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I have a player in one of my games, who has managed to create a build that can roll a minimum of 41 by level 7 across a large plethora of skills (mostly excluding dex/str based skills). They use these (alongside spells) to set up webs and endanger opponents without getting directly involved, until the party is ready to attack or fight as well.

However, with such high skill rolls, I am worried that other players will start to feel that they should not even bother with skills. I have talked to the player and we have agreed that he will keep some of his uses to background use or last resort and he is okay with that.

How can I show other players with less skill focused characters that their skill usage still matters?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm interested in this PC's build. Can a summary be provided? Also, how is the player marshaling the PC's skills to manipulate the setting's NPCs? So far as I'm aware, most skills don't have a clear clause like If you roll this high then the NPC obeys you or If you roll this high you can predict an NPC's actions or anything. Or am I overreading and the PC in question is just, like, making traps or whatever and the player himself is a really good manipulator or strategist? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 3 '20 at 15:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ They are a brazen deceiver bard/Empiricist Investigator using traits and the investigator to swap skills to be int based, then using bardic pageant of the peacock to get bluff on all int skills. I think barring the normal int skills, perception, diplomacy, disable device, umd, heal, and sense motive are now int based, and based off bluff. They then mix in spells of disguise for +30 of disguise checks, and with enough roleplaying, planning, and deceit (also a DC 28 or 29 Conceal spell feat) they are able to manipulate just about anyone. I agree its not just an instant mind control. But... \$\endgroup\$ – Erudaki Aug 3 '20 at 16:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty confident that, regardless of your ruling that Pagent works, your player is still getting far higher numbers than strictly possible. Taking every bonus to Bluff that I could find as a level 7 character, I'm at +26(+1d6). He could give up the 1d6 to instead be able to take 10 (36) and take 20 1/day. (that's Investigator 3 vs 2 with Bard 4/5). With 25 Point buy as a Peri Aasimar, my ability scores are 10/11/10/20/10/18 before items. They can maintain this for about 2 hours a day (specifically 140-160 minutes) unless they spend Feats on Extra Performance \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Aug 3 '20 at 22:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's assuming a +4 Int headband or Fox's Cunning, (which he can maintain for 8 minutes). All other skills are at "normal levels" for a skill character, around 15-28 \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Aug 3 '20 at 22:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Human Racial (Silvered Tongue) +2; Skill focus +3; Deceitful Feat +2; Noble Impostor Feat +2; +7 Cha; +7 Ranks; +3 class; +2 Brazen Deciever; +5 Competence bonus (Magic item); +4 Pageant; +2 Trait; = 39 I was 1 off. -- Its 20 Point buy campaign, they are human. \$\endgroup\$ – Erudaki Aug 3 '20 at 23:02
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Introduction

As I understand it, you and your players are largely okay with the fact that this guy has incredible skills. Your problem is specifically that you want the other players to have a reason to put skill points into something that this guy can already do pretty well. There are some things you can do to encourage this, but if there is a broader problem of "it's hard to design adventures so that this guy is useful but not game-breaking", that's probably best handled out-of-game at this point.

Redundant Skills Aren't Useless

Some skills are just naturally good to have on more than one character. Some examples:

  • Perception: It's often helpful if everyone notices the trap or can see the hiding monster rather than just one person.
  • Sense Motive: Similar to Perception - if only one person notices that the food being served has been poisoned, he might not be able to stop the others in time.
  • Heal: If the normal doctor is bleeding out or unconscious from some strange illness, you might want a second person who can tend to him.

I'm Just One Man

You can make other skills useful by playing on the fact that the skill monkey can only be in one place at a time. You don't necessarily have to split the party to do this, either:

  • In PFS scenario #5-11: Library of the Lion, the PCs have a limited amount of time to search a library for information. It takes less time to search a room if more PCs can succeed at the relevant skill checks (in that case, mostly Perception, Knowledge skills, and Profession (librarian)).
  • In other PFS scenarios, there are combats where PCs can contribute either through combat or through skills. Maybe the battlefield includes whirring saw blades that can be shut down with Disable Device, or maybe there are magic crystals that can be activated with Knowledge (arcana), Spellcraft, or Use Magic Device. In these cases, having more than one person who can do the skills work can be vital. I think that some examples can be found in 6-97: Siege of Serpents, #7-18: Faithless and Forgotten, Part 3: The Infernal Inheritance, and 9-07: Salvation of the Sages. (The fact that it's happening at combat speed also limits the amount of preparation that the skill monkey can do, so he might not outshine the others by quite so much.)
  • A common scene in mysteries and spy stories involves one character acting as a distraction while their friends do something else. Example:

Character 1: "While you distract the guard, I'll sneak in and grab the files."

Character 2: "How long will you need?"

Character 1: "I don't know. Just keep him talking as long as possible."

The beauty of this situation is that the skill monkey is a big help but can't do it alone, whichever role they take. They might be able to search quickly or distract one group of guards with little chance of failure, but the other PCs still need to be able to handle their parts of the plan.

Chase Scenes

Several PFS scenarios feature chase scenes, where a bad guy flees and the PCs can only make up the distance by succeeding at a certain number of rolls, mostly skill checks. Some of those scenarios include:

  • #3-18: The God's Market Gamble
  • #4-00: Race for the Runecarved Key
  • #4-01: Rise of the Goblin Guild
  • #6-14: Scions of the Sky Key, Part 2: Kaava Quarry

The skills used in these scenes vary, but usually you have a few different options at each stage. For example, if a crowd is in your way, you might parkour around them with Acrobatics, cut through an alley you know about because of Knowledge (local), or push your way through with a combat maneuver check.

These chases can be win-or-lose - the PCs catch the bad guy or he gets away - but they don't have to be. For example, the bad guy might be running to his gang's hideout. If the PCs beat him there, you can surprise the gang. If they're right behind him, it's a standard combat. If they're lagging behind, the gang might have a few rounds to cast buff spells and activate the pit trap by the door before the PCs arrive.

In-Character Reasons

The fact that the skill monkey is a consummate liar might mean that the other PCs want to do some things to keep tabs on him. Even if the players all trust each other, that doesn't mean that their characters necessarily do. For example:

"He's been talking to that goblin for a long time. I've seen this guy lie his way past a dragon - are we sure he's saying what we think he's saying? Damn, I wish I understood Goblin..."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It's been a long time since I've been in a group where your Intrigue portion would apply; my recent experiences have minimized player vs player interaction. If my experience is any indicator, it may be worth noting that it's "for some groups" and that kind of thing should be known from a Session 0 \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Aug 3 '20 at 21:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso True, I was more thinking more from an in-universe perspective - just because I trust my friend Mike doesn't mean that my character Tendaek trusts his character Derlon. I agree that ground rules for anything even approaching PvP should be firmly established in a Session 0. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben S. Aug 3 '20 at 21:51
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First measure for group problems: talking

If you perceive a problem within you group, the best action you can take is usually talking to your players. In your case, it seems that the player is acknowledging the problem you perceive and is willing help resolve it. However, you should talk to the other players and see if they also perceive a problem. If they don't and they are having fun, you probably don't have a problem. What you need to ask them is a) if they have a problem being overshadowed in social contexts and b) if they find the uselessness in combat of the player in question disruptive.

What really matters: each one's time to shine

So, you have a player who can easily resolve most problems that can in any way be resolved socially. They are however, not usually very useful in combat and not equally good with dex and str skills. That means, if there is a problem to be socialized, your player can shine and make full use of their build. If a door needs to be broken down, other skills need to be used. Not all combats can be socially circumvented. These situations let your other players shine and use their builds. If someone has invested full-on in one part of the game (to the point where they are severely hampered elsewhere, i.e. combat) you should let them be the best in that part of the game.

If they have a good hammer, present fingers instead of nails sometimes

Since your player is understanding of the problem, you should regularly present problems and challenges that require something that others need to provide. Of course, you should tell your player that and also present a share of challenges that can make good use of their skillset. In the end, you should check what kinds of challenges each player enjoys and what challenges their characters are built for. In my last campaign, I knew one player was a huge fan of exploration but hated quests primarily involving discussion. So I made sure, that suitable tasks were provided (such as scaling a cliff). The best is obviously, if multiple players are engaged at the same time. E.g., your socially inclined character occupies most of the guards socially while the other fight the two that stand before the treasury, then empty the vault.

Divergent expectations

If your players have very different expectation about the game, you cannot easily solve this. For example, if the other players are also primarily interested in social challenges. Or, if, on the other hand, they completely dislike social tasks and would much rather fight most of the time where this one player mostly hinders them. In such a case you will need to have a serious talk with everyone to find a compromise. In the worst case, you will need to change what players and characters play in your group. However, if everyone is willing to find a compromise, it is usually possible. And your player seems to be willing to tone it down for the good of the game, so these drastic steps will probably not be necessary.

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Break them up, one way or another

The major problem in a TTRPG with a single character who does "everything" is that there is no reason for the events of the plot to revolve around that single character. It's exciting in a novel where one character is the protagonist, and most plot events may be expected to happen to (or at least around) that character, for that character to have the skills, knowledge, and motivation to address those events. A TTRPG, in contrast, has as many protagonists as it has players. This is a major tool for the GM to use.

For as much as this player wants their PC to be capable of handling anything that might come up, the world doesn't revolve around their character. Plot events are meant to be things that the PC party can deal with, not just one character. So in the worst case, if this player really can trivialize most non-combat encounters, the most direct solution is to have more things than one person can handle be relevant to the party's goals. That might be a two-step plan, where both steps need to be carried out simultaneously, or forcing the party to separate so that the min-maxed PC can't solve everyone's problems. It's not a permanent solution, but this PC being able to address any problem in front of them doesn't help with problems that aren't in front of them.

Circumvent the min-maxer's preparations

Not my favorite solution, but it can be appropriate in specific cases. That the PC's stats are so heavily optimized is a double-edge sword: you, as GM, know what challenges this character can deal with and which ones they would struggle with. You are not obligated to present the player exclusively with obstacles their character is best equipped to deal with. Gating certain events, items, etc., behind challenges which this PC is not well suited to handle negates their advantages. You can design obstacles which this PC is expected to fail.

That's annoying for a player when their character has specialized in some particular task or other, because they can feel cheated by having invested in a particular strategy to (arbitrarily) no benefit. But when a player has designed their character to make huge swathes of the game irrelevant the formula changes a bit. I wouldn't override this PC's focus all the time, but making it clear that the PC can't just automatically win all the time is both appropriate and ensures that the "game" elements of the game remain.

My favorite tactic for this kind of thing (which may or may not fit your game well) is to find a way to attach a reputation to the overpowered PC. If they gain a sinister reputation and no one in town will willingly deal with them, then all the skill ratings in the world won't help much. I've had good results with this strategy when there is a location players will find themselves in often (like a central hub city) where the min-maxed player can be pretty sure they won't be able to run roughshod over your challenges. That way min-maxing is still useful, especially in side-quests and the like, but it doesn't make the "central" plot irrelevant. Meanwhile, all other players can use their characters' skills in the normal way; it's only the min-maxer's extreme bonuses that are affected.

If this becomes irritating for the player of the min-maxed PC, you can offer to let them re-spec their character such that they don't need this type of nerfing, roll another character, or something similar.

Retire this character

TTRPGs typically rely on PCs being similarly powerful, and not on a single PC dealing with most challenges. If this character is optimized to the point that the other characters in the party are redundant, then it's not a character suited to this campaign. In the interest of maintaining the fun of the game for everyone, you're well within your GM rights to ask the player to roll a different character so that the game can be fun for everyone (not just that player).

This route requires that you speak with the other players to make sure that the min-maxed PC is damaging their fun. If it isn't, then there isn't a problem to solve (with regard to the other players' feeling overshadowed) and any issue that exists is more likely to lie with your approach encounter design than this character, specifically. But if the optimization makes it impossible for all of these PCs to participate in the same game at the same time, that's what you'll need to address.

Remember who the GM is

This player is using the rules (presumably fairly) to dictate how the game will play out: challenges will come up, and their PC will easily overcome them. That's not how TTRPGs work. The point of having a GM is to manage the game in ways that offer challenging, but achievable, objectives. There is no combination of rules and game features which contravene this-- there is no Konami Code to make the game so easy, and someone who wants to automatically succeed (or close enough as makes no difference) doesn't need to use hours of others' time to do it. They can sit with a set of Pathfinder books and say "I win" as often as they please.

You are more than free to design obstacles which frustrate or obviate the min-maxed character, not as a punishment, but as things which meaningfully challenge so accomplished a PC. If this is a problem for the other PCs (for example, because they can't realistically survive such challenges), you can try to segment obstacles so that the "hard" ones face the min-maxed character and the others face the rest of the players. If this unbalances the game, you can point back to the unbalancing factor as the root problem and try one of the other strategies offered under this question.

Addressing this over-tuned PC is no more an abuse of the game rules than over-tuning the PC in the first place. This PC doesn't get to declare that all obstacles are, effectively, already overcome. You are in charge of the in-game universe, and so if the universe needs to act to remedy this disparity, it can.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If it's a case of "playing with this character isn't fun", then I'd suggest an out-of-game. However, if you just want to introduce complications, this character would probably develop a reputation over time. At some point, enough people will realize they've been duped by a legendarily-skilled liar. Once they know a person like that exists, security experts start taking precautions - demanding official forms in triplicate, reading everyone's minds as they enter, etc. Sure, he's just one guy, but Superman is just one guy too, and supervillains still carry kryptonite. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben S. Aug 4 '20 at 20:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ The problem is, due to Pageant of the Peacock, the PC can apply bluff to many other skills. However I do like a lot of your suggestions. \$\endgroup\$ – Erudaki Aug 6 '20 at 13:36
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For your actual problem, you should talk to your other players. Are they actually concerned that their own uses of skills are being negated or overshadowed by this player? If not, the status quo may be perfectly fine.

My main concern would be if the player is hogging the spotlight. That said, as a GM, I would reward engagement with the narrative far more than just rolling high on a skill check. A player rolling a high value on a Diplomacy check to convince a king to help them is going to do a whole lot less than a player rolling poorly on the Diplomacy check (or doesn't even attempt to roll Diplomacy), but who presents a quality argument as to why the king should help.

I have played an Investigator with a high int/dex/cha, where my character was doing something similar to your PC here. The only difference being magnitude of minimum result. My character outclassed the entire party in knowledge, social, and subterfuge skills. The other members in the party still actively used their skills. If you're seeing an issue here, this is a matter of magnitude, not of a character having a wide breadth of skills that exceed the other party members.

"Minimum" of +41 at level 7 sounds synonymous with "they're pulling fast one on you." That sounds like they're using some esoteric rules interaction, or just interpreting the rules wrong and you're going along with it.

From the comment, it would appear the primary source of shenanigans here is Pageant of the Peacock, which notably opens with:

By gracefully weaving your body through subtle forms and postures you can convince others of your breeding, eloquence, and refinement.

Yes, yes, I know its the fluff side of the rule, but the intent is pretty clear that the feat is used for convincing others, not that you can sway your hips so hard that your lies become reality.

I would advise that you limit the use Pageant of the Peacock for its clearly intended purpose: that it allows a bard to use bardic performance to feign knowledge about subjects that they otherwise wouldn't know about.

Therefore:

  1. Make the ruling that a skill is does not become "Intelligence-based" when the character is allowed to use their Int mod on a check in place of some other modifier (this shuts down the interaction between Empiricist/Student of Philosophy with PotP).
  2. Make it so that anything done with PotP essentially must be done to convince others of something. And even then, those details are essentially wrong or fabricated. It doesn't actually let you know history, it just lets you sound like you know history, to the point that even an expert scholar in the field might be fooled. The feat is more to prevent a deceptive character from easily being outed simply because they don't know some fact or detail.

Also of note, this uses bardic performance. At some point they're going to run out. If the PC in question starts their dance just so they can roll Disable Device, thus using their Empiricist Investigator class feature to use Int on a disable device check, and thus benefiting from PotP because the skill is using Int, that is one less use for the day. You likely would be well served looking into advice regarding how to avoid single encounter adventuring days.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I actually found developer of the Pageant, state that the bard magically knows the knowledge as if they had the high int rolls. by RAI its intended to be used to gain the knowledge. That being said, the player is fond of coming up with clever and elaborate schemes and uses his bardic performances carefully, and fully engages with the narrative in unique ways. See paizo.com/threads/rzs2q2ce&page=5?Pageant-of-the-Peacock for dev conversation about it. "The Bard channels the mystic Power of Bullshi**ng, but does it so well what he spouts is actually accurate." \$\endgroup\$ – Erudaki Aug 3 '20 at 18:33
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Skills do have some limits on when they can be used, and many skills are also dependent on where they are used.

During combat if the skill monkey is somehow prevented from seeing an enemy creature, huge penalties to trying to know what it is.

Use the split key method, the skill monkey can only lock-pick one of them, which means the other players need to turn their key.

If there were specific skills you were interested in doing something with, please mention so.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Split key method only works once or twice before feeling contrived. While the limits to how they can be used and where are valid and already in use, its hard to make those only apply to one member of the party, and not the rest. \$\endgroup\$ – Erudaki Aug 3 '20 at 16:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ive been in a group where the main skills were at the same levels as in the question and it ended up being that regardless of what the others did, we were never a substitute for that players character. \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Aug 3 '20 at 17:07

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