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I am fairly new to DM-ing and I started a campaign with friends who are also more or less new to RPGs.

One of them has high Charisma and proficiencies in basically all abilities related to suggesting and influencing, and he tries to act on it on more or less every monsters they are running into. For example, last session, they came across Giant Crabs and his first reaction was to "try to intimidate them", and then again trying to look friendly with Elks and finally trying to speak and scare off an Owlbear.

He seems a bit frustrated that this does not yield any result, and I would like to reward his ideas and his roleplay, but basically all these monsters are "non-intelligent" and don't speak any language, and I feel that Charisma checks have no chance to do anything.

What kind of monsters can PCs "interact with" or influence using Charisma checks?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome! What you should or should not do is a type of subjectivity this site does not handle. Please think about what you want to focus on and reword the question. Some suggestions: "What are the repercussions of allowing Cha based checks against unintelligent creatures?" "Which proficiency is appropriate to use to emotionally influence unintelligent creatures?" Also, we ask that you pose only one question per post. If you wish to address that side-question, feel free to make another post about it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Szega
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 9:23

3 Answers 3

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Your player needs his expectations realigned

Charisma is for interacting with people and creatures that rely on some kind of social rules, not wild animals. There is a skill for that, it's called animal handling.

You need to tell your player that he is using the wrong skill at the wrong time, but also tell him when to use his skills, or if animals were always his target let him swap skills. Even then without some way of talking to them (thinking firbolg) he can only do so much on the back of a skill check.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Animal handling is not for influencing wild animals, by the way. PHB describes it as "When there is any question whether you can calm down a domesticated animal, keep a mount from getting spooked, or intuit an animal's intentions" \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 10:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Basically, the message to the player is: "Charisma is for interacting with people, and we are fighting against beasts and monstrosities so your character is useless. I don't know why do you go with the party anyways. You are also using the wrong skill at the wrong time". \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 10:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ A player never "uses the wrong skill", he doesn't get to choose the skill in the first place. What the player does is to tell the DM that he wants to, for example, "intimidate <wild creature>". This is a perfectly valid thing to do, but he doesn't choose the skill - the DM does. In this case, Animal Handling (Wisdom) or Intimidation (Strength) or Intimidation (Wisdom) could be appropriate, or whatever else the DM decides. Even a Nature check could be suitable if the player uses his knowledge of the creature to imitate something that the creature is scared of. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 11:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you add a bit more on how you'd rule this when it comes to non-intelligent, non-animal creatures? The Owlbear in the question is a sort of grey area, being a Monstrosity but also two parts animal, but how would you handle a Hydra or an Ooze for example? Those aren't very animal-like, but also lack intelligence. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 11:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point@pixelmaster but most games I play don't really work that way. Either way, the point about expecting something to work when it won't stands. When I get to a laptop I might edit it accordingly. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 12:36
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Almost all of them.

The possible list of thing you can get a "monster" to do will vary considerably, but the vast majority of them can be interacted with using a bit of charisma.

To go over your examples, the Giant Crab and Elk are both animals. They will respond the way an animal might; you can definitely intimidate one into leaving you alone or running away. They have self-preservation instinct, and will not fight something that is likely to kill them unless they feel cornered, are starving or (depending on creature type) defending offspring.

The Owlbear is a Monstrosity, and a foul-tempered one at that, but it's still intelligent. Scaring one off should probably be a really difficult check, but it won't be impossible.

Of course, it does depend on how you do it. Talking won't have much effect on these creatures, but Charisma also involves posturing, making yourself bigger than you really are, standing in a friendly manner and making no sudden moves, etc.

And likewise, you likely won't get an Elk to lead you somewhere (cause they don't understand how) but with a good (or very good) Charisma check you might get one to approach you and eat out of your hand or something.

So what're the exceptions?

Generally speaking, the only creatures you can't really reason with on a Charisma check are creatures that are blindly following orders and have no real self-preservation instinct. This might include certain Undead (like Skeletons), many Constructs (like Golems) and mindless things like Oozes and insects. (depending on DM, they technically have intelligence in 5e as well, just are often played as not having it)

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    \$\begingroup\$ This all sounds more like animal handling to me \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 10:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ PHB describes Animal Handling as "calm down a domesticated animal, keep a mount from getting spooked, or intuit an animal's intentions". It is completely different thing from being described here. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 10:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ No SeriousBri is right, this is the domain of animal handling. You can give a bear to the most charismatic guy in existence, but if they have no idea how to handle a bear, they're not going to be able to use their charisma to impress it. They might use their amazing charisma to try and impress it by looking real big and strong, only for the bear to maul them because it looks like they're trying to pick a fight. \$\endgroup\$
    – Theik
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 11:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Theik the same guy might try the exact same trick on a Hobgoblin and get mauled for the exact same reason; that's what the dice are for. If you want to influence the behavior of a wild creature, that'd be Charisma checks at my table. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 11:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor the descriptions of each check are not exhaustive. \$\endgroup\$
    – illustro
    Commented Apr 17, 2020 at 11:47
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This might be a kind of XY problem

A player of yours created a social character, so he feels useless in combat encounters versus beasts and monstrosities. He tries to compensate this uselessness by finding alternative solutions. Unless he actually steals the spotlight, you should support such a behavior, not shut it down.

He seems a bit frustrated that this does not yield any result

I think this is the main problem — a player was fairly upset. A player's actions should always have some kind of results, or the player loses interest quickly. On the other hand, ending encounter with one single successful Charisma check might (and will) upset other players, who wants to fight monsters, not negotiate with them.

So what should you do to keep all the players happy? I suggest using these techniques:

  • Partial success: The character succeeds, but there are complications
  • The character failed but got another useful result (a piece of information usually)
  • Give more information, but set a cost: "You need X to succeed"
  • Name the DC and the risks: "You can try, but if you fail that'll be a disaster"

Examples:

  • "These elks are trying to avoid you for some reason. Make a Wisdom (Animal Handling) check... Well, your best guess they are afraid of humanoids; maybe they were hunted earlier?"
  • "You definitely seem intimidating for that pair of Giant Crabs. Now they treat you as the main threat for their nest. What do you do?"
  • "You failed to intimidate the Giant Crabs. They are too stupid to understand the threat. However, it seems all they want to do is eat you alive; food is all they are interested in. Maybe a sufficient quantity of meat will distract them enough for you to pass by?"
  • "Make an Intelligence check... Okay, you definitely know this is an owlbear, and owlbears do not speak any languages. You also remembered that... [more info on owlbears]"
  • "Okay, you want to frighten an owlbear... Wait, do not make the check yet; I need to figure out the possible consequences. Describe how do you try to frighten it."
  • "Scaring off an owlbear is a difficult task. The DC is 20; it is more likely you'll just provoke it. Will you still try to do that?"
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