I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I came across another blog that helped me realize what was at the core of a working “social encounter” system.
Link: A Social Interaction Engine
Blog, The Artifact RPG
“What is the goal of a social encounter?”
In combat, the goal is to end the violent conflict. Whether that’s by forcing the opponent to surrender, driving them away, or ending their lives. It seems to me like the goal of a social encounter should be finite and measurable.
So, what’s the goal of a social encounter? I think I know.
The goal of a social encounter is to recruit the NPC you’re speaking to — I think it’s about singling out an NPC and saying, “I want you on my team.” See, when you run a combat encounter, you rarely see the enemy you’re facing more than once. Typically they show up, get dead-ed, and the party moves on.
NPCs are sadly the same.
But now I’m thinking, rather than trying to fight that eventuality, why not embrace it? The players are only going to care about so many things in the game, if they decide they want a particular NPC on their side, why not just let them?
Figure that your typical NPCs will be low-level nobodies. What did they matter to begin with? If a PC decides to make something out of them, why not allow them to do exactly that? Hypothetically speaking, it’s supposed to be a cooperative game — so why not allow the PCs to “cooperate” with NPCs by rolling dice?
Monsters only show up again if they run away or if the PCs spare them for some reason. Why not treat NPCs the same way? So you created a blacksmith NPC with a tragic backstory and the PCs don’t care? Is that the players’ fault?
So here’s a thought — using the “follower” system, have 95% of all NPCs available to be recruited by the players. The players can write down the individual names and professions of NPCs on their character sheets, and decide who gets which “friend.” You could treat NPC relationships like loot, even.
I figure a given settlement probably doesn’t have more than say, five NPCs that are essential to keeping the community afloat — and you could always “disallow” the recruitment of these NPCs the same way you’d disallow the picking of certain “plot-relevant” locks on doors and containers.