Via email, TT reader and RPG freelancer Walter Ciechanowski (Walt C. in the comments here, and author of the recent guest post Cheating: What to Look for, How to Handle It) suggested a great question to ask the TT community:
Do you award bonuses/penalties for good/bad roleplaying when players make social skill checks?
And, of course, why or why not? (Thanks, Walt!)
I’m new here, so hi all.
I used to do this (giving modifiers for social situations), but have tried to cut back on it recently as a result of seeing one of my players charismatic swashbucklers constantly say stupid things. It seems a bit harsh to punish for not actually being very quick witted.
Another time (in a cyberpunk type game) the same player approached some youths, saying ‘Hail friends’ (remember this is set in something 2200). They sniggered a bit, and asked him to come further into the alley, so they could talk better. For some reason he complied, and was only saved by the timely intervention of the rest of the party. So yeah, he’s kind of banned form playing charismatic characters now.
I do give bonusses and penalties based on roleplaying,I have made that plain to my payers, but that usually doesn’t seem to phase them much. They stll seem to think they can get away with just rolling the dice, or get upset if they roll high and they still fail. My reasoning is simple, it is a ROLEPLAYING game, not a dice rolling game. I like to emphasize the roleplaying whenever possible.
This always seems a good idea, but it’s hard to apply it fairly.
In one sense, every social encounter operates in this way. Most systems include rules for social interaction: “If the target is indifferent to the character, there is no modifier. If hostile, character takes -2 dice penalty, etc.” Of course, it’s up to the GM whether the NPC is hostile, friendly, or whatever, which the GM will determine in part based on what the player-controlled PC says. Since social systems almost always rely on GM discretion, it’s nearly impossible for the GM not to be (in effect) applying modifiers for roleplaying.
Some GMs, of course, go beyond, dispensing with social rules almost entirely in favor of what the players say. I dislike this approach, since it hinders those players aren’t so debonair in real life but want to play charismatic types.
The other angle of the question is: “Do you give bonuses/penalties to combat rolls for roleplaying?”
Exalted features a great general rule to encourage its own flavor of gaming: If the player can describe his action so that it just sounds damn cool, they get 2 extra dice for their roll. It applies across the board to fights, speeches, athletic contests, or whatever might come up.
It now seems to me that if you want to encourage a collaborative storytelling, you should offer bonuses for good roleplaying throughout the game, whether the player comes up with an excellent ruse to sneak into the town or if he describes an awesome hammer strike against the ogre knight.
Occasionally I will give bonuses or penalties if something was handled particularly well or badly. I try not to penalize someone that is trying to play a character that has skills he may be lacking in real life.
However, I do not let them only use dice to decide the outcome; they still need to attempt to roleplay the encounter. Ultimately, though, it is the characterâ€™s skills, not the playerâ€™s, that decides the outcome.
Not in the game itself, but in experience afterwards. I did this according to the rules of the serenity game, and I found people would do the bare minimum to get it. I had a list of chinese words/insults, and they would just drop chinese in to try to get bonuses. Sometimes it helped them bring about the characters more, sometimes it didn’t. I found adding in roleplaying experience at the end of the session gave them impetus to roleplay, but not to try to min/max it. My group has always been roleplaying oriented though, so it has always kind of been there as an overcurrent to the gameplay.
i’ll award a +2 bonus to a subsequent social skill check if the player has a particularly brilliant take on something, i never impose penalties for role-playing. the dice govern success/fail, the role-playing is for fun and to govern how the PC succeeded.
but my group’s not particularly hard-core about role-playing. we’ll get in character once in a while, but drop out constantly for meta-discussion.
Sarlax, I like the way of doing things that you describe from exalted. Being across the board, and “describe the action so that it just sounds damn cool” is a good way to put it.
I’ve been working on a concept like that, but without the dice addition. I’ve been calling mine “Technicolor”, because it doesn’t add on anything (extra difficulty or extra bonus)to the action that a character is attempting, but it makes it sound cool. The players get Technicolor experience at the end of the session for doing cool stuff.
If a player really nails a bit of conversation or shows exceptional insight into the personality of the NPC being addressed, I give a bonus to the check or simply bypass the skill check altogether.
If the player says something extremely inept, something that he should know will insult the NPC, I give a penalty.
I don’t like having what should be role-playing interactions rely solely on a roll of the dice and the number of ranks sunk into a skill. However, since these are skills I also feel the need to “validate” the cost of high scores in these skills.
To me, it seems like there’s a bit of a disconnect between what should be primarily roleplaying interactions that depend on skill checks and physical or mental actions that also require skill checks. Of course, there’s nothing the player can do at the table to offset his character’s Climb check, but he can prep for a bit of flattery to really win over the noble’s wife.
That said, I do like the concept Sarlax mentions from Exalted. Of course, this still penalizes players who are less outgoing…the players who come to share in the fun, but don’t like to take the spotlight. It also rewards (and reinforces the behavior of) players who tend to hog the spotlight.
I like that.
‘It’s a ROLEPLAYING game not a ROLEDICEING game!’
Just always keep in mind the old rule: if the players are rewarded for something, expect them to start doing it non-stop. If they perceive that you’re looking for a “stand up and bore the rest of the with a five minute speech,” expect lots of speeches. Similarly, players can become resentful if they think they’ve met whatever standard there is for earning the bonus, but they don’t receive it. That can even come to view it as something you owe them. This isn’t to say that bonuses for role-playing are a bad idea; just remember to keep it in moderation.
This is interesting. I am currently creating a RPG, and occasionally my gaming pals weigh in as it develops. The system is moderately skill-based, and the whole issue of personality skills became quite a sticking point early on.
At one point, the whole notion of ‘stats that represent personality’ was in question.
As it stands, personality skills were included. However, only those that don’t directly substitute for roleplaying. For example, skills like ‘contacts’ ‘performance’ and ‘disguise’ are in, but ‘persuasion’ is not. The game is being developed specifically for veteran gamers. Thus, in the end, it was decided not to leave any substitutions for good roleplaying.
It’s not an easy choice, either way.
I read a post here (if you’re the author, please speak up) that basically said, “If you give RP bonuses or experience in social situations because the player has good social skills, do you also give RP bonuses or experience in combat if the player has good combat skills (martial arts, fencing, etc)?”
Which got me thinking about this. Do I really want to penalize a player who is socially inept when he’s got the exact same social stats as the silver-tongued devil across the table?
My answer is “only occasionally, and then subjectively”. It is still a role-playing game, but players shouldn’t be rewarded or penalized when they can’t do what the characters can do. If Mr. Social Inept manages to pull off a decent speech, he gets bonuses/XP. If Mr. Silvertongue manages a decent speech, he doesn’t. *shrug*
I know someone’s going to say that we should reward speechifying (and on a number of levels, they’re right). But there are rewards that do not involve bonuses or XP… Such as enjoying the game. 🙂
I don’t give bonuses or penalties based on roleplaying a check, I require them to allow a check, you either tell em how you are approaching the guard and haggle your way through him or you just won’t get that check to get past him at all.
That said, giving god alternatives for said guard would probably make it easy on them to get past, thus bribing a guard is way more effective than just intimidating him.
Particularly well done pieces will usually call for experience awards in the system I am using now (Unisystem) meaning they have more too look for then a mere skill check.
Roleplaying is not an option, it is a requirement, thus it does not grant bonuses of penalties, it gives you the chance to change a situation by rolling the dice.
Next time I’m running a game, I may try using the social skills as just enablers for roleplaying. Higher rolls would yield more useful insight into the NPC’s likes, dislikes, apparent expectations, susceptibility to bribery, etc. Does that sound effective?
I don’t allow roleplaying to effect the rolls. I just find it is unfair to some players who are not very capable actors. I don’t reward additional XP either for great roleplaying either for the same reason.
The funny thing is that despite not having the rewards built into the game we have still had great roleplaying. And I’ve come to the it is because good roleplaying is entertaining so the players already have an incentive to roleplay well. When you have good roleplayign everyone has more fun, so as the GM I have to make sure that I give the players chances to roleplay as well as NPCs they can roleplay against.
Playing it out in reverse order can be a big help. Instead of having the PC speechify then roll the dice, do the opposite. Have the player roll the dice, then guide the dialog to match.
So if the roll is a “critical success”, let the player “take back” anything that would provoke the NPC and assume that they say it in a way that inspires respect/honor. If it sounds hostile to you, the NPC takes the directness as an honorable trust, etc.
If it’s an ordinary success, assume that their words go over better than they sound to you; vice versa for ordinary failures. (Sure the speech sounded good to you… but who’d have guessed that the NPC would hate the idea of good being analogized to purple?)
If it’s a critical failure, the player knows that she should roleplay putting her character’s foot in her mouth.
By rolling first, the player knows which way talk– he can be blunt if he wants to play out a close failure, or obsequious, or anything else. It also gets rid of the “great speech, but the dice say you blew chunks” letdown.
There are games which by way of their mechanics attempts to create parity between social and combat abilities. World of Darkness and d20 come to mind.
Combat (for instance) requires little effort from the players for characters to pull off successfully; you simply say, “I hit the bad guy,” make your roll, and you’re done. In most systems and with most GMs, that’s all there is to it, so it’s very easy for a player who has built a combat character to get what he wanted out his build.
Suppose another player has built a socially-oriented character. By the mechanics, all you do is say, “I try to convince the lawyer to drop the case,” make you’re roll, and your done. A lot of GMs, however, won’t permit that. They impose additional requirements – specifically, the player must go through a lot more work to describe how the PC achieves his task.
By requiring “roleplaying” to achieve mechanical successes, you make it more difficult for the players of social PCs to get what they expect from their characters.
> Do you award bonuses for good play?
Of course, “good play” doesn’t necessarily mean being clever, or witty, or long-winded, or a good actor, or any of that.
It means they’re contributing to the game, and to the enjoyment of the people in the game.
In our first foray into Shadowrun, I tried to hack some sort of security program whilst my pals were in a battle. -My GM handed me an envelope. Inside was a factoring problem.
Somethings are best rolled. However, I personally think a system that lets you roll instead of roleplay is less fun than one that doesn’t.
As ScottM, I think the dice should control the result of the action. But unlike him, even if what he proposes is the best option I’ve read this far (without penalizing the player who choses the social skills instead of the more “practical” skills), I think we should look at the roleplay as if it was a bonus with no action before the result and a bonus if the character pass the test only. This way, a Player without any social skill would still play a “silvertongued” character with no added difficulty and some hope to touch a bonus if he ever finds something witty to add to his roleplay.
I would ask for the RP, roll the dice and give a pat on the back or an added RP bonus via the NPC for a good RP if the skill passed.
You reward the good RP and it promotes “RPGwitts” in your game without ressentement for a bad RP or a bonus-not-given-where-it-should-have-been.
I’ve been all over the map when it comes to this issue. When I wrote my column over on RPGnet, I ended up arguing both sides.
Essentially, my current position is this: If you want a combat monster, build a combat monster. If you want a Casanova, build a Casanova.
On paper, your character is only as good as her numbers. To use d20 as an example, a character with a +10 Diplomacy should be better than one with a +4. Some people would argue that a player’s creative input (or “roleplaying” for lack of a better word) should be able to modify the skill check.
To break down the term, roleplaying means “to play a role.” One could argue that if you give IC flowery speeches while the sheet suggests that the character is socially inept, then you aren’t “roleplaying.” You’re essentially cheating by giving yourself extra points.
On the other hand, many gamers draw distinctions between social skills and combat. Sarlax is correct to point out that a player that wants a combat monster can achieve that goal very quantitatively (“you’ve got a WHAT for Armor Class?” or “How did you end up with a [insert obnoxiously high number here] to hit at Level 3?”). However, I have seen many Combat Monsters succumb to an early death due to their players’ “creative input” (in this case, bad tactical decisions). I rarely ever hear a GM say “You want your character to do what? You better make a Knowledge (tactics) check first.”
My biggest problem with awarding bonuses for good roleplaying is that it becomes a qualitative decision. If you water it down to “you get the bonus if you try,” then you’ve essentially granted everyone at the table a permanent bump in their skills.
In the end, you have to use what works best for your group. I currently keep the numbers as they are, applying bonuses or penalties only in very particular circumstances. My players and I enjoy roleplaying, and I usually hold off the skill rolling until there are real stakes involved.
P.S. This is tangential, but the digital product “Skill Focus: Talking” provides some great mechanics for combining roleplay and dicing with social skills.
My policy is to have the players act out the role-playing, but use the skill rolls to determine the NPCs reaction. A good roll means they interpret the player’s words in the best possible light; a bad roll, in the worst possible light. This is also modified by the original attitude of the NPC.
This came up in play recently. One of the players is somewhat blunt and has a short fuse. I alternate DMing with another player, and in the game I don’t DM, this player plays an equally hot-tempered character, who frequently has to be shushed. But in my game, his character has a high Diplomacy skill, and is often the negotiator. He makes a real effort, but is sometimes overly blunt, and the other players try to shut him up. I had to make it really clear that the others should imagine the same thoughts being communicated much more politically, at least when the skill roll succeeds. Otherwise, the player would be forced to always play the stereotypical hothead in every game, while I enjoy seeing him stretch. (It’s also adds a layer of ironic humor, when his blunt statements are answered cordially by evil NPCs.)
“It now seems to me that if you want to encourage a collaborative storytelling, you should offer bonuses for good roleplaying throughout the game, whether the player comes up with an excellent ruse to sneak into the town or if he describes an awesome hammer strike against the ogre knight.”
Agreed (as others have said as well).
I find the question to be based on faulty reasoning that somehow social checks necessitate special mechanics. From a meta game design standpoint, the GM’s interest should be in all checks — and engaging the players fully — social or otherwise.
And yes, I provide bonuses — for combat, social, or otherwise — based on player input and involvement. If they take the time to go to another layer of depth and enhance the game then (I feel) that effort should be rewarded. The player helped enhance the experience for everyone.
I like the “interpret intent by the interaction, but interpret results by the numbers” approach. I’ve got a very smart player running a Monk with 6 Charisma. After wrestling with it a bit, I just decided one day that his 6 Cha represented his innate ability to get on people’s nerves, regardless of what he said.
So, during a planning session, the Monk points out a flaw in the enemy’s plans. The militia commander (who they were working for) looks up and says, “Who the hell let you in here? Get out.” And then they discussed the point he had raised without him.
(Abulia) I find the question to be based on faulty reasoning that somehow social checks necessitate special mechanics. From a meta game design standpoint, the GMâ€™s interest should be in all checks â€” and engaging the players fully â€” social or otherwise.
This is the aspect of Walt’s question that kicks my brain in the nuts.
Gross generalization: Most RPGs don’t offer as many ways to play a kickass social character as they do a kickass combat character, so social characters need a bit of extra help. Social systems also tend to be fuzzier than combat mechanics, and thus encourage more latitude on the GM’s part.
I see this issue coming down to what people want out of their games. The GM might want her players to roleplay more, while some of her players might prefer to let the dice handle social scenes and other players prefer getting bonuses for roleplaying social stuff. How do you treat everyone fairly in a case like this?
This is why I like mechanics like Action Points so much: When a player does something awesome, they get a bennie. It doesn’t matter if the awesome thing was social, combat-related, funny to everyone else at the table — the system is flexible enough to apply to everything.
My gut, though, tells me that players who put forth the effort to get really into any aspect of the game should be rewarded with in-game benefits. And social skills, in my experience, are one of the areas where player involvement (or lack thereof) really stands out.
I’m not sure any of that rambling made sense, though. 😉
> This is why I like mechanics like Action Points so much: When a player does something awesome, they get a bennie.
Ummm… that’s not how Action Points work, under the RAW, at least as far as I know.
(Roger) Ummmâ€¦ thatâ€™s not how Action Points work, under the RAW, at least as far as I know.
Probably a poor example — that’s how my group uses them, although it’s not in the RAW. 😉 Substitute “bennie systems” instead.
I used to let Etiquette skills give saving throws against saying something offensive to an NPC. Now I feel that this is kind of silly. If the players haven’t picked up what’s offensive to the NPC, there’s a problem with my presentation of the NPC or gameworld.
I feel the same way about giving “hints” about what the PC “should say” during negotiations. If you’re running the world the players want, they’ll know what they should say, what’s offensive, etc. If they don’t, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the game.