Skill Stunts and Epic Skill Stunts III – Social Skills and RPG’s and Deception Skills

Skill Stunts and Epic Skill Stunts allow you to attempt wild and wonderful things with your skills – provided that you can pay the price. Since there aren’t all that many examples provided in Eclipse, here are some for two additional sets of skills: Part One of this series (Basic Notes and stunts for Appraise / Finance / Etc) can be found HERE, Part II – covering Movement and Personal Control skills – can be found HERE.

Social Skills are a very awkward part of tabletop RPG’s because an awful lot of the players and game masters are introverts with social disorders who have no idea of how social skills work or of what they can and cannot do. Then these people – and I am certainly one of them – try to write a simple, usable, system of rules to simulate something that they don’t really understand. It rarely works all that well. The usual result is that game masters who have decent social skills run things according to the rules as they think they were intended to work (confusing any socially awkward players and producing results inconsistent with the rules) while game masters who lack such talents run them according to the much-abused “letter of the rules”, producing absurd results and confusing any more socially-aware players. Neither result is entirely satisfactory.

On the other hand, trying to get along without rules for social skills hands a huge advantage to those players who happen to have real social skills, tells introverted players that they can’t have social characters, and gives you no way to handle it when a wheelchair-bound player wants to have his/her massive barbarian intimidate the scrawny mage character being run by a football player. It’s kind of hard to separate the impressions the two characters should produce from the physical reality of the two players.

About the best rule-of-thumb that I can give is to remember that the world FUNCTIONS. Some people do fall for “Nigerian Prince” scams, but most do not. You are much more likely to get away with little stuff. That friendly, helpful, sympathetic truant officer may cut your magical girls secret ID more slack than a cranky one who thinks all kids are liars, but after a few times around even the friendly one will start insisting that you go to school no matter how good your social skills are. Basically… social skills can tip the balance when there is reasonable doubt as to what people will do. Otherwise… you may get a few moments of listening to your wild story or insane proposition simply because they can’t believe their ears, but they aren’t going to go for it unless there is something very wrong with them. Sure, you may have the skills to induce fanatic loyalty – but you’re going to have to start with people who are already looking for purpose and something to believe in in their lives and work on them for quite some time.

No, that doesn’t give a lot of credit to superhuman levels of social manipulation, but unless you just assume that a modest number of superhuman social manipulators run your entire world – but that the player characters simply happen to be immune to them because they’re special – you’re just going to have to assume that normal social skills have an upper limit on their effectiveness (and that the player characters just happen to be on the highly resistant end of things).

This also tells us what a lot of the supernatural stunts will look like; they actually can force your targets to do things or expand the scope of your influence.

Sample Stunts for Bluff/Con Artist/Deception/Disguise/Perform (Acting)/Perform (Storytelling).

These skills all revolve around the same basic function – convincing other people of things that are not true, whether through words of appearances.

  • DC 10 (normally no stunt required):
    • Body Language: You may seem young, helpless, naive, pathetic, despairing, joyful, or whatever fits your current deception. If you are facing the consequences of your deceptions, whoever is imposing the penalty must make a will save or reduce it’s severity by one level (this is not always a cure all, going from “torturous death” to “quick death”, or even “quick death” to “chopping off a hand”, is an improvement – but not enough to really save you). The effect remains until you drop it – or switch out for something else.
    • Cover Story: You may produce a consistent, detailed, background to support your deceptions. At DC 20 you also have appropriate paperwork and records. At DC 35 you can easily produce minor props to suit your deception. At DC 50 you can have arranged things like the use of a mansion to support your deception (while the proper owners are diverted) or other major props.
    • Unshakable Professionalism: You may take events in stride, compensating smoothly no matter how much they would normally disrupt your performance. The player may call for a switch to another character or a brief break during which no game time will pass for his or her character while he or she thinks of something.
    • Whispered Slander: You may start a juicy rumor that those who can “Gather Information” or who have local social contacts will soon hear of. At DC 20 it will soon become a popular meme with a fair number of believers, at DC 35 a widely credited whispering campaign sure to draw official notice, and at DC 50+ a trigger for an official investigation / witch-hunt by the targets enemies.
  • DC 15 (May or may not require a stunt):
    • I Came Prepared: You may pull out a selection of minor props to support a story or common role. If you are impersonating a city guard you might have a badge, club, uniform sash, and other basic items to suit the role, for a lawyer you can haul out stacks of legal paperwork, seals, and so on.
    • Lifestyles of a Nigerian Prince: Your scams can support you at an Average lifestyle for a month without noticeable effort, but at some risk of investigation, arrest, or vengeance. If you wish to be an ethical scam artist (specializing in crooks and such), the DC increases to 25 and the risks skew towards “vengeance”.
    • Suggestion: You may make a subtle Suggestion to any one creature you are conversing with.
    • Words of Beauty: You may tell people beautiful tales, hopeful lies, and otherwise make them feel much better about their life, lightening the burdens of any tragedies. They will tend to see you as a trustworthy, friendly, presence for at least 3d6 x 10 minutes thereafter unless they make a will save.
  • DC 20:
    • All In The Attitude: You may make a Bluff, Disguise, or similar check without penalty as a Swift Action.
    • One With The Crowd: You may merge into a group, imitating their customs, accents, business habits, social rituals, and so on for up to twelve hours. You will not be disturbed unless everyone is being checked.
    • Facile Belief: You may believe your own deceptions. For the next 3d6 hours magical detection of “truth”, mental probing, and effects meant to reveal disguises will not detect a particular deception of yours.
    • Psychoanalysis: You may help someone sort out their motives, recover from mental illness and become saner – or you may attempt to identify what “buttons” a target has available to “push” and try to exploit them if they fail to save. This requires several rounds worth of communication, although listening to someone monologue, gloat, or explain their plot or backstory, is quite sufficient.
  • DC 25:
    • Camouflage: You may conceal an Area or Group: if done verbally you may deny their existence, cause groups of guards to have to overcome your bluff check or dismiss the existence of the area or group as mere rumors, and similarly divert attention. If done via Disguise you may alter the apparent purpose of a building, make it appear to be an abandoned ruin, or drastically alter the appearance of a section of terrain. If used to conceal an ambush, or hide a group, any search must overcome your skill to succeed. The effect lasts for some 3d6 hours.
    • (The) Honeyed Tongue: You may generate a first level Enchantment spell effect. This is actually based on social manipulation, not magic – but the effect is essentially identical in game terms.
    • Lifestyles of a Nigerian Prince: Your scams can support you at an Average lifestyle for a month without noticeable effort, but at some risk of investigation, arrest, or vengeance. If you wish to be an ethical scam artist (specializing in crooks and such), the DC increases to 25 and the risks skew towards “vengeance”.
    • Paralysis of Disbelief: You may spin a story, or don a guise, so unbelievable that you can hold the attention of everyone who can clearly see or hear you for at least 3d6 turns – provided that they are not threatened with physical harm or some other blatantly obvious event occurs that takes precedence over gaping at the spectacle.
  • DC 30:
    • Animatronics: Your disguises and self-promotion are now powerful enough to emulate the effects of a Monstrous Physique I spell (Pathfinder). This upgrades to II at DC 50, III at DC 75, and IV at DC 100. It normally lasts for 3d6 minutes.
    • Placebo: You may persuade others that they are feeling better, bringing their personal reserves into play to grant them the effects of a level one or level two curative spell. Sadly, no individual can be affected by the Placebo effect more often than once every twelve hours, and they may only gain two spell levels worth of curative effects from Placebo Effects every twenty-four hours. At +15 DC you may affect one target per level.
    • Rabble Rousing: You may induce unrest, cause a riot, stir up a lynching or a mob with torches and pitchforks, or otherwise create a major ruckus and diversion, targeting anything the populace regards as even a little bit questionable or suspicious. The effect normally continues for some 3d6 hours.
    • Reality Like Swirling Leaves: You may generate a Major Image effect, whether through cunning words or through physical activity. At DC 50 this becomes a Persistent Image or Mirage Arcane. At DC 100 this becomes a Permanent or Programmed Image.
  • DC 35:
    • Appearance of Death: You may Feign Death without a Feat.
    • Lifestyles of a Nigerian Prince: Your scams can support you at an Wealthy lifestyle for a month without noticeable effort, but at significant risk of investigation, arrest, or vengeance. If you wish to be an ethical scam artist (specializing in crooks and such), the DC increases to 50 and the risks are always “vengeance”.
    • Method Acting: When you disguise yourself as a stock role – A stoic city guard, a messenger, a grasping merchant, or what-have-you, you gain your choice of One Positive Level (see Eclipse) or 12 CP to spend on the abilities needed to support your role. This lasts for 3d6 rounds under the stress of combat, but for a similar number of hours when under less stress.
    • Uncovering Fears: Your victim must make a Will save or suffer the effects of a Phobia spell.
  • DC 40:
    • Advanced Sugar Pills: Your Placebo effects may now produce three levels worth of spell effects per day.
    • Collaring The Mind: Your honeyed words, appearance as a religious authority, status as a great celebrity, guise as a messenger, or apparently being a member of an organization causes members of a group to accept you as an important ally for 3d6 hours.
    • Night Terrors: You may spin a terrifying tale or put on a horrifying act, generating the equivalent of a Night Terrors spell. (Pathfinder, Horror Adventures)
    • (The) Silver Tongue: You may generate a second level Enchantment spell effect. This is actually based on social manipulation, not magic – but the effect is essentially identical in game terms.
  • DC 50:
    • (The) Darkness Whispering: You may generate a Shadow Conjuration effect.
    • (The) Inspector General: You are mistaken for a major visiting dignitary, a divine emissary, or a similar person of authority. This will last for 3d6 hours unless the actual individual in question turns up. In either case, insane shenanigans are guaranteed.
    • Lifestyles of a Nigerian Prince: Your scams can support you at an Extravagant lifestyle for a month without noticeable effort, but at great risk of investigation, arrest, or vengeance. If you wish to be an ethical scam artist (specializing in crooks and such), the DC increases to 75 and the results of a failure generally lean towards “killing you and all your friends and family”.
    • Psychosomatic Death: You may describe your targets terrible symptoms and fate so believably and graphically that you generate the equivalent of a Phantasmal Killer. (With Disguise you can achieve the same result with your alarming symptoms).
  • DC 60:
    • Ectoplasmic Shell: You may wrap yourself in your deceptions, generating a level six psychic construct (the Practical Enchanter) with the Class-C Enveloping property as a bonus ability. This will last for 3d6 minutes in combat, for 3d6 hours in a peaceful situation.
    • Grand Placebo: Reality now twists a bit at your words, allowing you to produce the equivalent of four levels worth of curative spell effects during a twenty-four hour period.
    • (The) Hidden City: With the cooperation of the locals and a days effort you may disguise a city or similar area. If done verbally you may alter it’s ambience, apparent history and overall alignment, and known loyalties – thus, for example, causing a conquering army to bypass the place since it’s now “held by THEIR loyalists”. If done through disguise, you may chance the appearance of the place, conceal it in the wilderness or hide it from aerial travelers, and even protect it from scrying and divination. If this is done when the city is founded, and cooperation continues, the changes stay in effect indefinitely. Otherwise they remain in effect for 3d6 days.
    • (The) Viper’s Tongue: You may generate a third or fourth level Enchantment spell effect. This is actually based on social manipulation, not magic – but the effect is essentially identical in game terms.
  • DC 75:
    • Exalted Presence: You may impersonate a god, the rightful king returned, or some other major supernatural presence. Presuming that you appear before at least a hundred people, their massed belief will begin to generate appropriate special effects, minor miracles, and similar events. The more believers who become involved, the greater the effects and the longer the effect persists. Attempting to push this to the point of your own divine ascension will usually provoke the intervention of the existing local gods, and it will VERY rarely be in your favor. On the other hand, if you want to fight Zool on more-or-less equal terms, this will work.
    • Greater Method Acting: When you disguise yourself you gain your choice of two Positive Levels (see Eclipse) or 24 CP to spend on the abilities needed to support your role. This lasts for 3d6 rounds in under the stress of combat, but for a similar number of hours when under less stress.
    • Knife Of Words: You may spread rumors and speculation about a target that will provoke minor rebellions, assassination attempts, official penalties for misconduct, or other severely inconvenient or potentially fatal complications in their life until the rumors are somehow countered or 3d6 such occurrences have come to pass.
    • Supplanted Belief: You may convince a target that some cherished belief of theirs is in terrible error – that their patron means to betray them, that their spouse is unfaithful, or that the priest to whom they’ve been sending money is a fraud. The effect will last for 3d6 days between saves.
  • DC 100:
    • Heart Of Darkness: You may spread tales and rumors throughout a populace to focus the malice, suspicion, and darkness that lurks within the hearts of even the children of light, inflicting some dreadful curse upon an area, individual, or group. Suitable effects include Supreme Curse Terrain (Pathfinder, Horror Adventures), the Curse Of Fell Seasons or Curse of Night (From the same book), a Generational Curse of Lycanthropy, or something similar from The Practical Enchanter. This will require at least one month to take full effect and – even if countered normally – will tend to return until the tales and rumors are laid to rest.
    • Of Ill Repute: You may wrap yourself in your deceptions, generating a level eight psychic construct (as per The Practical Enchanter) with the Class-C Enveloping property as a bonus ability. This will last for 3d6 minutes in combat, for 3d6 hours in a peaceful situation. If the situation changes, convert the remaining time appropriately.
    • Revenance Of Deception: Your Placebo effects now warp reality in wild and wonderful ways. You can now produce up to seven levels worth of curative spells in the recipients per day – and at +20 DC you may affect up to fifty targets per level. Yes; you can indeed perform a Mass Resurrection (Or a Mass Create Undead) through Placebos.
    • Rumor Turned Substance: You may employ Greater Shadow Conjuration.

Epic Stunts:

  • Deceiving Automation (Research Level 7, DC 38): This is basically equivalent to Simulacrum.
  • Sigil Of Secrets (Research Level 8, DC 42): You may expend 4500 GP on magical tattoo inks to imbue yourself with magic equivalent to having a Handy Haversack (2000 GP), Hat of Disguise (1800 GP), Traveler’s Any-Tool (250 GP), Ring of Silent Spells (2000 GP), and a Travel Cloak (1200 GP) as inherent powers.
    • Yes, at 8000 GP for research and 4500 GP for casting this is precisely equivalent to purchasing those items with slot-free upgrades. Why not? They’re all very convenient innate powers for a deception specialist.
  • Form Stealing Slaughter (Research Level 9, DC 46): You may absorb the form of a fallen friend or foe of similar size and bodily form. Thereafter you may shift back and forth between that form and your own. Forms come with mannerisms, superficial memories, and various minor habits, in effect granting a +25 bonus to assuming the fallen individuals identity via Disguise. The switch is entirely physical and requires a single round. Sadly, the user may only maintain (Wis Mod) additional forms at any one time, and any form renounced to make room for a new one is gone for good.
  • Ten Thousand Whispering Tongues (Research Level 10, DC 50): You may employ up to three of your non-epic skill stunts against an entire city, army, or similar group within the next hour.
  • Deceptive Alliance (Research Level 11, DC 54): You may effectively use the Supplanted Belief stunt against up to (Check Result) hit dice worth of creatures, although none may have more hit dice than (your level – 4). You might thus convince a Hill Giant patrol that their allies had turned against them and that their only chance was to join you, cause a mob to rise up against the local nobility, or otherwise cause trouble and unrest.
  • Shapechange (Research Level 12, DC 58): While this requires no material component, it is otherwise identical to the (Pathfinder) ninth level Shapechange spell.
  • Eight Trigram Blasphemous Embezzlement (Research Level 13, DC 62): You may draw a 12’th level soul from the outer planes into your own body, sharing in it’s power (as per Channeling in The Practical Enchanter) for a full day. Each user gains access to eight specific characters – seven drawn from differing Core Classes of compatible alignment and one wild card with an exotic base class. In general, you can get away with this occasionally, but making a habit of it will require doing various favors for the spirits you channel and sometimes for the powers of the plane that they are drawn from (who may well be offended by your borrowing souls in this way). The user may only host a single soul at a time.
  • Sphere Of Camouflage (Research Level 14, DC 66): You invoke The Hidden City stunt as a full round action with a +30 bonus on opposed checks and a duration measured in months instead of days.
  • Forge Identity (Research Level 15, DC 70): Your disguise gains reality. You abruptly have a home, where the neighbors know you and you have lived for years. You have records, have paid taxes for years, probably have a spouse and children, all of whom you know well and who know you. An appropriate local job, minor connections, wardrobe, guild membership, a reasonable level of prosperity… a complete life now exists where there was none before. True, the people in your “family” are likely to be street folk manipulated to suit – but they will often be far better off. The effect is permanent, although – if you decide to renounce your new name and identity – your new family will believe you dead, and continue on without you.
  • Duck Fate (Research Level 16, DC 74): This effect is self-casting, and will trigger according to it’s user’s desires even after his or her death. The user is restored to the condition he, she, or it was in three rounds ago and, in fact, was never actually involved in whatever situation caused the effect to trigger; a Simulacrum (which was just destroyed) was. The user is, instead, somewhere else within the setting, doing something entirely different and entirely peaceful.
  • Soul-Binding Secret (Research Level 17, DC 78): You employ some terrible threat or blackmail to recruit a (resentfully) loyal servant. The effect is equivalent to The Attentive Slave (Eclipse).
  • Organizational Usurpation (Research Level 18, DC 82): You may twist an organization from it’s purpose. For the next 3d6 days you may send the Thieves Guild out to assassinate a noble, turn the Royal Guard to hunting one of your enemies, or get the Merchants Guild to import forbidden merchandise. Each member is, however, entitled to a Will save, and – if they save successfully – get a second save to gain a clue as to your identity and motives. Tampering with a sufficiently large organization (containing powerful characters or simply having enough members that the 1 in 400 who rolls two natural twenties for saves becomes important) may cause you serious trouble. Individuals of (your level – 4) or higher level are not affected in any case, but do get to try the second save to see if they gain some information about the caster.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion. Here’s a Featured Review of it and another Independent Review.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

One Response

  1. […] Part III: The limits of deception skills. Bluff, Con Artist, Deception, Disguise, Perform (Acting), Perform (S… […]

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