57
\$\begingroup\$

I'm not particularly charming (thank you, you're very kind, but I know my limitations). If a non-player character with excellent social skills interacts with the PCs, what can I do beyond ending the spiel with "he makes a really persuasive case!"

This is especially relevant where there's risk involved. It's fine if I can't sell a tavern wench, but it's hobbling for a socially strong villain like a vampire if the players always act on cold rational thinking and can't get swept up in his many years of honed salesmanship and deception. My players are savvy enough to do exactly the opposite of what a "charming" NPC wants, even if he or she is meant to be an ally.

Note that I'm specifically considering only non-magical persuasion. There are other questions relating to magical compulsion against PCs.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/36633/… Though not identical, knowing how to manipulate others is relevant to knowing how to be 'charming', especially when it comes to pushing buttons, and knowing how to play a character that can do so with ease. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Feb 19 '15 at 16:02
21
\$\begingroup\$

You can pretend to be smart. Not to be social (well, kind of)

First, let me talk about a related issue. It is common for players and GM to have trouble accurately playing a character smarter than them. One reason for that is that unfortunately, becoming smarter is pretty difficult. Some would argue that if you aren't born smart, there isn't much you can do. Some would say that a good education could help, but otherwise, you screwed all the same. So you have to fake it.

Then what about social skills?

Bad news: unfortunately, there are less tricks to fake a social character. Fortunately, it is easier to learn.

Yes, YOU will have to become social. Like, really.

Yup, you will actually have to improve your own social skills. It will bring you a great return on investment, as you will learn how to play a character with good social skills, but also will be better at playing a total boor, since you will know exactly what NOT to do. It might also make your personal life better, which is quite nice.

Obviously, it is a long process, but at least it is possible, so here are some hints on what social people often tend to do. This doesn't mean that everyone doing those is the new MLK, but those are things that people deemed charismatic will often tend to do.

Talk slower

Again, a lot of people talk fast, in order to make sure people hear what they say. Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect, as by the time the audience register you started speaking, you are done already. Also, if you talk fast, you imply that what you are saying isn't worth the time.

Respect your words and what you are saying: talk slow. Make breaks in your sentences, and so on.

Politicians are really good at that. Observe them.

Speak passionately

You believe strongly in anything you say, so say it with all the passion you have. Accentuate a lot. Don't go:

"I think we should make an alliance with the druids yeah."

But instead:

"Me? Me, I see the children out there. The children. I see them fighting, fighting their friends, fighting their families, and for what?! (pause) For food?! (pause) And we all know that an alliance, a simple alliance with the druids would solve all of those issues, would bring food to the streets, would save this city's sons, and I think: why haven't we done it yet?"

Eye contact

Eye contact is really powerful, and the longer you can hold it the better. Practice as much as you can, until it becomes totally comfortable for you. You might end up staring for a while, so keep going until you can look straight into someone's eyes without looking creepy, or panicked, or whatever. You might also be surprised how other people have trouble with it.

Use your hands

When you speak, use your hands to accentuate what you say. If your hands are resting on the deck or in your pockets when you speak, you are doing something wrong.

Smile

Smile as much as you can, and get comfortable with it. Overall, the more facial expressions you can do, the better, but smiling is one of the best things, it makes everything you say more powerful.

Call People By Name.

Very powerful, makes everything you say immediately more important and personal. There is a world of difference between this:

How are you doing?

And this:

How are you doing, Samantha? (if your name is Samantha; else it's just awkward)

Other body language tips

Stand straight. Even if a character is slouching in a throne, keep your back straight and head high. Keep your arms/legs wide, to take space. If you want to have 'social advantage' over someone, avoid facing them, and instead keep a ~30 degrees angle with them. Oh, and stop fiddling with you rpen, or hair, or dice, or whatever.

Observe

As mentioned above, observe how actors and politicians speak. Start with Bill Clinton, who is often described one of the most charismatic persons alive, so much that it's considered a super-power. There are a lot of his speeches around, and analyses of what he does right. My favorite is this speech where you get a wonderful comparison between his opponent poor social roll, and Clinton's automatic success. Seriously, he just took 10.

Also look at some actors (e.g. Clooney, Gosling, Brosnan, Connery, Duchovny), see how they stand, how they speak, how they use their hands, how they do eye contact, and so on.

Finally, you can also look at this book, which despite its name is actually a pretty straightforward book, and widely recommended.

The best part: Practice!

Now that you've learned all that, use it! Fortunately, interacting with people is something we do way more often than waving a sword around, so you can find training situations everywhere. Learned how to smile to the barrista at Starbucks, practice to speak slowlier and louder when you're telling a story to your friends, learn how to use your hands when you're making a presentation at work, and so on.

And play social characters! Force yourself to pretend you're social, and trying to fake it until, as usual, you end up making it!

Bonus advice: don't mumble

People don't realize how soft they speak, and how counterproductive it is. Because they are so used to hearing their own voice, a lot of people grossly overestimate how loudly they are speaking, and can be barely audible without noticing it. If people often ask you to repeat what you said, speak a bit louder.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent advice, and doing it in an RPG is a gateway to improving it in real life. A lot of role-players have discovered that. Just remember not to undercut yourself; deciding in advance that you can't do it is WHY you can't do it. This stuff really is just an assortment of little skills and tricks you can get better at. \$\endgroup\$ – kbelder Jun 11 '17 at 23:37
46
\$\begingroup\$

Describe in the abstract

Roleplaying a socially adept character is extremely difficult if one doesn't have those skills in real life, but that doesn't mean you can't run one as NPC, or play one as a PC.

RPGs ask us to use our imaginations to fill in many things, like character appearances, settings, and descriptions of action. We try our best to roleplay important dialog, but sometimes what a character is saying and how they are saying it need a boost from the imagination as well. Use evocative descriptions of the impact the NPC is making with their social skills. You can even write this ahead of time if you do not feel comfortable improvising.

Here's an example:

Prince Wade strides effortlessly into the room, commanding attention with his posture alone. His expression is open and friendly, but he speaks with absolute authority. Wade mentions the recent trouble in the South Side, implicitly acknowledging that the rumors have spread far by now without directly condoning or condemning the gossips responsible. He wants anyone who is willing to help deal with the problem to meet with him before the evening is out. It is clear from his tone and body language that you and your associates are the ones he is addressing, and that he'll be very disappointed in you if you do not step forward. However, he sounds quite sincere in wanting to reward you.

A description like this, read aloud, conveys the effects of Wade's social prowess through narrative without requiring the GM to roleplay those skills directly. It describes what the NPC is trying to accomplish, and how they are doing it. The players will fill in the rest in their minds, imagining Wade to be suave and commanding by their own standards.

Use rolls when appropriate

If you've presented the NPC's actions and conveyed the social demeanor they are using (friendly, commanding, seductive, etc), and it is still falling flat, you can have the NPC make a system appropriate roll for a "social challenge", or use a social combat system.

Once the outcome of the roll happens, the players will have a concrete measure of just how persuasive the NPC is being.

Be careful about not using this too much. Players will sometimes feel like they are losing agency if a character with high social stats can force a feeling or course of action upon them. Try to get an idea of how comfortable your players are with this approach and respect their comfort zone.

\$\endgroup\$
18
\$\begingroup\$

Roleplaying games don't expect people to be good at combat, but simulate it. We then apply a double standard to social things because most of us are familiar with them.

For political machinations, in abstract sense, you can get away with "tell, not show." Influence: Science and Practice is an excellent reference for techniques that influential people can use. In your instance, you can set up references to techniques in your script ahead of time. I.e. "As you all come in, $politican's servants offer you all wonderful refreshments. He's using the reciprocity effect to get an edge on the upcoming negotiations." By going through these "tricks" ahead of time and figuring out how each one may be instantiated in the narrative, you have extra time that you can use for preparation, without needing to think (or be) persuasive in the moment.

Thus, these influence tricks occupy the same place as combat maneuvers. Most of us don't know how to do a "Parry Sixte" (which I just googled to come up with an obscure name for), but it sounds cool when we say what it is that our character is doing and is more specific than "I... defend against his swordy thing."

Finding these resources and treating this sort of verbal combat as combat, can likely abstract the scene back to a level that you are comfortable with. As an alternative, you can abstract this verbal conflict as metaphorical combat, and, for really important debates, have the various ideas be in quite literal conflict. (Take a look at dungeons and discourse for this sort of literally ideological conflict mode).

However, it seems like you have a different problem:

My players are savvy enough to do exactly the opposite of what a "charming" NPC wants, even if he or she is meant to be an ally.

This is the point where you need to figure out how in-game persuasion should work with your players. Explore with them: When are they comfortable being persuaded? What rules would they like to use? If they want to play a game where they are towers of genre-aware logic, nothing you'll do will persuade them (in or out of character) otherwise, and it's probably wise to just soft-pedal the social side of the game and get on with the (probable) dungeon crawl. Otherwise, find a system which has good social combat rules that suit the sort of challenge your players want, and import it into your current game.

You may also want to discuss, with your players, the maximum amount of "genre awareness" allowable in characters in your game. Once agreed upon, design (some) of your NPCs with that level of awareness, such that they may also seek to manipulate the tropes and expectations of the genre. (i.e. one of my rather nasty PCs took great pains to dress in a very humble, very simple white cassock, and to speak with humble respect. He didn't believe there was any profit in appearing as the villain.)

\$\endgroup\$
3
\$\begingroup\$

The trouble with charm is that it is very hard to pin down. We can all describe people who are charming and charismatic but, aside from good looks and clothing, we are at a loss to say where the charm actually comes from. What you absolutely can do is describe the impact this person has on their surroundings, how they make other people feel.

Describe the reactions and ask your players leading questions like:

"The customers seem to light up when Branson enters the bar. The girls smile at him and the men shake his hand and greet him cheerfully. You find yourself liking him almost instantly, why? What is so engaging about Branson?"

Ask your most socially adept player first and then leverage what they so when turning to the others. If someone hates this imposition they can choose to have a different reaction to the NPC (charm is rarely universal), but they might need to justify it with some backstory or actual roleplaying!

\$\endgroup\$
1
\$\begingroup\$

It sounds like you're at a standoff. You're not socially adept and in response your players act cold and rational. (Granted, there may be no connection between their cold rationality and your own social challenges, but this'll work out either way.)

First, you'll probably need to talk, as one responder mentioned, to your players about what they want out of the game. Reiterate that it's a "role"-playing game and thus playing a "role" is mandatory.

The bigger step, barring socializing yourself, or used in conjunction with said socializing, is to use their own ways against them. Hold them accountable to their actions and attitudes. Warn them if say, their cold, calculating attitude runs counter to either their alignment or class. (Is the priest always the first to question villagers in need? Maybe their spells will stop working when they need them. Is the knight acting a little less than chivalrous? Maybe the villager blacksmith has heard about his attitude and would prefer not to fix his sword or armor.)

Also, the example you give is of an influential vampire. Make the vampire into a NPC, rather than just an antagonist in the latest adventure. Use him as the source of the heroes' adventures. They enter the village and the local ruler wishes to see them. He's heard about them, offers them a job. Cue separate adventure. Use him this way as a conduit to future stand-alone adventures so that when he does finally offer to house them in his castle overnight they'll be conflicted. They'll still obviously be suspicious to his motives (as the adventure locale is now squarely in his castle), but they won't know ahead of time who the big bad is.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's no so much that the players act entirely emotionlessly as that they find my "persuasive" NPCs unpersuasive. It is partially a problem with immersion; ideally they'd be more willing to let go of their out-of-character caution and allow themselves to be swayed (within reason) simply because I describe a character as convincing. \$\endgroup\$ – user1861 Feb 23 '15 at 13:59
0
\$\begingroup\$

I am a bit autistic, lacking in many social skills, but I find I can communicate better when typing. If you can use a computer while playing, you might want to try using a text-to-speech avatar. Many of these can be tweaked to sound like a specific type of person. Here is an example of a simple, free one: http://www.sitepal.com/ttswidgetdemo/

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This seems like a very specific answer that doesn't really address the question - which is looking for direction in how to play the role, not how to overcome a social disconnect. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Feb 20 '15 at 16:13
0
\$\begingroup\$

Lots of good advice here. I would just add this...

When method actors don't have what they need inside of themselves, they look outside for role models. Pick some movie actor or character who comes off the way you want this character to, and study them. What they say and do. As yourself why.

When playing the character ask yourself the mental question "how would act this" and imitate and/or describe it. In time, you will find it will become natural and automatic :)

\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

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