Question for GM's about PC & NPC interaction


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

So I have noticed both in reading, video, and real life playing that many GM's myself included often "force" players to dialogue out any interaction with NPC's for diplomacy and intimidation etc. This is always justified by immersion or role playing. However I just got to thinking about this from another perspective.

We don't ask our players to describe in detail how they will disarm that magic trap, or what exact techniques are being used to extract an alchemical poison etc... something they likely would not know how to do in their personal OOC life. But many players are equally challenged on how to actually speak diplomatically or in an intimidating way. Yet we expect our player to actually be able to speak in the way their character would speak even if they are not personally skilled in it.

This seems like a double standard. A player should theoretically be able to pull the "disarm magic traps" card and say "I don't personally know what to say, but my character would, I want to speak to the unruly mob diplomatically to calm them down" and then roll a diplomacy check, just as they would if they said "I want to disarm the magic trap". I see so many example of GM's who stop and say "well what are you actually saying to them?". I think if you as a player know what you would want to say you should be able to, and maybe reward them with an additional +1 or something if it is really good. But players shouldn't be penalized for not being good at what their PC is good at IMO.


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I agree somewhat.

If a GM with an engineering degree wants to create complex mechanical traps for his group of mechanical engineers so that they can intricately describe exactly how they will disable these devices, the game permits it. If a GM wants a player who is a real life chemist to describe the process for extracting an alchemical poison, the game permits it.

In those cases, there should be a roll based on the character's ability to do those things, regardless of how detailed the player's description is.

Likewise, if a player with none of those skills tries the same things, his character should get a roll too, and it should be the same roll at the other PC whose player has the skills.

This is mechanically no different for NPC interaction rolls. The big difference here is that everybody has read books and/or seen movies where people do these kinds of things (lie, persuade, manipulate, intimidate, etc.) so just about everybody actually does know, at least superficially, what he wants his character to say.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if an eloquent player describes in great detail with amazing acting prowess just exactly what his character says, compared to a quieter player who simply blurts out the gist of the action, either way, the roll is the same.

The real question is, how much fun do we want to have with this ROLE-PLAYING game?

I think hearing my player describe a vivid and detailed account with an interesting speech is much more fun than when he just says "I use diplomacy and roll a 17". I encourage this by complimenting players who contribute, often in character, and/or rewarding their effort with circumstance bonuses when applicable. I never punish a player when he doesn't do these things, unless you consider a lack of a (free) circumstance bonus to be a punishment; I do not.

I recognize that not every player is good at this or comfortable with this and I never punish anyone for not role-playing, nor do I ever expect or require it.

But I definitely encourage it.

As a side note, if a player wants to "act out" his effort of disabling a device or extracting a potion, describing steps that thinks might fit the scene, I reward that kind of role-playing, too.

So I agree somewhat, but I see it the opposite way: A player should theoretically be able to pull the "diplomacy" card and say "I examine the device for gears I can jam, springs I can break, wires I can cut, or magical runes I can scrape off, being careful not to touch any sharp or moving parts and being careful not to read any runes I find." and then roll a Disable Device check, just as they would role-play if they had been in a NPC encounter instead.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

As DM_Blake said, I think good dms, encourage this sort of behavior and reward it, but don't punish failure to do so for the sake of roleplaying and immersion. And as he does, I welcome the same kind of descriptive behavior in other skill checks as well. Again there should be a reward for creative thinking, but not punishment for a lackluster performance.

We are roleplaying, one should try to roleplay, one of the most common ways that is done is npc interaction. So you want players to at least try and speak in character. That doesn't mean a shy understaded person cant play an outgoing charismatic character, just that it will be more of a challenge for them, and hopefully, would end up being more rewarding. We are after all here to pretend to be things we are not. Its always worth a try.


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I have personally played in a couple of games where the GM would set the diplomacy DC based on what you actually said. If he liked it then you would get a lower DC if he didn't or it went down the wrong path you got a high DC. I guess that is what I mean by being penalized by not knowing the right words to say.

Until I started to analyze some of the new players at the PFS tables who were inexperienced or just not as mature as their character would be, they end up being penalized IC.

I started to think, we don't ask our players to actually scale a sheer wall, so why do we ask them to actually talk the NPC off the ledge...

I do agree the more descriptive a player can be the better, but not everyone is as good at that as others. We can't all be best selling authors/story tellers.


I honestly invite my players to describe almost everything they do, then award circumstance bonuses [well, I lower/raise the DC any way] based on how they do so. Sure, sometimes there are pitfalls in there when something they say makes things much worse, but that's all part of role play.

As an example, the rogue spots a trap. I'll describe it as a simple wire trigger that leads to an arrow trap in the wall. Now the rogue could roll his disable device, no problem it's DC 15. Instead he decides to describe pulling out his tools, wiping his brow, and very carefully snipping the wire. It added something interesting, wasn't too long winded... the DC drops to 13.

Sometimes I make it more interesting. The tripwire is coated in a poison. If the rogue just rolls the dice, then I might make him roll for the poison. I don't know how he disarmed it, so there's a good chance he did touch it. However if the player said he snipped it using his tools, then I don't make him check for being poisoned.


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Adagna wrote:
I have personally played in a couple of games where the GM would set the diplomacy DC based on what you actually said. If he liked it then you would get a lower DC if he didn't or it went down the wrong path you got a high DC. I guess that is what I mean by being penalized by not knowing the right words to say.

I would not consider this to be good GMing, for the reasons you've mentioned in your OP.

But moreso, because the DC of a situation should be set by the situation. Most diplomacy checks have a DC set by the creature's attitude (hostile, friendly, etc.) + the creature's CHA modifier. This is explicitly described in the Diplomacy skill. That's what the GM should use to set the DC.

After that, it's more than fair to adjust the roll (not the DC) with circumstantial bonuses or penalties based on what the PC does. For example, if they're begging from a NPC who has been written up as a person who despises begging, then they should get a penalty - bad luck, this isn't a guy for whom begging is a good idea. If they negotiated with the same guy instead of begging, then there would not have been a penalty. Etc. These are modifiers applied to the roll (not to the DC which was explicitly decided by the rules).

Note that this is not about HOW the player says it, or what words the player uses, or how the player role-plays. This is simply based on what the PC does.

After all this is said and done, one player might simply say "I use diplomacy to beg from this NPC." Fine. Roll. Another player might eloquently describe what his character says. Excellent! Roll against the same DC, but since you entertained the group and made the game more fun, I'll give you a +2 on the roll.

That last little bit is not RAW. It's just one GM's idea of a way to reward players for actually role-playing in this role-playing-game.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

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@Adagna — If you're asking about the "why" of this behavior you've described, I have a theory on that.

It's my understanding that the earliest versions of D&D had no mechanics for social interactions whatsoever; that the mechanics of the game were (almost?) entirely centered around combat and magic. Everything else (persuading NPCs, checking for traps, even perceiving your surroundings) had no rules and was therefore left to free-form play-acting.

If you wanted to persuade the guard, you needed to demonstrate exactly how you did it by giving your exact words. Similarly, if you wanted to check for traps, you needed to describe exactly how you checked (such as pouring out water to see if it seeps through the cracks around a pressure plate), and so forth.

This created habits: you roll dice in combat and in regards to magic, and you act out everything else. (I suspect this is also the origin of the ridiculous notion that "roleplay" means "the parts where you talk to NPCs", but that's another topic.)

Now, with D&D and other RPGs not being very mainstream, the playerbase mostly grew through "grassroots": people get introduced to the game from their friends/acquaintances, and are taught how the game is played from those people who developed the habits of using dice in combat and speech everywhere else.

So you've got this D&D/Pathfinder playerbase where most of the population is either a veteran who's been segregating the speech and dice since the beginning or someone who was taught by such a veteran.

Then Pathfinder got popular.

Now there's a large and growing segment of the playerbase that's playing Pathfinder without already having habits about when to roll dice and when to go diceless. They just took the game at face value and tried to play it.

Then the two groups meet somehow (maybe at the table, maybe on the forums) and you get threads full of "ROLE vs ROLL" and all kinds of other bile.


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Jiggy: nail, head, natural 20.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Jiggy wrote:

@Adagna — If you're asking about the "why" of this behavior you've described, I have a theory on that.

It's my understanding that the earliest versions of D&D had no mechanics for social interactions whatsoever; that the mechanics of the game were (almost?) entirely centered around combat and magic. Everything else (persuading NPCs, checking for traps, even perceiving your surroundings) had no rules and was therefore left to free-form play-acting.

If you wanted to persuade the guard, you needed to demonstrate exactly how you did it by giving your exact words. Similarly, if you wanted to check for traps, you needed to describe exactly how you checked (such as pouring out water to see if it seeps through the cracks around a pressure plate), and so forth.

This created habits: you roll dice in combat and in regards to magic, and you act out everything else. (I suspect this is also the origin of the ridiculous notion that "roleplay" means "the parts where you talk to NPCs", but that's another topic.)

Now, with D&D and other RPGs not being very mainstream, the playerbase mostly grew through "grassroots": people get introduced to the game from their friends/acquaintances, and are taught how the game is played from those people who developed the habits of using dice in combat and speech everywhere else.

So you've got this D&D/Pathfinder playerbase where most of the population is either a veteran who's been segregating the speech and dice since the beginning or someone who was taught by such a veteran.

Then Pathfinder got popular.

Now there's a large and growing segment of the playerbase that's playing Pathfinder without already having habits about when to roll dice and when to go diceless. They just took the game at face value and tried to play it.

Then the two groups meet somehow (maybe at the table, maybe on the forums) and you get threads full of "ROLE vs ROLL" and all kinds of other bile.

I don't think its exclusively old vs new. I know lots of players and dms who have played the game for decades that are very 'roll'. I remember dms for the original red box that created tables to roll on for npc interactions and made adjustments based on circumstances and sometimes player stats.

I think its fairly natural to have differences in play style. Its part of why pathfinder and other editions before it never nailed down this behavior in rules. People like different levels of 'acting it out' in their role play. That's ok, but obviously it requires a consensus in a group. Or at least a willingness to go along.

Edit: I think a fair number of older players have a very skewed memory of how 'it used to be'. The game literally grew out of a wargame. There were plenty of original groups that played it almost entirely with dice. "I kick in the door, kill the monsters and loot the room" didn't become a trope because of the card game munchkin. There were lots of groups playing exactly that way from the beginning. Role vs Roll isn't exclusive the the current era of rpgs.


Jiggy wrote:
Similarly, if you wanted to check for traps, you needed to describe exactly how you checked

I think you've forgotten that old classic (and probably the most maligned) statistic from 1st edition: the old FaRT roll. (Find and Remove Traps).

Most GMs I knew at the time, myself included, required nothing more than a Thief's player saying something like "I try to prevent the pit from opening" or "I cut the trip wire" or "I jam the pressure plate", at which time we merrily instructed the player to roll to see if his FaRT was successful.

Heck, back then I was in elementary school; I too particular delight in adding traps to my dungeons just to make players roll their FaRTs.

(I personally thing Gygax never outgrew FaRT humor, hence the FaRT roll - and it would explain the very existence of the Tomb of Horrors.)

(Yes, I know, it was normally abbreviated "F/RT" but try telling that to an 11-year-old).


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I ask roleplaying prowess from my players the same way I ask For fencing skills when they play a melee

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Kolokotroni wrote:
[snip]

Your response reads as though you think I was comparing those who like to act to those who prefer to roll. Perhaps a re-read of my post might clear that up?


Adagna wrote:
I don't personally know what to say, but my character would

This is where I use the rp skills.

EDIT: To clarify, the skill bonus is partly a parameter for lack of the expected way to act. You already get points for rping (as per the skills).

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

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Rub-Eta wrote:
Adagna wrote:
I don't personally know what to say, but my character would

This is where I use the rp skills.

EDIT: To clarify, the skill bonus is partly a parameter for lack of the expected way to act. You already get points for rping (as per the skills).

...what?


See, if I got to roll my Diplomacy here, it would compensate for my lack of social expertise. So if I was a PF character, I could probably still say this, but get away with it if I had a good enought Diplomacy.


I ask my players what sort of things they are saying for bluff or diplomacy. They don't have to be eloquent, but they do actually have to give me an idea of what they are trying to convey.

But I also don't use diplomacy as written, it's not used to make someone like you but to make a deal with an individual. I attempt to use modifiers such as those laid out here.


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My wake-up call on RP vs character mechanics was in a futuristic game where I was playing a high tech thief. The GM asked me how I was going to disable the electronic security system and I went to roll. He stopped me and asked: "No - HOW are you going to do this?" I looked back and answered: "I don't know - but my character does!"

It was then that I realized: I have mechanics to allow me to do things I would never be able to do, or do very poorly, in Real Life. And while I might be good at Diplomacy and Bluff, my character might not be. So I let the dice decide. Dice + skill investment.

I love players to role-play the conversations if they want, but the outcome is decided by their roll. I no longer reward "good rp" by giving bonuses to people who give me a good line because it tends to reward the same person over and over again and the others at the table hold back. Since I've stopped, a very quiet player has become a very good Face because they've invested in their CHA and CHA-based skills.

Liberty's Edge

As a DM, I generally adjust the DC of the roll upwards or downwards anywhere from plus two to minus two depending upon the situation and the players action. In diplomatic situations, I try to take such factors as character race, social status or class, and whether characters know one another or have a particularly good or poor reputation into consideration.I would add that I use this method much more in home games, not in PFS games; where I generally use the written DC.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Adagna wrote:

So I have noticed both in reading, video, and real life playing that many GM's myself included often "force" players to dialogue out any interaction with NPC's for diplomacy and intimidation etc. This is always justified by immersion or role playing. However I just got to thinking about this from another perspective.

We don't ask our players to describe in detail how they will disarm that magic trap, or what exact techniques are being used to extract an alchemical poison etc... something they likely would not know how to do in their personal OOC life. But many players are equally challenged on how to actually speak diplomatically or in an intimidating way. Yet we expect our player to actually be able to speak in the way their character would speak even if they are not personally skilled in it.

This seems like a double standard. A player should theoretically be able to pull the "disarm magic traps" card and say "I don't personally know what to say, but my character would, I want to speak to the unruly mob diplomatically to calm them down" and then roll a diplomacy check, just as they would if they said "I want to disarm the magic trap". I see so many example of GM's who stop and say "well what are you actually saying to them?". I think if you as a player know what you would want to say you should be able to, and maybe reward them with an additional +1 or something if it is really good. But players shouldn't be penalized for not being good at what their PC is good at IMO.

The folks I generally get this from, are people who crank their Diplomacy numbers in to the stratosphere, and INSIST that they shouldn't have to roleplay at all. They want their sky numbers essentially be auto mind control with every NPC they meet.

The reason the standards are different is because role play is the center element of a role playing game. If combat were the only thing that mattered, we'd still be playing minature wargaming.


Not giving bonuses to players who have strong real-life social skills when their character attempts a diplomacy check is a very fair thing to do. It's fair because it levels the field for players with strong real-life diplomacy and players with weak real-life diplomacy. Fairness is important for GMs because without fairness, players may feel cheated, and being cheated is not a good feeling.

That said, I believe there is a benefit to giving bonuses to these players. I think giving bonuses provides incentive for player narration.

The core rules of Pathfinder do not incentivize narration. Assuming equal stats, a player saying "I diplomacy the guard." is equally likely to succeed as a player who acts out his attempt with full emotion and color. If there is no benefit to eloquently narrate, there will be players who narrate their actions by the bare minimum.

If the players do not support the narration, then all of the narrative weightlifting is up to the GM. The GM has to fill in the holes of description that the players dig up. It's sometimes tedious. It sometimes feels wrong because the GM is describing how the player's character acts. And if the GM doesn't fill in the holes, then the scene becomes bland.

To me, it's a balancing act. On one hand, I want a fair game. On the other hand, I want to encourage player narration*, and one of the easiest ways to do so is by giving bonuses.

* When I say 'player narration', it isn't limited to diplomacy, but everything including spellcasting and attack rolls.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

LazarX wrote:

The folks I generally get this from, are people who crank their Diplomacy numbers in to the stratosphere, and INSIST that they shouldn't have to roleplay at all. They want their sky numbers essentially be auto mind control with every NPC they meet.

The reason the standards are different is because role play is the center element of a role playing game. If combat were the only thing that mattered, we'd still be playing minature wargaming.

Roleplaying is indeed the central element of a roleplaying game.

But "roleplaying" does not mean "talking", nor does it mean "not the combat part".

In fact, if you want the narrative to go differently than what the numbers represent, then you are bad at roleplaying. A player who wants the narrative to reflect the numbers on their character sheet is good at roleplaying.

When you learn what "roleplaying" actually is (and isn't), you'll realize how silly it is to have different standards for how much play-acting is required for different kinds of checks, and you'll start to actually be a good roleplayer.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Jiggy wrote:
LazarX wrote:

The folks I generally get this from, are people who crank their Diplomacy numbers in to the stratosphere, and INSIST that they shouldn't have to roleplay at all. They want their sky numbers essentially be auto mind control with every NPC they meet.

The reason the standards are different is because role play is the center element of a role playing game. If combat were the only thing that mattered, we'd still be playing minature wargaming.

Roleplaying is indeed the central element of a roleplaying game.

But "roleplaying" does not mean "talking", nor does it mean "not the combat part".

In fact, if you want the narrative to go differently than what the numbers represent, then you are bad at roleplaying. A player who wants the narrative to reflect the numbers on their character sheet is good at roleplaying.

When you learn what "roleplaying" actually is (and isn't), you'll realize how silly it is to have different standards for how much play-acting is required for different kinds of checks, and you'll start to actually be a good roleplayer.

So your argument is that since there's no roleplaying requiremnt for swing swords or casting spells. there shouldn't be any for social interaction in order to acheive this consistency you feel is important?


I encourage people to give a quick description of their social attempts, mainly because of habit (a lot of people I have played with have terrible social skills, and we all realized this was an opportunity to practice in a non-threatening environment).

We also play it out for comic effect or dramatic effect.

I don't think it is fair to have their talking IRL affect what the roll produces though, the character has stats and skills, so we use those.

Grand Lodge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32, RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

LazarX wrote:
So your argument is that since there's no roleplaying requiremnt for swing swords or casting spells. there shouldn't be any for social interaction in order to acheive this consistency you feel is important?

No, that is not even remotely close to what I'm saying. Rather, that's the thing that you just kind of assume anyone who doesn't match your own thoughts must be saying (as though there are only two thoughts that can be had on the topic and if I don't share yours then that only leaves one option). But if you were to re-read my post with a goal of understanding its content rather than a goal of simply categorizing me into a pre-existing camp, you might discover the entirely different thing that I'm actually saying.


Okay I didn't read through everyone's posts so I don't know if this has been said already but there are two ways that I address this. Let me say first off, that I completely agree with @Adagna's ideas, but I still like to reward efforts as story-telling elements, and role-playing a character's speech. Therefore in situations like this, I have, over the years, used two different methods to reward. One I have shamelessly stolen form another roleplaying game that shall remain nameless. It is the "advantage" mechanic. Did the player make a good attempt at a diplomatic speech? Roll 2 d20's and take the higher roll for your check. The other is to just provide a simple circumstance bonus to the roll, based off of the player's attempt at roleplay. Depending on the situation and the player's effort, I've been known to give up to a +5 circumstance bonus onto a roll (though it's normally just a +2). I have even on rare occasions given a circumstance bonus, AND allowed the use of the "advantage" mechanic.

Also wanted to point out that @Jiggy's explanation of the why is right on in my own experience. I still remember playing games from the "red books" and having social interactions be just that, us and the DM talking to each other as if we were the characters/NPCs.


I can see both sides of this. As a GM, I'm not going to penalize a player for not being as smooth as a 20 CHA bard. However, I will want to know what you are attempting to convince the NPC of in order to determine the DC of the bluff check. "Sorry, wrong door - I was looking for the head," is a reasonable bluff DC.

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