Well, here we are again with another installment of “Getting the Most Out of Your Skill System.” Now that I’ve taught you how to handle basic actions and we’ve looked at the basics of encounters and how to build good non-combat, non-interaction encounters, it’s time to shift gears. In this article (and the next one), I’m going to look at social interaction. In this first article, we’ll discuss the basics of how to handle social InterACTION! as individual actions. After that, we’ll look at some techniques for building social InterACTION! encounters. No, that InterACTION! thing is not a typo.
As before, if you prefer, you can download this article as a PDF to read on the couch or in bed or on the pooper. I won’t judge you.
What the Hell is InterACTION! and Why Does it Need All Those Capital Letters?
An InterACTION! occurs when a PC tries to get something out of an NPC by talking at them. That something could be an item, a resource, assistance, information, sex, or anything else the PC might want. The talking could include persuasion, pleading, seduction, deception, interrogation, interview, debate, coercion, negotiation, blackmail, or even torture. The key is that the PCs are trying to secure an NPC’s cooperation somehow.
Why the capital letters and the fancy exclamation point? Partly because I like shouting but mostly because I want to emphasize that an InterACTION! is an ACTION!, first and foremost. For some reason, a lot of otherwise intelligent, capable DMs develop all sorts of strange ideas and weird hang ups when it comes to social InterACTION! They think InterACTIONS! follow different rules and require a different mindset from normal actions. Well, they don’t! Exclamation point!
Actually, that’s not entirely true. There are some special things to keep in mind when adjudicating an InterACTION! But the rules of adjudicating actions still hold true. The basic exchange is the same. The player decides to do something and communicates that. The DM determines the player’s intention and approach. If the action can succeed, can fail, and carries a risk or cost that prevents the action from being repeated, the DM calls for a die roll. Then, the DM determines the outcome and any consequences and narrates the results.
The other reason for going capslock crazy is that I want to emphasize that there is a difference between social interaction and an InterACTION! An InterACTION! is an action the PCs take to accomplish a specific goal, one that is worthy of being resolved with a die roll. Interaction is simply PCs and NPCs talking to each other. It may or may not accomplish anything. We’re worried about InterACTIONS! Actualy, real, honest-to-goodness interactions that accomplish something.
Not all interactions are InterACTIONS! Got it?! Exclamation points!!!
But, before we continue, let’s look at some of the stupid baggage some DMs bring to this discussion, complicating matters and triggering all sorts of internet fights. Because, as much as I love a good internet fight, this s$&% just gets in the way of running the best damned game you can run. And you may be bringing in some of this baggage with you. So we need to jettison it.