To Test or Not to Test

So I’m curious about when it’s appropriate to have an NPC test and when it’s not. I’m specifically thinking in terms of social interaction. The example in my head right now has to do with the game I’m currently running. I’ve got a holy knight type PC in the group, and I’d like to bait some of his beliefs and instincts by having a corrupt priest, of his faith, try to lead him astray. Should the NPC test Suasion and/or falsehood, or should I just make it a role playing encounter, in which the PC can choose how to react? Maybe I should have the NPC role just give the PC something to measure his response by?

I use the following flow chart to guide me to what sort of tests are necessary.

You take your NPC along this chart and the PC will have three opportunities to express his character. In the walking away. In thinking of his own wants for the NPC. And in the choice of escaltion to violence.

With this in mind you can play hard. Challenge the belief’s with the NPC. Either it’ll be a versus test (maybe a DoW if it’s hot with beliefs and you are using it in your game) or a standard test with Ob=PC’s Will if the player has no stake of their own.

Even if it’s a standard test the player still made the choice not to leave and the choice not to ask for anything. Immediate violence is still cool if the player is really not on board. Some players are not bought into social mechanics working on PCs but I explain these three instances of choices whenever facing this attitude.

I think you should roleplay with him until you find something that strikes a nerve, something that you have that he wants. Then you should challenge him to a Duel of Wits.

I never have NPCs roll outside of conflict mechanics. Fight, Range and Cover, DoW, Bloody Versus, and a few skill tests that really do need to be versus tests. Simple social interaction isn’t any of these.

I find it very boring to tell a player, “This guy rolled well. Your character believes him.” It drives me up the wall as a player to lose agency like that. I’d much rather be told what the guy says, maybe that he seems convincing/shifty/nervous, and asked what I want to do. In BW I think it works quite well to sometimes state outright that you can tell that the guy is lying or that you’re pretty sure he’s honest. Character decisions are always, always more interesting than forcing characters along.

Wait, you never make a social versus roll?

That’s conflict mechanics, and I said there are “a few” tests that need to be versus tests. If the NPC is fully burned I’m more inclined. Haggling is always versus—I just think it feels better that way. Other tests I mostly prefer setting the Ob. That’s effectively what setting an NPCs skill is, but having a counter-roll just adds more randomness. And only one roll emphasizes that it’s not about how good the opposition is, it’s all about whether your character measured up to the challenge.

If a PC and an NPC are socially engaged, I don’t think I ever roll outside of DoW (and Haggling, for whatever reason). If a PC and an NPC are arguing/orating for the benefit of someone else or a crowd, I’ll sometimes do versus, but still usually not. Rolling is reserved for the most important characters, i.e. the PCs and the greatest relationships and villains.

This is true for fights as well, by the way. I use simple tests much more than Bloody Versus.

You might want to get ahold of Dogs in the Vineyard. Not only is it a killer look into gaming, but it outlines some interesting ideas as far as holy characters go.

Based on that, here’s a thought: conspire against the PC. That priest doesn’t mean anything without something to back them up. So show the PC something about the world that seems to defy their faith. Then bring in the corrupt priest as a “savior”, a reassurance to the PC that all is well. If you play it out, you might manage to get the knight tangled up to the point where he has to use Suasion on someone else to justify their actions in light of the corrupted beliefs. The point is, don’t just challenge the Belief with an NPC; challenge it with a situation. The priest is nothing but reinforcement, and not the main player here.