My latest project, slowed down by summer vacation, has been to examine types of encounters and try to open up the interaction between me and the players with regards to the Reaction Roll, the setup of an encounter and the PC’s options, Parley is an option chosen rarely in D&D as far as I’ve found, and I think that’s regrettable.
One major concern for me is that the Reaction roll would somehow be rolled in secret and it would be for the players to determine if parley is an option. With most groups of players you end up with a situation where attacking instantly to have a chance to perhaps surprise your opponent, or at least not cede any tactical advantage, seems the most prudent choice.
My first step in this process was picking up the excellent On the Non-player Character by Courtney Campbell of Hack & Slash. It’s a very ambitious system for putting these sorts of interactions into a framework, and though I’ve wound up using only the basic bits of it myself I can’t recommend it enough as a starting point if you’re thinking about these kinds of things.
I wound up with a system which basically opens up the Reaction Roll to the players, making them participate and if they so want make that roll themselves. The Reaction Roll also further defines how much the characters can interact with an NPC or a monster before the encounter ends or dissolves into a fight; the guidelines are very basic, and the actions the party can take are broad and subject to some modification on the spot. Generally speaking, the characters can attempt one interaction for each point on the modified Reaction Roll, typically around 5-9 or so depending on the situation. Some of these will call for rolls, possibly further modifying Reaction, while others are automatic or have other interesting circumstances.
It does suit my GM’ing style perfectly though! We usually play along through an encounter naturally, and I sometimes stop and point out that the characters have used up an interaction, that the NPC’s seem to change their attitude or that a roll would be called for if the players press on. So far, I’m very happy with it.
Since I don’t want to leave you empty-handed, I’ll share a single-page handout I prepared based on my thoughts and the lists from On the Non-player Character. You can download it here or in the Library.