D&D General On Social Mechanics of Various Sorts

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I enjoy very light social mechanics that can help characters feel separate from the players.

For example, I very purposefully gave my dwarf wizard no proficiencies in Persuasion, Deception, or Intimidation because I liked the idea of an exile from the dwarven hold being awkward around people. On the other hand, as a player, I often try to solve problems through talking and trickery. In our last game, my wizard used Disguise Self to turn into a powerful drow general he had found out about through Detect Thoughts and tried to command some drider guards to leave a doorway. The DM asked me to roll a Deception check... and I rolled something like a 3! The driders sniffed out something suspicious and it lead to a fun combat / running away scene.

On the other hand, we have a player who is very shy and quiet, but is playing a high charisma sorcerer. Often he states his intention ("I want to trick the guards into thinking we are merchants.") and then rolls really high. Seeing that he was effective, the DM can ask "It works, what did this look like?" And then either the player, or the other players if he asks for help, can describe the scene and dialogue.
 

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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I don't think you need to actually be eloquent and charming to play such a character, you just need an understanding of the social/political circumstances as is relevant to the encounter/scene. (So kind of like, I don't need to know how to handle a sword to play a fighter, but it helps to know some general tactics like trying to flank, higher ground, withdrawing to get a foe to follow you, etc). Thus a player can say, "I try to clearly and eloquently use Sir Goofus's sense of national pride and duty to persuade him that letting us into the room he is guarding to stop the coronation is actually the good thing for the kingdom in the long run even though he has been ordered otherwise."

If you just say, "I try to convince him," I am always going to ask "How?" If a player isn't sure or hasn't been paying close enough attention to politics/lore (though why'd you want to play the face if you weren't interested in doing that confounds me), then the other players can weigh in with their suggestions if the player in question wants. (We do super high intelligence the same way - the player's ability to poll other players represents their analytical ability to consider multiple options to pick the best one - but it is always the high INT player's choice to initiate such polling - I don't want other players sounding off in such a way that the player in question feels like they are not actually making their own choices).

From there if the player wants to say some of those words, that's fine and fun, but is not gonna effect the DC one way or another. And then we roll - whether the roll is an open roll or a behind the screen roll depends on the circumstances and what the PCs could know about the reaction.
 

Reynard

Legend
(We do super high intelligence the same way - the player's ability to poll other players represents their analytical ability to consider multiple options to pick the best one -
I really like that. I think I'll steal it -- not least because it might be a way to help keep table talk down when the PCs wouldn't reasonably be able to discuss it amongst themselves (such as tactics discussions in mid fight, or how what to say in the middle of a private conversation).
 

Stormonu

Legend
I do a mix of RP and dice rolls. Over the years I’ve had both wallflower and silver-tongued players whose real-life skill was different from the character. Intent has become more important than what is actually said, but I do keep in mind how appropriate the approach is, which can affect the roll (or possibly eliminate it - insulting someone and then asking for a favor tends to go over poorly, for example).

Some of the hardest things I find to adjucate, however are PCs attempting to intimidate, threaten or even torture information out of enemies. At what point is the NPC just going to cave to the PC’s antics or will they end up taking their secrets to the grave? How far do I want to let them go with this line of questioning until they’re no better than the villains?
 
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Fanaelialae

Legend
I can't recall a time when rewarding "roleplaying skill" actually motivated quiet players to come out of their shells. Usually, it had the opposite effect. So that's why I adopted my current outlook: if there is no pressure to "perform" then the player can focus on what they want their character to do or say, rather than worrying about how they will be perceived by the other players/GM.
Speaking as someone who has fairly significant social anxiety, but is also somewhat competitive, rewarding bonus XP for roleplaying was a huge factor in forcing me out of my shell when I first started. Which is to say, it can definitely work but that depends on the player. Ultimately, we got rid of such individual bonus rewards because it wasn't worth the trade-offs (like certain players feeling bad because they received a low bonus).

Personally, I prefer a middle line between RP and social mechanics. The players will RP out the encounter (or at least tell me their approach) and then roll for the outcome. I set the DC based on how persuasive their approach is (respective to the NPC). If the approach is good enough (or bad enough) then it may succeed or fail without a roll. Offering a corrupt official a large bribe is probably guaranteed to succeed, while attempting the same thing with a paladin is probably guaranteed to fail. So, more or less, the default 5e system.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
And if they choose a sub-optimal or even straight up crappy one, well. . . even ostensibly very smart people have blindspots and flaws or just choose poorly in the moment sometimes. 🤷‍♂️
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
my general experience has been…the more rolls the less roleplay.

Well, yes, if the rolls do not mesh with and enable roleplay. However, when mechanics and roleplay are aligned...

Last night, we started a session of Space:1889, using Fate Accelerated rules. The scene is... a dinner party. You can say that we are in a comedy of manners chapter of the story - the party is attempting some matchmaking. Key to our plan is our owning the story of one of our own adventures.

Unfortunately, the local gossip columnist is talking with an American man named LeRoy, who was a royal pain in the butt on said adventure, and he is busy bending the truth to her to claim the success of the mission he nearly ruined. Up steps my wife's PC, Lady Lavinia Badgely-Wakefield, slightly eccentric, but favorite daughter of Lord Wakefield, important man in the British House of Lords...

Lavinia: "Oh! Mr. LeRoy! Is that some of the American "tall tale telling" you are always on about? Do tell us the one about the lumberjack with the blue ox!"
(Roll Clever, to Create Advantage: Unreliable speaker, success with style)
LeRoy: "Lady Lavinia! How charming to see you again!" (attempts a courtly greeting kiss on Lavinia's gloved hand)
(Roll Flashy, to remove Unreliable Narrator, complete failure)
Lavinia: (says nothing, and properly but conspicuously wipes her kissed glove off on her dress with a thinly veiled grimace of disdain on her face)
(Roll Forceful, to Attack, taking free tag on Advantage. Result: LeRoy takes six points of Stress, which in this scene is Social, rather than physical. LeRoy takes Consequence "Clearly Buffoonish American" to absorb much of it.)
LeRoy: "Oh, well... I see my drink is empty!"
(LeRoy Concedes this conflict, is narrated to find himself in a corner in a hideous conversation about dung beetles with a pasty man with an ill-fitting suit that's clearly not been properly aired in the Venusian damp...)

What we could use for D&D are mechanics that allow for colorfully stated roleplay to have suitable effects in a transparent way, which we don't get with "roll Persuasion".
 
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Reynard

Legend
I want to clarify that I am talking about more than just "persuasion checks" here: faction rules, romance mechanics, honor and reputation, "social combat" and so on. The social pillar of the game is actually pretty broad, but I feel like mechanics to support it are often underutilized.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Well, yes, if the rolls do not mesh with and enable roleplay. However, when mechanics and roleplay are aligned...

Last night, we started a session of Space:1889, using Fate Accelerated rules. The scene is... a dinner party. You can say that we are in a comedy of manners chapter of the story - the party is attempting some matchmaking. Key to our plan is our owning the story of one of our own adventures.

Unfortunately, the local gossip columnist is talking with an American man named LeRoy, who was a royal pain in the butt on said adventure, and he is busy bending the truth to her to claim the success of the mission he nearly ruined. Up steps my wife's PC, Lady Lavinia Badgely-Wakefield, slightly eccentric, but favorite daughter of Lord Wakefield, important man in the British House of Lords...

Lavinia: "Oh! Mr. LeRoy! Is that some of the American "tall tale telling" you are always on about? Do tell us the one about the lumberjack with the blue ox!"
(Roll Clever, to Create Advantage: Unreliable speaker, success with style)
LeRoy: "Lady Lavinia! How charming to see you again!" (attempts a courtly greeting kiss on Lavinia's gloved hand)
(Roll Flashy, to remove Unreliable Narrator, complete failure)
Lavinia: (says nothing, and properly but conspicuously wipes her kissed glove off on her dress with a thinly veiled grimace of disdain on her face)
(Roll Forceful, to Attack, taking free tag on Advantage. Result: LeRoy takes six points of Stress, which in this scene is Social, rather than physical. LeRoy takes Consequence "Clearly Buffoonish American" to absorb much of it.)
LeRoy: "Oh, well... I see my drink is empty!"
(LeRoy Concedes this conflict, is narrated to find himself in a corner in a hideous conversation about dung beetles with a pasty man with an ill-fitting suit that's clearly not been properly aired in the Venusian damp...)

What we could use for D&D are mechanics that allow for colorfully stated roleplay to have suitable effects in a transparent way, which we don't get with "roll Persuasion".
I have tried many systems, some with heavy social rolls, others with less.

tbe result has always been the same for me, the more rules in a social discussion the more i watch players looking at their character sheets and dice and less they are actually just talking in character.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
How do you use social mechanics in your D&D games? If the scale of "how much do you rely on social mechanics" is from 0 (never roll; just role-play) to 10 (role-play doesn't impact the DC; just roll), where do your preferences sit on that scale? Does it change from campaign to campaign, adventure to adventure, or even between players?
I have players who literally won’t shut up when talking to NPCs and players who flatly refuse to speak in character (first person dialog as the character), so I have to juggle both ends of that at the same time. I go with the social interaction rules in the DMG, pushing both RP and rolls. For the “no talkie” player I have them describe the attitude their character takes and any angles or leverage or bribes or blackmail they use during the interaction.

It sounds like that relationship mechanic treats each character as a faction with positive and negative renown. It’s not a bad way to go but it can get very paperwork heavy outside a limited cast of characters.
 
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The challenge for me is when to just go with the stats. I have had plenty of players who are quite comfortable speaking in character and can be convincing as a player but their character's dump stat is charisma. I have also had players who are keen to play say a Bard or Sorcerer but find speaking up intimidating. In a tabletop rpg, all physical actions are abstract rolls of the dice, based typically on character stats. It doesnt matter how good the player is swinging a sword. But social ability that a player does or does not have weighs heavily on a social game. So you have to be mindful. Don't reward players with an an unearned character ability just because the player themselves has it. Same issue with smart players who play dumb characters yet figure everything out.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The game's rules will tell the DM when to call for a roll. In D&D 5e, for example, that's the same for a physical action or a social one: When the outcome is uncertain and when there's also a meaningful consequence for failure. If one or both of those criteria are not present, then there's no roll. The DM just narrates the outcome.
 

payn

Legend
I want to clarify that I am talking about more than just "persuasion checks" here: faction rules, romance mechanics, honor and reputation, "social combat" and so on. The social pillar of the game is actually pretty broad, but I feel like mechanics to support it are often underutilized.
I think its important that there is more than one way to skin a cat. I was in a game once that had romance rules and basically they were driven by the Charisma stat. Most players had dumped Cha so they didnt stand a chance against the bard or sorc. If characters are intended to work against one another, mechanically there needs to be versatility or these mechanics systems become one dimensional. Then you end up with the "only X PC talks to NPCs" dynamic.
 

ART!

Legend
Heh, at this point, I am just grateful to even have a section of the character sheet with "Bonds".

For Bonds, I feel it is important to distinguish between persons, places, and things. It might be, the place like childhood home relates to persons, like parents. A thing might be a sentimental heirloom. But the relationship to each is different.



Thinking out loud, it is probably ok to gain ones proficiency bonus for any skill checks relating to a Bond. Skills that relate to or test ones bonded relationship are heightened.

There could be other kinds of doable mechanics too.
I've probably mentioned it on the forums before, but the next time I run a D&D game, I've got a mind to assign dice to each Personality Trait, like the Proficiency Die variant rule. The dice might vary in size, with a d4, d6, and d8 to assign...although d8 is a lot so maybe just a couple d4s and one or two d6s. Roll the die when the action being taken relates strongly to that personality trait. Obviously, that's a system that might quickly get abused.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
The challenge for me is when to just go with the stats. I have had plenty of players who are quite comfortable speaking in character and can be convincing as a player but their character's dump stat is charisma. I have also had players who are keen to play say a Bard or Sorcerer but find speaking up intimidating. In a tabletop rpg, all physical actions are abstract rolls of the dice, based typically on character stats. It doesnt matter how good the player is swinging a sword. But social ability that a player does or does not have weighs heavily on a social game. So you have to be mindful. Don't reward players with an an unearned character ability just because the player themselves has it. Same issue with smart players who play dumb characters yet figure everything out.
What I tell my players is that they choose what their character says, but if a check is called for the dice influence how they expressed themselves. A person can make the same request any number of ways. Rudely, passive-aggressively, politely, etc.
 

Reynard

Legend
The game's rules will tell the DM when to call for a roll. In D&D 5e, for example, that's the same for a physical action or a social one: When the outcome is uncertain and when there's also a meaningful consequence for failure. If one or both of those criteria are not present, then there's no roll. The DM just narrates the outcome.
Sure, but the social pillar hardly has the same granularity of specific rules as combat, or even exploration. There is a lot more weight on the GM to make rulings unsupported by the system in most versions of D&D, 5E especially.
 


Yaarel

Mind Mage
I've probably mentioned it on the forums before, but the next time I run a D&D game, I've got a mind to assign dice to each Personality Trait, like the Proficiency Die variant rule. The dice might vary in size, with a d4, d6, and d8 to assign...although d8 is a lot so maybe just a couple d4s and one or two d6s. Roll the die when the action being taken relates strongly to that personality trait. Obviously, that's a system that might quickly get abused.
You mean?
• Proficiency +2 ≈ 1d4

At a higher tier:
• Proficiency +3 ≈ 1d6

As far as I can tell, that should balance mechanically.



By "abuse", I am guessing you mean players will overuse their Personality Trait as an explanation to gain Proficiency of skills that the character otherwise lacks? That might get annoying, but I dont think it would break the gaming mechanics.

(For me, Alignment, Ideal, Flaw, etcetera are all "personality traits", so I refer to the "Personality Trait" as a "Quirk".)

If overuse becomes too interferesome, maybe restrict the use of the Quirk for a Proficiency Bonus to a number of times equal to ones Proficiency per long rest.

If a player character has both a proficiency and a relevant Quirk, perhaps that allows an advantage?



Maybe a hostile opponent can deny a player character a Proficiency, by exploiting a Flaw, provoking one to get frustrated and exasperated?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Sure, but the social pillar hardly has the same granularity of specific rules as combat, or even exploration. There is a lot more weight on the GM to make rulings unsupported by the system in most versions of D&D, 5E especially.
Which is a weird thing to say when there's more rules about social interaction in 5E than any other edition of D&D. At best the older editions has morale and reaction roles. But that's it. DMG, p244 has a page-and-a-half on social interactions. I think that might be more than several (most...all) other editions combined.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Which is a weird thing to say when there's more rules about social interaction in 5E than any other edition of D&D. At best the older editions has morale and reaction roles. But that's it. DMG, p244 has a page-and-a-half on social interactions. I think that might be more than several other editions combined.
Arguably D&D 3e and 4e had a lot as well. For 4e it was mostly handled in skill challenges, if the interaction was complex enough. 4e also had codified combat uses for Intimidation.
 

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