[RPG] How to balance player vs character skills and knowledge


I have played roleplaying games now for about 10 years and there is one problem that is like some kind of ever-present white noise. I have not found a really good solution for it.

When player play against each other, using non fighting skills like Diplomacy or Sense Motive, they very often do not play the values on their sheets. There is one guy who is (in general) just good with talking but playing a stupid character, and another playing a Bard or something similar but who is just not good with talking. Or perhaps there is a riddle to solve in the game. This always ends up with players talking about it as if they are themselves and not their characters.

The problem that emerges from this is one of balance. Those who put all their points into fighting have a big advantage compared to those who put their points into 'communication' skills.

I would like to know how to solve this.

Best Answer

First of all, puzzles usually don't really fit into the rules of most games. Players don't solve them by using the mechanic abilities of their characters, they are solving them by using their own deductive reasoning. That's why I would recommend you to design challenges, not puzzles. A puzzle can be a nice distraction, but if puzzle solving becomes the main activity in your game, you don't need to roll characters.

Regarding roleplaying social interactions: It is usually far more fun and far more immersive to actually roleplay how you would convince an NPC to cooperate with you than to just roll a die ("You have to abandon your evil plan for world domination because.... Ha! 20! You MUST do what I say."). But if you resolve all verbal interactions with pure roleplaying, then social skills aren't relevant, and those players who built their characters especially for these situation are punished.

There are two ways to apply social character skills in a meaningful way without preventing roleplaying dialogs:

  • Roll before the dialog, and make the roll impact the initial attitude of the NPC. When the player rolls bad, the NPC will be distrusting and unreasonable. When they roll good, they will be friendly and easy to convince.

    This works especially good for price negotiations. When a PC wants to buy or sell something, look up the recommended price in the rulebook, and then increase or decrease it with a fixed function based on the outcome of the player's skill check. Make that the price the NPC believes the item is worth and then haggle in-character.

    This doesn't work very good, though, if your game system has a wide variety of social skills. It is sometimes hard to predict in advance what skill(s) will be applicable to a conversation before you know what arguments the players are going to make.

  • Roll after the dialog. Listen to what the player has to say, rate how convincing this would sound from the perspective from the NPC, and use that rating to give the player's character the challenge rating for the roll. If the player made a really convincing argument, they get an easy roll. If their argument is obviously flawed, their character will need some really great social skills to sell it.
Related Topic