The Player's Handbook on the skill Intimidate says, "A character immune to fear… can’t be intimidated" (77). The Monster Manual on Fear says, "All fear attacks are mind-affecting fear effects" (309 and emphasis mine), but calls out only fear auras, rays, and cones as fear attacks. Further, the list of traits for creatures possessing the type undead says that such creatures possess "[i]mmunity to all mind-affecting effects (charms, compulsions, phantasms, patterns, and morale effects)" (317)—absenting from its parenthetical list fear effects (and, obviously, attacks).

The Rules Compendium on Fear Attacks says, "When they’re not spells, fear attacks can be extraordinary, supernatural, or spell-like, with specifics explained in the ability’s description" (53), yet employing the skill Intimidate to demoralize opponent isn't—so far as I can tell—a special ability.

Can a creature that possesses the type undead and an Intelligence score of at least 1 be the subject of Intimidate skill checks? Or is the typical lich or vampire, for example, simply immune to fear generally, including attempts by foes to employ against it any use of the skill Intimidate?

Note: I was reminded once again of this issue by the Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde prestige class twisted lord (13–15) that has several special abilities that can only be used against a shaken foe. The typical twisted lord renders a foe shaken by employing the skill Intimidate to demoralize opponent, and two twisted lord abilities the lord can subsequently employ against a shaken foe aren't described as mind-affecting. If the twisted lord can demoralize, for example, a ghoulish troll or a warforged raptor or a fiendish gelatinous cube monk, the twisted lord gains a modicum of relief against foes he'd be otherwise at a loss to handle. I mean, sure, twisted lord remains a pretty sad prestige class (it's, like, four good levels in a 10-level package), but the idea of, for example, an unsleeping twisted lord who has successfully employed the supernatural ability twist mind on a lich and who subsequently keeps the lich around for kicks is mildly amusing (although probably not if you're a lich).

This question gets bandied about all over the Web (like in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2012). Pathfinder addresses in its FAQ this exact issue (and this site in this question), but I'm unaware of a 3.5e source that addresses it similarly.


3 Answers 3


You can intimidate a vampire as a social action outside of combat, but cannot use the demoralize opponent action to render them shaken.

The intimidate skill really covers two separate use cases:

  • Case 1: As a social skill, like bluff or diplomacy. In this case, you're talking to a vampire, trying to get them to stop killing helpless villagers. You say, "Sure would be a shame if someone were to open these blinds, wouldn't it?", and your DM says, "Roll intimidate." This works because, as pointed out in Wormwood's answer, this use of the skill isn't a fear attack (it isn't an attack at all).
  • Case 2: As an offensive combat action. In this case, you are fighting a vampire, and want to debuff it via the demoralize opponent action, per the description of the intimidate skill. This does not work, because unlike the dialogue option, demoralize opponent is a fear attack. As pointed out in the question, all fear attacks are mind-affecting, and undead are immune to mind-affecting effects.

Argument that demoralize opponent is a fear attack:

  • It applies fear (e.g., from the description of the shaken condition, "Shaken is a less severe state of fear than frightened or panicked."), and is blocked by immunity to fear; this is sufficient to convince me it's a fear effect.
  • It is an attack, because "All offensive combat actions, even those that don’t damage opponents are considered attacks." (source)
  • Ergo, it is a fear attack.
  • \$\begingroup\$ The fear section that's linked to above is the same fear section that's linked to in the question, so I'm sorry that I find referencing that as proof that demoralize attempts are fear attacks less than convincing. Also, many effects that cause the condition shaken are not called out as a fear attacks (or effects), yet it sounds like this answer would have immunity to mind-effecting cover anything that could render a creature shaken; is that accurate? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Bullet point 1 is not proof that demoralize is a fear attack; however, I consider it, along with the description of shaken as "a...state of fear" evidence that demoralize is a fear effect. Then bullet point 2 says that it's an attack. I consider "fear effect" + "attack" = "fear attack", but reasonable DMs may disagree (3.5 terminology is weird). I would consider any offensive combat action that applies shaken to be a fear attack, but there may be some ways of applying the condition that don't count (e.g., ones that aren't actions). \$\endgroup\$
    – A_S00
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 17:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Huh. That's interesting. I fear I'd receive a lot of pushback from my players were I to rule that everything so broadly. For example, the feat Abominable Form (Elder Evils 11-12) has creatures becoming shaken but it's not called out as a fear effect. Note that my hesitancy stems not from too many creatures being immune to fear but from PCs being subjected to the escalating effects of fear by effects not noted as fear! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ So currently, if a character has been made shaken by something like Abominable Form, and they become shaken again, you don't escalate to frightened? I've always taken "A shaken character who is made shaken again becomes frightened, and a shaken character who is made frightened becomes panicked instead. A frightened character who is made shaken or frightened becomes panicked instead." as the final word on the matter (though it comes after "Fear effects are cumulative.", so I can see how one might interpret it as only applying to some kinds of shaken). \$\endgroup\$
    – A_S00
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 18:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think we can reasonably go back and forth forever. See, that description is from the section on Fear, that says, "Spells, magic items, and certain monsters can affect characters with fear," and some things that cause the shaken condition are called fear effects (or classified as fear attacks) and others not. The vagueness is part of the reason for the question. (I suspect this is all the result of an editorial cluster… mess that took place behind the scenes—with fist fights and Nerf guns—but I've no proof.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 18:11

You Can Threaten a Vampire or a Lich in the Same Way You Can Parley With One

The real issue here is whether or not Intimidate, the skill, is a "Fear Attack."

The answer is no, because a Fear Attack is rather explicitly a superpower (as stated above) and Intimidation is not.

Intimidation is a social skill, much like Diplomacy and Bluff, and relies a lot on the characters to give it context*, whereas Fear Attacks are things like spells and auras that directly and specifically cause fear.

It's the difference between a good Diplomacy check and Charm Person: the former gets the target to be more friendly due to good manners and people-skills, or it could refer to the hero's solid argumentation, or it could represent de-escalation strategies used to calm an angered ogre, or it could even be a form of seduction, whereas Charm Person is a form of magical mind control that overrides logic and makes people your friend Because You're A Wizard.

Intimidate as a skill is exploiting your knowledge of people to get them to do what you want through the desire to avoid something distasteful, be it social shame or an axe to the face. Fear is the appropriate response.

Fear Attacks are like Charm Person, in that they override common sense and make people deathly afraid of some geek in a dress. Fear is forced upon them.

Liches and vampires are people. They're people who are now so steeped in black magic that they cannot be swayed by simple enchantments, but they're people. While you can't hit them with a Fear spell and watch them run around like chickens, a lich will cringe if he sees you dangling his phylactery over a pool of lava, and a vampire will react poorly to seeing his castle flooded. If you can get them to worry for their well-being, or the well-being of that one person they think they care about, perhaps, you can intimidate them, just as you can feint against a vampire to catch him off-guard, or use a Ring of Three Wishes to get a lich to do a favor for you.

As for mindless undead, intimidation doesn't work, and neither does bluffing or diplomacy in much the same way that you can't use threats, feints, seduction, or de-escalation strategies to stop an incoming freight train. They aren't people: They're evil automatons made from cadavers. That's why they don't get a second save against Control Undead, but intelligent undead get one every day.

If you need to intimidate the small-fry, go get Pelor to do it for you.

tl;dr Intimidate doesn't affect their mind like a Fear spell. It's a method of getting people to come to the conclusion you want on their own via a compelling Argumentum ad Baculum. If the vampire sees you glaring at him with a Flametongue in one hand and the smoldering head of his bride-spawn in the other and you ask him if he'd like to take an offer, he's going to be more susceptible to you than the idiot who thought he could bypass the situation with a Charm Person.

  • That is, you don't just "roll Intimidate" without saying how you are going to use the skill. The effect of the roll varies depending on how it was used, which helps the GM figure out whether or not it's even going to work. If you don't specify, your GM may get confused, or, if he's the Angry GM, viciously mock you with shame and sarcasm.

The Answer Is No, They Are Too Hardheaded

Soo, I thankfully happen to be friends with a DnD 3.5e Vampire/undead fanatic, so I've bounced this off of him. The answer is that "Yes, they are immune."

Going further into the reason, the simple fact is that the Vampire template (and alternate things that turn people into vampires) all do one thing, ultimately -- they become Undead.

Now, in DnD 3.5e being vague and self-contradictory is the rule of thumb -- anyone who plays the system for awhile learns this pretty quickly. That said, there are some times when it IS clear on matters, and the immunity of Undead to all sorts of things, including fear, does come into play here.

As with most rulings on 3.5e, if it doesn't SAY there is an exception, then there ISN'T an exception. Now, any given DM may disagree with this -- that's the God-hood of DMs, so fair enough. No matter what is houseruled the fact remains as follows:

  • Vampires (A) are undead (B).
  • Undead (B) are immune to fear (C).

If A=B and B=C, then by the laws of logic A=C.

So, Vampires are immune to fear.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the bit Hey I Can Chan is poking at is are undead immune to fear in the first place. \$\endgroup\$
    – AceCalhoon
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 22:11
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ How has your friend established that Intimidate skill checks are fear attacks (not just fear generally as put forth by the question) therefore covered by a vampire's immunity to mind-affecting effects? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 22:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, specifically pushed that issue. The answer is that any resistances you have to fear impact your counter-rolls to Intimidate ("+target’s modifiers on saves against fear"). If your "modifier" is immunity, that's essentially +infinity, meaning you would technically still have to roll the check, but auto-pass. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alphaeus
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 22:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Um. That's circular. A vampire is immune to mind-affecting effects, but only fear attacks are called out as mind-affecting effects while fear effects generally aren't. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 0:28
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ (The question is specifically about intelligent creatures; nonintelligent creatures can't be intimidated as per the skill.) Unless you've got something straight from the source, I think it's kind of impossible to figure out what's intended here—undead being immune to mind-affecting apparently stems from how one author (mis?)understood psionics in 2e. (Caution: Strong language!) And, seriously, there are (ahem) bloody obvious threats that should give even vampires and liches pause. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 2:01

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