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Reading through the intimidate skill it state:

Retry: Optional, but not recommended because retries usually do not work. Even if the initial check succeeds, the other character can be intimidated only so far, and a retry doesn’t help.

My question is this. I have a player who is playing a bard, he wants to use intimidate on NPCs repeatedly in combat as a standard action.

This is how he is wanting it to work: round one causing them to become demoralized (shaken) then retry round 2 to make them frightened, then round three to make them panicked. The problem I see with this is that intimidate in combat lasts only one round. So unless he goes first, the effects could not stack.

My question is: is this "too far"? How far can NPCs be intimidated?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As an aside: by default, the Intimidate skill is not a class skill for bards. (I know, right?) The PC either is paying the cross-class skill point cost for it or has devoted resources to make the Intimidate skill a class skill, correct? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 31 '17 at 14:00
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Using Intimidate to demoralize​ an opponent can only get them shaken, by default. You cannot use it repeatedly to achieve greater levels of fear.

First, in general effects do not self-stack, that is, repeated applications of the same effect have no further effect but just extend the duration. This is explicitly called out in the case of magic effects; for non-magic effects, the rules are more vague, but Intimidate has those retry rules.

The Intimidate retry rules read as saying that most NPCs will not respond to a second Intimidate check—either the first was successful and they are as frightened as they are going to be via the skill, or it didn’t and they are now resolute. Which seems kind of dumb to me but then, the social skills are really, truly dumb in many ways more serious than this.

In addition to being my reading of the rules, this “one shot” interpretation definitely seems to be there consensus online, in my experience. I have never played with or spoken with anyone who read the rules differently (houseruled them differently, yes, but as an explicit houserule).

But your bard need not necessarily give up here. There are feats and effects that can improve the demoralize effect to frighten or panic foes, even force them to cower in fear. The fearsome magic armor property and the Imperious Command feat from Drow of the Underdark, as well as the Never Outnumbered skill trick from Complete Scoundrel, are great places to start with that kind of thing. Also, the Doomspeak feat from Champions of Ruin is a more magical form of debuff, but it’s thematically similar, bard-specific, and absolutely devastating, so worth a look. For more, I recommend the Intimidate section of the Fear Handbook.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "Fear effects are cumulative"; so despite immunity to fear being a bulwark against demoralizing, is demoralizing not a fear effect? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan May 31 '17 at 13:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Demoralize is cumulative with other fear effects. I’ve never seen anyone claim fear effects are cumulative with themselves. And in any event, Intimidate’s retry rules certainly state that you cannot just keep demoralizing someone. (Mind you, whether or not demoralize is a fear effect is a contentious question for other reasons, most notably whether or not immunity to mind-affecting effects blocks it.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan May 31 '17 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes I played with a group of guys (in Pathfinder) who used to cast cause fear then used Dazzling Display... Granted this only worked at low level, but it was pretty interesting to see. The result: one villain fled and the rest were shaken. (Usually) \$\endgroup\$ – JP Chapleau Jun 1 '17 at 16:38

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