When you think of conversations in your tabletop roleplaying game, what likely comes to mind is the friendly banter amongst the players, the humorous small-talk with the barkeep, or the verbal repartées while trading sword blows with the villain.
But beneath that veneer of pleasant — but ultimately vacuous — conversation likely lies a graveyard of circular exchanges that drove themselves into the ground, then six more feet. Yes, I’m talking about conversations in which both parties have conflicting objectives, with the classic example being when one party seeks information and the other seeks to withhold it.
These social conflicts should be the most exciting and dramatic conversations in your game, and yet, too often do they drag on longer than they should and peter out on a note of frustration or boredom. These circular conversations degenerate into glorified versions of the following exchange:
What’s the solution?
Charlie White recently posted an article on intwischa.com with some brilliant advice on crafting better social conflicts, and it boils down to knowing when to call the curtain on a scene. Real-life arguments often tend to be circular and without a satisfying resolution — but that doesn’t make for compelling fiction. Once you’ve reached the climactic point of drama, let the dice decide whether the conversation ends with the PCs emerging the victor or not.