Social interaction - rolls vs roleplay

Always a challenging task: playing social interactions, intrigue, interpersonal interactions. You must balance between the use of the rules/mechanics vs having chats with your players and role-playing the scene. The Core Rulebook does cover this a bit on page 229 (Managing Social Conflict & Intrigue), but I’m very much interested in experience or advice from everybody.

One little trick I used in a recent game was what I called ‘Momentum budget’, which is really just a ‘first roll, then play’ machanism. So, when our player (manipulative aristocrat character) started having a chat with an NPC to interrogate him, first I asked the player, what’s his main intention, strategy, how does he communicate with the NPC.
He explained that he wishes to play on the concerns and guilt of the NPC to open him up, convincing him that the PC is his only friend who can save him from his angry superriors, and the NPC must trust him. Based on this, I requested a single Communication vs Discipline contest, and we agreed on the relevant drive as well (Power, by the way - this young aristocrat was trying to get a future lackey for his intrigues). The player passed splendid, with four Momentum to spare.
After the roll, we started actually roleplaying the situation. I knew that the player will successfully convince/trick the NPC, so I quickly drove the conversation in this direction. Soon, the NPC was clearly broken, very frightened of what will happen with him, and being completely open to the PC’s suggestions. At that point, I reminded the player that he has a budget of 4 Momentum. He can keep any for the Momentum pool, but he can also use them to get extra information from the NPC or to give him new traits for the future representing their conversation. We kept roleplaying the chat, and whenever we reached an interesting milestone, we paused for a second, and I asked him if he wants to spend a Momentum for extra results - and continued the conversation accordingly.
This worked pretty fine as a balance between rule mechanics and role-play opportunity.

Any similar experience or other ideas from anybody how to handle such situations?


My take is that many people conflate roleplaying with acting and it’s not. Roleplaying is making decisions as the character based on the character’s history, knowledge and personality rather than your own. I also push for rolls to determine success or failure rather than the player’s ability to act. Some people simply don’t have the social skills to adequately pull off a debate or whatever. That’s why rules for such things exist - to even the playing field. A player who is a super charismatic and a player who is not but who are playing the exact same character should have the same chance to win a political debate in the game.

So in a social scene, for me, rolls come a points of choice. When the PC or the NPC is faced with a decision to make, that’s when they roll. The player (or GM) then changes the PC or NPCs demeanor or whatever based on the roll.

How the players get that decision point is up to them. Some players will act out their character talking/flirting/intimidating etc. the NPC. Some will simply say something along the lines of “my character is going to speak calmly but menacingly to the NPC”. In either case they get to make the roll and then see how they affect that NPC’s decisions.


Yeah, I see your point. I don’t prefer resolving critical social interactions solely by chatting with the players, either. Especially in a system where the player character skills are point-bought - who would buy Communication, if that’s irrelevant, and the results are purely player-skill dependent?
What makes it a little trickier is that in 2d20 systems, such as Dune, I prefer rolling die too many times. With the Momentum system, I prefer an interaction to be covered by a single test, not by rolling separately for each interesting point in a conversation (each lie, each impression, each deceipt, each trick). I mean, in some cases, an extended task could be relevant, but not in most cases.

I would say that most social scenes don’t require multiple rolls as there’s generally only one important decision point where things could branch in interesting ways. You wouldn’t roll for each lie, you’d roll to see if your lie(s) lead to the decision you want the NPC to arrive at.

I’ve gamed with the same group for quite some time so we are all fairly comfortable with how we do the social interactions.
It tends to be a mix of initial conversation and interaction up to a point and then a roll with the difficulty depending on who they are, what they are after and how the conversation has gone.

Different characters will have different responses to my player characters. So the difficulty can go up if it is one character and down if it is another. I took the idea from L5R where different ring approaches can have different difficulty levels.
It takes a bit more time as when I stat a major plot point NPC I have to give them a feel for a couple of characters (either good or bad) and then the others are neutral.

I don’t think there is one right answer, it’s for individual groups to decide.
For the game we give you rules so you have that option.
But if you want to pure role-play, role-play as a modifier, describe how you interact or just roll you can do what suits your group best.

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Found that really interesting to read, and informative.
Habitually the only thing I would do differently is have the RP chat first, then based on that assign penalties or modifiers to the Roll. Extra Successes would achieve the same, either extra info or be carried over.

Wouldn’t you handle a persuasion like any other intrigue action? I mean, your opponent will have a series of steps you need fo overcome to get to the agreement or info your need. You roll agains the various steps/zones)?

Generally I tend to do the talk first, roll at the decision points method like Grendel mentioned above. If only because I tend to get caught up in the roleplay and don’t like to shut the players down by forcing a roll into things!

However, if a player is less comfortable with the roleplay (or is struggling to come up with something for another reason) then I will let them lead off with the rolls early and cut the social down to just what is necessary to best apply those results. It doesn’t generally lead to results quite as good I find, but those sorts of players tend to self-select against heavy involvement in the social game elements so it balances out.

Another point of deviation will be when the social conflict is about access rather than information or action, in which case the roll will come early and that will decide most of what follows. The roleplay that follows is then either exploiting access or finding alternatives.

I try not to make it about single rolls, but I do try and limit them. Difficulty is primarily determined by the NPC and situation, but I can modify it based on the roleplay (although often it just makes the roll possible)