Friday, March 6, 2015

lying, manipulating, persuading, and scrutinizing

The 5th edition rules feature a concise list of 18 skills associated with the traditional 6 ability scores. Some of these skills have obvious explanations (Athletics is going to cover climbing and swimming) while other skills are bleakly defined (if I'm searching for a secret door do I use Perception or Investigation?).

Perception versus Investigation
All of the examples with Perception involve hearing things and all of the examples with Investigation involve looking and touching things. This makes me think that calling for a check would really depend on how the player narrates their character's actions, but most of the time it's going to be Investigation.

Passive Perception
The great utility of the passive check is to determine whether a character detects something secret without the need to roll dice and reveal to the player that something is there. I really like the concept of passive skill checks because it means I can flag areas of dungeons ahead of time for things the characters will detect just from walking down the hall or looking around the room for the first time. Also, Stealth checks are countered by Passive Perception, which can also apply to NPCs for when PCs want to sneak past guards or into jewelry stores. This gets into a sticky gray area when it comes time to have social secrecy...

Lying Liars and the Lies they Lie
Deception is a skill under Charisma and Insight is a skill under Wisdom, and according to what's been established on the previous page with Stealth and Passive Perception it would seem that Insight should be Passive and the one attempting to lie rolls their Deception. I've been having PCs roll Insight in some situations and now I'm beginning to think that if I want to maintain consistency that I should revert to the Stealth-Perception dynamic.

Since I started running 5th edition D&D I've had two different players in two different games convinced that an NPC was lying simply due to the circumstances in which the NPC was speaking. In both situations the NPC was not lying, and in both situations I approached the skills in a narrative way. In one situation, I had the player roll their Insight and they rolled above 15 so I decided the NPC was lying in accordance with what the player expected. In the other situation I asked the player what their Passive Insight was and it wasn't above 15 so I decided the NPC wasn't lying. Both situations were wrong.

In both situations I should have ruled that rolling above 15 means the character realizes the NPC was not lying, since the player was so dead certain that they were. Passive Insight should pick up obvious lies. Scrutinizing an NPCs words and body language should have an Insight check to determine the truthfulness of their words.

Get the hell out of my way!
Intimidation is a pretty straight forward social skill, but what does it mean in terms of combat? You can't bluff an Intimidation, because bluffing would fall under Deception. Intimidation requires the will to enact violence. If you fail your Intimidation roll, then you have to make good on your promise of violence. Consider the options:
You threaten someone and they resist, then you inflict violence. Your threat was meaningful.
You threaten someone and they resist, then you do nothing. Your threat was meaningless, it was actually a bluff.
(Sidenote: this is also my primary argument for why I use Manipulate for bluffing in Apocalypse World)
If your threat is meaningful then your target is really just trying to determine one of two things, whether you intend to act upon your threat or whether they can take you in a fight. In either case, the Intimidation roll would tell them either "Yes, he intends to act upon his threat." or "No, I don't think I can take him." and would best be resolved with a contested Perception.
Additionally, I think Intimidation should fall under Strength as a skill, since having an imposing frame (or a slight one) can greatly affect whether or not somebody thinks they can "take" you.

Buddy, can you spare a dime?
Persuasion falls into a strange category where it is a skill used to coerce behavior out of an NPC, but it uses neither subterfuge or brute force. Applying charm and good manners to convince somebody to take a course of action.

Stealth and Intimidation are countered by Perception
Deception and Persuasion are countered by Insight

That's my take on it.


  1. 100% on board with the frustration regarding Investigation vs. Perception. Hearkens back to "search" vs. "spot." There seems to be some desire to differentiate between what a detective does at a crime scene and what a scout does in the wild. That rigidity is not reflected in other skills: in real life I'm an average climber/runner but I can swim fast for miles, so am I good at "Athletics" or not?

    It had never occurred to me to use check results to interpret what a PLAYER thought. I think that is a feature of Apocalypse World and games that use shared storytelling mechanics. In DND, players affect the story, but the GM controls whether or not an NPC is lying. Obviously that's for each GM to decide but DND doesn't really work well with shared storytelling, it's more like a videogame where the players affect the world but the GM/videogame has it's own internal logic that the players can't affect.

    4e had both Passive Perception and Passive Insight. I keep that rule for 5e. Also, I note down all the "Passive" scores for character's TRAINED skills in addition to those two. I've always found it frustrating that a Wizard can roll a 2 on a Arcana check and seemingly know nothing. I've tried to mitigate the problem in multiple ways but the Passive system is easiest.

    Of course, the Passive score is never good enough to get ALL the info. So if a 1st level Wizard's "Passive Arcana" is 15 and the party comes across a sickly looking tree, I'd give the Wizard the DC 15 Arcana information automatically: he can tell the tree is cursed. But knowing that the tree is a dryad's tree is a DC 20 check he'd have to roll, and knowing that the dryad is trapped deep inside the tree is a DC 25. I only give misinformation on a roll of 5 or lower (meaning you failed the "easy" DC). This still gives the chance to other PC's to randomly be better than the specialist in the group. The Int 12 Fighter just might notice a detail that leads him to the truth about the tree that the Wizard overlooked, but it's unlikely.

    Same thing for Insight. Usually, just beating the DC (and the NPC is lying), causes me to say "you suspect the NPC isn't telling the whole truth." As their check increases, they get increasingly Sherlockian with their ability to intuit the motivations and plans of the NPC.

    One thing I disagree about: Persuasion is not "countered" by anything. Persuasion is about trying to convince somebody to do something without lying. The check should be based on who they are and what they are asking. In my group, I assign a DC same as any other check to the player's request/desire based on that. So convincing a guard on duty to investigate a strange noise he just heard somewhere else is easy (if you're not suspicious-looking). Convincing a king to surprise attack an ally is next to impossible.

    That system has worked really well for me. We only have one persuasive PC, but the entire group has a fun time devising what exactly he should ask so that they can lower the DC but still get something they want. Just like negotiating in real life. I like table-talk so I don't mind them "gaming" the system because they are trading risk for reward, which is fun.

    Allowing them to table talk this system has another benefit: the players think of things they could ask that I never did. So if they fail to convince the NPC of something, but still had a decent check, sometimes I'll meet them halfway on an option they discussed but decided not to pursue (ie the fail to convince the King to send troops, but manage to convince him to publicly condemn their enemy)

    1. Yeah, my narrativist tendency leaked into the game and I feel like D&D is not a good fit for switching NPCs' goals on the fly. It makes more sense in an Apocalypse World game because the players already have so many tools with which their characters can alter the story.

      I think of Persuasion more as an active discourse, the same way I might try to persuade somebody that their political viewpoint has a flaw. Trying to convince a guard to follow a noise, that's Deception, or possibly Stealth, depending on how it's narrated. Trying to convince a guard that they need to let you through a door, that's trying to overcome the guard's sense of duty. Bribery falls under Persuasion in this regard, because maybe you (as the GM) set a DC for the guard (a sort of Passive Inight to overcome) but the guard has a bribery threshold which will help the PC (every 50 gp equals +1 bonus on Persuasion). Trying to convince a king to sneak attack an enemy, that's definitely Persuasion (but that king probably has advantage and/or Expertise with Insight because he deals with these arguments every day).

    2. Yeah the guard example was not a good one. I was trying to think of something easy to Persuade somebody on. Persuade a rebellious slave to look the other way when you want to sneak into his kitchen and slay his master? A loyal slave DC would be much harder.

      I just disagree that a Persuasion DC is similar to "Insight." Insight is knowing somebody else's motivations, not being resistant to Persuasion.

      I just realized: a saving throw is probably a better "counter" to Persuasion than anything else. Probably a Wis saving throw, but depending on the situation Int or Cha might be appropriate too.

      I kinda like the idea of the saving throw. It would make Clerics and Paladins harder to convince, and make that unwise Rogue trained in Insight still susceptible to some flattery, even if he knows the motivations behind the flattery.

    3. "Insight is knowing somebody else's motivations" you just gave the clearest argument for why I pair Persuasion up with Insight. Insight is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing, and Persuasion is the attempt to entice belief, coerce behavior, or encourage action (without the use of deception or intimidation).

  2. I guess we'll simply have to agree to disagree. Knowing WHY someone is doing something or HOW they feel doesn't mean you are persuaded to do it, although often I suppose it is a contributing factor.

    Persuade means convincing someone to do something they had decided not to do, or something they haven't thought of. I think their willpower/stubbornness (Wis), their knowledge of the situation (Int), and their ability to deflect the request (CHA) make more sense than their ability to know the motivation of the requesting party.

    I also think the CHA and INT saves are underused, so I'm gonna try the saving throw approach next game.

    Insight seems like a perfect counter to Deception. A WIS saving throw seems like a perfect counter to Intimidation. Persuasion doesn't seem to have a perfect counter, although actually a solid case could be made for that it's its own counter.