In Dungeons and Dragons, many actions a playing character might like to perform are what we call a “skill check”, and the success is determined in part by the roll of a twenty sided die, or D20. If you roll a 20, that’s called a “critical success” (and also “natural/nat 20”, as opposed to rolling 18 and getting +2 or something) and you automatically succeed in the best possible way at the task you are attempting.
This has led to many interesting and hilarious and, for the dungeon master, frustrating events across all kinds of campaigns, like a cute animate cactus pet one-shotting a final boss dragon with a coconut. I find that in general, if I absolutely do not want a player to be able to succeed at a given task which they don’t have a particular reason to succeed at anyway, the best way to ensure they do not succeed is to just say “no,” when they ask to roll for it, because otherwise almost invariably they’ll roll a frickin’ natural 20 and then I have to let them do the thing.
To put this in context, I might have an NPC who one of my players would like to seduce. (You know who you are, players.) Seducing an NPC is a common and often kind of or really funny aspect of DnD, but the thing of it is that from my perspective, there are a lot of scenarios where seduction is just plain, flat-out impossible, unless we’re talking about some kind of magical act that might not wind up with a sexual attraction kind of seduction, and even then…For example, I really did once have a male bard who wanted to seduce another male NPC (more into a tight bro-friendship…though a sexual attraction to the bard would have also worked for his purposes so sure, why not?) but that particular NPC was both 100% straight, and also a cold-hearted jerk who hated everyone. No matter how amazingly sexy and charismatic you are, you can’t seduce someoen who isn’t sexually attracted to you. And you can’t seduce someone who is only going to hate you for trying, even if you do the most amazingly perfect and wow-worthy act of seduction, which is what a nat 20 would suggest. So instead, the answer just has to be no. You can’t even roll for this. You can’t seduce him. The end.
This brings me to The Joker.
The Joker was of the belief that every man has his price, his tipping point. The Joker seemed to only mean that in regards to criminal acts, but it’s a sentiment you see every now and then. Everyone has their price.
And if this sentiment is correct, that means that if you can figure out the right thing, you can get anyone to do anything. You just have to determine the correct angle.
In real life, there is nothing – nothing, nothing, nothing – you could do to get my husband to cheat on me. Of this I am so sure that I am more sure of it than most solidly knowable facts available in the universe. You can “roll a nat 20” in your seduction check against him and all that will happen is he’ll be pissed off you’re trying to seduce him. By comparison, it would also be exceedingly difficult to get me to cheat on him – because while I’d be suceptible to a nat 20 seduction check, I’d also be able to pick up on the tone of my situation before the act of seduction was complete or perhaps fully underway and flee.
In its own way, that means that you can’t make the seduction roll against me, either – because it doesn’t matter if you could seduce me or not. I’m not going to let you because if I can tell we’re headed in that direction, I’m out. There’s little else that’s as important to me as remaining loyal to my friends and the very last person I want to hurt is the friend who is my absolute closest – my dear husband. There is no price at all that can buy my betrayal.
Your mind might be working at an exception, and I imagine it’s probably coming up with some horrible, desperate situation. I both don’t know how that would actually play out and also feel like that’s different – it’s a desperate situation, not a price. I’m being coerced, whereas “price” indicates willful choosing. And you can’t get me to willfully choose to betray my friends. If I betray anyone, it’ll be because I made a moronic decision without thinking through the consequences, which is also not the same thing.
So the answer here is, “Ye can’t get ye flask” – you ask to get the flask, and the answer is no. No explanation, no chance to change the situation, just…no. You can’t do it.
As important as it is to consider what can push your characters to an act they wouldn’t otherwise have committed, I think it’s equally important to consider if your characters have any grounds from which they will not be moved, and what they are.