Monday, December 13, 2010

Role Playing, Social Interaction, and Charisma

I tried my best to stay out of this discussion.  I really did, but I realised I had a valid opinion to state, and it is just that, an opinion.  Hopefully, I can state my opinion as briefly as possible.  I won't bother linking to any other parts of the discussion, because if you are interested you probably have already read them...

Some people think that there should be no social interaction rules in RPGs, especially "old school fantasy", and that it should be covered by role playing. Others believe that such rules would be beneficial, especially for the less talented role players.  My opinion is that it should probably be a mix of both schools of thought.

For example, if a PC comes up to a guard in a castle, and wants to get into a private or restricted area, the discussion might go something like this...

Player: "I want to make a charisma roll to get by the guard."

GM: "Uummm... what are you saying?"

Player: "Can't I just roll?"

GM: "Fine...roll." 

As I GM I would penalise the player for not even trying.  It is called a role playing game after all, and not roll playing.   It isn't a board game.  Of course I would make exceptions for a new player, but I would explain the benefits of trying to role play the interaction.

Here's another example...

Player:  "Hello there guard!  Say, what's your name?  Have we met before?  Did you know that I'm here on business for King Viphtry?  I really need to see the King's civic advisor, and someone told me he was in the library..."

GM (Guard):  "I don't believe we've met..."  The guard eyes you warily.  The GM rolls to see how the guard reacts, with various pluses and minuses.  The good role playing could net the player a nice bonus, but there might be minuses due to the guard being suspicious of most strangers in the castle.  It's his job after all.

Another thing a dice roll does is add a bit of variability to the situation.  You could be the best role player in the world, and the character could have a high charisma, but maybe the guard is in a lousy mood, and doesn't care if the character is smooth talking, attractive, and gregarious.  The dice roll covers variables that the GM can't come up with before hand.

Now, not every situation should require role playing, I believe it depends on the importance of the situation.  If it's a major plot point in a campaign then some role playing should be necessary.  If a PC is trying to convince a King that the adventuring party should be allowed to operate in his kingdom, it's going to take some role playing, and not merely a dice roll.  In this instance, both would be just as important, but, if the role playing was excellent, then I might decide no dice roll was necessary.

So there you go, my thoughts on the subject.


  1. Very good point, Z. If the PCs just want the wilderness outfitter to throw in a couple of extra ropes gratis when they stock up on iron rations, there's no need to either engage in a lengthy role play, nor roll a Diplomacy check. It's not important.

  2. Good points. I think a mix is best as well. There's no reason that some sort of social roll diminishes role-playing in more than rolling for combat obviates the need for good tactics.

  3. Very good point,not having done a lot of role playing this still makes a lot of sense to me.

  4. I am of the mind that generally the player should not ask to make very many rolls at all. Maybe combat, magic, a few skills, but that's it. For most of the game, it should just be the player describing what the character is doing. When the GM says "hold on, make a roll to see if that works", then they make a roll.

    And my position on conversational rolls is that they should be called for by the GM when the character is trying something unusual.

  5. When running a LARP, this always bugged me.
    "I spend X Influence to grow this other Influence."
    "Uh, ok, how?"
    "How? That's how the rules say you do it."
    "You don't want to explain it any, or do some roleplaying for it?"
    "I don't have to."

    However, our LARPs had 15-30 people and we liked when they'd try to get involved. People who put the bare minimum effort in, got bare minimum returns. People who actually roleplayed out how they're building their influence between games got much more. Their contacts had names and personalities, sometimes becoming plot devices and might help out a little more than the letter of the book. The players who got involved loved it as did us STs who recognized and rewarded effort.

    Meanwhile, players who quoted rules got what they were after, (sometimes/usually) but when they tried to use these things, we'd be a little stricter on how they work.

    Not to mention, a little time investment usually got players what they wanted without spending any influence (or spending very little) which allowed them to use their influence for other deeds.

  6. This comes up a lot in the Storyteller system. Generally, we role-play all social encounters and only go to dice when a PC is trying to coerce, threaten or manipulate an NPC into doing something that they normally wouldn't.