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D&D General Social Pillar Mechanics: Where do you stand?


One thing that tends to be contentious is the use of mechanical systems in the social pillar aka "roll playing." Some people think that all interactions and results should emerge from roleplay only. others think that social interactions should be as mechanically supported as combat or exploration. And, of course, most people fall somewhere on the continuum.

So where do you stand on the topic of social pillar mechanics? Do you think a courtroom debate or plea to the king should be governed by players and GMs roleplaying, or by game mechanics, or something in between. How do you feel about old school reaction rolls, and/or modern Persuasion checks? And if mechanics should play a bigger part in the social pillar, how should those mechanics be "distributed" among classes? That is, should there be a "face" class or should everyone be able to use those mechanics?

I am actually pro "social combat." In a perfect world you would have a system that allows for rhetoric and wit, both in attack and defense, and you would whittle down the opponents Resolve Points until they acquiesced. Of course, not every tiny interaction would have to use this full system, but then I don't think every fight should have to use the full combat system either.

Anyway: what do you think?

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I could go any which way as long as
(a) You have a decent DM; and
(b) The DM is upfront with the system they will be using within the scene

I'm game for Old School, Skill Challenges, Free Style, Degrees of Success, Fail Foward or Social Combat ...etc It is all good as long as you're having fun. As a DM I tend to mix it up for my players and it works for our table.

We use dice. We might do some roleplay to establish the fiction. I’ll ask the player about their characters approach, any relevant arguments they might have then assess a bonus or penalty to the dice roll and away we go.

It just doesn’t make sense to me, to require the character to roleplay a social situation, and base the outcome on our player to gm social interaction. If my character has the skills and feats to be charming or intimidating or whatever the character should be able to leverage those choices. The character is one acting in the fiction. Their traits are what matters. Not my ability as a player to be charming or compose a relevant logical argument.

I can’t roleplay having an 18 strength or intelligence. Why do I have to roleplay being charming or persuasive?


He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Currently in a War for the Crown AP for PF1. This is a heavy political intrigue adventure that uses social sub-systems. A series of checks that can allow any PC to gain advantages or disadvantages that works out like a skill challenge of 4E. This works well in PF1 because of the robust skill system; which 5E lacks. I could easy enough do it in 5E, but Id have to make up the system. However, I do like social mechanics in my RPGs.

That said, I am not the type that runs my games in a social roll determines everything approach. For example, you can use diplomacy on an NPC in a 3E/PF1 game, but that doesnt make the NPC do whatever you want, give whatever info you desire, etc... I still require the player to offer a reasonable approach from the character's position for why that should be. The diplo roll simply determines how hard or easy that road will be.

As for social combat, in theory I like the idea of working through the resolve of a target. However, I get anxious when folks start talking scores because once you have points involved you can start to game the system. Which is why I stated above I dont allow diplomacy to work like dominance like some folks are wont to do. This preference of mine is sort of sub-systems in general though as I don't like experience points either. So, im drifting into general RPG design here a bit.


One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
your stats are relevant and you have to use the mechanics to affect the entire rest of the game, i don't see why social situations are so special that they get to be exempt from that, we encounter a social situation and our entire party has dumped charisma, but don't worry, i, the player, have the gift of gab and can talk my way out of the situation. i think not, maybe when my STR 7 fighter can insta-kill that stone giant by describing how cool they swing their sword and cut their throat without an attack roll.

i've heard the justification to allow it because 'it's possible to perform [the social interactions] at the table' but that doesn't work for me, it's 'possible' for me to just reach over and grab the money pile from the bank in monopoly rather than by making it all around the board and passing GO for a measly 200, that doesn't mean i should just do that.
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For me, I'm 100% against full-fledged "social combat mechanics". In my opinion, all roleplaying games are about players making stuff up. Improvising. That's why almost the very first thing a DM says after narrating some description is "What do you do?"

The DM is flat-out asking us to invent something off the top of our head to accomplish. It's improvised verbal communication. We invent something to do, the DM goes along with it and narrates what happens as a result (maybe throwing in some dice rolls if there's a question of success), and then says to us "And now what do you do?" And the process repeats itself.

So to me... if the entire game is meant to be about inventing things "to do" narratively and not just following a game's rulebook that says "First, do X. Second, do Y. Third, do Z."... then why would we take the one part of verbal conversation in the game that is about verbal conversation (the Social pillar) and try and turn it into a series of game rules like we do for say, Combat?

That being said... I'm not a hardo-stickler about it. If a game wants to include a small amount of social skills so that a person can choose to roll dice instead of talking... that's fine. Those kinds of rules are always unobtrusive enough that including them in the Skills list isn't a big deal and they're there if anyone wants them. I personally would rarely use them, but don't care if they are in the game for those that would.


Moderator Emeritus
For D&D (leaving aside other games), I let the player take the lead on whether they want to do some first-person role-play followed by a skill roll or if they just want to narrate what they say/do to me and then they make a roll. Either way, the gist of the argument (persuasion has an obvious argument, but intimidation and deception are making an argument of a sort as well) and the goal in making that argument needs to be clearly defined by the player before a roll can be made and the results are adjudicated.

I do tend to use a "fail-forward" approach in these kinds of rolls, where near misses can lead to interesting alternate outcomes that are not out and out failures - though a very poor roll or a very poor reading of the situation leading to a poor choice in that means and goal can still lead to out-and-out failure.

There are certain outcomes that, no matter what the roll, are unlikely to be achieved by certain means - so laying out those means and outcomes is really important. "I'm going to convince the king to make me his heir" is not something that is going to result from a single interaction/discussion - so even an "impossible" DC is not gonna do that (though it would/could get the ball rolling). "I'm going to convince the king I am an important dignitary from neighboring country and should be treated as an honored guest" on the other hand would be very doable - with the gist of how they are doing this part of the either role-played or narrated interaction.

Edit to add: The idea of "social combat" does not appeal to me at all (for D&D anyway).


A friend and I were discussing this yesterday and we liked the idea of each NPC having a few tags/traits that if the player could incorporate them, they get a bonus on whatever final roll is called for (without a full on social combat system, i tend toward one singular roll at the end of the roleplay conversation to judge how it ultimately went). Things like Greedy or proud or Loves Their Mom or whatever. You could also offend one of those traits and earn a penalty. We also discussed the idea of a Secret, that if you discover it and incorporate it, it gives you advantage. Like if the new king secretly killed his father, and the PCs could let him know they know without blowing up court, they could get advantage on the roll to persuade him to send troops to defend their home or whatever.

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