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Individual Influence

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 102
The most common model for social encounters involves a single exchange involving a Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check. The following influence system serves as a more robust replacement for that basic system. It also encourages the entire party to participate in a social encounter, and can be used in encounters with multiple NPCs. In the individual influence system, participants try to change the targets’ opinions or court favor by succeeding at a variety of checks unique to each individual target. Known as influence checks, these are usually skill checks, though other types of checks may suffice, as an NPC may be especially impressed by other qualities, such as drinking ability or martial prowess.

In this system, a social encounter is divided into one or more phases. The length of a phase is flexible, and typically lasts 15 minutes to 1 hour—long enough for each PC to perform several minutes’ worth of actions per phase that are unrelated to influence checks (such as investigating a murder scene or surreptitiously defeating an assassin) without forgoing their chances to participate in the social encounter. GMs should determine beforehand how many phases a social encounter will last, thus determining how many chances the PCs will have to influence or learn about their targets—generally two to six. The GM should also determine whether the PCs’ actions can win them additional phases. For example, seducing a baroness or forestalling her carriage may both earn the PCs an extra phase in which to win her favor.

At the beginning of a phase, each PC selects an NPC. During each phase, a PC can either try to directly influence the NPC via an influence check, or attempt to learn more about that NPC with a discovery check—a check to learn about an NPC that can help with future influence checks during the same social encounter. The kinds of checks required for an influence check or a discovery check, known as influence skills, are unique to each individual. The PCs can learn an NPC’s influence skills through successful discovery checks (see Discovery Checks); otherwise, they must guess.

Discovery and Influence Check DCs

The appropriate DC for an influence check depends upon several factors. The table of standard influence DCs listed below provides a baseline for DCs for each average party level (APL). These DCs should be relatively easy for the PCs as a group (particularly those with access to aid another and the benefits from discovery), and they are generally appropriate for the skill that is most effective at influencing an NPC. To generate a typical influence check DC, add 5 to the base DC; add 10 to generate a difficult influence check DC. The DCs for skills in which many PCs have extremely high bonuses, such as Diplomacy and Perception, should be increased further to compensate. An NPC who is hard to influence might use the typical and difficult DCs for her influence skills, or possibly even higher DCs.

If a major event takes place during the social encounter, consider whether any of the NPCs’ influence DCs should change in response to the event. For example, if someone breaks into a sealed vault containing priceless treasures during the social encounter, law-abiding NPCs who suspect the PCs committed that crime become harder to influence.


Discovery Check

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 102
Each PC who attempts a discovery check rolls separately, even if multiple PCs attempt to discover information about the same NPC during the same phase. This represents the PCs forming their own separate opinions and analyses.

At the beginning of the social encounter, each PC can attempt a relevant Knowledge check to recognize particularly prominent NPCs (see Discover and Influence Check DCs under Individual Infleunce). If any PC succeeds at this check for an NPC, then all PCs gain a +4 bonus on their discovery checks involving that NPC. Before attempting a discovery check, a PC chooses whether to try to learn the NPC’s strengths, the NPC’s weaknesses, or the skills that can be used to influence him. Each type of discovery check has its own requisite skill and DC. Sense Motive often works as a discovery skill, but it may not be the best choice because it’s so general. When a PC chooses to attempt a discovery check, the GM should tell the player the possible types of skill checks for each kind of discovery check (though not the DCs), and let her pick which to attempt. If a discovery check relies on a Knowledge skill, it requires observation in the current moment, not static knowledge.

A PC who succeeds at a discovery check learns one of the skills that can influence the NPC (starting with the skill with the lowest DC), one of his strengths, or one of his weaknesses. For every 5 by which the PC exceeds the DC, she learns an additional influence skill, strength, or weakness. Thus, a withdrawn but observant character can provide allies with a significant bonus (or help them avoid significant penalties) on future influence checks, making her as important to the group’s success as PCs who prefer the spotlight.

Influence Check

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 102
Without a successful discovery check, a PC attempting an influence check must guess what an NPC’s influence skills are. A PC generally gains no benefit or hindrance when using a skill that cannot influence the NPC, though the GM may rule that multiple fumblings annoy the target and impose penalties on future rolls. Guidelines for setting influence check DCs appear Discover and Influence Check DCs under Individual Infleunce.

The PCs usually must succeed at more than one influence check to sway an NPC. No matter how many PCs speak to the same NPC, only one check to influence that NPC can be attempted during that phase. Additional checks serve as aid another attempts tied to the principal check. Succeeding at an influence check by a substantial margin provides additional benefits. Succeeding at an influence check by 5 or more counts as succeeding at an influence check and a discovery check (the PC chooses whether to learn one of the skills that influences the NPC, one of the NPC’s strengths, or one of the NPC’s weaknesses after the check is rolled instead of before the check, but the check otherwise functions as a successful discovery check). Succeeding at an influence check by 10 or more allows the PC to choose between gaining the benefit of succeeding at two influence checks or the benefits of an influence check and a discovery check (as if she had succeeded by only 5 or more).

Failing an influence check by a substantial margin makes it harder to influence the target in the future. If a PC fails an influence check by 5 or more, she cannot attempt to influence that NPC using the same skill for the remainder of that social encounter. A PC who fails an influence check by 10 or more cannot influence that NPC for the rest of the social encounter at all. For example, if the NPC’s influence skills are Diplomacy and Knowledge (arcana), a PC who fails a Diplomacy check against that NPC by 5 or more can still attempt to influence the NPC with Knowledge (arcana). These restrictions also apply to aiding another—a PC who fails by 10 or more irritates the NPC to the point that the party can no longer take advantage of her assistance.

A PC doesn’t necessarily realize whether or not she has succeeded at an influence check unless she succeeds by at least 5, but a character always knows when she has achieved the maximum possible influence over an NPC. Some NPCs might act as if they were being influenced even if they have no intention of listening to the PCs.

The GM may wish to limit the number of PCs who can interact with a single NPC during a phase. After all, the NPC can hold a conversation with only so many people at once, and if six characters cluster around, the interaction may seem more ominous than intended. Limiting the number of PCs who can simultaneously interact with an NPC to two or three (with the other PCs attempting discovery checks or focusing on other NPCs), helps the encounter flow briskly and prevents a single PC from taking too much of the spotlight.

Once the PCs succeed at a certain number of influence checks, they gain sway over that NPC, changing his opinion on an issue, earning a favor, or otherwise gaining some benefit or removing an obstacle.

Before a Social Event

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 103
If the PCs know which NPCs they need to influence in advance, they can seek out information to assist them in doing so ahead of time, potentially gaining information from the social stat block before the encounter. To represent the results of such preparations, each PC can attempt one Knowledge-based discovery check in advance with a – 5 penalty. The GM can allow other discovery skills to work, but Sense Motive should never work in advance unless the PC is actively stalking the NPC, which might require additional Disguise or Stealth checks and could lead to negative consequences. If the PCs attempt a discovery check against a particularly prominent NPC in advance, the PCs can attempt the Knowledge check to receive a +4 on the discovery check in advance, as well (see Discovery Checks).

Active Opponents

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 103
The PCs may not be the only ones seeking to influence prominent NPCs. An opposing party of NPCs at the same event can place additional pressure on the PCs to complete their task. Once either the PCs or the opposing party gain sway over an NPC (see Benefits of Influence), the other group can’t attempt further influence checks during that event. If the two groups are actively opposed, one group’s successful check causes the other group to take a cumulative –2 penalty on subsequent influence checks against that NPC, which can change the strategies the PCs might use. For instance, if the PCs notice the other group talking with a particular NPC, they have to decide whether to try to influence that NPC (thus foiling their rivals) or to yield that NPC to the other group and focus on influencing other NPCs.

Influence and Magic

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 103
PCs can also use magic to assist in gaining influence over key NPCs. In most cases, casting mind-affecting or other intrusive spells is socially unacceptable or even criminal, so PCs who wish to use such magic should use discretion. Whenever a PC (or NPC) casts a spell, NPCs with the Spellcraft skill attempt to identify that spell. Even NPCs unfamiliar with magic are likely to assume that spells are intended for mischief, unnatural control, or other selfish ends. The most common schools of magic used in social situations are divination, enchantment, and illusion.

Divination spells can assist the PCs in similar ways to a discovery check. Spells such as detect magic and identify reveal active spells and magic items. Spells and items far beyond the reasonable means of an NPC may indicate that NPC is hiding something, or is more than she seems. Alignment-detecting spells reveal whether someone has an unusually strong or unexpected aura. Other divination spells, such as detect thoughts, pry directly into a target’s mind, and can provide valuable clues at the GM’s discretion, most commonly replicating a successful discovery check.

Enchantment spells and effects are extremely effective tools for increasing influence, but their use is dangerous. When cast during a social encounter, spells such as charm person grant a +5 circumstance bonus on influence checks in place of their normal spell effects, as long as the target fails the saving throw and remains unaware that she is under an enchantment effect. More powerful enchantments such as suggestion are unhelpful for gaining influence, since they compel limited actions for a time and then stop. Spells such as geas/quest or dominate person might obviate the need to sway an NPC, but the magical influence is obvious to many people interacting with the NPC. People typically react poorly to realizing that enchantment magic has been used on them. The consequences of getting caught range from the offending PC being unable to attempt further influence checks against that NPC at that social event, to the whole party being unable to attempt further influence checks against that NPC during that event, up to the party being kicked out of the event entirely or charged with a crime.

From innocuous glamers—such as magic that sustains illusory finery—to spells disguising an individual as a different person, illusion spells are versatile tools of deception. Many illusions that allow a saving throw require the viewers to study the illusion carefully or interact with it before they attempt a saving throw. In the context of the influence system, the first time a PC interacts with an NPC during a phase, the PC and the NPC each receive a saving throw against the other’s relevant illusions, as they are assumed to be studying each other carefully at some point during the first exchange. After that, participants generally become more complacent in the way they examine each other, so they receive saving throws against only illusions dealing with particularly specific aspects of their interaction. For example, a glamer to make a dress look nicer would grant a saving throw during the first phase of interaction, but it usually wouldn’t recur in later phases unless the topic of the dress came up in conversation.

Secret Identities and Hidden Allegiences

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 104
When an NPC is being deceptive, it is possible that the PCs never discover the NPC’s true allegiance—even in the case of a recurring villain, as such an NPC’s exceptional skills may render his deceptions undetectable until later in the campaign. While Perception and Sense Motive checks are often used to oppose Disguise and Bluff checks, sometimes another skill might be more useful in discerning an impostor. For example, someone pretending to be a noble of a certain house could accidentally reveal his deception through his ignorance of facts that the noble should know.

The PCs themselves may also be interested in using secrecy and trickery. A PC may even be present at a large social event under more than one identity at the same time. All participants each typically attempt a Sense Motive and Perception check upon first encountering a deception and can attempt another check only if new lies or disguises are introduced during the event. However, each time a PC makes a claim or takes an action that seems implausible for the person she claims to be, nearby opponents can attempt another opposed check.

Divided Parties

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 104
In general, this influence system assumes that the PCs share roughly the same goals, and that the party shares the total number of successful influence checks. Games developed around intrigue can produce unusual situations, though, and it is possible that the PCs may be split into groups working at cross-purposes, or, more likely, toward unrelated goals, where each purpose is separate but not in direct conflict. For example, Valeros and Seelah may want to influence the NPCs in the king’s court to support a war against the necromancer queen of a neighboring land, while Kyra and Ezren want to influence those same NPCs to gain support for Kyra to marry the princess. In such cases, each groups’ number of successful influence checks should be tracked separately; if their goals are unrelated rather than conflicting, one group’s influence over an NPC doesn’t take that NPC out of play for the others, as it would for an opposing group.

Benefits of Influence

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 105
In a single encounter, the goal is often to convince an NPC to perform a specific favor. In longer-term social engagements, the PCs may need to build toward larger goals. Each time the PCs sway an NPC using the influence rules (gaining the number of successes listed in the NPC’s social stat block), they increase their influence level over that NPC by one step. For instance, if the PCs are unknown to an NPC who requires 3 successes to influence, after 3 successes, the PCs succeed in winning some of their target’s trust and thus increase their influence level from no sway to minor sway. An NPC the PCs have not yet influenced typically treats them as strangers.

No Sway: The NPC treats the PCs as any group of strangers.

Minor Sway: The NPC might perform small favors for the PCs that do not involve a significant expenditure of resources. The NPC speaks favorably about the PCs to others. The NPC does not interfere in the PCs’ plans unless they conflict with her goals.

Moderate Sway: The NPC might perform favors for the PCs that require some of her own resources or are time-consuming, as long as they do not threaten the NPC’s overall interests. The NPC actively seeks to convince people to work with the PCs. If the NPC’s plans conflict with the PCs’ goals, the NPC tries to work with the PCs to find a mutually acceptable resolution to the conflict.

Major Sway: The NPC assists the PCs with tasks that pose a significant risk to her position or status, and depending upon the circumstances, may risk her safety for them. The NPC advocates for the PCs, even when doing so is unpopular, and she undermines the PCs’ enemies. The NPC concedes a personal goal in order to allow the PCs to move forward with one of their plans, as long as they provide a suitable alternative.

Not all favors are reasonable, no matter how much sway the PCs gain over an NPC. For example, asking a cleric to betray her deity typically falls outside of the bounds of influence. Similarly, reaching the higher levels of influence should become increasingly difficult; the check DCs and the number of successes required increases by 2 for each progressive level of influence. Just as some NPCs are impossible to influence in a certain encounter, some NPCs will never become particularly friendly with the PCs, who cannot exercise more than moderate or even minor sway over them.

GMs also can use the influence system instead of Diplomacy to modify NPC attitudes. In this case, rather than using influence levels, each time the PCs successfully sway an NPC, the NPC’s attitude toward the PCs improves by one step. Most NPCs start at indifferent or unfriendly. An NPC whose attitude is not at least indifferent will always refuse requests for aid.

Countering Influence

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 106
A character can attempt an influence check with the goal of lowering an enemy’s influence level over an NPC rather than raising her own. The DC for this kind of influence check is based on the enemy’s influence level with the NPC in question. The sabotaging character gains a +2 bonus on these checks if she has minor sway over that NPC, a +4 bonus if she has moderate sway, or a +6 bonus if she has major sway. Sabotaging an NPC’s influence level requires as many successes as the enemy would need to increase his influence level with that NPC. A sabotaging character who knows of an NPC’s strengths can use that knowledge to ascribe unfavorable characteristics to the enemy she hopes to sabotage. If these disparaging descriptions are true (or if the NPC believes them to be true), the saboteur gains a +2 bonus per strength on influence checks to counter the enemy’s influence.

This mechanic is appropriate when the saboteur and the enemy she is trying to sabotage are on roughly equal footing, or when the saboteur has a higher level of influence. A saboteur wishing to erode the influence of a far more trusted individual, such as a group seeking to convince a queen that her closest advisor is betraying her, either cannot attempt to lower the trusted individual’s influence level without first gathering substantial evidence against the advisor, or might not be able to lower the advisor’s influence level at all in some circumstances.

For example, suppose Merisiel has achieved moderate sway over the mayor, and Ezren has achieved minor sway over the mayor. The DC for Ezren to influence the mayor with Diplomacy is 23, with two successful checks required, and the DC for Merisiel to influence the mayor with Diplomacy is 27, with three successful checks required (since it is harder for her to move from holding moderate sway to major sway). If Merisiel wanted to lower Ezren’s influence over the mayor from minor sway to no sway, she would need to succeed at two DC 23 Diplomacy checks, with a +4 bonus from her moderate sway, to make a persuasive case that Ezren should not be trusted. Since the mayor is deeply religious, Merisiel reminds the mayor of Ezren’s detachment from religion to gain another +2 bonus. On the other hand, if Ezren wanted to lower Merisiel’s influence level with the mayor, he would need to succeed at three DC 27 Diplomacy checks, with a +2 bonus from his minor sway.


Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 106
Over time, a PC’s influence over an NPC is likely to wane if the PC doesn’t keep in contact with her (and continue making influence checks every once in a while), depending on the influence’s nature. Generally, the higher the influence level, the more effort the PC must commit and thus the faster the influence degrades with neglect. However, if the PCs achieve major sway over an NPC because she becomes deeply indebted to them, at the GM’s discretion their influence level may not degrade until the NPC feels she has repaid that debt, making it a matter of favors rather than time.

Social Stat Block

Source Ultimate Intrigue pg. 107
For social encounters, GMs should build social stat blocks for important NPCs. Social stat blocks are very flexible, and can include any information relevant to the encounter, though most include the information below. Examples are listed here.

Name: The NPCs’ name, alignment, and established class.

Affiliation: This notes the NPC’s loyalties.

Secret Identity: Some NPCs have secret identities. There may not be any skill checks that would allow the PCs to detect such a secret identity (in which case no checks are listed), but if the NPC is disguised or the PCs have met this NPC before under another name, the skill check necessary to uncover the truth is listed here.

Background: This is a brief description of this NPC’s history and how she is relevant to the PCs.

Recognize: This is the check required to recognize the NPC by reputation or fame.

Appearance: This is a description of the NPC, including any characteristic features.

Introduction: This section describes how the NPC introduces herself to the PCs (or perhaps, how a herald or mutual acquaintance introduces them). The introduction should generally include hints about which skills are used for influence checks against this NPC, and may include an in-character quote, if that is helpful.

Personality: This is a short description of the NPC’s personality and demeanor or a list of adjectives that describe the NPC’s behavior. The more NPCs are present in a social encounter, the more important it is to make them distinctive so that the players can keep them straight.

Goals: This is a list of the NPC’s public goals.

Hidden Agenda: If your game utilizes intrigue, it’s unlikely that all NPCs are entirely up front about their goals. Any particularly secret objectives are found in this section, rather than in the goals entry.

Biases: Some NPCs have biases—subtle attitudes that influence an encounter. For example, an NPC may think favorably of half-orcs and be suspicious of elves. If the NPC’s biases affect a PC, apply a +2 or –2 circumstance modifier on that PC’s influence checks, depending on whether the bias is in the PC’s favor or not. If an NPC is strongly biased for or against a PC, the modifier may be even greater, but such strong biases are readily apparent. PCs can detect a bias with a successful DC 20 Sense Motive check.

Skills and Saves: Only a few of the NPC’s skills are likely to be relevant. Sense Motive and Perception are almost always necessary. If the NPC is hiding something major from the PCs, Bluff and Disguise are also important. This section should also include Spellcraft and likely saving throw modifiers if the spellcasting might occur during the event; Will saving throws are the most common for intrigue-related spells such as charm person or detect thoughts.

Analyze: A PC who succeeds at the listed check learns details about what skills or checks can influence the NPC. Each sentence should contain the information a single successful discovery check reveals.

Strengths: An NPC may be particularly resistant to certain tactics; such tactics are referred to as that NPC’s strengths. For example, a person with little patience for flattery may think less favorably of someone who showers her with compliments. The skills and DCs required to discover these strengths are listed here. A PC who incorporates an NPC’s strength into an influence check takes a –4 penalty on the check. Knowledge of an NPC’s strengths can be a powerful tool for sabotaging someone else’s attempt to gain influence over her—see the <%Countering Influence&Category=Individual Influence">Countering Influence section for more information.

Weaknesses: Most NPCs have at least one weakness. A weakness could be a deep-seated secret or insecurity, or a hobby that the NPC can talk about for days on end. The skills and DCs needed to discover these weaknesses are listed here. For each weakness a PC incorporates into her influence check, she gains a cumulative +2 bonus.

Influence Skills: The skills and DCs for each influence check are listed here. If a skill isn’t listed, it normally doesn’t work at all, but if a player presents a strong narrative reason why a skill should work, his GM can add it to the list. Diplomacy and Bluff are usually on the list of possible skills. If Diplomacy isn’t on the list of skills, there should be a reason in the NPC’s personality. For example, an NPC who intensely dislikes small talk and only wishes to converse only about arcane theory may not respond to Diplomacy. However, Diplomacy is rarely the best skill with which to influence someone; the DC of Diplomacy checks to influence an NPC is typically higher than the DC when using skills tailored to the NPC’s personality or interests. GMs should keep the PCs’ skills in mind when designing a social encounter so each PC has a way to contribute. Not every NPC can necessarily be influenced, in which case discovery checks reveal that the NPC is a lost cause.

Successes Needed: This lists the number of successful skill checks the PCs need to sway an NPC’s opinion.

Favor: The NPC might ask a favor of those he trusts. If so, a short description of the favor and what the PCs must do to accomplish it is listed here, as well as the benefit the PCs gain from successfully performing the favor.

Events: This is the place to describe external events that affect the PCs’ ability to influence this NPC, anything from the NPC leaving an event early to the NPC becoming suspicious of the PCs after someone robs her manor.

Benefit: This section details what the PCs gain if they sway this NPC.

Penalty: This section details what the PCs lose if they antagonize this NPC (if antagonizing her is possible).