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Social Conflicts

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Social Conflicts

This game is often played as a game of high adventure, where heroes brave wildernesses, monsters, dungeons, and other dangers to gain experience and treasure.

Often cities and societies simply serve as backdrops—places to rest and go shopping, use workshops or laboratories, and maybe hunt a cruel monster or dangerous cult in the labyrinthine sewers below. However, with a slight change of perspective, Game Masters can introduce social conflicts into their adventures. These unique encounters can spice up your game by presenting players with different kinds of stakes, rewards, and consequences than those found in conflicts involving brute force.

For example, while selling plundered artifacts in a city, the PCs might discover a local tough is extorting tribute from dock-side businesses. After confronting the extortionist and driving him out of the neighborhood, they find he was working for a “businessman” who, aside from his legitimate trade, controls a network of criminals.

These practices have made him rich, and given him enough capital to contribute a number of civic works to key areas of the city, which in turn has made him a leading candidate for alderman. While engaging in a campaign of whispers to foil the election, the PCs learn of a society of political reformers that wishes to pressure the mayor into dissolving the current council and holding new elections.

While the society seems harmless at first, it’s actually a cover for a group of foreign spies paving the way for a major attack on the city. What are the PCs to do? Social conflicts like those described above aren’t always devoid of combat—often they erupt into violence. But unlike ordinary combats, which frequently unfold in remote areas beyond the reach of the law, social conflicts take place in settlements where peace is enforced and wanton violence creates instability and threatens ordinary citizens. Social conflicts deal with the subtlety, charm, and ingenuity used to gain commodities, prestige, or power.

The following rules offer advice on how to create and run social conflicts in your games, including suggestions on how player characters can become embroiled in such conflicts. You’ll also find a new event-based structure for adventure design, in which the PCs’ actions lead to consequences will either determine the next event in a social conflict or modify future events. The section closes out with advice on designing social conflict events, giving you all the tools necessary to run a social conflict adventure arc, or even an entire campaign.


Before designing a social conflict for your campaign, you should determine its pace. There are two main types of pacing that can help introduce social conflict into your game: episodic and serialized. Each has its own strengths and challenges outlined below.

Episodic Pacing

When you’re running a game with episodic pacing, you inject minor incidents of social conflict into the normal course of exploration and adventure. This typically requires you to introduce a minor social conflict or two when the PCs enter a settlement or come into contact with some other social unit. This type of pacing works best when these small-scale social conflicts are interspersed within the framework of a larger social conflict, which itself may be part of an even larger story arc in a campaign utilizing serialized pacing (see below).

One of the benefits of episodic pacing is that you only have to create a few events and their consequences at a time, and you can often postpone unveiling these incidents’ long-term consequences. This gives you time to consider future plot points that you might want to introduce later.

The downside of episodic pacing is that when players encounter later consequences, they sometimes forget these minor incidents and need to be reminded about them.

To illustrate episodic pacing, let’s elaborate on the example in this section’s introduction. After plundering some local ruins, the PCs return to town to sell their discoveries and celebrate their victories. With nearly every visit to the various shops and business, they hear the same story: a ruthless tough is coercing protection money from local businesses. The PCs can either ignore the plight of the local entrepreneurs or confront the extortionist.

Ignoring the situation causes the extortion to go unchecked, creating higher prices for the PCs the next time they return to the city to purchase supplies. They may even find a business or two closed on return trips, their owners squeezed out by the extortion racket. Confronting the criminal could involve some reconnoitering or an ambush, followed by a chase though the back alleys of the city, and eventually a confrontation in which the PCs thrash the miscreant and warn him that the neighborhood businesses are now under their protection. But this victory lasts only as long as the PCs stay in the city. As soon as they go off to delve into ruins or gallivant on other far-flung adventures, the extortionist or his replacement returns with more muscle and support from his patron: the local thieves’ guild. When the PCs return to the city, they might find things have only gotten worse, and that the thieves’ guild is keen to teach the adventurers a lesson.

Such back-and-forths can go on between the PCs’ traditional adventures or until the PCs decide to put their full concentration toward the problems plaguing their friends in the city, at which point the pacing may become more serialized.

Serialized Pacing

With serialized pacing, a large number of events quickly flow into one another. Sometimes the structure of events is immediately altered due to the consequences of previous events. Other times, consequences determine the events that the PCs participate in next. Use serialized pacing when social conflict is the main thrust of a campaign or a campaign arc. Running social conflicts with a serialized structure is more difficult because events must be modified or generated on the fly with more frequency due to PC actions.

To illustrate serialized pacing, let’s imagine the PCs discover a strange troublemaker has been instigating orc raids on the borders of a duchy. Soon after, the PCs encounter a mob intent on taking revenge on a local half-orc couple in a misguided attempt to enact retribution for the raids. Stepping in and saving the couple, the PCs soon find themselves in conflict with the supporters of a silver-tongued new vizier in the duke’s court who has been advising the ruler to rid himself of troublesome non-humans, as well as advocating other policies of human supremacy.

Circumstances point to a connection between this new vizier and the strange troublemaker on the frontier, and they might even be the same person. This leads the PCs to all manner of events, balls, and political meetings to gain more information about the vizier, her history, and how she gained her current support. During the course of these investigations, they run afoul of more of the vizier’s supporters. With each conflict and bit of information, they uncover the vizier’s true connection to the raids and their purpose. She aims to discredit the local barons, centralize control over the duchy, and dominate the duke. Eventually, the PCs have the chance to expose the vizier’s secret agenda to the populace during a final showdown: a verbal duel wherein the vizier attempts to discredit the PCs’ evidence.

In this example of serialized pacing, nearly the entire story revolves around the social conflict at hand, with each event leading to another in a complex web of intrigue.

Stakes and Contenders

Once the pacing of the adventure has been chosen, the next step is to determine the stakes and the contenders of the social conflict, or at least those at the opening of the conflict. The stakes are the core of a social conflict—the prize for which the contenders strive. Social conflicts are often struggles for control of economy, prestige, or political power. The contenders are those individuals or groups struggling to win or achieve the stakes.

Consider the extortion example. At least one group of wealthy adventurers is spreading newfound wealth in town, and local businesses are flush with cash. The local thieves’ guild takes notice, and decides to exact a toll in the way it knows best: extortion and larceny. Each side is fighting over its own economic interest. The stakes are economic in nature, and the contenders are the business owners and the extortionist.

In the example of the evil vizier, the stakes are political power. Because the duke holds a hereditary position, and must answer to barons, the vizier’s plan is to dissolve the power of the barons and mesmerize the duke into compliance. The vizier and her agents, the duke (whether he knows it or not), and the barons are all contenders for the stakes.

When the stakes are prestige, that can mean anything from helping an ally gain a political position (and the opportunity to contend for political power), winning a game at the local fair, or being granted the honor of becoming a favored musician at court.

You’ll notice that in the examples above, the PCs are not considered contenders for the stakes. In many social conflicts, the PCs are outside agents who side with one contender or another, typically based on ethical grounds.

The PCs may have no control of the stakes by the end of a social conflict arc, but they have made sure that the stakes are in the right hands.

This doesn’t always have to be the case. You could run a campaign focused on politics, presenting a situation in which the PCs work for a merchant or noble family. In a higher-level campaign, the PCs might take over or build a small fortress on the borders of civilization, forcing them to negotiate disputes over logging and mining rights or get in the middle of a group of human landowners and a gnoll tribe, with each party seeking to defend its economic rights, titles, and lands. In most campaigns, the PCs serve as agents for their favored contenders, and often motivate or even control how that faction pursues its goals.

As a serialized or even an episodic social conflict matures, the stakes and contenders can expand. Contenders themselves can even become the stakes.

Let’s return to the extortion example. The PCs run off the tough, who—being the head of one of the city’s thieves’ guilds—controls the criminals up and down the docks.

He supplements other lucrative trades with so-called protectors—local hoodlums whom neighborhoods must pay for “protection,” supposedly from robbers. When one of his agents is chased away, the tough must find a way for his organization to reclaim its economic and political power, not only to save face with the other guilds, but also to keep other criminals out of the lucrative territory. The little extortion fiefdom becomes one of the stakes itself, and the PCs might fight to keep the racket out while the vexed crime lord ponders the economic feasibility of launching an all-out war on the PCs.

While social conflicts with serialized pacing are a good way to add intrigue to your game, they can quickly become a maze of stakes and contenders. In such cases, it’s helpful to record the various stakes and contenders to keep all the details straight. You won’t need to pick up every dangling thread in your weave of characters and varied agendas, but if you’re able to produce the perfect threat or call-back from multiple sessions ago, it’ll look like you had it planned all the time.

Measuring the Stakes

When the stakes of a conflict are no more than a plot device, it’s okay for them to be somewhat nebulous. Other times, the stakes are concrete, and you’ll want a precise way to measure them. For this purpose, you can use the rules for gaining capital in the downtime system or the influence system for organizations.


Events are the stage for each step of a social conflict. An event is a lot like an encounter, but instead of detailing a location and its inhabitants, it describes a scene that either provides a method of discovering some aspect of a social conflict or frames a social conflict challenge.

A social conflict often becomes more complex because of the PCs’ actions, which either cause or affect future events. There are two main types of social conflict events: discovery events, where the PCs have the opportunity to learn more about the nature and particulars of the social conflict, and challenge events, where the PCs must face some challenge related to the social conflict. Even though it’s generally helpful to make the distinction between discovery or challenge events, sometimes a social conflict event has attributes of both types. These mixed events are especially common in more complex social conflicts.

Because events can take on many forms, each of the following sections also present options for using discovery and challenge events with subsystems from this book and other sources.

Discovery Events

Discovery events typically introduce or advance a social conflict story by giving the PCs the opportunity to learn information about the conflict. The success of these events might hinge on the PCs’ ability to perceive or otherwise uncover certain clues.

Accomplishing this can be as easy as listening to an old-timer sitting by the tavern fire as he relates stories about strange disappearances down by the docks, or talking to a group of halflings who beseech the PCs for help in their efforts to gain voting rights. Discovery events are typically roleplaying encounters during which the PCs can learn the nature—or at least the partial nature—of the conflict and make a decision about whether to become involved. Other times, the nature and depth of the discovery might require the PCs to use certain skills or other abilities.

Discovery events usually lean heavily on the use of Diplomacy, Intimidate, Sense Motive, and various Knowledge skills. When outlining a discovery event, it is best to come up with a baseline of knowledge that you want the event to impart; this could be the bare minimum of what the PCs need to learn from the event in order to trigger one of its consequences. This knowledge could contain misinformation or faulty assumptions—elements of the story you can later twist to create more interesting and dynamic social conflicts.

For instance, consider the halflings beseeching the PCs for help to gain voting rights. If the PCs take what the halflings say at face value, they may think this is merely a case of blatant injustice at work, but success at some difficult Sense Motive checks may lead the PCs to suspect there’s something more to the tale. Then, succeeding at another difficult Knowledge (local) check might reveal that one of the reasons the halflings don’t have the right to vote is because they are considered a nation of their own to the kingdom and don’t have to pay the royal taxes.

Questioning the halflings further could reveal that they want to be able to vote, but would still like to avoid paying the royal taxes.

Sometimes discovery events can involve challenges in order to gain the information. A discovery might involve tracking down obscure knowledge (using the research rules), running down someone who has the information (using the pursuit rules), performing a heist for the information (using the heist rules), or even entering a social engagement to figure out how much the PCs are able to uncover (using the Social Combat Deck, roleplaying the challenge, or using one of the challenge types detailed later in this section). Often these are mixed events with an emphasis on discovery. On rare occasions, this type of event might lead to combat. For example, the PCs have been tasked with apprehending a missive carried by a local courtesan, and run into trouble when they find out she’s not only very capable of defending the missive on her own but also has hired a few sellswords to waylay the PCs once they make their move. While verbal duels are a perfect fit for a challenge in a social conflict, from time to time consider using either a spell duel, a physical duel, or a psychic duel to add some action to discovery encounters. Spell duels and physical duels can distribute information by way of secret messages or witty banter. Psychic duels can distribute information in a more direct (if somewhat enigmatic) form since the binary mindscapes of such bouts allow the duelists to access parts of their opponents’ minds; by reading an opponent’s mental mask and watching for strange metaphors in that opponent’s attack forms, a duelist can possibly learn more about her opponent.

When creating a discovery event, it’s important to compare any assumptions you’ve made about the event to the capabilities of the PCs and even those of the contenders. There is nothing like a well-played divination spell to foil your assumptions about how an event is going to transpire. Use the guidelines and advice presented in the Spells of Intrigue section to aid in such troubleshooting.

Ultimately, the consequences for discovery events should depend on how much the PCs found out and how they respond to the knowledge. These consequences should also take the stakes into account and how contenders might react to the knowledge that the PCs are involved or snooping around. Outstanding successes at discovery challenges should affect the PCs’ ability to navigate challenge events in a positive way, while terrible failures may mean the PCs misconstrue the scope of the challenge, overlook some aspect of it, or follow up bad leads.

Challenge Events

Challenge events allow the PCs a chance to affect or even disrupt the balance of power in social conflicts.

Unlike in discovery encounters, where the goal is often to reconnoiter the particulars of the social landscape, in challenge encounters, the PCs take a shot at changing that landscape.

When designing a challenge event, consider the stakes for all contenders, the nature of current competition for the parties involved, and the group with which the PCs are allied. By the end of a challenge event, the PCs should have the opportunity to alter or raise the conflict’s stakes.

Generally, if the PCs succeed, their allied contenders keep control of the stakes or gain a significant share of them, whereas if the PCs fail, their enemies keep control of the stakes or gain ground toward attaining them.

In these types of events, the PCs confront a series of challenges, their successes or failures yield consequences that either lead to or modify future social conflict events.

The game has a number of subsystems and tools designed to help you create noncombat or combat-light challenges to use in social-based encounters. Additionally, some guidelines for creating more freeform social challenges are presented later in this section.

For example, let’s continue with the struggle to gain voting rights for the halflings of the city. The halflings want an increased share of political power for elections, but they also want to keep their tax-exempt status. The other contenders—legislators who currently control the local politics—would like to keep the status quo since they fear what an influx of halfling voters would do to the political landscape. The PCs, allied with the halflings, come up with a plan to either convince or strong-arm local politicians to work with the halflings. With the Social Combat Deck (see ad at right!), the individual influence system, a verbal duel, or the freeform events detailed later in this section, you can create a challenge event during which the PCs help the halflings by trying to sway the politicians into supporting the halflings’ bid to vote while allowing them to keep their tax exempt status (maybe in return for backing a particular candidate).

The PCs then make the rounds negotiating with the city’s various politicians. The consequences of the challenge are based on the accumulation of victories against the various politicians, and since each politician has a different personality, the key to success is different for each of them. One might cow quickly to physical threats and intimidation, while another politician might be corrupt and susceptible to bribes. One politician might be particularly steadfast in his stance, and can only be swayed if the PCs decide to get dirty and blackmail or threaten the politician’s loved ones. This particular example is the perfect opportunity to use the individual influence system, but each of these interactions could be a different challenge using the Social Combat Deck, or you could create a freeform event instead.

Keep in mind that social challenges should be more active and engaging than a jumble of skill checks and actions. Consider making a social challenge more interesting by punctuating it with a chase (using the chase rules), a pursuit, or a heist. In higher-level games, challenge events may be even more complex, with the PCs using the kingdom-building rules, or even the mass combat system when diplomacy fails.

Lastly, while social conflict is an attempt to avoid physical conflict and strife, there are times when the PCs will have to engage in combat to resolve a social conflict. Maybe after failing to negotiate with the rebels, the PCs must attempt to subdue and stop them from committing acts of violence against the community. It could be that while attempting to gain favor with a band of hot-headed noble scions, the PCs don’t realize they’ve slighted them and inadvertently inflame the young aristocrats’ ire. In this latter case, a good nonlethal thrashing might regain the rash blowhards’ respect. As a general guideline, resorting to combat in order to gain successes in social conflict is a last resort that usually stems from a failure at some point earlier in the chain of events. Even in these cases, try to present opportunities to bring flair to the battlefield, perhaps by employing dramatic environments (like rooftop battles or dawn duels), enemies with colorful abilities (like a bard’s stinging oratory or a swashbuckler’s panache), or hazards that could change the course of combat (like a precariously hung chandelier or toppling pillars).

Event Consequences

Whether you’re running a discovery or a challenge event, you should strive to make the consequences of both success and failure dependent on how the PCs solved the challenge. While some challenge events or straightforward discovery events may have direct and obvious consequences, more complex challenge can result in degrees of success or failure.

If the PCs overcome a challenge, they may experience either a success or a critical success. Winning the verbal duel that is the focus of a challenge event might be a success, but you can also add contingencies to define what constitutes a critical success. If the PC who engaged in the duel won, and her allies were able to seed all the biases in her favor, that might be a critical success. For instance, if a PC verbally duels one of the politicians fighting against halfling suffrage in a public debate, a critical success might mean the politician not only throws in with the halflings‘ cause, but also changes public opinion of the debate in a crucial way, which could lower the DC of challenges made against those the PCs attempt to sway in the future.

On the other hand, failure might mean a temporary setback when it comes to attaining the stakes, whereas a critical failure would signify a dramatic loss that could be a detriment to the PCs well into the future. Taking the same example as above, if the PCs fail to sway the politician and the crowd in a verbal duel about halfling suffrage, that could simply mean heroes must sway another politician to champion the halfling cause. But if the politician soundly defeats the debating PC, that could mean she automatically sways another politician or two away from the PCs’ side, causing the PCs to take a penalty on checks involving other politicians,. This would be a critical failure for the PCs.

Freeform Events

While you could use the Social Combat Deck or many of the existing tools to run social conflict events, eventually you’ll want to shape the PCs’ encounters around a story you have created or around some unanticipated consequence of the PCs’ past actions.

When planning such encounters, you may want to create freeform events that give players a more active role in developing the ongoing story. Since social conflict events are less predictable than combat encounters, the following tools and guidelines can help you ad-lib when your players do something out of the ordinary.

Creating Actions and Goals

Each freeform event you create should have a number of actions the PCs can take to achieve their goals. It’s always better to create more actions and goals than you might need, and to have a variety of them, so multiple characters can participate in the event. Often these goals will revolve around a check or taking a specific action.

Social Initiative

When you’re running a freeform challenge where wits and charm are more effective than quick reflexes, it might become important to determine the order in which different characters (both PCs and NPCs) perform their actions. In such cases, consider having each character roll a social initiative check. Rather than being Dexterity-based, a social initiative check is Charisma-based, though all other standard methods for increasing initiative (such as the Improved Initiative feat) still apply.

Freeform Checks

While the players will usually be using the standard DCs for various skill checks, sometimes you’ll want them to attempt skill checks for purposes not defined in the rules, but that fit within the scope of the challenge events they’re engaged in. In such cases, Table: Freeform Check DCs by Level provides some suggested benchmarks for these freeform checks.

Table: Freeform Check DCs by Level
Level Easy Check DC Medium Check DC Hard Check DC
1 12 17 22
2 14 19 23
3 15 21 26
4 16 22 28
5 17 23 29
6 18 24 30
7 19 25 31
8 20 26 33
9 21 27 34
10 22 28 39
11 23 29 41
12 24 30 43
13 25 31 44
14 26 32 45
15 27 33 47
16 28 34 48
17 29 35 50
18 30 36 51
19 31 37 52
20 32 38 54

The low values on the table above are designed as target DCs for checks that are relatively easy for PCs to complete at the listed levels. They are also typically appropriate when multiple party members might have to all succeed at the check to constitute a success, or when a character who isn’t an expert at something is forced to f ill in for a particular role. The DC generally provides a 50% chance of success for a character trained in the skill but otherwise ill-suited to the task and possessing no other advantages (such as tools, spells, or magic), or vice versa (someone barely trained with plenty of other advantages). Medium values represent challenges that a single, relatively skilled adventurer should be able to overcome without assistance, but not without some risk.

Hard values are appropriate for masters at particular skills, for those who possess numerous advantages with certain skills, or for checks where a large number of characters are all able to assist a less skilled character.

If the PCs typically rely on inexpensive spells and magic items to apply bonuses on certain skill checks, the DCs on Table 4–1 might be too low for your campaign. You may want to make changes to the listed DCs to account for this (in a campaign where characters on both sides of a social conflict rely strongly on such spells and magic items, the opposition will be using them, too).

Keep in mind that when PCs have invested in maximizing their success with certain skills or roles, they should feel good about those choices. Rather than simply increasing the DCs when selecting advantageous options should have otherwise made them easier—thus effectively punishing the PCs—when you create tasks with those higher DCs, create greater rewards for them as well. Thus, the players’ choices grant access to new and exciting possibilities that the characters never could have obtained otherwise (and of course, if the players are apprehensive about attempting the difficult DC, they can abandon this extra prize without experiencing a loss).

Gauging Success

While designing the challenges and goals of a social conflict, you’ll need to decide the means by which you’ll measure the PCs’ success. Listed below are three different ways to gauge success in social conflict events. Regardless of which means you use to gauge success, you will also need to determine how many successes the PCs must accumulate to achieve their overall goals.

Contest Against Competitors: Perhaps a rival faction opposes the PCs’ agenda in the social conflict. In this type of event, the PCs work to best these other factions. The PCs must either damage the reputations of their rivals in order to take them out of the running, or they must find some other way to keep those adversaries from being obstacles to their goals, such as by forming a coalition against an even more dangerous opposing faction. Contests against competitors can be highly satisfying because of the human element of the opposition, but they can also make the social conflict significantly more difficult to run, particularly if there are numerous factions. In such contests, you may need to determine the stakes and tenacity of multiple factions, and how many successes will drive each faction out of the running. These numbers should match the scope and pacing you chose for the social conflict. A fast-paced serialized conflict or one expected to last over a longer term calls for higher target numbers, as there are more opportunities to gain successes, while the reverse is true for slower, episodic pacing or shorter-term story arcs.

Finessing Event Consequences

While most of this section offers tools and suggestions to help GMs create their own social conflict events, the PCs might be able to take an event in a completely unexpected direction, unlike in combat encounters where the actions and consequences are more rigorously determined. Interesting uses of skills, feats, spells, and magic items, not to mention inspired roleplaying, can often create circumstances you never imagined. When this happens, it’s better to reward players for their ingenuity instead of discouraging it.

Goal Collection: In this type of event, overall success is assured as long as the PCs can achieve a benchmark number of goals. However, before that occurs, the characters must deal with adverse conditions that can be removed only by succeeding at the social conflict.

Race Against Time: In this type of event, the PCs must race to achieve as many goals as possible before a certain amount of time elapses. A time limit makes an event more exciting for the players. Make the reason for the time limit something interesting to the PCs and the developing story.

The in-game reason for the time limit could be anything from an upcoming election, to an impending invasion, to the public’s waning interest in the issue at the heart of the PCs’ goals. When determining overall goals in a time-sensitive conflict, you may wish to set multiple thresholds of victory, ordering possible outcomes from best to worst and listing a minimum number of successes for each successively better outcome.

Failing Forward

When designing any type of social conflict event, it’s always best to allow the PCs to advance the plot even in the face of a critical failure. of course, there should be consequences for failure, but that should never be the end the story. In other words, a success moves the PCs toward victory and a failure moves their adversaries toward victory, but you shouldn’t plan a result that creates a deadlock and stalls the flow of the action. So long as a defeat doesn’t lead to the entire party’s death, it likely brings with it a variety of exciting ramifications—sometimes more so than a success might. Feel free to use the PCs’ defeats as springboards into new plots and more rewarding future victories.

Social Conflict Events and Advancement

When do social conflict events grant the PCs experience points and treasure? The short answer is whenever you choose. The typical experience point progression has a baseline assumption that heroic experience increases player characters’ personal power and wealth. A combat-driven campaign is balanced with the assumption that the PCs have a set amount of combat resources, and achieving goals slowly whittles down these resources, making success less certain as time goes on. In this baseline mode of advancement, few if any social conflicts grant experience points or wealth; while this style of play can whittle down some of the PCs’ resources, it doesn’t do so with the regularity of combat encounters. Thus, the rewards for success in social conflict events are either ad hoc or based on the few combat encounters that might be peppered into the story arc. But if you’re running a campaign in which social conflict is the main focus, it’s prudent to discard this baseline mode, and instead grant the PCs experience points and treasure on a more regular basis.

Some of the treasure the PCs gain during social conflict events could be looted from enemies or found during exploration of the social landscape. Most, however, should be gifts from allied contenders, the rewards for shifts in economic stakes, or the culminations of capital gained through bribes, tributes, or even taxes.

The following are some suggestions on how to reward PCs based on the scope and pacing of the social conflict.

Discovery Events: For the most part, discovery events rarely grant the PCs experience points or treasure. More often than not, they instead give the PCs opportunities to gain information about the challenges they will face.

Occasionally, though, a discovery event might feature a challenge, and in this case you can give the event a CR. If your social challenges are episodic, the event’s CR should be 2 to 4 lower than the average party level (APL) of the PCs, based on how crucial social challenges are to your campaign. If the APL is on the low range, shift the CR to an appropriate fractional value. Deal with treasure in a similar manner. Table 12–5: Treasure Values lists values based on APL rather than CR; therefore, if you want to award treasure for a low-CR discovery event, use the appropriate values on Table 4–2: Treasure Values for Low-CR Encounters.

Table: Treasure Values for Low-CR Encounters
CR Treasure per Encounter
Slow Medium Fast
1/8 21 gp 33 gp 50 gp
1/6 28 gp 42 gp 65 gp
1/4 43 gp 65 gp 100 gp
1/3 57 gp 88 gp 135 gp
1/2 85 gp 130 gp 200 gp

Challenge Events: Challenge events should nearly always grant experience points and treasure. This is especially true if you’re running a serialized social conflict campaign. If a social conflict is the main thrust of a campaign, most challenge events should have a CR close to the APL of the PCs. Just like with combat encounters, particularly taxing challenge events (especially those that might consume the PCs’ resources or include the chance for a significant change in the stakes) can be of a higher CR than the APL, but never more than 3 higher. Challenge events should use the normal experience and treasure values whenever the PCs are involved in a combat encounter.

Example Social Conflict: The Taken

The following serialized social conflict serves as an extended example of how to build a satisfying series of encounters and adventures using the guidelines presented throughout this section. Since social conflicts evolve over time in response to the PCs’ actions, this example provides a step-by-step description of the conflict’s early stages—which could then evolve however you see fit

These elements might serve as background between other adventures or the basis for a full-fledged campaign.

Aside from the PCs, this social conflict involves two open contenders: the revolutionaries and the royalists. However, there is also a secret contender: the fey fosterlings.

The Contenders

The revolutionaries are common folk who believe that the nobility of the kingdom are decadent and out of touch with the plight of the commoners. They blame their recent troubles on the nobility’s neglect. While these contenders are basically looking to destabilize the royalists and usurp political power, they are decentralized and rarely coordinate well. They want to change or even overthrow the government; though they are by no means united in what they think should happen next. Even among these contenders, there is no consensus of opinion on how to increase the stakes. Some of the revolutionaries want to overthrow the nobility in general. Others want to stop short of their monarch, King Theobard. The latter faction believes it will be sufficient to get the king’s attention and have him address the issue, rather than oust him entirely. Even among those who blame the king and want him removed, most still support Princess Annika, and they hope to replace King Theobard with his daughter. A few have dreams of setting up an entirely different, more egalitarian form of government.

The royalists are composed of both the nobility and other citizens loyal to the crown. Unlike the revolutionaries, they have a single leader: King Theobard. The royalists believe the revolutionaries are manufacturing or at least exaggerating the recent troubles for their own political agenda, and many believe they’re nothing more than bloodthirsty anarchists wishing to toss out the status quo and loot the riches of the kingdom. The royalists are more powerful and organized than the revolutionaries, but they’re slow to react, at least at first, as they dismiss the commoners as a disorganized mob of sheep pushed along by a handful of rabble-rousers. The king and many of the nobles feel that mounting a response is expensive, and a heavy-handed reaction might just stir up unrest elsewhere.

The fey fosterlings are the final contenders, and they’re the ones who on the surface appear to be pulling the strings.

These fosterlings are fey children who were swapped in the cradle for human children. They appear fully human and magic detects them as being such. The fosterlings are spread throughout the kingdom and communicate clandestinely via animal messengers and the like. Their greatest political asset is the fact that Princess Annika is a fosterling, and the main coordinator of the faction. Given how disorganized the revolutionaries are, it was easy to seed some fosterlings among them, and Annika and her few fellow fosterlings among the nobility can manipulate the royalists with ease. Annika and the fosterlings are not the true power behind their faction, however. A powerful norn has become convinced that fate demands a firmer hand with this kingdom, and she is actually the one pulling the strings—and snipping them if necessary.

The PCs enter this situation as a fourth faction, capable of shifting the balance between the revolutionaries and the royalists, or even of exposing the true culprits.

Conflict and the Stakes

This particular conflict is one of political power. The royalists have the power, the revolutionaries want it, and the fey seek to ultimately control it no matter who seems to be in charge. Over the course of the social conflict, the PCs will likely become agents of a faction, only to eventually discover the force behind the real political power in the kingdom, and could even work to motivate the revolutionaries and the royalists to join forces and confront the real threat to the political landscape of the kingdom.

Conflict Arc and Early Events

The conflict arc begins with the PCs in a town on the kingdom’s outskirts, on the edge of a forest known to be the home of fey. The superstitious villagers purchased charms to ward their homes against the fey, but a fosterling in the village has been exposing the charms to fey magic, causing them to erode faster than usual. With the failing wards, a quickling managed to sneak into the home of a popular local woodsman and whisk away a baby, but not before the parents spotted him. The woodsman and his revolutionary friends blame the nobility for the baby’s kidnapping, as the appointed mayor refused to pay to replace the crumbling wards, considering them superstitious nonsense.

Challenge Event: Angry Mob

The PCs notice an angry mob gathering around the mayor’s house. These revolutionaries are intent on punishing the mayor for what they perceive as his role in the baby’s kidnapping. The mayor’s hired guards attempt to forestall the mob. The guards are outnumbered, and they probably have to resort to lethal force to compete with the townsfolk, who aren’t pulling any punches. At this point, the PCs can come in on either side of the conflict, either by joining one faction in combat or by attempting to talk down the mob, perhaps with a verbal duel.

Consequences: If the PCs can win a verbal duel against the leader of the revolutionaries, they get the rabble to realize they don’t have much proof against the mayor, and there is a real mystery that needs to be solved here. A critical success (beating the revolutionary leader in three or fewer exchanges) settles the mob to such a degree that they realize although the mayor works for the nobility, he cares more for the people than his position and is not the enemy here.

A failure means that the PCs are going to have to physically defend the mayor or let the mob have their way. A critical failure (being defeated in the verbal duel by the rebel leader in 3 or fewer exchanges) brands the PCs as royalist collaborators no matter where the PCs’ true sympathies lie.

Whether or not the PCs are able to resolve the event with reason or with force, they will likely move on to one or more discovery events: either investigating the baby’s disappearance or learning about the political turmoil in the kingdom, but likely both.

Discovery Event: Scene of the Crime

No matter the turnout of the “Angry Mob” event, the PCs will likely want to investigate the disappearance of the child that sparked the riot—maybe with a bit of detective work taking the form of a goal collection freeform challenge.

Consequences: When the PCs piece together enough clues, evidence shows the child was spirited away by some creature from the woods. If they gain enough successes, they can even determine the abductor was fey, leading them to search the woods for fey involvement. This may allow the PCs to uncover the secret contenders of the conflict, though finding the fey’s motivation may prove difficult. This leads directly into the “Hall Under the Hill” challenge event.

Botching the discovery means the disappearance will remain a mystery, at least for now, but the PCs may be able to find other clues of fey involvement later in the social conflict. This likely leads PCs to events that revolve around the conflict between the revolutionaries and the nobility.

Challenge Event: Hall Under The Hill

Chasing after the clues that something or someone in the forest abducted the baby, they follow the trail to a strange hall under a mossy hill. There they find a group of quicklings who have been abducting children from various settlements near to the forest. The quicklings, rather than being knowledgeable of the norn’s overall plans, are nothing more than fey mercenaries capturing the babies for a mysterious buyer they meet during full moons among a nearby group of standing stones. They then replace the babies with eerie fosterlings for another fee paid in ancient coins.

Consequences: While the quicklings don’t know who pays them (nor do they care), by either defeating the quicklings or bluffing or bribing the information out of them, the PCs can learn that neither the revolutionaries nor the royalists have anything to do with the unusual kidnappings.

Continuing the Conflict

At this point, the PCs have many possible avenues to explore. If they return the woodcutter’s baby, they earn the gratitude of the townsfolk, and one of their friendly contacts in town requests that they head to the capital, either to deliver a letter requesting more funds to assist the town (if they ally with the mayor) or helping with a mass protest (if they ally with the revolutionaries). Even if the PCs are making their own path, they still might want to head to the capital if they find out about the potential mass protest. On the other hand, depending on the results of the last event, the PCs could attempt to chase down the quickling’s buyer, or even to check on the other entries on the quickling’s list.

Social conflicts branch and diverge quite rapidly and respond to the PCs’ choices, which makes it difficult to plan more than an engagement or two ahead without quickly devolving into numerous if-then contingencies.

Depending on the PCs’ path through a social conflict, they could wind up pulling a heist on the royal treasury (using the heist rules), attending a gala to gain influence with the upper nobility (using the individual influence rules), working with Princess Annika for a peaceful solution as she secretly manipulates them to further the fosterling agenda, pursuing a group of kidnapping fey to discover the whereabouts of the buyer (using the pursuit rules), performing acts of sabotage in an attempt to overthrow the monarchy, researching the connection between the fosterlings (using the research rules), engaging in a verbal duel with one of the founders of the revolutionaries in front of a crowd of his followers (using the verbal duel rules), and much more. No matter what the PCs do, the fosterlings try to turn it to their advantage, and if the PCs unearth the fosterlings’ existence and launch a shadow war against their adversaries, the fosterlings turn all of their efforts to destroying the PCs and their reputation, preferring to use the other factions as proxies if possible.

Concluding the Conflict

Depending on the PCs’ actions, the conflict has many possible endings. In general, however, each faction acts in a certain way as it approaches defeat.

If the royalists approach defeat, they concede the social conflict. The king agrees to abdicate to Princess Annika, which ameliorates enough of the revolutionaries that the truly radical among them lose almost all of their remaining support. These remaining revolutionaries continue to attempt to take down the monarchy, but with far less efficacy, their future actions are likely to be fruitless without aid from the PCs.

If the revolutionaries approach defeat, they concede the social conflict by dissolving, still dissatisfied, but quieted at least for now. The royalists accept this concession and grant pardons to the revolutionaries, other than one of the more radical ringleaders who wanted to overthrow the entire government and watch the nobles burn. This woman refuses the pardon, so she is named as the leader of the revolution and executed.

The fosterlings do not concede the social conflict, even to the point of total ruination. While Princess Annika would prefer to occlude her ties to the fosterlings and allow her lieutenants to quietly back off, the norn commanding all the fosterlings demands they continue to the end. When they are completely defeated, the fosterlings are exposed, both sides informed of their existence, and Princess Annika along with them. If the PCs have a personal connection with the princess, she begs them to protect her against her norn mistress. Once the norn is vanquished, the princess and the fosterlings may need a new place to live. The PCs could then convince the people of the kingdom of the benefits of letting their former infiltrators become loyal citizens.

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Verbal Duels

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can crush your spirit. Verbal duels are battles of words rather than swords, in which skilled duelists use facts, wordplay, and rhetorical flourishes against each other to win arguments or sway crowds. This kind of duel typically takes place in front of an audience, but the rules presented below can also be used for private discussions, or even large debates where multiple viewpoints conflict in an arena of opinion.

Many of the following rules assume the duel is between two chief opponents and is conducted in front of onlookers the duelists are attempting to sway—indeed, sometimes a duelist and her allies can improve their odds by discerning the crowd’s biases and playing to them. A verbal duel’s audience might be an angry mob, the members of a ruling council or senate, the jury during a court proceeding, or socialites at a party—anywhere two characters might best each other with wit and cutting remarks.

Setting The Scene

It is important to set the scene of a verbal duel so the PCs participating in it know what is at stake. Sometimes these conflicts are simple, two-person struggles where each duelist attempts to shut down the other’s argument.

These can be fun and whimsical affairs—two duelists may engage in an argument about the merits of competing operas or fencing defenses, and the loser has to buy the evening’s drinks. Verbal duels can also be nerve-wracking conflicts in which the participants spar over some serious issue, such as a debate in front of a council of war chiefs on the merits of peace or war.

It is also important to determine whether or not the verbal duel involves an audience that can be swayed.

For example, if the duel occurs between the captain of the watch and one of the PCs, the PC could be trying to get a mob to attack the tower of a corrupt high priest, while the captain is attempting to convince the crowd to disperse. Crowds often have their own motivations and predilections, and certain tactics during the duel will have a greater or lesser effect on its members, which can affect the results. Determining the nature of such crowd attitudes and how to affect them can sometimes grant a powerful advantage.

Assessing an Audience

A duelist and any of her allies who have at least 10 minutes to interact with the crowd before a verbal duel begins can attempt a check to determine an audience bias (see below).

Succeeding at a DC 15 Sense Motive check allows a duelist or one of her allies to learn one of the crowd’s biases.

Sometimes assessing an audience can have a higher DC if the GM feels the crowd is particularly tight-lipped or their biases are otherwise obscured. Once a character attempts a Sense Motive check to assess an audience’s biases, she can’t retry that check, even if she has more time to study the audience.

Audience Biases

When a verbal duel features an audience that can be swayed, the GM determines any types of dueling tactics that the audience either favors or disfavors. If a crowd has a negative bias against a particular tactic, duelists take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when using that tactic. If the audience has a positive bias toward a tactic, duelists gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when using that tactic. Some audiences may have even stronger biases, imparting penalties and bonuses that range from –5 to +5.

In cases where a verbal duel has no audience, there are no audience biases to track.

The GM is free to create whatever biases she would like, but each bias should be both reasonable and fit with the attitudes of the audience. A group of hard-minded wizards might have a negative bias toward allegory but applaud logic, while a rowdy group of tavern-goers could have a very positive bias toward mockery but start booing and hissing at logic. A GM does not need to create biases for all tactics, but having a handful of them can make the debate more interesting and flavorful and allow the duelist’s allies to help affect the duel by assessing and seeding the audience.

Seeding an Audience

Once she knows one or more of the crowd’s biases, a character can attempt to seed the crowd and gain benefits for her side of the verbal duel. A GM may rule that seeding a crowd is impossible or very difficult. For example, seeding a jury in a lawful society may be very difficult, and is probably illegal or even practically impossible.

Audiences that can be seeded allow allies of each duelist to urge the argument in other directions.

To attempt to seed an audience, a character must spend at least 10 minutes with members of the crowd before the verbal duel begins, choose one of the audience’s biases she knows, and succeed at a Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check with a DC of at least 15. The GM may rule that the DC is higher due to the ally’s lack of familiarity with the crowd or other factors—as high as the duelist’s level + 15 or 20 for especially challenging situations.

If the character chose to seed a positive bias and succeeds at the check, the duelist of her choice gains an edge that can be spent when that duelist uses the tactic associated with the positive bias during the verbal duel. If the character fails the check, she can’t attempt to seed the same audience again. If the character fails the check by 5 or more, no one can attempt to seed that positive bias again in her duelist’s favor.

If the character chose to seed a negative bias and succeeds at the check, the duelist of her choice gains an edge that can be spent when that duelist counters the tactic associated with the negative bias. If the character fails the check, she can’t attempt to seed the same audience again. If the character fails the check by 5 or more, no one can attempt to seed that negative bias again in her duelist’s favor.

Both sides can attempt to seed the audience before the duel begins and can even seed the same biases, but a given duelist can only benefit from a single successful seeding of a particular bias.


Edges are gained either by seeding a bias, using some trick of a verbal dueling tactic, when an opponent decides to end an exchange, or due to some other effect. A duelist can spend an edge to reroll an associated skill check for a verbal duel tactic. Sometimes you are limited as to when you can spend an edge. For instance, edges gained by seeding positive biases can only be spent when using the tactic associated with that bias.

Gaining Edges From Skill-Modifying Abilities: Only effects and abilities that modify an ability score, modify ranks, or specifically affect a tactic apply directly to the associated skill check in verbal duels. However, effects that increase the modifier of an entire associated skill (not just circumstantial uses of the skill) grant edges instead. For instance, the spell glibness neither adds to the associated skill check nor grants edges because it only grants a bonus to some cases in which Bluff can be used, and does not increase the skill’s general modifier.

For spells and effects that do apply to a verbal duel, such as a circlet of persuasion or Skill Focus, instead of the normal modifiers to skill rolls, they grant a number of edges equal to 1/3 of the total bonus they would otherwise grant.

For example, a character with Skill Focus (Diplomacy) and 10 ranks in that skill would gain two edges instead of a +6 bonus. Total up all such bonuses before dividing by 3.

All edges gained in this way are limited to the particular tactic associated with the skill.

In many cases, using magic to enhance one’s verbal dueling skills is often considered gauche or even illegal.

The more official the verbal duel, the more likely the chance magic will be restricted or even banned. This is often particularly true during the course of duels in a legal setting.

Dueling With Words

Often, how a duel starts and which duelist goes first is determined by the particulars of the scene. For instance, if the dueling PC is the defendant in a court case, she may be on the defensive, being forced to counter in the first exchange after the prosecution opens the duel. A PC trying to elicit the duke’s help may open the duel, asking for favor and presenting the case for why granting aid is in the duchy’s best interest. A playful battle of wits during a dinner party might start when the party’s host chooses a guest to begin the first exchange.

At the start of a verbal duel, each duelist gains a pool of determination. Determination is a mix of personal magnetism, native intelligence, the ability to gauge and react to an opponent’s tactics, and any other mitigating factors pertinent to the duel. As the verbal duel progresses, exchanges take place and the stakes increase. A duelist loses determination equal to the exchange’s ante each time she either concedes or loses an exchange.

Other factors may also decrease a duelist’s determination.

When a duelist’s determination is reduced to 0 or lower, the verbal duel ends with her defeat.

Determination: A duelist’s base determination is the average (rounded down) of her Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma modifiers (minimum 0) + her total Hit Dice.

Adjusting Determination: Circumstances and effects might increase this pool of determination points, at the GM’s discretion. For instance, for a particular type of verbal duel, it might make sense to use a single ability modifier rather than the average. For a longer verbal duel, especially at low levels, it might make sense to use the highest of a character’s three mental ability modifiers or even add two or all three together.

One of the main ways to adjust determination is to consider if one of the characters has a social advantage or disadvantage. While the GM is free to determine the particulars of a character’s social advantage or disadvantage in a situation, the four default categories are extreme advantage, significant advantage, significant disadvantage, and extreme disadvantage. A character at an extreme advantage multiplies her determination by 2 and gains 5 edges. A character with a significant advantage multiplies her determination by 1.5 and gains 3 edges. A character at a significant disadvantage multiplies her determination by 3/4. Finally, a character at an extreme disadvantage multiplies her determination by 1/2 and loses 3 of her starting edges (minimum 0).


Tactics are the weapons of verbal dueling. At the start of each duel, each duelist can assign her skills to tactics that have those skills associated with them. A duelist can only assign a given skill to a single tactic, so if a duelist assigned Perform (oratory) to allegory, she couldn’t also assign it to emotional appeal. For the purpose of a verbal duel, a character calculates her associated skill bonus by adding her ranks in the skill (including the +3 bonus for having ranks in the skill if it is a class skill) and her Charisma modifier (regardless of which skill she chooses, unless she has the Ironclad Logic feat). If she has other modifiers to the skill, they grant her edges (see above). The bard’s versatile performance ability allows two skills to use the bonus from a Perform skill, and a character with that ability can assign all three of those skills to different tactics, even though he technically might only have ranks in the Perform skill.

A duelist might apply bonuses or penalties to a tactic’s associated skill check due to the audience’s bias, as well as from the following considerations.

Last Tactic: It’s often considered bad form and awkward to counter with the last tactic used against you. When you do so, you’ll take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check for the tactic. For instance, if your opponent uses mockery against you, countering with a mockery tactic is possible, but you take the –2 penalty on your associated skill check when you do.

Repetition of Tactics: Using the same tactic over and over again is not an effective way to win verbal duels. Over the course of a duel, each time you win an exchange with a particular tactic, you take a cumulative –2 penalty on all associated skill checks when you use the tactic again.

At that point, the audience and your opponent have both seen some of the best you had to offer with that tactic.

Tactic Interaction: Some tactics are not as effective at countering other tactics. Others are more effective at countering specific tactics. For instance, it is harder to counter a logical argument with mockery, and most tactics have a hard time foiling a verbal trap set by baiting.

Most tactic descriptions feature an “Interaction” entry detailing that tactic’s conflicts and synergies.


You use a fable or parable featuring an underlying message to frame the debate. While it is sometimes difficult to use allegory in the heat of an exchange, it makes a very effective opener.

Associated Skills: Knowledge (history), Knowledge (religion), Perform (act), Perform (oratory).

Interaction: You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill checks when using allegory as a counter.

Special: If you use allegory to open an exchange, and your opponent chooses to end the exchange rather than attempt to counter your allegory, increase the exchange’s current ante by 2 (before your opponent’s determination is reduced) instead of gaining an edge.


You hurl taunts and barbs, or level false dichotomies, goading your opponent into a trap. Baiting works best when the stakes are already high, since in that case backing down can be even more damaging than blundering into your trap.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Intimidate, Perform (comedy), Sense Motive.

Interaction: A duelist using a tactic other than presence takes a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when countering baiting.

Special: Baiting cannot be employed to open an exchange. If your opponent ends an exchange rather than counter your baiting, your baiting doesn’t suffer the normal –2 penalty on future associated skill checks for winning an exchange.

Optional Rule: Inspired Roleplaying

While not everyone is as good at verbal sparring as their character’s statistics indicate, players will often want to roleplay their tactics during a verbal duel. For particularly inspired or heart-felt roleplaying, the GM might award anywhere up to a +2 modifier on a tactic’s associated skill check. For brilliant roleplaying during a verbal duel, a GM might award an edge, and that edge can be general or keyed to a particular tactic.

Emotional Appeal

You make an argument appealing to the emotional desires of your opponent or audience. This tactic is particularly useful against an opponent with an advantage in status or knowledge; raising the emotional stakes can be rewarding, but it can also be dangerous.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Perform (oratory), Sense Motive.

Interaction: You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when using an emotional appeal to counter logic, presence, and rhetoric.

Special: Successfully countering with an emotional appeal increases the exchange’s ante by an additional 1.


You ingratiate yourself to your opponent, causing him to either let down his guard or to gain some other advantage.

While usually deceptive and manipulative, this tactic also covers the actions of characters who are genuinely likeable and friendly.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Knowledge (nobility).

Interaction: You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when using flattery to counter mockery. You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when using flattery to counter presence.

Special: If you win an exchange with flattery, reduce the ante of the exchange by 2 (minimum 0) and gain an edge that can be used with any skill check in a verbal duel.


When you use logic, you present facts, figures, and expert testimony. While logic can still be used to mislead your adversary or the audience, unlike most other tactics, it still requires a strong understanding of the subject matter to do so.

Associated Skills: Knowledge (any pertinent); occasionally, other skills will apply instead, such as Appraise (for a verbal duel involving barter or haggling) or Profession (for a verbal duel involving knowledge or practice of that profession’s skill set, such as Profession [barrister] during a trial).

Interaction: You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when you use logic as an opener. You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when you use logic to counter baiting, emotional appeal, mockery, red herring, or wit.

Special: When you win an exchange with logic, you gain 1 edge that you can only use with logic.


You use personal attacks, mudslinging, or creative insults to belittle your opponent. Mockery works best when you capitalize on your opponent’s use of an unpopular tactic.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Intimidate, Perform (comedy).

Interaction: You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when you use mockery to counter logic and wit.

Special: You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when you use mockery to counter a tactic with a negative audience bias, and if you win the exchange with mockery against such a tactic, increase the ante by 1. You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when you use mockery to counter a tactic with a positive audience bias, though if you succeed, reduce the ante by 1.


You make a show of confidence or true nobility or you simply put on airs, and an opponent’s claims slide off and bounce back against him, leaving you unscathed. This tactic works to deflect baiting and mockery but is less effective against other tricks.

Associated Skills: Intimidate, Knowledge (nobility).

Interaction: You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when you use presence to counter baiting or mockery. You takes a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when using presence to counter allegory, emotional appeal, or red herring.

Special: If you win an exchange with presence, you regain 1 determination (to a maximum amount equal to your starting determination).

Red Herring

You use this tactic to distract your opponent or the audience from the heart of the debate, avoiding the danger of the current exchange. While a red herring can’t be used as an opener, it can be used to quickly end an exchange that is getting too dangerous to continue.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Perform (oratory).

Special: You cannot use red herring as an opener.

When using a red herring as a counter, you can choose to gain a +4 bonus on the associated skill check. If you do so and succeed, instead of continuing and escalating the exchange as normal, you reduce the ante to 0 and automatically win the exchange. Unlike normal, you start the next exchange.


You use versatile debating tactics, applying advantageous rhetorical devices to squash your opponent’s arguments.

Most of the verbal maneuvers included in this tactic are simple and forthright linguistic devices; deceptive debating gambits are often included as part of other tactics such as baiting, emotional appeal, mockery, or red herring. Rhetoric is a multipurpose tactic that lacks some of the dangers of other tactics, but doesn’t offer any signif icant rewards either.

Associated Skills: Diplomacy, Linguistics, Perform (act), Perform (oratory).

Special: Since rhetoric involves subtle word choices that most audiences don’t notice consciously, it is very rare for an audience to have a negative bias toward rhetoric.


You use humor or cleverness to gain an advantage over your opponent, but the tactic can backfire if your jokes and jibes fall flat.

Associated Skills: Linguistics, Perform (comedy).

Special: When using wit, you can choose to gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check. If you do so and fail the associated skill check, decrease your determination by 1. If you fail by 5 or more, you take a –2 penalty on wit’s associated skill checks for the rest of the duel.

Verbal Exchanges

Verbal duels are fought in a series of exchanges. Each exchange is an argumentative back-and-forth in which each duelist attempts to gain the upper hand over her opponent and decrease the opponent’s determination to continue the debate. The end of an exchange might signal the end of the verbal duel or mark a change in the flow of the debate’s conversation.

At the start of each exchange, one of the duelists chooses a tactic as an opening, makes his associated skill check for that tactic, increases the ante of the exchange from 0 to 1, and sets the current exchange DC to the result of his check. The ante of the exchange is an ever-changing (usually increasing) value within an exchange; the duelist who either loses the exchange or decides to end the exchange reduces his determination by an amount equal to the exchange’s ante.

At this point, the opponent must decide whether to counter the opening or end the exchange. If she still has 1 or more determination remaining, she can then choose to open a new exchange or concede the duel. If she decides to counter the opening, she first increases the ante by 1, then chooses a tactic, and attempts the associated skill check.

If that skill check exceeds the current DC of the exchange, the exchange continues. That roll sets the new exchange DC for the original duelist to counter if he decides not to end the exchange. If the countering duelist’s check does not exceed the current DC of the exchange, she loses the exchange (reducing her determination as appropriate), though she can spend one or more of her edges to reroll the associated skill check, potentially multiple times.

If she decides to end the exchange, she reduces her determination by the exchange’s ante, and her opponent gains 1 edge.

Duelists repeat this cycle until one decides to end an exchange, a duelist fails to counter her opponent’s tactic, or the duel otherwise ends. When a duelist decides to end an exchange or fails to counter her opponent’s tactic, her determination is reduced by an amount equal to the current ante of the exchange. Whichever duelist ends an exchange or fails to counter her opponent’s tactic can either open a new exchange or concede the verbal duel if she still has determination remaining.

Ending a Duel

At the end of any exchange, either duelist can call to end the duel, and set the terms for ending the duel. When they do this, it can be considered a tie if both sides agree, or one side can call for the other to concede. A verbal duel ends immediately if one duelist’s determination is reduced to 0 or lower. In these cases, the other duelist wins. In either case where there is a victor, the victorious duelist achieves some social advantage from his success, usually defined by the scene of the verbal duel. A victory or a defeat in a verbal duel might also lead to unexpected complications.

For instance, a duelist may enter a verbal duel with her rival, a corrupt advisor. After succeeding, she may not only convince the duke that his advisor was plotting behind his back, but also inadvertently catch the eye of the duchess, who invites her to a secret tryst.

Multidirectional Duels

In unusual circumstances, a verbal duel might involve more than two independent duelists. In this case, the rules work the same with the following modification.

First, when a duelist opens an exchange, she selects one of the other duelists and the exchange continues between the two of them. When that exchange’s winner is determined or the exchange ends, the winner must then start an exchange with a different duelist. This goes on until only one duelist remains.

Team Duels

Team duels are a versatile option that can represent a variety of situations where there are several or many people representing one side of a debate, from a team of adventurers attempting to reason with a mob of angry peasants to a legislative body attempting to deliberate on a new bill. Team duels are particularly useful in adventures because they involve the entire party, rather than just the character with the most social skills.

In general, team duels work best when both sides have at least three participants, unless the outnumbered side possesses a significant advantage in skill against the other, such as in the case of adventurers and a mob of peasants. While a multidirectional team duel is possible, it is not recommended. Team duels generally don’t have an audience because often the audience participates as one of the two teams instead.

In a team duel, each team shares determination among all members, based on the best determination among members of the team. Since this gives some advantage to a team with a single powerful duelist, the GM can choose to multiply the determination of a particularly large group with a strong common belief or opinion by two or more (depending on the size) to represent the difficulty of swaying their unified resolve.

In a solo duel, when a duelist wins an exchange with a given tactic, that tactic takes a cumulative –2 penalty for the rest of the verbal duel. In a team duel, when a duelist wins an exchange, that character takes a –2 penalty on skill checks associated with all of her tactics instead.

Hearing many different voices, even if they have similar opinions, lends credibility to a team’s arguments.

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Skills in Conflict

When skills come into conflict with each other, it can lead to extremely complex interactions, often well beyond the scope of the short skill descriptions. The following section offers detailed advice on the most common skill clashes that involve difficult adjudications, as well as clarifications of skills that provides little guidance. The advice in this section is holistic, and GMs are encouraged to read each description in full to gain the best grasp of the nuances of each skill. Additionally, this section offers an optional variant system for opposed skill checks that reduces randomness and the potential for many rolls.


The Bluff skill is an extremely versatile, though sometimes misunderstood, social skill. Unlike Diplomacy and Intimidate, which can directly push their target toward a course of action, Bluff feeds the target misinformation.

A skilled user of the Bluff skill needs to understand how the target’s mind works, in order to deliver just the right misinformation to achieve the desired results. The disadvantage is that such manipulation is less predictable and more difficult to pull off, but the advantage is that the target is not aware that he is being manipulated, whereas even the most successful Diplomacy or Intimidate attempt leaves the target realizing who has convinced him to take action. This section includes clarifications and details on several different ways to use Bluff—and on several things that don’t work.


Deceiving people is the most prominent use of the Bluff skill, making it one of the trickiest skills to adjudicate.

Bluff Doesn’t Define a Response: Even the most successful lie told using Bluff doesn’t determine the course of action the deceived person takes—it just primes the target with misinformation. This means attempts to trick a creature into a course of action might need to also include Diplomacy or Intimidate after the Bluff check. For example, suppose there was a guard with the following orders from the guard captain: “Don’t let anyone into the restricted area without clearance papers, even if it seems to be me or someone of higher rank.” After this, a sneaky rogue attempts the following ruse: “I am the king’s general on a mission of utmost importance for national security. I need you to let me in now, or you’re fired!” Assuming the rogue succeeds at her Bluff check, the guard now believes her to be the general, but this doesn’t mean he will let her through. His orders still require him to keep everyone out without papers. The last part of the rogue’s demand is an attempt to Intimidate the guard, and the successful Bluff check was a necessary prerequisite to even attempt the Intimidate check.

Circumstances: When using Bluff to tell a lie, the table on possible circumstance modifiers takes into account several levels of plausibility, targets who want to believe or are impaired, and possession of convincing proof, but there are also plenty of other circumstances that might affect the result of a Bluff check. For instance, many people strongly don’t want to believe a bluff that would lead to cognitive dissonance, such as attempting to convince a true believer that their religion is fake, and such a lie imposes a –5 penalty on the attempt (the opposite of a target who wants to believe the falsehood). On the other hand, a target who is afraid that the deceit is actually correct might grant a +2 bonus or more on the skill check, depending on the level of anxiety about the fabrication. For instance, a bigoted assassin who is afraid that half-orcs are cannibals might be more likely to believe a half-orc’s bluff that she ate the target he was supposed to kill.

There are a variety of other circumstances, all of which might alter the odds in different directions. A character with a widespread reputation of being a compulsive liar might take a large penalty on his skill check, but a character with a reputation for always telling the truth, such as a paladin, would gain a large bonus on her skill check. Similarly, a hostile creature is much less likely to believe a deception, whereas a helpful creature is much more likely to believe one.

Tricking Someone: Bluff can be used to cleverly trip a target up and get him to reveal something or make a mistake. In these cases, he realizes his mistake soon after, but by then it is too late, and the falsehood has done its damage. This is similar to using Bluff to feint or create a distraction, but has broader applications in social situations. For instance, suppose a swashbuckler suspected that an assassin works for the queen. The swashbuckler might be able to trick the assassin into revealing more information by pretending to be a fellow agent of the queen in an attempt to gauge the assassin’s response. of course, if the assassin doesn’t work for the queen and sees through the ruse, he might attempt his own Bluff check to pretend that he works for the queen and fell for the trick, thus causing the swashbuckler to investigate the innocent queen.

Conspirators and the Spokesperson: Sometimes, a group of individuals has a single spokesperson tell a convincing lie while the others just pray that the target doesn’t notice them chuckling in the background with their inability to pull off a successful bluff. Though this tactic might succeed against a complacent target, a competent target cognizant of the possibility of being deceived should attempt a Sense Motive check opposed by the Bluff check of at least a few of the other individuals, perhaps directing specific follow-up questions their way, or even just try to get a hunch about the others.

Plausibility: Some lies are implausible enough that no matter how high a character’s Bluff check, a PC can’t convince a target that they are true. However, the same page also presents a table that says that “impossible” lies impart a –20 penalty on the skill check. This table’s entry might actually be better described as “particularly implausible.” For example, an older human woman telling a very similar-looking human girl that she is herself from the future might take the –20 penalty, whereas a 10-year-old half-elf telling a 40-year-old orc the same lie would automatically fail the Bluff check.

Frequency of Bluff Checks: When a PC is attempting to con someone for an extended period of time rather than telling just one lie, how often should the GM call for new Bluff checks? This is important, since every new Bluff check is an opportunity for the opposition to attempt new Sense Motive checks and uncover the lie. The frequency of checks can be highly variable, and the GM is the ultimate arbiter, but some guidelines can be helpful. Requiring a new check for every individual statement that is a lie would bog down the game. In general, one Bluff check per new topic makes sense. If a new statement has different circumstances (particularly if it is less believable than the previous ones), it calls for a new Bluff check.

For example, a character might claim to have been to an ancient dungeon. If his Bluff check succeeds, the opposition takes it for granted that the character went there, and basic details such as when the character went or how she got there don’t require a new check. However, if she says she found a famous, long-lost artifact within the dungeon or traveled to the dungeon on the back of a roc, she will need to make a new check for the new topic or greater exaggeration. Maintaining a facade once a lie has been established usually doesn’t require a new check. If a character is pretending to be a tax inspector and has succeeded at the initial attempt to Bluff, it isn’t necessary to make him roll a Bluff check every time he says anything that is true for a tax inspector but a lie for the real character.

You’re Not Lying, You’re Just Wrong: Sometimes a character is a convincing enough liar that targets can’t tell the character is lying, even when the targets possess incontrovertible proof that what the character is saying isn’t true, or the lie is otherwise too unbelievable to be possible. In this case, one way to resolve the situation is for the bluffing character to take a –20 penalty on the skill check, and if she beats the target’s Sense Motive, then the target believes that the bluffing character isn’t lying, but is simply mistaken. This could also be the result of other situations in which the target of the Bluff attempt has strong reasons to believe that the falsehood, despite being plausible, isn’t factually correct. Even this result can be useful to the bluffing character, as it doesn’t mark her as a liar, and it allows her to gather information about what her target knows and expects.

True Lies and Implausible Truths: Bluff is the skill that convinces someone that something is true. However, there are a few potential cases when the situation isn’t as straightforward as a bluffing character telling a lie to a target. For instance, suppose that the bluffing character makes up a believable lie to tell the target, and the lie turns out to be true, unbeknown to the bluffing character. If the Bluff check succeeded, the target is convinced, and might later verify the truth and trust the bluffing character more. However, what if the bluffing character fails? In this case, the target can tell that the bluffing character is lying, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the target is forced to conclude that the information is false. For instance, suppose a popular king has fallen into a magical, unbreakable sleep. A charlatan, noticing the king’s lack of public appearances, makes up a story about the king being placed under a sleeping curse and spreads it around the tavern, but his Bluff check is terrible, and everyone can tell he’s making it up. If one of the king’s advisors is present in the tavern, this doesn’t mean that the advisor now thinks the king isn’t in a coma; it just means that she can tell the charlatan doesn’t believe his own story.

The reverse side of true lies is implausible truths.

These are situations in which someone is telling the truth (either saying something that is actually true, or spreading a lie that they believe to be true), but that truth is extremely implausible to the listener. Though the bluffing character isn’t lying, the same skill set that makes an excellent and convincing liar could potentially help characters attempting to spread an implausible truth. In these cases, even if the target succeeds at the Sense Motive check, he can tell that the bluffing character truly believes what she is saying, and he might simply conclude that she isn’t lying, but simply mistaken. The target might later be swayed if presented with evidence or through a verbal duel. If a bluffing character successfully convinces a target of a lie and the target attempts to spread that information, this leads to a classic example of an implausible truth.

Aftermath: While most of the Bluff rules focus on the scene between the bluffing character and the target, it is important to consider what happens afterward—especially in an intrigue-based campaign. Though true masters of deception might be able to pull off a bluff such that no one is ever the wiser, in the case of most successful bluffs, the targets eventually discover new information that allows them to realize the truth of the matter. In this case, their attitude toward the bluffing character generally decreases by one step (or simply becomes unfriendly), depending on the previous attitude and the severity of the bluff’s consequences. Furthermore, if the bluffing character attempts to lie to such a target again, her Bluff check takes a similar penalty as if she had failed to deceive the target (either a –10 penalty, or the skill check might be impossible, at the GM’s discretion).

Lies upon Lies: The aftermath of a Bluff becomes even more complicated if someone else attempts to make a contradictory lie, either in the same scene as the original prevarication or afterwards. If the bluffing characters are present together, it might be a good time to have them enter a verbal duel, with the target as the audience. However, this isn’t possible when the second Bluff attempt happens after the first deceiving character is gone but before the target discovers the ruse. In this case, the second bluffing character has an advantage. She might be able to show proof that the first character was lying in order to build up the credibility of her own lie. If the second bluffing character beats the target’s Sense Motive, but does not debunk the original lie or beat the first bluffing character’s original Bluff check, then the target will likely be confused and unlikely to act on either piece of information. Or, the target might conclude that the second bluffer believes what she said but is misinformed.

Other Uses of Bluff

In addition to being used for lying, the Bluff skill has several other uses defined in the rules.

Creating a Diversion: You can attempt a Bluff check to create a diversion to allow you to use Stealth, even a misdirection as simple as saying, “What’s that behind you?” This usage is only mentioned off-handedly in the Stealth skill description, with no reference to its action type. Creating a distraction is a standard action.

Secret Messages and Intrigue: Don’t underestimate the benefit of using Bluff to send messages through innuendo. Since the DC to send a message is static (15 or 20 depending on the message’s complexity), you can quickly reach the point that the message itself is reliable, and thus the only risk is being intercepted, which would have happened anyway if you didn’t make the attempt.

Surprise: Not every surprise round begins with an ambush from unseen assailants. If a character or several characters unexpectedly attack in the midst of a conversation or other normal activity, their victims might be surprised.

To determine if a victim is surprised, he should attempt a Sense Motive check opposed by the assailant’s Bluff check rather than a Perception opposed by the assailant’s Stealth check. This is also a good way to adjudicate several abilities, including several vigilante talents that trigger when the target thinks the vigilante is an ally.

Maintaining a Disguise: When maintaining a disguise, the Bluff skill isn’t necessary to correctly portray things such as mannerisms or facial expressions, but it will almost certainly come up when the disguised character makes statements in his assumed persona as he talks about events he didn’t actually experience. of course, a well-prepared character has thoroughly researched his disguise, so he is unlikely to take any penalties to his Bluff attempts.


Due to its ability to convince people without using either deception or coercion—and risking their negative consequences—the Diplomacy skill is one of the most commonly used forms of persuasion. However, it is also difficult to adjudicate in a variety of situations involving intrigue and combat.

Attitudes and Requests

The most consequential use of the Diplomacy skill is to change the attitudes of other creatures and to get them to comply with requests you make.

Attitude Adjustments, Personality, and Goals: One major trap in understanding the Diplomacy skill is the mistaken idea that attitude adjustments achieved using Diplomacy change a character’s underlying personality and goals. In fact, attitude adjustments are minor good impressions (or bad impressions, in the case of a disastrously failed check) that last only a few hours by default. At the GM’s discretion, the adjustments may last for shorter or longer periods, depending on the circumstances. As such, a Diplomacy check to change someone’s attitude is mainly useful as a prelude to a follow-up request. It doesn’t alter the creature’s personality or goals.

For instance, if a cunning bard managed to convince the evil necromancer queen to become friendly with him, that doesn’t mean she will give up plans of world domination or change her deity from the goddess of undead to the goddess of beauty and love, but it does mean that she likes the bard now. Even without further requests, she would probably spare him if he pledges loyalty to her and if she thinks she can trust him. Even if she feels she can’t trust him, she might at least be fond enough of him to transform him into a loyal undead servant so she can keep him around. Attempting to convince the necromancer queen to give up her evil ways and cease her plans for world conquest involves much more than a Diplomacy check to change her attitude toward the bard. The bard would then need to use the influence system or the relationship system to become closer to the necromancer queen, perhaps engaging in a verbal duel with her or even focusing an entire series of social adventures around changing her perspective (see Social Conflicts).

Requests Are Not Mind Control: This is the biggest potential trap in understanding the Diplomacy skill in a typical game. Diplomacy’s main strength is the ability to make requests without angering the target, but that doesn’t mean that it works like mind control. Some requests automatically fail if they go against a creature’s values or nature. In this vein, it is important to remember that no matter how high a Diplomacy roll may be, the target still has free will and won’t accept certain requests. Even so, a character who declines a very high Diplomacy result should do so respectfully, as the high result means that the diplomat made her argument effectively and convincingly. For instance, a paladin who swore an oath to never unseal the inner catacombs of her faith’s central cathedral might apologize and explain that though the argument to do so was convincing, she unfortunately can’t violate this vow.

A target who must refuse a request might try to honor the request in spirit, offering an alternative that might advance the same greater goal or doing a significant but still lesser favor for the requester.

Roleplaying and Skills: As you can see from the sections above, as well as the table of potential circumstances, the nature of a request is crucial to determining its success or failure. Therefore, it is necessary to describe the request in order to attempt a Diplomacy check. A diplomat’s player can’t just say “I Diplomacy the guard.” The player must provide a specific request along with any rationale supporting that desire, even if the player or GM doesn’t want to roleplay the whole interaction in character. On the other hand, using Diplomacy to improve a target’s attitude is both more open-ended and less fraught with circumstance modifiers, so when strapped for time or out of ideas, it is fine to omit a description of how a diplomat manages to do so. Using the previous example of the bard and the necromancer queen, the bard’s request to spare a peasant so that she may spread word of the queen’s mighty army and cause other villages to surrender without a fight is quite a different situation than him saying, “Spare this peasant woman because killing her is evil and makes my goddess sad,” or even “Spare this peasant woman for me. Please?”

Gathering Information: The Diplomacy skill allows a character to canvass locations for information. Because this use of Diplomacy often produces similar results to those of a high Knowledge (local) check, adventurers might be able to attempt either one to gain the same information. In fact, adventures occasionally present a table of facts that either skill can uncover. Gathering information with Diplomacy actually involves spending 1d4 hours actively seeking the information and allows the character to retry the attempt to pick up additional information. When a PC fails at a Knowledge (local) check, the GM can give the character a second chance by having him spend time attempting to gather that information from others.

Some information is simply impossible to find via gathering information. The information that people know is typically limited to the area where they live, and is filtered through their biases.

In a city on the brink of a race war between elves and humans, the information available among the upperclass human nobility will have a significantly different spin and tone to it than the information available in the elven ghetto, and the checks to gather information in those places would meet with circumstance bonuses or penalties depending on who was asking where. Thus, it is important to decide where a character is gathering information before determining what information they receive. Filtering the information through the biases of the community adds flavor and nuance to the world around the characters.

Finally, remember that gathering information is itself a conspicuous act, so others who are gathering information can usually notice it in turn. A typical DC for hearing about someone else gathering information should start at 15, and a character wishing to gather information clandestinely can choose to take a penalty on her Diplomacy check to increase that DC by the same amount.

Calling for a Cease-Fire: One of the first things that a potential diplomat might try in a combat is to call for a temporary cease-fire. The standard description of the Diplomacy skill indicates that requests take 1 round or longer, and that shifting attitudes takes 1 minute. Since a cease-fire is a type of request, this would work fine, with the diplomat making the request over the course of a full round of combat and completing it just before her next turn. However, a character can usually only make requests of a target that feels at least indifferent toward that character, and the vast majority of battles involve characters that are unfriendly or hostile toward each other.

In this case, and in other instances of requests made to unfriendly or hostile characters, the GM should consider only allowing such requests that are couched in such a way that they seem to be in the target’s best interests. An unfriendly or hostile character certainly isn’t going to be doing the would-be diplomat any favors, but that doesn’t mean they will ignore an idea that is better for them than facing the consequences of the combat. Even if adversaries agree to a brief cease-fire to listen to the diplomat’s terms, they won’t let their guard down. Generally, they will also require the side calling for the cease-fire to make a show of their intentions by laying down or sheathing their weapons, dropping spell component pouches, or the like, while attempting Sense Motive checks to determine if the cease-fire is a ruse. Creatures that feel themselves to be at an advantage in the combat by virtue of a short-duration spell or other effect that would expire during a cease-fire almost never agree to a cease-fire, as it isn’t in their best interest to do so.


The uses of the Disguise skill are far more specific than those of Bluff and Diplomacy. The Disguise skill exists to allow characters to conceal their identity and to potentially pose as other characters.

Not Always Opposed: The most important thing to note about the Disguise skill is that characters do not automatically get a Perception check to oppose it. An opponent receives a Perception check only if the disguised character is actively drawing attention, if the perceiving character is actively suspicious of everyone, or if the disguised character is attempting to impersonate a particular person that the perceiving character recognizes. Under one of these circumstances, a perceiving character can attempt one Perception check right away and then another check each hour.

A Single Disguise Check: Unlike most other skills, a character typically attempts a Disguise check only once when creating a physical disguise. Further Disguise checks might be necessary for things such as altering one’s voice or using appropriate mannerisms or phrasing, but the basic disguise doesn’t require further checks. The check result is supposed to be a secret that is revealed only the first time the disguise is truly tested, which can be tricky in the face of disguising characters who want their friends to tell them how good the disguise is. One way to handle this is to roll the Disguise check secretly only the first time it truly comes into opposition (see above), since the skill doesn’t indicate when the check first occurs.

Disguise Is More Than Visual: Though the skill focuses on the visual aspects of disguise that a character prepares, later rules (such as the vocal alteration spell) have made it clear that there are other aspects, including voice, mannerisms, and phrasing. The trick is to distinguish between the use of the Bluff and the Disguise skills. Generally, Bluff checks cover telling actual lies to support a disguise, whereas Disguise checks cover the other aspects, such as imitating mannerisms and speech.

Saw Through the Illusion: It is very tempting to use illusion or transmutation magic to augment a disguise, since the bonus is so high. Magic that penetrates an illusion or transmutation doesn’t automatically see through a mundane disguise, but it negates the magical components of the costume. Thus, a true master of disguise uses both types of trickery, and she also ensures that the person who notices her use of magic has a way to explain the fact that disguise magic was involved at all. For instance, a rogue might disguise herself as a noble with mundane means and then use disguise self to cloak herself in a glamer of that same noble, but more beautiful. Then, if someone sees through the illusion but not the mundane disguise, he would just think she was a vain noble instead of becoming suspicious due to the use of illusion magic and demanding a more thorough inspection.

Simulacrum and Disguise: The caster of the simulacrum spell uses the Disguise skill to shape the form created.

However, it is important to note that the Sense Motive check to detect a simulacrum is very easy at the level that simulacrum becomes available, so unless the simulacrum has a high Bluff modifier, it is still challenging to use a simulacrum as an impostor for long.


The Intimidate skill allows characters to use fear to gain an advantage over others.

Scaring Them into Submission: Other than demoralizing foes in combat, the main use of the Intimidate skill is to force someone to capitulate to your requests by scaring them into doing so. This is similar to improving someone’s attitude to friendly with Diplomacy and then making a request, but it doesn’t require multiple rolls. Instead, the requests are restricted to those that provide limited assistance and actions that don’t endanger the creature, including giving information. This means that an intimidated creature doesn’t necessarily do what the intimidating character wants if it would be dangerous.

After the Intimidate check, the target becomes unfriendly and might take actions such as reporting the intimidating character to the authorities. Thus, Diplomacy is often more likely to be successful in the long term in campaigns with interweaving plot lines and recurring characters. Since intimidation is based on fear, creatures immune to fear are also generally immune to attempts to use Intimidate against them.

Posturing and Bluster: The rules for the Intimidate skill specify that a check’s DC is based on the target’s HD and Wisdom modifier. That generally works when one person is attempting to Intimidate the other, but sometimes both parties are actively participating in acts of posturing and bluster. Since this DC is usually low, the two characters would end up intimidating each other, which isn’t quite realistic. Instead, consider opposed Intimidate checks, or if the situation warrants it, a full-fledged verbal duel.

Explaining Negative Consequences: Sometimes a character wants to calmly explain negative consequences to someone in a way that merely relies on logic, not fear.

This is particularly important when attempting to convince someone immune to fear, such as a paladin or vampire, to back down in the face of negative consequences. This is different than improving a creature’s attitude or making a request (particularly since a character might try it with an unfriendly creature), so it doesn’t fall under Diplomacy. One good way to handle this is to use the rules for influence or verbal duels instead, since those both allow for logic and knowledge to help impact the situation. If only a skill check is possible, consider allowing an Intimidate check that doesn’t apply any modifiers tied to frightening the target (such as the Intimidating Prowess feat, size modifiers, an inquisitor’s stern gaze, and so on) and then having the result not be a fear effect.

Perception And Stealth

Since Perception is the skill that determines what a character sees, hears, and senses in the game world, it is no wonder that it’s often considered the most important skill in the game. Stealth and Perception often oppose one another, and the two of them together can be difficult to adjudicate.

Active and Automatic Perception: There are two ways Perception checks happen in the game. The first way is automatic and reactive. Certain stimuli automatically call for a Perception check, such as a creature using Stealth (which calls for an opposed Perception check), or the sounds of combat or talking in the distance. The flip side is when a player actively calls for a Perception check because her PC is intentionally searching for something. This always takes at least a move action, but often takes significantly longer.

The core rules don’t specify what area a PC can actively search, but for a given Perception check it should be no larger than a 10-foot-by-10-foot area, and often a smaller space if that area is cluttered. For instance, in an intrigue-based game, it is fairly common to look through a filing cabinet full of files. Though the cabinet itself might fill only a 5-foot-by-5-foot area, the number of files present could cause a search to take a particularly long time.

Precise and Imprecise Senses: Since Perception covers all senses, it is important to distinguish which of those senses count as observing a creature that is using Stealth.

Some senses are more precise than others. Imprecise senses allow a creature to pinpoint the location of another creature, but they don’t allow for the use of targeted effects, and attacks against those creatures are subject to miss chances from concealment. A few examples of imprecise senses are hearing, scent, blindsense, and tremorsense. A sense is precise if it allows the creature to use targeted effects on creatures and objects it senses, and to attack enemies without suffering a miss chance from concealment. This includes vision, touch, blindsight, and lifesense. Precise senses allow the creature to pinpoint an enemy’s location. When a creature uses a precise sense to observe an enemy, that enemy is unable to use Stealth against the observer unless it creates a distraction first, or has a special ability allowing it to do so. Senses other than the listed ones count as precise or imprecise at the GM’s discretion. A creature might have a limited form of a sense that makes it too weak to count as precise, such as a beast with primitive eyes that has difficulty seeing a creature that isn’t moving.

Cover and Concealment for Stealth: The reason a character usually needs cover or concealment to use Stealth is tied to the fact that characters can’t use Stealth while being observed. A sneaking character needs to avoid all of an opponent’s precise senses in order to use Stealth, and for most creatures, that means vision. Effects such as blur and displacement, which leave a clear visual of the character within the perceiving character’s vision, aren’t sufficient to use Stealth, but a shadowy area or a curtain work nicely, for example. The hide in plain sight class ability allows a creature to use Stealth while being observed and thus avoids this whole situation. A sneaking character can come out of cover or concealment during her turn, as long as she doesn’t end her turn where other characters are directly observing her.

States of Awareness: In general, there are four states of awareness that a creature can have with regard to another creature using Stealth.

Unaware: On one end of the spectrum, a sneaking creature can succeed at Stealth well enough that the other creature isn’t even aware that the creature is present.

This state allows the sneaking creature to use abilities such as the vigilante’s startling appearance. The Stealth skill description says that perceiving creatures that fail to beat a sneaking character’s Stealth check result are not aware of the sneaking character, but that is different from being totally unaware. This is also true of a creature that has previously been made aware of the creature’s presence or location (see below) but is currently unable to observe the sneaking creature. In those cases, the sneaking creature can’t use abilities such as startling presence.

Aware of Presence: The next state is when the perceiving creature is aware of the sneaking creature’s presence, though not of anything beyond that. This is the state that happens when an invisible creature attacks someone and then successfully uses Stealth so the perceiving creature doesn’t know where the attacker moved, or when a sniper succeeds at her Stealth check to snipe.

A perceiving creature that becomes aware of a hidden creature’s presence will still be aware of its presence at least until the danger of the situation continues, if not longer (though memory-altering magic can change this).

Aware of Location: The next state is awareness of location.

This happens when a perceiving character uses an imprecise sense, such as hearing or tremorsense, to discover what square a hidden or invisible creature inhabits.

Observing: The final state is when the perceiving character is able to directly observe the sneaking character with a precise sense, such as vision. This is generally the result when the perceiving character rolls higher on its opposed Perception check than the sneaking character’s Stealth result while also having line of sight to the sneaking character and the ability to see through any sort of invisibility or other tricks the sneaking character might be using.

Sense Motive

The Sense Motive skill allows a character to analyze the way another character is acting and figure out if something is off. It also opposes Bluff to determine whether someone is lying, making it an important social defensive skill in an intrigue-based game.

Active and Automatic Sense Motive: Most uses of Sense Motive are active and require a character to spend a minute or more interacting with someone with the intent of using Sense Motive for a particular purpose. The only time that Sense Motive happens automatically is when it opposes Bluff. A character attempts a Sense Motive check for every Bluff check attempted against him. See the Bluff section for guidance on how often to call for Bluff checks.

Noticing Enchantments: Sense Motive allows a character to notice someone whose behavior is being influenced by an enchantment, though as an active check, this takes at least 1 minute of interaction and the intention to sense enchantments. This doesn’t notice enchantments that aren’t actually causing a difference in behavior at the time.

For instance, if a creature is under charm person but the caster isn’t around and doesn’t come up in conversation, a Sense Motive check won’t reveal the enchantment.

Hunches: The use of Sense Motive to “get a hunch” mentions getting a feeling that someone is trustworthy or is an impostor, and it lists a static DC. This doesn’t mean to say that anyone who can succeed at a DC 20 Sense Motive check can automatically find an impostor with high Bluff and Disguise modifiers. The DC 20 check assumes that the other character is not opposing the Sense Motive check with Bluff. This is particularly useful in situations with a group of impostors, one of whom is silver-tongued and does all the talking while the others aren’t saying anything but aren’t skilled at Bluff. For instance, a hunch might help against a group of quiet assassins dressed as servants and trickling into the grand hall. The information gained from a hunch is general, not specific, and usually results in an ambiguous inkling. You can get a vague feeling that something is wrong or that someone seems trustworthy, but no more specific information than that. In the example above, a character who received a hunch wouldn’t know that the servants are specifically assassins, but would get a sense that something was off about the servants.

Sense Motive Is Not Mind Reading: Though Sense Motive can help ferret out lies and gain hunches about odd situations, it doesn’t let a character read opponents’ minds and know exactly what they’re thinking or planning. It is a verification tool that works well in conjunction with other skills, rather than a skill that allows a character to ascertain information.

Replacing Opposed Rolls

Especially in intrigue-based games, there are situations in which many different creatures might normally need to roll an opposed skill check against a PC. For instance, if the rogue sneaks into a camp of 50 orcs, it would technically require rolling 50 Perception checks.

This slows down the game, and it makes it almost certain that one of those orcs will roll a natural 20. This variant rule replaces opposed rolls to reduce this sheer number of rolls and the likelihood for a skilled PC to be defeated by math alone.

With this variant, when a character attempts a skill check that would normally be opposed, he attempts the check as normal, comparing the result against the DC presented by each foe (DC = 11 + the foe’s total skill bonus with the opposed skill). If the initiating character fails this check, he simply fails and immediately experiences the consequences of failure. If he succeeds, however, he does so only against the rank-and-file opponents (such as most of the warriors in an orc camp, or most of the hangers-on at a royal court). Select foes (such as major NPCs or dedicated scouts and guards) can attempt a check with the opposing skill (DC = 11 + the initiating character’s total skill bonus with skill he originally used). This resembles the way the Disguise skill works, where only those who pay attention to the character and are suspicious of her can attempt a Perception check.

For example, if a hunter is sneaking through a camp of 50 orcs and succeeds at her initial Stealth check against a DC of 11 + each orc’s Perception modifier, she slips into the camp. Meanwhile, the two orcs posted as sentries scan for trouble, so each of those orcs (but not the other 48) rolls a Perception check to see if they notice the hunter. Similarly, a bard might succeed at a Bluff check to convince the minor nobles of the court of his exaggerated exploits, but three key aristocrats—suspicious of the bard to begin with—try to poke holes in the story and find contradictions by grilling the bard for details, each of them rolling Sense Motive checks against a DC of 11 + the bard’s Bluff modifier.

Multiple Bonuses: If the opposing group possesses a mix of bonuses, use the highest value to determine the DC. In the example of the orc camp, if 40 of the orc warriors have a –1 Perception modifier and 10 scouts have a +10 Perception modifier, the hunter would be attempting a DC 21 Stealth check. Note that because this variant doesn’t specify which opponents beat the check, it is up to the GM to decide how the consequences of the failed check manifest.

The Odds: This variant increases the odds of success dramatically for highly skilled characters. For instance, if the hunter in the example above has a modifier on Stealth checks at least 9 higher than the orcsPerception modifiers, in the default system, she would have a 50% chance of succeeding. But with this variant, her chance increases to 85%. When the character has less of an advantage against her adversaries, this variant still increases the rate of success dramatically with many adversaries, and it decreases the rate slightly with a few determined adversaries. For instance, with the default system, if the hunter’s Stealth matched the orcsPerception, she would have essentially a 0% chance of sneaking past the 50 orcs. With this variant, her chance is 1 in 8. However, if the other 48 orcs weren’t present, her chance of sneaking past just the two sentries in the default system is roughly 1 in 4, whereas with this variant, it is 1 in 8, since only the determined adversaries make their own rolls and thus affect her odds.

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Section 15: Copyright Notice

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Ultimate Intrigue © 2016, Paizo Inc.; Authors: Jesse Benner, John Bennett, Logan Bonner, Robert Brookes, Jason Bulmahn, Ross Byers, Robert N. Emerson, Amanda Hamon Kunz, Steven Helt, Thurston Hillman, Tim Hitchcock, Mikko Kallio, Rob McCreary, Jason Nelson, Tom Phillips, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Thomas M. Reid, Alexander Riggs, David N. Ross, David Schwartz, Mark Seifter, Linda Zayas-Palmer.