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How to run interesting social encounter?

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I read over the rules and notes in Far Horizons and Desperate Allies, but is there any other useful tips for running social encounters? I want to avoid a situation where a social encounter boils down to just a flat roll. I want to have a lot of dynamics and what not to it.

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Posted (edited)

I would keep most social checks to a single roll in situations where things are not plot-critical. For instance, Charming a random bartender to tell you where the crime lord's palace is, buying stimpacks, or using Deception on a stormtrooper who asks you if you have your papers.

For important social encounters, you might want to look at Genesys, the generic ruleset that was developed from the Star Wars rules. That book has rules for "structured" social encounters where the PCs and NPCs get to take cracks at each other. In a nutshell, you don't go in initiative order but instead take turns speaking and influencing one another based on what makes narrative sense. Each time you try a social check against the other side, you inflict Strain Damage based on uncanceled successes. If you fail your check, though, you suffer 2 strain. They do the same to you, rolling a social check on your or one of the other PCs and causing strain on you.

At half Strain Threshold, your adversary is willing to compromise. If you want them to acquiesce completely, though, you have to get them to below Strain Threshold. You will, of course, want to include multiple opponents in the room with the adversary, giving the PCs more targets to convince, or giving the main big bad advisors or companions to give them boosts to resist your PCs' charms.

You get boosts and setbacks to your checks based on whether your approach appeals to or contradicts the target's motivations. Motivations are more complex in Genesys, but you could adapt the idea to Star Wars, or just consider each character's immediate goals for the encounter and their long-term goals. You can spend 2 advantage (or 3? away from books) on a social roll to uncover one of your rivals' motivations, and they can do the same to you.

It's pretty fun. I ran a social encounter like this in a play-by-post game. Came down the wire, but the PCs prevailed in convincing a rival to ally with them temporarily.

Edited by SavageBob

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Check out Desperate Allies. It talks about social encounters. As does Far Horizons As well as Disciples of Harmony. And these probably have some of the stuff you see in genesys if you already have them

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I plan to have a politician PC defending his proposition to the senate. How would you make it fun and important ?

Reading the rules, it should be a daunting skill check which seems like an impossible task and unreasonable. I don't want my PC to have no chance of winning with this proposition.

He has prepared by gathering supports and negociating votes with other delegations. This could reduce the difficulty of the task. But a single roll to decide everything doesn't seem like any epic at all.

A social combat here could be possible but how would I design the senators crowd as an adversary ?

Any ideas ?

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1 hour ago, LaGouache said:

I plan to have a politician PC defending his proposition to the senate. How would you make it fun and important ?

Reading the rules, it should be a daunting skill check which seems like an impossible task and unreasonable. I don't want my PC to have no chance of winning with this proposition.

He has prepared by gathering supports and negociating votes with other delegations. This could reduce the difficulty of the task. But a single roll to decide everything doesn't seem like any epic at all.

A social combat here could be possible but how would I design the senators crowd as an adversary ?

Any ideas ?

Sounds more like a social version of the Mass Combat rules to me. Just decide the stages, victory conditions, and participants (your voting block & lobbyists vs the opposition). Then have scenes the PCs can participate in to give modifiers to the big rolls depending on how well they handle the scenes.

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12 hours ago, LaGouache said:

I plan to have a politician PC defending his proposition to the senate. How would you make it fun and important ?

Reading the rules, it should be a daunting skill check which seems like an impossible task and unreasonable. I don't want my PC to have no chance of winning with this proposition.

He has prepared by gathering supports and negociating votes with other delegations. This could reduce the difficulty of the task. But a single roll to decide everything doesn't seem like any epic at all.

A social combat here could be possible but how would I design the senators crowd as an adversary ?

Any ideas ?

Daunting is far from Impossible. It’s only a 4P check. An Impossible check is a more than 5P check, which requires the use of a Destiny Point to even attempt.

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On 5/25/2019 at 5:28 AM, LaGouache said:

I plan to have a politician PC defending his proposition to the senate. How would you make it fun and important ?

Reading the rules, it should be a daunting skill check which seems like an impossible task and unreasonable. I don't want my PC to have no chance of winning with this proposition.

He has prepared by gathering supports and negociating votes with other delegations. This could reduce the difficulty of the task. But a single roll to decide everything doesn't seem like any epic at all.

A social combat here could be possible but how would I design the senators crowd as an adversary ?

Any ideas ?

You could have it be like an extended crafting check, where the goal is to reach a certain number of successes within a certain number of rolls.  This reflecting the overall impact of the speech to the audience, but also to reflect how a speech can have spots that really resonate with the crowd, and how a slight turn of phrase might sour the entire group against you.  

If it will be a contested debate style thing, the opponent isn't really the target, it's the audience.  Have it be where both presenters are aiming for the same cumulative success goal, and they can use their advantages and triumphs to make the opponents roll harder.   If the goal is to actually try and persuade a single person (the other presenter in the debate), then using the above mentioned rules about effecting their Strain to convince them, and other such factors, are a good idea.

 Perhaps a triumph is represented by the person who got it, remembering a key point that the opponent said at a previous speech, that is now contrary to their current stance "But senator, you say you are a proponent of non-human rights in our Republic, and yet last month you signed a bill in the Core World Commission, to prevent all non-humans from holding any political office on a planetary, or galactic level.  Why would you do something like that if you are a fan of all species?"

A despair could be like totally flubbing your speech, or doing something that you thought would get people riled up, but instead does the opposite, and lives on in internet infamy.  Like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6i-gYRAwM0   ( I made it just the link, because youtube windows are huge when embedded on this site.  )

Those triumphs and despairs, could easily reflect adding penalty or bonus die, either in the form of setback/boost, or upgraded difficulties or positive pools.   This would reflect that they are quite literally, winning over the crowd to their point of view.  Or the setbacks representing the Strain you are suffering, as you are getting flustered and losing your rhythm in the debate.  "Uh, what I mean to say is...um, if we're to be a good police state...no, I mean um, if we are going to have good policies in this state, we um, we need to like, work together or something.....yeah."  

It really depends on the goal, and how it's being presented.   If it's just one person, talking to the crowd, like the First Order guy who was frothing at the mouth in The Force Awakens (love that scene for how much scenery he was chewing), then it's pretty straight forward.  

 

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On 5/25/2019 at 3:28 AM, LaGouache said:

I plan to have a politician PC defending his proposition to the senate. How would you make it fun and important ?

Reading the rules, it should be a daunting skill check which seems like an impossible task and unreasonable. I don't want my PC to have no chance of winning with this proposition.

He has prepared by gathering supports and negociating votes with other delegations. This could reduce the difficulty of the task. But a single roll to decide everything doesn't seem like any epic at all.

A social combat here could be possible but how would I design the senators crowd as an adversary ?

Any ideas ?

I suppose this is too late to help LaGouache, but another possible approach, if you want to handle it with a series of rolls, is to break up the speech in such a way that each section is targeted at a certain group of senators. So some of those rolls could fail, but if enough factions like what they hear, then your politicians succeed.

It's not exactly the same thing, but when I ran Beyond the Rim for my Edge of Empire group, the climactic scene was essentially a debate-off. The PCs and a group of competing NPCs both had to make a series of social checks based on the questions put to them by Captain Harsol. They could target their responses at him or Cratala or the crowd of survivors. I kept track of the general results for each question to decide who the Sa Nalaor remnants would agree to work with.

I really like running social encounters using the Genesys rules. They might be easier to run between just one PC and one NPC, but I think they can also work well if you designate one PC as the primary and let the others make checks to support them. 

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Okay, first, push the dice away.

Nope. stop looking at the dice.

Social encounters should start socially.  Use your words.

 

Set the scene:  Where are they?  What's there?  What does the setting look like?

Use some exposition.  What are the six senses telling you?  What do the PC's see?  Hear?  Smell?  Taste?  Feel?  Do they have a bad feeling about this?   (Of course your PC's do . . . this is Star Wars).

Frame your characters.  What do the NPC's want?  Why are the there?  "What's my motivation Mr DeMille?"

Is the player request reasonable and normal?  Forget the dice!  Move on!

But is there some resistance?  Are the PC's asking the NPC to do something outside their wheelhouse?  Do you have some options on the table as to how the NPC can react?

I think the key point I would have regarding dice is when you get to a branching point for an NPC where they can react in a number of ways, THEN grab the dice.

So that's my honest advice.

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1 hour ago, Mark Caliber said:

Okay, first, push the dice away.

Nope. stop looking at the dice.

Social encounters should start socially.  Use your words.

 

Set the scene:  Where are they?  What's there?  What does the setting look like?

Use some exposition.  What are the six senses telling you?  What do the PC's see?  Hear?  Smell?  Taste?  Feel?  Do they have a bad feeling about this?   (Of course your PC's do . . . this is Star Wars).

Frame your characters.  What do the NPC's want?  Why are the there?  "What's my motivation Mr DeMille?"

Is the player request reasonable and normal?  Forget the dice!  Move on!

But is there some resistance?  Are the PC's asking the NPC to do something outside their wheelhouse?  Do you have some options on the table as to how the NPC can react?

I think the key point I would have regarding dice is when you get to a branching point for an NPC where they can react in a number of ways, THEN grab the dice.

So that's my honest advice.

I have to disagree with this for one simple reason. It makes the actual Social skills themselves useless if you eliminate dice rolls for social checks. If you don’t have players roll for social checks then why have skills such as Charm, Negotiation, Leadership, etc. since they won’t be used to determine success or failure.

Secondly, it’s always possible, and even likely, that the character is more “adept” than the player (or vice verse) in a given social skill, just like with any skill. For example, a normally shy player playing a Zeltron socialite with a high Presence and Charm. Forcing that player to rely purely on his or her own ability to charm the GM doesn’t show the ability of the character and, in fact, handicaps a character who is supposed to be a specialist in that area.

The social skills are there to be used. Use them; roll the dice. Let the dice determine success or failure. 

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Social interactions in my group generally start with descriptions and roleplaying, with the players explaining what their approach is or speaking in character. Then we roll the dice using the appropriate influence skill and adding boosts or setbacks related to their arguments. The outcome of the dice determines how the NPC reacted to the argument. If it is a success, great! If it's a failure, then something about the PC's approach didn't sit well with the NPC, and that helps me as the GM flesh out that NPC a bit more. (Half the time in my group, PCs are interacting with spur-of-the-moment NPCs that have resulted from the players doing things I didn't anticipate... but that's what I love about it.)

We don't do this for super-basic things, like asking a librarian to help you find information.... that's their job and they should do it without a check needed. But for anything of real consequence, we play it out with plenty of narrative description, and yes, we roll. Because there should be an opportunity for Triumph (or Despair) in social settings, just as much as in combat.

 

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31 minutes ago, Tramp Graphics said:

I have to disagree with this for one simple reason. It makes the actual Social skills themselves useless if you eliminate dice rolls for social checks. If you don’t have players roll for social checks then why have skills such as Charm, Negotiation, Leadership, etc. since they won’t be used to determine success or failure.

Secondly, it’s always possible, and even likely, that the character is more “adept” than the player (or vice verse) in a given social skill, just like with any skill. For example, a normally shy player playing a Zeltron socialite with a high Presence and Charm. Forcing that player to rely purely on his or her own ability to charm the GM doesn’t show the ability of the character and, in fact, handicaps a character who is supposed to be a specialist in that area.

The social skills are there to be used. Use them; roll the dice. Let the dice determine success or failure. 

Yes but his advice isnt dont use dice. His advice is dont go to dice first. Do the role play first. Then use the dice to adjudicate. Plus if they do the role play first then you have something to base setbacks and boost on.

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24 minutes ago, Tramp Graphics said:

I have to disagree with this for one simple reason. It makes the actual Social skills themselves useless if you eliminate dice rolls for social checks. If you don’t have players roll for social checks then why have skills such as Charm, Negotiation, Leadership, etc. since they won’t be used to determine success or failure.

Secondly, it’s always possible, and even likely, that the character is more “adept” than the player (or vice verse) in a given social skill, just like with any skill. For example, a normally shy player playing a Zeltron socialite with a high Presence and Charm. Forcing that player to rely purely on his or her own ability to charm the GM doesn’t show the ability of the character and, in fact, handicaps a character who is supposed to be a specialist in that area.

The social skills are there to be used. Use them; roll the dice. Let the dice determine success or failure. 

Wow.  Way to completely misrepresent my advice!

To be fair, I actually use a similar approach to my combat but that doesn't mean that I don't have the players roll combat checks!

However, if I have a PC point a blaster pistol at a monitor that they are standing adjacent to, I'm just as likely to forget the dice roll and let the PC blast the monitor into sufficient inoperation.  No Dice needed.

And where as I don't turn to the dice every five minutes, my players HAVE learned that their skills are important to have and many have regretted not spending points in social skills.

But to clear up the confusion, I don't NOT use the dice, but they're not a centerpiece of the game.  They're a handy tool when used occiasionally and appropriately.

And back to the OP and formatted for Tramps understanding:  If you are trying to make a social encounter interesting by relying on the dice then you are invariably going to fail.  ;)

To quote another common RPG meme that is useful, "This is a Role Playing Game not a Roll Playing Game."

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