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All Characters Should be Good at Talking to NPCs

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
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.

I swear this isn't a trap, but, in general, how do you think the mechanics of that would work?

Some (I'd say very few) systems account for this in an explicit way--2d20 encourages you to contribute to someone else's skill rolls, either with a similar skill or something totally different but complimentary in the situation (like rolling Command to help coordinate). Other games have more rigid teamwork-based mechanics. But what about in something like 5e?
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I swear this isn't a trap, but, in general, how do you think the mechanics of that would work?

Some (I'd say very few) systems account for this in an explicit way--2d20 encourages you to contribute to someone else's skill rolls, either with a similar skill or something totally different but complimentary in the situation (like rolling Command to help coordinate). Other games have more rigid teamwork-based mechanics. But what about in something like 5e?
It's pretty easy, actually. You build a resolution system that is fixed at a certain success point that isn't punishing, and then award investment with either small bonuses, to encourage use of that approach, and/or additional riders to success/mitigations to failure. This means that most characters have about the same chance to do a thing, but those that have focused on it see either more use from a success or less fallout from a failure, or both. Kind of like how combat in 5e works -- everyone's got a pretty decent chance (unless they've intentionally sunk their build to be terrible, and, even then, it's not bad) to contribute however, but class abilities and such make some actions have more impact even in the realm where everyone can contribute.
 

Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
It's pretty easy, actually. You build a resolution system that is fixed at a certain success point that isn't punishing, and then award investment with either small bonuses, to encourage use of that approach, and/or additional riders to success/mitigations to failure. This means that most characters have about the same chance to do a thing, but those that have focused on it see either more use from a success or less fallout from a failure, or both. Kind of like how combat in 5e works -- everyone's got a pretty decent chance (unless they've intentionally sunk their build to be terrible, and, even then, it's not bad) to contribute however, but class abilities and such make some actions have more impact even in the realm where everyone can contribute.
This sounds right on the money. But just to clarify, for something like 5e you're talking about fully grafting on some homebrew mechanics, right?

I'm mostly asking out of curiosity, since I'm not interested in playing or running 5e. But there are other systems that are similarly light on these kinds of mechanics.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I swear this isn't a trap, but, in general, how do you think the mechanics of that would work?

We have a Help action. That goes a long way right there.

Build it like a skill challenge - the PCs have to get some number of successes, and PCs can cooperate on generating them using the Help action.
 
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I swear this isn't a trap, but, in general, how do you think the mechanics of that would work?

Some (I'd say very few) systems account for this in an explicit way--2d20 encourages you to contribute to someone else's skill rolls, either with a similar skill or something totally different but complimentary in the situation (like rolling Command to help coordinate). Other games have more rigid teamwork-based mechanics. But what about in something like 5e?
I believe characters should be able to help each other in a similar vein to how you've described the Modiphus system. This need not require specific mechanics, but instead can simply be treated as an application of the existing Help mechanic. I likewise believe in expanding the social system slightly with additional mechanics. Not to the level of systems like Burning Wheel's Duel of Wits, but something not entirely unlike 4e's skill challenge system: during important social scenes, I'll typically call for multiple skill checks, with the players needing X number of successes prior to X number of failures, and they can use a variety of skills and ability score combinations to achieve this.

In addition to this, I almost always use fail forward mechanics, where a PC might "fail" a skill check but still succeed with a cost, compromise, or complication. Ample use of the inspiration mechanic encourages roleplay and social contributions, and I often treat it like Fate does with Compels, rewarding players for playing their traits and flaws without needing any sort of roll whatsoever.

On top of this (boy, this is getting lengthy), I rarely use social rolls for anything outside of determining initial disposition. An example might be: I call for a Persuasion check to determine how amenable an NPC is to your demands, then, depending on the roll, the players negotiate with him to get what they want.

Finally, it's a matter of skillful DMing, not that I'm a master or anything like that. Knowing when to call for a roll and when to let the dice rest is part of the learning curve for DMing. Sometimes failure is on the line, and a Persuasion or Intimidation check is entirely sensible. The caveat is balancing this out with roleplaying and not invoking the mechanics. If you call for too many checks, the players whose skills/ability scores don't align with strong social contributions feel left out. If you call for too few checks, the players who have invested heavily in skills/ability scores for social contributions feel like they've wasted their resources.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
This is where we note that this thread is ot in the D&D forum. We are expected and invited to consider other things...
Oh I didn't notice that, I usually visualize threads with the "what's new button" and didn't pay attention to the path or section.

I suppose in some games also combat might be resolved with a single roll or few anyway, and perhaps someone may experience the same issue as the OP.

Nevertheless the thread is about social interactions and the point seems to be that all PCs should be able to contribute. My idea is that solving social interactions too rigidly with rolls might be one reason that discourage players to participate.

When the OP says "characters should be good at talking" I get the feeling that someone is eventually blaming the rules for not giving enough "points" to everyone... but I think that if some players choose to invest zero in one area of the game, and the DM relies heavily on mechanics to adjudicate that area, it's not the rules fault.
 

Voadam

Legend
This sounds right on the money. But just to clarify, for something like 5e you're talking about fully grafting on some homebrew mechanics, right?

I'm mostly asking out of curiosity, since I'm not interested in playing or running 5e. But there are other systems that are similarly light on these kinds of mechanics.
5e is pretty good in this respect in actual gameplay.

You can generally aid another when another PC is trying to do a skill. This will give them advantage on the check so they get to roll their d20 twice and take the better result. This mechanically means it is better for a team to do something than for someone to go solo, whether this is investigating a scene, talking to intimidate or persuade, gathering information or whatever. Some things you can't contribute, and I as a DM require specifying how they enhance the check to encourage some actual participation from the player rather than just their character's presence.

It is a simple way to get players not mechanically designed to socially interact to have an incentive to help out and participate in social situations instead of going in and having their low stats mean a likely failure on a roll. It means there is a big incentive for two players to be involved in any activity where they can contribute over solo experts just handling it for entirely solo spotlight time. A good incentive structure for a social group game IMO.
 

Voadam

Legend
When the OP says "characters should be good at talking" I get the feeling that someone is eventually blaming the rules for not giving enough "points" to everyone... but I think that if some players choose to invest zero in one area of the game, and the DM relies heavily on mechanics to adjudicate that area, it's not the rules fault.
It is easy to set up a system of RPG rules where your character point buy is used for so much fungibly that you have choices where to be really good in one area (say combat) means not putting in points most everywhere else. In these types of systems unless you are building around being a face character the efficiencies are stacked to being better bang for your buck to not invest in your nonspecialties at all. In a system like GURPS for instance to invest in social advantages is very costly and comes directly out of the same pool of points as your combat effectiveness and magic and stats. If you want to be a haggling merchant for instance it is a lot of points from your total character build, not a background choice that takes nothing away from your combat effectiveness the way it would in 5e.
 

MGibster

Legend
When the OP says "characters should be good at talking" I get the feeling that someone is eventually blaming the rules for not giving enough "points" to everyone... but I think that if some players choose to invest zero in one area of the game, and the DM relies heavily on mechanics to adjudicate that area, it's not the rules fault.
At times the game can contribute to the problem but it isn't strictly a mechanical problem. I've seen players just sit back hesitating to speak to NPCs because they're not the "face" of the group.
 

I swear this isn't a trap, but, in general, how do you think the mechanics of [all RPG characters should be able to participate in all scenes] would work?

For modern systems, I'd argue that most modern systems handle this intrinsically. If you play a few of them (FATE and DramaSystem / Hillfolk would be a great start), you'll see it in action.

For older systems, there are two main ways of making it happen. The "Aid Another" aka "Create an Advantage" action is a technique that can be applied on-the-fly and works well. It basically gives a bonus to the lead actors based on how well you do at a different task. So if asked to persuade the king that you need to borrow his army, a non-social character might shows his physical strength (Athletics check) to give a +2 bonus to the main diplomat. The biggest problem with this in D&D style games is that the bonus is not great -- the two points on the roll are dwarfed by the difference in skill levels, with is not the case in Fate, so my recommendation is simply to double that number for social encounters.

A better way, but one requiring prep, was popularized in D&D 4E -- the "Skill Challenge". This requires the GM to prep ahead of time (or be good at doing it on the fly!) a list of core skills that can be used to gain a success, and a list of potential other skills. A fun variant is that the skill lists are not known upfront, and so you must use a third set of skills to work out which skills will work.

A full version of this might look like (for the persuade the king example):

DC 20 Diplomacy, Intimidate (He's heard diplomats every day for his whole life and knows their ways)
DC 15 Any Lore/Knowledge/Profession skill: His kingdom needs cash!
DC 10 Lore - Games: He believes that the measure of person shows when she plays a tactical game

DC 15 Perception: His library has a lot fo game books; he must love tactical games
DC 15 Perception, Empathy: Talking to him about ways to make cash (using Lore skills) will appeal to him
DC 10 Perception, Empathy: He is resistant to usual social blandishments
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
At times the game can contribute to the problem but it isn't strictly a mechanical problem. I've seen players just sit back hesitating to speak to NPCs because they're not the "face" of the group.

There's a complicated chicken-or-egg thing with them deciding why "not the face" means "don't bother talking to NPCs". The system suggests it. GM behavior can suggest it. The behavior of other players may suggest it.
 

MGibster

Legend
There's a complicated chicken-or-egg thing with them deciding why "not the face" means "don't bother talking to NPCs". The system suggests it. GM behavior can suggest it. The behavior of other players may suggest it.
I depend on you guys to answer the hard questions!
 

Campbell

Legend
Oh I didn't notice that, I usually visualize threads with the "what's new button" and didn't pay attention to the path or section.

I suppose in some games also combat might be resolved with a single roll or few anyway, and perhaps someone may experience the same issue as the OP.

Nevertheless the thread is about social interactions and the point seems to be that all PCs should be able to contribute. My idea is that solving social interactions too rigidly with rolls might be one reason that discourage players to participate.

When the OP says "characters should be good at talking" I get the feeling that someone is eventually blaming the rules for not giving enough "points" to everyone... but I think that if some players choose to invest zero in one area of the game, and the DM relies heavily on mechanics to adjudicate that area, it's not the rules fault.


You cannot really analyze mechanics in a vacuum like that. Mechanical issues are almost always dependent on details of the play process. We can almost always work around mechanics that do not serve our purposes well. The question is should we have to? That's a question we all need to answer for ourselves.

That does not really mean games immune to criticism though. It just means that criticism is based in certain expectations. For my part I'm used to games where I can play warriors who are very competent at things other than sticking shiny swords in people's guts. The same level of relative social competence that a Brujah can have in Vampire while still being very effective in combat is not possible in 5e with a single class fighter. It's pretty much possible in Worlds Without Number or Pathfinder Second Edition because they don't have as strong niche protection as 5e does.

However, it's tradeoffs everywhere. There are plenty of people who like the amount of niche protection we see in games like 5e.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You cannot really analyze mechanics in a vacuum like that. Mechanical issues are almost always dependent on details of the play process. We can almost always work around mechanics that do not serve our purposes well. The question is should we have to? That's a question we all need to answer for ourselves.

That does not really mean games immune to criticism though. It just means that criticism is based in certain expectations. For my part I'm used to games where I can play warriors who are very competent at things other than sticking shiny swords in people's guts. The same level of relative social competence that a Brujah can have in Vampire while still being very effective in combat is not possible in 5e with a single class fighter. It's pretty much possible in Worlds Without Number or Pathfinder Second Edition because they don't have as strong niche protection as 5e does.

However, it's tradeoffs everywhere. There are plenty of people who like the amount of niche protection we see in games like 5e.
Niche protection is something that gains value the more the game is about team challenges and spotlight rotation. D&D is usually like this, where challenges are team based -- they must be addressed to push forward the team agenda, not the character's agenda. This encourages making sure all or most niches are covered because then you get spotlight when you can solve a challenge for the team and you ensure usefulness to the team by covering a niche. If two (or more) characters share a niche, then spotlight isn't evenly shared and the team suffers because you've doubled up on a niche at the probable expense of another niche.

It becomes less valuable when games feature challenges that are more individually targeted and individually solvable. Now the more important thing in character build is to make sure you can support your character's agenda, not the team's. So, you can overlap niches because your goals aren't necessarily aligned with the other character's goals, so you aren't solving challenges for the team and taking spotlight.
 

TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
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.
I ran a 3.5E campaign where one of the players rolled* a 7 for Charisma. She made up an Urban Druid character and justified the 7 by saying she spent much of her time in the city's sewers and "didn't notice her own stink." The player had her character regularly butt in to try to influence NPC's. Of course, other PC's jumped in as soon as possible.

It was hilarious.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think it's because social interactions are far more complicated than combat.
I know I've snipped the rest of your post, but it was really this sentence that pulled me up short. Is this claim true? I'm not too bad at social interactions, in the sense that I have a family, I maintain friendships, I do the occasional media appearance as a "talking head" expert, etc. And all I had to do to learn how to do that was to live my ordinary life.

Whereas I know nothing about fighting beyond what I see in the movies. I think it would be very hard for me to learn how to fight.

Even in the context of RPGing action declarations, I can as easily say I chat to the guards and tell them that I've got a special delivery of pickled eels for the kitchens as I can say I run up to the guards, battle-axe in hand, ready to cut them down!

In a sense I don't think we're disagreeing; I just think this framing of "social interaction as more complicated" is already imposing a framework on the resolution process that I don't think is warranted.

I'd love to see flipping the concept of combat and roleplay in a completely new game.
I was going to suggest The Dying Earth as an example of this, although to be fair the PC build rules suggest putting a certain minimum number of points into fighting as well as into talking.

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.
I don't think The Dying Earth is artificial at all. It's a bit absurd, but probably no more absurd in the realm of talking than Conan stories and the correlative RPGs are in the realm of fighting.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm hoping to play Agon 2nd ed this coming weekend. It has four "domains" of conflict: Arts & Oration; Blood & Valour; Craft & Reason; and Resolve & Spirit. By default, each character has a d8 in one Domain and a d6 in the rest.

The game anticipates that some conflicts will be initiated by the players (We try to persuade the Queen of Nimios to let us in) and that some are initiated by the GM, either as consequences (The Queen, outraged by your presumption, orders her guards to take you to the dungeons!) or as an aspect of moving things along (The volcano erupts, and lava is running down its side threatening to engulf you. Can you run to safety?) In the former case, the players should have more control over which Domain the conflict takes place in; in the latter cases, the GM should, though ultimately it is still a matter of what approach the players adopt, and what their goal is. (Slightly separately, Agon also has a mechanic for establishing the leader for each session - the leader gets to decide any disputes about goal and approach, unless another player spends a resource - a Bond - to persuade the leader to agree with their hero.)

Not every character is equally good at talking to NPCs, but every character can meaningfully contribute, and the players have a fair degree of control over responding to framing. There is also a support action - the character lends dice to another PC, and earns a Bond point with them, but gets fewer XP from the conflict.

This is not the only way to do things, and not the only example of a relatively universal resolution framework in a contemporary game. It's just one instance of what can be done.
 

MGibster

Legend
I know I've snipped the rest of your post, but it was really this sentence that pulled me up short. Is this claim true? I'm not too bad at social interactions, in the sense that I have a family, I maintain friendships, I do the occasional media appearance as a "talking head" expert, etc. And all I had to do to learn how to do that was to live my ordinary life.

Whereas I know nothing about fighting beyond what I see in the movies. I think it would be very hard for me to learn how to fight.
Let's be clear here, I'm not talking about real life I'm talking about role playing games. And in most games, combat is pretty straightforward and what decisions need to be made are fairly well codified. Whereas a lot of how social interactions work in most RPGs is up to the players and the DM. I include the players in this because they most often control how their characters react. I don't care how well I make a persuasion roll for an NPC, if the PC doesn't want to go along they won't go along. (Though in some games, there might be some mechanical repercussions for failing to abide by the persuasion roll.)


Even in the context of RPGing action declarations, I can as easily say I chat to the guards and tell them that I've got a special delivery of pickled eels for the kitchens as I can say I run up to the guards, battle-axe in hand, ready to cut them down!
You certainly can chat them up. But then I as a GM have to take into account the guard's general disposition. Are they loyal fanatics who follow orders to the letter? Are they bored and more concerned about how much trouble they could get into if the earl doesn't get his pickled eels for supper than they are about following orders? In truth, I'm generally not going to overthink these things for something so minor as near inconsequential guard encounters but I'll consider these things with important NPCs.
 

I think it's because social interactions are far more complicated than combat.
I know I've snipped the rest of your post, but it was really this sentence that pulled me up short. Is this claim true? I'm not too bad at social interactions, in the sense that I have a family, I maintain friendships, I do the occasional media appearance as a "talking head" expert, etc. And all I had to do to learn how to do that was to live my ordinary life.

Whereas I know nothing about fighting beyond what I see in the movies. I think it would be very hard for me to learn how to fight.
Having done a fair amount of both fighting and social interact, this assertion also interested me. And it’s not clear what the answer is. One problem is that while we learn early and often how to interact socially, we learn to fight much later, typically, and in a much less pervasive way. It’s entirely possible that for modern people social interactions are more nuanced simply because more time and energy has been put into learning that “system”. But are social interactions fundamentally more complex than combat? I’m not sure.

I think the big difference is that combat is easier to break down into actions. For both combat and social interactions, the scene “stakes” are comparable, but whereas we can break combat down into actions which move us towards the goal, it’s less easy to do that with social interaction. Fate has a go with a mental stress track, and D&D4E popularized the idea of needing multiple successes to achieve a goal, both of which are good and helpful ways of making the two closer, but overall combat is much easier to break down into smaller contests than social interactions are.

I’ve taught fighting a bit, and it’s actually not too hard to stop being a novice and start being somewhat competent. You can learn simple blocks and responses fairly rapidly, and it doesn’t take much practice to learn to keep your head in combat and not panic (for me, this is the most important lesson — get used to being hit and don’t let it stop you). Most people are terrible at throwing punches and kicks, and can be dramatically improved in a few hours.

But thinking about going from “normally competent” to “highly competent”, it takes a lot of work for combat. For social interaction, we don’t see formal training as often, so it’s hard to judge. Maybe consider learning to act? My experience of both suggests that combat is more complicated, but I’m a relatively better fighter than actor, so i can’t really be sure.

The one point that does make me feel that combat is more complex is that for social interaction, innate ability is tremendously more important. If you are actively bad at social interaction, it is very hard to become good at it, whereas for fighting, technique has more of an impact and so it’s easier to become good. Of course, to become a star at eithere, you need talent and technique!

Bit of a meandering post, but in summary I’d have to say that IRL, I can’t see a strong argument that either is more complicated. For gaming purposes, it’s easier to make combat more complicated, but not necessarily more realistic by doing so.
 

pemerton

Legend
Let's be clear here, I'm not talking about real life I'm talking about role playing games. And in most games, combat is pretty straightforward and what decisions need to be made are fairly well codified. Whereas a lot of how social interactions work in most RPGs is up to the players and the DM.

<snip>

You certainly can chat them up. But then I as a GM have to take into account the guard's general disposition. Are they loyal fanatics who follow orders to the letter? Are they bored and more concerned about how much trouble they could get into if the earl doesn't get his pickled eels for supper than they are about following orders? In truth, I'm generally not going to overthink these things for something so minor as near inconsequential guard encounters but I'll consider these things with important NPCs.
Well, if I declare I'm going to cut these guards down with my axe! then you as GM may have to consider the guards' general disposition, in multiple senses - how many are there? where are they? how do they react (eg do they flee in terror? etc - as well as matters like can they dodge? and can they fight back?

Some RPGs codify those matters, using descriptors and/or mechanics. The same can be done for dispositions vis-a-vis people turning up with pickled eels to deliver. (Classic Traveller, published in 1977, handles this with a simple reaction roll table.)

I include the players in this because they most often control how their characters react. I don't care how well I make a persuasion roll for an NPC, if the PC doesn't want to go along they won't go along. (Though in some games, there might be some mechanical repercussions for failing to abide by the persuasion roll.)
There are multiple options for determining how PCs react. Player freedom and mechanical repercussions are not the only two options.

For instance, in classic D&D play if a PC is dead or is subject to Charm Person, then there are limits - in the first case, extreme ones! - on the actions that the player can declare for his/her PC. Classic Traveller has player-facing morale rules. Burning Wheel has similar (via Steel) but more generally allows players to be constrained by social resolution outcomes. Prince Valiant is mechanically less intricate than BW but in its fundamentals is the same in this respect.

RPGers have various preferences here, but from the point of view of design and process, there is nothing distinctive between the way death and Charm Person work in classic D&D and the way those other player-facing mechanical frameworks work.
 

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