D&D Conversation mini-game

So, I've been running a 5E campaign for about two months now. All six players were strangers to me and to each other when we started. I advertised on meetup.com, specifically looking for people who wanted to learn to play D&D, since I had seen some posts on the the local D&D meetups from people looking to learn.

It's been going well overall. However, one thing that has still been awkward has been the characters just naturally conversing with each other in an organic and, well, "human" way.

This morning, I dreamed up a way to structure the conversation in a way that would be helpful. Tonight, we playtested it, and it worked great! Not perfectly, but the conversations and scenes flowed really nicely. The suggested topics often got ignored quickly, but that was fine, as my players quickly glommed on to the fact that the real goal was to reveal new information about the characters' personalities, thoughts, or pasts.

Check out what I am sarcastically calling The D&D Conversation Mini-Game.

Comments

  • Anything to get away from aimless tavern tea time!

    Glad to hear about your successful playtest, I want to hear more as you test this more!
    Although this might be too organic and human for me (i.e. aimless).

    But my big problem lately has been to get the primitive screwheads to recognize when A Conversation Formally Starts™. They just so naturally talk to each other all the time that they never really Start A Real Petition against each other anymore. (Again, with the exception of last session which was strange in a way I'm only just now starting to sort out.)

    I'm gonna go have a stern talking to them and maybe workshop it a bit. (I don't want much… just for them to grab an insp token so it's clear to everyone what's going on.)
  • Thanks again, Matt. Your system seems to have (so far) given you better results than mine has given me.
  • May I link to this under "GM Resources" on Fictioneers?
  • This is very cool, Matt.

    I really like how much clarity this provides for D&D, character development, and how that interacts with TIBFs and Inspiration. It's quite insightful, and really lays bare what you see as the purpose of these mechanics. It's a great "D&D for Dummies" tool. I'm very curious to hear more about where this goes!

    Some questions:

    How and when does this game start? Does someone announce for it to begin?

    (I suppose it might be quite natural to simply link it in some way to the rest mechanics - e.g. "we do this every time we take a long rest".)

    What do you think would happen if someone used this in their D&D game... but the GM wasn't doing anything to include/reflect/consider the TIBFs in their prep?

  • Sandra,

    I'd really like to hear more about how your conversation dynamics have shifted in your game. Are you saying that the petition stuff *used to* work great, but now, without changing those rules, people are engaging with them much less? Does that mean that they're getting what they wanted without engaging the rules, getting something completely different out of it, or just slipping in their efforts to engage with those rules (i.e. out of laziness)? Something else?

    How has this developed over time?
  • How and when does this game start? Does someone announce for it to begin?

    (I suppose it might be quite natural to simply link it in some way to the rest mechanics - e.g. “we do this every time we take a long rest”.)
    Yes! That’s a much clearer way to phrase the question I was having.
    Sandra,

    I’d really like to hear more about how your conversation dynamics have shifted in your game. Are you saying that the petition stuff used to work great, but now, without changing those rules, people are engaging with them much less? Does that mean that they’re getting what they wanted without engaging the rules, getting something completely different out of it, or just slipping in their efforts to engage with those rules (i.e. out of laziness)? Something else?

    How has this developed over time?
    Matt, lmk if this is a thread jack and I’ll move it to another thread.

    Hillfolk has three components:
    1. The very specific & very charged setup of characters
    2. The econ
    3. The taking turns calling scenes
    Worked amazing for our last campaign.

    For our new campaign (I mean, it started over a year ago, 416 days ago) we wanted it to be a little more dungeon crawly and a little less talky so we removed 1 and 3.

    Which. Was stupid. Turns out the econ the least good part of Hillfolk. We’ve been having the econ rules on the table dangling as this never-used appendix.

    We also have two new players, I mean they’ve played with us for a year now but since they joined with this campaign, they were not familiar with Hillfolk style play.

    So since our last TPK we’ve committed to doing 1, the character setup. We put a pin on it because we wanted to get going for our guest player♥ but we’re gonna really dig into it tomorrow. We threw the econ out and are hoping that the “magic part” was the relationships.

    We’re also ready to add in some structure around conversations around rest times. Still haven’t committed to that yet, it’s just an option we’re considering.

  • edited June 14
    Does that mean that they're getting what they wanted without engaging the rules, getting something completely different out of it, or just slipping in their efforts to engage with those rules (i.e. out of laziness)?
    A little bit of the first due to good habits formed by a lot of playing Hillfolk, but a lot of the latter. Lazy & aimless play. Our new players also have had a hard time finding the groove. Uh, I'm afraid they're gonna find this thread and read this and see that as a judgment on them and their play. That's not the intent; this is on me. Love you, Alice & Bob!
  • Thanks, Sandra! Some great insights there. Very interesting to hear about all this!
  • May I link to this under "GM Resources" on Fictioneers?
    Sure!

  • Although this might be too organic and human for me (i.e. aimless
    You know, I was worried about that, too, and the "when does the scene end" part needs to be tightened up, for sure. However, I tend to over-design rules sets, so I decided to correct for that, and go with a minimalist approach, and it actually worked fine. The rules gave the players just enough of a sense of what to do to start the conversation, and then the fact that they actually are human beings IRL took over.

    In other words, while the "landing" could still be smoother, it was the "taking off" that was actually causing problems before.
  • How and when does this game start? Does someone announce for it to begin?

    (I suppose it might be quite natural to simply link it in some way to the rest mechanics - e.g. "we do this every time we take a long rest".)

    What do you think would happen if someone used this in their D&D game... but the GM wasn't doing anything to include/reflect/consider the TIBFs in their prep?

    Last night we used it after each conflict scene. Basic alternation. Not every conflict was a combat: one was dealing with a thunderstorm while sailing down a river. We won't necessarily stick to that as strictly in the next phase, which is going to be urban intrigue stuff in Waterdeep. They were quick scenes, too, these conversations, which is great.

    Well, I think even if the GM wasn't prepping to the Characteristics it would be fine, because they're still present on the sheet, right? But if you're not awarding Inspiration regularly, which is sadly common, then implementing this mini-game would be disruptive, because suddenly it becomes the only way to earn Inspiration, which is not the intent. People still got Insp in my game last night in other scenes, to be sure.
  • What I was wondering about with the Characteristics and GM prep is what play might look like if they’re totally divorced. (Although your “review Characteristics that didn’t get hit and rewrite them” might correct it.)

    If the game is all about fighting Orcs, say, but the interstitial scenes are all the PCs talking about how much they hate the (human) Empire, or how badly they want to find the Arc of the Covenant, for example, does the game start to feel like two separate, unrelated games are going on?

    I hope that makes sense. I could explain in more detail, but I think you’ll get my drift.
  • I get your drift. The longest 5E game I played in, the Tomb of Annihilation run at a game store, was sometimes like that. There was interpersonal drama going on among a few of the PCs and actually an NPC played by the GM until she died horribly to a trap. That drama—a love triangle, basically—played out during those sorts of interstitial scenes when we were resting or whatever.

    It had nothing to do with the adventure! But it was fine because the GM was emotionally invested in it himself. It bored some of the players, sometimes including me! But I think a drama like that, that is essentially separate from "THA PLOTTT," can actually work well if everyone is invested in it, whether actively or passively.

    In my mini-game, the list of topics I chose I think helped steer the conversation in game-relevant directions. In fact, in the first conversation scene the PCs essentially over-rode the rolled topic—long-term plans—to talk about a more immediate threat, which was great.

    And yes, the "if the scene ends up with us knowing more about the characters, but those important things weren't tied to your Characteristic, then change your fucking Bond to something fucking relevant, Bob" rule is designed to improve the game's feedback loops if they're not currently working. That's something that would function well, I think, even if the GM wasn't paying much attention to the Characteristics.

    Again, though, the real risk is what happens if the mini-game becomes the only way to gain Inspiration, since it's the only time we pay attention to "who the characters are." As long as they have some chances, even if somewhat more rare ones, to display their true nature in other types of scenes, I think injecting some Inspiration tokens into the economy is fine.
  • Very nice mini-game! I think I'd enjoy playing with something like this.

    An interesting feature is that you have to target a specific (randomly selected) TIBF, like a random encounter table for your own character.

    I wonder what would happen if you applied that principle to the conflict scenes directly. Like, we're about to fight some orcs--but first two of the players (one player? all players?) roll on their traits, and have to try to work the selected ones into the combat scene. Then after the combat, we evaluate if they succeeded and award inspiration.
  • I'm thinking of it because of Keith Johnstone's game where you have to act out a murder scene, except you're given some completely different motivation to act like "Clean the house", so you do the murder almost as a side thought while focusing on making sure it doesn't make any mess on the floor.
  • Nice! IIRC we tried something like that in our second aQ/HF campaign but I want to experiment more with that.
  • Thanks, Vivificient, for the compliment and the suggestion. I do think it would be nice to work character portrayal and Insp-earning into combat scenes more. I've found that to be something that simply requires a higher degree of player skill and confidence than the current group I'm running has. I've seen some players do it pretty regularly. It doesn't even necessarily always fall under the rubric of "flashlight dropping," either: it can be something that's a reasonable tactical decision but clearly different than what the character would have done otherwise.

    I remember in the opening battle of "Night's Dark Terror," when the PCs' riverboat is ambushed from the shore, my friend Sam had his ranger dive into the river and try to swim to shore to fight the enemy as a result of a Trait. It wasn't the *worst* move ever, but it was definitely ballsy and Insp-worthy.
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