Social Encounters

The Redsky 5e Conversion Book is launching on Kickstarter May 18th!

Check out what's included in the book here!

While developing the conversion rules for Redsky, we spent a lot of time thinking about the construction of 5e. There were aspects that felt… lackluster. Social interaction is a particular sticking point, for a lot of reasons.


In the vanilla 5e rules, interacting with NPCs outside of combat is either front-loaded with role-playing or deconstructed to a single die roll. Running these NPCs almost always requires reading and/or memorizing a substantial amount of prose, or taking organized notes on them yourself. Some groups manage fine with these methods! Every regular gamer knows a GM or player who can bring an in-character conversation to life like a movie. Other groups prefer to “get the talky bits over with” so they can go back to hitting things.


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There is a middle ground. It can be particularly difficult to GM for the people who are interested in non-combat challenges but are not skilled in improvisation. The team's GMs aren’t particularly great actors ourselves, either. Recalling personality nuances of every NPC mid-game is a challenge for anyone. It’s easy to lose track and make a verbal conflict too easy or difficult to resolve.


Speaking with someone can be just as impactful to your game as fighting with them, so we decided to formally specify a new type of encounter. Social encounters are our solution to the players’ attempts to gain vital information from a non-allied NPC, or to convince them to take a course of action. In a social encounter, players will be using various techniques that may appeal to their target’s better judgement, persuade them to the party’s side, or cow them into submission.


Does that sound familiar? Perhaps… exactly like how social interaction plays out already? That’s because it is. We haven’t designed a new, fancy “social combat” for everybody to learn. There’s no separate HP pool or collection of new statistics.


Redsky’s social encounters build on the existing methods used to play out verbal conflicts with NPCs. It gives structure to a very fluid concept without sacrificing the ability of players to improvise and follow a natural train of conversation. It provides a natural way to expand the encounters to require multiple successful ability checks, and gives space for a roll to fail without crushing the player’s chances of victory. Perhaps most importantly, it allows GMs to condense an NPC and social encounter into a stat block (similar to combat abilities), so that it can be shared and reproduced easily.


We’ve put a lot of careful thought into this expansion. Social encounters are meant to augment the world of Redsky. Our world has discussions of high concepts and ideals built into its foundations. We want to give a space to the players who want to be a great orator that can calm crowds and turn them to their side, just as much as we wanted to make persuading a guard to let you pass more interesting. It is a world of people with strong beliefs, and we felt a little more structure would benefit the players interacting with them.


However, because the system is meant to be a design tool as much as a game mechanic, we think it will be beneficial to any GM who is creating a world that leans on politicking and social maneuvers.


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We’ll finish up with some more details about the implementation:


The classes presented in the Redsky conversion will all have their moment to shine with this new encounter type. As fighters valiantly lead the party in combat, a wordsmith will lead their compatriots in battles of words against those who might stand in the way of progress. Wordsmiths, as well as some of the other class’s subclasses, will be trained in the skills needed to aid their allies in arguments, debates, and interrogations. Notably, the Wordsmith will be able to perform special actions called “Powerful Words” that, depending on their subclass, can woo a crowd to their argument, strike fear into an opponent’s heart, or confuse their foes and leave them stunned.


Even the more combat-oriented classes will be able to interact with the new system. We’ve introduced several subclasses, including one for the Fighter and one for the Rogue, that emphasize verbal skills a bit more than the base class. The Rogue, for example, can decide to be a Con Artist who leans heavily into deception to make a living. Her skills with wordplay can also take her very far in local politics, or might simply be useful when bluffing past a guard checkpoint.


The non-specialized classes may still be competitive socially, however. As previously mentioned, all parts of the social encounter system use existing skills and mechanics. Proficiency in Persuasion or Deception is still going to be one of the most important factors for success, so designing characters to be socially competent is going to be familiar.


Finally, let’s talk about the NPCs. The characters that the players speak to are not usually going to bend over after a single Persuasion check. Personality type matters. Getting through to a zealous follower of Sola and persuading an Archivist missionary to relinquish a piece of Eldertech are two completely different conversations, and require different arguments. To show this, a NPC’s personality will influence what types of social actions will work and which will be less effective.


A proud Hardhoof warrior will not be likely persuaded by reason, but appealing to their sense of honor will get them to see your line of thought. An unscrupulous Jana’Haki merchant would laugh at any such conversations of honor or duty, but the flash of a few golden solans will surely change their mind. The people you’ll find in Dema will have ideals, goals, and temperaments not too unlike what you find here on Earth. Learning how to interact with them will be key to navigating the complex social and political landscape of Redsky. Talking to these NPCs can also reveal the character’s current needs, and offering to fulfill those needs gives players an easy chance to succeed on a social encounter.


I hope this gives you some insight to the potential our conversion book has when running your campaigns. We'll be talking more about other mechanics as our Kickstarter's launch date gets closer, so see you next time!

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