View Full Version : Intimidation, Social Skills, and Players

2009-09-20, 08:37 PM
Note: Originally, this was going to be a post solely about intimidate, but the more I thought about it, the more I strayed into other issues.

Ah, Initiadte. The unloved, abused stepchild of the social skills, ignored to the point that some argue that it should be a subset of Bluff, since it's just a threat, and threats are kind of like lies, right?

How you handle Intimidate, as a DM? I've seen a few people who houserule it as being Strength-based, so that Cha-dumping fighters can use it, but I never really found that to fit. Yes, you can use a feat of strength to intimidate an opponent, but its all in the showmanship of that feat is you want to influence. A menacing glare while you crush a soda can is still more intimidating than a guy who's making silly faces and funny noises while he bends a steel rod; sure, the second guy might be stronger, but he's just laughable. The first fellow, on the other hand, has made a pretty strong statement that he iontends to hurt you. Of course, this is just my opinion; if you feel the second example is still more intimidating, then more power to you. You also need to keep in mind that Initmidate should at least be a Charisma based skill at least some of the time. There's no physical prowess involved in whispering a threat to someone's family in his or her ear, after all. Perhaps, if you feel that the act is more intimidating than the intent, or just that Intimidate needs to be Strength based for game balance, then you may want to make the ability modifier situational.

On the point of game balance, I feel, without using any homebrew, Intimidate is the best balanced social skill. Even if you win on the skill check, there is still a backlash, as there should be for having such a strong influence on NPC actions. It is a trade-off, making it less powerful than Bluff and Diplomacy, but can anyone really argue that Diplomacy is good as is? Bluff, although it has problems, is probably a good contender for most balanced. Diplomacy is clearly the most abusable of the three skills; while Intimidate caps out at friendly, and only for as long as you are present, and Bluff only has the character act as you wish for a round or so, Diplomacy can be used to turn anyone you meet into a friend, or a friend into a fanatic follower, forever. In addition, Bluff and Initmidate can, at their best, replicate a limited Charm Person. Diplomancy falls just short of Dominate Monster. Initmidate and Bluff are what I feel are what you should be using; Intimidate for enemies or people you'll only be encountering once, and Bluff with people you'll be dealing with extensively. Barring homebrew, those are the skills I'd prefer my players use, although usually Diplomacy is houseruled to not be dumb.

Of course, there are issues about how players use these skills to influence your NPCs, but what about the issues with your NPCs using them to influence players? It has always been a long standing rule that you do not use Diplomacy and Charm Person. Bluff is always an interesting issue; chances are that your players won't complain if you make some secret rolls and say, "Well, Jim, you got a 22 for Sense Motive, and the king's advisor got a 4 on his Bluff, so your character looks at the advisor and surmises that he is lying through his teeth." However, some might have a problem with you making a sneaky roll, and then saying, "Well, Jim, the advisor tells you that he is secretly a unicorn. You believe him." If you don't tell him that he has to believe the advisor, why even bother making the check? You could have just told him what the advisor says and let him draw his own conclusions.

Honestly, that is really what Bluff and Diplomacy should be, when it comes to the DM against the character. There is no dice rolling involved; it relies solely on whether or not you, personally but in character, can lie to your players, or if you can convince them they should be on the NPC's side. The reasoning for this tends to stem from the idea that people don't like being told what their characters feel. However, when it comes down to it, it's not that much different form a Fear spell, or a Phantasmal Killer spell, or pretty much any illusion spell. The only difference is while people might get upset if they lose their roll on a fear spell, they'll just be mildly offput that they have to spend a turn running away, but people will start throwing chairs if you pull out Charm Person on them. Hell, people get more defensive about that spell than Dominate Person, just because it tells them that they like the person, rather than being forced. I think it says something about us as pklayer that we would rather lose control of the character totally than be told how we feel.

Anyways, how do you all feel about this? How do you handle Intimidate? How do you use the other social skills?

2009-09-20, 09:37 PM
I've got to say, the size of your post is kind of intimidating.

Anyway, the thing with using rolls instead of proper roleplay is that sometimes, a player just isn't as good at roleplaying as his character is. It complicates social interaction, because it brings it up to the level of complication of real socializing. That's fine if you're there to flex your drama skills, but it's difficult or boring for some players who might otherwise be roleplaying just fine along the guiding handrails of the default NPC interaction rules. You have to argue over whether something was a convincing story. You are effectively having to convince the DM that you can convince an NPC of something every time you lie in-game. Likewise, intimidation is an unpredictable action and can still cause arguments. To prevent headaches, these are abjudicated by rolls in the default rules. Diplomacy is the one skill I do think should be roleplayed out entirely without rolls, if only because no system for it really works properly.

Regarding changing intimidate: I would certainly like to change intimidate to being modified by your strongest stat, since every character should be intimidating in his or her own way, given that all classes are designed primarily with combat in mind.

2009-09-20, 09:43 PM
I've always been disappointed with my DM's handling of Intimidate. When I take a character of a higher level, with a high modifier and a decent roll, I am more likely to have someone laugh in my face than I am to coerce anyone.

2009-09-20, 11:57 PM
Anyway, the thing with using rolls instead of proper roleplay is that sometimes, a player just isn't as good at roleplaying as his character is.
Snicker. I'm contemplating having my character, a fighter/ranger, temporarily become a fashion consultant. Talk about a character role-playing!

(There are at least two reasons it would make sense in-game, and he has a background that might enable him to pull it off. Except he needs to be dressed much nicer than he is, and may not have enough gold.)

Regarding changing intimidate: I would certainly like to change intimidate to being modified by your strongest stat, since every character should be intimidating in his or her own way, given that all classes are designed primarily with combat in mind.

I like the basic idea and would extend it to Bluff, but I'm still not quite comfortable with it. And to fancy it up so it feels right, would make it rather complicated:
(1) It's mainly based on what sort of intimidating/bluffing you're trying to do. My fighter/ranger recently tried to bluff an exorcism (he was bluffing the NPCs in the room, NOT the spirit he was "exorcising" - the shaman would probably have been annoyed at that), which would be a WIS bluff. Soon he might be trying to intimidate some fashion choices, which sounds like a genuine CHA intimidate. On the other hand, if he's got his swords out and is glowering angrily at an NPC, that would legitimately be an STR intimidate.
(2) You MAY, instead, take CHA bonus minus one, on any bluff or intimidate - you would obviously not make this choice if CHA was the most appropriate stat in the first place. This is because you are good enough at presenting yourself to fake it: the NPC can plainly see that you (sorcerer) look too scrawny to be much good with that sword you're threatening him with, but you're holding it so confidently (and in a competent manner) that he isn't sure...
(3) You MUST, also, take your CHA penalty (if you have one) on any non-CHA bluff or intimidate. This is because you are so poor at presenting yourself.

Unfortunately that would mean the DM is picking the stat for every bluff or intimidate attempt. (In principle anyway; most of the time the player would probably suggest the most appropriate stat.) An extra bother.

Always using CHA isn't the worst choice. Because it always could be a factor. There's nothing else that always could be a factor. For example, it would be silly for a wizard to use STR to inspire fear of his arcane might.

2009-09-21, 12:29 AM
I've intentionally had NPCs clam up as the result of an intimidate saying something snooty like "Well, I would have told you if you had been nice about it".

There's a sample scene in the DMG where use of intimidate is automatic fail.

2009-09-21, 01:34 AM
Personally I think they should all be equal, in such that having one negates the need for the others. They are basically all brothers if you ask me, and to better metaphor some metamore, I'll compare them to the billy goats gruff.

Diplomacy is the youngest goat gruff, in that it is the most innocent and therefore the one which should always be tried first in any encounter. Mostly due to it's positive nature, if diplomacy fails you have people who are grumpy but know you are at least trying to help them in some way, or be good in some way. Which works for all alignments, yet it is also the weakest of the three brother skills, because it can't really do much aside from appeal to any opposing forces better nature, needs, wants, or desires. You know, like a hungry troll whose bridge you happen to be trespassing upon. It uses a lot of truth, compromise, and understanding and therefore can be one of the hardest ones to RP- yet also one of the more rewarding ones. Especially for good aligned characters trying to avoid a fight. However, upon the spectrum, while it certainly can be the most powerful in that it is always the first choice, in the very end of ends, when that dragon poo hits the fan, it will always concede to it's older brother.

Bluff is the second goat gruff, the middle ground which tries to do what both it's younger and older brother do, in this combination and mimicry of pure innocent good and absolute bottom lining, it can be one of the most powerful. If you are looking for a middle ground this is it, it gives and takes quarter, and can be responsible for very impressive feats of survivability when all diplomacy fails. It can be used to calm, trick, enrage, or outright frighten others without much effort, and thus in the right hands can cover more ground than either of the other brothers. However, once again, when the end comes and the dragon poos hits the ac... though rarely, Bluff will still concede to it's oldest brother.

Intimidate is the oldest goat gruff, that which relies not on hollow words or particularly cares what the other opposing force wishes. It sees and end and by all that it has at it's disposal it. will. have. that. end! Therefore it is also one of the most reliable skills because it always, and without fail, backs up it's claims with real and tangible force. When your opponent bows to no weak compromising feel good everybody wins argument or unadulterated intellectual stimulating coexistence supplication, when your opponent hears none of the loosely factual and highly possible visualizations of intent or probability, then it will bow to cold, hard, unbending, bottom line, last defense, unbreakable, uncompromisable, unrelenting truth of action in possibility... or else! This goat gruff knows it's brothers tried their best, it knows enough to always let them go first, but it also knows, when the end comes, when that dragon had to much taco bell and the fan is looking oddly porcelain. There will be no ground given, no quarter, no pleading, no mercy. The deed will be done or all will be undone. That is intimidation.

The strongest, most powerful, and remorseless skill. It knows what it has and is all to willing to back it up, because it knows it has no choice. Where Diplomacy Fails, where bluffing fails, Intimidation stands strong, stands proud, and declares you shall not pass. So all trolls who see only weaker goats for which to snack upon later, will always and without fail run right into the line in the sand which is the promise of something unpleasant, usually negative, and wholely justified. To put it in other terms. The Goat stops here.

Therefor- when I see threads where intimidate is treated as such fickle nonsense and laughed upon in it's face, I usually cringe because it is the DM's failure. His failure to take his player's power seriously, to detach himself from the all powerful aloof position he holds and realize that his NPCs or monster could and most likely will very much be slaughtered and they might just be a bit skiddish of that. Unfortunately since most things the players meet are usually well equipped to deal with sed players to keep them in line with following story and not exhibiting a free will that originates from a detached sense of being in morality and conscienceless atmosphere- Players and DM's alike will usually forgo all possibility of meeting a character which actually DOESN'T WANT TO and HAS NO ABILITY to, fight the players.

This in fact breeds more of the kind of mentality that players have to make them more likely to kill the creature before them, as they know they will be a worthy adversary and worth at least something, of which of course the DM obliges too because they would obviously not introduce an NPC that wasn't important to the story and therefore had to survive the PC to be a part of that story. Which unfortunately is a product of, and supported by, the game itself.

Thus, sadly, the Troll will always be willing to pass and meet head on the third goat gruff and inevitably get his butt booted off his own bridge. And sadly Diplomacy and Bluff may indeed be used to bypass, and therefore render the third goat further useless and moot. It is only on rare occasions where a DM actually puts a great deal of effort into their NPCs and richly blesses them with backgrounds and story that you may come across one intentionally vulnerable NPC, but by that time, the PCs will usually never have to resort to Intimidation unless it's character driven. In which case, the character driven by one or the other two of bluff or diplomacy will always, once again, go first. Leaving Intimidate, seemingly useless in it's power and promise, what it is: a peaceful fluffy goat quietly grazing on grass... with massive and impressively brutal looking horns.

So basically it's up to you, the Shepard of these goats, and the bridge maker whom makes his structure so inviting to trolls, to come to an agreement. An understanding. Only then, with proper time and care, can the feud of trolls and goats gruff, tough, and loaded with the stuff- play out in what it was always meant to be. A good story.

But that's just my opinion. And I enjoy a literal sprinkling of dragon's with bathroom problems in my answers, so who can say?

2009-09-21, 01:47 AM
A menacing glare while you crush a soda can is still more intimidating than a guy who's making silly faces and funny noises while he bends a steel rod; sure, the second guy might be stronger, but he's just laughable.

Something like.. This (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY3cJKf-IBk)?