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D&D 5E [+] How can 5e best handle role playing outside of combat?

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Most of the content of all three core rulebooks are combat oriented. The options you get as you level up as mostly combat oriented. The majority of the rules and systems are all combat oriented. D&D is very combat oriented.

Can the game handle things out of combat? I personally think it has (5E) abysmal exploration rules and the social interaction rules are inadequate. Hence why I never personally met or played with someone that used these systems as they are. In my experience, people either wing it (100% improv and acting) or make their own system (or borrow it from another game).

That doesn't mean that things outside of combat cannot go smoothly. I enjoy a full session of only social interactions, moving around, etc. The game does nothing to support it, it stems almost 100% from the players investment in their concept of a character, the world building, the story built so far. But it works well because people want it to work and we're having fun. But it's basically just some freeform roleplaying that has nothing to do with the game we're playing, the exact same roleplaying could happen in almost any game (including freeplaying in the absence of any rules or character sheets).

There's stuff like flaws, bonds that the book as you to choose and then never mention again, but the edition does absolutely nothing interesting with it. It basically asks the player to come up with some elements of a character concept, and that's it. It's been years since I've met players or a DM that doesn't ignore them. At best, they're a crutch for new players to focus on one or two element of their character.

So in short...
Does 5E meaningfully supports the pillars or activities outside of combat? Barely.
Can your game focus on these pillars or activities and be fun? Absolutely.
 

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Lyxen

Great Old One
Most of the content of all three core rulebooks are combat oriented.

Wrong, see here. I have not done the count for the DMG, but combat in the DMG is what, just a few pages, including technical encounter building ? As for the MM, yes, there are statblocks, but the descriptions and "fluff" take more space than the stat blocks. Check for yourself.

That doesn't mean that things outside of combat cannot go smoothly. I enjoy a full session of only social interactions, moving around, etc. The game does nothing to support it, it stems almost 100% from the players investment in their concept of a character, the world building, the story built so far.

No, it's not. It's also a fairly vast array of combat powers, of spells being used for utility, and all the rest of the activities described in the DMG.

There's stuff like flaws, bonds that the book as you to choose and then never mention again, but the edition does absolutely nothing interesting with it. It basically asks the player to come up with some elements of a character concept, and that's it. It's been years since I've met players or a DM that doesn't ignore them. At best, they're a crutch for new players to focus on one or two element of their character.

With your general perspective about the game being combat orientated, it's obvious why all these things are ignored. But it's an initial choice, at our tables we can play entire sessions without one combat in which much more things happen than during any single combat, and still using abilities and the full character descriptions.

So in short...
Does 5E meaningfully supports the pillars or activities outside of combat? Barely.

Actually it does, since these activities do not need to be technical. But there is some material in the DMG, plus all the non combat abilities and spells at the very least.

Can your game focus on these pillars or activities and be fun? Absolutely.

Cool, at least we agree on this. :D
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Cortex Prime can be rigged up so that all task resolutions rely first on a Value and a Relationship (what belief compels you to do this thing, and who is involved or who are you doing it for?), and then adding either a combat-y ability for combat situations or a skill, talent, background or setting resource for social or other non-combat challenges. It works quite nicely.

Cortex Prime and Fate Accelerated are good examples for a basic game design premise - don't, by design, lock people out of participation in a scene.

This is one issue with D&D and social interaction mechanics - what mechanics exist are almost all gated on one ability - Charisma, and only a couple of skills (Deception, Intimidation, and Persuasion). While character classes are built so that they all have a solid role in combat, if you aren't one of the few that makes heavy use of Charisma for combat mechanics, then you probably won't have a high charisma, and are unlikely to have the skills. The result is the party having a "face" role, one go-to person to handle all social interactions. Nobody else engages, because their chances of success are too low - everyone stands aside to let the Face handle it all.

Which is fine, if that's what you want. However, to make social interaction really shine, you ought to have more players involved. So, how do we do that with the elements we already have in the game? Some ideas:

1) Make Backgrounds matter: Backgrounds don't have to just be a package of a few skills and a ribbon ability. They can be viewed as also indicating a familiarity with people of a given type. They share many concerns, share an understanding of worldview, and so on. Simply put, they should know how to talk to each other, and we can provide Advantage when they align, and maybe Disadvantage when they don't. For example, the Criminal, Smuggler, and Urchin probably should have Advantage in trying to influence each other, due to that familiarity of mindset. The Alcolyte knows how to talk to Sages effectively, and so on. The Knight and Noble will easily get on the same page, but the Noble and the Urchin probably won't.

This helps solidify fictional role beyond packs of stats. Maybe the party doesn't want to send the courtly Bard in to talk to the crime boss. The party Rogue may have lower Charisma, but be more reliable in their relations with such folks.

2) Make liberal use of other stats with social interaction. We already have the precedent that Intimidation can be used based on Charisma or Strength. Extend that idea - Charisma can always work, but also, if the player puts forth a very logical, evidence-based argument, allow them to roll Persuasion (Intelligence). If the player puts forth a very empathetic, insightful argument, allow them to roll Persuasion (Wisdom).

That character with high Charisma and appropriate skill will still usually be good at social interaction, but now we have opened up the floor for at least modest success for others as well, depending on teh type of peopel they are, and the approaches to the world that they already depend on.
 
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TheSword

Legend
I haven't read the entire thread, so apologies if this has already been addressed.

The complaint you quoted is reminiscent to me of the adage, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail". I've seen the equivalent argument raised on multiple occasions, but I think it fails to consider a few things.

Namely that, the D&D toolkit does in fact contain tools other than "hammers". It's like arguing that a toolkit doesn't contain screwdrivers because it doesn't contain a power drill. When the reality is that a toolkit that contains (unpowered) screwdrivers is, in fact, comprised of tools other than hammers. An individual might prefer a power drill, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's clearly incorrect to claim that a toolkit containing basic screwdrivers and hammers contains nothing but hammers.

D&D can certainly handle "roleplaying" outside of combat and do so well. It may rely on the DM more than some other systems to do so, but I see this as a matter of preference. Some groups will enjoy the curated experience of crunchy rules, whereas others may prefer the freedom that comes with a more relaxed framework.
How can you best enjoy non-combat activities though?
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
That character with high Charisma and appropriate skill will still usually be good at social interaction, but now we have opened up the floor for at least modest success for others as well, depending on teh type of peopel they are, and the approaches to the world that they already depend on.

Indeed. Another way, which is the one we use at our tables, is to make everything that the character is matter, his history, his reputation, his skills, his relations, etc.

5e has a great mechanism for this, adv/dis. Are you talking to the warlord commanding the legions of Bel ? Then whoever has martial skills has advantage on his checks as he speaks the same language, even if he is not that charismatic and has few social skills. Are you speaking to a wizard ? Are you speaking with someone honorable or a trickster who values the savvy of the streets ? Are you speaking to someone you have connections to, possibly common friends / enemies / background ?

In our Baldur's Gate campaign, the Assassin/Gloomstalker is a bhaalspawn, reviled by most (there is an interesting feature there), with fairly low charisma and few social skills, but she is the one speaking to the assassin's guild, the underworld, and now trying to recruit a cadre of Dogais (Assassin Devils). No-one else in the group feels entitled to do that, and we have a warlock and a sorceress in the party, with much more charisma and more social skills.
 

Musing Mage

Pondering D&D stuff
Why do you need a chart ? Why do you even need rules? And the game allows for passive anyway, which I quite often use very easily when the party is meeting strangers, just combine the description done by the player of his character's attitude with a passive persuasion/deception/intimidation/simple charisma passive.

5e reactions as is simply aren't comprehensive enough. A more detailed chart encompasses far greater reach of reactions than any one DM is capable of thinking of on their own, I don't care how worldly they think they are. It takes the decision out of the DM's hands and puts it where it belongs - in the province of the dice.

As DM I like to be surprised by the direction of things. By putting the results with the dice, then anything can happen. As well, Charisma becomes an extremely important attribute not just for the combat mechanics 5e has attached to it, but how it influences the direction of the narrative just by being... My players in my home games learned years ago the major downside of dumping Charisma. NPCS tend to not like them, and it's not because the DM arbitrarily said 'oh, your charisma is a little on the low side so they kinda don't like you...' or 'Ah, you're a paladin with a 17 Charisma, everyone automatically likes you!' - it's because the dice combined with a comprehensive chart of reactions determined the path of the social encounters.

The abundance of charts in 1e and 2e worked for a reason.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Indeed. Another way, which is the one we use at our tables, is to make everything that the character is matter, his history, his reputation, his skills, his relations, etc.

Sure. I just note that the farther you get away from defined game elements like Background and Class, the more arbitrary, GM-dependent it becomes.

One thing we want to avoid is the case where that character who already has the high charisma and social skills also can almost always find a way to have Advantage on the check - because then we return to the situation we started with, where that person should always handle social interactions.

We want to find a sweet spot, where advantage is frequently available to someone, but not always available to everyone.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
I'd love to see a class-independent bolt-on that goes more granular with skills and the ability to have more backgrounds. Something like feats that doesn't take up the same slot as feats/ASIs.
 

I think if the premise of the thread is intended to be about finding ways to add more mechanical content to support out-of-combat roleplaying (however broadly or narrowly we construe the concept), it might need renaming? If what you're asking is how 5e can best mechanically support roleplaying, then inevitably you will (as you already have) get answers that it already does "best" support roleplaying out of combat - in other words, posts that are in fact rejecting the premise of the thread as I understand it to be.

As far as contributing to that premise, one possibility might be giving PCs more "authorial" authority over the setting. For instance, while subject to some DM discretion, the Sailor background feature lets you, the PC, just dictate that you are securing free passage on a sailing ship for yourself and your companions. Unless the DM says "nope, no ships here!" (which could be a sensible objection or not - asserting the lack of ships in a small village by a river is a different story from asserting same in, say, Waterdeep), you the player are essentially authoring setting content - there is a ship here, and you are getting to travel on it for free.

So more features that do this sort of thing, or more mechanics that support using social skills to do this sort of thing, might be a way the game could add more mechanical heft to roleplaying (which I am assuming is the premise of the thread).
 


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