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This action models PCs' attempts to affect the behavior of NPCs. There are a number of ways you can handle a PC influencing an NPC's behavior, such as contested attribute checks (if the PC is trying to intimidate the NPC, for example) or mechanics prescribed by the PC's abilities or kits and spells, etc. Finally, when a PC wants to influence an NPC over time, you can resort to social combat. The influence others action encompasses all these approaches to resolution.

Handling Social Checks

OSR+ favors roleplaying over rolling when it comes to resolving social interactions. Generally, players need to say or do the thing they want to communicate to NPCs, even if the roleplay amounts to the player talking in third person about what the PC wants to accomplish, rather than saying it in the first person.

That is, it's not enough to say "I intimidate the guard, can I roll an Influence check?" In order for a player to warrant a check, they need to describe how they're doing it in the fiction, or actually act it out.

When To Roll For It

Be permissive with social interactions and the information that can be gleaned from them. If the direction of the conversation makes sense, and you find yourself nodding along as the NPC, let the NPC respond as you imagine they would without slowing things down by calling for a check. And if there's no meaningful chance of failure in what the PC is proposing, don't make the player roll for it.

On Acting It Out

At the same time, you have to be careful not to privilege players who happen to be good actors. You're looking for good ideas, not good execution. If the player came up with a really brilliant bit (whether by describing it or acting it out), reward them with advantage or a +2 on a success check (rather than a contested check they can fail outright), or forgo the roll entirely. Remember, we're at the table for narrative fulfillment, and it sure is fulfilling to give a heroic speech that actually works!

It's OK if your player is not particularly persuasive as a player; we don't want to penalize players for not being great at delivery, as we're not here to assess their acting ability. When a player tries to influence others, ask what they want to achieve in the fiction and then find an appropriate mechanic to resolve it, if there's a meaningful chance of failure.

Let The Effects of ROLLs Persist

An influenced NPC generally keeps their disposition until they have a reason to feel otherwise. Whereas a spell like Charm Person is a shortcut to making friends with a stranger, you can achieve the same outcome as that spell with a good first impression. Controlling an NPC's disposition is a matter of shifting it degrees in your favor. Similarly, if a PC fails to intimidate an NPC, the NPC remains recalcitrant until the PC tries a different tact. The same is true in argumentation.

In short: let the outcome of a successful check persist until the player switches tactics.

A good first impression is different than a friendship, of course: a major shift in disposition like this, where the NPC is inclined to help the PC, would take a longer time to nurture, hence social combat as a mechanic to get there.

Gauging Disposition

Below is a table to help you gauge the clock with respect to social combat. The clock modifier represents the number of successes (or failures) necessary to move the NPC from an Indifferent disposition to the disposition indicated. For example, to move an Indifferent NPC to the Hostile disposition, the PC will have failed 4 times in social combat (Indifferent [0] - Hostile [3]) or have committed actions as many times to nurture the NPC's disfavor; to make an NPC that's Friendly become Loyal would require 5 successes (Friendly [1] - Loyal [5]).

Social Disposition Table

DispositionDescriptionClock Modifier
EnemiesThe NPC has had prior interactions with the PCs and believes they will act against their interests, therefore the NPC actively works to thwart the PCs.6+
HostileThe NPC is threatened by the PCs and will likely respond with violence if engaged, otherwise the NPC is uninterested in the PCs. (This may be a natural disposition toward all outsiders for some monsters.)3
UnfriendlyThe NPC dislikes the PCs, but is willing to engage with them if their interests align. Such NPCs will behave shrewdly and skeptically toward the PCs.1
IndifferentThe NPC has no opinion of the PCs and is neither inclined to help them nor interested in getting in the way of the PCs' interests. -
FriendlyThe NPC likes the PCs and is willing to engage with them fairly and honestly. Such NPCs may help the PCs as long as it's not at a great cost to their own interests.1
AlignedAligned NPCs are invested in a long term relationship with the PCs, and will help them out of a duty to that relationship. They're willing to make sacrifices knowing that the PCs would do the same for them if the situation were reversed.3
LoyalLoyal NPCs fully trust the PCs due to a long history of mutual aid. Such NPCs don't expect a tit-for-tat when it comes to helping the PCs, and can be relied on for their respect and admiration as long as they're not taken advantage of.6+

What Influence Means

Social checks are not mind control. A successful check cannot have the effect of the spell Command or Post-Hypnotic Suggestion for example, because these spells are literal forms of mind control.

It's possible to bully an NPC with a display of force into complying with your instructions, bamboozle them with sleazy tricks, or outsmart them with daunting logic, but such influence is only ever incremental and temporary.

Social Checks Are Not Lie Detectors

Unless the PC is using magic, there's no way for a PC to definitely know what an NPC is thinking or whether they're lying. As a GM, you can only ever tell the player what their PC thinks is the case, whether they're making a guess based on body language or other social cues.

Furthermore, any attempt to intuit whether an NPC is lying requires the player to describe how they plan to do that, so the GM can decide which attribute applies.

If an NPC is trying to bluff a PC and the player succeeds in an opposed check, the roll yields impressions rather than facts: "his body language suggests he’s uncomfortable when he says this" or "he seems especially confident when he says this." The fact that the player has rolled successfully is usually a good indication that the PC's assumptions are correct, but you as a GM have to be consistent about how you deliver the information, no matter how the roll appears to the players. That is, you only ever reveal information to PCs from their perspective, not your own.

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