My Pathfinder/D&D games tend to involve relationships - romantic, friendly, etc. - between PCs and NPCs alike. 3.x only has the Diplomacy mechanic for any kind of relationship mechanic. I'm interested in ideas for mechanics to help represent these attachments in the game.

Not as a substitute for roleplaying, but to encourage and represent the relationships. Tracking them, leveraging them, determining how NPCs respond to them.

I've seen mechanics like this in various indie RPGs. For example, the zombie survival horror game "the dead" allows characters to roleplay and build up the strength of their relationships, and this grants bonus dice you can use on checks made to help out the person you have the relationship with.

As a stopgap measure, I tend to use complex Diplomacy checks over time to track overall positive/negative attitudes towards PCs from NPCs. I make sub-checks to determine if romance is part of the equation.

Example: Female NPC paladin meets PC monk. Initial reaction roll: 17. She's quite impressed by him. They have some differences but are both generally Lawful and whatnot and he acts civilly so I don't put any modifiers on it. Next time they meet, the reaction roll is a 20 - I decide that's a "spark" and she's really interested in him now. I make notes with plusses or minuses to indicate particularly good (15+) or bad (5-) reactions. So on the paladin's NPC index card, I put the monk and two plusses by his name to indicate the general impression she has of him. Next time they meet, the reaction roll is a 10, which given the two plusses I interpret as still favorable; she's not going all stalker but likes him. And so on.

What are some rules you use, or ideas for them, to better represent relationships of various sorts? I mainly play Pathfinder but really anything even vaguely d20/D&D compatible would be interesting. Ideally it's a simple way to determine how favorably a NPC sees a PC or other NPC and then ways in which that impacts life.


Steal from minimus and social network analysis

One of the relationship models I like the best is from Minimus. Where the player is instructed to denote a directed graph with blue and red arrows to indicate like and dislike. Every node of this graph is another person who "each person can do some- thing useful that your character can’t; they’ll ask for something in return." By indicating the from of the relationship and the utility of the relationship in the graph, a very simple social network can be depicted. As players play, changes in the relationship map (page 4) represent real character development.

To adopt this for a longer game, keep the same map principle and continue drawing in pen. By indicating additional likes and dislikes (also accompanied by a want/need descriptor and potentially in a subgraph if things are too fiddly) you can see easily the predominant attitude of an NPC towards anyone else (is it mostly blue? Is it mostly red? Is it thick? Is it thin?) and the historical trends of their relationship. Social Network graphs are also quite flashy. For extra credit, place nodes on index cards and connect them by yarn pinned on the wall. (One of my favourite diagramming techniques). If you play in a place that provides this, the relationship map on the wall will be a constant reminder of the game during the game session and will make relationships (and their manipulations) obvious. The ritual of adding more yarn to the wall is a tangible and real reward (or punishment) that is easily linked to feelings of real satisfaction.

In terms of linking to diplomacy checks, I would first use an alternate diplomacy system. To produce the least impact on the game, I'd borrow The Giant's alternate diplomacy rules and assign modifiers based on the graph. The count of blue to red indicates a point on intimate/nemesis and maps directly to that bonus. Risk v. reward is a case by case, with the want/need of a specific relationship providing a bonus if invoked.

This method, especially if constructed in a persistent index card/yarn mode, provides a visceral and tangible graph of relationships in the game that acts as a focal point and means of tangible reward for characters, while keeping things simple and easily searchable. A digital version of this map can be trivially made with graphviz. Beyond graphviz, I'd recommend yEd or an online flowchart tool of your choice. If you're willing to do a bit more work, the graphviz extension for mediawiki should produce excellent results. If you want a prettier layout, I recommend Illustrator or equivalent vector graphics program.


I think the generic circumstance bonus works well here.

Favorable and Unfavorable Conditions

  • Some situations may make a skill easier or harder to use, resulting in a bonus or penalty to the skill modifier for a skill check or a change to the DC of the skill check.
    • The chance of success can be altered in four ways to take into account exceptional circumstances.
    • Give the skill user a +2 circumstance bonus to represent conditions that improve performance, such as having the perfect tool for the job, getting help from another character (see Combining Skill Attempts), or possessing unusually accurate information.
    • Give the skill user a –2 circumstance penalty to represent conditions that hamper performance, such as being forced to use improvised tools or having misleading information.
    • Reduce the DC by 2 to represent circumstances that make the task easier, such as having a friendly audience or doing work that can be subpar.
    • Increase the DC by 2 to represent circumstances that make the task harder, such as having an uncooperative audience or doing work that must be flawless.
    • Conditions that affect your character’s ability to perform the skill change the skill modifier. Conditions that modify how well the character has to perform the skill to succeed change the DC. A bonus to the skill modifier and a reduction in the check’s DC have the same result: They create a better chance of success. But they represent different circumstances, and sometimes that difference is important.

D20 SRD (Hypertext SRD)

Having a strong relationship with a person would definitely be a circumstance that grant a bonus, or reduce a DC.

As far as tracking, simply have two lists per character (preferably maintained by the player). The first list being positive relationships, and the second a list of negative relationships.

For more complex team benefits for having experience working together, you can see the teamwork benefits section in the D&D 3.5 supplement Heroes of Battle (Amazon).

  • \$\begingroup\$ A good start, though I would like to more actively track strength of the relationship with more than binary granularity. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Sep 11 '10 at 13:23

You might be interested in Amagi Games' Soap Opera plugin. Basically, it replaces the usual method of regaining fate points/action points/what have you; instead of regaining them however the game normally calls for, you regain them by relationship-oriented roleplay. It's not a great fit for 3.5, since there isn't a good resource to use; it's also designed to push the relationship meter way over into the red. But it might have some useful ideas.


Using the 4.0 D&D mechanic of skill challenges would allow a player and DM to complicate the intended relationship. The player would need to state their 'intended' relationship and use various skills to achieve the impression.

Let's use a typical flirting encounter. A player could use Athletics to project a certain amount of fitness, (wearing his sleevless chainmail shirt) then follow up by Bluff by lying about his past service in the King's Elite guard. If the skill check is successful against a static DC or even against an opposed Insight check, then the relationship, or the impression of one, is successful.

Of course, the player could opt by wooing the NPC with various knowledge skills (Nature, History, Arcana, Religion), juggling forks, spoons and knives (acrobatics), or by just being suave and debonair (Diplomacy).

If the NPC is trying to foster a relationship with a PC, I would recommend the intent is controlled by the DM and the story line and the success is dictated by the PC reaction.

Even with a mechanic in place, don't miss a great role-playing encounter that is sure to result in hilarity for everyone at the table!


It would take some work to make it useful, but you may want to look at the Smallville Roleplaying Game. It has excellent integration of relationships into the mechanics. (To a degree that they essentially ARE the mechanics.)


D&D does not address such things. (Maybe there's a 3rd-party splatbook that covers it. I wouldn't know.)

Either make it a simple skill check (or possibly skill challenge in 4e), borrow a social conflict or seduction mechanic from another game, or (my favorite) just pick the most interesting outcome for the story. If you really want dice involved, decide the final outcome as part of a single roll, then roleplay to that conclusion.

If your game heavily involves making, sustaining, and ruining relationships, consider playing something other than D&D.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I've had loads of relationships in my D&D games starting with 1e - I guarantee you it's not unsuited to the task. People add mini-rulesets to D&D all the time to cover gambling, or chases, or whatnot and those aren't always given the rider "but if you're going to do lots of chases, don't play D&D." \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Sep 11 '10 at 13:28
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Sure you can have relationships. But D&D doesn't provide any mechanics for relationships, only basic social interactions. How important do you want relationships to be, mechanically? Or are relationships just flavor in between killing things and taking their stuff? Do you want to graft more rules onto the game or play its strengths? Roleplaying a relationship doesn't require rules or dice. \$\endgroup\$ – okeefe Sep 11 '10 at 14:13
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ That's fine, I think that's totally off base but YMMV. But "don't do that" is not an appropriate in scope response to my question. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - Justice for Monica Sep 11 '10 at 22:30
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This is untrue. AD&D for sure has had relationships mechanically integrated into its kits. Birthright also has relationships. Hell, even the core books have henchmen rules. They're not quite what's being described, but they're mechanical representations of relationships. Flanking for combat advantage is even a form of relationship mechanic. The material is there to work with, you just have to do some hacking. \$\endgroup\$ – migo Mar 18 '11 at 5:24
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I read the OP a number of times, and it still reads like, "I'm playing a ruleset focusing on X and Y, but my game includes a lot of Q. I like this ruleset, how can I kitbash some Q into it." Using an encounter/exploration centered ruleset to play a social heavy game is kind of like using excel for word-processing. You can do it if you work at it.... I do use a social CC roll based on social skills, and for any exceptional results I have a social-reaction track for each exceptional relationship developed, BTW. \$\endgroup\$ – LordVreeg Jan 17 '12 at 21:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.