I was thinking about social interactions in general after writing about them earlier this week, and recalled a conversation I had about the advantages of texting over making a phone call. Texting could bypass a lot of the formalities of a typical phone call — greetings and other formalities — and get needed information from a person quickly and directly. And usually in twenty-five words or less.

That got me thinking about social interactions in general, though, and how often the need to begin a social interaction with a greeting appears. I thought back to working on my Communications merit badge in the Boy Scouts, and how to use a standardized greeting to quickly convey information before making requests.

State your name and whom, if anyone, you may represent. Then state briefly the nature of your request, including the mention of any relevant person you may have worked with in the past that you may need to speak with again.

“Hi, my name is such-and-such, and I’m calling on behalf of so-and-so. We had a question about this thing we received from you, and I’d like to speak with that guy who handles our account.”

The formula struck me as something that would prove useful in many a social situation where you might be called upon to interact with an NPC. Especially if you need something from them. You start with a greeting, including a gift or some other form of appeasement. This is an upfront cost for simply interacting with the character, and may only require an investment of time.

At this stage, the NPC might respond to you or reject you outright, in which case you have maybe a 50-50 chance of recouping your payment. If they reject your initial approach, you might lose some time, but it’s only if they’re a real jerk that they’ll keep some other gift you might offer them in exchange for simply listening to you.

Once you have the character’s attention, you can make your formal request. Generally, you’re looking for an exchange of one resource for another (if you also count you investment of time talking to the NPC as a resource), which may be an item, a hint or clue, some other tool, or straightforward plot advancement. Depending on the NPC’s attitude toward you, they may reject you at this point.

Maybe they give you exactly what you ask for, or maybe they misunderstand you and point you in the wrong direction. Maybe they deliberately mislead you. Maybe they blow you off, or recognize you as a threat and attack you. Maybe they counter your request with another request — which may require interactions with still other characters. Maybe they’re awesome and give you more than you request.