Tuesday, 4 June 2013

TalkingClix & Social Interaction

Reading Black Vulmea’s excellent post on social interaction in role-playing games makes me somewhat concerned that my repudiation of –C’s “On the Immersive Lie” and “On the Fiction First Failure” posts make me sound as though I am averse to rolling dice at all where social interaction is involved.

As Black Vulmea rightly points out, there is a similarity between “I roll Diplomacy!” when involved in a social setting and “I roll Tactics!” when involved in a combat.  Just as we expect the player to determine his character’s own tactics, we expect the player to determine how he approaches a given social interaction.  And, in both cases, dice or other widgets may come into play to resolve what then occurs.

The problem with –C’s posts is the idea that deciding what you do before determining how to resolve the outcome is stopping the play of the game in one post, and damaging to (the non-existent, according to –C) immersion in the other.

Let’s imagine that you have an actual altercation, in real life.  The “tactics” of “rolling Diplomacy” include understanding the opposing point of view as well as ordering your own priorities.  Ordering your own priorities is important because negotiation usually requires compromise, and you may have to cede something you would like to keep in order to gain something you need or just want more.

“TalkingClix” occurs when the GM believes it is just too hard to understand the NPCs’ motivations, and/or the player wants to gain the benefits of negotiation without having the inconvenience of giving anything up.  In some cases, this just means giving up the degree of pride necessary to ask forgiveness or for a favour.  It occurs when you begin to argue that knowing what is happening in the fictive milieu isn’t necessary to resolve what occurs (or even damages resolution), and that, since the fictive milieu isn’t real, immersion doesn’t matter/doesn’t exist/is harmed by seeking to understand what occurs in the fictive milieu prior to applying results.

Effectively, this is an argument that dissociated mechanics are better for resolving action within a role-playing game than associated mechanics.

Whether a character is walking across the floor, riding a horse, climbing a rope, or trying to convince a goblin to let her pass, the dice are rolled if (1) the outcome is in doubt and (2) the outcome matters, typically due to a time limit or some danger involved with failure.  For example, no roll is likely required to kill a sleeping goblin, but a goblin who is armed and aware offers the potential consequence of being attacked in return (with related issues of hit point loss and possible death).

Abstract hit point loss works because it leads to a far less abstract potential outcome:  character death.  I do not think that many players would enjoy a game in which they had no say about what their characters offer in order to “roll Diplomacy” with a kobold.  The consequences are made concrete in a fiction-first system by having the players set them (i.e., “IF you let us cross the river here, THEN my brother will marry one of your daughters.”)  The outcome, if in doubt, may then be rolled for, or engaged through a series of mechanical widgets, based upon the game rules and the desires of the participants.

Mechanics for social interaction are not the problem.  Mechanics that subvert fiction-first, immersive social interaction (i.e., dissociative social interaction mechanics) are.  That is when you find yourself playing TalkingClix instead of a role-playing game.


  1. "Whether a character is walking across the floor, riding a horse, climbing a rope, or trying to convince a goblin to let her pass, the dice are rolled if (1) the outcome is in doubt and (2) the outcome matters . . ."

    This is pretty close to my reply to one of the comments to my post - one of the referee's jobs is to determine if and when a roll in necessary. Most social interactions between characters don't require a roll at all - it's only at the 'crux move,' where reasonable uncertainty as to outcome exists, that a roll is important.

    1. Agreed, assuming (as you say) reasonable uncertainty exists. This is far different from what -C is proposing.