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I'm talking about PC.-vs.-NPC interaction; presumably, PC-PC interaction ignores 'social score' almost always (although counterexamples may exist).

This has been a real life 'issue' in one of my games, so I'm curious for a reason.

Example: The PC verbally destroys an NPC, insulting him to hell and high water. The players at the table cringe at the obvious social ineptness of the player character. Will the (high) social score rescue him with regards to that specifically insulted NPC? (Bystanders may be affected differently, based on stat score or not).

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8 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

It sounds like you're looking for systems where Charisma (or the like) functions as a kind of social Armor Class, where if you are sufficiently charming or likeable NPCs don't have the "ability" to dislike you, regardless of your actions. Most systems that I've come across only deal with what the characters will do when you ask them, rather than how they feel about it. (It's possible to hate someone and still do what they say because of their social power.)

This NPC: does he have something the PCs want, or is he just a random target for bile?

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+1 for this: "It's possible to hate someone and still do what they say because of their social power." –  Erik Schmidt Mar 22 '12 at 18:44
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I handle this in a more diplomatic way than most of the answers here, I think. When I have a player who's got a character with high social stats, but is incapable of roleplaying them correctly, I sort of mentally translate what they're saying for them on behalf of their character. I assume that they mean what they're saying, but their character is far more capable of delivering in a social way than the player is.

The problem is a mismatch between real life and the game world. I don't think I've ever personally met anyone who could be described as having a Charisma of 22, but I've had players play them.

Ultimately, my rule is: don't penalize the character for the failings of the player.

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The example is giving me problems because of my understanding of what charisma entails. A high charisma identifies that the character has the ability to use subtle force of personality to move an "opponent." That necessarily assumes that one has a strong foundational social intelligence. It is one's social intelligence that identifies where to leverage the personality to attain maximum results. Because of the way they are intimately entwined, one simply cannot have a high charisma with a low social intelligence.

Any character who would engage in what can clearly be identified as "obvious social ineptness" can only have a low charisma. If the character's charisma were higher, that situation simply would never happen. If we were to swap intelligence for charisma in the example, I would liken the example to playing a Dr. Strange with the reasoning capacity of the Hulk.

So, the question raised by the example doesn't seem to be whether a high social stat could save the character. Instead, the real question is what to do with a player who refuses to play the character with the high social stat.

My overall answer to a situation like that would be to point out clearly to the player that the character knows that this kind of behavior would be a clear social faux pas. If the player still really wants to go down that path, then perhaps its time to start another discussion regarding a replacement character that would be more suitable to what the player wants to do in game.

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Insults and ridicule? No, not an automatic save. This is what conditional modifiers were built for. In my opinion, depending on the degree of dickishness, the Diplomacy roll to keep the crowd (or guards or even just the NPC himself) from getting outright hostile just got a -5 penalty.

Being the most attractive or personable creature around doesn't give anyone a pass for being horrible.

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As a DM, I might handle this as a sort of Common Sense type of thing. Where, as the player of the high Charisma character is doing the insulting, I'd say something along the lines of, "Before you get the words out you realize that calling one's mother an ogre is generally considered bad form. Would you like to rephrase that?" This way I give the player the chance to redact what they were saying because their character would know that its not the best way to go about it.

As Erik said, you don't want to punish the character for purely player error.

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This seems to be an old question, but it came to to the top of the list. I would say, yes charisma should play a role in deciding the reaction, but how to handle that and to what degree depends on a couple of factors.

1. Which system are we talking about? Some systems very explicitly deal with social skills and even "social combat" and others do not. I would always say charisma or similar should play a role, but in exactly what way and to what degree depends on the system.

2. Does the player want the character to literally say what he said, or to get that idea across?

If they just want to get that idea across, then there is more room for the dice and character to step in and make the players actions work. You may be dealing with a somewhat socially inexperienced player who is playing James Bond. The player may not know the right words to say to get the idea across inoffensively, but James Bond could probably insult the other person horribly and make them like it, or enrage them by giving them compliments. And really, I think this makes sense. I certainly don't know how to make a fireball, but many of my characters do, why shouldn't one of them know how to deal with people far better than I do?

If they really want those exact words, then its harder. I still think charisma should play a role (it does in real life), but now there is less room for interpretation. I would still take charisma into account, but there might be penalties involved.

Essentially, I think someone with an exceptional high charisma should have all in-person social interactions seen in the best light possible, that seems the best anology to what happens in real life.

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When I run a game, I tend to allow players to catch themselves after a faux pas. The key phrase is faux pas, not "intentional and cogent attempt to cause social angst".

I've got a three step process to determine this this:

  1. Player Ability- Does the player realize what he is doing is practically horrible, or does he not know? I use this when dealing with situations where a character has high etiquette, but the player narrates that he does something that's a mistake. For instance, when associating with a warrior society, some players may legitimately believe you're supposed to go into meetings howling, chanting, and brandishing weapons, and their characters have skill to not do that. If I am uncertain of a player's intent, I pull out the ominous "Are you sure?".

  2. Character Skill- If it's been established that the player didn't intend to be a total barbarian (no insult to barbarians), and the mistake was legitimate, I check the character's skill. If a character decided to dump Charisma, Etiquette (or Diplomacy, or whatever the equivalents are) and any real applicable social elements, I usually just let the player suffer their actions.

  3. NPC Response- If both of the previous checks are borderline, I like to say that the NPC just interprets the player as a naive and foolish bumbler rather than arrogant and overly self-valued. If the skills are high but the player decided to do something horrible, I lower the modifier, or justify it as a sort of grudging acceptance of the character's points. Alternatively, if the skills are extremely high and the player was extremely unaware of what he did, there may be a cultural phenomena where he starts a new trend of wildly iconoclastic behavior; should this be applicable (the warriors decide the dramatic raving fashion is kinda cool).

The one thing I've learned when running games is that players never do what you think they will, and no matter what you do you should clearly communicate your rationales for why a certain event panned out another way, but don't shield them from the consequences of blatantly horrible actions because they have certain numbers on paper.

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Rich Burlew's diplomacy system seems well-suited to this. It focuses on whether you can persuade people to make deals with you, not their general attitude toward you.

Old system: Your bastard actions make someone hostile and your charisma check makes them indifferent again, neutralizing each other and leaving a brainwashed NPC ignoring open insults.

New system: your bastard actions raise the DC to make a deal and the charisma check raises your Diplomacy roll. So the offended party will react naturally to your insults, but that's a specific numeric penalty. Your charisma score can "rescue you" by helping you hit the DC anyway and get him to make a deal despite his lack of desire to work with you.

Just like you can go into combat naked and your Dexterity score might rescue you, it feels fair as long as it's a d20 that tells you whether you pulled it off and not the DM.

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