November 26, 2020

A First Impression

Jalisco tugged his sleeves. His cufflinks flashed in the setting sun. Chamber music lilted neath the vaulted pergola, and the scent of wine and cut cypress pervaded the place. Jalisco sniffed, shrugged.

"Stop shrugging," said the man beside him. A weaselly fellow, but one far more comfortable in the evening's stiff uniform. He smiled meanly. A golden stud flickered on his lip. "You'd look almost like you belong here, if you'd only look a little more at ease."

"This jacket is tight."

"That's because it fits."

"Next time we do this, you don't get to choose my clothes, Jifre."

Jifre tisked. "Here," he said. He plucked a flute of something gold and bubbly from a passing server. "Hold this and stop picking at your sleeve."

Across the pergola, a smart looking pair appeared. A jowly old woman and a young man, who, by the cut of his browline, was her son. They quickly noticed Jalisco and Jifre, approached them, smiling.

"Oye, dios mio," mumbled Jalisco, drinking. "Not her."

They neared.

"There you are!" enthused the young man. He gestured, palm open. "Mother, I'd like you to meet Jalisco. He's one of the cutters who cleaned out the undercroft for us!"

"Pleasure," said the old woman, extending a chiffon-clad hand. Jalisco took it, awkwardly, and, having smiled hesitantly for a moment in frozen thought, kissed it.

The old woman giggled in delight, clasped her heart. "What a gentleman," she said. Jalisco appeared momently shocked. "What a prince," she said. "Especially compared to that swine I met coming out of the undercroft. I'm glad not all your company are like him."

"Oye, well," Jalisco mumbled, still smiling. Jifre giggled wickedly, beside.

"Mother, Dear," said the young man, touching her elbow. "This is the man you met yesterday. He had a very impressive trophy in tow, you'll remember?"

"But that man was a boor! He was covered in blood, and he stank of offal!" She squinted at Jalisco, who was sweating. "You can't be!"

Jalisco bowed, hesitantly. "E-encantada, señora," he said, glancing at Jifre, who was stifling laughter. "Apologies about, uh, yesterday."

"Such a mannered young man, after all!" she said. "Well, I am sorry I screamed, señor. You clean up well!"

They all laughed. Jalisco, somewhat panickedly.

"Well, we shall happily await seeing you at dinner, my good fellows," said the old woman's son, stifling further mirth. "Hasta entonces!"

They parted. Jifre was still giggling. "You fat flirt," he said, winking at Jalisco. "Hamming it up for the old lady."

"Oye, what can I say?" said Jalisco, wiping his brow. He downed the glass of bubbly. "I guess I clean up well."

The Reaction Roll

The following is a mechanic from the Incunabuli Playtest:

Intelligent NPCs determine their starting disposition toward individual player characters via a reaction roll. The roll is made upon first meeting the character, and should be made again after some time has passed or circumstances have changed.

To make a reaction roll, assemble all the relevant reaction modifiers below, and apply them to a roll. 
If the player character is:

  • Ragged: -2
  • Bloody -2
  • Filthy/unwashed: -2
  • In filthy, unwashed, or bloody company: -2
  • Unmannered: -2*
  • Misdressed -2*
  • Harmful: -2
  • Helpful: +2
  • Groomed: +1-4*
  • Well-spoken: +2*
  • Strangely Attractive: +2**
  • Etc.

Compare the result of this roll to the table below to get the NPC’s reaction:

  • 16+: Affectionate, accommodating, beneficent: The NPC will deviate notably from their everyday lives in order to help or interact with the player character. They will accept detriment to themselves in order to do so. 
  • 15-12: Friendly, helpful, amenable. The NPC might offer a favor or their help, even at mild detriment to themselves.
  • 11-8: Pleasant, civil, cooperative. The NPC may help, so long as nothing unreasonable is asked of them.
  • 7-4: Disinterested, uncertain, or unhelpful. The NPC will do the minimum asked of them, or may politely refuse. They will not perform any favors or engage for long without strong impetus.
  • 3-0: Hostile, disgusted, or frightened. The NPC will be of no help at all. They will leave as soon as possible, or else try and remove the offending player character.

If an NPC is harmed or otherwise wronged, they will make a new reaction roll, accounting for new modifiers, such as Harmful, to determine their new demeanor. Similarly, an NPC will reroll if they have been treated unusually well, taking into account any new modifiers, such as Helpful.

Likewise, if an NPC is approached in a different context, or approached by a player character whose modifiers have changed, they will roll again.

Certain NPCs, such as bank clerks or wilderness publicans, will be less bothered by characters in a run-down or hideous state. 


Here's one of those rather rare articles in which I present an actual mechanic. This time, the reaction roll. Or, at least, my use of it.
If you ask me, the greatest utility for such a thing lies in its ability to create emergent gameplay situations that are surprising and entertaining for both the GM and their players, as well as its ability to unburden the GM of some decision making. This can be achieved with the reaction roll of old, certainly.

However, the old table has some issues. Namely, its attempt at universal applicability fails: It does not tend to yield believable results, not without more than a little interpretation of said results. This is caused by its attempt to paint a full spectrum of possible behavior over a massive range of subjects (animals, monsters, people,) many of whom might not befit certain bands of the spectrum without absurdity, or, again, interpretation. The result of this failure ends up re-burdening the GM with the decision making the roll was meant to defer. 

Furthermore, if a reaction table is meant for use when players encounter beings whose reactions are uncertain (or, at least, not automatically hostile,) why not start at a "neutral" automatic reaction, and then play things out based on other factors (the creature's needs and goals versus the players ability to negotiate, for instance.) Why must things be random, when a more believable outcome might be drawn from factors at hand?

To many, of course, the answer to these issues would be to lean on the beloved tradition of "rulings, not rules," and override the thing whenever it doesn't work. That's fine.

I, however, desire rules that are fully intentional. And somewhat fiddly-er.

So, I use a reaction table only in the circumstance in which I find its emergent results most fitting: Reactions by intelligent NPCs in social encounters.

This use is doubly warranted: First, in a system such as mine, wherein there are (of course) no rules for social skills, we need some believable foundation, believably informed by circumstance, on which to build a PC/NPC interaction.
And second: In what other circumstance is the outcome of a first impression more important than the reaction of an NPC? An NPC who, unlike monsters encountered on the wilderness path, is no throwaway obstacle, and whose changing moods and opinions may have continuing effect on the PCs for some time. And, even if the NPC is a one-off encounter, a nuanced, believable reaction by them will serve to separate them from the everyday wandering encounter. 

So, here there it is, above, as I currently utilize it. I'm sure I will tweak it, in time.

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Special thanks to Archon's Court Games, and all my generous supporters for their continuing support. Incunabuli is made possible in great part by the them.


* These factors are provided by skills, in my system. The Manners and Grooming skills, respectively. The final 

** This factor is provided by a trait, as I run it.

One comment on “A First Impression”

  1. Reaction rolls take an enormous load off of my mind. I try and apply ‘relevant’ modifiers as the situation calls for it, but it would be much better to utilize a written down system like this to stay consistent. Glad to see you posting again. It’s always a bright spot in my day reading these.