"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Friday, December 3, 2010

I make a Diplomacy roll

I have been having a couple of crazy weeks at work which has adversely impacted my gaming and my surfing of the blog-o-verse. However, I have managed to catch a bit of Ryan Dancey's discussion about social mechanics.

Trollsmyth has made a number of posts on the subject starting with this one that I have found interesting.

Upon my return to RPGs a couple of years ago, I took great interest in the social mechanics that had been introduced to all of the new games that had appeared in my absence from the hobby. At first, I bought into the argument why should a player who is not as social adept as their character suffer while another player who has never had a sword can effectively play a great warrior. However, as I quickly returned to my roots of old-school D&D I relearned the fact that the need for social mechanics in the game is redundant with a relationship between player and DM. Afterall, one of my favourite things about playing RPGs is that it is a social activity.

That being said, my favourite B/X has a couple of subsystems which can quickly handle social situations - the Reaction and Morale systems. Both of these systems are meant to give the DM quick and easy guidelines for the resolution of such situations but are not meant to be the sole method for determining the outcomes. If the reaction roll for an NPC is positive but the characters are determined to be a bunch of A-holes to NPC there should be consequences.

This quote from Trollsmyth really encapsulates how I feel about the subject:
What it means is you should not have mechanics for social interaction if the goal of the game is to have the players interact socially. In the same way that the combat rules in D&D mean that the players don't have to actually swing swords in the air, mechanics to handle social situations mean the players don't actually have to engage in any sort of social interaction.


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  2. My favorite parts of a D&D game are the periods where no dice are rolled.

  3. "...you should not have mechanics for social interaction if the goal of the game is to have the players interact socially."

    What about 'thinking'? I was playing Call of Cthulhu last night and the players had hit a wall (as Keeper, the solution seemed glaringly obvious but it always does when you're Keeper) so I had them all make Idea rolls for their characters (that's what it's there for).

    One of them made it and the game progressed.

    Later the characters came to the apartment of one of their key suspects. They banged on the door, shouted etc. My enthusiasm was waning so I asked for another idea roll... "you try the door and it's open" said I. It was open all along but none of the players thought to say "I try the door."

    The game progressed but I began to wonder who was actually playing... Ah well, it was a late night I suppose...

  4. Great post. Thanks for the summary.

    @Hogscape -- what if no one made any of their rolls? Would the game continue or would they all roll again until someone succeeded? I think there shouldn't be ANY random elements in the game that can actually STOP PLAY. If the characters have to find a clue to move on, then at the appropriate time -- the clue is simply found. Of course, I like my sandbox better... Just my $0.02.

  5. It's difficult to prepare a game where the players need to solve some mystery. After all, what if they miss or misinterpret all the clues?

    In my D&D game I don't think there's anything "necessary for the campaign to advance" (which is what I think Jim above was getting at with a "sandbox" game). But there are things concealed, or sealed behind some obstacle, and if they players can't get through it then tough luck.

    I don't think this is a strength of sandbox games. I think rather it's a way for the sandbox referee to ignore the difficulties of running a game with any kind of plot.

    Look at it like a dungeon. The "goal" of the dungeon is to acquire the loot within, and the loot is present in small quantities scattered around and also in some larger troves. But these larger troves are either guarded or concealed, preventing easy progress. Except in this case, "solving the mystery" is the treasure, and the "clue" is the key to the secret door or guardian monster (that is, the thing keeping you from securing the solution to the mystery).

    If the players NEED to acquire that treasure, it's possible they might miss all the secret doors leading to it. One solution is to make as many secret doors as possible - but it's still possible they could miss them. You could make the treasure sitting out in the open, no obstacles to acquirig it. But that doesn't make for a very satisfying game. You could just say it's not actually necessary to get the treasure to continue on the adventure - this is the "sandbox" way of doing it. Or you could have the players roll to get through - for example, having the players roll to see if their characters think of the possibility that there could be a secret door nearby.

    I'm sure there are other ways of making a mystery game more playable. When reading the books I always just sit and wonder at how Sherlock Holmes always managed to pull all those wild threads together. I don't think we can expect players to do the same.

  6. The key really is to avoid any choke-points where the players *must* perform a certain action, unless you're prepared for them to fail. This is called the "Garden of Eden Problem," because nothing happens until the players "eat the apple."

    I do include puzzles and the like, but only when success or failure won't derail the whole game. Victory gives access to mini-levels or extra treasure, but the game moves on, win, lose, or draw.

  7. http://thedalitrauma.tumblr.com/post/2877972273