks" of time, and you have 5 players, that is 20 scenes of roleplaying and not adventuring, which might be fine for your game, but might not. You could even adopt a pattern of doing one entire session of downtime blocks between each bigger adventure, but always bear in mind what your group wants.
Hopefully this fun little tip has helped you to set aside a little time and a few benefits to encourage your players to get personally involved with all the amazing npc's that occupy your game.