FIGHT NIGHT! well, it’s Friday at least.
A bit of a different fight night today as we look at two concepts that, admittedly, I don’t employ enough. Non-combat or social encounters. These don’t only test our players abilities to handle social situations but also our own ability to handle non-stat block driven games and, hopefully, guide our players in refining who their character is outside of armour and away from their +2 sword of smiting.
As the party enter the inn, the owner rushes forward.
‘Thanks for coming so quickly. I don’t know what I would so without you.. I.. I.. I didn’t know if anyone would come for that sum of gold but praise be that you came. I need help that only your team can provide’
The party state in disbolief as the inkeep, in some form of shock surely, produces a bag of coins. There has to be atleast 500gp in the bag!
The first of the ‘encounters’ to explore is a simple one. The assumption that the Party are something that they are not. We have two real posibilities here I want to explore (despite it being a rather open situation) and we will focus on two sides of the same coin.
I’m here to help… Well not really
This is where we have an NPC assume that the party are here to progress the antagonists agenda.
Whether they party are treated poorly by the innkeep and/or the staff at the tavern – or contrastingly, treated well by the Rival tavern owner or the city guard (who are trying to get rid of the goblin run tavern for example). For this we have two approaches. The party is approached and confronted outright, or (my favourite approach) the party start to have things go differently for them.
- The local Merchant increases their prices,
- The town guard approach them at the market and start to offer to show them more favourable treatment
- The Bartender serves them the worst quality drinks and food instead of what was paid for.
The second is more direct.
- The party has the town guard/rival invite them to dinner who expresses their gratitude for coming to the town so quickly. They also express their point of view on the party, how the goblins, or magical Tavern is a blight that is corrupting the good townsfolk and that they are glad that the party is here to put a stop to it.
Regarding how the party navigate, with words or dice, they may find themselves in a situation where neither side trusts them. The bartender see’s them having dinner with the rival owner. Or the Goblin sees the guard treating the party more favourably. This small encounter and how the party navigate their way through the complexities in social situations can lead to some interesting moments that force the players to really think about the type of character they are role playing.
The party don’t remember much, but the wizard who has a knack for writing things down finds out that the entire sleeve of his robe has his, admittedly very expensive, spellbook ink scrawled in magical runes and text down the inside of it.
‘Not what it seems’ , ‘Potent charm’, ‘Floaty float face’
Unsure of what it means, their memories being what it is it appears as though part of the plan had worked. They knew that the goblins were charming people in their tavern but none of the party could work out what.. Floaty float face could even begin to mean. There was only one thing for it. The party had to go drinking again.
Not all encounters require a sword, in this case the quill was indeed mightier.
For this one we are looking at solving something, a murder mystery where people are mysteriously dying when going to the Deaths Door Inn or where people are losing all memories when going out for a night drinking. Well that one isn’t so uncommon…
Setting up a string of clues and a trigger for people to find, or just giving the players the freedom to creatively work something out may be the key to a successful social encounter. Maybe the occurances at the Goblin and Lute only affect memory and the money that is on the person, not their books, clothes, ink wells etc. Perhaps they could try and write down what they encounter and then role play their sober self trying to understand what the magically drunkened version of them was trying to tell them.
Or perhaps, the party has to work out where the inn they were staying in transported them, a handful of other patrons and the entire staff to a magically unstable location and they have to work out why it happened, where they are and ultimately what or who caused it.
Having creative solutions to magical or difficult situations can, once again, drive the players to consider a different depth of their characters in which they hadn’t explored before.
The two social encounters are challenging. That is to say that as a DM we are easily able to drop in the statblock of an animated scarecrow (see Wandering inn), or town guard and goblins (see goblin and lute) and have the party fight their way out of something – but in this case that is the easy way out. By giving the players something where the sharp end of a pointy stick isn’t the solution they may find character growth and explore a depth of what their character can do and the different ways of solving problems that is still fun and rewarding.
This concept isn’t new. Murder mystery games or problem solving games as just as popular as ever. Cluedo, ultimate werewolf or even Among Us all feature no stat blocks, no real enemy to fight head on – but a series of puzzles or clues in which they have to solve in order to succeed.
Thanks everyone for joining me for a, honestly, odd shift in gears. I tend to default to combat encounters as I find that my party after a long day of work (and dealing with social encounters where it’s.. probably the wrong move to punch your way out of a retail store checkout or meeting with executives) they just want to send their AXE OF WRATH through the face of some ghoul or cultist that was trying to break the seals that keep their deity bound to another plane.
But, we don’t just organise these games for our players do we. As DMs we either love to suffer (haha.. a joke.. right?) or we really love to help tell a story and watch our groups of friends, coworkers and families have a fun time and enjoy each others company. But I find that I have also grown as a person over these last.. carry the 3.. 24 years (almost?) of DMing games and I have the party and what I am willing to try in these adventures to thank for it. Changing my style of DMing, or adopting small changes that aim to incrementally improve the way that I play and that my players experience this game world that I create for them and with them has shown me that I am capable of growth and improvement.
Maybe everyone just needs to push themselves out of their comfort zone to gain meaningful experience so we can level up gaming and ourselves.
On that note, don’t forget that this is just one option for an adventure, you are the puppet master, you create the world and lay out the scene for the players to experience and enjoy. If you and your players don’t like something mix it up! But don’t be afraid to level up your gaming and don’t forget to roll with advantage,
The Brazen Wolfe