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Recently in-game I found myself moderating an 'off-screen' encounter between two NPCs; one an intelligent animal companion (winter wolf) of one of the PCs, and the other a Rakshasa who had no particular sympathy or animosity toward the PCs themselves, but who was interested in using the animal companion. Specifically, the Rakshasa wanted to take shelter in a cave that the winter wolf was guarding on behalf of the PCs.

Published adventure spoilers:

This was in G3, Hall of the Fire Giant King. The PCs had just liberated the Rakshasa from the Hall, while they had left the winter wolf to guard the cave that the adventure provides for them as a secret resting place and base for assaults on the Hall.

As it so happened, the PCs were unaware of the true nature of the Rakshasa - they had freed him and told him he could take refuge in the cave, but the wolf did not know that. Thus, the Rakshasa could honestly say that the master of the wolf was ok with him being there. However, as I went over the Rakshasa's stat block, I saw that he had a +10 on Deception, but no proficiency in Persuasion - meaning his roll when attempting to convince the wolf of nothing more than the truth would be a +5 Charisma Check, rather than the +10.

At the moment, I decided to have the Rakshasa embellish his story, telling the wolf untrue details about his relationship to the PC that portrayed him as a far more trustworthy ally than he actually was, and then allowed him to use his Deception proficiency on the roll.

But the situation got me thinking in general about PCs or NPCs whose Deception scores are higher than their Persuasion scores. Am I understanding correctly the game assumption that such characters are more likely to believed when they lie than when they tell the truth? Is a character (PC or NPC) in this circumstance actually motivated to add false detail to a story in order to be more likely believed?

I suppose my underlying assumption (which could be wrong) is that everything else being equal, including the believability of the story from the perspective of the listener, a false story would not be inherently more convincing than a true one, so I am trying to understand just what skills someone with a proficiency in Deception actually has that someone who is merely charismatic does not. Accepting that the game mechanics exist as they do, what are their implications for how I portray the narrative of the world? How should I understand the interaction between these skills in my role as a DM adjudicating actions and events?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How did you set the DC for the deception check? Would the DC have been the same for a persuasion check? \$\endgroup\$ May 25 at 0:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson It was not against a DC, but rather contested against the Insight of the Winter Wolf to detect sincerity / truthfulness of the speaker. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 25 at 5:14

4 Answers 4

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Persuasion and Deception are largely different things, as called out in the PHB, pp178-179:

Deception. Your Charisma (Deception) check determines whether you can convincingly hide the truth, either verbally or through your actions. This deception can encompass everything from misleading others through ambiguity to telling outright lies. Typical situations include trying to fast-talk a guard, con a merchant, earn money through gambling, pass yourself off in a disguise, dull someone's suspicions with false assurances, or maintain a straight face while telling a blatant lie.

Persuasion. When you attempt to influence someone or a group of people with tact. social graces, or good nature, the DM might ask you to make a Charisma (Persuasion) check. Typically, you use persuasion when acting in good faith, to foster friendships, make cordial requests, or exhibit proper etiquette. Examples of persuading others include convincing a chamberlain to let your party see the king, negotiating peace between warring tribes, or inspiring a crowd of townsfolk.

It sounds like this rakshasa would be quite good at lying, but they're not good at making cordial requests. Perhaps they would be able to lie to the wolf, claiming to be in the employ of the party (or even a party member who has been cursed), but wouldn't be very good at asking the wolf nicely ("stand aside, cur"). Lying - or dissembling - plausibly comes more readily to the rakshasa than simply asking or bowing to convention, though that needn't be the case (maybe they're just naturally good at deception, but want to be honest).

This encounter sits squarely where the two skills overlap. As @Jack's answer suggests, both skills could be used to get past the wolf without resorting to violence. Persuasion could be used to persuade the wolf that the rakshasa was being honest in that he was a (temporary) friend of the party; deception to turn that into having hired the party to escort him back to town or something.

There is a lot of room for interpretation here, but I think that the Marvel Cinematic Universe's depiction of Loki - especially earlier in his arc - falls into a similar scenario: he's a master of deception, but he has great difficulty in maintaining friendships, can't ask a favor to save his life, and only exhibits proper etiquette when doing so amuses him or serves his interests.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin We've noticed a number of your edits are extremely minor and made in quick succession. In this case a single character change. This is a polite reminder that "Tiny, trivial edits are discouraged" and to try to space out the edits you do make to avoid flooding the frontpage. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    May 25 at 9:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi @linksassin, thank you for the message. In this case and others, these edits were done to the reocrds that are already sitting at or near the top of the front page, so they would not change what is on that page. Should I still not fix minor things in that case? \$\endgroup\$ May 25 at 11:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ The descriptions provided in the quote seem to indicate that Deception would be the better choice, rather than this straddling the line - "This deception can encompass everything from misleading others through ambiguity to telling outright lies." It seems pretty clear that the Raksasha is 'misleading others through ambiguity'. Abd it also includes 'dull someone's suspicions with false assurances', which the Raksasha is definitely doing, even if others believe that the assurances are genuine. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    May 25 at 12:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin Generally you should try to avoid edits that don't make significant improvements to a post. Minor edits that enhance readability are fine, however I think some of your more trivial edits don't always meet the 'significant improvement' bar. The suggested edits privilege has a minimum of 6 characters changed, that's probably a good starting point. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    May 25 at 23:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ A perhaps missing detail - the DC for attempts to lie/socially deceive and the DC for persuading to similar ends could be radically different, and depending on the game/DM could depend on how the players frame the statements. In the OP's case it could be a wash, although one important detail might be that deception often targets passive Insight, or is an opposed roll (I would go for opposed when facing an actively guarding creature). If the OP's guardian wolf was wise, but usually well-disposed towards friends of the group, Persuade with the truth might be better option, despite +5 diff. \$\endgroup\$ May 26 at 12:47
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There is a lot of room for DM interpretation with these skills and there will be situations where either or both could apply.

As a general rule, I would use deception when trying to convince someone to believe something and use persuasion when trying to convince someone to do something.

As an initial matter, note that neither of the skills discussed, in fact to the best of my knowledge none of the skills in any book, address overcoming skepticism about something that is true but difficult to believe. Deception, if read literally, is focused on convincing someone of things that are not true (also other uses such as distraction, but those aren't relevant here). Persuasion as written also doesn't address overcoming skepticism about a fact. Rather most of the description and every example provided deals with persuading someone to do something often when there are no doubts about the facts.

Thus, while it requires a touch of reading between the lines, I believe deception is the better skill for overcoming skepticism whether of the truth or of a lie. Without evidence in hand, the skills and actions of trying to convince someone to believe the truth or to believe a lie.

I also think there will be situations where it is appropriate to let the character use either of the two skills and use whichever the character has the higher bonus for. I think this will apply in cases where convincing the other character of the truth of a fact leads directly to action, but persuading the character to take an action will achieve the goal even if the character still has some skepticism.

I think the example in the question is a situation where it would be appropriate to use either skill, depending on either the approach taken or simply which one had the higher bonus.

The Rakshasa in the example could use deception because he gets what he wants by convincing the wolf that what he is saying about permission is true. While it takes a touch of reading between the lines, I think this is perfectly appropriate use of deception to overcome skepticism regardless of whether the claim is literally true or not. There is no need to add embellishments, deception is simply the most appropriate skill to convince someone that something is true.

On the other hand, a character with better skill at persuasion could invoke that reasonably. The character that chooses the persuasion path would use tact and graces to influence the other character to get what they wanted without necessarily convincing them of the literal truth. Imagine someone saying "Look, I'm telling the truth, but even if you're skeptical you should let me in. You can monitor me and hand me over when your friends get back to check my story. But if you turn me away, I'll be in danger and they won't be happy if I die when I'm supposed to be safe in the cave..."

In other words, in this example you could use deception to convince the wolf that you are allowed in or you could use persuasion to convince the wolf to let you in whether the wolf is still somewhat skeptical or not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Would it be fair to say in your view you could rename Deception "Convince" and Persuasion "Motivate Action"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    May 25 at 14:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt Mostly as an esthetic matter, I like the names as is. But yes, I think those are fair descriptions of how view them. \$\endgroup\$ May 27 at 1:12
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The key difference is largely methodology.

Deception is used when the character is using lies, intentional ambiguity, and similar tactics to get their way (and also when they are trying to make a disguise work).

Persuasion is used when the character is simply stating the truth and trying to negotiate to get their way.

Intimidation is used when the character is using threats and aggression to get their way (though such threats do not need to be threats of physical violence).

There’s some overlap here of course (for example, an empty threat may be deception, or it might be intimidation), but the general approach outlined above can be applied to most social encounters without much issue. And, very importantly, it doesn’t matter whether what the character is trying to convince the other party of is true or not, it just matters how they are doing it.

You can also use these three skills from an NPC stat block as a further indicator (beyond just alignment) of how a character is likely to act in social situations. For example, a character with proficiency in deception but not persuasion is likely to try to embellish things to make the truth sound interesting even when they are telling the truth.

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I find it useful to think of deception as manipulation so there no issue of no longer being able to use Deception if your story accidentally happens to be true. Even more - the best deceptions are usually 90% truth, or technical truth presented in manipulative manner.

Second I would guess that if the NPC in question would be some honest too good person in need of shelter You would not think about rolling, or consider it automatic success without roll. So the roll is considered because the Rakshasa is hiding something, misrepresenting himself so the Deception is suitable skill for that. In other words the Deception skill here is NPC restraining himself from twirling mustache and laughing manically while selling true story.

Third is think charisma is often used as a dump stat so applying social skills broadly helps to make characters competent in more social situations, which I find useful. I would consider all three skills applicable to most situations with some small exceptions, difference in DC and a twist

  • Intimidation - you can get most of others but you makes them to like you less and less every time you interact with them in rude or threatening manner. They are also prone to doing 180 once they out of your reach.
  • Deception - you misrepresent yourself so when the truth is revealed NPC get very angry at You.
  • Persuasion - you are most limited in your means but actually improve relation wit NPC when persuading them.
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