View Full Version : Why We Should Use Hunches

Realms of Chaos
2009-11-14, 09:17 AM
Hey, there everybody. I just finished looking at the description for the Sense Motive skill and I noticed something really nifty keen that I wanted to share with you guys. Although this might be obvious to the gaming world at large, I just wanted to share it for the benefit of any schlubs like me who’ve missed it until now.
How many of you out there have been sent on wild goose chases or into traps by NPCs just because they’re a doppelganger… or are wearing a lead hat… or have undetectable alignment… or have glibness… or just a plain high bluff modifier?
What if I told you that there was a simple way to notice these people; a way that no feat, class feature, or racial ability appears to stop?
All you need is a DC 20 Sense Motive skill (DC 30 for those with mask of gentility) to get a hunch. Among the listed benefits for using Sense Motive in such a way is learning if the target is trustworthy.
Unless I have missed something pretty major, there is no way around this.

Shape-shifters: Although a doppelganger or phasm can change their physical appearance, Sense Motive does not assess others based on appearance (in fact, no skill check is needed to judge a book by its cover). Rather, sense motive judges the character of the target through 1 minute of interaction. This is something that shape-shifters cannot alter.

Bluff checks: Bluff checks, when used to lie, are used to make specific lies believable. However, unless we are operating on bizarre-logic, the ability to lie convincingly at will does not make you a trustworthy person. Furthermore, the bluff skill doesn’t let you change your personality any more than it lets you hide your surface thoughts (hint: it doesn’t).

Divination Protection: Sorry to tell you that this doesn’t work either. No amount of nondetection, undetectable alignment, glibness, and mind blank spells will protect you from the Sense Motive skill. They specifically list what they can protect you and mundane skill usage isn’t on the list.

Disguise Checks: Okay, this one is a bit weird. 5 ranks in bluff gives you a +2 synergy bonus to disguise checks that are made to act in character. Some people may feel that this would qualify as some sort of odd protection against Sense Motive. Oddly, it doesn’t. Getting a hunch isn’t an opposed roll. No matter what ranks your opponent has in whatever skills, all you need to do is beat the DC. Actually, consider this argument retroactively added to that for bluff checks as well.
Edit: I just reread the Sense Motive skill and it gets better. Getting a hunch also lets you learn if you are speaking with an imposter. This means that no matter how high your disguise modifier is, a DC 20 Sense Motive check (made by someone paranoid enough to attempt it) can pierce through any impersonation attempts.

The REALLY fun part: If you receive a bunch of plot exposition from an NPC, normal uses of sense motive will only detect whether or not they actually lie. When using this, you learn whether they are worthy of your trust (hence trustworthy). Therefore, if they fully intend to sacrifice you to their dark god later on, you learn that they are not trustworthy (rather than having them claim not to have such intentions and rolling an opposed check). Trying to scam you? Not trustworthy. Trying to lead you into a trap? Not trustworthy! This, my friends, is fun.

Of course, this strategy is not perfect. I can several flaws off of the top of my head, listed below for your convenience.
Interaction Requirement: Technically, you need 1 minute of interaction with a target to get a hunch about them. If they are unbelievably curt, use innocent intermediates, or send written orders, the skill check cannot be made.
No Redoes…Ever: This is a bit of a problem. The Sense Motive skill doesn’t allow redoes under any circumstance. Therefore, if someone becomes less trustworthy overnight (such as if you draw the rogue from the deck of many things), you won’t be able to detect it. Furthermore, if someone you know is replaced by a doppelganger, you likely won’t think to make such a check against your “ally”. Lastly, if your DM rolls on your behalf and you roll a natural 1, you may get the wrong impression of people and never be able to correct your perception.
The Mask of Gentility feat (Exemplars of Evil): Meet the one feat in existence that is a potent defense against this use of Sense Motive, increasing the DC up to 30 if I remember correctly.
Exception to the Rule: Unfortunately, though this lets you get a general understanding of the target, it doesn’t reveal the specifics of the situation. An otherwise honest peasant forced to rob for the sake of his family might be found trustworthy while a thief desperately trying to tell the truth for once would seem untrustworthy.

Arriving at… The Point:
Many people are at least vaguely aware of what this usage of the Sense Motive skill does. Yet, I have seen few who fully acknowledge its use. At least half of all plots involving treacherous employers (at least that I have seen or played through) could have been avoided through the use of this skills. I have seen many quests given out in person by doppelgangers, secretly evil priests, corrupt lawmen, simple con men, shapechanged dragons, and even disguised succubi who have then taken time to answer questions, giving players more than enough time to sense motives.
I’m not sharing any secret combo or any groundshaking discovery of mine. All that I wanted to do is remind players that they have an often-overlooked tool at their disposal.

Fiery Diamond
2009-11-14, 09:31 AM
On the other hand, the simplicity of getting a "hunch" from the check and the almost impossibility (except that feat) of making it more difficult might lead some DMs, for the reasons listed in your post, to consider it just as broken (and therefore bannable) as the listed use of changing attitudes through Diplomacy (seriously, is there anyone who actually allows diplomacy to work that way?).

2009-11-14, 09:58 AM
People with high Bluff are (typically) constantly using that bluff in subtle ways to appear trustworthy. Some don't, of course (a leader of a certain tv carnival likes to appear untrustworthy) - but by and large, most do. They therefore constantly portray themselves as such.

If I am one of those bluff artists who portrays myself as trustworthy, then unless someone beats my bluff with their sense motive, the static DC sense motive check will only detect the "yes, I'm trustworthy" that I've portrayed.

Incidentally, some of the other uses are good but not quite as good as you describe. For instance, it might be great for your shapeshifter (he is dressed like an old man, but something about his carriage shows the wolf underneath. Or if you meant chameleon rather than lycanthrope, and he doesn't have much bluff, I could well see right through a perfect disguise with this). Vs spells, you're definitely right. A good illusionist who doesn't invest in the Bluff has a weakness. But as for the plot expo... if the guy isn't trustworthy, is it because he's leading you into perdition? Or because he's cheating on his wife? The two may be related, but they aren't always.

2009-11-14, 10:19 AM
A hunch gives the information the DM wants it to give. I don't really see even RAW logic turning this into a defence against every form of deception.

In essence, it allows you to make a general assessment of the person (+5 to the DC and you can tell that their behaviour is being influenced by a magical effect).

There are ways you can use it, but it's just a roleplaying aid. At best, if you're talking to an impostor, the DM might tell you "something seems wrong, but you can't quite put your finger on it". That is, naturally, not all that useful, especially as it is nowhere near as specific as you think. All the DM is mandated to tell you is "something seems wrong", if you make the check, and if something is.

In any event, at best, I don't see it being used much beyond allowing the DM to feed you adventure hooks. That doesn't really break the game.

2009-11-14, 10:26 AM
I feel the fact that Bluff is so much easier to pump than Sense Motive (heard of that Glibness-spell?), and that very few Wis-based characters having Sense Motive in class (honestly, Clerics don't have Sense Motive?!), I find it kinda fair that Sense Motive is a bit easier than Bluff.

The static DC is always problematic, but then again, the degree of the hunch can be adjusted depending on the Bluff score. I mean, how many times in fiction has a particularly observant hero actually fallen entirely for the evil guy's bluff? I can count those with one hand; usually he partially believes what is told but is reserved.

Some Paladin-like characters lack the raw stats and bonuses to truly make their Sense Motive-checks, but if they can at least get a hunch, it feels more believable than that they are just as gullible as your average Commoner.

2009-11-14, 11:30 AM
This is one of those great situations that always comes up when we have rules for social interaction.
The game needs social skills and rules - players are unlikely to have the same CHA, or WIS or INT as their characters. However, we shouldn't blindly apply rules without the judgement of the GM, and the ability of the players being taken into account.

Players are forever deciding the don't trust NPCs, despite being given little reason not to do so. Sometimes they're right, often they're wrong. To rigidly apply a rule as written, even if it goes against logic or the enjoyment of the game, is not the intent of the designers.

2009-11-14, 12:15 PM
In the Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines game, you get a bit of insight from a thin-blood on the beach. When asked in whom you can place your trust, she tells you that you can pretty much only trust Mercurio and Beckett. Everyone else in the game is untrustworthy.

You still have to play the little game with them; it's just that now you know to be on your guard... and that's probably as far as Sense Motive's "hunch" will get you.

Foryn Gilnith
2009-11-14, 01:04 PM
Yeah. Using Sense Motive this way is sort of like using a Paladin's "Detect Evil" - useful-seeming but awfully vague.

2009-11-14, 02:37 PM
This seems like a fair use of the Sense Motive skill. When I was a player I had too many DMs give us no warning to the betrayal of the one good NPC in the entire campain. I would rather give my players a chance to feel a hunch then just have a huge plot twist and have then all revolt.

Realms of Chaos
2009-11-14, 04:52 PM
Short of the the couple of spy-based classes in the game (one from Complete Adventurer and the other from the ELH), or a mindrape/programmed amnesia I see no ability that would let you change your personality for the purpose of this check.
What a high bluff skill can do is let you pass off many lies as being truth. The guy can claim to have founded charities in three neighboring countries and to be the rightful heir to the thrown and you'd believe him. If the guy is lying for sleazy reasons (which is quite likely), however, you'll still feel that the guy is a bit shifty.

Once again, this isn't a flawless deception-detecting engine. It has its share of flaws, shared above, and this only detects whether or not someone is trustworthy, not it they are lying to you at the moment or if they personally mean you harm.
On the other hand, it does one thing and it does it well. It lets you ask you ask your DM 2 things about an NPC and get a definite answer that can't be wrong unless said NPC has levels in Handwavomancer.

1. Is there something not quite right going on (Duress, Imposter, etc)? Yes/No
2. Is this person trustworthy? Yes/No

Unless one of the weaknesses listed above is used, this should be a pretty good indicator of who to expect an ambush from, what employers shouldn't have thier orders followed to the letter (bring you the Macguffin? Riiiiiiight.), and who it is safe to join forces with (hmm, those linear guild chaps seem a bit shifty, don't you think?)

The best thing is that this skill, plus a bit of common sense, helps you assess threats very, very well. Simply prepare for the worst from untrustworthy people and from people who common sense dictates are likely to betray you later on (even if that demon honestly decides that he wants to help you retrieve the Macguffin now, common sense suggests he might change alliegance once you've already claimed it).

2009-11-14, 07:26 PM
I agree with everyone pointing out the problem of the static DC.

Players are going to metagame. If they meet an NPC with a high enough bluff score to win opposed checks but then beat a straight DC 20 and get a hunch she is untrustworthy, they're going to assume (correctly) that they failed the opposed checks and act accordingly.

Just like the diplomacy skill it makes sense to modify the skill. Maybe make it DC (15 + half of the bluff modifier for acting a part) Not giving the full modifier makes sense because you're just getting a vague feeling, so it should be easier to beat than defeating a specific lie. But being a successful liar *requires* the ability to convince people that you're trustworthy.

Maybe the flat 20 check should be kept for reading a situation (it's quiet... too quiet) but for getting a read on a person if feels like it should be an opposed check.