Possible Candidate for a Diplomacy House Rule

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Talanall
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Possible Candidate for a Diplomacy House Rule

The particulars are explained clearly at http://www.giantitp.com/articles/jFppYwv7OUkegKhONNF.html, but as a DM I see a few really good outcomes that might come from adopting the linked variant.

1) Diplomacy will be easier for me to adjudicate objectively; the DC is 15 + Hit Dice of the most powerful character on the opposed side of a negotation + the Wis bonus of the wisest character on the other side, and all I have to do is adjudicate circumstance modifiers.
2) Diplomacy, as a skill, moves away from trying to sway an NPC's attitude (which is very nebulous and leaves the DM a lot of wiggle room to give you a friendly but not very useful NPC) and toward trying to talk the NPC into agreeing to a deal, whether that's "take this money and forget you saw us sneak out of the bar through this alleyway" or "assassinate the king, and I'll reward you when I usurp the throne."
3) As the linked article suggests, it gives me a ready-made structure to use when I want to adjudicate charm person and similar effects.

Thoughts?

deadDMwalking
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I prefer this variant to the published rules. Our homebrew is very similar.

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

I like it. It gives an actual system for figuring out HOW the skill does what it does. And it allows for actual diplomacy, the trading of suggestions until a concensus is reached, as opposed to "make them see my way or piss them off."

Cronono
Cronono's picture

I don't see a benefit. The nebulous wording of diplomacy as written appears purposeful - the DM telling the story has wide authority to determine the appropriate social interaction based on the results of the skill check. I think there is room to improve the skill as written, but I don't think this erases problems with diplomancy [intentional].

Further, this appears to come at diplomacy from the perspective that the skill is used to deceive or manipulate others. As a rapidly conjured example: stumbling across allied forces in the jungle that believe you to be hostile should be a diplomacy check to convince them that you're aligned even when you're not lying. These rules make it harder to convince higher level allies that you're aligned and these rules make it harder to convince wiser allies that you're aligned. That seems to work at cross purposes to the skill.

YMMV

Talanall
Talanall's picture

Cronono wrote:

Further, this appears to come at diplomacy from the perspective that the skill is used to deceive or manipulate others. As a rapidly conjured example: stumbling across allied forces in the jungle that believe you to be hostile should be a diplomacy check to convince them that you're aligned even when you're not lying.


I think this alternative uses Diplomacy to model a character's ability to get people do things that you want them to do, including in the context of a negotiation or haggling scenario where you're trying to agree to an exchange of some kind. That is a matter of manipulation, but it's not a matter of deception; deception is handled by the Bluff skill.

You've also happened to put your finger onto a related but separate issue, which is that it's not always supremely clear how to go about modeling what happens when you're telling the truth to someone who is predisposed not to believe you. I don't think that the Diplomacy mechanics are an especially apt way to handle the cessation of combat.

If you're lying about being an ally, this is straightforwardly a Bluff check. That's well attested in the core rules for this edition; if you're masquerading as an ally but aren't one, you're making a Bluff check opposed by the Sense Motive check of the leader on the other side because you are trying to convince the NPC in question of something that isn't true. The opposing leader will receive a bonus to his Sense Motive check, probably around +10 because it's risky to stop and chit-chat with someone who may be an enemy.

But there isn't any clear mechanism for adjudicating instances where you're telling the truth to someone who has some reason to be concerned that you're lying. It's a weird gap in the rules, and there are two plausible ways to handle it. One is to decide that the Bluff skill is entirely concerned with getting people to believe you, without regard to whether you are telling the truth.

If you do that, then your next step is to work out a mechanic for that; the Sense Motive skill usually opposes Bluff, but that's in the specific context that you're trying to deceive an NPC, and a "win" means that your Bluff is higher than his Sense Motive--he's more perceptive than you are mendacious. It doesn't work very well if you use this same methodology for a truthful claim. Sense Motive is unambiguously supposed to model this idea that a character is good at discerning whether someone is on the up-and-up, so if your Bluff "beats" such a check, you're fooling the character into believing what is actually true to begin with. We'd need a different mechanic.

The other approach is to use the Diplomacy rules to modify the enemy's attitude, which I guess is basically what you've suggested here.

In the example you've posited, the allied patrol starts out "hostile." The DC to improve "hostile" to "unfriendly" is 20, but this application of the skill requires ten consecutive full-round actions to execute. You can "rush" this check to get it to a single full-round action, but that raises the effective DC to 30. If you succeed, then the expected outcome is that instead of being hostile, the NPC will merely be unfriendly. Probably that means that combat ceases, assuming that you've managed to survive long enough for the skill check to be completed.

But the fact that it's easy for a 2nd-level PC to have a Diplomacy modifier around +18 is a problem, and the problem gets worse at 3rd-level, at which time it's trivial for that same character to reach a modifier of +19 to +21. Applying this rule, the PC in question will have roughly a 50% chance to end combat no later than the end of the second round, so long as he can communicate comprehensibly and survive long enough to complete his Diplomacy check. But this is (partly) a separate problem that rises from the Diplomacy skill being set up to derive synergy bonuses from three different skills. It's somewhat relieved if you eliminate two of the synergy bonuses, or if you limit them so that different skills grant synergy bonuses depending on the specific application of the Diplomacy skill, which would bring Diplomacy in line with how synergies stack onto other skills. But it still causes a problem; at best you're putting off the issue for another few levels.

Quote:

These rules make it harder to convince higher level allies that you're aligned and these rules make it harder to convince wiser allies that you're aligned. That seems to work at cross purposes to the skill.

YMMV

Putting aside the timeline involved in this application of the Diplomacy skill, I don't actually mind it. I think it should (usually) take longer than a minute to improve somebody's general opinion of you to the point that he or she will be substantially more willing to help you or do business with you, and I think that the DCs are too low for it to work well at higher levels, even if you pare down or eliminate the synergy bonuses to Diplomacy. It's not perfect because it's kind of weird that you're a completely different skill to lie to people, and ultimately I think I'd probably be happier with some kind of reasonably straightforward mechanic to handle your exemplary scenario through Bluff and/or Sense Motive. It's a sort-of-adequate method, underneath the problems I've identified.

But the variant Diplomacy rules really are primarily concerned with the situations covered under the original rule's language, "In negotiations, participants roll opposed Diplomacy checks, and the winner gains the advantage. Opposed checks also resolve situations when two advocates or diplomats plead opposite cases in a hearing before a third party."

I could govern a negotiation according to the existing rule set, by using opposed Diplomacy checks. But this is problematic because 1) it takes no note of how the participants feel about one another, 2) it takes no note of how reasonable or unreasonable the offer is, and 3) it creates a situation in which the opposing NPC is overwhelmingly likely to lose, even if he is of much higher level relative to the PC, unless he is configured in a race/class/skill selection/feat selection that allows him to be near parity.

These are all problems, but #3 is particularly egregious. If (like about 90% of all NPCs) an NPC is not so configured, then the PC inevitably will get his way unless I start throwing around substantial penalties and bonuses, in essence because I arbitrarily decided that Diplomacy shouldn't work as well on this NPC.

It's a math problem, really. Let's assume that we have a 20th-level wizard, and a 3rd-level rogue. The wizard has spent his life doing wizard stuff, and has no ranks in Diplomacy, but we'll say he's got Charisma 13. So he's making Diplomacy checks at +1. The rogue is a half-elf. He's got Charisma 15, maxed ranks in Diplomacy, the Negotiator feat, and Skill Focus: Diplomacy. That puts him at +13. His minimum possible result on the check is 14, his maximum is 33, and the wizard can expect to have a result between 2 and 21. The rogue has a 60% chance of achieving a result that the wizard cannot possibly beat—unless, again, the DM arbitrarily decides to apply modifiers of a magnitude and nature that seem convenient to him.

So I think that it's better to move this application of the Diplomacy skill away from the "opposed check" model to a level-adjusted, circumstance-adjusted DC that will make it significantly harder for a very low-level character to keep a very high-level character wrapped around his finger. Under the proposed variant, the DC to influence this wizard via the Diplomacy skill becomes ~ 35, modified by whatever happens to be his Wisdom score, and further modified by the circumstances of the rogue's relationship with him (if any) and the risk/profit involved in what's being asked of him.

Significantly, the rogue would still have a substantial chance of getting minor favors done, especially if he cultivates the wizard as a friend and/or couches his requests in a way that appeals to his self-interest.

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deadDMwalking
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In the event you're trying to convince someone you're an ally, it can be phrased as an exchange. "I put down my sword and you put down your rock and we talk this out." Failure by five could have the leader responding with 'drop your weapons and we will discuss this' or 'surrender and we will discuss this'. Especially if he is a powerful opponent, he's going to be suspicious of treachery.

Board Rider
Board Rider's picture

I don't think either mechanic sufficiently "fixes" the issue of Diplomacy. While I like some of what is presented in the alternative there are things that are still problematic.

Tal is correct. It's a math problem. However, I hate the idea of using levels as a modifier because levels are supposed to be nebulous way to monitor a characters ability not its ability to resist a silver tongue devil. Next thing you know there are numerous 20th level aristocrats with 20 wisdom advisors in the world to combat the Alannahs of the world. The math can ramp too quickly and I would offer most DMs aren't fleshing out an enemy/NPC, as well as all the cohorts, for every possibility that a diplomacy monster is coming to town.

It could get even worse if the group didn't all agree or if the leader of a group wasn't the highest level.

It could work for the well prepared DM though. I like some of the modifiers.

Personally, I am fine with DM fiat. Maybe a player can beat the brakes off of a DC 35 check to make an enemy friendly. But the DM doesn't have to allow the PC time to work out the scenario.

I will wait for Tal breakdown of this post. :)

Talanall
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Board Rider wrote:

However, I hate the idea of using levels as a modifier because levels are supposed to be nebulous way to monitor a characters ability not its ability to resist a silver tongue devil.

This is a thing that happens pretty routinely in 3.5's "social interaction" skills. If you use Bluff to feint in combat, the defender's Sense Motive modifier is fortified by his BAB, which is a direct function of his level/Hit Dice.

In similar vein, Intimidate is opposed by the victim's level. Specifically, it's 1d20 + target's level/Hit Dice + Wis modifier + any saving throw modifier associated with saves vs. fear. The last bit is meant to indicate that a halfling would get a +2 morale bonus tacked onto his level check because he gets that bonus versus fear effects.

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Board Rider
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Admittedly, I forgot the intimidate skill mechanic when posting previously. Probably because I rarely see it in play. Although you pointing that out does bring me to the question as to whether or not a paladin is immune to being intimidated or simply gives a +4 to allies against the check (assuming aura of courage is in play).

Regardless, that, and using levels, is a clunky mechanic in general. I can buy BAB with the use of bluff/feint as I can imagine that a character with more martial proficiency can sell a feint better. Further, that's a specific use and not a replacement.

Either way, if a DM is prepared to counteract a diplomacy PC against a NPC, a like minded group, or a mixed group,then the alternate skill check could work. As a player I would become frustrated if every time I broke out my one trick diplomacy pony I find out that the PC is working against similarly scaled NPCs just to make it difficult.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

Board Rider wrote:

Admittedly, I forgot the intimidate skill mechanic when posting previously. Probably because I rarely see it in play. Although you pointing that out does bring me to the question as to whether or not a paladin is immune to being intimidated or simply gives a +4 to allies against the check (assuming aura of courage is in play).

Anything that makes you immune to fear makes you immune to the effects of the Intimidate skill. The aura of courage also would confer the +4 bonus to allies versus this skill. It wouldn't stack with the halfling's innate +2 morale bonus, because the paladin's aura provides a morale bonus, and those don't stack.

In general, I think that Intimidate is plenty useful. But Ancestral Burdens has historically been structured such that it isn't an attractive option. Intimidate is highly effective if all you want is to make an NPC cooperative for as long as you're in his presence, and then you don't much care about what he does next. The attitude of the target of an Intimidate check toward the person who intimidated him always worsens, though, so it's not the best thing if you run into a lot of recurring NPCs. Ancestral Burdens has tended to feature such NPCs because the Bastards spent a lot of time running around in areas where a mid-sized village is the largest settlement, and they've opted not to shit where they eat by strong arming the locals.

It has great usefulness if you need to interrogate a generic thug, enemy soldier, etc. who isn't likely ever to show up again.

Quote:
Regardless, that, and using levels, is a clunky mechanic in general. I can buy BAB with the use of bluff/feint as I can imagine that a character with more martial proficiency can sell a feint better. Further, that's a specific use and not a replacement.
It's also mostly invisible to you as a player. The majority of the time, Bluff (feint), Intimidate, and Diplomacy are being used by the PCs against NPCs, which means that the bookkeeping happens on my side. I certainly would be sympathetic if you were the DM and felt like it was too clunky for you to want to keep track of a HD/level based Diplomacy DC.

Quote:

Either way, if a DM is prepared to counteract a diplomacy PC against a NPC, a like minded group, or a mixed group,then the alternate skill check could work. As a player I would become frustrated if every time I broke out my one trick diplomacy pony I find out that the PC is working against similarly scaled NPCs just to make it difficult.

I don't think it follows that if this rule is adopted, the NPC will always be of similar or greater level compared to the PC. That certainly isn't what happened in the games I've run in the past. I'm much more interested in the proposed change because it makes the adjudication for Diplomacy less nebulous and less subjective; the fact that it also makes it significantly harder for a lightly min-maxed bard or rogue to induce high-level NPCs to go to bat for him is really just gravy, from my perspective.

Although I appreciate that you're fine with DM fiat, and that you trust me to use that principle fairly and evenhandedly, I'm not really a fan of fiat-driven DMing as a band-aid over the top of a problematic section of the rules. It amounts to a decision to have me apply an undocumented, uncodified house rule whenever it seems good to me that I should do so. I certainly wouldn't be deliberately unfair in so doing, but I would inevitably be inconsistent. And that's annoying.

So I'm looking around for a documented, reasonably consistent and coherent house rule to handle this issue.

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Darker

I never really thought that there was much wrong with diplomacy unless you had an asshole of a DM. In an encounter, you role to change the attitude and it's pretty clear what those are (or at least so I thought). In a negotiation, you role opposed diplomacy. I think in the case of bartering, you can roll your diplomacy opposed by a related profession check.

Talanall
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The problems with the "NPC attitude" chunk of the rules are that the DCs are extremely low, it's easy to crank up a Diplomacy modifier so it's extremely high, and a successful check (DC 30) can end a combat encounter in a single round with no regard whatsoever for the relative level of the PC versus the NPC.

If I follow the rules as they are actually presented, then Alannah currently stands roughly a 25% chance of being able to stop any combat encounter that involves creatures with which she can verbally communicate. She must take a full-round action to do this. She's not a particularly egregious test case, because she's not min-maxed to emphasize Diplomacy; it's not at all difficult to push a 7th-level character's Diplomacy modifier to +24—a 75% chance of success. And as I said, this approach is efficacious against ANY character who can understand her, regardless of the character's level.

The rules aren't really ambiguous; it hasn't been an issue with Alannah in the past because she's just getting to the point where it's a halfway-reasonable thing for her to try to do, and I don't really expect you to MAKE it an issue with her in the future (because I think we all know that Alannah basically enjoys looting her enemies' corpses for valuables).

As a DM, I can deal with this in a few different ways.

1) I can just ignore the rules and adjudicate the outcome of a Diplomacy check in whatever way I feel is appropriate, essentially by imposing bonuses or penalties to the check as demanded by my whims. If I don't think diplomacy should work on an NPC, then it doesn't. This isn't a good solution in terms of its consistency from one occasion to the next, or in terms of its transparency regarding player and DM expectations about how the skill works/was "supposed" to work. But DM fiat is highly efficacious.

2) I can adopt some kind of house rule that scales the difficulty of using Diplomacy to modify an NPC's behavior according to the NPC's level. The proposed variant does this, among other things.

3) I can adopt a house rule that eliminates most or all synergy bonuses that apply to Diplomacy, rendering it somewhat more difficult to artificially inflate the magnitude of a Diplomacy modifier. The variant does this, too.

4) I can quietly get rid of the circlet of charisma. There are excellent grounds for this decision; it grants a +3 bonus to turn undead checks, Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Intimidate, Perform, and Use Magic Device checks, wild empathy checks, opposed Charisma checks to extract service from creatures called using the planar binding spell chain, and so on. For 4,500 gp, that's a hell of a deal. The only thing that makes it potentially problematic, though is that it's implicated in the Diplomacy issue. The other Charisma-based skills are useful, but they're not really game stoppers.

5) I can house rule that magic items granting a competence bonus to Diplomacy don't exist.

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