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All Characters Should be Good at Talking to NPCs

MGibster

Legend
You may have read the title and muttered under your breath with indignation, "What about niche protection? What if I want to role play a gruff abrasive type with the personality of a turnip? Who the #%#% are you to tell me what characters should or shouldn't be good at in my games?" First, do you kiss your mother with that potty mouth? Second, before you compose a righteous evisceration of my position, please allow me to explain myself.

In any given story, the protagonist must is usually able to communicate at least at the minimum level necessary in order to provide exposition, characterization, or to move the plot along. And while it's okay to have an RPG light on dialogue -really, what can be a more clear message than an axe to the head- typically someone in the party has to talk to an NPC to get the quest, to talk to others in order to progress, and sometimes players have their character speak with an NPC just for the fun of it.

But you made some good points in the first paragraph. We don't expect every character to be good at swinging a sword or shooting a bow, why should we expect all of them to be good at talking to NPCs? While I do like niche protection as it allows each PC some time to shine, I have found that taking it to the extreme often limits a player's ability to participate in the game. Very often I run into situations where characters who have not invested much into social skills are hesitant to participate in dialogues with NPCs. This can result in a session heavy on socializing and light on combat where many PCs don't really do much of anything.

When I say characters should be good at talking to NPCs I don't mean they should all be equal. By all means, the player who invests heavily into their character's social skills should have a more persuasive character than the player who invests heavily elsewhere. But they should all be able to move the plot along. So what are some ways you encourage players to fully participate in the game even if they're not social butterflies?
 

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dragoner

Dying in Chargen
So what are some ways you encourage players to fully participate in the game even if they're not social butterflies?
I give everyone a turn at the spotlight, and if they turn it down, such as looking to see what another character is going to say, I respect that and do not try to force them out of their comfort zone. However, I still try to figure out a way to engage each player with the game, sometimes it just takes a while for them to work the social clutch.
 

Bayushi_seikuro

Adventurer
I think it is a balance issue each GM/DM/whatever needs to handle at their own table.

I think people who are not comfortable roleplaying should be given every opportunity to advance the story as the next person, but you have to be careful that you're not creating a seperate standard where 'Well, I go a little easier on what it takes to pass social situations with Joe because he's not comfortable roleplaying'. If you create a situation where either extreme - minimum roleplaying and then a dice roll, or in-depth roleplay and NO skill roll - works, then you will find players taking either of those approachs and running with it.
 

My overall concern is that everyone should have a chance in the spotlight, and should be able to contribute to a scene. But in my experience, that doesn't mean that everyone has to be able to competently talk to NPCs.

As an example. I have a high level Pathfinder Investigator who is phenomenal at discovering details about someone -- feats to read biographical details, legendary perception -- the works. But he is terrible at talking to people. If he tries, another party member will step in, apologize, and take over. But he contributes to scenes by feeding info to others, by searching out for info and the like.

Similarly in the FATE games I run, there are many opportunities for those without "talky" skills to find out aspects, create advantages and the like, even in heavily social scenes.

So just as I try to make sure that everyone has something they can do in a melee fight (D&D), shoot-out (Deadlands), starship battle (most sci-fi), I make sure at creation time that people can do something in a social situation -- but it doesn't have to be "talk"
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'd love to see flipping the concept of combat and roleplay in a completely new game. D&D makes sure everyone is good at combat, and has their own niche in it that comes up most if not all combats. That's great for a tactical game. For a roleplaying game I'd love to see everyone is good at interacting, each with their own niche that still comes up most combats - for example, not that someone is intimidating, because that's an action and may not come up, but they have presence, which is foundational in a wide array of approaches that would work out to apply to most roleplaying situations - even if in this one having someone who is earnest or vulnerable might work out better, just like different niches in combat are better or worse based on the scene.

And for combat, it's fine if we just have a few that are good at combat, make it not a very long process mechanically. Much like Leverage started with a single Hitter.
 

MGibster

Legend
I think people who are not comfortable roleplaying should be given every opportunity to advance the story as the next person, but you have to be careful that you're not creating a seperate standard where 'Well, I go a little easier on what it takes to pass social situations with Joe because he's not comfortable roleplaying'.
I find it best to ask a player what they're trying to accomplish and go from there. If Bob isn't as smooth a talker as Susan I don't want to reward the latter and penalize the former. I'm just happy Bob is participating.
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
I'd love to see flipping the concept of combat and roleplay in a completely new game. D&D makes sure everyone is good at combat, and has their own niche in it that comes up most if not all combats. That's great for a tactical game. For a roleplaying game I'd love to see everyone is good at interacting, each with their own niche that still comes up most combats - for example, not that someone is intimidating, because that's an action and may not come up, but they have presence, which is foundational in a wide array of approaches that would work out to apply to most roleplaying situations - even if in this one having someone who is earnest or vulnerable might work out better, just like different niches in combat are better or worse based on the scene.

And for combat, it's fine if we just have a few that are good at combat, make it not a very long process mechanically. Much like Leverage started with a single Hitter.

I think the thing is it's hard to make a social interaction system that has the tactical complexity of combat in most RPG's--a lot of people get into the min-maxing aspect of figuring out how best to deploy feats and spells and the like. There have been movements toward this in most systems, but I think there's another problem.

If you did have a complex social tactical system (Pelgrane's Dying Earth kind of tries to do this with all the resisted social rolls) it wouldn't be believable and would feel artificial, because the best way to simulate social interaction is to roleplay. That's not the case with combat--if a real fight breaks out at your table, you've gone horribly wrong.
 

I think the thing is it's hard to make a social interaction system that has the tactical complexity of combat in most RPG's--a lot of people get into the min-maxing aspect of figuring out how best to deploy feats and spells and the like. There have been movements toward this in most systems, but I think there's another problem.

If you did have a complex social tactical system (Pelgrane's Dying Earth kind of tries to do this with all the resisted social rolls) it wouldn't be believable and would feel artificial, because the best way to simulate social interaction is to roleplay. That's not the case with combat--if a real fight breaks out at your table, you've gone horribly wrong.
I wonder if one solution could be to add powers similar to what you find in Background abilities. For example, the soldier background gives you:

Feature: Military Rank
You have a military rank from your career as a soldier. Soldiers loyal to your former military organization still recognize your authority and influence, and they defer to you if they are of a lower rank. You can invoke your rank to exert influence over other soldiers and requisition simple equipment or horses for temporary use. You can also usually gain access to friendly military encampments and fortresses where your rank is recognized

I love this because it doesn't require any Charisma rolls... It just happens!

It would be neat if different classes gave more social powers like that...

"As a Wizard, your reputation as a master of the arcane precedes you into town. When you use a cantrip as part of a social interaction, common people will always react with fear or wonderment and grant your character's request, though doing so can easily raise superstition..."
 

Yora

Hero
Persuasion rolls and diplomacy checks or anything of that kind are for selling NPCs on terrible proposals or lies. If a player makes reasonable arguments that would be in an NPCs best interest to follow up on, then I will use my role as GM to make that NPC agree with the player. No kind of roll is necessary.
It's only when an NPC does not want to do what the players want, or their arguments seem highly doubtful, that players may make a roll on the relevant ability to maybe be able to convince the NPC otherwise.
 


MGibster

Legend
"As a Wizard, your reputation as a master of the arcane precedes you into town. When you use a cantrip as part of a social interaction, common people will always react with fear or wonderment and grant your character's request, though doing so can easily raise superstition..."
I've given some thought to something similar. Let's take a character with a high level of firearms skill in the modern era. To maintain that high level of skill, he's got to put in some regular time at the gun range to keep in practice. He's probably going to know people from the range and they're going to know him.
 


Every player should be allowed to talk to the NPCs. Roleplaying is for everyone!

Only the player designated by the group to "move the needle" however, should actually be rolling the dice for a game effect.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So... here's a thing.

There's "good at talking to NPCs" and there's "good at manipulating NPCs". These are not the same thing.

I've had a string recently of characters with Charisma as their dump stat. They can carry on a normal conversation just fine. But don't ask them to get an NPC to go someplace they don't want to go.

One technique that can work pretty well to allow more flexibility in NPC relations is to remember that Persuasion and Deception are not welded to Charisma. One can persuade with empathic ability (Wisdom) or just by having an incredibly well-formed argument (Intelligence). Charisma is a default, but not the end-all, be-all of interpersonal interaction.

I mean, you let characters attack with Dexterity builds, right? Why not talk with another mental stat?
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
This is in general, but the discussion is extremely D&D centric. The issues you're discussing exist in varying degrees (up to and including "not at all") in other games systems. The issue here, for D&D, is the GM, pure and simple. This is because the social interaction system in D&D is "ask your GM," or "GM decides what happens." So, if you find that characters are being punished for talking to NPCs in a D&D game because they do not have heavy investment into social skills, the issue is the GM. The solution set is as varied as the GMs are.

Other systems have robust social resolution systems. Forged in the Dark games are good at this, as is FATE, Cortex+, Burning Wheel, and Powered by the Apocalypse games. These are just the ones I'm reasonably familiar with, it's not exhaustive. These don't rely on "GM decides" approaches, but rather have mechanics that have teeth and bind everyone at the table.

This isn't to say that the 5e "GM says" approach is at all bad. I very much enjoy 5e, and this is part and parcel of it. I'm pointing this out because questions like the OP seem to ignore the overwhelming impact the GM has in how these kinds of systems (and there are a number that rely on GM decision making as a primary resolution mechanic) work.

Also, 5e has a rather reasonably useful description of how to engage with NPCs in the DMG -- using BIFTs and the NPC attitude. This is a useful system - if you aren't using it, I recommend giving it a try.
 


For an example of how a game that's moderately rules-heavy handles this, Trinity Continuum specifically allows you to use normally non-social skills with a social attribute in order to do social stuff associated with that skill. Impressing gym-bunnies could be Athletics + Presence, and convincing an investor to fund your inventions could be Science + Manipulation. There are also more dedicated social skills, which would be more broadly applicable to social situations, but everyone can be decent at talking about the stuff they know.

For an example of a game that veers more into rules-heavy territory, look at the latest version of the Swedish game Eon (well, you'd have to read Swedish I suppose). The game solves this with a rather open-ended system of Challenges and Contests (which use similar mechanics, except Challenges are against the environment/fixed difficulties and Contests are against other people). The basic idea is that you roll three times for the thing you're doing, ideally using three different skills (there's a very strong penalty if you re-use a skill), and see how well you did in aggregate. In most cases, one of the rolls in the Challenge is fixed, but the other two can be more flexible depending on the situation and how you describe your approach to it. So if you're trying to get information out of a merchant, you will probably be required to roll Persuade somewhere along the line, but you might also roll Trade to cover knowing what sort of stuff a merchant likes to talk about, and Drinking to get them drunk enough to talk without you yourself becoming drunk. The end effect is that even if your character isn't very good at Persuade, they can cover for that with other skills. This way of dealing with things does require a large skill list, which Eon has in spades.
 

Talking = stupid niche

Talking to mercenaries and soldiers
Taking to aristocrats and high society
Talking to street scum and criminals
Talking to farmers and country people

Better niches.

But the other things is, don't put all the talking stuff on top of one ability score, or underlying method of specialisation. There's no point splitting things up into seperate skills or specialisations if one person is still best placed to collect them all. This actually ends up strengthening the 'face' role by making it expensive. If you have one skill, eg "socialise", that is easy to invest in, then more players will pick it up.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Very often I run into situations where characters who have not invested much into social skills are hesitant to participate in dialogues with NPCs.

This has never happened to me.

Are you overly relying on dice rolls to resolve social interactions? If you ask for skill checks too much, then obviously your players learn that they should not try to do anything that they have low scores at, and just let better characters do it. It's the old rollplaying vs roleplaying gamestyle decision.

I follow the principle that dice rolls are there for when the DM doesn't want to decide the outcome. I can see that the majority of DMs instead think that almost everything should be decided by the dice, maybe because they have a very simulationist approach i.e. the dice simulates the statistics of inherent randomess of any action.

Take the very iconic situation of having to enter a castle without permission. Typical options (not counting magic) include:

a) convincing the guards to let you in
b) sneaking into without being seen
c) hiding inside something that will be taken in
d) disguise as someone who has permission
e) climb the walls

If your approach is, whatever option the PCs choose, always have the roll the dice to see if they can make it, then obviously this disencourage PCs to even try something they have low scores at, even moreso if it carries a penalty. So if the party chooses a) i.e. the social option, and they know you're going to make them roll charisma checks, the players whose PC have low charisma might decide to just go grab a sandwich while the others take care of it.

A complete opposite approach (fully narrative) might be: the DM decides which is the winning option, and it's an automatic success when you guess it right, otherwise it's an automatic failure. Most probably this doesn't work well with nearly every D&D player, because D&D does have plenty of stats and mechanics, which are expected to be used eventually.

But why not trying to find a good mix of the two approaches? Choosing option a) can be handled so that, if the players come up with something brilliant to tell the guards, they don't need to roll at all -> automatic success. If they only come up with the usual staple ideas, then sure make them roll, or even decide an automatic failure. The game never says you must request ability checks. If you always leave a possibility open for winning without rolling, players are more likely to stay engaged in hope of having the right idea at the right time. And that can also be applied to options b) - e) as well!
 

CubicsRube

Adventurer
Supporter
I generally avoid social rolls if the players make a good point unless they request to make the roll.

In Shadow of the Demon Lord they have INT and WIL stats (no CHA) and I choose based on if they are using emotions or rational arguments to try and decieve, persude or otherwise manipulate an NPC.

I would much prefer in D&D more nuanced skills such as "convince" (using logic and INT) , inspire (using WIS) and sway (using CHA) or similar things, so you can choose the kind of social character you want to be.

i could talk about this quite a lot, but in the real world there are many CEOs, leaders and motivational types that have their own styles, techniques and niches. It's extremely reductive to have one skill called "persuade".
 

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