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All Characters Should be Good at Talking to NPCs

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.

That is how I do it, too.

I have NPCs react to PCs in the way that I think they would, given the personality of the NPC, the situation, and what the PC says. I reserve rolls for cases where the NPC would not react in the way the player wants them to, but the player really wants to try to push things. Anyone can try to reason with an NPC, barter, or even tell a convincing lie. Rolls come in when those things don't work on the NPC, and the player specifically wants to try to be more persuasive.
 
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Yora

Hero
In general, rolling dice is for situation when an action could plausibly fail or succeed, and the GM does not know which one it should be or does not want the player to feel that it was an arbitrary choice to influence the story.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I also tend to ask for rolls for manipulation type actions declarations and rely on actual roleplaying for the rest. In the case of D&D something else I do is for downtime stuff, like gathering rumors, or things like that, I'll allow any skill to be used if it applies to the group in question. If you want to mix and mingle with the hostlers, for example, I'd let you roll animal handling. I know that sounds odd, but I've always characterized it as 'talking shop', which is a very real thing. That means that every character is, at the very least, capable of mixing with NPCs who have shared skills and interests. I also like that it puts a little more emphasis sometimes on less-rolled skills and background choices.
 

Mallus

Legend
Here's what I did when running 3.5e. I never called for social skill checks (Bluff/Diplomacy/Intimidate). We talked things out in-character. But at any time a player could call for a social skill check, and I would abide by the results.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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 dunno. Maybe everyone else is depending too much on die rolls to resolve bloodily violent situations?
 


Campbell

Legend
What do you mean? Combat is obviously different, always has been in D&D.

It's not all that obvious to me. What makes the physical dimension worthy of simulation/representation, but not the psychological/neurological? I get that's how traditional games have generally treated things, but that does not mean it's ever made much sense. Especially if you have any measure of experience with athletics and know how much neurological and psychological factors play affect athletic performance.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
What do you mean? Combat is obviously different, always has been in D&D.

This is where we note that this thread is ot in the D&D forum. We are expected and invited to consider other things...

So, combat has always been different in D&D. That's a matter of tradition, as D&D has its roots in games that have no social interaction to speak of.

Other games have proven that it doesn't have to be different, and so that opens the question of why we continue to have it be different in D&D....
 

Voadam

Legend
You can LARP out a physically violent situation instead of using abstract dice game mechanics the same way you can first person roleplay a social interaction with an NPC instead of using abstract dice game mechanics. For a tabletop game it is not feasible to physically resolve violent situations or physical actions the same way it would be for a LARP while first person roleplaying would be feasible. So there is an obvious difference there.

You could also narratively abstract out both more than a dice game mechanic "OK that will work. You intimidate your prisoner to elicit the bandit gang's route and then successfully ambush them at the narrow pass they go through, one problem down."

When to use mechanics or not and what type of mechanics is partly a matter of taste and convenience and choice about focus and play experience.
 

MGibster

Legend
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.
It's certainly possible but I don't think that's the root cause as I've seen them behave the same way when other people are DMing. And it isn't all my players at all times. One player had a very memorable character who was terrible an interacting with people but he was overconfident and believed he could do anything. That character was a lot of fun. In recent years I've tried to limit the number of dice rolling in my games to those situations where the results might be interesting. If a character is going to be able to batter down a door eventually I don't make them roll I just say they batter it down after a few rounds. But at times I have caught myself thinking, "Why did I make the player roll?" in situations where the result didn't really matter.

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.
I do this at times. If I have an NPC motivated by money then offering him a bribe is almost certain to succeed with no roll necessary. In a game set in the 1930s, I had a PC police detective try to intimidate a mob capo by threatening to arrest him. I flat out told the PC that this wasn't going to work, but, as an experienced detective, you know this won't work so feel free to try another tact.

My personal feeling is that niche protection in RPGs is highly overrated. Most characters should have strengths and weaknesses, but I find it better to have much more well rounded characters who are good at multiple things instead of one specific thing they demand the spotlight in.
I'm in agreement with you. I like niche protection insofar as it provides a PC with an opportunity to shine on occasion. But it shouldn't be a straight jacket. You might have one character playing a wheel man but that doesn't mean you can't have other characters who are decent at driving a vehicle.
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
My personal feeling is that niche protection in RPGs is highly overrated. Most characters should have strengths and weaknesses, but I find it better to have much more well rounded characters who are good at multiple things instead of one specific thing they demand the spotlight in.

Agreed, and also having niche overlaps can be exciting--two stealthy types breaking in somewhere is arguably more interesting than yet another solo excursion, and a pair of social dynamos can set up some fun good-cop-bad-cop or social shell game interactions. Plus those overlaps can help steer the entire campaign in novel directions. If a party has lots of social skills/talents/etc. then maybe the whole game veers more into investigation and intrigue than something combat-heavy. Niche protection seems more important when the campaign is more scripted and rigid, like when the GM is running only published stuff, and resists reworking that material on the fly or tossing it out completely.

In other words, I think niche protection is only a thing when the GM is...not that great.
 

MGibster

Legend
It's not all that obvious to me. What makes the physical dimension worthy of simulation/representation, but not the psychological/neurological? I get that's how traditional games have generally treated things, but that does not mean it's ever made much sense. Especially if you have any measure of experience with athletics and know how much neurological and psychological factors play affect athletic performance.
I think it's because social interactions are far more complicated than combat. In most games, it doesn't matter how good I am at shooting, swinging a sword, or swimming it only matters what's on my character sheet. With social skills, how effective the player is at communicating can often make a significant difference. As a DM, I've committed the cardinal sin by letting how good the player is at communicating help or hinder what they were trying to accomplish in the game. These days I try to do my best to remember to say, "What are you trying to accomplish?" in a nice and friendly way.
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
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.
I know this isn't what you were suggesting, but I like the idea of having every PC be pretty good at interacting with NPCs, unless there's something about their build that makes them specifically very good or very bad at it. But the baseline would be high, in other words.

What that actually means really depends on the system, though. In 5e, for example, having your social skills be reflected entirely by CHA seems rough, since suddenly the people who need a high CHA for other optimizations just happen to be great at interacting, and everyone else can go to hell. And relying too much on one or two social skills, in a game that makes skill acquisition pretty tough, isn't great either. But plenty of other systems have more related options, like disadvantages or qualities that could signal that someone is particularly bad at interacting with certain people, or traits that signal the opposite.

So while I really like what you're proposing, I think the way it actually plays out will vary in a big way, depending on the rules that are available.
 

MGibster

Legend
I know this isn't what you were suggesting, but I like the idea of having every PC be pretty good at interacting with NPCs, unless there's something about their build that makes them specifically very good or very bad at it. But the baseline would be high, in other words.
That's not a bad idea. If I'm playing Cyberpunk Red, if my character is a nomad I can probably fit in with the nomad gangs like the Aldecaldos and Snake Nation a lot better than the corporate character.

What that actually means really depends on the system, though. In 5e, for example, having your social skills be reflected entirely by CHA seems rough, since suddenly the people who need a high CHA for other optimizations just happen to be great at interacting, and everyone else can go to hell.
D&D 5E has a problem with Charisma being such a good stat. It's good for spell casting/combat and it's good for interacting with other people.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
It's certainly possible but I don't think that's the root cause as I've seen them behave the same way when other people are DMing. And it isn't all my players at all times. One player had a very memorable character who was terrible an interacting with people but he was overconfident and believed he could do anything. That character was a lot of fun. In recent years I've tried to limit the number of dice rolling in my games to those situations where the results might be interesting. If a character is going to be able to batter down a door eventually I don't make them roll I just say they batter it down after a few rounds. But at times I have caught myself thinking, "Why did I make the player roll?" in situations where the result didn't really matter.
I think some of it may come from bad habits developed in other games they've played. Did a GM require them to roll for everything and they've brought that style over to the game in question?

Or is it possible they're just trying to be efficient and roll it ahead of the GM asking for it?
I had that happen a lot in online play by post games. In a situation like that, it feels like you're being efficient by including a roll so that you don't have to go through the overhead of having the GM see the post, read the post, respond to the post asking for a roll, for you to see the response, respond with a roll, wait for the GM to see the post, and then adjudicate it. But it still ends up being annoying as your players end up attaching a diplomacy/persuasion roll every time they open their yaps to an NPC. I had to press players of a play by post game I was running to stop doing that.

With either case, I do recommend stepping back from needing any rolls for interaction until it's necessary and some point of question comes up.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think it's because social interactions are far more complicated than combat. In most games, it doesn't matter how good I am at shooting, swinging a sword, or swimming it only matters what's on my character sheet. With social skills, how effective the player is at communicating can often make a significant difference. As a DM, I've committed the cardinal sin by letting how good the player is at communicating help or hinder what they were trying to accomplish in the game. These days I try to do my best to remember to say, "What are you trying to accomplish?" in a nice and friendly way.
I don't think social interactions are more complicated than combat. This looks like an ingrained assumption due to being very familiar and comfortable with the abstractions inherent is combat engines (5e in particular). However, even if you're going to assume this, then why would a game have less support for a more complicated interaction than it does for a less complicated one? This argument leans towards just saying that social interactions are too hard to even try to model, so the best methods are ones that have no structure or teeth. This, of course, is ignoring that there is still a game mechanic that is defining social interactions, and it has teeth -- the GM decides. You've ported any responsibility for modeling social interactions to having one person imagine what's possible and preferable.

I think this is a large impediment to a number of these conversations -- there's a set of assumptions attached to play due to long experience and received wisdom of D&D. These manifest often in statements like the above -- that the multiple levels of a combat, even between just two people without magic, is somehow less complicated than a negotiation or haggling interaction. I can't say which may or may not be more complicated, because both are hideously so, but I think that they're pretty close -- especially for RPG purposes.

As I said in a different thread (I think), the mechanics of game really need to be evaluated in the light of what you're actually asking them to do. And this posing of the question is where I think that things go off the rails in games that don't really lock it down clearly. In 5e, for instance, how you make a check is straightforward, but what question a check answers is not at all. The scope of questions posed to the 5e mechanics from all the different GMs is very broad and often not even thought about. The question posed is very complex, because it not only deals with what action is being attempted, but also what the consequences or rewards are. These are, quite often, skipped until after the check, because 5e defaults back to GM decides and the GM is really using the check not as a resolution mechanic but a decision aid. This is why you'll often see things like giving a better resolution on a very high roll (or 20) and a very bad outcome on a very low roll (or a 1).

There's nothing wrong with this, but if this is your approach, it's very hard to accept/see/grasp what actual constraints this puts on play -- and it does constrain play. It creates an opaque, black-box decision process that players have to try to understand experimentally -- what action will the GM allow here. This can be quite a fun experience, mind, but the constraints of play are still there as players may refrain from preferred action declarations because they know/worry that the GM is or will be adverse to such things.

The clearer constraints by a more defined system appear like they provide a smaller play space to those that are unfamiliar with such constraints because they obviously reduce how their used to playing. However, it's a case of close one door open another, because while the clearer constraints often directly restricts familiar play, it also allows players to engage in ways they cannot or usually do not in other approaches. It's not that the mechanics actually create more constraints on play, but rather just different constraints, while also removing constraints on different approaches. For example, when I play Blades in the Dark, my approach to how I play my character is very different from when I play 5e, and this is directly due to how the game mechanics allow me to engage. I face both different constraints on play and different freedoms, but I'd not say that one has more of either than the other. They're just different.
 

Puddles

Explorer
Speaking for 5e, I always loved the idea of threatening someone could be an Intimidation (Strength) check. I think if you came up with a list of social skill checks that each keyed off a different ability score apart from Charisma, it could be a great way to make sure every class has a role in the social side. Something like:

Intimidation (Strength)
Explanation (Intelligence)
Give Council (Wisdom)

Dexterity and Constitution are hard though... any ideas?
 

Campbell

Legend
I think removing the roll does not really help matters that much. Shouldn't GMs be mindful of character skills and ability scores even when no dice are rolled? I mean those are things that should correspond to fictional positioning the GM should be mindful of.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
I think removing the roll does not really help matters that much. Shouldn't GMs be mindful of character skills and ability scores even when no dice are rolled? I mean those are things that should correspond to fictional positioning the GM should be mindful of.
It's not a question of removing the roll entirely, as I see it, just not requiring so many rolls that aren't really consequential.
 

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?
I'll take ya one further: every single RPG character should be able to contribute meaningfully to every aspect of the game. In the terms of D&D and the "three pillars," that means that every character should be able to provide something when talking with NPCs, when exploring in the dungeon or the wilderness, and within a combat encounter.

A broader perspective: all RPG characters should be able to participate in all scenes. The alternative creates bad gameplay and usually results in players "checking out" during certain gameplay elements because they feel useless or as though they will hinder the party.
 

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