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All Characters Should be Good at Talking to NPCs

pemerton

Legend
For social interaction, we don’t see formal training as often, so it’s hard to judge. Maybe consider learning to act?
Based on my own experience, I think there's a big difference between being competent at acting and being competent at social interaction. A big part of being competent at social interaction is attention and a degree of sincerity (even a charlatan has to be sincere in the sense of recognising and genuinely responding to what matters to the mark). Acting has a performative element that I think is different. I think it's quite hard to pretend to be engaged with a situation that you know is not real.
 

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CubicsRube

Adventurer
Supporter
The subject of niche protection goes back to what i said before about a lot of rpgs having a single social skill (such as persuade in 5e).

I think if you have a collection of skills it does two things: allows for different social niches to exist within a group (multiple "faces"), and presents to players some clear social approaches that can be taken to a social conflict.

For example if you have skills of intimidate, convince, charm, incite, inspire and command - you could have up to 6 characters filling a social niche.

You'd have to enhance your mwchanics around social conflict, but it could be as easy as the GM setting a general DC for most apprpachs but one approach has an easier DC. E.g, using Command to get past guards might be the most effecrive approach, but if you want to get information out of the local thugs, intimidate might work better.

Then you can set up a situation where characters are more competent in general about talking to certain types of groups.
 

For example if you have skills of intimidate, convince, charm, incite, inspire and command - you could have up to 6 characters filling a social niche.
If skills being linked to ability scores are a thing in your game, you might also want to spread the social stuff around some. For example, in FFG's Star Wars games, Charm, Leadership, and Negotiate are based on Presence, Coercion on Willpower, and Deception and Streetwise on Cunning. This gives you the opportunity to play the guy who's scary as heck, but whom you don't want to bring to afternoon tea with the governor.
 

CubicsRube

Adventurer
Supporter
If skills being linked to ability scores are a thing in your game, you might also want to spread the social stuff around some. For example, in FFG's Star Wars games, Charm, Leadership, and Negotiate are based on Presence, Coercion on Willpower, and Deception and Streetwise on Cunning. This gives you the opportunity to play the guy who's scary as heck, but whom you don't want to bring to afternoon tea with the governor.
You've just given me another reason to give FFG SW a try..
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Second, before you compose a righteous evisceration of my position, please allow me to explain myself.
Sorry, no righteous evisceration here, just a quick surgical strike... :)
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?
Drop the concept noted in bold right out of the mechanics of the game, along with just about any other way in which dice can override at-table roleplaying. Then, just let your players play their PCs through social situations however they see fit; and if a few players end up not talking much it's by their own choice in how they want to roleplay those particular characters rather than anything forced by numbers on the character sheet.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It's not all that obvious to me. What makes the physical dimension worthy of simulation/representation, but not the psychological/neurological?
Simple answer: the fact that we cannot play out in reality the game's physical dimension at the table, due to a combination of player (lack of) abilities commensurate to their PCs, physical space limitations, and in many cases the laws of whatever jurisdiction you're playing in.

But, we CAN play out the psychological/neurological dimension* to a much greater - ideally, almost total - degree; thus why not do so?

* - i.e. conversations, thoughts, opinions, decisions, non-physical interactions, feelings, emotions, etc. etc.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
Thing is, all RPG characters can participate in all scenes, unless for some reason they aren't in said scenes due to being elsewhere.

What you seem to be after is that all characters be able to participate equally effectively in all scenes; and here I differ in that I very much want characters to have fairly clear strengths and weaknesses, in order to encourage some inter-dependency between the characters. And if a character's participation in a scene ends up hindering the party, so what; as long as it's entertaining.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Simple answer: the fact that we cannot play out in reality the game's physical dimension at the table, due to a combination of player (lack of) abilities commensurate to their PCs, physical space limitations, and in many cases the laws of whatever jurisdiction you're playing in.

But, we CAN play out the psychological/neurological dimension* to a much greater - ideally, almost total - degree; thus why not do so?

* - i.e. conversations, thoughts, opinions, decisions, non-physical interactions, feelings, emotions, etc. etc.
No, you really can't. You can't actually BE your character, you just pretend. The GM can't actually BE the NPC, they just pretend. You aren't actually in a fantasy world, you just pretend. So, what you're doing is pretending these things, pretty much exactly how you pretend to swing a sword at a pretend orc in a pretend dungeon.

The idea that you're actually doing the social stuff is fooling yourself. Not that it's not fun -- I have a ton of fun pretending to be my character, or NPCs, and like to do silly voices and dialogue. But I don't think I'm being my character any more than I think I'm swinging a sword around.

Further, what you're doing is swapping dice and player-facing mechanics for Bob Says. GM Bob just gets to say what happens, and the players may, or may not, have any real input into what Bob Says. I'm not a huge fan of this, although I played this way for decades. I very much grok that many do find this optimally fun, but let's not dress it up as something you can actually do rather than just another piece of the pretend puzzle -- it's not on a pedestal of "different."
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
No, you really can't. You can't actually BE your character, you just pretend. The GM can't actually BE the NPC, they just pretend. You aren't actually in a fantasy world, you just pretend. So, what you're doing is pretending these things, pretty much exactly how you pretend to swing a sword at a pretend orc in a pretend dungeon.
Indeed, but the social pretending at the table can unquestionably be far more closely aligned with what's happening in the fiction than can the sword-swinging pretending.

As for "being" a character or NPC: an actor can't often "be" the character he/she is portraying* but as long as what ends up on the stage or screen is close enough to keep the audience immersed, that's enough. Same is true of roleplaying a PC or NPC: close enough is good enough, and perfection isn't required.

* - obvious exception, of course, is when the actor is appearing in the role of "self".
The idea that you're actually doing the social stuff is fooling yourself. Not that it's not fun -- I have a ton of fun pretending to be my character, or NPCs, and like to do silly voices and dialogue. But I don't think I'm being my character any more than I think I'm swinging a sword around.
I don't achieve it nearly as often as I'd like, but my best roleplay comes at those times when I do in fact stop thinking like a player at the table and start thinking like the in-fiction character I'm trying to portray. And even within the relatively tiny sample size of our own group, I'm not alone in this.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Indeed, but the social pretending at the table can unquestionably be far more closely aligned with what's happening in the fiction than can the sword-swinging pretending.
I disagree. It's closely aligned to what who the players are and who the GM is, but not aligned closely to what completely different people in a completely fantastic place are going to do. It's still highly artificial.
As for "being" a character or NPC: an actor can't often "be" the character he/she is portraying* but as long as what ends up on the stage or screen is close enough to keep the audience immersed, that's enough. Same is true of roleplaying a PC or NPC: close enough is good enough, and perfection isn't required.
This is not the same thing, though, you've swapped arguments from one where you're suggesting that playacting at the table is more aligned with the fiction for one where you're judging entertainment value. I don't play with professional actors, that do lots of work to make for a great performance at the table, so I'm as entertained by my friends acting as I am when at a barbeque -- this argument doesn't hold much water. Especially when I find I'm as least as, and often more, tuned in when using mechanical systems with teeth. This, to me, make my character feel more like a different person doing fantastic things than me pretending in a funny voice.

Which isn't to say that you don't find the playacting much more entertaining, and there's nothing at all wrong with that. I'm mostly pointing out the terrible justifications you're using when you present your preference as better.
* - obvious exception, of course, is when the actor is appearing in the role of "self".

I don't achieve it nearly as often as I'd like, but my best roleplay comes at those times when I do in fact stop thinking like a player at the table and start thinking like the in-fiction character I'm trying to portray. And even within the relatively tiny sample size of our own group, I'm not alone in this.
Oh, I agree, but playacting rarely does that for me, while I get it quite often in games that have mechanical teeth. There's nothing magical or special about playacting that does this more often than other methods (on average, individual preference and results, of course, vary).
 

RainOnTheSun

Villager
I'd think that the (real or imagined) consequences of failing a social roll make a big difference. If someone's playing a game, and their PC shoots at an enemy and misses, it's not such a big deal. Even if their character has a lower attack rating than the group's combat specialist, there's no harm in trying to help out. If their PC shoots at an enemy and hits a friend in the back, though, that's another thing entirely. That's being worse than useless: actively harmful. And if the PC was more likely to shoot a friend than an enemy, it would make total sense for the player not to try to shoot at all. Social systems in a lot of games are vague and open-ended enough that it can be hard to tell whether failing your check is missing or shooting your friend in the back.

(First post! Hello. I like this forum.)
 



Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I disagree. It's closely aligned to what who the players are and who the GM is, but not aligned closely to what completely different people in a completely fantastic place are going to do.
Unless one can find a way of somehow, even if not fully, inhabiting the mind of one's character. It can be done, though I'll be the first to admit that some are better at it than others and I'm by no means the best. :)
Oh, I agree, but playacting rarely does that for me, while I get it quite often in games that have mechanical teeth. There's nothing magical or special about playacting that does this more often than other methods (on average, individual preference and results, of course, vary).
I'm the other way around, as through playing 3e I concluded that mechanics - toothy or not - tend to get in the way of roleplaying rather than aid it.
 

I think the mechanucal structure of a system or the established structure of an adventure and what they reward or don't reward in a satisfactory way (from the perception of a player) can color how a player has their PC interact with the world around them.
 

Campbell

Legend
3e has pretty much the worst set of social mechanics I have ever seen in an RPG. Basing your opinion of all social mechanics on that is like watching a Uwe Boll film and deciding all movies aren't worth your time.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Unless one can find a way of somehow, even if not fully, inhabiting the mind of one's character. It can be done, though I'll be the first to admit that some are better at it than others and I'm by no means the best. :)
This, though, is the contention -- can you actually inhabit the mind of a character? You're asserting it's possible, and I'm saying it's not. What happens is that we get to a point where we may feel this way, but this isn't the same thing at all, and shouldn't be used to say that playacting with the goal of inhabiting the mind of your character as unattainable ideal is the best way to deal with social encounters.

Let's break this down a bit. Let's say I have a character that has a flaw where they will steal things. If I'm using your method, then I, as the player, must consciously choose to engage in this flaw, and will always be doing so with regard to the players around me. Any association of my character's desires to steal are only mirrored in myself if I actually share that desire -- there's no separation of the character and me at this point. This isn't inhabitation, though, because I don't actually change and become my character, but rather, my character is now just a reflection of me and how I think. When I choose to have my character steal, it's still a choice, and I'm probably weighing the choice against the risks in might engender in the game, whether or not I'll face social opprobrium from the other players for doing so, and so forth. The choice to engage this flaw is never one that originates or is based within the character, even if I'm rationalizing it as such. The engagement with the character here is performative.

And, that said, there's a huge amount of value and fun to be had doing this! Performative acts are part and parcel of a lot of entertainment activities humans like to do, not just RPGs. Do not read the above as any kind of dismissal or slight at this approach -- it's only meant to show that the belief that this is somehow a more pure or better way to engage with character is false, not that it's not a perfectly cromulent activity or approach! I quite enjoy performative aspects of play, so I'm not about to abandon this approach; I'm just not going to say that it's more pure than it is with regards to social activity or roleplaying in general.

Now, to contrast this approach, you can have a mechanical system that can engage the same thing. Here, a mechanical trigger would set off the character's flaw and thefts. There's quite a few ways to do this, so you can select for preference, but, to me, they all pretty much end up doing the same thing, whether metacurrency driven or check driven -- they force a new state onto the character. Here, as a player, your job isn't to choose for your character to engage their flaw (although you can usually still do this), but rather to accept that your character isn't you and has made this choice and then go with it. This puts the choice-making for the character sometimes out of your hands -- you aren't directing your character as a perfect representation of your wants and desires, but rather as an actual other person who does things that you might not. I've found that making the effort to realize that this is a different person I get to observe can actually improve my emotional connection to the character, meaning I'm feeling what this character is nominally feeling in that moment. This is also a very valid way to approach roleplaying a character, and can create surprising social encounters for everyone involved.

And, of course, you can mix the two -- choosing to engage character when you want and how you want with mechanical inputs coming in as well.
I'm the other way around, as through playing 3e I concluded that mechanics - toothy or not - tend to get in the way of roleplaying rather than aid it.
As others have said, the 3.x social skills are rather poorly put together, with hardcoded results baked in that do not at all reference the current fiction. There's a reason diplomancer as a term was invented. However, I always find it strange when people complain about skills that do this but are 100% perfectly fine with Charm Person and similar spells doing even more work. The usually deployed excuse of "it's magic" rings very hollow to me -- it's a circular justification that magic can such things because it's magic.
 

What you seem to be after is that all characters be able to participate equally effectively in all scenes; and here I differ in that I very much want characters to have fairly clear strengths and weaknesses, in order to encourage some inter-dependency between the characters. And if a character's participation in a scene ends up hindering the party, so what; as long as it's entertaining.
No, I don't think that characters should be equally effective in all scenes. Rather, I think all characters should be able to contribute meaningfully. This is especially important in scenes or encounters that take up a good portion of game time; no character should spend the duration of combat not doing things or consistently failing to do things because that produces unpleasant gameplay. In a game with fast-paced combat, this is less of an issue, but D&D's granularity with regard to combat encounters demands combat efficacy from all characters. (5e does this fairly well.)

More to the point: a social encounter should not default to some characters not talking to NPCs for fear of a failed skill roll, which I've seen happen on multiple occasions. Either they shy away from conversing, or they push the "party face" to socialize in their stead. An unfortunate product of gameplay.
 

MGibster

Legend
Drop the concept noted in bold right out of the mechanics of the game, along with just about any other way in which dice can override at-table roleplaying. Then, just let your players play their PCs through social situations however they see fit; and if a few players end up not talking much it's by their own choice in how they want to roleplay those particular characters rather than anything forced by numbers on the character sheet.
That's what I'd like for the most part. I want players to feel like they can engage in some role playing without their characters being smooth talkers.
 

Campbell

Legend
While I view having more well rounded characters who can participate in more types of scenes as a good thing what I like even more are having niches within a given type of encounter so we can have more diverse and interesting sorts of social encounters and sorts of exploration encounters where players have to work together to be effective just like they have to in combat.

Even more important to me when it comes to social scenes (which most of the games I run tend to heavily skew to) is keeping the focus on the fiction. A well designed fiction first social influence system like we get in Hillfolk, Dogs in the Vineyard, Chronicles of Darkness, and Exalted Third Edition amongst others keeps the focus on the fiction and prevents us from ignoring salient bits of the fiction in order to get the result we want. Often I find that when we just play out conversations at the table it can be easy to filter out important details when they are inconvenient. A good social influence system can help keep the focus on the fiction and prevent us from getting too caught up in our conceptions of who these characters are. It can also really help situations that should be tense not fall prey to our natural agreeableness.

That last bit can be a big problem for me. Not so much for some other people I bet.
 

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