Preview Social Interactions in the Genesys Roleplaying System
Social interaction forms the backbone of world-building in roleplaying games, but it can be diificult to navigate. Rather than simply rolling dice to swing a sword or scale a wall, social encounters force players to stop, think, and engage with the world the Game Master is creating. While this can be a challenging task for players and the Game Master alike, the Genesys approach to social interaction gives players the tools to make it easier, while maintaining a free-form system that fits perfectly in any world or setting.
A New Narrative
Sam Stewart: Hi everyone! This week, I’d like to talk a bit about social encounters in Genesys.
Traditionally, most roleplaying games tend to put a lot of focus on combat encounters. There’s a reason for this: combat encounters are easy to define in a roleplaying game. They start when the shooting or stabbing does, and they end when your characters have taken out the last opponent (or your enemies have taken out the player characters). These encounters also tend to be more mechanically defined, so they need more rules to govern how they work.
In Genesys, we have rules for structured gameplay (structured gameplay is any point in your game where you need to determine what the characters can accomplish in a limited amount of time, such as combat). However, we also have rules for narrative gameplay, which is how you play the majority of an RPG.
In narrative gameplay, you simply narrate what your character wants to do at any particular point. Your GM may decide that the task is complicated enough that your character needs to make a check to accomplish it. However, the only other limits on your characters’ activities are those set by common sense and the setting.
The one element shared between narrative and structured gameplay is encounters. Just like scenes in a movie, encounters serve as useful organizational blocks. The breaks between encounters offer a pause in the action; a chance for players to regroup and for the GM to prepare the next scene. This applies whether your party was just shooting up a bar on an alien planet or convincing the local Baroness to grant you permission to delve into the haunted tomb of her ancestors.
Social encounters usually take place during narrative gameplay. Although this means there are less rules that govern their structure, we still provide a number of guidelines to make them dynamic and interesting.
Just because social encounters are largely narrative in nature doesn’t mean they have to be chaotic. One of the first things we talk about is how to organize and define a social encounter. This includes figuring out the start and end of the encounter, determining the goals of the characters involved, and laying out how often characters can use their talents and special abilities.
We even explain how you can add rounds and turns back into your social encounters, in case the situation calls for a bit more structure. This can be especially helpful if you have a large group of characters who all want to do different things at once.
Finally, we discuss how your group is going to succeed at these social encounters. Whereas winning a combat encounter is generally pretty easy (defeat your enemies!), “winning” in social encounters can be more nebulous. So we cover a variety of options. Some, like making an offer that your opponents have no reason to reject, can be resolved without any checks at all. Others can take on a more mechanical focus, allowing characters to use their talents and abilities. Strain and strain thresholds play a key role here. Inflicting enough strain to surpass a target’s strain threshold can represent gently persuading an opponent to support a political initiative just as easily as it can represent yelling at someone to drop their gun and surrender.
The great thing is that most GMs can internalize these rules and guidelines into their story, letting the players participate in a free-flowing narrative. Introducing rounds and turns, for example, be as organic as the GM going around the table. “All right, Sarah, what does your character do in the next ten minutes? And Alex, how about yours?”
Structural guidelines for social encounters are useful, but Motivations are where social encounters come to life. Last time, we discussed how characters have multiple Motivations: flaws, fears, strengths, and desires. In social encounters, knowing your opponent’s Motivations and playing on them gives your character an advantage. Likewise, playing against someone’s Motivations (even unknowingly) can make your task harder.
This also plays into using the Advantage and Threat generated by your checks. We provide a list of suggested ways to use Advantage, Threat, Triumph, and Despair in social encounters, and discovering your opponent’s Motivations is high on that list. That way, even if a social skill check fails, your character may learn some crucial point in the conversation that makes the next skill check easier.
Let’s say you’re negotiating with a wealthy noble who wants to hire your group to search for a lost city in the Antarctic. Your character learns that the noble’s flaw is timidness, so your character talks about how dangerous the trip is going to be without your group. Now your group is getting an advantage on their checks to negotiate the hiring fee.
Of course, if you roll some Threat or Despair, your character may reveal something important about themselves by accident, and your opponent can take advantage of that slip. If your character’s strength is curiosity, for example, the noble may go on at length about the wonders the lost city holds, and what mysteries are out there to discover. Now the noble is getting an advantage on his own checks to negotiate the fee down.
Things get really interesting with Despair and Triumph added into the mix. For example, if your character rolls a Despair, you may learn a false Motivation about the target that your character thinks is true. Perhaps the noble’s flaw isn’t actually timidness, it’s greed. Now negotiating directly over the price works against his tight-fisted nature, and you suffer a disadvantage on your checks instead.
Not every non-player character has Motivations. Minions, of course, never do. Minions are the extras in a movie, and if they have Motivations, they probably shouldn’t be minions. We also recommend GMs only give minor characters strengths and flaws (not desires and fears). Only major characters such as nemeses and important rivals should have all four Motivation facets.
So those are some of the basics of social encounters! We hope these tools make it as fun to force a commander to surrender their fortress as it would be to storm the ramparts in the first place.
A Little Motivation
No matter what setting you choose, social interactions form the backbone of your characters' story and allow you to truly roleplay. These rules laid out in the Genesys Core Rulebook makes it easy for the Game Master to run these scenarios while throwing in plenty of twists for their players.
Create your own world and pre-order the Genesys Roleplaying System Core Rulebook (GNS01) from your local retailer or from our website here!