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Friday 18 July 2014

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.

It's 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.

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; its 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?


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Oversize + Image Latakia

(Originally reposted May 3rd, 2013; on the old blog)


  1. Agreed. While running LotFP over the last year, I have learned to love the reaction table. When the party runs into a random NPC (like those on the encounter table in Better Than Any Man) I can make a roll and give the NPC some direction depending on that roll. The Skinned Man rolled a natural 12 ("helpful") and became a beloved party member (which eventually lead to 20 doppleganger versions of him slaughtering the party...)

  2. I'm a big fan of the Reaction Table, too. Another effect of liberally using this little table is that it cuts down on the "ultra deadly" aspect of low-level play. Oftentimes those who complain about this aspect aren't using the reaction table much, it turns out.

    It's also pretty fun for the DM, in my opinion. Having to improvise on the spot a reason for a group of beast men being "Enthusiastically Friendly" makes for fun twists.

  3. Yes, very true. You roll "friendly", the next question is WHY are they so enthusiastically friendly toward the PCs?!

  4. Image? Link? Book and page number? Included in any retro-clones?