Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tips On Using Bluff and Diplomacy in Combat (For Pathfinder)

When it comes to combat, the first thing that goes out the window are you social skills. Because now's not the time for talking, it's the time for fighting! Because unless you're trying to feint your enemy to catch them off-guard, or scare them with intimidation, this isn't the area to wield your silver tongue in.

Or is it?

Parley? Sorry, we don't speak coward!
As you've probably guessed by the title, there are a few ways you can turn a high Diplomacy or Bluff check into a viable battlefield weapon. I've gathered some of the ones I think are more useful, and presented them here. This list is likely not a complete one, though, so if I missed something you think deserves to be included here, please put it in the comments along with a source link or book and page reference.

Also, if you're more of an Intimidate specialist, I'd recommend check out How To Weaponize Your Intimidate Check in Pathfinder as well as the character build post The Bullyboy.

Bluffing Your Way To Victory

The most common way for someone to use Bluff in combat (other than feinting to deny an opponent their Dexterity modifier to their armor class) is by taking the Taunt feat. This feat requires you to be Small-sized, but it lets you swap Bluff for Intimidate when demoralizing your foes. It's particularly great because size doesn't matter in this case, allowing you to smack-talk giants without penalty. Ideal for bards who can maintain their music while demoralizing the enemy, helping allies and hurting foes in a single turn.

If you're not on the small side, though, there's also the feat Empty Threats. This one requires you have at least 5 ranks of Bluff, but it allows you to do pretty much the same thing as Taunt. It also has specific language that lets you use Bluff in place of Intimidate for the Dazzling Display feat, and any feat that requires Dazzling Display as a prerequisite. If you use Bluff in that way, though, then you can't use it to feint until the beginning of your next turn.

Fair trade off, I'd say.

If you're a spellcaster, it's also possible for you to take Conceal Spell. This feat is rather exhaustive, and requires you to have Bluff or Disguise, in addition to Sleight of Hand if you want to hide the fact that you're casting a spell, or using a spell-like ability. That last one is important, because it opens this feat to classes like kineticists, or to aasimar who take feats to expand their spell-like abilities. It does lengthen the casting time, and there is a chance the enemy will notice what you did with a Perception or Sense Motive check, but if they fail then they can't take an attack of opportunity on you, readied actions won't go off, and unless the effect emanates directly from you, there's no way to link you to the spell. Overall, a pretty intensive feat in terms of resources, but it's the answer to the constant question of, "How do I cast this spell without anyone knowing it was me?"

And it doesn't require you to jack up the spell level with Silent Spell and Still Spell.

You could also take Spell Bluff, if you're just looking for a way to get a leg up over casters who try to counter you (or to get a bonus against other casters who try the fake you out with what spell they're slinging). Not as useful if there are no wizards' duels going on, but worth keeping in mind.

Diplomacy In Battle

Diplomacy, as a rule, is a skill that takes time to work. If you're gathering information with it, it will take hours. If you're trying to convince someone to see things you're way, you have to give them a mini TED talk explaining what you're right. So, as a combat ability, it has truly limited efficacy.

Even with the right feats.

With that said, Call Truce is probably the biggest whammy you can pull off using Diplomacy in combat. The way this feat works is that you make a Diplomacy check, treating it as if you were casting a full-round action spell. You can't be wielding a weapon, or anything that might be considered threatening when you do this. You also have to be in plain sight. If no one on your side attacks an enemy or does anything threatening, you make a single check with a DC equal to 30 + the highest Charisma modifier of the enemy group. If you succeed, combat ceases for one minute, or until someone on the opposing side is attacked or threatened.

This can still go sideways if you attempt to use Call Truce as a ruse. Enemies receive a Sense Motive check to determine if you're calling a truce in order to gain an advantage. Additionally, if your enemies are fanatics, if they're clearly winning, or if they have a temporary advantage that will expire once the truce is called (short-term enchantments, for example), then the DM can declare that your attempt out-and-out fails.

However, if you've been looking for a way to just get those last few, scared bandits to put down their bows and talk with you, this is an ideal way to make that happen.

Another option, for the bastards out there, is the Betrayer feat. This feat allows you to butter someone up before combat, and if you manage to move their attitude along the path toward friendly, then you can make a single attack as an immediate action. If you got the target to friendly or better with your check, they're considered flat-footed against your attack, and take a -2 penalty to their Initiative if they survive. An ideal feat for assassins, cutthroats, and those who prefer seduction as an appetizer.

Lastly, there's the feat Urban Tracker. While not strictly combat-oriented, it struck me as useful in its own, specific way. Essentially it allows you to make Diplomacy checks to track people across an urban environment, rather than Survival checks. This pretty much requires you to be playing an urban game, but if you are, this is something that can help you find even the most elusive quarry.

Step Outside The Box

Remember, combat has a lot of different angles and strategies you can explore. And if you're a largely skill-focused character who's been looking to put some of those skills to use outside of RP-based challenges, I hope this guide helped. As always, remember, some enemies are too dumb, too inured, or just too inhuman for skills to work. Which is why you should have something heavy you can hit them with if you can't talk them down... like that barbarian you keep under glass for occasions just like this one.

That's all for this month's Crunch installment. Hopefully there are some skill monkeys out there who are coming up with new concepts as we speak. If you'd like to see more of my work (and particularly more gaming articles) check out my Vocal archive, or head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out with DM advice, player tips, and occasional comedy. If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support my work, then head to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to drop some change in my tip jar, or Buy Me a Ko-Fi. Either way, I'll be happy to give you my eternal gratitude, and some sweet gaming swag!


  1. Another way to make foes listen to you long enough for you to use Diplomacy is the Seduction Inquisition for Inquisitors. The less NSFW of the two abilities it grants is the ability to make a Charisma check (DC 10 + target's Wisdom modifier) to make them listen to you for 1 minute even if they would otherwise be unwilling to listen (such as due to being hostile towards you). This can give you time to make a Diplomacy check (which requires 1 minute of continuous interaction) to potentially resolve the situation without violence.

  2. There are also a few different feats that affect the Wild Empathy ability that can sometimes have usage in or just before combat.
    The Fast Empathy feat reduces the time required down to just a Standard action, meaning that if you are somewhere like out in the wild and come across an animal, you can sometimes talk down the animal before blows happen, giving you an advantage or whatever.
    Greater Wild Empathy allows you to duplicate an Intimidate check instead of Diplomacy, giving you more options. The Thug Rogue archetype can upgrade that to Frightened if you wish to pursue that path.
    Pacify Animal lets you actually talk down an aggressive wild animal, turning it from hostile to indifferent. It only lasts a minute, however, but with the Fast Empathy feat above it can be quite useful quite quickly!

    If needed, you can also take the Wilding feat to make any of the above available to anyone, not just Druids :)

  3. I've never gotten to try it, I came close in one campaign. But the idea I read about, casting an illusionary fireball and once they determine it is an illusion, following it up with a real fireball. See if they will attempt to disbelieve the "illusion" fireball the second time.