I’ve been going through all of my materials to read up social encounters, and I one of my stops was rewatching Hank’s video Social Encounters: Decoded. Once I finished it, I realized I’d finally joined the forums instead of just lurking in my shadowy internet goblin hole, and wanted to pick your brains. (It’s up to you if you want me picking through the nose or the ears).
Broadly, I guess I’m just wondering how you handle social encounters at your table. More specifically, I’m interested in what mechanics or techniques you build into your social encounters, and what purpose they serve. I feel like I’m being vague here, and if I am its unintentional. Feel free to ask questions if its not clear what I’m asking.
Edit: In response to a question regarding how I do it at the table. It has a tendency to depend on what I’m running at the table, but in general:
My NPCs always have a goal/value/purpose (randomly rolled if I’m stumped) to give me an idea of what they want, kind of like a default response mode. Social interactions at my table tend to also have an upper cap on what can be accomplished, except in truly exceptional circumstances. My players like to explore the world as they go in a more sandbox style, so I often have to come up with an upper limit on the fly, based on what they want to do. I try to keep social encounters moving in turns, keep the turns quick, and let a combination of dice and good roleplaying drive the encounter. I don’t use timers necessarily, but many of my NPCs are not shy about ending social encounters that drag. Finally I try to have any goals they accomplish in social interactions impact the adventure in some mechanical way.
So for example, a merchant’s goal might be to make money, and so his default response to anything that’s going to unreasonably limit his profits is going to be no (like players trying to convince him they deserve a 50% discount). So if the players want to convince him to do something that goes against this, they fail. They can’t just walk into the shop, roll well with really high charisma or give an eloquently roleplayed soliloquy, and persuade or haggle a poor merchant into bankruptcy. This default response mode can be gotten around in various ways by unscrupulous characters of course (deception, threatening life and property, charm, etc.).
Around this framework, other interactions are more flexible with him. If they want to be his friend, get information from him, or flirt with him, these actions do not trigger his default response mode. Say they take an interest in befriending him, I might decide an upper limit on a single interaction is getting up to the point of being friendly, but just shy of becoming his friend (maybe he’s not the sort of fellow to become fast friends with someone he’s only met once). So no matter how well their dice or their roleplaying goes (with rare exceptions), if they decide to roleplay out befriending him there will be a limit on how much they can accomplish in one sitting.
So, say they get him to ‘friendly, but not your friend’. Now I’ve got to come up with a treat for them on the fly. Maybe at the end of the interaction, since he likes them and they mentioned they are in town hunting for clues about the Emerald Star conspiracy, he offers to introduce them to a friend of his who might be able to help the party on their adventure. He knows a sage down on Bloom Street who studies the cultural impact of secret societies, and if anyone knows where to start it will be the sage.
If they thought it was important enough to turn befriending this merchant into a social encounter, then they deserve to get a treat if they succeed. Now they get another NPC to roleplay with, and they get the satisfaction of having earned their first clue. Maybe when I prepped for the session I thought they were going to find that clue somewhere else, but then, they’ll never know that.