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


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pming

Legend
Hiya!

How would 5e handled non-combat stuff like RP'ing?

Primarily, it wouldn't. It shouldn't. That isn't really D&D's "jam, baby!". I'd suggest that the DM adapt some other RPG's "system(s)" for inclusion into their 5e game.

For example, I use a lot of random tables to help guide my imagination into something consistent and believable (e.g., I don't have tables that list random monsters from everywhere because encountering a giant squid in a desert doesn't make much sense; could be interesting...once).

For example, for players specifically, I often use the "Plot Deck" (and even the "Action Deck") from the Masterbook RPG system. Basically, a Player gets a card (or 2, or 3 based on the number of players at the table; for my group, it works out to 2 cards most times). The Plot Cards have things on them like "A family member suddenly shows up on scene". These can be 'played' at any time that the Player chooses. It gives the Player the ability to 'mix things up' a bit in those weird and quirky ways that we see in many good films and stories (e.g., Lord of the Rings as Frodo and Sam are travelling through Farmer Maggots crop...and suddenly Pippin and Mary run into them; literally).

I guess what it boils down to is: Randomness. That's what can help Players/DM's outside of combat "do more RP'ing stuff via mechanics". Personally, I am a HUGE fan of random tables! Absolutely LOVE THEM! 😍

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
How would people structure a session without combat as the focus?

There's several approaches, but let's try working with what D&D already does typically.

Imagine a simple dungeon. The PCs are told that there's loot, or some goal, at a location - they go and explore the dungeon. We can start with a really basic idea - each room contains a monster to fight, and a treasure to be taken. An interconnected collection of Orcs and Pies.

A less basic (and more typical) situation is that some of the rooms have monsters, and others have other types of challenges - weird puzzles or physical situations the PCs have to bypass to get the treasure.

Next, replace all the monsters with other challenges.

Next, replace "dungeon full of rooms" with "chart of people and places the PCs can interact with". Instead of Rooms 1, 2, and 3. We have Bob, Sally, and The Town Library. You can go to any of these places, face some difficulty in attaining a goal, and then go to the next. Eventually, after workign trhough a goodly part of the chart, the PCs find the end challenge, and gain the Big Reward.

Form that as a 5-room dungeon, and presto, you have a session without combat as the focus.
 

Oofta

Legend
So I'm going to say right up front that I don't want more rules for out of combat. People in combat tend to think in terms of rules, what attacks they have and what spells are useful. The RP portion of my games, which tends to be the majority of time spent at the table, is all about immersing yourself in the fiction and your PC. More rules, to me, would get in the way of that.

I also don't want to go back to structured challenges like 4E had. It just never really worked for me in most cases, it again took people out of what their PC would do. Instead it just became "We've used skill X and Y, who's best at Z?" I'm sure other people handled it better, but it was a common complaint about 4E with people that I played with. Interesting idea, just took the wind out of RP too many times as we paused and went from just free form improv to a game system.

But I still want to have PC's proficiencies, skills and backgrounds to matter. I don't want every social encounter to just fall back on the PC with the highest charisma, I want encounters to be primarily role playing, with the occasion roll.

So I keep a list handy with a grid of every PC's proficiency bonuses, languages and tool proficiencies. Then I try to think of opportunities to call for those skills. The monk hasn't used their cartography proficiency lately? Well there's a map that's a little off and has a clue in it, they can do an investigation with advantage. Someone is proficient with disguise kits? Well, they've hear a rumor that the group they're spying on has a reputation for seeing through illusionary disguises.

Same with trying to figure out how to use other skills. Trying to convince a healer that you know the source of a plague? Don't call for a persuasion check, call for a medicine check.

So that's how I try to keep things loosely defined while still using the rules provided. If you want more, go for it. Just make sure that it's always kept completely optional because I'll ignore more rules heavy RP in my RP heavy game.
 

TheSword

Legend
Set up a situation with multiple factions and NPCs in conflict, and let the PCs find their way through the knot of intrigue, deciding who to talk to, in which order, how to approach them. City scenarios are great for this. Then set up a few "bumpers" along the NPCs that will send players in another direction by providing new/conflicting information, etc.
Interesting. A city campaign is what triggered me to think about this… that and intending to convert some city based modules that don’t feature a lot of combat but do include many factions.
 

tommybahama

Adventurer
Same with trying to figure out how to use other skills. Trying to convince a healer that you know the source of a plague? Don't call for a persuasion check, call for a medicine check.

Ha, ha. We have ample real world evidence of people using persuasion (or intimidation) rather than medicine in such situations.

I like your overall point, but what if you call for a deception check and the player says, "but I'm not trying to deceive them." Would you change the skill check? Do you base the skill check on the NPC's (DMs) reaction or the player's intent? I can see problems with both. Is a player out of line for questioning (negotiating?) the skill check?
 

Argyle King

Legend
In my opinion, I believe there's a portion of the player base which has a mental connection between how D&D handles HP and resorting to violent means of in-game problem solving.

I think D&D 5E is trying to be too many different games at once. 3rd Edition sometimes had a similar problem. The idea of 'breadth of play' has needs which conflict with the +N treadmill of advancement.

5E also has adopted some of 4th Edition's ideas about using HP to scale monsters, but while also dropping 4E's mindset behind making encounters more dynamic and attempting to include social encounters.

To be fair though, I first started noticing how players sometimes see HP as a sort of bulletproof vest during 4E's skill challenges. Some of the people with whom I played 4E found that they could kill stuff easier than doing x-before-y checks -and usually do so with less threat to their characters.

5E "fixes" some of the problems I had with both 3rd and 4th but also inherits (and even embraces) some of the problems of both as well.
 

Helpful NPC Thom

Adventurer
5e's roleplaying mechanics are there, but they are underdeveloped. As I mentioned in another thread, things like BIFTs, Inspiration, and Backgrounds are there as character elements that shape roleplaying. Skills allow for non-combat gameplay. These elements lack the mechanical teeth of combat mechanics, and rather than developing subsystems to grant them weightier mechanics, there are a few things GMs can do to encourage roleplaying.

1. Allow for non-combat conflict resolution. Negotiation, bartering, diplomacy, deception, skullduggery, evasion. Make these avenues of conflict resolution available to the players and encourage them the same way the system encourages combat: XP rewards.

2. Reward roleplaying generously. Inspiration and BIFTs are there. Liberally use them. Reward playing to BIFTs with Inspiration, and lots of it. Hand it out left and right. If the players know they will receive Inspiration for roleplaying, they'll roleplay more...and they'll spend that Inspiration rather than hoarding it for a critical saving throw. If they spend Inspiration, they'll then try to recoup it with--you guessed it!--roleplaying.

3. Make skill checks matter. If a good portion of the game can be resolved by rolling ability score + weapon proficiency bonus, an equal or greater portion can be resolved by rolling ability score + skill proficiency bonus. You don't need to implement skill challenges or formalized mechanics for this, just ensure that characters can use History and Survival to solve problems the same way that characters can use spell slots and attack rolls.
 

Oofta

Legend
Ha, ha. We have ample real world evidence of people using persuasion (or intimidation) rather than medicine in such situations.

I like your overall point, but what if you call for a deception check and the player says, "but I'm not trying to deceive them." Would you change the skill check? Do you base the skill check on the NPC's (DMs) reaction or the player's intent? I can see problems with both. Is a player out of line for questioning (negotiating?) the skill check?
Most of the time it's obvious, it it's not I'll clarify before asking for a roll or they'll simply ask for a deception check. Although if someone wanted to use (random example) Arcana instead of deception I might allow it. If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance baffle 'em with BS, right?

My point is that it's too easy to fall back on 2-3 skills so I like to make sure I set up opportunities for variety. Same with, say, exploration and saving throws. Trying to escape collapsing tunnels? Maybe you make a constitution save to just ignore that boulder that fell on you or an intelligence save to quickly look at the situation and determine which way the rock is going to fall. I'll try to make the call as a DM and often try to lean into their strengths. After all, people should be doing something other than a dex or wisdom save now and then. :)
 


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