[OSR] Reaction roll: what's your favorite flavor of it?

Again I'm considering bringing a dungeon crawl to a role-playing convention - that's quite the exceptional thing in my gaming routine, you see, but I do entertain the thought from time to time. What better excuse, then, to once more start cobbling together a set of piecemeal rules for it?
This time, I'm pretty much sure I've got combat figured out - based on Tunnels & Trolls, mostly, and with simple morale rules thrown in. But I'm hungry for some reaction rolls, too.

Am I even calling the thing its proper name? I mean, rolling before an encounter begins, or right at the start of it, to establish how hostile or non-hostile the encountered NPCs (monsters) are. Do you even use a rule like that?
Of the various iterations of it in different editions of D&D, D&D-clones and other relevant games, which one do you use? Which one's your favorite, and why? Are they all the same? Any oft-overlooked subtleties I ought to be aware of?


  • My fave is on Silent Legions, page 128.

    Entries like "They want peace, and the PCs seem to be able to enforce it" or "They want money, because they desperately want a thing".
  • I tend to rely on GM automatic writing to determine the hostility thing. Doing this well relies on the GM actually having some idea of why the monsters are in the dungeon - their motivations rather than attitude - so I will fall back on the basic d6 dice roll scheme ("1/3 that they're here to hunt humans" or whatever) to establish an initial motivation if I need to. Usually the initial reaction is obvious once I know the motivation.

    I don't have anything against the reaction roll, and find it an elegant and interesting mechanism, but it does force you to do counter-intuitive backwards deduction: instead of figuring out or randomizing the monster motivation and then concluding the reaction from that, the reaction roll wants you to first determine the attitude and then deduce what kind of motivation could conceivably lead to that attitude. It's elegant as a procedure, but a bit bizarre as well.

    The reaction roll is also favourable in a scheme that does not include significant Charisma or Diplomacy checking. Because I do a lot of those, the motivation-based judgement tends to carry me far enough into the encounter to allow fortune to play its role. If I didn't use Cha checks, I would probably start using reaction rolls specifically to add randomness: going only by monster motivation without social checks would mean that every group of monsters with the same motivation would always react the same way, which isn't desirable.

    I seem to remember that there was a thread about this within the last 12 months here. Some good points there, if memory serves.
  • This might be the one I'm remembering. At least there's a rambling treatise mid-way into it under my name, which probably means that I found it pertinent enough at the time.
  • My fave is on Silent Legions, page 128.
    What's Silent Legions, how do I get it, and should I get it just for this one page?

    I guess it's your fave because the entries are very in-depth and flavorful? Do you ever run into situations where the outcome you get is too much of a stretch for the encounter at hand?
  • Silent Legions on Drivethru.

    I made my own table from the entries on that page with stuff that are more generally useful
  • This might be the one I'm remembering. At least there's a rambling treatise mid-way into it under my name, which probably means that I found it pertinent enough at the time.
    Thanks! I don't know how I'd forgotten about that, but that's a very useful thread to me right now - as is your comment on this.
    I made my own table from the entries on that page with stuff that are more generally useful
    This I'd like to see! But I guess it's in Swedish, right? I can't read Swedish. Bummer. :(
  • It's in English but it's just my fave entries snarfed directly from the book, nothing I wrote myself
  • In a party with multiple approaches to problem-solving, where one of them is social, and social problem-solving requires rolls... and in a game where the encountering of danger/opposition is randomized... then I quite like the Reaction Roll as a way to vary up "how hard it'll be to solve this problem socially."

    I've never really liked reaction rolls otherwise. I like my encountered creatures to have some sort of existence in the world beyond just being fodder for my spear, and once you have that, then you probably know how they'll react to the PCs, at least roughly. (Basically, what Eero said re: motivations.)

    Dynamic interaction generation tables ("They want peace, and the PCs seem to be able to enforce it") sound fun! I hadn't heard those referred to as reaction rolls before. They fill a different mental niche for me. That's something I've only ever used in prep, never "on the spot" when encountering people/creatures.
  • edited July 2018
    Some more context...

    I don't like to prepare. The less I have to prep, the better. For this particular game, my game-specific "prep" is to re-read a 1-page dungeon or three, noting a single number next to monsters (I'm using 1-stat NPCs) and perhaps treasure values in pencil while reading.

    (Besides assembling a ruleset from scratch, I mean - that's my own strand of lonely fun.)

    As a GM, I like to disclaim responsibility. If there's tiniest speck of a chance that a creature might parley or run rather than attack the PCs, I want to roll for it, not decide by GM fiat. Anything which might be construed as me ruling on a whim instead of just refereeing a simulation, I'd rather avoid.

    I'd especially like my reaction rolls to yield the relative chance of fight vs. flight for hostile encounters, as I can't leave that to a Morale test: my current rules for Morale are inseparable from hitpoints and actual fighting (individual NPCs aren't rated with a personal Morale score - that's entirely a function of how badly they're losing the battle).

    Oh, and I do have a "Charisma" stat in the ruleset I'm assembling, to be used as the baseline for the Morale tests of the PCs' NPC hirelings. I'm in favor of having it affect the outcome of parley, and I do have basic universal task-resolution rolls which might cover that - proactive saves - I don't believe that should affect whether you get a chance to parley at all.
    (I sort of want to leave it deliberately undefined whether you can play a specialized "face" PC. The way I'm setting it up is, you get to make up a background for your adventurer, and if you pick the non-combat-specialist class over the fighter class you get to pick a background that's actually useful WRT one or more non-combat adventuring tasks, granting you improved odds on related action rolls/saves. EDITED TO ADD: thus, a high-Charisma non-fighter PC with a background such as circuit judge, foreign trader, con artist or recruiter would be your typical "diplomacy specialist", though an animal handler would have the edge in dealing with some other encounters, and so on).
  • edited July 2018
    removed due to double-post
  • Sounds to me like you might do well with the traditional reaction roll table, really. One interesting way to combine that with Charisma checks is by using the reaction to establish the initial stage of parley, and then use Charisma checks to swing the situation either way until either the parley is broken off, somebody attacks, or amity is reached. I wrote about this in greater detail in that earlier thread, I think.

    The key to using the traditional reaction rolls is, I think, in interpreting them contextually: an "unfriendly" encounter alone does not tell you whether the encountered beings will fight or flee, it merely tells you that they're not liable to volunteer information or aid, and will need more time and data to determine whether they wish to trust or attack the party. The system doesn't work well if you assume that only the friendliest result is willing to talk, or that only the most hostile result is willing to fight; the entire range should be considered potential starting points in a social encounter that might end up flipping either way, depending on actions taken.
  • So, here's what I've made, working from remembered tradition and comments here (and in the previous thread).

    You might notice that:
    This table is for dungeon/wilderness encounters, not for interacting with shopkeepers in a foreign town. The other party’s motives are always suspicious, the potential for violence is constantly there.
    My house-rules use d6 pools for saves, action rolls and morale checks, but I’m using sum of 2d6 w/(dis-)adv here; I’m cool with that.
    I’m not using the standard D&D attributes, but I do have an attribute called Charisma.
    There’s a number called the “Threat level” which is basically dungeon level (as used in BECMI D&D or in T&T 1e-5e, I’m not sure about earlier/later editions) modified by light/darkness. It features prominently in my house-rules.

    Reaction roll
    Referee: when encountered NPCs first become aware of the PCs, roll 2d6 under a cup. For inherently hostile creatures, roll 3d6, keep lowest 2. For creatures who are expected to be on the PCs’ side, roll 3d6, keep highest 2.

    On a roll of… the creatures encountered are…

    12. ALLIED
    Want to ally with the PCs, or have mistaken them for allies. Why is this? What payoff do they expect? Will follow them around and follow their instructions, within reason. Charisma-based action rolls are required to order them around, with failure as per Charisma save (see below *).

    11. HELPFUL
    Volunteer to help: provide actually useful information, share provisions, offer minor gifts, work together toward an immediate short-end goal. Why? What do they want of the PCs? Take initiative trading, offer good deals. Wild beasts might befriend PCs and follow them around for a while, on own terms. If PCs return helpfulness with hostility, immediately drop two levels to Neutral, then have the offending PC roll a Charisma save (*).

    10. FRIENDLY
    Let off their guard. Take initiative in approaching the PCs, request their help (with what?). Trade normally if asked/invited to. Wild beasts stare at or sniff the PCs intently, expect food. If PCs return friendliness with hostility, immediately drop two levels to Cautious, then have the offending PC roll a Charisma save (*).

    9. NEUTRAL
    Allow PCs to approach, but do not let off guard. Do not approach first. Always allow PCs to retreat. Question them, make a single trade proposal or a conditional request – then watch for their reactions. Upon interaction, have the acting PC (or designated party spokesperson) make a Charisma save; adjust up or down accordingly (*).

    8.† CAUTIOUS
    Keep PCs at a distance, ready to fight or run. Interact with them as per Neutral, but at a distance, perhaps by shouting – apply results of Charisma save as above (*). Retreat slowly if they approach (if feasible); if they insist on approaching, drop one level to Wary and behave accordingly (don’t roll). Allow PCs to retreat without pursue.

    Do not read the PCs as a threat nor want anything out of them. Possibly consider them a mild nuisance. Avoid interaction with them. Keep (or resume) going own way/tending to own business. Retreat as they approach if convenient, otherwise ignore them. If PCs make themselves too hard to ignore, have main actor/offender or party spokesperson roll Charisma save, adjust reaction accordingly (*).

    6. WARY
    Do not approach; retreat if feasible and convenient. Issue warning/ultimatum at PCs or dictate conditions for interaction (ex: to drop down weapons, to send forward a single spokesperson): if PCs comply, improve to Cautious (no roll). On any other response, require Charisma save and adjust reaction accordingly (*). If incapable of speech, attempt to convey ultimatum by other means. Allow PCs to retreat, but follow them at a distance and spy on them if feasible.

    5. UPSET
    Read the PCs as probable threat. If undetected: hide from the PCs if possible, scout or spy on them. If detected and defending position, non-portable valuables, etc.: issue warning, prevent PCs from approaching. If not able to hide and not defending anything, retreat to safer area. Do not approach, engage or parley. If cornered, drop to Hostile (no roll). If approached cautiously, have spokesperson make Charisma save, adjust accordingly (*).

    4. HOSTILE
    View the PCs as a violent, aggressive threat. If outnumbering/overpowering them, attack first. If outnumbered/overpowered but defending a position, barricade. If outnumbered/overpowered in the open, retreat (leave area, fall back to more defensible position). If cornered, impeded retreat or position is stormed, fight. Initiating parley requires extraordinary initiative (typically as a combat stunt).

    View the PCs as prey. Exploit any opportunity to gain an edge over them, then attack. If undetected, set up an ambush. If PCs approach to parley, deceive them to lure them into a trap. If no options exist to gain an edge, seize initiative and charge into combat. Exception: if (not entirely mindless and) attacking is manifestly suicidal – such as the PCs overpowering them 3:1, say – harass and retreat or avoid entirely in order to (perhaps) attack later.

    2. AGGRESSIVE, +1 morale
    As above, but they also immediately get 1 die toward their next morale check. Per each level dropped below this one (due to a failed Charisma save or the like) they get an additional die, no cap.

    * Charisma saves during parley
    When instructed to make a Charisma save: on a success, improve the encountered party’s attitude by +1 level per successful die rolled. On a failure, drop their attitude by the current Threat Level.
    Under most circumstances, taking hostile action during parley has PCs make a Charisma save. In case this is successful – resulting in improved attitude – it means, they have effectively coerced the NPCs into submission by the swift application of threats or violence during a social interaction (i.e. they bullied them into working with them).
    Versus non-intelligent animals, replace Charisma with Fierceness: when instructed to roll Charisma, roll a Fierceness save instead, reading results exactly as above.

    † Cautious/Indifferent
    For the purpose of moving up or down the scale, treat Cautious & Indifferent as a single step, step 7-8. If you stop here going up, treat as 7, Indifferent. If you stop here going down, treat as 8, Cautious.

    Wild beasts want food, devils want souls, most humans will settle for coin. Presenting them with an appropriate bribe improves the encountered creatures’ attitude by 1 step. This only works once per interaction, unless escalating to significantly more valuable bribes.
    Unexpected, unsolicited bribes might have unexpected outcomes, however, such as offending NPCs or winning them over spectacularly: after adjusting attitude 1 step, immediately ask for a Charisma save (as above).
    Bribing “Aggressive” (3-) creatures doesn’t usually work – in fact, it just wets their appetite for more, giving them +1 die morale. Exceptions are possible (feigning death, convincing them there’s nothing more to take), but outside the scope of reaction rolls proper.
    When no parley is ongoing, presenting NPCs with a bribe is still possible, but challenging. It should require an action roll of itself, at least.

    At Threat level = 0
    Don’t roll at all. Begin all encounters with humans at Friendly, all encounters with beasts at Indifferent.
  • edited August 2018
    It sounds like many of the mechanical bones that you've chosen are similar to the similar (open table, old school sandbox) game I'm currently running--d6 based, etc.

    My Reaction Roll, though, is just 1d10, with 30% chance of hostile/aggressive, 60% chance of cautious/suspicious, and 10% of friendly/helpful. The face character has an ability to get +1 to this roll, which nicely skews the odds. It tends to yield a lot of "cautious" results, which then invite roleplaying that tilts one way or the other (usually pretty quickly, depending on the party's approach).

    I like the granular results you've written up--each is distinct and flavorful. I'd prefer an approach like this is I went with a more detailed RR system.
  • Great system, @Rafu.
Sign In or Register to comment.