# How should a GM properly handle the Bluff skill when it's used to Deceive or Lie?

Bluff states

You know how to tell a lie.

Check Bluff is an opposed skill check against your opponent’s Sense Motive skill.

Deceive or Lie

If you use Bluff to fool someone, with a successful check you convince your opponent that what you are saying is true. Bluff checks are modified depending upon the believability of the lie. The following modifiers are applied to the roll of the creature attempting to tell the lie. Note that some lies are so improbable that it is impossible to convince anyone that they are true (subject to GM discretion).

Retry? If you fail to deceive someone, any further checks made to deceive them are made at a –10 penalty and may be impossible (GM discretion).

Table: Bluff Modifiers

$\begin{array}{|l|r} \text{Circumstances}&\text{Bluff Modifier}\\\hline \text{The target wants to believe you}&+5\\ \text{The lie is believable}&+0\\ \text{The lie is unlikely}&–5\\ \text{The lie is far-fetched}&–10\\ \text{The lie is impossible}&–20\\ \text{The target is drunk or impaired}&+5\\ \text{You possess convincing proof}&\text{up to }+10 \end{array}$

Here are some of the issues I've dealt with...

Due to it being used to "abuse" his character (at a different table, not mine), I had a player that hated bluff so much that he stated, "My character believes that everyone is against him and doesn't believe anything anybody says." When I mentioned the logical problems with such a statement, he replied, "you know what I mean". Then I told him that this would invalidate part of the bluff skill in the game. To which he said, "Bluff isn't mind control I don't have to believe it." I ended with, "if you fail your sense motive check, the bluff skill states your character believes what was said." He ended with, "but it doesn't control how my character will act on what he believes is true."

I don't want to cheapen the Bluff skill, but at the same time I'm not looking to control his character's actions.

The other situation happened when a devil bluffed a Paladin. They party was adventuring in a desert terrain and met a devil that claimed he had been turned into such by powerful magic and asked if he could accompany the party to get cured. The devil had a massive bluff skill total, and so he fooled the party. They asked the devil a lot of questions and used some spells to see if he was lying, the devil passed them all. Then the player of the Paladin out of game stated, "I don't believe this devil, but my character does. What precautions can my character take while still not being false to my character believing him?"

He also stated, "If my Paladin believes him I don't think he would ask the character to tie himself up."

In D&D...the impossible, is possible. How can a GM use the bluff skill correctly while also taking into account how a player character is to behave towards what he believes to be true?

No! A Chaotic Neutral Barbarian is not the answer! ;-)

Let me add this last part. Sometimes these bluffs are happening in the middle of life and death situations, i.e. the PC's have just entered a room where a succubus appears to be a woman who is a wounded captive, while another NPC adventurer who believes she's evil (because he didn't fail his sense motive) is attacking her and won't stop, she successfully bluffs the PC's for help. I hope the players wouldn't metagame a encounter like this!

• Just to be sure, are you asking what you can do from a player or GM perspective? Because a GM can just rule it out (which is waht I've seen most often) Aug 22, 2018 at 23:50
• Resolving the skill properly from both sides, the GM and the player's. Aug 23, 2018 at 0:29
• You may also be interested in this question and, to a lesser degree, this question. Aug 23, 2018 at 16:50
• I don't think your devil example is a good one. Devils do tell the truth. A Paladin could safely assume a devil is telling the truth but that some ulterior motive remains and there is more the devil isn't saying. Totally believable for the Paladin to both believe the devil and remain highly untrusting of him! Aug 23, 2018 at 23:20
• Regarding the player who said, "My character believes that everyone is against him and doesn't believe anything anybody says."... Fine, but then he'd better act this way ALWAYS, not just when he out-of-character knows that he is being bluffed! I bet it would get ridiculous very fast.
– IMil
Aug 24, 2018 at 6:14

## Offical rules and clarifications for the Bluff skill

There are many good answers with general advice already, instead, I will show you what the game rules advise on how you should be handling this since the core rulebook is vague about social conflicts in general.

This is what the developers have to say about how to use Bluff (from Ultimate Intrigue, p.182), which I will quote it nearly fully because almost everything is relevant to this discussion, as such, I apologize for the wall of text.

The book, straight away, admits that the core rulebook has short descriptions and that the following are clarifications and not new optional rules. Either way, the GM is free to ignore this text, obviously.

When skills come into conflict with each other, it can lead to extremely complex interactions, often well beyond the scope of the short skill descriptions in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. The following section offers detailed advice on the most common skill clashes that involve difficult adjudications, as well as clarifications of skills where the Core Rulebook provides little guidance.

Then, it describe many possible scenarios of characters using Bluff that could (and will) come up during play, be that on social conflicts or not:

This section includes clarifications and details on several different ways to use Bluff—and on several things that don’t work. (...)

Bluff Doesn’t Define a Response: Even the most successful lie told using Bluff doesn’t determine the course of action the deceived person takes—it just primes the target with misinformation.

This means attempts to trick a creature into a course of action might need to also include Diplomacy or Intimidate after the Bluff check. For example, suppose there was a guard with the following orders from the guard captain: “Don’t let anyone into the restricted area without clearance papers, even if it seems to be me or someone of higher rank.” After this, a sneaky rogue attempts the following ruse: “I am the king’s general on a mission of utmost importance for national security. I need you to let me in now, or you’re fired!” Assuming the rogue succeeds at her Bluff check, the guard now believes her to be the general, but this doesn’t mean he will let her through.

His orders still require him to keep everyone out without papers. The last part of the rogue’s demand is an attempt to Intimidate the guard, and the successful Bluff check was a necessary prerequisite to even attempt the Intimidate check.

Circumstances: When using Bluff to tell a lie, the Core Rulebook table on possible circumstance modifiers takes into account several levels of plausibility, targets who want to believe or are impaired, and possession of convincing proof, but there are also plenty of other circumstances that might affect the result of a Bluff check. For instance, many people strongly don’t want to believe a bluff that would lead to cognitive dissonances, such as attempting to convince a true believer that their religion is fake, and such a lie imposes a –5 penalty on the attempt (the opposite of a target who wants to believe the falsehood).

On the other hand, a target who is afraid that the deceit is actually correct might grant a +2 bonus or more on the skill check, depending on the level of anxiety about the fabrication. For instance, a bigoted assassin who is afraid that half-orcs are cannibals might be more likely to believe a half-orc’s bluff that she ate the target he was supposed to kill.

There are a variety of other circumstances, all of which might alter the odds in different directions. A character with a widespread reputation of being a compulsive liar might take a large penalty on his skill check, but a character with a reputation for always telling the truth, such as a paladin, would gain a large bonus on her skill check. Similarly, a hostile creature is much less likely to believe a deception, whereas a helpful creature is much more likely to believe one.

Tricking Someone: Bluff can be used to cleverly trip a target up and get him to reveal something or make a mistake. In these cases, he realizes his mistake soon after, but by then it is too late, and the falsehood has done its damage. This is similar to using Bluff to feint or create a distraction, but has broader applications in social situations.

For instance, suppose a swashbuckler suspected that an assassin works for the queen. The swashbuckler might be able to trick the assassin into revealing more information by pretending to be a fellow agent of the queen in an attempt to gauge the assassin’s response. Of course, if the assassin doesn’t work for the queen and sees through the ruse, he might attempt his own Bluff check to pretend that he works for the queen and fell for the trick, thus causing the swashbuckler to investigate the innocent queen.

Plausibility: The Core Rulebook mentions that some lies are implausible enough that no matter how high a character’s Bluff check, a PC can’t convince a target that they are true. However, the same page also presents a table that says that “impossible” lies impart a –20 penalty on the skill check. This table’s entry might actually be better described as “particularly implausible.” For example, an older human woman telling a very similar-looking human girl that she is herself from the future might take the –20 penalty, whereas a 10-year-old half-elf telling a 40-year-old orc the same lie would automatically fail the Bluff check.

You’re Not Lying, You’re Just Wrong: Sometimes a character is a convincing enough liar that targets can’t tell the character is lying, even when the targets possess incontrovertible proof that what the character is saying isn’t true, or the lie is otherwise too unbelievable to be possible. In this case, one way to resolve the situation is for the bluffing character to take a –20 penalty on the skill check, and if she beats the target’s Sense Motive, then the target believes that the bluffing character isn’t lying, but is simply mistaken.

This could also be the result of other situations in which the target of the Bluff attempt has strong reasons to believe that the falsehood, despite being plausible, isn’t factually correct. Even this result can be useful to the bluffing character, as it doesn’t mark her as a liar, and it allows her to gather information about what her target knows and expects.

True Lies and Implausible Truths: Bluff is the skill that convinces someone that something is true. However, there are a few potential cases when the situation isn’t as straightforward as a bluffing character telling a lie to a target.

For instance, suppose that the bluffing character makes up a believable lie to tell the target, and the lie turns out to be true, unbeknown to the bluffing character. If the Bluff check succeeded, the target is convinced, and might later verify the truth and trust the bluffing character more. However, what if the bluffing character fails? In this case, the target can tell that the bluffing character is lying, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the target is forced to conclude that the information is false.

For instance, suppose a popular king has fallen into a magical, unbreakable sleep. A charlatan, noticing the king’s lack of public appearances, makes up a story about the king being placed under a sleeping curse and spreads it around the tavern, but his Bluff check is terrible, and everyone can tell he’s making it up. If one of the king’s advisors is present in the tavern, this doesn’t mean that the advisor now thinks the king isn’t in a coma; it just means that she can tell the charlatan doesn’t believe his own story.

The reverse side of true lies is implausible truths. These are situations in which someone is telling the truth (either saying something that is actually true, or spreading a lie that they believe to be true), but that truth is extremely implausible to the listener. Though the bluffing character isn’t lying, the same skill set that makes an excellent and convincing liar could potentially help characters attempting to spread an implausible truth.

In these cases, even if the target succeeds at the Sense Motive check, he can tell that the bluffing character truly believes what she is saying, and he might simply conclude that she isn’t lying, but simply mistaken. The target might later be swayed if presented with evidence or through a verbal duel (see pages 176–181). If a bluffing character successfully convinces a target of a lie and the target attempts to spread that information, this leads to a classic example of an implausible truth.

## Summary

There are many situations described on the text, but a few points to take note:

• The bluffer won't control the target's reaction to that "new truth";
• The bluffer may not know that he is actually wrong;
• The bluffer can convince someone that a previously known "truth" is a "lie";
• The bluffer may not be lying, but simply hiding important information;
• Its harder to convince someone who isn't willing to be convinced of the lie;
• The "lie" may actually be true, but the bluffer didn't know it.

## House rules

Personally, I never roll for Bluff when GMing NPC's (unless its being used in combat), I use 10 + Bluff bonus as the DC of the PC's Sense Motive check. Those checks may be asked on demand by the players, and are rolled in secret (even if the NPC is not actually bluffing). Also be affirmative on the result: "She is speaking the truth" and not "She appears to be speaking the truth". Unless your intent is exactly to get them on the edge and suspicious of everybody they meet (which is fine for a horror game).

When discovering this bluff may be important to the history and has roleplay potential, I will do the opposite and roll all players Sense Motives against the bluffer (also in secret), using 10 + Sense Motive bonus as the DC for that check.

If one of the PCs pass on that check, I will inform that the PC(s) notice that something is not right in what they are being told, but not exactly what, they will have to roleplay their way out of it and possibly make more Sense Motive checks, along with some Bluff and Diplomacy checks. The NPC may simply be hiding something, they may be afraid of being discovered, or are afraid of their boss, or are sad or angry about something they just mentioned, and so on. They have something to hide and that something could be discovered by the players, so a Bluff/Sense Motive check is warranted.

This is similar to a Skill Challenge to those familiar with it (D&D 4e), or the Social Conflicts rules. And also similar to how these rules are been implemented on the second edition of the game (currently in beta) and work fine for me.

### Speaking honestly is different from stating an absolute truth.

Your player has made a very keen observation about one of Pathfinder's flaws. If you tell a convincing lie, then the listener's understanding of reality is suddenly changed, regardless of their prior knowledge? The way the Bluff skill is written, it would certainly imply a degree of the impossible. And in Pathfinder, the impossible is generally reserved for magic, not the mundane.

While Pathfinder isn't designed to be realistic, the consequence of the Bluff skill can result in occasionally frustrating roleplaying encounters, which it sounds like your player has experienced in the past. Otherwise, telling a player that their character must believe something is a one-way ticket to a debate over who controls the character.

There is an implicit expectation that players control their characters, and that social interactions are somewhat similar to how they operate in real life. Therefore in-game social or reasoning challenges are expected to follow semi-realistic rules, unless magic is involved, in which case all expectations prompty go out the window.

### House rule adjustment: Bluff hides the lie.

In my experience, both as a player and GM, the Bluff skill has been adjusted to avoid these headaches. Specifically, a successful Bluff versus Sense Motive means that the character is not perceptibly lying. You can convince others that you believe your own statement, but that does not automatically force the listener to accept your statement as fact. Consequently, a successful Bluff to lie is indistinguishable from a misinformed person speaking honestly.

The listener chooses how interpret the liar's statement. Maybe they accept the statement as truth, or maybe they assume the liar is honest yet misinformed. When the listener is an NPC, then the GM should choose based on the NPC's prior knowledge and beliefs, and possibly their attitudes toward the lying character.

Some other benefits of using this house rule:

• It's more intuitive and similar to how lying works in reality, which means it's easier to get everyone on the same page with how the social mechanics work.

• Players still retain control over their characters, despite being lied to by other characters.

• The GM won't need to make as many judgment calls about which lies are too improbable to believe, which potentially means less arguing from the players.

• Bluff is still a useful and versatile roleplaying tool for characters in social encounters.

• In real life, there are many times I believe the speaker thinks they are telling the truth but I know their information is not true. Aug 23, 2018 at 0:11
• @TimothyAWiseman That can be a lot harder in a D&D fantasy world. Aug 23, 2018 at 0:33
• Upvoted for the house rule suggestion alone. In five years it is the only way I have seen the skill used. And it prevents any form of mind control or metagaming from the players. Unless the players ask if the npc is telling the truth. Aug 23, 2018 at 1:10
• @Caldrun Not really. The GM communicates the same information to the player about what their character perceives in-game ("You see a wounded captive and she's being attacked!"). This adjustment gives players more control over how their character reacts to such information ("I bet it's a succubus in disguise" or "I bet it's 3 gnomes in a trenchcoat" or "We should help her") while staying in-character. Aug 23, 2018 at 4:12
• I agree with Mike Q, the only part of meta-gaming I saw is when a sense-motive check is called by the GM, but that is the same problem as a perception check. And can be avoided in the same way (passive checks, calling it subtly in narration). Plus instead of the player being told "you believe it's a woman", he instead get told "you don't see any reason to believe it's a succubus." (using the word they used avoid revealing extra information, bonus!) Aug 23, 2018 at 12:53

First and foremost; The Angry GM has a whole article about metagaming and how people put up a non-existent wall to have their character and person be different. This causes lots of thinking-problems for people and IMO those problems can be avoided by considering a lack of player/character separation; as per his article or his other one. I highly recommend these.

Given those articles, I tend to instead

### Present information that convinces the PLAYER based on their rolls

First, I don't believe applying that table makes sense when the player is rolling. Roll normal and the player will believe or not regardless of that. Sense Motive is just a free way for them to get a guaranteed correct answer when it works out IMO.

Instead, present unbiased information first; the thing the character says no matter what.

"I am not a member of the Blorp Gang and don't rob people."

Note that no matter whether this person IS or ISN'T a member of that gang. In this case I'll illustrate with an Intimidate check:

"I know you're lying! Tell me where the hideout is or I'll cut you up!"

Regardless of the check you can now filter what you say based on it: Pass -> "Er.. um.. no I have no idea where the hideout in the bar is."

Fail -> GM: "He has no idea what you're talking about and thinks you're acting strangely. He acts dismissive and begins to walk away."

Bad Fail -> "Alright alright. They bought me off! Their hideout is under the Brum Bridge! The password is 'Guardians Bane'. Please don't tell them I broke!"

Notice how the way you delivered the different information will cause the player to choose the thing that they believe. Why do they believe it? Different information given by the GM. If they don't act on it; that's ok. Social interactions aren't a magic compulsion effect; it's a way of filtering information.

### The devil example

"The devil claims he is part human, cursed by a nearby demon to look this way."

"I think he's lying"

"Roll sense motive"

"Ha, 16."

"His eyes are unblinking and honest, you see the humanity in his face and at times you think you even see a glimpse of the person inside him. He doesn't seem to be lying."

Your player/character may still not be buying this; but then you may guilt them a bit:

"You're really going to disappoint Iomedae by letting this soul remain trapped by a demon in a desert?"

You doing this isn't a GM threat about ex-paladining the guy; it's what the paladin would actually think if he was in the situation. You're now putting your paladin's thought into your player's head, causing them to possibly consider the world through their paladin's eyes!

If they still don't buy it; that's ok. Never reveal what it really was. You, as the GM, have to actually meta-game the way your players think; as they are your characters. Rather than sit here and try to figure out how to allow your players to have fun and have choices even when they fail; instead present the world in such a way that they never knew they failed (until it's too late of course!)

• I almost linked to Angry in my answer as well, but I'm not sure his advice style vibes well with Stack Exchange. While I do tend to agree with most of his articles and appreciate his advice, he is very much a "one correct way to play" type of guy and that attitude is discouraged here. I'm also not sure that the different fail states you've suggested make a lot of sense in practice. Rolling well on Sense Motive doesn't mean they have to tell you the truth. That would fall under Diplomacy or Intimidate. Aug 23, 2018 at 1:36
• @GreedyRadish What you say is fair regarding the Gang conversation; so maybe I'll come back and edit that to a better example. The more important example (the Devil) does however follow the Sense Motive style of "how do you feel about the conversation you just had?" Which still aims to convince the player, rather than the character. Aug 23, 2018 at 1:46
• A helm of opposite alignment is very bad for a demon, but would be good for a human trapped in one. Aug 23, 2018 at 1:53
• Great article, but that dude really needs to proof read his blog posts. Aug 23, 2018 at 2:22
• This is more of an aside, but I'd mention this....just because you pass a Sense Motive and know the Bluffer is lying....you don't spontaneously know what the truth is. In the demon example...the demon could be telling the truth about being 'half human,' but lying about why they look the way they do (instead of 'mean demon cursed me' the truth could be 'I was meddling with dark forces better left alone and whoops!' but they don't want to reveal that little bit of info.) A really good Sense Motive might suss out which part of the statement was a lie, but they still don't get the truth for free. Aug 23, 2018 at 16:59

## Bluff Doesn't Do What You Think It Does

In Pathfinder, Bluff is simply used to convince a target that a statement is true. Your player is correct in that Bluff alone does not immediately compel a character to act upon the new information they have been given. In fact, the page on Bluff has a section for Suggest Course of Action which states

You can use Bluff and Diplomacy together to make a request of a creature, without it even realizing you have made the request.

with the specific rule being

You first attempt a Bluff check to convince the target that your request was actually its idea. This is always treated as far-fetched circumstances, resulting in a –10 penalty on the check. If successful, you then attempt a Diplomacy check to make the request of the creature, treating its attitude toward you as indifferent for this single request (regardless of its actual attitude).

It goes on to say that this type of interaction requires more than a minute of conversation and is therefore highly unlikely to succeed against a hostile target.

I also want to point out that the page on Bluff states

Note that some lies are so improbable that it is impossible to convince anyone that they are true (subject to GM discretion).

so if you're going to have an NPC Bluff, it has to at least be plausible. Don't let the NPCs get away with anything you wouldn't also let one of your players get away with.

## Bluff Sparingly

I think the best way to handle Bluff being used against your players (especially when you already know one of your players has had a negative experience in the past with being Bluffed) is to use it as little as possible. Once your group discovers that an NPC has been lying to them, they will be suspicious of every other NPC they meet in that campaign. The longer the deception is kept up, the worse the distrust will be once they discover the truth.

The Social Skills in Pathfinder are carried over from 3.5 with very few changes, and both systems handle social interaction pretty clumsily. The problem is that skills like Diplomacy and Bluff very frequently lead to awkward metagame problems when used against the players rather than by the players, which your examples perfectly capture: if your players know something fishy is going on but they fail a skill check they have to play dumb? In my experience, this is not very fun for the players being lied to.

The player has control over their actions, bar the use of enchantment magic. They are indeed free to ignore the result of bluff.

And this is a reasonable player choice. A lot of players have had annoying situations where DMs tried to use social rolls to control their PCs. Some don't want any of it. You control all of the world, and all of the NPCs, you don't need to control the actions and responses of the PCs.

They are not required to believe it is true, by RAW.

If you use Bluff to fool someone, with a successful check you convince your opponent that what you are saying is true.

They now know that the facts are true, but they're not required to believe the facts. Belief is an emotional response.

It's best to leave it as an optional subsystem. If a player wants to use it to influence how their character acts, they are free to, as the paladin did, if they don't want to, they can ignore it.

Godmodding, controlling other characters, is a serious roleplaying offense. Lots of people really hate being controlled. It's not something that you should try to make a major game element.

## Don't have NPCs roll Bluff first. Require that a Sense Motive roll be requested

Then, no matter if the NPC is lying or not, roll Bluff and inform the player of the result. If they're not lying, make it pretty clear they think its true (no matter how the dice land). If they are lying, then give hints that they think something is up, as per Sense Motive. And of course, keep the NPC's roll secret. You also likely want to roll the Sense Motive check for them as well, to avoid cases where a nat 1 or 20 makes them overly sure of the result.

The player can choose to disbelieve the result, but doing so when the NPC is actually telling the truth can have pretty harmful results (long term offending of the NPC, or wasted time because they didn't trust the true information they were given).

Players should recognize when dealing with belligerent NPCs that the chance of being deceived is high, and should proactively call for Sense Motive checks, especially for key info.

If the player's can't be bothered to determine if some key piece of info is true or not, or is willing to trust that the info given to them is true, that's on them.

Determining how believable a lie is:

Yes, bluff is rolled against sense motive. However, some people simply won't believe some things. If you tried to convince me of something so unbelievable that my knowledge, abilities, or memories go against it... there is no chance for me to believe you.

The Devil example:

Depending on the level of the paladin... that would be a huge lie. Paladins are self-taught or trained. They would do rigorous training in religion, and as such would likely know that Devils aren't created that way. For a Devil to be on the material plane they would have to rise through the caste system by proving to their superiors that they are worthy. No lie is going to convince an archer, that they've been using a sword this whole time... so why do the same thing with a paladin? Have you ever tried to convince a religious person that their god doesn't exist?

Hidden rolls:

It is my strong belief that things like sense motive, bluff, diplomacy, and even perception should be rolled in private by the GM. Then paraphrased back to them with descriptive words. Getting a high roll or a natural 20 will make any player feel like they have succeeded, while getting a low roll or a natural 1 will make any player feel like they have failed. If you or your players use bluff/diplomacy a lot consider doing hidden roles. Then your players can make the choice for their characters. You tell them something like "you believe he is telling the truth." or "you believe he is lying." Eventually your players will learn that they can't always trust what you're telling them. My players went into a farmstead, and rolled sense motive on a farmer that was telling the truth. The face got a nat 1 (hidden) and believed something was off about the farmer. He then spent a lot of time trying to find proof, eventually the thief murdered him, and the paladin had to do a lot of penance to come back.

• I also agree on the hidden rolls; more so if they have to pass a DC and the result of a failure is supposed to be ambiguous (Intimidate, for example.) I think Sense Motive is slightly less important because it's an opposed roll; or Diplomacy is slightly less important because the NPC isn't likely to do things that the players shouldn't know. Aug 23, 2018 at 15:22

# Bluff things that are true as well

Part of the problem is meta-gaming. You are annoyed that the player is acting on knowledge that they have ("The GM has rolled a Bluff roll.") to influence how their character acts ("I can choose to disbelieve this anyway.")

If the player has created a character who is that seriously cynical and doubting, then just go with it! Roll bluff on things you know are true but the player and character do not. Just roll the dice and say "You think that the character believes what he is telling you."

If the players doubt the devil, have the devil occasionally tell the truth. Roll dice, hiding the dice, and then have the devil be honest. You don't have to tell the players when the NPCs are bluffing.