Monday, 4 July 2016
Classic Rant: In Praise of the Reaction Table
So, I had been talking a while back on theRPGsite about my issues with social mechanics (of course, I've been talking about that here for years).
I can now say that what with running two different D&D campaigns at the same time, for the first time in years, I've found a social mechanic system that's been working really well for me.
Its called the Reaction Table, bitches.
Now, this is not nostalgia. Let me clarify something, which at the same time points out why I think that nostalgia is such utter bullshit as a motivation for "old school" gaming. The Nostalgia view would be saying "reaction table! Fuck yeah!! Just like we always used to do it before!!" etc etc. ad nauseum.
But it is in fact nothing like how we did it before. I played D&D in the period that the old schoolers call the "old school"; and I can assure you that in that time, the reaction table was never used for anything other than the very rare animal encounter. It was one of those mechanics that tended to be ignored; generally, a monster was there to attack. Sometimes, to run away. Some encounters were with a friendly party and you already knew they were going to be friendly. It was very fucking rare that you'd have to roll dice to judge if someone was going to fight you or be your new BFF.
And nowhere did any of us ever think to use the reaction table as a real social mechanic system, for things like convincing people or bluffing or intimidating, by changing the reactions from friend or foe to the a more general "good reaction/bad reaction" barometric.
So this is not nostalgia, its a totally new use (for me) of something I never used in the "good old days". But it works really well. It leaves almost all the leeway to the players, to roleplay out their social interactions, and it leaves all the control in the GM's hand; he rolls the table when he wants, and interprets it as he likes. There's no need for the player to invest character points or any such thing into social skills; nor is the GM then obliged to humour a player or put up with arguments about his effectiveness on account of him having 20 points of diplomacy even though the player can't charm his way out of a wet paper bag.
No, its simplicity is its beauty; it's the GM rolling when he wants, adding the Charisma modifier and any other bonuses or penalties he sees fit, and getting from that a result of either approval, rejection or some variant of "must keep trying".
Who'd have thought that a social mechanic I'd love was staring me in the face for the last 25 years, and it'd take me till now to notice?
(Originally Posted July 21, 2011)