Most roleplaying games are much more than just moving around a map, stating that you swing your +3 cold iron battleaxe at the CR 1 kobold, or charging into the irrational mob to slay the loud mouth. They can be about the story and characters, allowing each PC to do great and unexpected (and memorable) things. Some of the best of these moments aren’t even violent, but the party dissolving a combat encounter by using diplomacy or even cunning deceit to turn enemies into unwitting allies! Below are some tips for GMs to make this facet of roleplaying more accessible for all levels of play, making it easier for a group to engage with the game world in a way more eloquent than fighter-ing the NPCs.
Rookie Players Beginners sometimes have the most fun and unexpected reactions to different encounters but unfortunately, there can be a tendency to get stuck into a routine of just killing everything that poses a threat or shows hostility towards them. Now this isn’t a bad thing—they should be wary of most monsters in a general sense—but here are some new tips for breaking in a rookie PC
- Drop heavy hints that sometimes it’s better to communicate with the angry mob.
- Have the party overhear a lesser NPC expressing a desire for a peaceful resolution, providing the PCs with the proverbial foot in the door.
- Instead of waiting, have an NPC approach the party to open a dialogue.
- Despite the danger of rising ires, don’t have the NPCs draw their weapons, and instead they sheathe blades when the adventurers approach (seeing a real possible threat and generally backing down in response).
- Have the mob approach the players, but not to make attack rolls (though this is a dicey option, as some PCs are perhaps a bit eager to draw first blood).
Immediate Players These are individuals who know the rules and usually have a good sense of the game’s flow; they aren’t as easily caught into the looping circle of, “well we can kill this NPC and there’s almost no downside—why not?” Depending on what their PC is, these folks are almost always willing to talk it out if they feel like they cannot safely kill the NPC. It’s also worth remembering (or pointing out for the truly dense gamer) that indiscriminately killing people generally doesn’t do great things for one’s reputation (including the willingness for commoners and merchants to interact with them at all).
- Drop light hints that focus on describing more body language and how the NPCs shift about while the confrontation mounts. This gives the party reason to scrutinize what apparently hostile enemies might really be doing or thinking, rather than just what they might be saying.
- Remind players that negotiations are often weighted by scales that (frequently of the gilded variety) and that debate (or haggling) has long been an important part of society.
- When the adventurers make a good skill check or voice a valid point, have parts of the crowd gradually come over to their side of things, showing that maybe a mob isn’t as unruly as it looks.
Veteran Players These gamers have seen campaigns from beginning to end time and again, and sometimes they get to thinking they can see what’s coming from a mile away (though they might not make that clear from the onset). The routine a party plays out when meeting NPCs benefits from the presence of these individuals, and they tend to set the pace of social interactions; the suggestions below aren’t so much to help these folks out, but to provide them some (oft appreciated) variety in these encounters.
- Directly confront the adventurers with an important NPC that’s anathema to the veteran player, just remember that you don’t want to force any gamer (especially a “face”) to lose their place in the party.
- Have NPCs surrender only to fight again! There’s a wealth of great dialogue that can happen in the midst of battle, but a brief reprieve can alleviate the disruption that often comes from a well-delivered quip and even be used (by either side) to shake up the tactical layout of a combat.
- Involve some storytelling mechanics that enforce certain rules in conversation; maybe there’s a trigger word that can incite NPCs into a frenzy if spoken too many times, or a magical effect that punishes anyone that suggests dissent against the local lord. This shouldn’t totally impede the adventurer’s conversations, but provide a fun and innovative challenge to the regular skill check rolls and bribery often employed in these situations
Remember that these are just hints, tips, and suggestions that can help bring about a more pacifist session to a gaming group. It’s the GMs story and some epic combat is likely to be a part of it, but don’t forget to enjoy the unique solutions PCs often come up with to calm the raging barbarian, cheat some scurrilous merchants out of some coin, or talk their way out of a dragon’s lair! The options are as endless as the games we play, and some of the most memorable moments come from the mindset of a negotiator rather than a warrior.
[Submitted by Tim Snow!]