Dwight enters The Central Station and has to put considerable effort into closing the door behind him; a combination of the weather desperate to get in and the ancient, rusted hinges seem hellbent on staying open for as long as they can.
The disturbance grabs the attention of almost everyone in the bar. Everyone except for a fellow gnome sitting at a back table, almost hidden behind a stack of books. Dwight walks purposefully over to Shaddleborne and coughs to get his attention, but the gnome continues writing, clutching a quill in a clawed hand.
If anyone knows about the wrecksite of the Wodenbirth, it’s Shaddleborne, the last of its crew. That also makes him the least likely person to want to talk about what happened on board.
The social pillar of a D&D adventure isn’t given much of a ruleset compared to other parts of the system. This makes contests during conversation often boil down to making a Persausion check.
Social encounters in 5e
The Players Handbook doesn’t give much guidance above the obvious. The DMG does a bit better though, and lays out some ways the DM can offer some structure:
- Determine a starting attitude of the PC; friendly, indifferent, or hostile.
- Have a conversation; at the end (or multiple times if particularly difficult) a social check is made. Successful social checks may move them from hostile to indiffernt, etc.
- The DC is based on the starting attitude. The check is made easier or harder based on how much the NPC cares about what the PC is saying.
Very light touch for rules, when you compare the dozens of pages focused on combat, equipment to improve combat, skills which only affect combat, and spells which deal damage.
That last point is the key one though: if the PC’s manage to catch the interest of the NPC, convincing them to help should be much easier. The way they catch that interest is by making the conversation about the NPC. Knowing about the NPC requires investigation work beforehand. If Dwight promises Shaddleborne half the riches from the Wodenbirth, the DC to convince him remains at 25. But, if Dwight had done a bit of research on the maritine scholar, he’d know that Shaddleborne lost a family heirloom down on that ship. Mentioning that might drop the DC to 15, or even 5 in the right circumstance.
Makeaskillcheck talks in more depth about 5e social encounters.
Social encounters in The One Ring
A brief summary of the rules shows how much more of a system negotiation has in The One Ring. First of all, it has a name: Council. (TOR, p104.)
- Determine difficulty.
- The players decide ahead of time what proposition they have for their target NPC. There are some key questions they need to answer before they approach them: What do they need from the target? What do they have to offer in exchange? What does an ideal outcome look like?
- Armed with that rough guide for the conversation, the DM considers how that aligns with the motivations of the target. It might be a ‘reasonable’ request (Resistance 3), a ‘bold’ request (Resistance 6), or an ‘outrageous’ request (Resistance 9).
- Judging by how closely motivations align intrinsically takes into account the relationship between the PCs and NPCs.
- Opening conversation.
- A single spokesperson makes a skill check with the intent of making a good first impression.
- On a successful check, the time limit (or number of arguments they are allowed to make) matches the Resistance, plus 1 for every Gandalf symbol that shows up.
- On a failure, the number of arguments is still the same as the Resistance value, however if they fail to make their argument in time it ends in Disaster.
- Any player can now chime in, giving a reason why the NPC should comply. They make a related skill check. A success reduces the Resistance by 1, and Gandalf symbols reduce it by an additional 1.
- If the arguments relate to a personal motivation of the target, the skill check can be made with an additional die.
- By default, the target is ‘open’ to conversation. Otherwise, they can be ‘reluctant’ (minus 1d to checks) or ‘friendly’ (plus 1d). This state can change whilst the conversation goes on.
- Once Resistance falls to 0, the expected outcome (or as close to the expected out come as the DM is willing) occurs.
- If Resistance does not fall to 0 within the time limit (or argument count limit, really), they fail. The NPC may still help, but not to the extent they could have. They might still offer the desired help, but at a price.
- If they fail, and the encounter ends in disaster, the target has likely taken offence. There should be some cost to this, in addition to missing out on help. Shaddleborne warns his friends of Dwight, and they begin encounters as reluctant.
This feels a lot more like an encounter. The characters, instead of baring arms and spellslots, have to prepare themselves with arguments that will earn them as many extra dice as possible. That might mean multiple sessions of private detective work to understand their target a bit better.
They can even take turns. Whilst it’s not required in the rulebook, the argument-based nature of how these encounters work mean you can go around the table to include players who are ordinarily quiet during social parts.
There’s no need to engage in active roleplay (as the DMG calls it); conversation can be turned into something more like a riddle where prior investigation makes the rolls easier. I feel like this fixes the problem of a high-charisma-PC played by a low-charisma-player. It’s frustrating sometimes that my 18 Charisma character is capped by my own 14 Charisma. But we can all be good note takers, and use those notes to gain an advantage in social checks when using this system.
As a final note, I hope it’s fairly obvious but this system doesn’t always have to be used. An Awe skill can be still be used quickly to win over a shop keeper and get a discount or convice a guard to let you into a party.