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Skills in Conflict

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 182
When skills come into conflict with each other, it can lead to extremely complex interactions, often well beyond the scope of the short skill descriptions in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. The following section offers detailed advice on the most common skill clashes that involve difficult adjudications, as well as clarifications of skills where the Core Rulebook provides little guidance. The advice in this section is holistic, and GMs are encouraged to read each description in full to gain the best grasp of the nuances of each skill. Additionally, this section offers an optional variant system for opposed skill checks that reduces randomness and the potential for many rolls.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 182
The Bluff skill is an extremely versatile, though sometimes misunderstood, social skill. Unlike Diplomacy and Intimidate, which can directly push their target toward a course of action, Bluff feeds the target misinformation. A skilled user of the Bluff skill needs to understand how the target’s mind works, in order to deliver just the right misinformation to achieve the desired results. The disadvantage is that such manipulation is less predictable and more difficult to pull off, but the advantage is that the target is not aware that he is being manipulated, whereas even the most successful Diplomacy or Intimidate attempt leaves the target realizing who has convinced him to take action. This section includes clarifications and details on several different ways to use Bluff—and on several things that don’t work.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 182
Deceiving people is the most prominent use of the Bluff skill, making it one of the trickiest skills to adjudicate.

Bluff Doesn’t Define a Response: Even the most successful lie told using Bluff doesn’t determine the course of action the deceived person takes—it just primes the target with misinformation. This means attempts to trick a creature into a course of action might need to also include Diplomacy or Intimidate after the Bluff check. For example, suppose there was a guard with the following orders from the guard captain: “Don’t let anyone into the restricted area without clearance papers, even if it seems to be me or someone of higher rank.” After this, a sneaky rogue attempts the following ruse: “I am the king’s general on a mission of utmost importance for national security. I need you to let me in now, or you’re fired!” Assuming the rogue succeeds at her Bluff check, the guard now believes her to be the general, but this doesn’t mean he will let her through. His orders still require him to keep everyone out without papers. The last part of the rogue’s demand is an attempt to Intimidate the guard, and the successful Bluff check was a necessary prerequisite to even attempt the Intimidate check.

Circumstances: When using Bluff to tell a lie, the Core Rulebook table on possible circumstance modifiers takes into account several levels of plausibility, targets who want to believe or are impaired, and possession of convincing proof, but there are also plenty of other circumstances that might affect the result of a Bluff check. For instance, many people strongly don’t want to believe a bluff that would lead to cognitive dissonance, such as attempting to convince a true believer that their religion is fake, and such a lie imposes a –5 penalty on the attempt (the opposite of a target who wants to believe the falsehood). On the other hand, a target who is afraid that the deceit is actually correct might grant a +2 bonus or more on the skill check, depending on the level of anxiety about the fabrication. For instance, a bigoted assassin who is afraid that half-orcs are cannibals might be more likely to believe a half-orc’s bluff that she ate the target he was supposed to kill.

There are a variety of other circumstances, all of which might alter the odds in different directions. A character with a widespread reputation of being a compulsive liar might take a large penalty on his skill check, but a character with a reputation for always telling the truth, such as a paladin, would gain a large bonus on her skill check. Similarly, a hostile creature is much less likely to believe a deception, whereas a helpful creature is much more likely to believe one.

Tricking Someone: Bluff can be used to cleverly trip a target up and get him to reveal something or make a mistake. In these cases, he realizes his mistake soon after, but by then it is too late, and the falsehood has done its damage. This is similar to using Bluff to feint or create a distraction, but has broader applications in social situations. For instance, suppose a swashbuckler suspected that an assassin works for the queen. The swashbuckler might be able to trick the assassin into revealing more information by pretending to be a fellow agent of the queen in an attempt to gauge the assassin’s response. Of course, if the assassin doesn’t work for the queen and sees through the ruse, he might attempt his own Bluff check to pretend that he works for the queen and fell for the trick, thus causing the swashbuckler to investigate the innocent queen.

Conspirators and the Spokesperson: Sometimes, a group of individuals has a single spokesperson tell a convincing lie while the others just pray that the target doesn’t notice them chuckling in the background with their inability to pull off a successful bluff. Though this tactic might succeed against a complacent target, a competent target cognizant of the possibility of being deceived should attempt a Sense Motive check opposed by the Bluff check of at least a few of the other individuals, perhaps directing specific follow-up questions their way, or even just try to get a hunch about the others.

Plausibility: The Core Rulebook mentions that some lies are implausible enough that no matter how high a character’s Bluff check, a PC can’t convince a target that they are true. However, the same page also presents a table that says that “impossible” lies impart a –20 penalty on the skill check. This table’s entry might actually be better described as “particularly implausible.” For example, an older human woman telling a very similar-looking human girl that she is herself from the future might take the –20 penalty, whereas a 10-year-old half-elf telling a 40-year-old orc the same lie would automatically fail the Bluff check.

Frequency of Bluff Checks: When a PC is attempting to con someone for an extended period of time rather than telling just one lie, how often should the GM call for new Bluff checks? This is important, since every new Bluff check is an opportunity for the opposition to attempt new Sense Motive checks and uncover the lie. The frequency of checks can be highly variable, and the GM is the ultimate arbiter, but some guidelines can be helpful. Requiring a new check for every individual statement that is a lie would bog down the game. In general, one Bluff check per new topic makes sense. If a new statement has different circumstances (particularly if it is less believable than the previous ones), it calls for a new Bluff check.

For example, a character might claim to have been to an ancient dungeon. If his Bluff check succeeds, the opposition takes it for granted that the character went there, and basic details such as when the character went or how she got there don’t require a new check. However, if she says she found a famous, long-lost artifact within the dungeon or traveled to the dungeon on the back of a roc, she will need to make a new check for the new topic or greater exaggeration. Maintaining a facade once a lie has been established usually doesn’t require a new check. If a character is pretending to be a tax inspector and has succeeded at the initial attempt to Bluff, it isn’t necessary to make him roll a Bluff check every time he says anything that is true for a tax inspector but a lie for the real character.

You’re Not Lying, You’re Just Wrong: Sometimes a character is a convincing enough liar that targets can’t tell the character is lying, even when the targets possess incontrovertible proof that what the character is saying isn’t true, or the lie is otherwise too unbelievable to be possible. In this case, one way to resolve the situation is for the bluffing character to take a –20 penalty on the skill check, and if she beats the target’s Sense Motive, then the target believes that the bluffing character isn’t lying, but is simply mistaken. This could also be the result of other situations in which the target of the Bluff attempt has strong reasons to believe that the falsehood, despite being plausible, isn’t factually correct. Even this result can be useful to the bluffing character, as it doesn’t mark her as a liar, and it allows her to gather information about what her target knows and expects.

True Lies and Implausible Truths: Bluff is the skill that convinces someone that something is true. However, there are a few potential cases when the situation isn’t as straightforward as a bluffing character telling a lie to a target. For instance, suppose that the bluffing character makes up a believable lie to tell the target, and the lie turns out to be true, unbeknown to the bluffing character. If the Bluff check succeeded, the target is convinced, and might later verify the truth and trust the bluffing character more. However, what if the bluffing character fails? In this case, the target can tell that the bluffing character is lying, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the target is forced to conclude that the information is false. For instance, suppose a popular king has fallen into a magical, unbreakable sleep. A charlatan, noticing the king’s lack of public appearances, makes up a story about the king being placed under a sleeping curse and spreads it around the tavern, but his Bluff check is terrible, and everyone can tell he’s making it up. If one of the king’s advisors is present in the tavern, this doesn’t mean that the advisor now thinks the king isn’t in a coma; it just means that she can tell the charlatan doesn’t believe his own story. The reverse side of true lies is implausible truths. These are situations in which someone is telling the truth (either saying something that is actually true, or spreading a lie that they believe to be true), but that truth is extremely implausible to the listener. Though the bluffing character isn’t lying, the same skill set that makes an excellent and convincing liar could potentially help characters attempting to spread an implausible truth. In these cases, even if the target succeeds at the Sense Motive check, he can tell that the bluffing character truly believes what she is saying, and he might simply conclude that she isn’t lying, but simply mistaken. The target might later be swayed if presented with evidence or through a verbal duel. If a bluffing character successfully convinces a target of a lie and the target attempts to spread that information, this leads to a classic example of an implausible truth.

Aftermath: While most of the Bluff rules focus on the scene between the bluffing character and the target, it is important to consider what happens afterward— especially in an intrigue-based campaign. Though true masters of deception might be able to pull off a bluff such that no one is ever the wiser, in the case of most successful bluffs, the targets eventually discover new information that allows them to realize the truth of the matter. In this case, their attitude toward the bluffing character generally decreases by one step (or simply becomes unfriendly), depending on the previous attitude and the severity of the bluff ’s consequences. Furthermore, if the bluffing character attempts to lie to such a target again, her Bluff check takes a similar penalty as if she had failed to deceive the target (either a –10 penalty, or the skill check might be impossible, at the GM’s discretion).

Lies upon Lies: The aftermath of a Bluff becomes even more complicated if someone else attempts to make a contradictory lie, either in the same scene as the original prevarication or afterwards. If the bluffing characters are present together, it might be a good time to have them enter a verbal duel, with the target as the audience. However, this isn’t possible when the second Bluff attempt happens after the first deceiving character is gone but before the target discovers the ruse. In this case, the second bluffing character has an advantage. She might be able to show proof that the first character was lying in order to build up the credibility of her own lie. If the second bluffing character beats the target’s Sense Motive, but does not debunk the original lie or beat the first bluffing character’s original Bluff check, then the target will likely be confused and unlikely to act on either piece of information. Or, the target might conclude that the second bluffer believes what she said but is misinformed.

Other Uses of Bluff

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 184
In addition to being used for lying, the Bluff skill has several other uses defined in the rules.

Creating a Diversion: You can attempt a Bluff check to create a diversion to allow you to use Stealth, even a misdirection as simple as saying, “What’s that behind you?” In the Core Rulebook, this usage is only mentioned off-handedly in the Stealth skill description, with no reference to its action type. Creating a distraction is a standard action.

Secret Messages and Intrigue: Don’t underestimate the benefit of using Bluff to send messages through innuendo. Since the DC to send a message is static (15 or 20 depending on the message’s complexity), you can quickly reach the point that the message itself is reliable, and thus the only risk is being intercepted, which would have happened anyway if you didn’t make the attempt.

Surprise: Not every surprise round begins with an ambush from unseen assailants. If a character or several characters unexpectedly attack in the midst of a conversation or other normal activity, their victims might be surprised. To determine if a victim is surprised, he should attempt a Sense Motive check opposed by the assailant’s Bluff check rather than a Perception opposed by the assailant’s Stealth check. This is also a good way to adjudicate several abilities, including several vigilante talents that trigger when the target thinks the vigilante is an ally.

Maintaining a Disguise: When maintaining a disguise, the Bluff skill isn’t necessary to correctly portray things such as mannerisms or facial expressions, but it will almost certainly come up when the disguised character makes statements in his assumed persona as he talks about events he didn’t actually experience. Of course, a well-prepared character has thoroughly researched his disguise, so he is unlikely to take any penalties to his Bluff attempts.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 184
Due to its ability to convince people without using either deception or coercion—and risking their negative consequences—the Diplomacy skill is one of the most commonly used forms of persuasion in the Pathfinder RPG. However, it is also difficult to adjudicate in a variety of situations involving intrigue and combat.

Attitudes and Requests

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 185
The most consequential use of the Diplomacy skill is to change the attitudes of other creatures and to get them to comply with requests you make.

Attitude Adjustments, Personality, and Goals: One major trap in understanding the Diplomacy skill is the mistaken idea that attitude adjustments achieved using Diplomacy change a character’s underlying personality and goals. In fact, attitude adjustments are minor good impressions (or bad impressions, in the case of a disastrously failed check) that, per the Core Rulebook, last only a few hours by default. At the GM’s discretion, the adjustments may last for shorter or longer periods, depending on the circumstances. As such, a Diplomacy check to change someone’s attitude is mainly useful as a prelude to a follow-up request. It doesn’t alter the creature’s personality or goals.

For instance, if a cunning bard managed to convince the evil necromancer queen to become friendly with him, that doesn’t mean she will give up plans of world domination or change her deity from the goddess of undead to the goddess of beauty and love, but it does mean that she likes the bard now. Even without further requests, she would probably spare him if he pledges loyalty to her and if she thinks she can trust him. Even if she feels she can’t trust him, she might at least be fond enough of him to transform him into a loyal undead servant so she can keep him around. Attempting to convince the necromancer queen to give up her evil ways and cease her plans for world conquest involves much more than a Diplomacy check to change her attitude toward the bard. The bard would then need to use the influence system or the relationship system to become closer to the necromancer queen, perhaps engaging in a verbal duel with her or even focusing an entire series of social adventures around changing her perspective (see Social Conflicts).

Requests Are Not Mind Control: This is the biggest potential trap in understanding the Diplomacy skill in a typical game. Diplomacy’s main strength is the ability to make requests without angering the target, but that doesn’t mean that it works like mind control. As the Core Rulebook says, some requests automatically fail if they go against a creature’s values or nature. In this vein, it is important to remember that no matter how high a Diplomacy roll may be, the target still has free will and won’t accept certain requests. Even so, a character who declines a very high Diplomacy result should do so respectfully, as the high result means that the diplomat made her argument effectively and convincingly. For instance, a paladin who swore an oath to never unseal the inner catacombs of her faith’s central cathedral might apologize and explain that though the argument to do so was convincing, she unfortunately can’t violate this vow. A target who must refuse a request might try to honor the request in spirit, offering an alternative that might advance the same greater goal or doing a significant but still lesser favor for the requester.

Roleplaying and Skills: As you can see from the sections above, as well as the table of potential circumstances in the Core Rulebook, the nature of a request is crucial to determining its success or failure. Therefore, it is necessary to describe the request in order to attempt a Diplomacy check. A diplomat’s player can’t just say “I Diplomacy the guard.” The player must provide a specific request along with any rationale supporting that desire, even if the player or GM doesn’t want to roleplay the whole interaction in character. On the other hand, using Diplomacy to improve a target’s attitude is both more open-ended and less fraught with circumstance modifiers, so when strapped for time or out of ideas, it is fine to omit a description of how a diplomat manages to do so. Using the previous example of the bard and the necromancer queen, the bard’s request to spare a peasant so that she may spread word of the queen’s mighty army and cause other villages to surrender without a fight is quite a different situation than him saying, “Spare this peasant woman because killing her is evil and makes my goddess sad,” or even “Spare this peasant woman for me. Please?”

Gathering Information: The Diplomacy skill allows a character to canvass locations for information. Because this use of Diplomacy often produces similar results to those of a high Knowledge (local) check, adventurers might be able to attempt either one to gain the same information. In fact, adventures occasionally present a table of facts that either skill can uncover. Gathering information with Diplomacy actually involves spending 1d4 hours actively seeking the information and allows the character to retry the attempt to pick up additional information. When a PC fails at a Knowledge (local) check, the GM can give the character a second chance by having him spend time attempting to gather that information from others.

As per the Core Rulebook, some information is simply impossible to find via gathering information. The information that people know is typically limited to the area where they live, and is filtered through their biases. In a city on the brink of a race war between elves and humans, the information available among the upperclass human nobility will have a significantly different spin and tone to it than the information available in the elven ghetto, and the checks to gather information in those places would meet with circumstance bonuses or penalties depending on who was asking where. Thus, it is important to decide where a character is gathering information before determining what information they receive. Filtering the information through the biases of the community adds flavor and nuance to the world around the characters.

Finally, remember that gathering information is itself a conspicuous act, so others who are gathering information can usually notice it in turn. A typical DC for hearing about someone else gathering information should start at 15, and a character wishing to gather information clandestinely can choose to take a penalty on her Diplomacy check to increase that DC by the same amount.

Calling for a Cease-Fire: One of the first things that a potential diplomat might try in a combat is to call for a temporary cease-fire. The description of the Diplomacy skill in the Core Rulebook indicates that requests take 1 round or longer, and that shifting attitudes takes 1 minute. Since a cease-fire is a type of request, this would work fine, with the diplomat making the request over the course of a full round of combat and completing it just before her next turn. However, a character can usually only make requests of a target that feels at least indifferent toward that character, and the vast majority of battles involve characters that are unfriendly or hostile toward each other.

In this case, and in other instances of requests made to unfriendly or hostile characters, the GM should consider only allowing such requests that are couched in such a way that they seem to be in the target’s best interests. An unfriendly or hostile character certainly isn’t going to be doing the would-be diplomat any favors, but that doesn’t mean they will ignore an idea that is better for them than facing the consequences of the combat. Even if adversaries agree to a brief cease-fire to listen to the diplomat’s terms, they won’t let their guard down. Generally, they will also require the side calling for the cease-fire to make a show of their intentions by laying down or sheathing their weapons, dropping spell component pouches, or the like, while attempting Sense Motive checks to determine if the cease-fire is a ruse. Creatures that feel themselves to be at an advantage in the combat by virtue of a short-duration spell or other effect that would expire during a cease-fire almost never agree to a cease-fire, as it isn’t in their best interest to do so.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 186
The uses of the Disguise skill are far more specific than those of Bluff and Diplomacy. The Disguise skill exists to allow characters to conceal their identity and to potentially pose as other characters.

Not Always Opposed: The most important thing to note about the Disguise skill is that characters do not automatically get a Perception check to oppose it. Per the Core Rulebook, an opponent receives a Perception check only if the disguised character is actively drawing attention, if the perceiving character is actively suspicious of everyone, or if the disguised character is attempting to impersonate a particular person that the perceiving character recognizes. Under one of these circumstances, a perceiving character can attempt one Perception check right away and then another check each hour.

A Single Disguise Check: Unlike most other skills, a character typically attempts a Disguise check only once when creating a physical disguise. Further Disguise checks might be necessary for things such as altering one’s voice or using appropriate mannerisms or phrasing, but the basic disguise doesn’t require further checks. The check result is supposed to be a secret that is revealed only the first time the disguise is truly tested, which can be tricky in the face of disguising characters who want their friends to tell them how good the disguise is. One way to handle this is to roll the Disguise check secretly only the first time it truly comes into opposition (see above), since the skill doesn’t indicate when the check first occurs.

Disguise Is More Than Visual: Though the skill as presented in the Core Rulebook focuses on the visual aspects of disguise that a character prepares, later rules (such as the vocal alteration spell) have made it clear that there are other aspects, including voice, mannerisms, and phrasing. The trick is to distinguish between the use of the Bluff and the Disguise skills. Generally, Bluff checks cover telling actual lies to support a disguise, whereas Disguise checks cover the other aspects, such as imitating mannerisms and speech.

Saw Through the Illusion: It is very tempting to use illusion or transmutation magic to augment a disguise, since the bonus is so high. As per the Core Rulebook, magic that penetrates an illusion or transmutation doesn’t automatically see through a mundane disguise, but it negates the magical components of the costume. Thus, a true master of disguise uses both types of trickery, and she also ensures that the person who notices her use of magic has a way to explain the fact that disguise magic was involved at all. For instance, a rogue might disguise herself as a noble with mundane means and then use disguise self to cloak herself in a glamer of that same noble, but more beautiful. Then, if someone sees through the illusion but not the mundane disguise, he would just think she was a vain noble instead of becoming suspicious due to the use of illusion magic and demanding a more thorough inspection.

Simulacrum and Disguise: The caster of the simulacrum spell uses the Disguise skill to shape the form created. However, it is important to note that the Sense Motive check to detect a simulacrum is very easy at the level that simulacrum becomes available, so unless the simulacrum has a high Bluff modifier, it is still challenging to use a simulacrum as an impostor for long.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 186
The Intimidate skill allows characters to use fear to gain an advantage over others.

Scaring Them into Submission: Other than demoralizing foes in combat, the main use of the Intimidate skill is to force someone to capitulate to your requests by scaring them into doing so. This is similar to improving someone’s attitude to friendly with Diplomacy and then making a request, but it doesn’t require multiple rolls. Instead, the requests are restricted to those that provide limited assistance and actions that don’t endanger the creature, including giving information. This means that an intimidated creature doesn’t necessarily do what the intimidating character wants if it would be dangerous. After the Intimidate check, the target becomes unfriendly and might take actions such as reporting the intimidating character to the authorities. Thus, Diplomacy is often more likely to be successful in the long term in campaigns with interweaving plot lines and recurring characters. Since intimidation is based on fear, creatures immune to fear are also generally immune to attempts to use Intimidate against them.

Posturing and Bluster: The rules for the Intimidate skill specify that a check’s DC is based on the target’s HD and Wisdom modifier. That generally works when one person is attempting to Intimidate the other, but sometimes both parties are actively participating in acts of posturing and bluster. Since this DC is usually low, the two characters would end up intimidating each other, which isn’t quite realistic. Instead, consider opposed Intimidate checks, or if the situation warrants it, a full-fledged verbal duel.

Explaining Negative Consequences: Sometimes a character wants to calmly explain negative consequences to someone in a way that merely relies on logic, not fear. This is particularly important when attempting to convince someone immune to fear, such as a paladin or vampire, to back down in the face of negative consequences. This is different than improving a creature’s attitude or making a request (particularly since a character might try it with an unfriendly creature), so it doesn’t fall under Diplomacy. One good way to handle this is to use the rules for influence or verbal duels instead, since those both allow for logic and knowledge to help impact the situation. If only a skill check is possible, consider allowing an Intimidate check that doesn’t apply any modifiers tied to frightening the target (such as the Intimidating Prowess feat, size modifiers, an inquisitor’s stern gaze, and so on) and then having the result not be a fear effect.

Perception and Stealth

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 187
Since Perception is the skill that determines what a character sees, hears, and senses in the game world, it is no wonder that it’s often considered the most important skill in the game. Stealth and Perception often oppose one another, and the two of them together can be difficult to adjudicate.

Active and Automatic Perception: There are two ways Perception checks happen in the game. The first way is automatic and reactive. Certain stimuli automatically call for a Perception check, such as a creature using Stealth (which calls for an opposed Perception check), or the sounds of combat or talking in the distance. The flip side is when a player actively calls for a Perception check because her PC is intentionally searching for something. This always takes at least a move action, but often takes significantly longer. The Core Rulebook doesn’t specify what area a PC can actively search, but for a given Perception check it should be no larger than a 10-foot-by-10-foot area, and often a smaller space if that area is cluttered. For instance, in an intrigue-based game, it is fairly common to look through a filing cabinet full of files. Though the cabinet itself might fill only a 5-foot-by-5-foot area, the number of files present could cause a search to take a particularly long time.

Precise and Imprecise Senses: Since Perception covers all senses, it is important to distinguish which of those senses count as observing a creature that is using Stealth. Some senses are more precise than others. Imprecise senses allow a creature to pinpoint the location of another creature, but they don’t allow for the use of targeted effects, and attacks against those creatures are subject to miss chances from concealment. A few examples of imprecise senses are hearing, scent, blindsense, and tremorsense. A sense is precise if it allows the creature to use targeted effects on creatures and objects it senses, and to attack enemies without suffering a miss chance from concealment. This includes vision, touch, blindsight, and lifesense. Precise senses allow the creature to pinpoint an enemy’s location. When a creature uses a precise sense to observe an enemy, that enemy is unable to use Stealth against the observer unless it creates a distraction first, or has a special ability allowing it to do so. Senses other than the listed ones count as precise or imprecise at the GM’s discretion. A creature might have a limited form of a sense that makes it too weak to count as precise, such as a beast with primitive eyes that has difficulty seeing a creature that isn’t moving.

Cover and Concealment for Stealth: The reason a character usually needs cover or concealment to use Stealth is tied to the fact that characters can’t use Stealth while being observed. A sneaking character needs to avoid all of an opponent’s precise senses in order to use Stealth, and for most creatures, that means vision. Effects such as blur and displacement, which leave a clear visual of the character within the perceiving character’s vision, aren’t sufficient to use Stealth, but a shadowy area or a curtain work nicely, for example. The hide in plain sight class ability allows a creature to use Stealth while being observed and thus avoids this whole situation. As the Core Rulebook mentions, a sneaking character can come out of cover or concealment during her turn, as long as she doesn’t end her turn where other characters are directly observing her.

States of Awareness: In general, there are four states of awareness that a creature can have with regard to another creature using Stealth.

Unaware: On one end of the spectrum, a sneaking creature can succeed at Stealth well enough that the other creature isn’t even aware that the creature is present. This state allows the sneaking creature to use abilities such as the vigilante’s startling appearance. The Stealth skill description in the Core Rulebook says that perceiving creatures that fail to beat a sneaking character’s Stealth check result are not aware of the sneaking character, but that is different from being totally unaware. This is also true of a creature that has previously been made aware of the creature’s presence or location (see below) but is currently unable to observe the sneaking creature. In those cases, the sneaking creature can’t use abilities such as startling presence.

Aware of Presence: The next state is when the perceiving creature is aware of the sneaking creature’s presence, though not of anything beyond that. This is the state that happens when an invisible creature attacks someone and then successfully uses Stealth so the perceiving creature doesn’t know where the attacker moved, or when a sniper succeeds at her Stealth check to snipe. A perceiving creature that becomes aware of a hidden creature’s presence will still be aware of its presence at least until the danger of the situation continues, if not longer (though memory-altering magic can change this).

Aware of Location: The next state is awareness of location. This happens when a perceiving character uses an imprecise sense, such as hearing or tremorsense, to discover what square a hidden or invisible creature inhabits.

Observing: The final state is when the perceiving character is able to directly observe the sneaking character with a precise sense, such as vision. This is generally the result when the perceiving character rolls higher on its opposed Perception check than the sneaking character’s Stealth result while also having line of sight to the sneaking character and the ability to see through any sort of invisibility or other tricks the sneaking character might be using.

Sense Motive

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 188
The Sense Motive skill allows a character to analyze the way another character is acting and figure out if something is off. It also opposes Bluff to determine whether someone is lying, making it an important social defensive skill in an intrigue-based game.

Active and Automatic Sense Motive: Most uses of Sense Motive are active and require a character to spend a minute or more interacting with someone with the intent of using Sense Motive for a particular purpose. The only time that Sense Motive happens automatically is when it opposes Bluff, as it says in the Core Rulebook that a character attempts a Sense Motive check for every Bluff check attempted against him. See the Bluff section on page 182 for guidance on how often to call for Bluff checks.

Noticing Enchantments: Sense Motive allows a character to notice someone whose behavior is being influenced by an enchantment, though as an active check, this takes at least 1 minute of interaction and the intention to sense enchantments. This doesn’t notice enchantments that aren’t actually causing a difference in behavior at the time. For instance, if a creature is under charm person but the caster isn’t around and doesn’t come up in conversation, a Sense Motive check won’t reveal the enchantment.

Hunches: The use of Sense Motive to “get a hunch” mentions getting a feeling that someone is trustworthy or is an impostor, and it lists a static DC. This doesn’t mean to say that anyone who can succeed at a DC 20 Sense Motive check can automatically find an impostor with high Bluff and Disguise modifiers. The DC 20 check assumes that the other character is not opposing the Sense Motive check with Bluff. This is particularly useful in situations with a group of impostors, one of whom is silver-tongued and does all the talking while the others aren’t saying anything but aren’t skilled at Bluff. For instance, a hunch might help against a group of quiet assassins dressed as servants and trickling into the grand hall. The information gained from a hunch is general, not specific, and usually results in an ambiguous inkling. You can get a vague feeling that something is wrong or that someone seems trustworthy, but no more specific information than that. In the example above, a character who received a hunch wouldn’t know that the servants are specifically assassins, but would get a sense that something was off about the servants.

Sense Motive Is Not Mind Reading: Though Sense Motive can help ferret out lies and gain hunches about odd situations, it doesn’t let a character read opponents’ minds and know exactly what they’re thinking or planning. It is a verification tool that works well in conjunction with other skills, rather than a skill that allows a character to ascertain information.

Replacing Opposed Rolls

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 189
Especially in intrigue-based games, there are situations in which many different creatures might normally need to roll an opposed skill check against a PC. For instance, if the rogue sneaks into a camp of 50 orcs, it would technically require rolling 50 Perception checks. This slows down the game, and it makes it almost certain that one of those orcs will roll a natural 20. This variant rule replaces opposed rolls to reduce this sheer number of rolls and the likelihood for a skilled PC to be defeated by math alone.

With this variant, when a character attempts a skill check that would normally be opposed, he attempts the check as normal, comparing the result against the DC presented by each foe (DC = 11 + the foe’s total skill bonus with the opposed skill). If the initiating character fails this check, he simply fails and immediately experiences the consequences of failure. If he succeeds, however, he does so only against the rank-and-file opponents (such as most of the warriors in an orc camp, or most of the hangers-on at a royal court). Select foes (such as major NPCs or dedicated scouts and guards) can attempt a check with the opposing skill (DC = 11 + the initiating character’s total skill bonus with skill he originally used). This resembles the way the Disguise skill works, where only those who pay attention to the character and are suspicious of her can attempt a Perception check.

For example, if a hunter is sneaking through a camp of 50 orcs and succeeds at her initial Stealth check against a DC of 11 + each orc’s Perception modifier, she slips into the camp. Meanwhile, the two orcs posted as sentries scan for trouble, so each of those orcs (but not the other 48) rolls a Perception check to see if they notice the hunter. Similarly, a bard might succeed at a Bluff check to convince the minor nobles of the court of his exaggerated exploits, but three key aristocrats— suspicious of the bard to begin with—try to poke holes in the story and find contradictions by grilling the bard for details, each of them rolling Sense Motive checks against a DC of 11 + the bard’s Bluff modifier.

Multiple Bonuses: If the opposing group possesses a mix of bonuses, use the highest value to determine the DC. In the example of the orc camp, if 40 of the orc warriors have a –1 Perception modifier and 10 scouts have a +10 Perception modifier, the hunter would be attempting a DC 21 Stealth check. Note that because this variant doesn’t specify which opponents beat the check, it is up to the GM to decide how the consequences of the failed check manifest.

The Odds: This variant increases the odds of success dramatically for highly skilled characters. For instance, if the hunter in the example above has a modifier on Stealth checks at least 9 higher than the orcs’ Perception modifiers, in the default system, she would have a 50% chance of succeeding. But with this variant, her chance increases to 85%. When the character has less of an advantage against her adversaries, this variant still increases the rate of success dramatically with many adversaries, and it decreases the rate slightly with a few determined adversaries. For instance, with the default system, if the hunter’s Stealth matched the orcs’ Perception, she would have essentially a 0% chance of sneaking past the 50 orcs. With this variant, her chance is 1 in 8. However, if the other 48 orcs weren’t present, her chance of sneaking past just the two sentries in the default system is roughly 1 in 4, whereas with this variant, it is 1 in 8, since only the determined adversaries make their own rolls and thus affect her odds.