Friday, June 27, 2014

GURPS Social Academy: Reaction rolls with irresistible PCs.

This post is part of a the GURPS Social Academy in support of my new campaign The Empress of India.

The later posts are the following:
  1. The Reaction Roll
  2. The Unassisted Influence Check 
  3. PCs as targets of Influence Checks
  4. A non-fantasy model for religions
  5. Mitigating the reaction Roll

This post is the outcome of extensive playing with reaction rolls in a Social-Engineering centered campaign. I discuss here things that came up in play.

It naturally follows that... a campaign based on social interactions that the PC are going to grow very good at manipulating everyone. In a way, this is fine: they spend the points and the natural reward is to be able to pull off crazy stunts. Otherwise, someone else would be the main character to that story. 

There is a situation where I feel less certain that kickass-charming PCs are always awesome. This is the case of the reaction roll, which is a non-skill based, non-opposed 3d6. 

In actual play, you'll get Reiko walking into a room and meet a man. She is pretty, has high birth and some charisma thrown into the mix. All in all, she gets a +6 to reaction. On average, she will get a very good reaction. Is this a problem? 

Everyone giggles every time so, not really at first glance. However, being like by everyone will cramp the GM's style after a while so here I propose a few ways to mitigate that:

  1. Make the outcome a mystery -- You tell the PC whether it is positive or not and force them to use their social skills to figure out what is really going on. You'd be surprised how a critical fail lead to funny situations (The hard part is keeping a straight face). Sometimes, awkwardness will affect the reaction as well in the process. Get the PCs to be detailed on how they approach the NPC and select the skill that match the description rather than the best skills to read others
  2. Immediate reactions are capped --  Anything better than good at first glance makes little sense. If the reaction gets higher to very good or excellent, grant +1 or +2 to the next influence check instead. 
  3. Don't be afraid to make it hard on the PCs -- If a NPC has a good reason to be pissed, give a stiff negative penalty and cap the lower bound on reaction levels. For example, Reiko may have +6, but the average Joe in the same situation would be bad (5). This implies a -5 narrative penalty which could be capped at bad because going too low immediately doesn't make sense in this situation. The final reaction roll is modified by +1, which means an expected neutral reaction. A more extreme case: The NPC has a -12 to reaction for a final modifier of -6 but with a minimum cap to poor. This means that only a bit of luck will give something better than poor, but without Reiko's charms and other attributes, it would be nearly impossible to do better than this. The overflow translates into a penalty for a future Influence check as described in point 2. 
  4. Olden school GMs would argue against using dice to decide the outcome... where is the sport in that as a GM? It isn't because that I GM that I don't want to play as well. Main event in my campaign have been decided by a die roll, live: I call this fun to deal with.


I think that we should never penalize a PC for being good: this means that the difficulty of a situation shouldn't scale with skills/attributes levels. Great social characters should breeze through simple situations and it is probably better to simply not bother with the dice. Scaling up like it is done in video games, and pretty much disregards character advancement. 

I think that these three strategies will be at the top of my list from now on to make sure that failure a source of fun happens while respecting the PCs' awesomeness. 

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of capping reactions. Elegant and still respects modifiers.