Rules Index


Chapter 10: Game Mastering / Running Modes of Play / Encounters

Social Encounters

Source Core Rulebook pg. 494 1.1
Most conversations play best as free-form roleplaying, with maybe one or two checks for social skills involved. Sometimes, though, a tense situation or crucial parlay requires a social encounter that uses initiative, much like a combat encounter. As with any other encounter, the stakes of a social encounter need to be high! A failed social encounter could mean a character is imprisoned or put to death, a major rival becomes a political powerhouse, or a key ally is disgraced and ostracized.

Using the structure of an encounter is helpful because it makes the timing clearer than in free-form play, and each character feels like they’re contributing. When running a social encounter, establish the stakes up front, so the players know the consequences of success or failure and the circumstances that will cause the encounter to end.

You have much more flexibility in how you run a social encounter than in a combat encounter. Extending the length of rounds beyond 6 seconds, allowing more improvisation, and focusing less on special attacks and spells all differentiate a social encounter from a combat one. In most cases, you don’t need to worry about character’s movements, nor do you need a map. Some examples of social encounters include:
  • Proving someone’s innocence in front of a judge.
  • Convincing a neighboring monarch to help defend against an invasion.
  • Besting a rival bard in a battle of wits.
  • Exposing a villain’s deception before a noble court.

Initiative and Actions

Source Core Rulebook pg. 494 1.1
Initiative in a social encounter typically has characters rolling Society or a Charisma-based skill, such as Diplomacy or Deception. As with other encounters, a character’s approach to the conflict determines which skill they’ll roll. On a character’s turn, they typically get to attempt one roll, usually by using a skill action. Let the player roleplay what their character says and does, then determine what they’ll roll. Allow them to use any abilities or spells that might help them make their case, though keep in mind that when most people see the visual signs of a spell being cast, they think someone is using magic to try to influence or harm them, and they have a negative reaction.

Good social encounters include an opposition. This can be direct, such as a rival who argues against the characters’ case, or passive, such as a mob that automatically becomes more unruly as each round passes. Give the opposition one or more positions in the initiative order so you can convey what it is doing. You can create game statistics for the opposition, especially if it’s an individual, but in situations like that of the unruly mob, you might need nothing more than establish a set of increasingly difficult DCs.

Measuring Success and Progress

Source Core Rulebook pg. 495 1.1
You’ll need to decide how to measure the characters’ success in social encounters, because there’s no AC to target or HP to whittle down. Chapter 4 includes guidance on setting DCs for social skill actions, often using a target’s Will DC. If you need a DC for people who don’t have stats, such as a crowd or an NPC for whom you haven’t already generated statistics, use the guidelines on setting DCs, found on page 503. You can either pick a simple DC or use a level-based DC, estimating a level for the subject or how challenging it should be to sway them.

The attitude conditions—hostile, unfriendly, indifferent, friendly, and helpful—provide a useful way to track the progress of a social encounter. Use these to represent the attitude of an authority, a crowd, a jury, or the like. A typical goal for a social encounter is to change the attitude of a person or group to helpful so they assist you, or calming a hostile group or person to defuse a situation. Try to give the players a clear idea of how much they’ve progressed as the encounter proceeds.

Another option is to track the number of successes or failures the characters accrue. For instance, you might need to trick four guards into leaving their posts, and count each successful attempt to Lie or Create a Diversion toward a total of four necessary successes. You can combine these two methods; if the PCs need a group of important nobles to vote their way, the goal of the encounter might be to ensure that a majority of the nobles have a better attitude toward the PCs than they have of a rival—all within a limited time frame.

Consequences

Source Core Rulebook pg. 496 1.1
When you set stakes at the start of a social encounter, give an idea of the consequences. Beyond whatever narrative benefits player characters might gain, a social encounter usually includes an XP award. Because these are encounters along the same lines as combat encounters, they grant a sizable amount of XP, typically that of a moderate accomplishment, or even a major accomplishment if the encounter was the culmination of long-term plans or a significant adversary got their comeuppance.

The outcome of a social encounter should direct the story of the game. Look for repercussions. Which NPCs might view the PCs more favorably now? Which might hold a grudge or formulate a new plan? A social encounter can seal the fate of an NPC and end their story, but this isn’t true for player characters. Even if something looks truly dire for them, such as a death sentence, the social encounter isn’t the end—there’s still time for desperate heroics or a twist in the story.