Investing In: Social Encounters

You’re cordially invited to a festive gala! There will amazing decorations and important people so dress to impress! Delicious food and tasty drinks will be served, as will wry grins, curious smirks, and narrow-eyed glares. Expect whispered conversations, fake smiles, shadowy deals, as well as awkward approaches by your enemies. Newfound allies and long distant enemies are sure to keep you on your feet! Also it’s a party, so maybe try to have some fun! The social encounter of the season is sure to be a blast!

Conflict and Drama

I find social encounters to be one of the most valuable parts of a roleplaying game. Help your players flex their RP muscles while creating tension and drama. Allow them to talk to NPCs they love and love to hate! You can push a few plot points, seed a few others, and even showcase serious conflict without violent combat.

Pathfinder 2E provides some base rules for social encounters here. Consider some of the examples they note like proving someone’s innocence in front of a judge (note the banner of this article!) or besting a rival bard in a battle of wits. These can be framed with a series of skill challenges with DCs varying by effectiveness. I think it’s helpful to consider Influence rules then, perhaps you’re swaying a group (like a jury) instead of an individual. You might also consider it part of an Exploration activity as the team seeks information or resources. One of my favorite parts of the old game Chrono Trigger was the court case you had to face and your actions earlier at the Millenial Fair impacted how it went!

Because I’m also running a New World of Darkness 2.0 Mage game, I also consider social encounters there. NWoD has a social maneuvering system using Doors. You as the Storyteller in this case decide how many doors you have to open to get to what you want, convince the individual, etc. The more they like you already, the less they likely want or the less time it might take. Play upon their vices (as it’s a mature horror game) and you can make things even easier. Use gift, use bribes, make a good impression… It is a series of social situations and challenges.

In either system, the rules make it about some give and take around skill rolls. What I love about social encounters however is the roleplaying intensiveness of them. Reward witty repartee when the player makes a clever joke, say mocking a Tzmisce’s taste in flesh-crafted furniture or when they find a useful line of conversation talking to those involved in the scene. I created one such scene while my players’ characters were in Thrushmoor for the Strange Aeons path. They’d heard of the ward watching the estate while the so-called Count was away. Many in town seemed to respect her. After a rough attempt to break in and through the guard of the estate’s gate house, the ward came to confront the heroes at the local Inn. What followed was a series of skill challenges but ultimately a tremendous bit of roleplaying that had them questioning the ward’s motives, her intentions, while also putting themselves in a bit of bad light when threatening the ward with magic. It set a marvelous tone for the rest of the adventure and gave the heroes extra reason to want to go after the ward and investigate the estate.

Enrich Your Game

I know some people are just into the game for fun combat, cool abilities, and kicking down the door. I do appreciate all that, but what I love is the roleplaying, the acting, the way a game comes to life. The investment in the characters and their stories is what drives me a GM and Storyteller. When my players are excited, I’m excited. I feel the same way when playing a game; I want to help draw details out of other characters or provide surprising things/situations for them to react to as my character seeks to better understand or learn of them. One has only to look at games like Critical Role and other actual plays to see how that investment can really drive the players. I feel it every time with Ateran over at Roll for Combat or here with Ev on Valiant. 

In a recent Mage session, the characters attended a charity gala much like I described in the opening paragraph. That Tzmisce I mentioned? She’s posing as a kind plastic surgeon, but she’s nothing of the like. She had a rather gruesome home under Fort Adams in Newport that the mages cleared, and they were disgusted by all they found. They weren’t invited to the gala, but another vampire they’ve assisted and have found allyship with invited them. Yes, I should mention I like to cross-venue all my World of Darkness games. It’s a wide world and world-building with all its rich characters, people, lands will always be important to me. I used the gala to bring us back into a few plot elements after months without a session. Personal relationships (including a ghoul a mage is dating), professional relationships (that vampire they helped flee Boston with his family), enemies old (the Tzmisce) and possibly new (a clever Physicist and Seer of the Throne), as well as leads for information all were seeded. Beyond that, the session ended with the characters reflecting on all they learned and what opportunities meant for the individual as well as for the group. I am a truly lucky man to have such friends and players!

Considering the implications of a strange conversation with an enemy always gets players riled up. One player had that with the Tzmisce, calling back to a central mystery that started our game over a year ago. Turning a conversation with possible enemies into one of friendship or alliance is grand too. The other vampire I mentioned above (a Lasombra) is one example, but also in our latest Pathfinder game for my Expedition Coalition group. They stumbled upon what might be the last two of a group sent on a mission to explore the area of the southern Lurkwood. The two gentlemen were out of time, actually literally considering they’re from the last land of Edasseril that was recently returned to the present. Discover and learn, or so they claimed, they’d come to the Mare’s Wood under some edict but many of their camp were gone, missing, or attempting to attack them as Yellow Musk Thralls and Brutes!

Some tense conversation quickly turned to sharing a meal, sharing a camp, and then encouraging the two on their way.  Meeting people from another kingdom can often be a challenge but it can be an opportunity! The heroes never spoke of the strange reports they’d heard of while in Riddleport that had drawn them north and if the Edasseril’s knew of it, they didn’t say. Instead one in particular seemed so arrogant I thought the Oracle PC was doing to peck his eyes out. The Oracle being a Tengu that is. I was richly reward to see what they tried to learn, how they managed the worried travelers, and what advice they might offer. It shows what sort of people the adventurers are and where their heads are at after fighting their way through the woods. For any others, it might have been easy to attack but the forthright approach they chose, a few good diplomacy checks, and some good exchange of information on the present day parts of the world certainly endeared the Edasserilian sorcerer and pleased the warrior well enough.

I think that’s also a value of setting up a social encounter; it can become a combat encounter but that depends how you frame it. The first situation I described was clearly a party with mixed attendees both mortal and supernatural. The second however had the group in the woods, nearing the mountainside, fighting zombie-like creatures and then spotting some smoke. They’d already learned the creatures were vulnerable to fire so they hoped for someone to be camping and not actually more zombies. The right clued details can give your characters reason enough to try a social, diplomatic approach!

No matter what game you’re playing I highly suggest you invest in social encounters, whether they’re a skillful challenge, a roleplaying opportunity for drama, or just a set up for an epic battle!

Investing In:

I wasn’t quite sure what to name my article series when I first started but the idea of showcasing or discussing things that make me excited, that I find new and interesting, or maybe I’m otherwise passionate about seemed to fit with the idea of Investing In something like the Pathfinder 2E mechanic. To use some magic items you have to give that little bit of yourself, which helps make these things even better. I like the metaphor of the community growing and being strengthened in the same way!

I also want to hear what you’re Investing In! Leave me a comment below about what games, modules, systems, products, people, live streams, etc you enjoy! You can also hit me up on social media as silentinfinity. I want to hear what excites you and what you’re passionate about. There’s so much wonderful content, people, groups (I could go on) in this community of ours that the more we invest in and share, the better it becomes!


Banner – From Influence chapter, Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide, Paizo

  1. Guardia’s Trial, Chrono Trigger, Creative Commons Attribution, Square Enix
  2. From Deep Backgrounds chapter, Pathfinder Gamemastery Guide, Paizo
  3. Elven Kingdom, Creative Commons Attribution, Kanulover

Rob Pontious

You may know Rob Pontious from Order of the Amber Die or Gehenna Gaming's first series of Monster Hearts 2. He currently writes Know Direction's Investing In blog as well as a player for the Valiant podcast and Roll for Combat's Three Ring Adventure. He's been a lover of TTRPGs for over three decades, as a gamer, and a GAYMER. You can find him on social media as @silentinfinity.