Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thoughts on Social Interaction

Thoughts on Social Interaction

So last week I was able to play a Numenera Game under Jay and you can check his blog for the play report along with Raymz, who's made his own review on Numenera. Now with the lessons I've learned from running the Beale of Boregal(check my previous post), I've gained afresh new perspective regarding Social Interaction in RPG's as a player thanks to Jay.

So in the game I played a Clever Jack who Leads, expecting that in Numenera a Face Role with a several trained interaction skills would be more useful than a Face Role who's specialized in one single interaction skill. Also known as "Jack D. Delver" more often referred to as


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I was dead wrong, mainly because I was thinking in the lines of D&D, why? Here's what I think about it:

If you're familiar with the mechanics of Numenera you'll know that a player will always roll against a difficulty level and he can have a number of skills and assets that can reduce that difficulty value up to a maximum of -3, then once the final difficulty value is set the player rolls a d20
; and in D&D players have a dice bonus or penalty (and in the case of 5E advantage dice if any) against a \static mental defense value(For 4/5E) or a roll off(3.5/Pathfinder) and hope for the best.

At that point both games look similar but when you actually play the games you'll notice the big disparity in them. Let's use a typical tier 1 numenera social encounter and a Level 1-5 D&D social encounter as a guide.

Social Interaction in D&D

In D&D between the levels 1-5; you'll often be squared off against weaker enemies such as goblins,
kobolds,bandits, orc raiders and cultists and several other mobs, by mid arc you'll be facing against
liutenants, shamans, high priests and by the end of the arc youll be facing against warchiefs, possessed priests and what not. Each of these enemies usually have will saves ranging from 11-15 on average, if the encounter is designed hard it can be as high as 16-17. Now depending on what type of action and skill a Face character has be it, Bluff, Diplomacy or Interrogation, he more often than not has skill bonus somewhere ranging between +2 to +5(remember level 1-5 D&D characters). If you look at the math average mooks have 12-15 will save, so if you factor in the +2 to +5 bonus meaning a Face will likely only need 10 or so on the d20 which gives him a 50/50 shot at succeeding in bluffing, negotiating or interrogating a nameless mook, and about a 30-40% chance against its superiors. That's not taking into account bonuses or penalties for player actions such as offering a bribe, or threats of violence.

When you do take into account player roleplaying, like as mentioned threats of violence which
from my experience a DM often gives somewhere around +/-2 to +/-4 bonus or penalty in D&D3.5/Pathfinder or a simple Advantage/Disadvantage for 5E then the math either greatly increases or decreases. Even then the game grants you a wider berth for success or failure percentages.

In my personal opinion depending on how a player and DM interact with regards to social interaction the game typically skews to the favor of the player, but not always.

As an example I once ran a Pathfinder game for a couple of college friends which they needed to find
an orc encampment to stop them from raiding the player's current village. Now they were playing a party of anti-heroes and the party consisted of a Blackguard, a Rogue/Ranger hybrid and a Monk at that point if I recall correctly they were level 3. The major interaction situation they had was after defeating an orc defense line deep in the mountains they decided to keep one of the orcs alive hoping to get the guy to tell them where their main base was. Now orcs have a -1 will Save in pathfinder so on a take 10 tha'ts 9 will defense but I wanted a noble savage type of orc culture in that game so I beefed his will up to +2(or 12 static). Now my players tied this orc up asked him "nicely" first and used diplomacy, they rolled poorly causing the orc to say stuff like "what proof do i have that you'll let me go after I tell you" which resulted in the blackguard verbally threatening him by and using interrogate; now as I said these are noble savages who don't take kindly to threats so I gave the orc a bonus of +4 for that roll and we had a roll off, too bad for my player since I rolled higher than him and had the orc say, "Then you better just kill me cause you'll get nothing from me!" This is where their "fun" began. Remember they're anti-heroes and chose to torture the poor orc instead, and I gradually increased his will for each form of torture they did and they did a lot; they stabbed him in the gut, beat his face to a pulp, and eventually cut off his legs, each increasing the difficulty of the roll however by the time they cut off his leg the orc's "will hp" as I like to call it dropped to 0 which meant he was back to his base will save and when they threatened to cut out his eyes; which they rolled off to check if he finally cracked, he did (since his will save was back to -1) but he asked for an honorable warriors death in return.

Do note that the players had roughly a 50% chance at the start to succeed if they had rolled
successfully the wouldn't have had to do all that torture but their ridiculous anti-hero antics gradually
reduced that chance, until I decided it was time for the orc to crack.

Social Interaction in Numenera

Now with Numenera a GM isn't limited to static values and roll offs, each socially inclined NPC like
thieves and bandits start off around level 2 and 3 meaning you need to roll somewhere between 6 and 9 to succeed doing anything to the generic mooks but with Numenera's beautiful Cypher System a Face character would often have the ability to reduce the difficulty without spending effort to -2 which means that he automatically passes that test.

Easy(ier) right? That's what I initially thought as well but what about situations where you interact with an NPC whose difficulty you don't know? Remember this is Numenera a GM can arbitrarily place a difficulty for a task depending on how easy or how hard it is for a player to accomplish the task. In my game with Jay I had to deal with a very experienced information broker who probably had a base difficulty of 6, a fanatical cultist with secrets again with a difficulty of 6 and a cultist sentry with probably a difficulty of 4. So these guys would have needed 12(difficulty 4) and
18(difficulty 6). My character only had Trained for most of my interaction related skills which reduces the difficulty of all actions by 1, so I would have needed 9 and 15 to succeed.

Again accounting for the actions(stupid often times) I took while negotiating into account such as.
Pointing my crossbow at an experienced information broker, threatening to shove a grenade down said information broker's throat, attempting to bluff my way by showing a GPS tracker artifact to a guard of a cult that worships numenera and plenty of other shenanigans. I probably rose the difficulty of my interrogate tests somewhere between 1 to 3, which greatly reduced my chances to succeed seeing as instead of rolling dice between 12-18 i now had to roll somewhere between 15 and 21.

Now I'm not complaining about the difficulty I mean this is role-playing and actions have consequences; and these weren't your average everyday mooks, but what I am comparing is with D&D and other RPG's you have the ability to better increase your chances  with re-rolls and high dice bonuses to get better chances to succeed which in my experience happens most of the time. However with Numenera, the most common resource you have to increase your chances of success are your skills, assets and effort and sometimes situational +1 or +2 bonuses. Normally these resources would have been enough but for social interactions more often than not you don't have access to an asset. Though there are chances you can have assets for social interactions such as evidence when trying to prove a crime or money to bribe but most common social interactions don't grant access to such assets which leaves a face character with an average of -2 difficulty bonus; most of the time thats all he needs to succeed especially when dealing with mooks but
when dealing with tougher social challenges, he often lacks enough resources to reduce the difficulty
with the tests.

Let's look back at my recent game, difficulty 6 negotiator, thats 18 to pass, I am trained in intimidate
bringing it down to 5 so thats 15 to pass thats already roughly a 25-30% chance to succeed on the d20. I displayed threats of violence in conjunction with my interrogate increased that to 7, again intimidate training brings that back to 18, should I have spent effort I would have brought that back down to 15, sadly I rolled a 17 and failed that roll. Again to reiterate I'm not complaining such is the nature of the game but sometimes like in real life you want to have that one thing that you think might have changed things.

Final Thoughts

I'm basically comparing apples and oranges, rather pointing out major differences in the way the two
games handle social interaction it's not a which game is better kind of deal it's more of explaining
my experience in both games. Numenera's system is beautifully crafted to keep the story flowing, enables a DM to stick to an NPC's principle and role. If a DM decides that his NPC will never break in a social interaction he can set a difficulty and leave it at that; the only way to make the task easier is to roleplay it in a favorable manner or present evidence to reduce the difficulty and hope for the best.

In D&D however sometimes a good role can easily bypass a 15 Will Save when the Face has a +5 bonus in 4/5E, or And the case of a roll-off with 3.5/Pathfinder a player simply needs to roll higher than the DM; Which can; at times, cause an unreasonable break in the NPC's personality.

Again no matter how I word it I'm comparing apples and oranges, both games would require different mindsets when playing both games, but as a DM with the new tricks I've learned this session I plan to improve my gameplay hopefully to be more engaging whatever system I use.


  1. if it my expose you to more schools of thought on social interactions http://www.sjgames.com/gurps/books/socialengineering/ takes an approach which has a great set of sources and rules to cover the social sphere not just interaction but wealth, status, reputation influence, sub cultures, intolerance, biases, dehumanization, and aspects few systems try to cover. If you're curious about such things.

    1. Wow Gurps always has a rule for everything :)); I prefer to go rules light on Social Interactions; even D&D has too much crunch for my taste. Numenera has it down to simplistic beauty while A song of Ice and Fire RPG and L5R would probably have crunchier yet flavorful social interaction; so far I'm leaning towards Numenera due to again its sheer simplistic beauty :D

    2. I don't recommend having to read the rules, just read the Biblio. If your curious about more dimensions of how social interactions work it would be recommended. Its the equivalent of taking TTC lectures on such matters if you are curious about what happens in real life (like TTC effective communication, conflict resolution and academic hoolabalooo) its just too see where the Ideas come from and where they stand in the real world. Which I do admit is a real buzz kill... depending on your coping mechanisms.