[RPG] Relationship Mechanics for D&D/Pathfinder


My Pathfinder/D&D games tend to involve relationships – romantic, friendly, etc. – between PCs and NPCs alike. 3.x only has the Diplomacy mechanic for any kind of relationship mechanic. I'm interested in ideas for mechanics to help represent these attachments in the game.

Not as a substitute for roleplaying, but to encourage and represent the relationships. Tracking them, leveraging them, determining how NPCs respond to them.

I've seen mechanics like this in various indie RPGs. For example, the zombie survival horror game "the dead" allows characters to roleplay and build up the strength of their relationships, and this grants bonus dice you can use on checks made to help out the person you have the relationship with.

As a stopgap measure, I tend to use complex Diplomacy checks over time to track overall positive/negative attitudes towards PCs from NPCs. I make sub-checks to determine if romance is part of the equation.

Example: Female NPC paladin meets PC monk. Initial reaction roll: 17. She's quite impressed by him. They have some differences but are both generally Lawful and whatnot and he acts civilly so I don't put any modifiers on it. Next time they meet, the reaction roll is a 20 – I decide that's a "spark" and she's really interested in him now. I make notes with plusses or minuses to indicate particularly good (15+) or bad (5-) reactions. So on the paladin's NPC index card, I put the monk and two plusses by his name to indicate the general impression she has of him. Next time they meet, the reaction roll is a 10, which given the two plusses I interpret as still favorable; she's not going all stalker but likes him. And so on.

What are some rules you use, or ideas for them, to better represent relationships of various sorts? I mainly play Pathfinder but really anything even vaguely d20/D&D compatible would be interesting. Ideally it's a simple way to determine how favorably a NPC sees a PC or other NPC and then ways in which that impacts life.

Best Answer

Steal from minimus and social network analysis

One of the relationship models I like the best is from Minimus. Where the player is instructed to denote a directed graph with blue and red arrows to indicate like and dislike. Every node of this graph is another person who "each person can do some- thing useful that your character can’t; they’ll ask for something in return." By indicating the from of the relationship and the utility of the relationship in the graph, a very simple social network can be depicted. As players play, changes in the relationship map (page 4) represent real character development.

To adopt this for a longer game, keep the same map principle and continue drawing in pen. By indicating additional likes and dislikes (also accompanied by a want/need descriptor and potentially in a subgraph if things are too fiddly) you can see easily the predominant attitude of an NPC towards anyone else (is it mostly blue? Is it mostly red? Is it thick? Is it thin?) and the historical trends of their relationship. Social Network graphs are also quite flashy. For extra credit, place nodes on index cards and connect them by yarn pinned on the wall. (One of my favourite diagramming techniques). If you play in a place that provides this, the relationship map on the wall will be a constant reminder of the game during the game session and will make relationships (and their manipulations) obvious. The ritual of adding more yarn to the wall is a tangible and real reward (or punishment) that is easily linked to feelings of real satisfaction.

In terms of linking to diplomacy checks, I would first use an alternate diplomacy system. To produce the least impact on the game, I'd borrow The Giant's alternate diplomacy rules and assign modifiers based on the graph. The count of blue to red indicates a point on intimate/nemesis and maps directly to that bonus. Risk v. reward is a case by case, with the want/need of a specific relationship providing a bonus if invoked.

This method, especially if constructed in a persistent index card/yarn mode, provides a visceral and tangible graph of relationships in the game that acts as a focal point and means of tangible reward for characters, while keeping things simple and easily searchable. A digital version of this map can be trivially made with graphviz. Beyond graphviz, I'd recommend yEd or an online flowchart tool of your choice. If you're willing to do a bit more work, the graphviz extension for mediawiki should produce excellent results. If you want a prettier layout, I recommend Illustrator or equivalent vector graphics program.

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