And now for the next in our ongoing series on Using Skills. Last week we explored Arcana, and now we’re going to explore the shady side of Charisma with Deception.
Using Skills – Deception
The diplomat plants a small false rumor among the other members of the town committee that is just enough to sway them in the direction he wanted. The thief, being held up by the scruff of her coat by a guard, quickly comes up with a reason for being so interested in the locked door to the merchant’s house. The old barbarian looks at his hand of cards, then at the other players, letting his face show a small imperceptible grin -just long enough for the other players to think they’ve detected a hint of something under the stony exterior. Deception is the art of convincing others that something false is true.
The Player’s Handbook describes it thus: “Your Charisma (Deception) check determines whether you can convincingly hide the truth, either verbally or through your actions. This deception can encompass everything from misleading others through ambiguity to telling outright lies. Typical situations include trying to fast-talk a guard, con a merchant, earn money through gambling, pass yourself off in a disguise, dull someone’s suspicions with false assurances, or maintain a straight face while telling a blatant lie.” (PHB pg.178)
Deception covers pretty much all subterfuge your character wishes to participate in. Everything from bluffing in a card game to lying to a guardsmen up to creating a crime scene to frame someone. Keep in mind, however, that the skill isn’t going to let you convince someone of something impossible. Even a natural 20 shouldn’t allow you to convince someone that they are actually an owl bear. The DC of the roll should reflect the probability of the lie as well as the recipient’s general skepticism and feeling towards the deceiver.
The usefulness of this skill to your character is varied, and depends on how you use it. It’s a good way to try and get past an obstacle without more violent means, and it’s also a good way to gather information by appearing to be someone in the know already. As is usual with social skills, it’s largely up to your DM how often this will even come up. Just keep in mind that gaining a reputation as a liar will make it that much more difficult to continue using it in an area. Trying to keep your deceptions to ambiguities or “I heard a rumor…” might be better, so when you decide to land a whopper it might pass unfettered.
What It Is Not
- Charm – This skill won’t let you automatically charm or get in the good graces of the person listening. Even if they believe your information, this is set up against their own knowledge and biases and they will decide with their own agency on how they respond to this. While you could certainly try to influence someone’s actions with Deception, it’s not a sure thing, and even a natural 20 isn’t an instant I Win button based on the actual information you are falsifying.
- Persuasion or Intimidation – Deception covers only falsehoods. If you are trying to convince someone to do something for you, you might open with a deception and then try to persuade, but deception by itself isn’t going to do much in the way of direct acquiescence to a demand. Planting a lie might cause someone to do something you wanted them to do, but it’s not as direct as convincing them to do that thing. Sometimes, however, it is better if they believe they’re doing it of their own free will.
- Deception is such a wide open skill, it’s difficult to come up with situations or house rules to make it cover something it doesn’t already. Just remember that it might behoove you to allow a PC to use it for something like setting up a scene in a room to lead others to believe something happened in a room that didn’t. Perhaps to frame a murder, or maybe to cover a murder up. Also indirect deception can be very fun. By planting rumors among a populace to turn them against an authority figure, for instance, or by forging documents to make it appear as if someone had given an order that they did not. It has a lot of uses beyond lying to someone’s face.
Dungeon Master Examples
The following examples are meant to inspire the Dungeon Master to create with Deception in mind. The social pillar is one third of the game, and deception is the seedy underbelly of this pillar. Truth itself can be hard to divine objectively anyway, so allowing situations in which the PCs might deceive their way through something could give a nice gritty atmosphere to the session as even the heroes have to bend the light of truth a bit to achieve their goals.
- The Election – A border town ran by a council of guilds elects annually one leader of the ten guilds to be Burgomaster, to direct trade outside of the town and act as the figurehead. This is a very lucrative position, as they can subtly affect trade to be more profitable for their guild while cutting down on that of their rivals. It becomes a very nasty affair with politicking on all sides as everyone vies for votes. The PCs, if in the town at this point, might be offered a job as Electioneers. They’re job is simply this: use any means necessary to affect the vote in the favor of whomever hires them. Alternatively, they might see that one guild master would be better for the job themselves and act to circumvent the shadiness of the others. Deception would be very important for planting shocking rumors of other candidates or over-promising to the populace. Persuasion and intimidation could come into play as well. They would have to step lightly, however, and things could get quite out of hand if they’re ever cornered in an alleyway by some of the people another guild-master had hired as Electioneers.
- The Guardians – Deep in a dungeon lies a great stone door flanked on either side by huge statues of helmeted warriors. These statues spring to life whenever anyone attempts to walk the stairs up toward the stone door, and demand to know why the person is worthy of entering. A great deed of heroism or battle, told in grand detail, can convince the warriors to allow you to pass. Unfortunately, such a deed will probably have to be fabricated against the statue warriors’ DC 20 three times. Make the PCs come up with the tale on the spot, giving advantage or disadvantage to each roll based on how awesome or awkward the story sounds. If they do not pass a roll the statues take up their arms and they must try to bring the story back with another DC 20 roll before attempting another of the main three rolls. If they fail that roll, the statues attack.