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I'm a new DM running D&D 5e's LMoP with a small group of new players.

So far everyone is having fun even though we're all learning on the fly, which I think is great. But there have been situations where I as a DM have had to adjudicate the use of social interactions against NPCs, but I'm unsure if I should be letting the dice determine outcomes of conversations against NPCs or if letting roleplay dictate how much information I can give out about the NPC's reactions and words.

Let's say that on our table, a player can get as much information from an NPC if they give out compelling arguments against an NPC while trying to convince them about something with Persuasion or Deception, or using in-character Intimidation.
Would there be concrete benefits of having proficiency in these skills if a player can roleplay them well even without the proficiency bonus?

I'm trying to determine what would be most fun for the players in my table, and some players might feel it's a waste of skill usage to level skills they could be roleplaying out and getting similar results than rolling dice if they do not offer any concrete advantages. For example, I have a player that's great at roleplaying out their character and more interested in making his character skillset be like the one he wants to roleplay, and another one who is interested mostly in making his character efficient at his role with the roleplay being incidental after the fact he chooses a skill that benefits the game mechanics.

I would probably change my method of adjudication and the use of dice depending on what's most fun for the players.

Maybe I'm overlooking something here and should be ruling things way differently though...

I own the PHB and MM only (slowly working on getting the core books if the group actually liked to play), so if there is any info about this on the DMG then I'm not privy to it yet.

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It depends on your table, so ask your table; here are some different ways I've run it at my own

There are a few different ways I've tackled the "RP vs. skill level problem" and I usually just ask the group which they'd prefer unless a campaign demands one method over another:

  1. RP determines everything, no skill checks exist

    Note that this doesn't completely remove skill proficiencies from being helpful; they may still have in-combat uses or some sort of other feature might call for a skill check, but this is far from an ideal option. (You may end up having to rearrange class proficiencies as many end up being near-useless)

  2. RP determines the result, skill check determines any additional circumstances

    Here I have the character (player) RP and this (depending on how well they do it) determines what the result of the NPC encounter is. I then have them make a check to see whether it goes off with some extra stipulations, perhaps nothing goes wrong, or the NPC throws in an extra incentive. One benefit of this style is that it prevents players from having to RP characters who are less, or even worse more persuasive/whatever than themself. An often difficult thing to do, but one that can be done.

  3. Skill check determines the result, RP determines additional circumstances

    This is basically the above but reversed, putting less pressure on the Player's ability to perform the skill as RP and more of fate is left up to the dice and the character's own proficiency in said skill.

  4. Skill check determines everything, RP simply follows

    Here the player (though not the character) already knows whether they succeed or fail, which gives them a bit of an idea of what to be arriving for. They can model how well they argue based off of the roll, some tables have preferred this method but it certainly teeters on the edges of meta-gaming and is hard to get a good balance for. It also still promotes having a high skill level as this increases the odds of a good result, and even is the only way to get a great result.

  5. Skill level determines possible results

    This is the method I most often use though it is unusual. Here I have thresholds like the following: if your passive persuasion is at least 16, you can get the great result, otherwise you can only get a good result. This method leaves less up the rolls of the dice, and gives a greater benefit to simply having a greater proficiency in some given skill. You'll note that I've left out how to actually determine the result and that's because when using this method I always ask my table how they want this to work. Sometimes there is no skill check at all, sometimes the RP is just for flavor and the passive score dictates everything (though this has the negative side-effect of promoting just having one party member being good at each skill and thus nearly-always succeeding at any sort of skillful endeavor).

Overall you've got a lot of options, including many besides the ones here, for how to handle RP and skill checks. Sometimes, unavoidably, they won't line up or really agree with each other at all, and I suggest discussing what to do in this sort of scenario with your players. If the RP is phenomenal and the dice give you the absolute worst roll perhaps some sort of bonus is in order? One thing you could do is give advantage to a check if the RP is particularly good, I've done this before as a inspiration-esque method of promoting quality RP from my players.

There are many other things to consider as well, such as quality of RP, creativity, and other less quantifiable and more qualitative aspects of the game. The bottom line (for me) is to ask your players what they want to see in the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ At 6th way which is the one I use: I use the RP quality and the raw skill ranks to determine whether or not a check will be needed and also the difficulty of the check itself. So, after the RP is done, as far as checks are concerned, I end up in one of these situations: RP moderated by the base skill value was insufficient and thus failure (no dice roll needed), : RP moderated by the base skill value was sufficient and thus success (no dice roll needed), or a check is needed and RP quality only (not the raw skill) plus the base situation determine the check DC. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Nov 12 at 20:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ The implementation of Case 1 was what I was framing in the question, so I like this answer the most. Nevertheless, most of the answers tackle my ulterior doubt, which was if to use only RP or only dice to adjudicate. Thanks to all of your extremely helpful replies I have learnt the answer to that is a somewhat nebulous "use both at the same time, to the extent it makes the game better for your table". Being a DM is complex, but quite rewarding when everyone has fun. \$\endgroup\$ – Eriol Nov 13 at 18:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another technique, specific to 5e, is RP determines advantage/disadvantage, and/or Inspiration. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Nov 13 at 21:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've always like the "RP is what the player is attempting, and how their action looks from their perspective" and the skill check will determine how that action is interpreted by the NPCs, but a well-done RP gives the PC advantage on the action. Like, you make a super suave convincing monologue to the table, but if you rolled a 1 on your Persuasion, maybe when you attempt to deliver that monologue in-game you sneeze directly into the NPCs face. \$\endgroup\$ – Schrodinger'sStat Nov 13 at 23:47
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Yes, as there's more to a check than how well it's acted out

Players being engaged and acting in their roles is an great experience, and while it's worth encouraging, a check is more than just how well they do at portraying the task.

As the DM, while you might decide to allow or disallow compelling RP to affect the DC of such a check, the roll and skill bonuses account for other factors that aren't necessarily part of the actual conversation. The character getting a low result skill check for example might be the result of some stigma against them from other characters (due to race or social skills or other factors). Characters with greater focus in these areas can and should succeed at social encounters more consistently than those without.

Another important consideration is that the skills exist to reflect the difference between the player's skills and their character's. For example, if one of your players had a black belt in martial arts, you wouldn't grant them a bonus when making an attack simply because the player themself can pull it off. Conversely, you wouldn't want to penalize a player who may not be a great public speaker for wanting to play a suave character. While acting adds greater immersion, it's important not to overly emphasize and penalize based on what the player can actually accomplish.

Ultimately it is your call as the DM on how to handle these sorts of skill checks. But to your original question: yes, there should still be a concrete value for players choosing to invest in proficiency in their chosen skills. It's your job to decide how that manifests though.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The third paragraph is the most important. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Nov 12 at 17:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. The RP can be more like indicating the TYPE of argument/persuasion, but the details can be up to the dice. "I compliment the merchant on his wristband and discover a family connection we both have." "I make an argument based on legal precedents." "I shout down the guy." It's basically telling more than showing, but this summary approach is how I often approach rough drafts, which games sort of are. A suave player may be able to win an argument, but not describe HOW he did it, so both showing and telling serve useful roles in adding detail and flavor. \$\endgroup\$ – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Nov 13 at 14:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Being good at social interactions can be a fantasy like being super strong or having a high intelligence. As a DM you have the possibility to feed this fantasy. If a hero is charismatic,your role as DM is to reflect it. As a player, we want to feel that our character as an impact on the environment. It should feel alive, true, right. \$\endgroup\$ – aloisdg says Reinstate Monica Nov 13 at 16:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, this will help me to keep in mind the difference when players are playing out their in-game character vs. the actual players' personality and how to reward someone for playing what they want to be, not only what they are. \$\endgroup\$ – Eriol Nov 13 at 18:05
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Proficiency helps when the outcome of an attempt is uncertain

When it comes to social encounters, any player can try anything, and the DM narrates the results. What the proficiency bonus does is increase the chance that a PC may succeed when the outcome is uncertain. A couple of things to key on are that dice should only be rolled when the outcome is uncertain and Social Encounters Are Not Combat.

Build on the basic game play model of (Basic Rules, p. 4)

  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they try to do do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.
    {Describing the results often leads to another decision point, which brings the flow of the game right back to step 1}.

    DM note 1: keep an eye out for cases where circumstantial advantage and disadvantage may apply.

    The DM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant advantage or impose disadvantage as a result. (Basic Rules, p. 60; PHB Ch 7)

    DM note 2: make sure not to treat social encounters like combat. I have found that DM approach to be successful in encouraging role play in these situations.

    The DM calls for an ability check when a character or monster attempts an action (other than an attack) that has a chance of failure. When the outcome is uncertain, the dice determine the results. (PHB, Chapter 7, Using ability Scores)

In a social interaction, my Ranger does not tell you, the DM, "I will try a Persuasion check on this city watch commander" the way I would tell you "I will attack that owlbear" during a combat situation.

What my Ranger does is tell you, the DM, what I am trying to convince the watch commander to do or not do (please don't arrest our rogue). If need be I tell you (out of character) what I am trying to do if my role playing leaves you uncertain. At that point you the DM can decide to:

  1. Not roll the dice, since the suggestion is a reasonable one (or since the dwarf in our party already bribed him, unbeknownst to my Ranger), or
  2. Not roll the dice, since the suggestion, reasonable or not, doesn't matter since the watch captain is outraged that our dwarf offered him that bribe and insulted his honor, or
  3. have me roll the dice to see if my Ranger was convincing enough, or
  4. have my ranger Roll the dice, with advantage, thanks to the dwarven bribe, or
  5. Have my Ranger roll the dice with disadvantage since I am perceived as being rude, or, since this guard captain thinks our group are annoying trouble makers. The DM role plays the watch captain. (There is some material to help with social interactions on p 244-246 of the DMG).

    Pick whichever makes the most sense to you based on (1) the situation and (2) how the players / characters respond to that situation. In the above scene, my Ranger does, or does not, roll the dice either straight up, or with advantage / disadvantage. Also consider how one PC can help another with an ability check, and make sure your players are aware of that; it's something they can do.

    Working Together

    Sometimes two or more characters team up to attempt a task. The character who’s leading the effort—or the one with the highest ability modifier—can make an ability check with advantage, reflecting the help provided by the other characters. (Basic Rules, p. 62; PHB, Ch. 7).

    a. The DM granting of circumstantial advantage, and circumstantial disadvantage, depending on the situation

    and

    b. the efforts that the players take to set up an advantageous result, or if they are careless as they make an attempt at a social encounter (examples at the end)

    has expanded how players at our table engage in social encounters.

Example 1, advantage based on the set up

Our first 5e campaign (2014). We had cleared out a local monster nest after numerous sessions and a couple of level ups. The local town could get back to work; their economy had been disrupted by monsters and some bandits. Here we were, trying to collect our promised reward money, 500 GP each. The representative from the town elders tried to pay us 500 GP total. A couple of our characters were engaged in a conversation - "No, that's 500 gp each" - to no avail. Our dwarf (Vengeance) Paladin walked up, tapping his warhammer in his hand, and stared down the rep. He waited for the others (me included) to shut up. He then simply said: "You will pay us each the 500 GP we were promised, or, I'll bring your body back to your boss and tell him that you tried to cheat us."
The DM had our Paladin roll an Intimidation check with advantage. It was a success. And we got our money. (Later, the DM confirmed that this person was indeed trying to cheat us, and that he had assessed the interaction as a version of the "good cop/bad cop" situation).

In the following example, our Gnome Rogue had proficiency in Persuasion, although my Cleric did not. We didn't know it at the time, but we had {circumstantial} disadvantage going into the attempt at Persuasion. (We found out later from the DM). This also illustrates the "working together" bit.

Example 2, working at a disadvantage

The party (my brother as DM) got into an argument with some locals after a night at the tavern and then a fight broke out. In short order (I was AFK getting a beer, IRL; we play on Roll20/online) three local guardsmen are on the ground, 0 HP or worse, and my Life Cleric (me returning to play) was in a panic - what have you done!!?? - and expended a Channel Divinity (Preserve Life) hoping to get them back up off the floor. It worked on 2 of 3, but the one had taken too much damage and was totally dead. (In Character, my Cleric was not pleased with the party members). I went forth with our most charismatic other PC, the Rogue, to find the Guard Captain and talk him out of arresting my three party mates. Between me describing the healing, and the failed healing attempt, and the rogue being as persuasive as possible and promising to pay a weregild to the widow, our disadvantage (later revealed in the wrap up by our DM) was evened out by me Helping the Rogue. (I'd cast Guidance on him as we began ...). He just made the roll; the DC had been set to 18 before we even found the Guard Captain (also revealed in the wrap up after the session).

Here was an example of the concrete advantage to proficiency. With proficiency(+2) and a 14 (+2)Charisma, he had +4 to the roll ... +3 from the 1d4 roll on Guidance. The d20 roll was an 11 ... and we could have failed.

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    \$\begingroup\$ My players are also new, so I will apply your advice about how to frame their actions better so I can make a better decision as well, since they've been treating social interactions like battle commands. Good to know! \$\endgroup\$ – Eriol Nov 13 at 19:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eriol Best wishes and happy gaming. As I read through all of the answers, I see some nice nuggets in each one. Hope we've all been helpful. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 13 at 19:43
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There are a lot of ways to handle this issue, but from my experience they tend to fall into three schools of thought. My preferred one is actually the last one I will present.

Reward Creativity

One school of thought says, "Hey, this is a role playing game, we like player involvement and engagement, so let's reward creativity!"

The upshot of this approach is that if you want to generate creativity and engagement from your players, then you reward that. How do you reward that? By letting good, creative, or fun ideas succeed, which in this case translates to how you've been running things: If Harald Halitosis's player comes up with a good and compelling line of persuasive patter to the young princess away from the royal guard, well that's creative and engaged, so go ahead, let that work.

The good part of this is that it will tend to generate player activity. The bad part of this is that it leads to those stats and skills being used as dump stats and isn't very realistic-- it's very easy for this to generate a group min-maxed characters, where the 'min' doesn't have much effect.

Emphasize Accurate Role-Playing

Another school of thought says, "Hey, this is a Role-Playing Game, shouldn't we be actually playing these roles?"

The key idea here is that in general, even if the player of Ulgo the Unlikable thinks fast on his feet, and is quite the charmer in real life, the character whose role he is playing is not. So the player shouldn't be playing him that way. He should be playing him as... whatever he decides is the way low charisma and untrained social skills manifest for his character.

Notice I said 'emphasize' rather than 'reward' here. My experience is that this is a situation where excellence is its own reward, and it's a sort of a table-culture that needs to be nourished and encouraged rather than directly rewarded.

The good part here, if you can achieve it, is that you minimize the tendency to treat these as dump stats, and when you do, you have players that will at least act like their characters are lacking something. The bad part is that I find it difficult to figure out appropriate and meaningful rewards for the behavior I want to encourage.

Enforce the Skills/Stats as a Mechanical Interface

Finally, a third approach is to emphasize and enforce the skills and stats mechanically. This approach says to itself, "Look, this is an RPG with mechanics. I don't let Ned the Noodle-armed perform feats of strength just because his character is a body builder in real life. So I'm not going to let Ted the Tongue-Tied act as the party barrister just because his player is on the debate team."

A crude way (and not one I recommend) is just to make a snap judgment: "Your character is too low Charisma to do that." Whether it comes from the GM directly or as the result of a die roll, that's just a slap in the face.

A subtler way, though, is to try to treat social skills and stats the same way as the physical ones: As an interface that informs the results of the players' desired actions. What this means is that if a player decides he wants his character to move a heavy object, then the player's strength is not relevant. His character's strength is relevant and decide what actually happens, whether the character moves the object or just strains and grunts ineffectively.

Likewise for social stats: The character really might have a compelling line of argument, but if his social skills are too low he might not be able to get the NPC to even listen. Or might not be able to articulate that idea as well as the player could. Or it might be a case of, "That sounded better in your head than it did in your mouth."

This is where the die rolls come in, and where they intersect with GM judgment. Even someone perpetually tongue-tied gets to have a good day when the dice are with him. And if the player really does come up with a good idea, you as GM can reward that with a bonus to the die roll.

I find this very rewarding when I can make it work, because it tends to, again, reduce the degree of minmaxing, and puts the bite back in those minimizations.

But, in fairness, this is NOT an easy technique to master, and it is very much best done up front and transparently. Meaning, it is best to tell your players what it is you're doing. Otherwise you can end up confusing them, irritating them, looking inconsistent, looking like you're playing favorites, etc.

There Is No Absolutely Correct Method

The best method for you is the one that works best for you and your table. None of those schools of thought are objectively correct, or necessarily better than the others. They are different solutions to a problem that yield different results. It's on you and your players to work out which seems like the most fun to you, or to work out yet another approach if none of those appeal.

Don't let anyone tell you differently.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your character metaphors helped me understand the player/character division the best! I don't want to seem like I'm playing favorites for rewarding interesting play, so I'll take this advice as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Eriol Nov 13 at 19:17
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There's probably no single answer to this.

I've seen this done in multiple ways and it really depends on the situation and the DM's judgement. There are multiple possibilities:

  • If a player, role-playing his character well, does a good job of convincing you, the DM, that an NPC would be persuaded or intimidated then you are within your rights to just allow the PC to succeed (especially if this furthers the plot in the desired way). This may also be the case if you judge the DC to be low enough that its probably not worth rolling. For example, if a goliath barbarian tries to intimate a small whimpering obsequious librarian...it's going to succeed (unless the librarian is a secret assassin)!

  • You might always just require a skill check anyway. Nothing is guaranteed regardless of player role-playing skill, as it depends solely on character stats.

  • A skill check is required, but a good bit of role-playing gives the player advantage on the roll.

The last point is the one I will often use as a DM (and seen most often as a player). I feel its the character's social skills, rather than the player's, that should determine an outcome, as this is more fair to other players less willing to role-play, but still rewards players who put on a good show.

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Every table I've ever gamed at has used the following system:

Player RP and the GM's discretion determine the DC, the roll is the arbiter of success.

This encourages playing in character, while still allowing for skill ranks and character progression to matter, and keeps the system (mostly) transparent for the players.

The player can RP the interaction if they feel comfortable doing so, which might make it easier OR more difficult for the role to succeed. The GM then decides whether or not their RP has made it more or less likely for the NPC to accept/cede their request/point/demand, and the roll is made.

This is the more engaging option for most tables and is usually encouraged.

Alternatively, they have the option of just describing what they're asking for or how they're asking for it and rolling - The GM can apply modifiers to the DC based on the tactic described instead of on the RP conducted, otherwise, it's a similar roll.

This is a great option for players that feel shy/less than confident in their RP, or for situations in which the player feels their character would be better than they would be.

It is only ever discouraged during particularly personal or tense scenes, but this is rare, and in general it's wise to give players an 'out' before making them do something they're uncomfortable with.

Generally it's discouraged to simply say: "I roll A to persuade X to do Y" and roll, because that's less engaging for the table, but for extremely trivial interactions (like haggling with the third shopkeeper over the price of lantern oil) it can keep the game moving at a decent pace.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Moving the DC around based on RP or how clear intention is, is interesting. I assume the DM outlines this for the players before play? \$\endgroup\$ – Eriol Nov 14 at 15:38
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I think this is more a social question than a rules one.

In the years i had the same problem, and i started applying automatic success conditions to actions.

An often overlooked aspect of the ability checks is that they are only necessary when the outcome of an action is uncertain. And it's the DM to decide if it is uncertain or not.

For me actions don't always have an uncertain outcome. Instead, lots of the actions have conditions to be fulfilled for a success, expecially when the action is taken out of a fight. But you can also try to succeed them by raw skill if you don't check out the win conditions. I also reward good in-character acting, cause i think it raises the quality of the fun and the immersion.

Example: If a player gives a good performance while threatening someone for an Intimidation action, but it is quite random or generic, i would give him advantage on the Intimidation check. But if a player threatens the NPC leveraging a specific weakness, the NPC can directly succumb. The action is a success and no roll is needed, even if the acting is not that great.
In this cases i often give the NPC an opportunity to defend with a faint argument, to be sure that the weakness is correctly understood by the player and not just a shot in the dark.

With this in mind, a player who mets the win condition, or pulls out an outstanding performance that makes the party have fun, has an automatic success on the action. If the conditions are partially met, or if the act is just good, i would give advantage on the check.

To sum it up, i make so that knowledge is on the same level with charisma.


As a more direct answer to your question, playing this way kinda flattens your problem, as every player has the tools to pass checks without proficiency, and acquire advantage in every check. Also proficiency in the long run it's slightly better than advantage .


I started doing this cause you can find both very charismatic and very shy people playing in the same group, and i think everyone should have the occasion to shine. For the sake of talking, let's ignore all the rainbow that is human behaviour and let's pretend we can split people in two groups:

  • Shy people are usually the more emphatic, attentive, thoughtful, note taking ones.
  • Charismatic people could be leadery, social beasts, smartasses, talkers.

It is unfair to give Charismatics an edge over other players just because they are extroverts, but it's also unfair and unrealistic to not give them bonuses for shining in the social interactions. So let's also give Shys the tools to get bonuses.


Sidenotes:

  • On DMing

The phrase "what you tell her\him\them" has a specific use to me. Is when i want to speed things up, summing up the action. Instead, i usually act as if the NPC is talking directly to them. In my experience using this as a base for social interactions starts a virtuos circle, leveling a bit the differencies between players.

  • On Rules

If you need a rule guideline to define NPCs in this matters, you can start with the good ol' attitude tables of the 3e. Define a starting attitude and the conditions to switch to better\worst attitudes.

If you also want to use the DCs in this table as guideline, be aware that they should be tuned for 5e

  • Off Topic

Every pc can try to perform every skill check, even if they have no proficiency and an horrific malus on it. This is intended per design in 5e. Altough this gives the players more freedom and a way to succeed by pure luck, it could lead to anticlimatic situations. A house rule I always apply is to allow a minority of checks, let's say 1 in 10, only if the PC has proficiency in the required skill. This helps in giving emphasis on every PC strenghts and role in the party.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast my bad wording. I mean that the npc will not just "collapse" when the condition is met, he will try to defend himself often asking for a clarification of the victory condition. IE: "I know you take bribes, guard" - "Ahem.. that's not true.." - "The merchant that paid you told another story." - "Sheet...." -> success \$\endgroup\$ – Manzotin Nov 13 at 16:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Cool, I'll remove that comment. Thanks for the answer. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 13 at 16:36
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How I am doing it:

Roleplay determines the words and may give some kind of bonus but the roll determines how well it was said/performed.

If someone has a great and compelling argument (the roleplay) but looks down the whole time and stutters (which the roll reflects) it won't be received that well.

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There is no clear answer to this question, in my opinion. Out of experience, I can tell you that every DM handles it his own way. A friend of mine was very good at roleplaying, to gather information, etc. (he played high Charisma characters), hence he kinda "broke" the game, so a rule got implemented that he always has to roll for it.

So what is the conclusion to this: You can either rule every "incident" one by one with common sense, e.g. ruling that a character does not have to roll if he wants to gather fairly unimportant info from a NPC, like getting to know where a tavern is, but if he wants to know from a merchant where he can find a fence to sell his stolen goods, he should roll. I think you get the gist.

Hope this answer helps you.

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