Social Encounters

Character vs. Character

Social Encounters involve dealing with NPC's, convincing them to think the way you want them to think or gaining favor with them. Attending a king's banquet without making a faux pas can be a Social encounter, as can haggling with a stingy chocobo merchant, persuading the moogle tribe to unite against the Empire with you, or charming the princess at the ball. A Social encounter might exist to convince monsters to accept your surrender, or, if you can talk with wolves, perhaps to convince them to leave your party alone. Social encounters rarely risk your party's life directly, though some royals are quite violent when offended. More often, they risk inspiring the NPC to actions against you rather than for you: the king might throw you in prison for your rude behavior, the chocobo merchant might jack up his prices and sell you a lemon, the moogle tribe might decide to attack YOU, and the princess might wind up hating you and shutting you out of her life. Social encounters can be used in place of in-character dialogue when you don't care about exactly what is said, or if you have a particularly silver tongued or a particularly shy player to even the playing field. Social encounters can also be used alongside more spontaneous in-character dialogue, providing direction and rules results for what is said. Finally, dialogue trees can be used in place of or alongside Social encounters to provide a few specific options for players. Social encounters use the Persuade skill to move through the encounter (convincing the NPC that you are worth paying attention to), and use the Insight skill to prevent them from turning against you (representing your ability to feel out the wrong thing to do, even if you don't know the right thing).

Declaring the Encounter

A Social encounter is declared when one side wants to convince another side of something, preferably without using direct violence. Victory happens when the initiator convinces the other side. Failure happens if the initiator fails to convince the other side. Like any encounter, victory for the PC's will get them closer to their goals, and net them XP, AP, and treasure. Failure for the PC's will get them farther from their goals, and cost them Gil and time.

When the encounter is declared, the initiating side makes their argument.

Wins and Losses

Any character can attempt to Persuade by rolling a skill check (1d20+Spirit), opposed by the enemy's passive Insight (10+Mind). A character trained in those skills gains a +5 bonus and may apply a special effect in exchange for a lower score, if they choose. A character must beat the enemy's Insight roll a number of times equal to the enemy's Mind score. They can fail a number of times equal to their own Mind score. The final failure (when you fail with a number of failures equal to your Mind score) means that the group has failed the encounter.

After the initiating side makes their argument, the defending side may counter-argue by making their own Persuade check. If they win, the initiating side registers another failure, but if they loose, the initiating side registers a success. Of course, the defending side may choose not to counter-argue, hoping that the initiating side runs out of steam on their own before they register enough successes.

The Mind points are pooled for every character that makes a Persuade check, and any character from the initiating side may make a Persuade check to attempt a success. Similarly, any character on the defending side may make a counter-argument, and their Mind points are likewise pooled: any character who is actively resisting the persuasion adds their Mind points (even if they don't make counter-arguments). After achieving a success, a character cannot achieve another one until another character on their side has attempted to achieve a success.

When the initiating side achieves more successes than the defender's Mind points, or when they achieve more failures than their own Mind points, the encounter is over.

Persuade Options

Demoralizing Argument (-2)

You make a case that insults the opposing party, making them seem foolish and you very wise. If you win, the defending party takes a -2 penalty to their passive Insight on your next Persuade check.

Surprising Argument (-4)

You present an argument that the defending party really didn't think about. If you win, the defending party cannot make a counter-argument until your next failure.

Empathic Argument (-6)

You try to see things from their side for a moment, arguing that this can be mutually beneficial. If you win, you gain 1 extra failure before you fail the encounter.

Insight Options

Aggressive Insight (-2)

You actively try to figure out the opposing party's agenda, here. Roll your own Insight defense, and, if the opposing party fails, they take a -2 penalty on their next Persuade check.

Counterpoint (-4)

Your counter-argument is made stronger by the aggressor's failure to make a point. If the opposing party registers a failure on your penalized passive Insight, you can make a counter-argument with a +4 bonus.

Rational Position (-6)

Your position has the force of reason behind it. If the opposing party registers a failure on your penalized passive Insight, not only do they have that failure, but they must also achieve 1 extra success in order to emerge victorious.

Successful Persuasion, Failed Insight

If the initiating side achieves more successes than the defending side has points of Mind before achieving more failures than they have points of Mind, they achieve success in the encounter. This means that the defending side is persuaded to agree with the initiating side, at least in so far as the initial argument is concerned. The defending side is helpful and willing to support the initiating side in this case, doing as the initiating side wishes. Of course, this should be within reason: the defending side isn't brainwashed, they just agree with the initiating side, and want to help them if possible.

Failed Persuasion, Successful Insight

If the initiating side achieves more failures than they have points of Mind before achieving more successes than the opposing side's points of Mind, they fail the encounter. This means that the defending side is opposing the initiating side, even if they were originally fairly neutral. They will aggressively resist giving the initiating side what they want. Of course, this isn't necessarily a trigger for violence: they just disagree with the initiating side, and want to prevent them from achieving their goals.

DM's Advice: PC's as Initiators and Defenders

Most of the time, Social encounters will feature PC's in the role of the Initiators. Like most encounters in the game, the PC's are trying to accomplish something, and the opposing forces stand in the way for them to overcome: the PC's are agents of change, and the NPC's represent the status quo. Part of the reason for this is one of the DM's Rules: Don't tell the players what their characters do. Because the Social encounter forces PC's to change their minds, it is less encouraged to place the PC's in the role of defenders. Many players will feel that they are denied choice if they are made to agree with an NPC that they don't want to agree with. Because NPC's are more abstract beings than PC's, DM's are generally more open to letting their opinions be swayed, but even NPC's have lines that this encounter won't cross.

With that warning in place, it should be said that it's not always inappropriate to have PC's be defenders in a Social encounter. Just keep in mind, as the DM, your voice is only the voice of their inner conscience or instinct, not the dictation of their action. You can say, if the PC's fail to defend their ideas, that a character feels a certain way: they see the logic in the argument, they really feel like it's a good point, and they would like to help. This instinctive feeling isn't something the PC has to act on, however. Even if they agree that the village needs to be protected from the rampaging undead, it is their choice to do so or not: a player may feel that their character has more immediate demands, or has needs that are stronger than simple agreement, and so they may choose not to. As the DM, you don't make the choice for that character (the player does), though you may provide reasons for them to make a certain choice.

In part, because of that light touch, it's often unnecessary to go through the entire encounter structure just to nudge the PC's in a certain direction.

However, it may be relevant if, for instance, the PC's get in a public debate with some NPCs to use them as the defenders to determine who wins the debate. You may also choose to make the PC's the defenders if an NPC is trying to charm or seduce them, or perhaps if they're trying to prove their innocence before some accusatory soldiers (or their lack of tastiness before some hungry ogres). Counter-arguments may become a bigger part of a PC defense, as it allows a sort of "active defense" in forcing failures. In order to be defenders, the PC party must oppose some assertion of the NPC party. Don't be afraid to throw the party a defensive Social encounter every once in a while, especially if their characters are declaring Social encounters frequently themselves, but don't rely on it to shoehorn the characters into a situation or remove the player's choice.

Option: Dialogue Trees

The DM may give the PC's the option of using specific pieces of dialogue in their arguments, relevant to the characters or the situation. Choosing between them navigates the social encounter like a maze: certain options lead to "dead ends" (failures) and certain options lead further to the goal (successes). This removes the randomness from the encounter, relying on the PC's choices. It also requires a lot of preparation, and is thus most appropriate for climactic social encounters, rather than for every one. It may be sprinkled in to normal social encounters in moderation, however, enabling auto-success or auto-failure for one or two points.

Designing Dialogue Trees

The analogy to a "maze" is more than just a colorful metaphor: a DM is well-served by thinking of the encounter like a map. Each "room" is a decision point, with each "door" being a specific option. The characters may go North, East, or West; the characters may choose to Insult, Empathize, or Threaten. North may lead to a trapped dead end (Insulting registers a failure), while East and West each lead to their own rooms (choose Empathize, then you have two more options; choose Threaten and you have three). When planning a dialogue tree, start with the "entrance" as the basic idea of the initiating conversation. You don't need to design a great many options. Generally three to four "tiers" of rooms will be enough, and you can take care of the failures and successes that remain with conventional Social encounter mechanics.

Dialogue trees are put to the best use when used by initiators, with the trees representing how well various arguments work. They can be used defensively, too, with the dialogue representing counter-arguments, but in that case you should also allow the option of saying nothing at each choice, effectively remaining in the room and waiting, hoping that the initiators will fail on their own without you having to say anything.

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