Social Encounters

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Role-playing and Social Encounters: We recognize that not all groups enjoy extensive in-character conversations in their tabletop games. If your group doesn't, feel free to simply make the skill checks and bid tokens without making speeches appropriate to the skill checks. Nobody's watching over your shoulders. If your group enjoys in-character debate and politics, however, the GM may grant a +1 or higher bonus to a PC's skill check if the player makes a particularly persuasive argument in character.


Social encounters – confrontations resolved by talk instead of by force – are key factors in any roleplaying game that gives players nonviolent options for conflict resolution. Unfortunately, many roleplaying games either provide too few social "tools" to players or make the tools available far too powerful, adding an extra method of "breaking" encounters into the game.

Simply put, we believe that players who want to should have the opportunity to "talk down" a man with a crossbow and apparent hostile intent. We do not believe that once battle is joined, a few shouted words should suddenly convert the crossbow-armed bandit into a helpful citizen who wants nothing more than to hand the players a map to guide them through the forest.

During the early design stages of Legend, we developed a tool that we think solves a great many of the problems found in other social encounter systems.

Tokens

In Legend, a "token" is a unit of what you might call "political capital" – the ability to persuade someone to concede a point of contention. Tokens can be tracked during a social encounter in almost any way, but we prefer using poker chips. By bidding and counter-bidding with tokens, Legend allows players to bargain with each other and with NPCs in a fun but simple way.

Acquiring Tokens

While speaking in-character, you can make a skill check with an Interaction skill (Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, or Perception) that is appropriate to the tone of what you are saying. A successful check (DCs are found in the relevant skill descriptions) gives you a token that you can use when attempting to persuade the creature or creatures to whom you are talking.

There's a catch, however. Any time that you make a skill check of this sort, the "target" of your skill check is entitled to a check of their own. If their check succeeds, they gain a token that they can use against you, regardless of how your check succeeds.

Generally speaking, interaction between characters becomes a social encounter as soon as an Interaction skill check is made.

Using Tokens

During a social encounter, if you have at least one token available for use against the creature with whom you are interacting, you can make a "demand" on that creature (Of course, you do not have to phrase a "demand" aggressively; a polite request is resolved in the same way as an outright ultimatum, although the target's bidding choices might not be the same).

When you make a demand, you bid one or more tokens (up to the maximum you have available). Your opponent must now choose between one of four options (though nobody can bid more tokens than they actually have).

  • First, your opponent can concede outright, giving you what you demanded. The tokens in your bid are removed, and play continues.
  • Second, your opponent can meet your bid (assuming your opponent has enough tokens to do so). You must now either increase your bid, forcing your opponent to choose between these options again, or give up your demand. If you give up your demand, the tokens in both sides' bids are removed, and play continues.
  • Third, your opponent can exceed your bid and make a counteroffer. You must now either increase your bid, making your own counteroffer, or accept the counteroffer. If you accept the counteroffer, the tokens in both sides' bids are removed, your agreement is completed, and play continues. If you make your own counteroffer, you must exceed your opponent's bid, and your opponent has to choose between these options.
  • Fourth, at any point during bidding, a side that is responding to a new bid has the option of walking away and ending the encounter altogether. Ending the encounter has consequences, as described below.

Ending a Social Encounter

Ending a social encounter can be either a serious blow to one's credibility, or a straightforward parting between colleagues. Each circumstance, and the resulting consequences, are discussed below.

Walking Away From Bidding

Walking away from bidding is generally a response to a completely unacceptable demand, and often one that the responder doesn't have the resources to counter normally. As such, walking away severely impacts your credibility, and you lose all tokens that you had gained in that social encounter. Additionally, walking away sends the message that nothing further can be accomplished through social encounters, and the other party may resort to subterfuge or force in the future.

Ending Social Encounters Amicably

If all bids have been resolved, or no bids have been made, you can end a social encounter by walking away (although exchanging pleasantries is traditional, from an in-character perspective). Ending a social encounter in this way imposes no penalty, and you retain all tokens that you have not spent during bids.

Advice for GMs

Running social encounters has both blessings and curses. Here are a few basic principles that can make a GM's life much easier.

Secrecy

A key to any bidding system is the idea that opponents don't know one key aspect of each other's resources. In poker, the unknown resource is the other player's hand of cards. In an auction, as in Legend, the unknown is how much the bidders have available to bid (since in most cases, bidding signals the bidders' priorities fairly well, so the question of how much the bidders are willing to bid becomes apparent with time).

The problem, of course, is that while a GM can (and likely should) keep the result of NPC skill checks secret, and certainly can keep tokens from other sources secret, the GM can maintain perfect metagame knowledge of what tokens the players have. So the GM has the ability to create bargaining strategies that are much too strong for NPCs, given the knowledge that the NPCs would have in-character.

The best way to solve this problem, of course, is for you to behave as a GM in the same way you would want your players to behave if they had, for example, a strong metagame familiarity with a specific monster's stats. To the best of your ability, "play" NPCs as you think the NPCs would act with the knowledge they have available. In the case of tokens that have some sort of material measure, have NPCs that can research do the research to discover the PCs' capabilities – but don't just randomly give NPCs knowledge, particularly knowledge that doesn't exist in-game.

Example Social Encounters

Buying Dinner

In a large city with established currency, this isn't an encounter. We put this here to underscore that social encounters are a tool for resolving confrontation or potential conflict, and not for modeling mundane transactions.

On the other hand, if you are dealing with a barter economy, chances are that people will use social encounters almost every day. This becomes especially relevant when your players are trying to bargain for a scarce resource or rare privilege.

Hostage Negotiation

Akasha the Masked Barbarian Raider isn't much good at stealth or careful thievery, but she's fairly good at taking hostages. When her plan to rob a caravan just outside the city goes haywire, the caravan is quickly surrounded by armed militia soldiers. Now Victor the Paladin Medic (and, apparently, now main hostage negotiator) needs to talk her into surrendering peacefully.

The relevant bonuses for each character (with the relevant DCs for each skill in parentheses) are a +7 Intimidate (DC 13) and +4 Perception (DC 14) bonus for Akasha, and a +6 Bluff (DC 12), +6 Diplomacy (DC 10), and +5 Perception (DC 11) bonus for Victor. Victor clearly has a mathematical advantage, as expected for a character who trains several interaction skills and assigns a relatively high priority to mental stats.