D&D 5E (+) Social Mechanics Optional Modules

Dausuul

Legend
Although I'm wary of "social combat" mechanics, I do think there are key lessons to take away from D&D's combat rules, and one of those is the importance of having intermediate states and fictional positioning between the start of a scenario and its resolution.

In other words: Let's take a scene where the PCs burst into the throne room with news of an undead horde marching out of the wasteland. Their goal is to convince the King to respond. The King's goal is to figure out if they're telling the truth. (Note that this situation is not a simple contest of PCs versus King. If the King doesn't believe the PCs, he has not won; he's lost, and the PCs have also lost. Both parties succeed or both fail.)

Now, how can each side advance its goals? At this point, the PCs are unknowns. So they could try to establish their credibility by pointing to their past accomplishments, or soliciting testimonials from influential nobles, or demonstrating their skills. If they succeed, they are now better positioned: The King may not yet believe them, but he has at least decided to take them seriously. They have standing, which they previously did not. If they fail, they make fools of themselves and now they have to make their case from the position of being laughable clowns.

Now the King might try to discern the PCs' motivations. He can question them about what they were doing in the wasteland, or inquire about their connections to nobles he knows to be disloyal. If he succeeds, he establishes that their motives are good, though they might be mistaken. If he fails, he concludes wrongly that they are compromised. It's still possible they're telling the truth, but he is now looking for the knife in the back, and won't agree until he thinks he's spotted it.

As the scenario proceeds, each side establishes (or doesn't) positions to advance its goal. Sometimes they might try to change already-established positions. If the King decides the PCs are compromised, and they realize this, they can try to change his mind, reversing that position. Eventually, the King makes his call and the scene ends.

I'm not yet sure how to frame all this in rules--I suspect they would need to be fairly loose guidelines rather than rigid prescriptions. But that would be how I'd attack it. The key is that each position established changes the nature of the scene, opening up new options and closing off old ones.

(The actual establishing of a position is probably just a skill check. On a superficial level, it would look like a skill challenge. But my ideal system would add a framework for determining which skills are available, what the DCs are, what elements of the "environment" can be called into play--sympathetic nobles, physical evidence, etc.--and, most importantly, how these things change as the scene evolves.)
 
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dave2008

Legend
I created a small and relatively minor set of game rules for my Theros campaign regarding philosophical Debate. They pretty much follow the conventions of standard D&D combat (and take into account some of the changes in the Skill list I made for this campaign.) I have yet to actually playtest or use these rules (the group will probably be in a situation where they need to make argument soon) so I have no idea if they ultimately will be useful... but like combat and Skill Challenges, having a gameside ruleset for the players might help them and me aim for a goal and know if/when it gets reached when conversing in character.

Debate

  • Debates are social combats between two philosophers or politicians.
  • To start a debate, initiative is rolled, a 1d20 + INT, WIS or CHA modifier (player’s choice).
  • Each participant has a Social Attack, a Social Armor Class, and Social Hit Points.
  • Social Attacks are roleplayed and then a check is made by rolling INT (Rhetoric) against their opponent’s Social AC.
  • A person’s Social Armor Class is equal to 10 + WIS (Insight) modifier.
  • A person has a number of Social Hit Points equal to their CHA (Presence) modifier.
  • A successful argument (social attack beats the target’s social AC) causes one point of social hit point damage.
  • When a participant in an argument loses all social hit points they have been defeated in the argument.
Great idea - thank you for sharing and let us know how it goes. As @JEB posted, I could see adding "social maneuvers" to this system as well.
 

CreamCloud0

Explorer
I’d use all three mental stats for social mechanic rolls, CHA is your core likability and general effectiveness, INT determines your capability to express yourself coherently or comprehend incoming conversation (roll low and the message might get misinterpreted) and adjust your demeanour to appeal to the person you’re talking to, WIS like it is now is insight to read if people are being honest to you or trying to convey any secret messages or the intent/motive the other person is trying to achieve from the conversation

I’d also factor backgrounds into things (to give them more significance), some backgrounds are more inclined to be more friendly or antagonistic to people of other certain backgrounds (town guards might be incompatible with rogues or urchins, performers might appeal to nobles) or at least individuals would be, alignment might also factor into things in a similar way
 
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DeviousQuail

Adventurer
Here's my social system from my homebrew game overlaid onto 5e. My homebrew is 2d6 so I did my best moving it to d20.

Each creature, group, organization, etc has a social wheel made up of Intimidate, Persuade, Appeal (called charm in my game but didn't want it to mix up with the 5e version), and Deceive. Intimidate and Appeal sit opposite of one another, the same with Persuade and Deceive. Each of the four has a -5, 0, or +5 based on how they react to those types of socializing. A cowardly merchant might have a +5 to Deceive, showing that they can sniff out a lie or poor offer, while also having a -5 to Intimidate, showing that they give in to threats and danger easily.

For 5e I would use Intimidation for Intimidate rolls (duh), Deception for Deceive rolls (double duh), and Persuasion for Persuade and Appeal rolls. It's up to the DM and players to enforce using attributes other than just Charisma for every roll. For example, Persuade focuses on logic and reason and should probably use Int or Wis more often.

Each person has a disposition rating as well. This just uses advantage/disadvantage or even automatic fail/success. Pretty straightforward for 5e.

Finally, the DM decides what the DC will be based on the situation. DC 10 for "can I borrow a few coppers?" DC 15 for "can you give me information on the local crime boss?" DC 20 for "can I store this highly potent and illegal poison in your wagon?" DC 25 for "Can you help me fight God, please?"

Put that all together and you get the target DC and roll method for your basic social encounters. Obviously, you don't have to roll. This framework can be used to give players an idea of how difficult it will be to convince an NPC and let the DM decide if their roleplaying works or not.

Intimidate and Deceive? Persuade and Appeal? Simple, the DC is based on whichever is higher but the player can choose the higher of the two potential skill rolls. Generally two pieces of the wheel opposite one another are not used in conjunction as they are meant to be two sides of the same coin. But it's your game so do what you want.
 

As a further extension of the stuff I mentioned before, I personally loved the conception 4e built into it's Themes, Backgrounds, Paragon Paths, and Epic Destinies, and would have rebuilt that system into something more cohesive, comprehensive, and able to augment the baseline features of each character class.

Class would provide fairly basic tools and resources for the aforementioned dispute rules--I would try to go very very light-touch with any dispute role assignment via class, since it is very likely that different folks will have different ideas of what the inherent "social combat" goals would be for each class (that is, even moreso than with combat roles). So Wizards might get ways to use their Intelligence outside of just having high Wits, Fighters could get bonuses for high Wisdom (since that was a build path in 4e) or possibly some tools for weathering arguments in the same way they weather fights, etc., but overall that stuff would be very soft touch.

I would then integrate Background, Theme, and possibly even Race into a single mechanical package: Heroic Origin. Every hero's journey starts somewhere. Heroic Origins would cover where a character came from and how they grew from a green, wet-behind-the-ears novice to a fully fledged (albeit still budding) adventurer. (This would also tie into the Novice Level rules: players who want to play through the ultra green stage would have rules for how to do that, essentially "building up" a Heroic Origin piece by piece.) Each Heroic Origin would offer a mix of combat and non-combat benefits, including stuff for setting one's dispute role and ways to interact with the exploration pillar as well. Physiology and culture would either be factored into this, or modular components that slot in.

This would then lead on to one's Paragon Path (or some equivalent term if copyright BS threatens to muck things up), where one would narrow in on a specific focus and style of play, in all pillars of play, just as the Hospitaler PP lets Paladins become excellent Leaders despite that not being their default focus. Epic Destiny would then set you on a journey to a final apotheosis or transcendence of some kind, providing a solid and satisfying clear "end" to the journey that began with your Heroic Origin. This HOPPED system would thus cleanly encapsulate mechanics, thematics, and both the "I just want to play ordinary folks striving and struggling against down-to-earth problems" AND the "I want cool people doing awesome things and overcoming great adversity" crowds without denigrating either preference.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Use flaws, alignment, ideals, traits, and bonds:
Each party sets a social goal. If the goals are compatible, end conflict. Otherwise, each side makes a suggestion based on one of their FAITBs. The suggestion must oppose the opponent's goal or support your own. After using a FAITB, you cannot use it again in that conflict. The first party to fail to use a FAITB in this way loses the conflict. If both parties successfully apply all FAITBs, the winner is determined by opposed mental ability checks (deceive, intimidate, and persuade apply). Initiative rolls require the lower result to go first.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I realized today that I never really dug into my ideas for this for DND. I think I mentioned some stuff I use in my other game, but not so much what I'm working on for dnd.

So, social encounters as "downtime" activities.

Not really, but the mechanics are basically the same.

ON NPCs - NPCs in 5e are largely terrible. If you want satisfying mechanical resolution at a higher level of complexity, you'll want to do an editorial pass over any NPCs you plan to use, and add at least 2 proficiencies to each one, give each 2 save proficiencies, and increase their stats by at least 6 point buy build points. If they're important, consider giving them feats related to their place in the world and the story, like Linguist and Keen Mind for scholars, Actor for politicians and entertainers and spies, etc.

Ask the players what their goal is. If possible, figure out how much they want from the situation, how much their willing to shoot for, knowing that bigger rewards come with bigger risks.

Behind the screen, make some quick notes for each NPC involved:
  • What are their goals?
  • What they're willing to compromise on and any "hard lines" they won't cross or let the PCs cross.
  • Can they be made into an Ally or a Rival (or both), depending on how well the PCs do?
    • What, if any, specific points must be made to achieve either result
  • What do they know about the PCs?


Each bullet point in that list is something the PCs can potentially figure out in preparation, or as part of the encounter, and then leverage to their advantage.

Give them three categories of results they can aim for. Lets just call it Easy, Moderate, and Hard, for now.

Each category has the same ladder of success, but the difficulty and consequences change.

IMPORTANT - Players know what category they have chosen, and roughly what the consequences are, and at least know generally the level of DC, if not the exact number. This doesn't mean they know what the personal consequences to a relationship with a given NPC will be on a failure or success, just what the general overarching stakes are, that they could gain a rival or an ally, etc.

DCs: Either use the DMG suggested DCs, or use them as a base to set a number of dice (I'd advise d4s) to use that hit close to the suggested DC on an average result. ie DC 15 would be met by 6d4. The set DCs are simpler, while the variable DCs add some extra randomization and variety, and allow you to use the dice pool as a thing that changes when the PCs have more or less leverage, or shift the attitude of the NPCs toward or away from their favor. Like, set the DC dice out in front of you, and add or subtract as appropriate. Tension!

In general, the Xanathar's Downtime Activities that have multiple checks use 3 checks with specific skills, and count successes. I'd do the same here, with the additional ability to make checks other than the primary skills to gain information as above, or help the team by moving the NPCs attitude into more favorable territory. These checks don't count as successes or failures for the encounter.

Each success, place a die in a specific place on the table, so everyone can see how the encounter is going. Bonus, you can use these success dice to roll for any monetary rewards, or things like, "how many soldiers does the king send to help us", using multipliers as appropriate.

The encounter either ends or moves to the next stage when 3 primary checks have been made, and you count the number of successes.

Generally, no successes means you totally beef it, fail to get what you want, and face consequences.
1 success means you get away without any negative consequences, but don't get what you want, or get part of what you want with a consequence.
2 successes means you get most or all of what you want. usually, this should allow for pushing for a little more in exchange for something valuable.
3 successes means you get what you want and can get a bit more from the situation without paying any extra price.

Additional consequences and rewards. Using the bullet points above, and the stakes of the situation in general, as a guide, determine if the group or an individual PC have gained any Rivals, or Allies, or even a Favor they can call in later, or a debt that can be called in against them later. As implied above, this should be fairly transparent, once such a consequence comes into play. Ie, if you piss off the duke and he is going to try to mess with you going forward, you should find that out when that becomes the ongoing circumstance, such as when you fail a check to leverage something against the duke, or embarrass yourself in a way that offends him while trying to impress someone, or whatever. This allows the players to choose to use valuable actions and resources to mitigate or reverse this consequence, at the risk of further complicating the primary goal of the scene.

Connecting social encounters. In some cases, this may not be quite enough to reasonably resolve a situation, in which case you would narratively split the scenario into 2 or more "scenes", each acting as an individual evolving encounter in a string of encounters. This means that anything spent stays spent, anything gained is usable, etc, from one encounter to the next.


So, there ya go. I think it's a solid framework for times where greater structure is desired in a given situation. I wouldn't try to force every social encounter to use this or any other framework, saving it only for conflicts with multiple sides where an ongoing "back and forth" is reasonably expected.

Thoughts?
 

JEB

Legend
If you want satisfying mechanical resolution at a higher level of complexity, you'll want to do an editorial pass over any NPCs you plan to use, and add at least 2 proficiencies to each one, give each 2 save proficiencies, and increase their stats by at least 6 point buy build points. If they're important, consider giving them feats related to their place in the world and the story, like Linguist and Keen Mind for scholars, Actor for politicians and entertainers and spies, etc.
Not a direct comment on your post (though I like, especially the evocation of the excellent Xanathar's downtime mechanics), but man, this reminds me how much I miss widespread templates in 5E. Imagine having pre-made NPC templates that you could just slap on top of the existing statblocks to achieve the above.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
A simple thing that I've used a bunch is to make most of the skills also social skills in terms of getting along with and interacting with NPCs who share a skill set. So someone with Animal Handling can do social stuff with drovers and drivers. That sort of thing. I find this opens up a lot of character builds to actual usefulness in social encounters without actually changing the mechanics of the game at all. It also makes sense in a 'shop talk' kind of way.

I've also lightly hacked the downtime mechanics to use a metacurrency I call influence. When you carouse, or surveil, or whatever, and the PCs gather info, that info is rated in terms of influence and favors. You can blow individual points of influence to accomplish minor social things like small favors, or multiple points for bigger or more dangerous favors. To create a decision point for the players, their total non-spent influence with a particular group counts as social standing or rank within that group (handled properly). So the players get to decide to spend their hard won dirty secrets for immediate gain, or horde them to build up overall influence. I haven't ironed all the wrinkles out, but it works pretty well.
 

dave2008

Legend
Not a direct comment on your post (though I like, especially the evocation of the excellent Xanathar's downtime mechanics), but man, this reminds me how much I miss widespread templates in 5E. Imagine having pre-made NPC templates that you could just slap on top of the existing statblocks to achieve the above.
Isn't that basically what the 5e NPC stat blocks are. I know I use them that way. I just slap on the extra goodies from the NPC stat block to a lizardfolk (or whatever) and voila - I have a lizardfolk archmage.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
A simple thing that I've used a bunch is to make most of the skills also social skills in terms of getting along with and interacting with NPCs who share a skill set. So someone with Animal Handling can do social stuff with drovers and drivers. That sort of thing. I find this opens up a lot of character builds to actual usefulness in social encounters without actually changing the mechanics of the game at all. It also makes sense in a 'shop talk' kind of way.
I quite like this and use a variation of it as well in my games - letting players substitute relevant skills as social skills where it makes sense makes me happy. Though the way that I do it is that it isn't the skill, it's just if they have a relevant skill or proficiency then I let them add the proficiency bonus for that skill to their Charisma or Wisdom checks (so expertise counts, but they don't get to use their full Acrobatics bonus to get onto the circus acrobat's good side). If they have a tool proficiency that's relevant it's the same - so the guy trying to get onto the gambler's good side can use his card proficiency bonus on his Charisma check even if he doesn't have a relevant skill for it. It's basically in the same mechanical ballpark as other game systems where you can mix your skill and stat bonuses instead of having a skill depend entirely on a single stat.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I quite like this and use a variation of it as well in my games - letting players substitute relevant skills as social skills where it makes sense makes me happy. Though the way that I do it is that it isn't the skill, it's just if they have a relevant skill or proficiency then I let them add the proficiency bonus for that skill to their Charisma or Wisdom checks (so expertise counts, but they don't get to use their full Acrobatics bonus to get onto the circus acrobat's good side). If they have a tool proficiency that's relevant it's the same - so the guy trying to get onto the gambler's good side can use his card proficiency bonus on his Charisma check even if he doesn't have a relevant skill for it. It's basically in the same mechanical ballpark as other game systems where you can mix your skill and stat bonuses instead of having a skill depend entirely on a single stat.
This is pretty much what I'm doing too. I don't have them rolling Acrobatics plus Dex to schmooze, I'll get them to roll an more appropriate stat. A flexible approach to the skill system really fixes a lot of my kvetches with 5E.

Acrobatics plus Dex in a social situation might be appropriate if, say, the PC was trying to impress some acrobats and establish their bonafides. At that point I'd probably run things like a complex test and have several rolls snowball or affect a ladder or clock so something.
 

Voadam

Legend
I like modular downtime expansions that are easy to implement.

I am happy running most things first person roleplaying with little or no mechanics and making judgment calls based on character concepts and history when doing a lot of second person stuff but sometimes it is nice to have a little structure for "I want to spend a week spreading rumors about the Red Countess to drive public opinion against her."

Xanathar's has a few subsystems.

AiME had some neat wilderness travelling subsystems that could be a decent basis for some downtime activities (different roles that PCs can take with associated skill checks and a chart that might call for checks from different role characters or might not, with various effects based on successes and failures from a chart for each).

Paizo did a bunch of such expansions in a bunch of their Pathfinder adventure paths from reputation building in a town when dealing with an escalating ghost curse situation to running or participating in a revolution.

A bunch of d20 systems developed systems and a bunch of non-D&D type systems have similar stuff to varying degrees.
 

payn

Legend
This isnt a type a thing I usually think about for D&D, though I often think about an interrogation style mechanic for clandestine style RPG. In this, the player and GM need to allow the mechanics to drive the play a little. For example, you are in a classic across the table scene from any number of media. Each side takes turns either asking a question or providing an answer. You roll to see if the question breaks the interrogee's will, or the interrogee spins a falsehood that fools the interrogator.

I have never gotten further than that. I dont know many players who like spy stuff like me. :(
 

I generally compare wisdom vs charisma.

If the target's Wis > speaker's Cha they are likely resistant to persuasion or deception.
If the target's Wis < speaker's Cha they are likely susceptible to persuasion or deception.
If someone is proficient in Insight, Persuasion, &c., they add their proficiency modifier to the score.
The speaker gains +/- 1-4 depending on differences in status, bribes, camaraderie, &c., as well as how the RP moves along.

A difference of ≥5 yields mostly what you want, or a certainty that you aren't through this tactic. You have three opportunities to adjust the values- opening, negotiation, attempt to close.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I generally compare wisdom vs charisma.

If the target's Wis > speaker's Cha they are likely resistant to persuasion or deception.
If the target's Wis < speaker's Cha they are likely susceptible to persuasion or deception.
If someone is proficient in Insight, Persuasion, &c., they add their proficiency modifier to the score.
The speaker gains +/- 1-4 depending on differences in status, bribes, camaraderie, &c., as well as how the RP moves along.

A difference of ≥5 yields mostly what you want, or a certainty that you aren't through this tactic. You have three opportunities to adjust the values- opening, negotiation, attempt to close.
This is how I run simple social interactions, that I don’t see as needing a whole scene all to themselves. The only thing I do differently is that higher wisdom doesn’t mean they’re resistant to persuasion, it means they have a high understanding of the other characters meaning, honesty/dishonesty, general intent, and the gravity or general nature of the situation. If the PCs do poorly on their roll, it means that the NPC is unimpressed or even possibly offended by them. These are essentially two different checks, with consequences alongside eachother.
 

JEB

Legend
Isn't that basically what the 5e NPC stat blocks are. I know I use them that way. I just slap on the extra goodies from the NPC stat block to a lizardfolk (or whatever) and voila - I have a lizardfolk archmage.
Well, officially you're supposed to do the opposite (add lizardfolk traits - either the ones from the DMG or the traits from their Volo's/MOTM writeup - to an NPC statblock). What you're doing, however, would be cooler (and what I was getting at). Plus templates like @doctorbadwolf is implicitly creating ("actor" NPC, etc.).
 

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