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

cbwjm

Seb-wejem
I think when it comes to role-playing out of combat situations, the rules should back up and support the roleplaying. Primarily this comes down to skill checks in support of what the players are wanting to do, whether that's an eloquent speach by the players or them saying "my player says this..." shouldn't really matter.

There is a guide to social interaction in the DMG, it's nice and simple, having initial impressions of the players of hostile, indifferent, or friendly which then goes on to state what happens with a successful check. The DM can provide advantage or disadvantage to the check depending in how
What the PCs say (I believe this ties into bonds/flaws etc, maybe I should also reread it). This is, to me at least, a good system since it backs up the role-playing with a mechanic to help arbitrate the reaction.

I think for most of the exploration and social pillars, you don't really need a great deal of rules, just enough to back up what the players are wanting to do, though you could also do it completely freeform with no additional rules and just use the occasional ability check.
 

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TheSword

Legend
Looking at WFRP, a game that has quite a bit of social interaction equally balanced I would say with combat, there are a couple of things I would like to see considered.

  • How bribery could be effected in a game
  • How social status could affect interactions
  • How social activities like a gambling might be resolved
  • How bartering or negotiating something complex could be resolved.

Things in 5e I find unsatisfying include
  • Knocking someone unconscious (reduce them to 0 hp and decide not to kill them)
  • Tying someone up (no rules as far as I can tell)
  • Ending a confrontational situation in any way other than removing all HP. Morale etc.

Any suggestions of improvements or solutions to any of these?
 

GuyBoy

Hero
Sure, what does that look like though?
Remember the use of Keep on the Borderlands when used as your home base for Rappan Athuk?
The interactions with the castellan who had been replaced by an evil doppelgänger? And with the former member of an adventuring group who had fled Rappan Athuk, leaving her friends to either die (or maybe not?) and was now a guilt-ridden bard in the settlement?

These NPCs weren’t designed to set up combat, just role-play, and as I recall, it worked.
@TheSword and his character both knew it was a doppelgänger and acted accordingly, creating a tension with the other player (Ryan) who I’m sure knew as well, but his character didn’t and he role played accordingly, even though he knew it wasn’t at all optimal.

One example for you.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
Looking at WFRP, a game that has quite a bit of social interaction equally balanced I would say with combat, there are a couple of things I would like to see considered.

  • How bribery could be effected in a game
  • How social status could affect interactions
  • How social activities like a gambling might be resolved
  • How bartering or negotiating something complex could be resolved.

Things in 5e I find unsatisfying include
  • Knocking someone unconscious (reduce them to 0 hp and decide not to kill them)
  • Tying someone up (no rules as far as I can tell)
  • Ending a confrontational situation in any way other than removing all HP. Morale etc.

Any suggestions of improvements or solutions to any of these?
I may get brickbats thrown at me for my answer, and they may be deserved, but I’d just wing it as a DM in all these situations, based on judgement of the NPCs or monsters involved and how each response would create a good campaign story.
 

Helpful NPC Thom

Adventurer
@TheSword, here's a very simple method of handling them.

Bribery: The PCs can offer the character a bribe. The NPC might accept the bribe, reject the bribe, or hem and haw. If he hems and haws, the PC can make a Charisma (Persuasion) check. Success means he'll accept the bribe, failure means he'll reject it (too risky), or he'll demand more to accept it.

Social Status: Applies advantage or disadvantage to rolls as appropriate.

Gambling: Test Intelligence (Gambler's Set). On a success, the gambler wins the game. On a failure, he is caught cheating.

Negotiations: Roll an appropriate skill check thrice. Zero successes indicates a refusal, one or two successes indicates a compromise is reached, three successes indicates acceptance on the PCs' terms.

Alternatively, check out my thread here for not too crunchy BIFT and Inspiration mechanics I'm using in my next game.
 
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Jmarso

Adventurer
Role playing and the social pillar of play can be a tricky thing.

If you have a DM who's at least a hint of a closet actor or exhibitionist, it's a great boon. Then it's a matter of how much of that the players possess, and play off him or her. If you've got a gaming group that's been together for a while (or are family/friends), are comfortable with one another, and willing to let the barriers down a bit, it can't be beat.

If, on the other hand, you've got a table full of people who don't interact that well, aren't comfortable around each other, and can't get into 'acting' at least a little bit, your role-playing pillar is going to fall flatter than a crepe pancake.

Personally, I think this is where the DM becomes the make/break personality, because he/she represents so much of the game world. Every player at the table can be an oscar-contending actor, but if the DM comes across like a humorless, emotionless zombie, it just ain't gonna work.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Is everything not-combat in 5e, filler until the next fight comes along as this poster seem to suggest.

Can you have a meaningful, enjoyable, challenging (not necessarily risk of death) session in D&D without inserting CR/level appropriate fights. If so, are there any specific techniques or rules you would use to do so?
There is clearly a huge difference between groups! I can accept if part of the D&D fanbase plays the game as just combat, with the rest being filler between combats. I don't buy that this is the majority however. It might seem the majority because since they are the most interested (obsessed?) with rules, they often endlessly dominate online discussions. IMHO they also more or less divide between not caring/wanting out-of-combat rules at all, or instead wanting lots of rules to turn everything non-combat into combat-like.

Pretty much all games of D&D I've run or played since the beginning almost 30 years ago had combat AND non-combat situations. Never felt to me like social interaction, investigation and exploration aren't challenging. Of course if the DM doesn't care or runs them poorly,or the players demand to fast-forward them, they can end up being too-easy or non-challenging: self-fulfilling prophecy.

But to be honest, exploration is my favourite pillar, and I've seen more DM running non-challenging combat than exploration. In fact, a significant share of those players who like only combat actually just like a "shoot'em up" version of it i.e. non-challenging combat!

That said, for me the exploration phase is challenging when it requires thinking in-character, and rules tend to work against that. The more rules you have to represent and resolve a situation, the less you think in-character and the more you instead think in terms of those rules, like "if I use this ability here I get this bonus there". This can be a reasonably satisfying resource-management challenge but the game is already full of those and I don't feel I need even more, especially because they reduce the need to think in-character.

Already the most basic single-roll mechanic has that problem, the proverbial "I check for hidden doors" dice roll. It can totally bypass any in-character thinking when applied bluntly. Of course then your exploration is boring! But switching to skill challenges doesn't make it a bit more interesting to me. So I don't add more rules, the only "technique" I use is ask the players to try more immersion and then call for dice rolls only as a way (a) for me to resolve something I am myself undecided for, and (b) make players feel good about using some bonus they invested into.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Looking at WFRP, a game that has quite a bit of social interaction equally balanced I would say with combat, there are a couple of things I would like to see considered.

  • How bribery could be effected in a game

We could consider it a specific separate thing, a function of the target's personal ethics, the value of the bribe, the risk of being caught, and how persuasive the briber is. We could come up with special rules for it.

Or, we could treat it like a negotiation. See below.

  • How social status could affect interactions

I think this fits well into the Advantage/Disadvantage space. When aligned, things like Persuasion and Deception are easier. When social classes are in opposition, things like Intimidation are easier.

  • How social activities like a gambling might be resolved

We already have tool proficiencies for gambling and game playing. However, a lot of actual gambling is not social - they are probabilistic, but happen in a social context. Only games with secret information and bluffing (like poker) are themselves social activities.

  • How bartering or negotiating something complex could be resolved.

This is ripe for a skill challenge. Bribes, from above, are merely one possible element in a negotiation. Note that, in a really complex negotiation, there can be a lot of things other than social skills that matter, which is excellent for skill challenges. Understanding of finances, for example, can be key in business negotiation. In a treaty negotiation, knowing History matters, and so on.

Things in 5e I find unsatisfying include
  • Knocking someone unconscious (reduce them to 0 hp and decide not to kill them)

So, I don't feel this is a non-combat element. This is combat. Combat has a simple rule for this - if you are in melee, and reduce the enemy to zero hit points, you can choose to not kill them.

Media has lots of examples of the hero coming up and knocking someone out with one punch, or putting a guard into a choke hold and knocking them unconscious. In D&D terms, these are enabled with guards that only have one hit die, that can be defeated before they get an action.

  • Ending a confrontational situation in any way other than removing all HP. Morale etc.

This is just a negotiation skill challenge that is harder - if you succeed, you get out without a fight. If you fail, a fight starts.

Lots of people have problems with skill challenges. They claim that it leads to the players just looking at their character sheets for relevant skills, rather than role playing. To this, I have two comments:

1) Everyone looks a lot at their character sheets when dealing with mechanics that are new. If you keep up with them for a while, people will get used to the process and the sheet-referencing will likely be reduced.

2) The Super Secret Way To Run Skill Challenges: Don't announce them to the players. Don't say, "This is a skill challenge!" Just describe the situation, and ask, "What do you do?" They will take actions, some of which may call for skill checks. You note the result of the skill checks. Eventually, they'll build to a success or a failure.
 

TheSword

Legend
One of the other challenges with low frequency combat is that with so many combat abilities, if you only run one combat a day or week, players are going to turn it into a cake-walk.

How would you resolve this? Use higher CR enemies just less often? Is there anything else you can do to make those single day fights more affecting?
 

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