Dungeons & Dragons Online

Mechanic for a Verbal Combat (Roleplay Encounter)

Hi all :).

We LOVE coming up with new mechanics, and a while ago our Mechanics for a Burning Home were praised. The game is quite nice as is, but on and of we need that something more to make a meaningful situation, well, meaningful. In this case, a Charisma check was just too little, even with a high DC. The situation (as explained below) needed to feel like the party was persuading someone and I just didn't want to leave it to one single roll.

The mechanic (mini game) explained in this post is a variant. Even in the adventure where it is used, although it is advised to be used, one is free to just result on a Charisma skill check for the persuasion. The numbers are for a level 12 party, so you might need to adjust if you want to use it for a low or high level adventure. But anyway, here is the mini game, that is inspired by a post by u/kennedymitchburke: Duel of Wits for 5e.

Edit: So sorry I forgot, but the idea is also inspired by this blogpost: Social Challenges.

The Situation

The party needs to convince an individual to accept a belief. Just like a situation where a Charisma (Persuasion) roll would be in order.

The Mini Game

The NPC that needs to be persuaded has Opposition (how strong their idea is) and Openness (how open they are to the party's claims) hit points. Both these start at a value of 15. If the Opposition HP is reduced to 0, then the NPC has been convinced of the party's arguments. If the Openness HP is reduced to 0, then he cannot be convinced further and the argument battle has been lost for the PCs.

Throughout the sequence, and until one of the values gets reduced to 0, the party can simply pose arguments to the NPC. The way these arguments are worded determines which social skill check will be used (Intimidation, Persuasion, Deception), and this roll is a contested one. If the PC wins, the Opposition suffers damage, while if they lose, the Openness does. The NPC is strong in some of the social skills, while weak in others. An example is shown at the table below.

Deception+0
Intimidation-6
Persuasion+12

At the end of each argument (contested skill check), either the Opposition or Openness suffers 1d8 points of damage.

Beliefs, Doubts, Secret

Before an argument is voiced, the PCs can choose to probe for information. This is roleplayed as a DC 20 Wisdom (Insight) check. On success, they learn a doubt or belief of the NPCs being probed, while a failure would cause 1d8 Openness damage. A result higher than 25 will reveal the secret of the NPC. This probe is purely optional, as an argument can be voiced even without knowing any beliefs, doubts or secrets.

However, if a belief, doubt or secret is known and used in an argument, then the contested roll is made with advantage for the PCs. Even better, if the argument is won with the secret used, then the Opposition takes critical damage (2d8).

That's all there is to it. So all you need is some preparation to come up with some beliefs, doubts and a secret for the NPC, and minimal number tracking throughout the sequence. Then it looks like that:

1: Probe (or not)

2: Learn a doubt, belief or secret (or not)

3: Voice argument

4: Contested skill check

5: Opposition/Openness suffers damage

There is no initiative and all party members can collectively come up with methods on how they want to probe for information or voice their arguments. One thing to remember, is that you shouldn't allow the PCs to just say "I want to persuade him". They should voice their argument in a roleplaying way that constitutes a Charisma (Persuasion) roll.

And to close it up, an example Dilemma and NPC from the adventure this variant was written for.

Dilemma

Imagine you were in a situation where your mother was extremely ill. The local healer says that there is an experimental cure that could help her, expressing that it is the only thing that might work. Your immediate family is poor and can't afford the 1000 gp treatment. You tried to borrow gold from a distant wealthy relative, but he refused to lend you even a single gold piece. Is it morally right to steal the required money to pay for your loved ones potentially lifesaving treatment?

Leoreth (Male, Elf)

Beliefs (Life is precious and must be protected at all costs. People are more important than things. It is completely fine to do anything to save a loved one's life):

  • stealing from family is not really stealing.
  • making the person feel good about losing the money (like telling them that they contributed to the king's peace efforts and he will hold them in high regards now) is the best way of stealing. There would be no real loser.
  • if you stole only a tiny amount but from many people, it wouldn't be that bad. Nobody will miss a copper piece.

Doubts:

  • what if another person's life is now in danger because they lost the money? (for example a guard who is blamed for the robbed vault and now faces a death sentence).
  • what if the money you stole would be used to help many people? You can't justify helping one if you could save a hundred lives instead.
  • what if you got caught and now your entire family is on trial because of your actions. Other relatives now suffer and not just your mother.

Secret:

  • Leoreth owns a locket that every time when grasped tightly projects his late wife's last words to him (via magic mouth spell). He is not willing to part with it under any circumstances, as it is his last memory of her. Having it lost or stolen would devastate him.

So the party would have to persuade him that stealing is wrong. Having him accept that, although he things all life is precious, you shouldn't steal to come up with the treatment gold.

I hope you like this variant, which can make a meaningful argument to feel more meaningful that just one single roll. May you use it in your games with your interesting NPCs :). Enjoy!

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