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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)


  1. Who is this "us" and "we" that didn't know how to use this table? Speak for yourself.

    1. Funny thing is we used it mostly for AD&D 1e, mainly because the DM Screen that had it was available. Later when said screen was just too loved, I recreated that table on a sheet with expanded hit tables (because I had converted Marvel Superheroes to AD&D, Jeff Grubb mechanics mean the numbers work more or less) and saving throws so basically everyone had their own "screen".

  2. I think the problem may have been folks getting confused by the use of the word "monster," even though it is clearly defined to cover pretty much anyone you encounter rather than just monsters.

  3. Well, I never saw ANYONE use it for non-combat social interactions in the real old days.

    1. We used it all the time in a campaign that spanned from 1986 to the early 2000s with occasional sessions still happening once a month or so. We have almost always used it for social interactions. I realize the mid 80s were not the real old days, but that's when I started playing.

  4. RPGPundit, I did play bitd, I have never played anything but OD&D and while the OD&D reaction table does not have the detail level of the one posted above, that is exactly how we played it and used it bitd, back in early 1974 when we moved on from our fantasy Chainmail campaign. This is the real old school and I assure you that we did use the reaction table like this back in the day, not nostalgia, just the best way to play. I know of a at least one or two other real old school refs who also used it this way bitd.

    This style of play was not non-existent bitd, but I will grant you that it was rare, but most of what really is old school play was rare even bitd.