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Game Master Tips With Matt Mercer – Social & Non-combat Encounters

Not all battles are fought with weapons. Duels of wits, battles of wills, and blood-pumping bartering matches are all hallmarks of excellent roleplaying games. Dungeons and Dragons says that there are three pillars of the game: combat, interaction, and exploration. Here are some tips to make your social interactions just as exciting as combat!

  1. What’s the “battlefield” of this encounter? Look to TV shows and movies filled with intrigue and politics for ideas. Social encounters can take place at locations like:
    1. Fancy balls
    2. Council meetings
    3. Diplomatic missions
    4. Interrogations
    5. Stake-outs and sleuthing
    6. Hot dog stands…if hot dog stands exist in your world
  2. You must know the goal of the encounter. In combat, the goal is usually “kill the enemy and not die,” but social encounters often have more complex goals. Be clear with the players and ask your players to be clear with you, to avoid confusion.
  3. You’ll have an easier time if you know your NPCs goals and motivations beforehand. Detailed NPCs with Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws are easier to roleplay than improvised ones.
  4. Make a list of vital information these NPCs know. This information can be secrets the PCs need to acquire, or bombshells the NPC can drop to turn the encounter in their favor.
  5. Diplomacy often requires making alliances. What factions are involved in this encounter? Which ones want the PCs help? Which ones do the PCs want help from? And which ones want to see the PCs eat dirt?
  6. It’s easy for social encounters to lose tension. Think of ways to raise the stakes! How can this encounter affect the world at large?
  7. If you have no other way to raise the stakes, most social encounters can become combat encounters if negotiations fail!

Of course these are just the basic tips written out in a handy list format. If you need more detail, check out the video above with Critical Role’s illustrious DM, Matt Mercer. We’ll have more Game Master Tips every Friday, so stay tuned!!

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