D&D General Your thoughts on "Social Combat" systems

Stalker0

Legend
One of the appeals of Roleplaying has always been the ability to play something you are not, the true fantasy element of the genre. Just as weak people get to play strong, hulking characters, shy people often wish to play the smooth talking charismatic character.

To that end, many rp systems have attempted social mechanics or "social combat" systems, a way to augment roleplaying with more detailed mechanics so that a person who is not good at talking can still be "diplomatic and smooth talking" in game.

In my 10+ years of RP experience, though I really appreciate the sentiment, I have found that social systems like these simply fall flat. For all the good they attempt to do, what I have seen at the table is that they deaden roleplay. Players get into a different mindset when they are thinking mechanics, and that mindset detracts from good smooth roleplaying. For every person who is bolstered by the system, I find the rest of the party's roleplay declines.

At the end of it all, the simple "persuasion" check at the end of the roleplay conversation seems the best compromise. It at least adds a little mechanical arbitration to compensate for a person who has trouble with roleplay, but it keeps the mechanics more out of mind to allow roleplay to commence. Anything more complicated than that seems to do more harm than good in the long run.


So what are your thoughts? Have you found any social combat or social mechanics that you think were a true boon to the RP experience?
 

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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
For me not full systems, but the occasional use of an ability is where it’s at. So you roleplay, but occasionally you use an ability which then makes people roleplay differently. But they’re still roleplaying. It’s more like being given a new acting task in the middle of a scene.
 

Oofta

Legend
Social aspects of the game are some of the most fun for me, but I don't want a "system" because if I boil it down to "you need 3 successes before more than 2 failures", faction points or anything else it becomes just an exercise in dice rolling.

That doesn't mean rolls can't come into play, including for skills that are not technically social skills. I keep a list of skills handy and who's proficient as a reminder. So if talking to a leader, maybe a nature check might give the players the knowledge that cutting down all the trees will cause erosion hurting the fishing. What they do with that knowledge is up to the players.

In addition, there are times when perhaps a show of strength/athletics is going to be more persuasive than a persuasion check because the person you're talking to doesn't care about "talky-talk". The player might know this because of an insight or history check.

It is difficult to balance sometimes. If the player most likely to lead the conversation happens to be playing that 8 charisma half orc, I want them to enjoy the social encounter but I also don't want to totally dismiss the fact that they chose charisma as their dump stat. So the tricky part is to know what type(s) of check(s) to call for and what to set the DC at. Success and good arguments may decrease the target DC I have in my head (sometimes the point of not needing a roll), while other times I may give advantage if the player is playing true to their character.
 


toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
I try to avoid, whenever possible, "roll-play" instead of "role-play," but I understand the reasoning. I applied CHA all the time, without a roll, in AD&D. A gamer might say the right things, but with a poor CHA, it was taken wrong by many. "Oh, we got a smooth talker here, a confidence man is what we call your type." And vice versa. "The guard nods cryptically as you tell him his mother's house is on fire and he should leave his post. 'The fortune teller told me a wise man would find me in the strangest time and impart wisdom. I get it. My mother needs me. There's a lender preying on her. My uncle is trying to steal the land. Our house is on fire, and rather than help my mother, I've been pretending like I care for a king who doesn't care for me.'"

I've also recently tried the "C3PO/R2-D2" style of conversation with a new player. For those who don't know Star Wars, these two droids always talked, but we never understood what R2 was beeping. Instead, C3PO mirrored their conversations (e.g. "don't take that tone of voice with me," or "I miss him too.")

As an example, I started a new campaign last week with the new gamer, first D&D game in a high-intrigue, political setting. A young noble was asking him for advice, as the elven elder who'd lived 200 years and seen a bit of everything. The new player was obviously a bit taken aback as to what to say. So, I had the young noble nod to his silent pauses so the player didn't feel uncomfortable with everyone staring and waiting for him to talk. "You're right. It was a foolish question, not worth an answer." From there, the player got more comfortable as we filled the silent pauses with C3PO type observations (that the elf could correct if he wanted). My philosophy is that if he "rolls" his way through the role-play parts, he'll miss a fundamental part of the game.

Otherwise, I find the simplest mechanic is the best. A check only when:

(1) I have no idea how the NPC would react AND
(2) There is something on the line to gain or lose from the conversation.
 

Zsong

Explorer
I’m a dm I know how NPC’s will react. They have dispositions. I really don’t like die rolls for social interactions beyond the ad&d morale system which i think is the best system ever made.
 


I pretty much agree with the OP. I prefer there to either not be rules for social situations, or there to be light, supplementary rules. But I don't want the rules to be the primary way to solve social situations. You should roleplay the situation, and if some rules are used, then the DC and the scope of what can be achieved will be based on the argument you made.

And I get that this gives players with more real life social skills an advantage, but as long as some sort of actual player agency exists in the game, real life skills of the players will always matter. I have played quite a bit of 4e, and it it is crystal clear that the real life tactics skill and system mastery of the player has a huge impact.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
Every ability score matters in a roleplay situation because you're talking to "real" people and not NPC's who respond based on flags.

When you have a 20 in strength, you'll be visibly bulky. People will talk to you with a mindset that you're physically strong. This manifests when you ask if they need help. They'll think of things they need that a strong person can handle.

This leads into high and low charisma. You don't need to make any checks for an NPC to evaluate that the way you present yourself is charming or off-putting. A noble is going to engage in a conversation with a 20 charisma character much more differently than a 8 charisma character without even accounting for dice rolls.


So, even then, if a player wants to be a face character with 8 charisma, have the NPC's react like this player's character is a bit off. Where an NPC may look at the 20 CHA bard with fluttering eyelids, they look at the 8 CHA wizard like they're a nuisance. "Oh, how may I help you?" Vs "What? What do you need?"

A player that roleplays (or describes) how uncharismatic their character is helps tremendously. Maybe they pick their nose mid-conversation or mumble their words and having NPC's react as people would: Looks of disgust or impatiently asking them to speak up. Stuff that do affect the character in a way that is tangible but qualitative rather than quantitative.
 

So what are your thoughts? Have you found any social combat or social mechanics that you think were a true boon to the RP experience?
The 4e Skill Challenge system as I prefer it run (see the 4e-hankering thread for more), if only slightly augmented with more social-/exploration-focused utility powers, is the sweet spot for me. It's structured enough to feel like a game: choices matter, not just numbers and IRL leverage on your DM, and developing good judgment requires effort. But it's free and open enough to feel like roleplay: you use your tools your way and the situation evolves.
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
This leads into high and low charisma. You don't need to make any checks for an NPC to evaluate that the way you present yourself is charming or off-putting. A noble is going to engage in a conversation with a 20 charisma character much more differently than a 8 charisma character without even accounting for dice rolls..

But then how do you account for the beautiful jerk (Gaston in Disneys Beauty and the Beast) or the ugly poet (Cyrano)? Gaston might be an 8 personality even if he is physically handsome and athletic, whereas the Hunchback of Notre Dame was ostracized for his appearance, such that a noble isnt going to give him audience, yet he may have a noble soul.

So for me I like Social Hit Tracks
Roll cha to determine starting disposition
describe situational aspects (Hunchback, Heroic, plays guitar)
And roleplay for bonuses
 

Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
Every NPC interaction has some sort of Persuade/Intimidation/Deception/Charisma check in my game which influences (but does not always decide) the direction of the NPC RP. I know from the rolls which way to take it, and my table wants the skills to mean something. Did you fool the guard? RP should be robust, but the roll can help decide the end result.
 

Asisreo

Patron Badass
But then how do you account for the beautiful jerk (Gaston in Disneys Beauty and the Beast) or the ugly poet (Cyrano)? Gaston might be an 8 personality even if he is physically handsome and athletic, whereas the Hunchback of Notre Dame was ostracized for his appearance, such that a noble isnt going to give him audience, yet he may have a noble soul.
Gaston has a very high Charisma score. Everyone loves him in his town except for a few people. They sing about how they want to be him and he knows exactly how to call attention to himself. Charisma isn't about being polite, kind, or a good person; its about being able to grab and keep people's attention.

Quasimodo is uncharismatic partially because of his looks but also because he sucks at talking to others since all he's done his entire life is speak to 1 human and 3 gargoyle before Esmeralda.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
The Audience system from AiME is a good example of a well-made Social combat system.

1) One PC introduce the group with a DC 15 check. The NPC has a starting reaction to the group which improves by 1 step if this check is a success.

2) The group roleplays the encounter. Each NPC has Motivations (what they want) and a list of Expectations (what the PC can say to influence them). Leveraging expectations give bonuses or maluses to the final roll.

3) When the encounter comes to an end, one PC makes a check against a DC based on the group starting reaction, adding or substracting the bonus from previous steps.

Generally Favoured DC 10
Generally Friendly DC 11
Generally Neutral DC 12
Unknown DC 13
Askance DC 13
Mistrustful DC 14

The compare the results on the NPC outcomes table:
Failed: X
Success: Y
Success by +1 to +3: Z
Sucess by +4 and more: K
 


cbwjm

Legend
I don't think I'd want a system more detailed that what's in the DMG. That plus roleplay does more or less all I need. Come up with a good idea in the social interaction and the player has advantage, totally mess things up and you have disadvantage.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
So what are your thoughts? Have you found any social combat or social mechanics that you think were a true boon to the RP experience?
Yeah, Rich Burlew wrote a hack for the Diplomacy skill in 3rd edition. It was a nice way of getting a feel for some depth without a lot of extra mechanics. Unfortunately, the original link isn't working, but there is an article on the Alexandrian describing it: The Alexandrian - Advanced Rules - Diplomacy

Basically, he redefined Diplomacy as "the art of the deal" (not "making friends"), with two modifiers: (1) your relationship, and (2) the quality of the deal you were offering.

5e D&D merged both those ideas in the NPC tables defining DCs for Charisma checks according to whether NPC is hostile/indifferent/friendly. But I actually think Rich's solution is more "true to actual play" in how players approach Diplomacy and gives a richer feel to the narrative.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So what are your thoughts? Have you found any social combat or social mechanics that you think were a true boon to the RP experience?

Social conflict systems that are just tacked on are always disappointing. If it isn't going to be as integral to the game's design as other conflict resolution, they'll always be lacking.

I take Fate as a comparison here, which recognizes no notable mechanical difference between physical and social conflict resolution, and therefore handles the social end seamlessly.
 


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