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Saturday 7 July 2018

Classic Rant: My Approach to Social Interaction in RPGs

Well, the last couple of classic rants have generated a lot of discussion on the subject of social interaction in RPGs, and why I think most systems for "social mechanics" (much less 'social combat' or things like that) are abominable.

But a few people seemed to have some sense of confusion as to how I could in one blog entry praise the mechanics of the Reaction Table from D&D as an example of a useful social-RP tool, and in another condemn the idea of using social skills/mechanics/whatever as a substitute for actually being required to ROLEPLAY it.

This is clearly a result of people not having really read, or not understanding, how I make use of the Reaction rolls in OSR play. So it's time to be more specific about the nuts and bolts of it.

Note the way I make use of the reaction table. The great thing about the reaction table is that it is highly generalized.

Here's what I do, so people get a sense of what I'm talking about: in a social situation, the player will FIRST roleplay (not first "roll diplomacy" or whatever other skill is Mind Control In All But Name). They will have to interact with the NPC through in-character conversation and make use of whatever speaking or rhetorical tools they have and want to use. After this, I roll a reaction check, which is modified by the following things:

a) the CONTENT of what the player had his PC say, measured by how relevant that content is to what might actually move the NPC based on the NPC's motives, interest and personality. So if you are trying to bribe a guard with money, the modifier for this might be positive if the guard is either greedy for or desperately in need of money; neutral if the guard does not find the money being offered worth risking his job/life over; or negative if the guard has no interest in money (especially if he thinks being 'bought off' is an insult) or has some kind of loyalty-to-employers or code of honor that would cause him to take offense at the very idea that he would be corrupted in such a way.

b) the STYLE of how the player said it; if the player was efficient in communicating what he was trying to offer, and also if he did so in a way that felt immersive of his character and not like he wasn't really speaking in his character's voice.

c) the CHARISMA MODIFIER for the PC.

This put together gives me the number (and the place on that table's spectrum of reaction) that would be a general guide to the current state of the NPC's reaction to the PC's social actions.

This is radically different to making roleplay irrelevant and leaving it all to mechanical foofaraw.

The key, to sum up, is that Roleplaying is put FIRST. You don't act out a meaningless charade of chatter based on how your roll went, you roleplay first, and then roll reaction. And the modifiers to reaction are weighted to favor roleplaying more than the attribute modifier: what strategy you pick in terms of what you're saying, whether what you're saying has some kind of coherence or interest for the person you're trying to interact with, whether you said it in a way that was reflective of your character, and only after those what the character's default talent (i.e. the Charisma modifier) might be in terms of how to make (or fail to make) an impression.

That's it.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + H&H's Beverwyck

(Originally posted July 11, 2016)

1 comment:

  1. How do you handle it when the character is much more charismatic than the player? I'm not very articulate in person, especially when put on the spot. I might succeed on content but totally fail on style. But my character could be the type of smooth-talking mofo who could sell ice to an Eskimo. Do you give more weight to the Charisma modifier in such cases?