If the game system in use supports a mechanical modelling of social knack (like D&D's Bluff, Intimidate and Diplomacy skills), and the player who is subject of the social attack doesn't play his character according to the outcome of the check, the game could put some players in a bad mood.

Which are the better techniques to handle situations like these?


Characters A and B have been in a grudge for long time. B cut out every sort of interaction with A, but A is now trying a reconciliation. After speaking to a living wall for many minutes, A tries to use her knack with social skills (resources she spent on her character sheet) to provoke some sort of reaction in B, and makes a fairly good check.
The Narrator tells B's player that A is very convincing in her statements, but B's player replies that B has very good motivation to not responding.

I am of the opinion that B player would not argue on other game elements (such as a supernatural ability to befriend someone or even a physical skill such as a weapon attack); but a normal social skill becomes an easy grey field where "acting in character" could become and excuse for bypassing another character's strong points.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just my $.02, but as in my answer to your other question, I would discourage using skill checks for social interactions between players. If die rolls affect how you interact with another player, you're taking away from the roleplaying aspect of the game and setting a precedent for future mechanization of conversation, which IMHO, is a bad thing. \$\endgroup\$ – dpatchery Jun 30 '11 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ In that case, the GM should use intimidate and tell the players to sack up and get over it. \$\endgroup\$ – dpatchery Jun 30 '11 at 13:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Mechanics will never solve social problems that lie between the players. And if the social problem between the players didn't exist, the purpose, need for, and efficacy of mechanics becomes very different. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 30 '11 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't see anything in the OP making this a "player" problem - it says Character B has a grudge against Character A. If they say they have a grudge, it's a character grudge, unless there's something you're not sharing. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Jul 1 '11 at 2:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you're doing any in depth roleplay you have to expect some bleed. By insisting on mechanics over player choice you're going to train them to immerse less. Which is fine if that's what you want, but be advised. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Jul 1 '11 at 12:37

Let me start with a similar statement:

"Another PC came up to me, and killed my character in one shot. I didn't like it, so I said he missed."

In many ways, that above statement is identical in kind, if not in specific consequences to the one you proposed. The fundamental resolution mechanic is that the defending player in this or in the social setting has no way of demonstrating agency over her character. This removal of control is either explicitly or implicitly fought because it goes against the patterns established by the other methods of conflict resolution in the game.

Vincent states:

As far as I'm concerned, the purpose of an rpg's rules is to create the unwelcome and the unwanted in the game's fiction. The reason to play by rules is because you want the unwelcome and the unwanted - you want things that no vigorous creative agreement would ever create. And it's not that you want one person's wanted, welcome vision to win out over another's - that's weak sauce. (*) No, what you want are outcomes that upset every single person at the table. You want things that if you hadn't agreed to abide by the rules' results, you would reject.

This scenario fails due to the latter component, there is no compromise or mutual partial success, as there would be in a combat between the two characters.

If we consider the area of cRPGs, we get Player Skill v. Character skill articulated in an interesting way here:

The mix of player skill and character skill is a defining element of an RPG. In an RPG, you are playing one or more characters – characters who have defined (but dynamic) abilities and limitations that change over time as you make progress through the game.


On the flip side, a game can’t be all about character skill either, or it’s not a game. It’s Progress Quest. ... Sometimes you will get rants by inexperienced gamers who argue that there is no player skill involved in in turn-based RPGs. I don’t know if they are just trolling or truly ignorant, but they do say this. I can only assume said kids have never played a game of Chess, let alone completed the original Pool of Radiance.

Now, while he's talking about cRPGs, there is an interesting conclusion to be drawn about typical character-conflict-resolution mechanics. Most games social contracts have a "Don't roll dice against other players" provision, allowing for player persuasion against player. By allowing dice rolls, without the adjudicating components of the NPC game world informed by the GM, there is a one-hit win/loss and the game really does become a sort of progress quest for that interaction. All agency is removed and the losing party feels powerless.

There are three games with absolutely fascinating player conflict resolution mechanics. DitV, Mouseguard, and Ars Magica.

DitV articulates all conflict in one conflict-system, from talking to gun-fightin'. Therefore, if players want to engage in what is PvP conflict, there are ways to interact that provide both sides agency in getting what they want (as well as the ability to roll fun handfuls of dice.) One bad roll won't make someone feel powerless, and both sides can impact the others' reality (do damage) before one ultimately triumphs. Furthermore, there is a mix of player and character skill, as the conflict is rendered both mechanically and narratively. Both sides buy into the rules because they realize that the rules will fairly impose unwelcome outcomes on both sides.

Mouseguard has a similar philosophy, providing an argument subsystem and raising player ideological conflict to a fairly important role. Therefore, players playing mouseguard realize what will happen, and buy into the rules making unwelcome situations for them. Here, there are explicit elements of compromise baked into the system and both player and character skill come into play.

Once again contrast this with kids playing "cops and robbers" wherein one says "bang bang, I shoot you" and the other says "no you didn't." Without mutual buy-in on the rules, this is what a RPG devolves to. Very few people will willingly choose to buy into a lack of agency on their behalf.

Both of the above games can be characterized as narrativistic. However, Ars Magica (a decidedly non-narrative game, depending on how a group plays it) also has a mechanic. Certamen, a non-lethal fight of magic, is designed to provide magi within the game a way to compel action by other magi. It is a fascinating tool for PCs to compel action or inaction by other PCs. While the concept of a magical duel isn't normally perceived as a social skill, it fits the exact same mechanical niche: a way to compel action with mutual buy-in from all involved. This rule subsystem is also extended to debates, offering a way to have players and characters offer points and counterpoints.

Looking at D&D, unfortunately, the lavish attention they put into the tactical combat system is not reciprocated within skills. While skills are a useful shortcut for impacting the GM's world, the abstractions they use do not provide any provision for player response. Some groups I've played in solved this problem by refusing the rules' right to adjudicate inter-player conflicts, and others turned it into a simple attack: skill versus relevant defense.

Neither solution is particularly satisfying. By refusing the rules, players functionally refuse the interesting aspects of entering into unwelcome situations. By resolving the compulsion as attack, there is no symmetry of unwelcome possibility, nor any way of using player skill to impact the outcome.

This, ultimately, is something that must be decided by your group. However, if the group likes the idea of inter-player conflict, it is probably worthwhile importing expanded and useful rules from another RPG to satisfy the dramatic/situational needs of the table.

It sounds like, in this specific instance, it's worth performing a debrief after the end of the game and assessing what the player desires are. Assuming that this was a big deal to both players, I would make up a simple "social combat" system on the spot, importing the tactical richness of the dominant conflict system to this important PvP conflict.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Extensive and deep answer (as you used us to). I now think the core of the problem grew up from the different kind of players at my table: someone is more rule-driven, others are both rule-driven and able to immerse in their characters, other don't care about rules as long as the game plays smoothly. It's time to have a chat to find a concordance on this topic. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Burigo Jul 1 '11 at 7:32

This should be up to the players in the sorts of game systems you're talking about. Ideally you should be able to say:

GM: … Nice roll, A! Okay B, roll to "defend"…

B rolls.

GM: Good roll. Close, but not quite close enough. Okay B, now use these numbers to guide your roleplay. Don't feel constrained by them, but do use them as inspiration. A, you keep these numbers in mind too: you succeeded, but only just.

Players who are fully engaged with the situation, understand their characters, and who know well how to roleplay with each other will grace the game with an excellent bit of nuanced roleplaying. Even just two or one of those elements will result in a "successful" outcome, where people enjoy playing out this turn of events.

However, if (as it sounds from the comments to the question) the problem is that B is unreasonably blocking A's roleplayed attempts to influence B because of interpersonal problems that A and B have, then it's time to pull out the big guns: put the game on hold, step away from the table, and deal with the personal problems, even if that means telling those players that you can't run a game with both of them in it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That's how I usually try to manage things. In the example above I've made the error of not telling B to make a "defensive roll": I relied on his ability to gauge A's result, but B's player is of the rule-driven quality (he probably behaved this way without malice). Seeing the result of a "defensive roll" could potentially help B's player in gauging what his character actually feels because of his own statistics are involved. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Burigo Jul 1 '11 at 7:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's an insightful view of your players. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 1 '11 at 7:30

I run (and play) a lot of very social games, and generally I handle social skill checks between PCs the same way I handle them between NPCs and PCs. Like you mentioned in the question there really are two cases:

  1. Supernatural Mental Influence - This is easy, tell the player what the power does and they shouldn't have too much trouble playing along. Also, I tend to houserule ways for them to override even this- such as always being able to spend Willpower to overcome it in the Whitewolf games.

  2. Natural Mental Influence (skill checks) - In this case, I never tell a player what to do. Instead, if someone is being charming I inform the player of that, but otherwise it is completely up to them how to react.

In general, people like to be in control of their own actions. That is part of what makes RPGs fun. Don't make them play their character a certain way. Instead, just let them know how the social interaction seems to be going, and let them move ahead. It isn't even particularly unrealistic. Sometimes, in the real world, you can ignore someone, no matter how charming, if you really need to.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Another good point. That's what withheld me from stepping in. What I told to A's player is that neither him nor his character could, at this point of the story, knowing which are the motivation of B. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Burigo Jul 1 '11 at 7:17

The way I normally handle these types of situations is I have player B use a skill to defend against Player A. Then based on the difference of the success or failure, player B is instructed to act accordingly.

This normally gives player B the lee way to only interact slightly etc, or be so overwhelmed (mechanically), that they basically risk being ostracized by the other players if they don't succumb to Character's A skill.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah. As I wrote in a comment to SevenSidedDie answer, I didn't made B's player roll against A's result (neither him asked me for a roll). That would probably had helped B's player in gauging his response. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Burigo Jul 1 '11 at 7:21

Forcing a player to act in a certain way is never a good idea, but if it is only a response, I don't think that's too much to ask. If the player claims to have a really good reason, ask him or her to justify it to you in private and you can judge whether or not it's a good enough reason. However, I would argue that it would have to be a reason like having fallen asleep with eyes open to not be able to provoke a reaction.

Even the most stubborn characters would (or at least should) react to the right buttons being pressed, even if it means grunting and turning one's head.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. That's my opinion too. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Burigo Jun 30 '11 at 14:18

I agree with preferring roleplaying to mechanics in "social" contests that really just involve the two players. The player's sense of control over their PC's reactions should usually be sacred. So you have to accept that B has a very good, hidden reason for their action.

If there are witnesses and your game system has meaningful support for the characters place in the world, then success and failure in social contests between PCs can have significant consequences arising through how NPCs view the interaction. So, for an example where the consequences are piled high, B's henchman chips in and says that A is righteous and deserves respect, and when B sticks to his guns, goes on to say that B is behaving without honour and threatens to leave A's service.

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