D&D 5E Using social skills on other PCs

Faolyn

(she/her)
That's one way to run it.

But with the merchant, there is cost involved. AND there the "A successful charisma check MIGHT be required..." So an equally valid way to run it is if the outcome is not in doubt, no amount of friendly or charisma is going to make a difference.
Well yes, that's a given. Charm person isn't mind-control. You still have to influence the person. That's exactly why the charmed condition gives you advantage on social interaction rolls on them.

But charm person makes the person friendly, and a friendly person is automatically going to help you in some way, according to that table in the DMG. The roll is to determine how far they are willing to go. And even assuming a Charisma of 10 and no proficiency in any Charisma skills, with advantage you will on average beat a DC 10. Which means minor risk or sacrifice.

Which means if a completely average caster charms a typical NPC merchant, they can likely get at least a minor item for free or at serious discount. Whether the item the PC wants is considered minor depends on a lot of things, of course.

That means that even if your wizard comes up to Ebenezer Scrooge(pre-ghosts) and casts Charm Person on him, Scrooge isn't going to give him free money, friendly or not. He would still want you to succeed in getting the money you are asking for, and would very helpfully give you directions to a different money lender, but would not give it to you himself. The outcome is not in doubt. You wouldn't be getting free money from Scrooge, no matter what your persuasion ability.
That's why I kept talking about the personality of the merchant. Scrooge--pre or post ghosts--is not a typical NPC merchant. He has a name and probably a fully fleshed out statblock and TBIF section.

But OTOH, imagine if the PC is, say, a 10th-level bard with 20 Charisma and expertise in Persuasion? That's +13 to the roll, with advantage and who knows what other sort of bonuses (maybe the cleric cast guidance on the bard; maybe the warlock cast bane on Scrooge), who then gets to roll with advantage? Yeah, I might allow it. When you get people who can roll a 30 or higher on their Persuasion checks, you can allow these sort of shenanigans.

Especially because 10th-level bards are not 14th-level enchanters, and thus both Scrooge and the typical NPC merchants will know they were charmed. And they likely have the ability to make the PCs' lives less happy because of it.

Also, don't forget that Scrooge was stingy because he didn't want to spend money on amenities for himself or for decent wages for his employees. But if the PCs are posing as investors of some sort, who will use Scrooge's money to make him a ginormous profit? That'll likely bypass the stinginess and amp up his greed.
 

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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Well yes, that's a given. Charm person isn't mind-control. You still have to influence the person. That's exactly why the charmed condition gives you advantage on social interaction rolls on them.

But charm person makes the person friendly, and a friendly person is automatically going to help you in some way, according to that table in the DMG. The roll is to determine how far they are willing to go. And even assuming a Charisma of 10 and no proficiency in any Charisma skills, with advantage you will on average beat a DC 10. Which means minor risk or sacrifice.

Which means if a completely average caster charms a typical NPC merchant, they can likely get at least a minor item for free or at serious discount. Whether the item the PC wants is considered minor depends on a lot of things, of course.
Just a quibble. First, Charm Person doesn't say friendly. It says friendly acquaintance, which is different from saying "Attitude changes to friendly." Second, it doesn't even do that to the target. The spell causes the target to view YOU as a friendly acquaintance, so you become "friendly" to him in his eyes. The targets demeanor is unaffected by the spell. So an indifferent merchant remains indifferent, but views you as a friendly acquaintance. He might help you, or he might not. If it's something he might do, then you get advantage to the roll. If it's something he won't do, there is no roll.

That's why I kept talking about the personality of the merchant. Scrooge--pre or post ghosts--is not a typical NPC merchant. He has a name and probably a fully fleshed out statblock and TBIF section.
The typical merchant is out to make money, not lose it.
But OTOH, imagine if the PC is, say, a 10th-level bard with 20 Charisma and expertise in Persuasion? That's +13 to the roll, with advantage and who knows what other sort of bonuses (maybe the cleric cast guidance on the bard; maybe the warlock cast bane on Scrooge), who then gets to roll with advantage? Yeah, I might allow it. When you get people who can roll a 30 or higher on their Persuasion checks, you can allow these sort of shenanigans.
You might, but I don't allow high numbers to make someone do something that they absolutely would not do. On the other hand, I do take those numbers into consideration when deciding if something is possible or not and sometimes I'll alter what is or is not possible. Other times I do not, because no amount of fast talking goodness can achieve it.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Just a quibble. First, Charm Person doesn't say friendly. It says friendly acquaintance, which is different from saying "Attitude changes to friendly."
I agree with you here, but now that you mention it, that would actually be a really good house rule to clear up the ambiguity as to what exactly “treating the caster as a friendly acquaintance” means.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Just a quibble. First, Charm Person doesn't say friendly. It says friendly acquaintance, which is different from saying "Attitude changes to friendly." Second, it doesn't even do that to the target. The spell causes the target to view YOU as a friendly acquaintance, so you become "friendly" to him in his eyes. The targets demeanor is unaffected by the spell. So an indifferent merchant remains indifferent, but views you as a friendly acquaintance. He might help you, or he might not. If it's something he might do, then you get advantage to the roll. If it's something he won't do, there is no roll.
Yeah, these are quibbles. If that's how you want to run it in your game, fine, but I see it as very differently.

For instance, I'd have to go and double-check, but I don't think they ever say that someone's attitude changes to friendly (or hostile) anywhere in any of the books. They do say things like "the target becomes hostile" (as per friends). So I think we can safely assume that this is an example of the naturalistic language that 5e uses.

Secondly, charm person makes the target view you in a friendly light. This means that their demeanor to you has changed. You can't claim that someone both views you as a friendly acquaintance and is indifferent to you at the same time. Neither RAW nor RAI supports the idea that charm person would make the target go "Oh gods, its that guy again. Does he ever stop trying to buddy up to me?"

Thirdly, the charmed condition means that I have advantage on any social rolls made against the target. And literally the entire purpose of the Persuasion skill--which is a social skill--is to get people to change their mind about things and convince them to do things they're not necessarily interested in.

And as I keep saying, it's entirely up to the individual in question. With decent enough fast-talking on the part of the caster, yes, they could get the merchant to do something that involves risk or sacrifice. Because even if the spell doesn't make the person Friendly as per the table, the advantage on your rolls would make sure that you could turn the person Friendly before you ask them to give you a thing.

Because in case you didn't get it, I'm not assuming that things go like this:

DM: OK, you enter the store. There's the merchant.

Player: I cast charm person. "You, shopkeep, give me that thing."

DM: [as merchant] "Yes master."

That's a fail. But if the PC casts the spell and takes the time to speak to the merchant and butter them up (possibly involving Persuasion and Deception rolls, possibly just pure RP), and then ask for the thing. Yes, I'd allow it.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yeah, these are quibbles. If that's how you want to run it in your game, fine, but I see it as very differently.

For instance, I'd have to go and double-check, but I don't think they ever say that someone's attitude changes to friendly (or hostile) anywhere in any of the books. They do say things like "the target becomes hostile" (as per friends). So I think we can safely assume that this is an example of the naturalistic language that 5e uses.
DMG page 244

"Choose the starting attitude of a creature the adventurers are interacting with: friendly, indifferent, or hostile.

So you choose one of the three attitudes to start with.

"Changing Attitude. The attitude of a creature might change over the course of a conversation. If the adventurers say or do the right things during an interaction (perhaps by touching on a creature's ideal, bond, or flaw), they can make a hostile creature temporarily indifferent, or make an indifferent creature temporarily friendly. Likewise, a gaffe, insult, or harmful deed might make a friendly creature temporarily indifferent or turn an indifferent creature hostile."

So there it talks about changing attitude from one to another.

Secondly, charm person makes the target view you in a friendly light. This means that their demeanor to you has changed. You can't claim that someone both views you as a friendly acquaintance and is indifferent to you at the same time. Neither RAW nor RAI supports the idea that charm person would make the target go "Oh gods, its that guy again. Does he ever stop trying to buddy up to me?"
"You attempt to charm a humanoid you can see within range. It must make a Wisdom saving throw, and does so with advantage if you or your companions are fighting it. If it fails the saving throw, it is charmed by you until the spell ends or until you or your companions do anything harmful to it. The charmed creature regards you as a friendly acquaintance. When the spell ends, the creature knows it was charmed by you."

That's the whole spell. Nothing about viewing anyone in a friendly light. You regard the caster as a friendly acquaintance(not friend), but that's it.
Thirdly, the charmed condition means that I have advantage on any social rolls made against the target. And literally the entire purpose of the Persuasion skill--which is a social skill--is to get people to change their mind about things and convince them to do things they're not necessarily interested in.
Sure. IF you get a roll, you get advantage. Nothing about the charmed condition guarantees that you will get a roll.
And as I keep saying, it's entirely up to the individual in question. With decent enough fast-talking on the part of the caster, yes, they could get the merchant to do something that involves risk or sacrifice.
As long as it's something he would do for any old friendly acquaintance(someone you've met a few times at a party) he has, sure. I doubt many people would engage in any kind of risk or sacrifice for someone that's only a friendly acquaintance.
Because even if the spell doesn't make the person Friendly as per the table, the advantage on your rolls would make sure that you could turn the person Friendly before you ask them to give you a thing.
Maybe, but you're still not going to get them to do something that they would not do for any other friend of theirs.
Because in case you didn't get it, I'm not assuming that things go like this:

DM: OK, you enter the store. There's the merchant.

Player: I cast charm person. "You, shopkeep, give me that thing."

DM: [as merchant] "Yes master."

That's a fail. But if the PC casts the spell and takes the time to speak to the merchant and butter them up (possibly involving Persuasion and Deception rolls, possibly just pure RP), and then ask for the thing. Yes, I'd allow it.
I do get it. But at the end of the day it's just a first level spell. It's functionality shouldn't be any better than slight healing, a little bit of damage and so on. The way you're describing it is as if it's much more than that. It's just a minor bit of influence at the end of the day. They used the words "friendly acquaintance" for a reason.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You also have all these attributes listed. Do you “use” them? If yes, then it’s exactly the same answer for skills.
I invoke and use my Strength attribute every time I swing a melee weapon; I add the bonus it gives me to my roll, though I could choose not to.

I invoke and use my Dexterity attribute every time I try to dodge a blow; I add the bonus it gives me to my AC, though I could choose not to.

I don't get to invoke and use my own skills, though. The DM decides which one(s) I get to use, and when I get to use them. Big difference.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In 5th edition, they’re there to allow you to add your proficiency bonus to a subset of ability checks when the DM calls for them.

If you’re playing smart, your goal should be to avoid having to make a roll, rather than actively trying to make one, since rolls can fail. In the unfortunate event that you can’t eliminate the possibility of failure and must make an ability check, your proficiency in Intimidate makes failure on that roll less likely.
Au contraire - I'd very often want to get it to a roll so the DM can't auto-fail me. :)
 


Faolyn

(she/her)
DMG page 244

"Choose the starting attitude of a creature the adventurers are interacting with: friendly, indifferent, or hostile.

So you choose one of the three attitudes to start with.

"Changing Attitude. The attitude of a creature might change over the course of a conversation. If the adventurers say or do the right things during an interaction (perhaps by touching on a creature's ideal, bond, or flaw), they can make a hostile creature temporarily indifferent, or make an indifferent creature temporarily friendly. Likewise, a gaffe, insult, or harmful deed might make a friendly creature temporarily indifferent or turn an indifferent creature hostile."

So there it talks about changing attitude from one to another.
Right. You're turning a potentially indifferent or hostile individual into a friendly one.

That's the whole spell. Nothing about viewing anyone in a friendly light. You regard the caster as a friendly acquaintance(not friend), but that's it.
I didn't say it made them into a friend. I said it made them Friendly. Exactly what the spell says it does.

Sure. IF you get a roll, you get advantage. Nothing about the charmed condition guarantees that you will get a roll.
...Why wouldn't the PC roll to see how good they are at Persuading or Deceiving an NPC?

As long as it's something he would do for any old friendly acquaintance(someone you've met a few times at a party) he has, sure. I doubt many people would engage in any kind of risk or sacrifice for someone that's only a friendly acquaintance.
Tell that to the DMG. It specifically says that it might be impossible to change the mind of a hostile NPC. Says nothing similar about friendly or indifferent ones.

Maybe, but you're still not going to get them to do something that they would not do for any other friend of theirs.

I do get it. But at the end of the day it's just a first level spell. It's functionality shouldn't be any better than slight healing, a little bit of damage and so on. The way you're describing it is as if it's much more than that. It's just a minor bit of influence at the end of the day. They used the words "friendly acquaintance" for a reason.
Let's look at 1st level spells. And cantrips, too. All the damage-dealing spells are capable of instakilling the majority of people in the world (since the majority of people are going to be in the CR 1/2 or lower bracket). You can even use the very fires of hell (hellish rebuke) or alter one of the fundamental forces of nature (magnify gravity) to kill people. Even the damage-dealing cantrips can instakill a commoner.

1st-level healing spells can bring most people back from even grievous injury. These spells can animate and control plants. They can allow you to speak with animals. They can create the most important substance in the world out of nothingness (create and destroy water). They can bring forth the literal blessings of the gods (guidance, resistance, bless). They can ensure that food is available (goodberry) and safe to eat (purify food at drink). They can keep a person safe from attacks by demons and other unnatural monsters (protection from evil and good). They can create localized earthquakes (earth tremor). They can summon spirits and give them form (find familiar). They can transfix people (color spray) or outright force them to perform a specific action (command). And they can make people see or hear things that aren't there (minor illusion, silent image) or cause objects to seem they're better than they really are (distort value).

I'd say making someone act like a friend for an hour is well within the boundaries of what's acceptable for a 1st-level spell. Especially since the person will know you've charmed them afterwards (not so for the 2nd-level suggestion, which lasts for eight hours, not just one) and you still have to make social rolls.
 

I invoke and use my Strength attribute every time I swing a melee weapon; I add the bonus it gives me to my roll, though I could choose not to.

I invoke and use my Dexterity attribute every time I try to dodge a blow; I add the bonus it gives me to my AC, though I could choose not to.

I don't get to invoke and use my own skills, though. The DM decides which one(s) I get to use, and when I get to use them. Big difference.

Ah. I misunderstood the question. This is really about that funny thing you have about only having things on the character sheet that the player controls, isn't it? Sorry can't help you with that one; wrong game system.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
If the DM is acting in good faith, you'll also auto succeed a good amount of the time. Rolling for everything would cause you to fail more often.
That said, I know from experience (both in playing and observing games) that there are a lot of DMs out there where the default answer to most actions is "No" unless you roll the dice. So I can see where some people might figure rolling is better than not.
 

If there is no threat, a DM might decide not to call for a check. Right?

In my post you were responding to, I was suggesting that no check should be needed at all. Since we're talking about a change in descriptive mental state...one that doesn't correlate to any change in game-state as described by the rules...then we don't need mechanics. That is, there is no "Intimidated" or "Persuaded" state that correlates to having been intimidated or persuaded, so mechanics don't play a role.

So your response doesn't make any sense to me here. There is a threat, and it's up to the player (in their role as the character) to determine how seriously they take it. I think that models the fiction we are trying to convey better than rolling dice and pretending to be threatened.

Generally though, to my reading everyone is okay with there being game mechanics that do decide what a player character thinks, says, or does.

Check. (Although I'll add that if these are too common or too onerous, I would probably tire of the game.)

All or almost all are okay with PC ability checks deciding what NPCs think, say or do.

So, that's not exactly right. Or, at least, it puts a misleading spin on it. I would say that I (and probably others) are ok with the DM deciding whether (and how) what an NPC thinks, says, or does is influenced by PC actions. Plus that's what the rules say: the DM can simply decide. If the DM decides that a PCs attempt to influence an NPC might work, but might not, and the DM wants to resolve that uncertainty by asking for a PC ability check, that's ok, too. But that's the DM's choice; he/she can also just choose the outcome.

Many though are not okay with NPC ability checks deciding what a PC thinks, says, or does.

Right. Many of us think players should have at least as much say over their PCs as the DM has over their NPCs: that is, both should decide if attempts to influence their characters are successful, and if so, how. (If an individual player wants to let the dice decide for them, they should also have that right.)

And analysis of RAW diverges on that score.

Clearly!

I think the social skills are deception, intimidation, persuasion, possibly performance, and by implication insight. Deception seems to get a pass for NPCs to use it, because it can be looked at as not changing what a character thinks. I don't share that view, but perhaps it doesn't matter. Insight also gets a pass. I think it likely that many cases involving performance by an NPC will also get a pass

So here is where I think you are starting to conflate "attempts to influence characters (PC or NPC)" with specific skills. I'm concerned with all attempts to influence decision-making, which meet these two criteria:
1. Have the goal of causing (or preventing) certain action declarations by a target character
2. Without using abilities that have specific mechanics achieving the desired effect (e.g. a charm person spell)

Now, some action declarations that meet those criteria may be described using a word that matches a skill: e.g., "I try to intimidate the captive" seems to align with the "Intimidation" skill. Some of them don't have an obvious associated skill: e.g. "I try to seduce the princess". And some action declarations sound like a specific skill, but may actually be a better fit with a different skill: "I try to deceive the guard by handing him the key, but I really pocket the key and hand him a different one." And, finally, even when the correlation to a skill is obvious, the acting character may not actually have proficiency in that skill, but it still gets resolved the same way.

The point of all of those examples is that I think it's a mistake...it's a distraction...to put any focus on the skills themselves. Again, we are just talking about resolving action declarations which:
1) Are meant to influence another character's decision-making...
2) ...in the absence of an ability that has a specific mechanic for doing so

So we are concerned only about intimidation and persuasion.

And that's why you lost me there. Because we're not concerned only about intimidation and persuasion. Or we shouldn't be. Or, at least, I'm not. I'm concerned about any attempts at influence that don't rely on a clearly defined mechanic.

So for the rest of this, I'll pretend we're talking about all those cases.

There are I think valid concerns about the balance of permitting them to be used to override what characters think. Here I intentionally say characters because - thinking of @Lanefan - the power they might confer NPCs is a mirror of the power they might confer to PCs.

Thus, likewise, the power to adjudicate those attempts should be a mirror. That is, the "owner" of the target character should have absolute authority to determine the outcome. If they aren't sure what the outcome should be, they are free to rely on whatever resolution they like.

In fact, I would say that power risks far less disruption in the hands of an NPC! In play, I have seen the social interaction structure in the DMG prove very poorly balanced, so I have a strong sympathy with concerns around the balance of these skills.

Honestly not even sure what you're saying here. I think what you are saying is that it's fine for the DM to have absolute executive fiat over attempts to influence their NPCs, but it's problematic for players to have the same authority over their characters. If so, I disagree. And maybe we're stuck there, because good luck proving it either way.

Further efforts to settle the legal arguments are likely fruitless unless someone introduces new thinking. Therefore I want to focus more on what happens if - for the sake of argument - intimidation and persuasion were something NPCs can use. That has speedily turned up worthwhile considerations.

NPCs can use intimidation and persuasion. And deception. And seduction. And flattery. And ridicule.

It's even possible that the player of their target may, in resolving the outcome, ask for the DM to make an attribute roll to help them decide. And they may further grant a proficiency bonus for certain skills. And it's even possible, although not guaranteed, that the name of that skill will be a word that sounds a lot like a word that was used in the original action declaration.

But nobody, neither PC nor NPC, can "use the Persuasion skill". That's just not how it works.
 
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After writing that whole essay, I realize I probably need to ask:

Is there anybody here who thinks "Character A tries to seduce Character B" is resolved differently than "Character A tries to intimidate Character B"? If so, is it because there is an Intimidate skill, but not a Seduce skill? Does it change if either/both A and B are PCs or NPCs?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
That said, I know from experience (both in playing and observing games) that there are a lot of DMs out there where the default answer to most actions is "No" unless you roll the dice. So I can see where some people might figure rolling is better than not.
Yeah, I think this is a significant part of where the desire to roll comes from.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
After writing that whole essay, I realize I probably need to ask:

Is there anybody here who thinks "Character A tries to seduce Character B" is resolved differently than "Character A tries to intimidate Character B"? If so, is it because there is an Intimidate skill, but not a Seduce skill? Does it change if either/both A and B are PCs or NPCs?
They wouldn't resolve differently as both are just ability checks, but I can see seduction using wisdom or intelligence and not charisma, depending on the type of seduction. And no it doesn't change depending on who is a PC or NPC, except for who makes the decision on success or failure.
 

Ok, now I'm on a roll. (GET IT!?!?!). I'm particularly curious how @clearstream, @HammerMan, and @Ovinomancer respond to the following, but of course I'm interested in all reactions.

Upthread, @Charlaquin got a lot of pushback for saying that "there's no uncertainty" when an NPC tries to influence a PC. Let's unpack that.

First, I think we're all agreeing that the underlying assumption is that the play loop is symmetric. That is, we resolve these action declarations ("Fred tries to intimidate Ginger") the same way, regardless whether it's PC -> NPC or NPC -> PC.

One reason for that that is that there is no separate set of rules, or a separate play loop, described for NPC -> PC. All we have to go on is the assumption that the same rules apply. It's all we got.

Ok, so the first step in that play loop is to determine whether the described action is an automatic success or an automatic failure. If it's neither of those we move on to resolution using attributes and, perhaps, skills.

So who determines, in an NPC -> PC action declaration, whether it's an automatic success or an automatic failure?

There are three possibilities:
a) The player decides
b) The DM decides
c) We skip this step if it's NPC -> PC

In reverse order:

If we skip this step, then we are using a play loop that is not the same as the one described in the books. But our whole premise for getting here is that we use the same play loop for NPC -> PC that we use for PC -> NPC. There's just no way to read the published text and conclude that RAI or RAW is that only part of the play loop applies when it's NPC -> PC.

So the answer can't be that we skip this step. Somebody needs to determine if it was an automatic success or automatic failure.

If it's the DM, it means that the DM has authority to just declare that the PC is persuaded, or intimidated, or seduced, or whatever. And is there anybody actually advocating for DMs (in D&D 5e) to have that authority? If so, then we are definitely never going to resolve this dispute, so we can stop right there.

But I think most of the participants in this thread will agree that's crazy. The DM can't...or shouldn't...just say, "The goblin flexes his muscles, and you find that intimidating and hand over all your gold." That's just simply beyond any reasonable description of DM authority.

So the person deciding if it's an auto success (or failure) can't be the DM.

That leaves only the player to decide. If it's true that the standard play loop applies to NPC -> PC action declarations, then it must also be true that the player is the one who determines whether it succeeds or fails automatically, before moving on to calling for a dice roll.

Once the player has made that determination, we (maybe) move on to a dice roll. So now the question of who decides which skill/attribute to use, what the DC is, and what the actual outcome is, including if the player must abide by the result, and how.

But all of that is irrelevant because the player had the power to keep us from even getting to this step. If they want to let the dice decide for them, fine. My opinion is that the player should also set the DC, pick the skill, and interpret the result, but if somebody else thinks the DM should do it that's fine, too: as long as the player has the authority to declare the attempt an automatic failure (or success!), then in the cases where they don't take that opportunity I don't really care how the rest of it gets resolved.

(edited for persuasiveness)
 
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Oh, and one more thing...

I don't think the above necessarily applies only to charisma skills, or even only to attempts at social manipulation. At least not by definition. It applies to any action declaration by an NPC that:
1) Somehow affects a PC
2) Isn't covered by a more a specific rule

So if an NPC wants to compose a sonnet, no PC is affected and this doesn't apply

If the NPC wants to shove a PC into a ditch, there are specific rules for that and this doesn't apply

If an NPC wants to jump over a ditch, no PC is affected and there's a specific rule

I think that the result in practice is that we're only talking about social manipulation/influence (a.k.a. 'roleplaying'), but as an outcome not a premise. No "special pleading" involved.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Ok, now I'm on a roll. I'm particularly curious how @clearstream, @HammerMan, and @Ovinomancer respond to the following, but of course I'm interested in all reactions.

Upthread, @Charlaquin got a lot of pushback for saying that "there's no uncertainty" when an NPC tries to influence a PC. Let's unpack that.

First, I think we're all agreeing that the underlying assumption is that the play loop is symmetric. That is, we resolve these action declarations ("Fred tries to intimidate Ginger") the same way, regardless whether it's PC -> NPC or NPC -> PC.

One reason for that that is that there is no separate set of rules, or a separate play loop, described for NPC -> PC. All we have to go on is the assumption that the same rules apply. It's all we got.

Ok, so the first step in that play loop is to determine whether the described action is an automatic success or an automatic failure. If it's neither of those we move on to resolution using attributes and, perhaps, skills.

So who determines, in an NPC -> PC action declaration, whether it's an automatic success or an automatic failure?

There are three possibilities:
a) The DM decides
b) The player decides
c) We skip this step if it's NPC -> PC

If it's the DM, it means that the DM has authority to just declare that the PC is persuaded, or intimidated, or seduced, or whatever. And is there anybody actually advocating for DMs (in D&D 5e) to have that authority? If so, then we are definitely never going to resolve this dispute, so we can stop right there.

But I think most of the participants in this thread will agree that's crazy. The DM can't...or shouldn't...just say, "The goblin flexes his muscles, and you find that intimidating and hand over all your gold." That's just simply beyond any reasonable description of DM authority.

So the person deciding if it's an auto success (or failure) can't be the DM.

That leaves two possibilities: either we skip this step when it's NPC -> PC, or the player decides

If we skip this step, then we are using a play loop that is not the same as the one described in the books. But our whole premise for getting here is that we use the same play loop for NPC -> PC that we use for PC -> NPC. There's just no way to read the published text and conclude that RAI or RAW is that only part of the play loop applies when it's NPC -> PC. So the answer can't be that we skip this step.

That leaves only the player to decide. If it's true that the standard play loop applies to NPC -> PC action declarations, then it must also be true that the player is the one who determines whether it succeeds or fails automatically, before moving on to calling for a dice roll.

Once the player has made that determination, we (maybe) move on to a dice roll. So now the question of who decides which skill/attribute to use, what the DC is, and what the actual outcome is, including if the player must abide by the result, and how.

But all of that is irrelevant because the player had the power to keep us from even getting to this step. If they want to let the dice decide for them, fine. My opinion is that the player should also set the DC, pick the skill, and interpret the result, but if somebody else thinks the DM should do that's fine: as long as the player has the authority to declare the attempt an automatic failure (or success!), then in the cases where they don't take that opportunity I don't really care how the rest of it gets resolved.
It’s an interesting line of reasoning, and it does make the NPC -> PC procedure symmetrical to the PC -> NPC procedure, which might be aesthetically pleasing. But, I don’t think it’s what the rules as written actually suggest doing. There’s nowhere that I’m aware of where the rules say a (non-DM) player ought to determine if an action can succeed, fail, and has consequences. The player does, as I understand it, decide what their character thinks, feels, and does, and basically nothing else. So, while I think this is a great way to run it, and basically how I handle it when it’s PC -> PC, I don’t actually think it’s supported by the rules.

I think where our analysis differ is in how we understand the process by which the DM determines whether an action succeeds, fails, or requires a roll. In this construction, you seem to suggest that the DM can simply make that decision arbitrarily, and use the fact that the DM being able to arbitrarily decide that an action meant to force a PC to take a specific action would be obviously unfair. But, rather than this indicating the player ought to make the decision, I would argue that this indicates the decision is not meant to be arbitrary. The DM is meant to determine, not decide, whether the action succeeds, fails, or requires a roll to be resolved, and while making that determination necessarily requires the DM to use their own judgment, the rules provide guidance on how the DM ought to make the determination. That element of personal judgment is why I prefer to say a given ruling on an action resolution is supported or not supported rather than allowed or not allowed. Technically, the rules don’t say a DM can’t just say “the goblin intimidates you. He succeeds without needing to make a check and you hand over all your gold”, but doing so would be contrary to the guidance the rules offer on how to determine the outcome of an action, so the DM would not be well-supported in making that call.

So, how do the rules say the DM should make the determination? Well, the guidance for this is kind of scattered throughout the PHB and the DMG, which is why I say this understanding kind of needs to be arrived at from a thorough and holistic reading of all of the rules. But, I think most if not all of us are in agreement that the rules at least suggest ruling automatic failure if success would not reasonably be possible and automatic success if failure would not be possible. As well, the DMG presents a few heuristics for when a DM might call for a check to determine whether an action succeeds or fails - rolling with it, ignoring the dice, or balancing between the two, with the existence of a cost or consequence for failure suggested as a determining factor, and with no progress and progress combined with a setback both suggested as possible outcomes of failure. Rolling with it and ignoring the dice are called out as having drawbacks, while balancing between the two is not. There are also lots of rules regarding the resolution of specific actions, such as spells.

To bring this back to the topic of actions meant to force a PC to make a specific decision, I think the “roleplaying rule” provides us with guidance on how the DM ought to determine success or failure in this situation - the player decides what their character thinks, feels, and does, so in the absence of more specific rules governing the resolution of a particular action, the DM is advised to let the player decide whether an action that would cause their character to think, feel, or do something succeeds, fails, or requires a roll. And note that something happening to a character (such as getting knocked prone) is not the same thing as that character doing something. Likewise, the character gaining knowledge (such as knowledge that they’re being lied to) is not the same as the character thinking something.
 
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It’s an interesting line of reasoning, and it does make the NPC -> PC procedure symmetrical to the PC -> NPC procedure, which might be aesthetically pleasing. But, I don’t think it’s what the rules as written actually suggest doing. There’s nowhere that I’m aware of where the rules say a (non-DM) player ought to determine if an action can succeed, fail, and has consequences. The player does, as I understand it, decide what their character thinks, feels, and does, and basically nothing else. So, while I think this is a great way to run it, and basically how I handle it when it’s PC -> PC, I don’t actually think it’s supported by the rules.

I think where our analysis differ is in how we understand the process by which the DM determines whether an action succeeds, fails, or requires a roll. In this construction, you seem to suggest that the DM can simply make that decision arbitrarily, and use the fact that the DM being able to arbitrarily decide that an action meant to force a PC to take a specific action would be obviously unfair. But, rather than this indicating the player ought to make the decision, I would argue that this indicates the decision not meant to be arbitrary. The DM is meant to determine, not decide, whether the action succeeds, fails, or requires a roll to be resolved, and while making that determination necessarily requires the DM to use their own judgment, the rules provide guidance on how the DM ought to make the determination. That element of personal judgment is why I prefer to say a given ruling on an action resolution is supported or not supported rather than allowed or not allowed. Technically, the rules don’t say a DM can’t just say “the goblin intimidates you. He succeeds without needing to make a check and you hand over all your gold”, but doing so would be contrary to the guidance the rules offer on how to determine the outcome of an action, so the DM would not be well-supported in making that call.

So, how do the rules say the DM should make the determination? Well, the guidance for this is kind of scattered throughout the PHB and the DMG, which is why I say this understanding kind of needs to be arrived at from a thorough and holistic reading of all of the rules. But, I think most if not all of us are in agreement that the rules at least suggest ruling automatic failure if success would not reasonably be possible and automatic success if failure would not be possible. As well, the DMG presents a few heuristics for when a DM might call for a check to determine whether an action succeeds or fails - rolling with it, ignoring the dice, or balancing between the two, with the existence of a cost or consequence for failure suggested as a determining factor, no progress and progress combined with a setback both suggested as possible outcomes of failure. Rolling with it and ignoring the dice are called out as having drawbacks, while balancing between the two is not.

To bring this back to the topic of actions meant to force a PC to make a specific decision, I think the “roleplaying rule” provides us with guidance on how the DM ought to determine success or failure in this situation - the player decides what their character thinks, feels, and does, so if the action would cause the character to think, feel, or do something specific (and there aren’t other, more specific rules governing the action’s resolution process) then the DM is advised to let the player decide.

Yes, I agree with this, too.

My line of reasoning was really meant to show that the symmetry argument cannot logically lead (in the kinds of scenarios we've been discussing) to players being required to abide by NPC dice rolls.

Both approaches lead to the same conclusion.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Yes, I agree with this, too.

My line of reasoning was really meant to show that the symmetry argument cannot logically lead (in the kinds of scenarios we've been discussing) to players being required to abide by NPC dice rolls.

Both approaches lead to the same conclusion.
And, it’s worth noting, @Ovinomancer ’s approach where the rule that a player always makes the decisions for their character is treated as part of the social contract rather than assumed to be a rule of the game, also leads to the same conclusion. I think most of us actually agree on what is the best gameplay process to follow, we’ve just been arguing for 69 pages (nice) about what line of reasoning is the right one to follow to get there. It’s quite silly.
 

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