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D&D General On Social Mechanics of Various Sorts

Reynard

Legend
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.
And how many pages are the combat rules? How about the exploration rules? You are being intentionally obtuse.

It would be nice if, for once, we could actually discuss the thread topic.
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
And how many pages are the combat rules? How about the exploration rules?

It would be nice if, for once, we could actually discuss the thread topic.
It would be nice. So why are you bringing up combat rules and exploration rules in a social mechanics thread?
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
So far, I employ the Intimidation skill in the following ways.

The point of the Intimidation skill is knowing how to play on a characters fears. For example, "If you do that, wont your parents get upset with you?" is a way to dissuade the character by negatively making a character worry about a bad outcome.

In combat, the Intimidation can force an opponent to flee or surrender, thus successfully ending a combat encounter. But in this case, as a 4e-ism, I require the opponent to already be "Bloodied" at half-hit-points or less, before game-ending mechanics become possible. Also, I require a plausible threat to intimidate, but by the time the opponent is bloodied, the threat has probably been demonstrated.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
And how many pages are the combat rules? How about the exploration rules? You are being intentionally obtuse.

It would be nice if, for once, we could actually discuss the thread topic.
Why do you think there should be parity with combat rules and social interaction rules in terms of page count? How to handle social interaction is covered in the DMG pages 244 to 246, plus any pages having to do with ability checks (PHB chapter 7, particularly pages 174-175, 178-179) and DMG page 237. How many more pages do you want?
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
I just picked up a copy of Legendary games Ultimate Kingdoms book, and I was reading through the Relationships chapter last night as it is relative to my next campaign (the PCs are going to be crew members of a large "Planejammer" sailing the Astral Sea and they will have to make friends, rivals and enemies among the rest of the crew). It is an interesting system where PCs will earn ranks of friendship with NPCs by a series of individual "challenges" with that NPC --- usually by engaging them on a subject, doing something for them, or giving them a gift, followed by one or more skill checks. I gather from reading it that the system was initially designed for 3.5 or Pathfinder and adapted to 5E, but it seems to work on paper pretty well, with detailed writeups of the example NPCs to show you how to make use of the system in your own games.

Anyway, it got me thinking of social mechanics that can be found in various versions of D&D throughout the years, from reaction rolls to the Leadership Feat, along with the usual Persuasion and Deception checks.

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?

Thanks.
I use the same framework as I do for all skill checks, that I developed kinda by accident.

The player clearly and openly states their:
  • Goal: I want to negotiate a better payday
  • Method (which, in social interactions, mostly means leverage): I want to negotiate a better payday by emphasizing cold facts -- it's a very risky operation, and while we're friends, I don't want to freaking die for 500 gold pieces the fact that it's a very risky operation, and despite the fact that we're friends, I don't want to freaking die for her
  • Ability and Skill: I want to Persuade her for a better payday by Intelligently emphasizing the cold facts -- it's a very risky operation, and while we're friends, I don't want to freaking die for 500 gold pieces

The GM then clearly and openly states:
  • Requirements (what the character needs to do before even making an attempt): in this case, I didn't have any, but if the PC wasn't the NPC's friend, I'd say he needs someone to wouch for him.
  • Risk (what will happen on a failure, always something more than "status quo remains"): Ok, I tell you what. If you fail, she will take her business to your competitors. Yeah, you're her friend, but she doesn't want to freaking starve for you...
  • Reward (what will happen on a success?): ...but if you succeed, she will double the pay.
  • Price (what will happen regardless of the result): She won't be happy, though. I'll start a 6 segment clock "Sarah is fed up by your crap", and mark 2. When it fills, you will be demoted to a mere business partner.
Then I call for a roll with static DC -- 1-10: fail, 11-17: both risk and reward happen, 18+: it's all good.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
I am still gently experimenting with social mechanics.

When it comes to NPCs, the social skills mechanics work great. Basically, the NPC either does what you need, doesnt do it, and either way might get annoyed.

But when it comes to players, using social mechanics might interfere with the reallife players agency in the game.

In these cases, maybe the use of Inspiration dice can help. If the player accepts and roleplays the result of the social mechanic, the player gains an Inspiration die. (I literally hand the player a d20, to use any time, to reroll a failed roll, or to force an opponent to reroll a successful roll.)

But, the player remains free to refuse the outcome of a social mechanic, thus pass up the opportunity of Inspiration.

Even when the character is Charmed or Frightened as a condition, I still want the reallife player to be having fun, and roleplay the situation.
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
But when it comes to players, using social mechanics might interfere with the reallife players agency in the game.
When it comes to PC vs PC, I think, the first order of business is to make sure there's no conflict between the players and negotiate, what they want out of the scene.

When it comes to social interactions in D&D specifically, I just let the "receiving" player to resolve the check using normal rules. In my case, using the framework above, but I guess just letting them to set the DC is fine too.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
When it comes to PC vs PC, I think, the first order of business is to make sure there's no conflict between the players and negotiate, what they want out of the scene.

When it comes to social interactions in D&D specifically, I just let the "receiving" player to resolve the check using normal rules. In my case, using the framework above, but I guess just letting them to set the DC is fine too.
Normally I "referee", but I like the egalitarian idea of letting the player-v-player decide for themselves what the DC and outcomes might be. Heh, it reminds of a poker game with "creative" consequences for winning or losing.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
A few basic things, and then I'll get into more detail.

I reject utterly any notion that immersion is not worth pursuing, or that different mechanics and systems can't reliably contribute to it or detract from it. If I want to play a game without immersion, I have all manner of games that take less time and energy to play than TTRPGs do.

I reject just as much the notion that metagaming is antithetical to roleplaying. It may hinder roleplaying for some individuals, but there is no inherent oppositional conflict between them. Often, metagaming of certain types can aid roleplaying, by reminding the player of the frame of mind of their character, helping them not just project the kind of day they're having into their character's actions. This is especially true of meta resources and "scores" and such, like relationship scores, bonds, rivalries, obligations, debts, favors, etc.

The primary times that I don't want to think about mechanics is when I am in character, doing something that I do regularly in real life, and when that thing is not complex in a way that cannot be easily understood in the moment or cannot be modeled well without much structure.

I prefer not to have my players feel beholden to the 3 primary social skills in every situation. The Bard or Rogue or Warlock might be the party face in most situations, as charm really is quite effective in most situations, but the Fighter or Barbarian in my games can use the same check they'd use to see to their travel kit (Wisdom; Survival) to create a rapport with the King's Scout Captain, and explain the importance of what the Paladin is talking to the King about, gaining an ally (and a success in the skill challenge to get the King's support in expanding the network of watchtowers and ranger posts in the borderlands).

When I am roleplaying a social challenge, I generally only want mechanics for those things where my character's understanding is inherently different and separate from my own. Things like, the feel of a room of people, my character's ability to judge body language beyond the simple surface stuff, my character's in character knowledge about the nuances of a social structure very unlike the one in which I live, the thoughts and feelings of a character other than my own, etc.


So, all that established, the social mechanics I have used and enjoyed;

I like mechanics to build organizations.
  • They help make the organization easier for player's to manage without detracting from play
  • They help the DM use the organization to help the PCs and to challenge them
  • They give a great alternative to the "collecting allies" sub-game that many campaigns create IME. Rather than having 30 NPCs who could be going along on an adventure with the PCs, the PCs have a revolutionary front that the PCs can direct to deal with situations developing concurrently with whatever the PCs are dealing with.
    • They can replace "followers" and consolidate them with "stronghold", into one easy to manage set of resources with a couple tables, a couple scores, and some named NPCs running different things.
  • They give "downtime" resources the PCs can use to accomplish things that would otherwise take a bunch of in game time away from adventuring.
    • Rather than spending 6 months crafting a legendary sword, you've recruited the famous smith and mage of the region to do most of the work for you on the ingredients, preparing the materials, smelting "impurities" into it and other impurities out of it until it has the metalurgical properties you need, etc, so that you can come in and take that bar of steel/gold/cobalt/residuum/dragonbone alloy into a blade, attaching the elemental ruby to the crossguard, and balancing that wild elemental power with runes of stasis and binding, and then affixing a diamond turned red by your own blood to the pommel, binding the power of the sword to your will.
    • Rather than spending a bunch of time researching, you put the scholar and librarian you recruited when you saved them from their burning library during a demon attack to work on it, and just spend a day reviewing all the information they found for you, and then consulting your mage friend with that info to create a binding ritual to seal the demons back in the abyss.
I like mechanics to help create meaningful bonds between PCs and NPCs/nations/cultures/organizations, tying them more strongly to the world.
  • When they save the Princess, and choose not to strongarm the Queen into a bigger reward than what is first offered, they gain an Ally, and Favors, which can be called upon later. When they make a big ask from an NPC, they gain a Debt that will be called in later. If they push those relationships too hard too often, they can lose them, or even have them turn against them. This should all be transparent to the PCs.
    • When they say they're sending a message to the Queen to send a squadron of griffon knights to give them cover to get into the Necromancer's fortress without having to drain their resources on a bunch of small fights with minions, they know how big an ask that is, and how much stress it will put on the relationship, and can check that against the status of their relationship with the Queen.
  • There are bonuses and penalties to different kinds of bonds or rivalries, which the players know about when they gain those bonds, and know what effect they will have on what kinds of situations, etc.
  • Bonds and rivalries can help introduce a complication at an unexpected moment, give everyone at the table ammunition for improvisation and authorship of the fiction, if combined with simple mechanics that allow a player or the DM to react to a roll, a change in the action, etc, by calling upon anyone at the table's bonds, flaws, rivalties, ideals, debts, etc.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
4e had more, by a large margin.

Not only did the indivudual social skills have decent amounts of meat, but there were social applications of other skills, social rituals, social utility powers, and a ton of support for social skill challenges and advice on how to run them.

Still, I prefer the lighter approach of 5e mechanically, but i do wish that 5e had about 10 times more page space dedicated to advice on running and participating in social challenges.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Intimidation is an appropriate skill to combat fears, to maintain owns own confidence and presence.

I am trying to get into the habit of using Intimidation for a "morale check", once an NPC becomes bloodied.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Intimidation is an appropriate skill to combat fears, to maintain owns own confidence and presence.

I am trying to get into the habit of using Intimidation for a "morale check", once an NPC becomes bloodied.
For certain adventures and campaigns, I just write Morale as a trait on the monster stat block: "If the swamp snake is reduced to half its hit points or fewer, it flees if able..." Players learn this over time and they start altering their tactics to just knock them to half then focus on another one (for example).
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
For certain adventures and campaigns, I just write Morale as a trait on the monster stat block: "If the swamp snake is reduced to half its hit points or fewer, it flees if able..." Players learn this over time and they start altering their tactics to just knock them to half then focus on another one (for example).
I am big fan of the Bloodied condition ("half its hit points or fewer").

Especially for urban and modern settings, it can be crucial to win a combat encounter without actually killing the opponent. (And when dealing with wild animals, I feel bad about killing them.)

The Bloodied condition, with Morale, is a useful mechanic toward achieving nonlethal resolutions.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
I want something mechanical to hang player connections / contacts in the world off of.

Something like:

Like, you can maintain up to (proficiency bonus plus charisma bonus) allies. These get written down on your character sheet. An ally is someone you can reasonably expect to help you out.

Allies, in turn, have "levels". Do something for an ally, their connect to you can "level up". You add your alliance level to checks involving that ally.

As a DM, I am allowed to kill said ally, or threaten the connection. Too bad, so sad. I'm even allowed to turn an ally into a heel in a face-heel-turn (but then you get your slot back).

And you don't get an ally for free. You can ask to try to make someone you did something to an ally, or the DM can do it. Typically this will involve an attribute check (that might not be charisma based!) or some other chance of failure.

Simple, grounds the players in the world, and ideally makes them possessive of said allies as assets.

Collecting more powerful allies, or boosting the power of your allies, becomes something you can do.

You can even, for comic effect, have some (comically incompetent) NPC desperate to become one of your PCs allies, and help out as best they can if they become said ally.

Players can start the game with a +2 ally from their background, and maybe one from one of their personality traits (like your bonds).
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I don't know if this is the best way to do it, but it's the way I do social interactions at my table.
  • The player decides what their character says to the NPC. Might give Advantage/Disadvantage on the Charisma check if it's something the NPC wants to hear, or how seriously the player commits to the monologue, how believable it is, another player vouches for him, or whatever.
  • The character sheet decides how well the character says it. This is modeled by a Charisma (Persuasion, etc.) bonus.
  • The dice decide how the NPC reacts to it. The player rolls against the NPCs passive Insight (or whatever)
  • I decide what the NPC says/does, based on how close the Charisma check got to that target.
 
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To use the scale, I'm probably about a 7. In general social situations start as roleplay (including 3rd person perspective) until a decision point needs to be made. If it's the players, I ask for an insight check to potentially give them information necessary to make the decision. If it's an NPC, I ask for a Cha (Deception, Intimidation, Persuasion) check to help determine the effect on the NPC's attitude. While direct roleplay is never required, it's usually very helpful to steer the conversation in the direction the players want. Actual roleplay skill in no way affects the DC, only the possible decisions for the NPC.

I'm a big fan of this approach, so kudos from me to you. It's hard, because it's very easy to think you should reward the rich descriptions, entertaining performances, etc. On the one hand, doing so could motivate the less socially gregarious types to up their game, but I also don't want to create a situation where only very socially gregarious, confident people are welcome at the table.
Other than inspiration (which I'm not particularly fond of), the best method is to add XP to the session total. I include xp for traps, hazards, tricks, social encounters, and even quest completion for my game, so this fits right in. Note this shouldn't be individual xp, as that hurts shy players who are uncomfortable with direct roleplay.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You are being intentionally obtuse.

Mod Note:
You read minds over the internet, such that you know the intent of other posters? That's a rhetorical question.

How about you not make it personal - if you feel someone is not speaking in good faith, try not engaging with them, instead of making nasty comments about your presumptions of their intent, please and thanks.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I use the same framework as I do for all skill checks, that I developed kinda by accident.

The player clearly and openly states their:
  • Goal: I want to negotiate a better payday
  • Method (which, in social interactions, mostly means leverage): I want to negotiate a better payday by emphasizing cold facts -- it's a very risky operation, and while we're friends, I don't want to freaking die for 500 gold pieces the fact that it's a very risky operation, and despite the fact that we're friends, I don't want to freaking die for her
  • Ability and Skill: I want to Persuade her for a better payday by Intelligently emphasizing the cold facts -- it's a very risky operation, and while we're friends, I don't want to freaking die for 500 gold pieces

The GM then clearly and openly states:
  • Requirements (what the character needs to do before even making an attempt): in this case, I didn't have any, but if the PC wasn't the NPC's friend, I'd say he needs someone to wouch for him.
  • Risk (what will happen on a failure, always something more than "status quo remains"): Ok, I tell you what. If you fail, she will take her business to your competitors. Yeah, you're her friend, but she doesn't want to freaking starve for you...
  • Reward (what will happen on a success?): ...but if you succeed, she will double the pay.
  • Price (what will happen regardless of the result): She won't be happy, though. I'll start a 6 segment clock "Sarah is fed up by your crap", and mark 2. When it fills, you will be demoted to a mere business partner.
Then I call for a roll with static DC -- 1-10: fail, 11-17: both risk and reward happen, 18+: it's all good.

I don't know if this is the best way to do it, but it's the way I do social interactions at my table.
  • The player decides what their character says to the NPC. Might give Advantage/Disadvantage on the Charisma check if it's something the NPC wants to hear, or how seriously the player commits to the monologue, how believable it is, another player vouches for him, or whatever.
  • The character sheet decides how well the character says it. This is modeled by a Charisma (Persuasion, etc.) bonus.
  • The dice decide how the NPC reacts to it. The player rolls against the NPCs passive Insight (or whatever)
  • I decide what the NPC says/does, based on how close the Charisma check got to that target.
I’m so stealing these.
 

Azuresun

Adventurer
I prefer these kinds of things to stay under the hood. I dont want players making character choices that are expedient, but at the cost of an NPCs favor, only to gain it back by gifting an equal number of points that is understood via metagaming. Its sort of why I stopped using XP, my players do things mechanically that will give them the best outcomes as opposed to doing things that feel organic to the character.

I do like faction level systems though. If your characters have been a thorn in the side of the city watch, they are not likely to be friendly. I find that sort of thing to be helpful, especially when starting from a strangers relationship point.

Exalted second edition springs to mind as an example of how an optimising mindset can go awfully, hilariously wrong when applied to a social system. The optimised way of talking to someone by RAW was to tie them to a chair so they couldn't run away and pelt them with absurd requests you knew they'd never accept until they ran out of willpower resisting, at which point they would become your helpless puppet and do absolutely anything you asked. And this was before you added social magic powers into the mix! The best defence against this was to punch everyone in the face as soon as they started talking to you.
 


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