On Skill Deconstruction: Bluff

Bluff is a skill reflecting your ability to deceive and lie. It uses the Charisma stat as a modifier

What can you do with Bluff?

Lie: Bluff allows you to have your lies believed. It is opposed by Sense Motive and modified by the believability of the lie and the condition of your opponent.

Feint: You can use bluff in combat to Feint. This allows you to cause your opponent to lose their Dexterity bonus to armor class on your next attack against them. This is a standard action, which means it takes your turn to accomplish. The difficulty is 10+BAB+Wisdom bonus, or 10+Sense Motive whichever is higher. It's more difficult to accomplish against unarmed opponents and non-intelligent opponents. There is a feat which allows you to do this and make an attack in the same turn.

Secret Messages: This allows you to pass secret messages - that is communicate with party members in code in front of other people. It is a DC 15 check for simple messages and a DC 20 check for more complicated ones.

Which of these have ground for use?

What we are talking about here is a mechanism for social conflict. And looking at our desires for what we want social combat to accomplish it is a passable mechanic.

I'd prefer a more entertaining subsystem - perhaps with a greater degree of player skill involved. This reduces lying to an attack roll using charisma as the modifier against a fluctuating AC modified by Wisdom. I think there is something much more entertaining that can be done with this skill.

Perhaps some sort of card mechanic to simulate social resources, or perhaps like in a debate where certain stances are selected and then RPS arguments are made and success is determined by a modified roll. Or something more entertaining then an attack roll that basically comes down to 'pass/fail'

Current Analysis

What is it we gain by having this skill?

A simple quick system for answering the question - does the target believe me?

What do we lose?

Some interest and value to be extracted from this conflict. The success of the skill is all or nothing which is very uninteresting, there is no degree of success.

Conclusions & Suggestions:

Bluff is one of the checks that is generally an opposed check, so is particularly susceptible to the high variance of the d20 roll. In defense of bluff, it is a skill where a pretty substantial variance is an accurate representation of the process of deceiving another person.

Usually when constructing one of these situations (NPC's and social conflicts) it is more interesting to create a set of interesting choices for the players to make rather then a straight roll to determine the achievement of the goal.

This is really my core argument against skills handled this way. Let's play a game of 'you win' isn't a very engaging activity. ("Roll a die, if it's over 10 you win!") I am not saying this always happens, but this is a specific case where it can occur frequently. Any decision made or skill that is used turns into a modifier (+/- 5 in this case). And then you win or lose based on the roll. Often Winning means 'bypass having to come up with an actual solution' which is code for 'bypassing playing the game' and losing means 'we're forced to actually play the game'.

This is fundamentally less fulfilling then providing the players with an interesting choice.

But in snap situations like a guard coming around the corner the roll becomes more interesting because the consequence is more interesting (having to engage in combat).


  1. Yeah, this is a tricky one... especially when it reduces an encounter to a quick roll.
    But first: I could never figure out why "feinting" is lumped into this category. I was hoping to read what you thought about feinting as a combat option & how it could be resolved.

    Otherwise, I really like Zak S's idea of adding a 'dupe save' to the rules system. I have one player who calls "I dis-believe" just about half the times that party is presented with a complex social scenario; I like the idea of giving him a 'dupe save' to see through some of the ploys those dastardly NPCs are trying out against them.
    My players tend to 'bluff' as part of elaborate schemes of infiltration - to steal from a thieves guild, release an imprisoned comrade or simply travel unmolested through hostile territory - these schemes are usually carefully planned before hand, involve disguises & intelligence gathering. In these cases, 'bluff' is used as part of a suite of actions, deployed in high risk scenarios to avoid combat; an overall failure means combat rounds. These are generally 'nested encounters' where getting past one group of guards only leads to another group guards.
    I'm certain that my group would prefer the opportunity to role play a 'bluff' past a guard who made a dupe save than simply roll for initiative.
    I think the 'dupe save' works better to resolve this situations AND the guard suddenly coming around the corner as it requires a greater degree of actual role play prior to dice roll resolution.

  2. This always seemed like a points trap. If the player put lots of points into being able to do interesting things by *just* rolling a die, the GM never seemed to let those situations occur. Conversely, if a player in real life couldn't talk their way out of a box, the GM would inevitably have them trying to "role-play" every encounter.

  3. I've only got a moment, but how do you feel about Bluff's application for feinting?

    I'm still on the fence with Bluff. On the one hand, bluffing is commonplace, and this is a quick mechanic for it.

    I think what I would like best is a deeper mechanic with some layers to it, but a mechanic none the less. NPC gullibility works well with a dice check of some kind. And a character who tries to solve all their problems with lies can become really fun really fast.

  4. Would rather just freeform most social things. What I'm experimenting with is to have social skills be able to give the NPCs (and PCs) specific conditions but not make them friendly or change their minds or believe someone. For example a PC could use Bluff (or the equivalent) to make an NPC Distracted so they won't notice another PC sneaking up behind them or make them Hesitate before sounding the alarm, but not function as mind control.

  5. @LS & Others

    My personal feeling is that it needs its own mechanic.

    Players should role-play out these encounters and if there is a conflict point reached, the mechanic should kick in.

    The problem is it should be a bit more complex then a to hit roll. Will probably take a bit of thought about what a social mechanic means.

  6. Having its own mechanic would work best if it was integrated with a diplomacy mechanic, an intimidation mechanic, and essentially a whole NPC interaction system. And, of course, it needs to be easily committed to memory by the GM.

    Perhaps the three non-physical attributes (Int, Wis, Cha) could dictate an NPC's responses to various tactics. The system could provide the GM with basic categories to associate player responses.

    For example, lets say a player is attempting to convince the town guard that he's also a guard, there to relive the NPC. This would fall into the bluff category of social interaction, which is associated with the guard's Wisdom. The guard has a wisdom of 14, granting him a +2 in that ability.

    The lie starts at a baseline of zero. If the player so chooses, he can simply say "I tell the guard I'm there to relieve him." The player's 0 is then compared to the guard's 2. The guard is suspicious. More on that below.

    Players will quickly learn that most guards don't have a negative wisdom, so they'll take steps to improve their lie. A guard uniform grants a +1 to their lie. Name dropping the guard's commander grants another +1.

    So now the guard and the player both have +2. Since they're matched, they make opposed checks, wis v. cha. The guard is then either suspicious, or convinced.

    If the player, in addition to a legitimate uniform and name dropping the commander, role plays the lie convincingly, that grants another +1, bringing him up to a total of 3 compared to the guard's 2. Auto success.

    Suspicion doesn't automatically equal failure. However, the guard gains a +1 to all future interactions.

    There are a bunch of problems with this system...but I just pulled that out of my ass just now. Brainstorming!

  7. @LS, Yes - something very much like that.

    I also would like players to have social resources - cards they can play to affect the outcome of these interactions.

    Perhaps we can work on some sort of social mechanic and kick-start it together. :-)

  8. @ -C, That sounds like a grand idea. I'd enjoy collaborating on that!

  9. "My personal feeling is that it needs its own mechanic."

    Maybe, some social combat mini-games can work well, but my personal preference for social combat is "I rolled high, so do what I want or you'll get a mechanical penalty."

    My brain sort of draws a blank when it comes to what a good D&D social combat mini-game would look like. I would be interested in seeing what others come up with.

  10. Great post on this!

    Here is a mechanic I created on my blog to address this issue specifically (I quote you). If you would like I would love to have your input on it. I'm using a 3d6 system for the game I'm developing just so you know where I'm coming from.

    The mechanic takes place in rounds comprising the entirety of the check.

    The player would have to decide how much truth or what specific deception their character is revealing in each round thus determining the number of rounds and variability of success. However, the check on a whole must contain at least half deception statements. Each round would contain either a deception or a truth. The opponent then tries to call your bluff correctly.

    Actual Mechanic
    Every round the opponent would roll 1d6 with a 3/6 chance of calling the round a bluff or accepting the round as truth. If a bluff is called on a truth statement, the character gains a +1 to the next round and the opponent accepts the round as truth. If a bluff is called on a deception, the character makes an opposed check of (3d6 + deception) vs opposing (3d6 + stock 5).

    This allows players to weave as much deception into an exchange as they want but the opponent may or may not believe each part of the deception. The more elaborate the lie, the harder it will be on a whole for the opponent to believe the whole thing. Natural balance!

    You can read my whole post on this @:

    I look forward to your input!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...