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Fast-Talk skills

I sometimes write about alternatives to skills like “persuasion”, “fast-talk”, “investigation” etc. Skills that replace the parts about roleplaying games that I think are fun with a die roll.

Now hopefully even if you disagree with the exact selection of which skills I personally prefer our table roleplay out you might find some value in those alternative rules for your own design.

There are groups out there that like to run fights with boffer weapons or miniatures on a map instead of just rolling for it. Every table is different and I’m not saying my way is the be-all, end-all.

All good? OK, awesome.♥︎

That said, some people take umbrage to the idea that I wanna run our table this way. They don’t want any group to use social roleplaying instead of skill checks. If that’s not you, that’s great, thank you. Post over. If that is you, here’s where I defend myself:

The four models

I’ve read a bunch of traditional task/action-granularity resolution roleplaying games and I’ve seen basically four models more or less (a li’l bit of overlap).

  1. Just roll the skill, roleplaying is optional for flavor but has no bearing
  2. You must succeed both at roleplaying (“have leverage” or w/e) & at the roll
  3. Roleplaying gives you advantage or a bonus on the roll, or helps set the DC
  4. Either roleplaying or roll, each individual player’s choice.

And of course the fifth option, my fave “Only roleplaying necessary, there’s no skill roll for this”.

Skill only

I think this is a not dysfunctional way to play. It’s OK. I make fun of it but I assume those games do have some areas where there is actual player agency & input.

It’s just not my favorite style.

Roll & Talk

This is a li’l iffy mathematically since it makes the character only able to succeed at a subset of what a real person could succeed at. If the players are really good & experienced & jaded, this can be a fun challenge for them.

Talking gives you advantage

This seems to become more and more the standard. It’s in some ways the best of both worlds but it also has the limits of all worlds. It punishes those who are shy and don’t wanna talk almost as much as my pet “all roleplaying” model does.

Either is fine

That is really problematic because it makes one player have to spend skill taxes on something that the other can get “for free” by just using their real-life gift of gab, and what makes it worse is the shame that the person “choosing to roll” might get to feel compared to the one who “doesn’t have to roll since the GM thinks it’s so good”.

In addition, while the following isn’t necessarily true, it’s usually the case that these setups don’t have a good framework for adjudicating the non-roll version fairly. There’s usually no leverage model, no dramasystem model, just “wow the DM got impressed you don’t have to roll” which kinda salts the wounds a bit.

The shy player

There’s a stereotypical “shy player” that gets trotted out whenever this topic comes up. “Shy Ronnie in my group is so awkward but thanks to Skill Checks he can pretend that he’s a smooth-talking face bard”. Ouch, so patronizing.

And yet, I’ve been there. I’ve been the girl who wanted to be the charismatic character back when I was super awkward and couldn’t talk my way out of a paper bag in real life. I played one campaign like that and it was fun at first but quickly grew super hollow.

Roleplaying it out was scary AF at first but it turned out to be really fun and it has also helped me in real life. Being able to pretend, in a game, is a good semi-safe/semi-unsafe way to play around with this kinda stuff compared to situations with strangers and real stakes.


Here’s what the DM should be doing in her head & behind her screens in a diceless conversation.

  1. Find out who’s asking whom for what. Are the two parties asking something of each other or are the PCs just asking the NPCs for something or vice versa? Get razor clear about this in your head.

  2. No request? Or something that the NPC should just give right away and have no reason to withhold? No reason to dwell on this convo and it’s completely fine to just wrap it up quickly “Sure, here’s the map, godspeed!” or just talk a li’l bit in character for fun flavor. These convos aren’t where the diamond-sharp drama is gonna be in your games so don’t waste your time & energy on them.

  3. A request! A request that I don’t wanna give! Be clear in your head why they don’t wanna give it (or what they want from the PCs and why). Don’t lose sight of this target. Roleplay the convo, listening for A. changes in tactics or approaches, and B. Repetition. If a tactic isn’t working, but the other side changes tactics, that might work. Or, B, if a side is just repeating itself, the conversation is over (for all intents and purps), the request was denied, the petition was not granted.

Knowing this is the key, rolling up NPCs that are clear as crystal why they don’t wanna help or why they can’t give what the PCs want or why they need what the PCs don’t wanna give is gonna be a pretty important driver in having these meaningful in character convos.

Like “Alice don’t wanna talk about Carol or what happened to Carol. She is afraid people will think she’s lying” or “Bob doesn’t know where the minotaur lair is but is hoping to get money from the PCs; if he could only drive up the price a li’l more.”

It sounds like this is not gonna be enough and the fact that it is is almost magic.

Be clear about who’s the asker in the convo and what they want and why they can’t have it, and that’s it. Be absolutely hard-edged sure about knowing those three things, and then listen for “tactics” (yay!) and “repetition”. You don’t need to know beforehand:

Just know if there is any reason why she doesn’t just give it right away. If there isn’t, then just give it right away. If there is, then that’s enough of a fuel for this fire.

Tactics: things like being kind, being mean, appealing to common interests, appealing to the law, to honor among thieves, threats, bargaining, bribes, I dunno. I don’t codify ‘em. There’s just an endless variety, it seems like, that my players cook up.

Having some sorta reward (like inspiration or whatever) for the side that gives in can also be a good way to make this work a li’l smoother. But it’s not always necessary. Plenty of groups that don’t need anything like that.