Player Skill and Social Interaction

By | May 17, 2014

Dice are the ultimate arbiters of success in Forthright Open Roleplay – and that remains true in social interactions. People occasionally discuss how understanding the person running a roleplaying game is the most important part of talking to NPCs. Our ruleset models something different: understanding your fictional conversational partner is most important.

All characters in Forthright Open Roleplay have Renowns such as Personality, History and Goals. These character hooks can be used by anyone during a conversation to gain benefits on dice rolls. Once invoked, no one can use that particular Renown again to gain those benefits in the same conversation.

Renowns allow opponents to target weaknesses of all participants in a conversation to gain an advantage. And since the benefit of invoking a Renown goes to whoever uses it first in a conversation, tactical players can turn weaknesses into potential strengths through clever play.

Players can gamble that their conversational partners don’t know Renowns that might undermine their arguments. Or the players can own up to inconvenient truths before someone else uses it against them later in the negotiations. This adds another level of strategy to social interactions, giving us a way to reward player skill in conversations without reducing the contributions of the dice.

Consider a group of players who ask to help guard the crown jewels, including the party Thief. The players decide to use that to their advantage, pointing out that the Thief knows all the ways to best steal the valuables and thus safeguard against them. Whether their point is successful or not, any opposition they face which points out that, as a Thief, the Thief might steal won’t be as influential because this is a fact that has already been laid on the conversational table.

Renowns also help the Guide by offering a quick and easy way to record an NPC’s background in a stat block. Renowns for players and NPCs are meant to be short and to the point. They are not a detailed character history – they are a starting point so the majority of changes and character building can happen in play.

Player skill and character skill are divorced in Forthright Open Roleplay. The dice rolls of the players determine the success or failure of each Speech roll to make a Persuasive Point. A player with a higher proficiency in his or her Persona role will have a higher bonus on those die rolls. That’s character skill in a nut shell.

Player skill traditionally trumps character skill in social interaction. If a roleplayer could speak well and articulate good points that the GM appreciated, the character would find success in persuading NPCs. Die rolls were largely only used for “iffy” points that the GM was uncertain of, or if the player and character were overreaching.

We did not want to model that same design. Players who are not already socially adept and poetically eloquent will not learn how to be so by having their attempts constantly fail. We wanted to instead provide a structure in which players who are thinking about the situation and have good ideas aren’t penalized for their personal inability to express those ideas in revolutionary ways.

Player skill expands the opportunities to make Speech rolls. Each Speech roll requires the character to make a Persuasive Point of some sort. Those who can come up with Points can make Speech rolls, and those who cannot come up with anything to say don’t get to make a Speech roll on their turn.

This allows players to be more comfortable participating in social interactions because, as in combat, there is a structure provided in which they can see and measure success. The rules make success goals consistent and transparent. Players who are not accomplished orators do not have to be in order to contribute to social interactions.

So far in playtests, new groups have picked up on these rules very quickly. Those who couldn’t think of Points would use their turn to ask questions of the NPCs, so everyone would have more information to form Points on their turns. Others would use their own Renowns in clever ways, or point out how the goals of both parties could align.

The Persona rules work this way so everyone, regardless of their real-life charisma, can play a successful social character while still encouraging clever play with extra rewards. Let us know what you think in the comments below, and check out the free beta playtest rules here.