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Backstory

During a session recently played, an NPC asked my character a question. I answered the question. The DM, after hearing a die roll, told me to roll a bluff check. I told him I wasn't lying.

He said, "You still need to make a check to see if he believes you or not."

I told him, "I am telling the truth, it is his choice to believe me or not, not a die roll."

Then he said, "You will get a bonus for telling the truth."

Of course, I didn't have Bluff as a class skill, and had no ranks in it, and rolled rather lousily.

He then told me, "The NPC is having a hard time believing that." I indiscreetly shook my head and gave a nod of acknowledgement.


Bluff Skill SRD

Favorable and unfavorable circumstances weigh heavily on the outcome of a bluff. Two circumstances can weigh against you: The bluff is hard to believe, or the action that the target is asked to take goes against its self-interest, nature, personality, orders, or the like. If it’s important, you can distinguish between a bluff that fails because the target doesn’t believe it and one that fails because it just asks too much of the target. For instance, if the target gets a +10 bonus on its Sense Motive check because the bluff demands something risky, and the Sense Motive check succeeds by 10 or less, then the target didn’t so much see through the bluff as prove reluctant to go along with it. A target that succeeds by 11 or more has seen through the bluff.

I do not see anything above that mentions a bonus for telling the truth, or even needing to roll when telling the truth.


Question(s)

  1. Is there any information from another book on expanded uses of the bluff skill that I am unaware of?
  2. Or is this strictly a case of the DM using his authority?
  3. If if isn't necessary, are there circumstances when it should be necessary?
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that the ruling creates an apparent absurdity where you're better off saying the opposite of what you want the NPC to believe, regardless of the truth, since even with bonuses the chances are you'll fail the check and he won't believe you. This basically means your character is played by Peter Lorre and is just inherently dishonest-seeming ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – Steve Jessop Nov 29 '14 at 23:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Steve: Until the GM that finds a disasterous third option when you fail a bluff of saying 'no' when you mean 'yes'. Or just rules your attempt at reverse psychology as being the bluff itself. \$\endgroup\$ – Hurkyl Nov 30 '14 at 5:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've got a vague memory that the PHB's text for the bluff skill (unlike the SRD text) specifies that the Bluff skill is worded something like "used to convince people of things that they would be inclined to disbelieve" but without my books handy I can't check. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 1 '14 at 4:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not an answer--as the question's tagged D&D 3.5--, but in Sword and Fist for D&D 3E the following is added to the Normal entry of the skill Bluff: "Sometimes you need to persuade someone that your unlikely or even improbable statements are true and that you can be trusted. This can be helpful in numerous situations, and not merely when you need to fence those magic items that you liberated from the mad wizard’s tower" (10) thus kind of validating the DM's decision. The DM may just be old school a la 2001. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 5 '14 at 21:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan plausibly, but that tracks the 3.5 PHB text as well. First words under the Bluff header: "You can make the outrageous or untrue seem plausible." \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Feb 9 '17 at 4:34
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By the rules, I can't recall anything that says out loud that you are supposed to roll a bluff check in that event, so (unless disproven, because proving negatives is impossible unless I read all the D&D 3.x material again) I'd say this is a case of the DM using his authority to ask for a roll.

Now, was what he asked fair?

Of course this is deep into the speculation zone, but I think it has a solid basis.

Since the rules tell nothing about rolling to disbelieve true things, your DM could have just said, "No, the NPC does not believe that you're telling the truth. In fact, he believes you're either lying in a very convincing way or you've been fooled into believing by someone else."

Diplomacy, bluff or charisma checks of any sort are useless to convince him you've not been fooled, unless you're known for not being gullible (and in that case, they're an automatic success).

Bluff is not really great even for convincing someone you're not lying: I would have asked for a diplomacy check instead. Truth is, bluff is often used to represent body language (I think it was used to relay messages to people not speaking your language, but that might just be my DM's ruling), so I see your DM's reasoning.

Were you better at diplomacy than bluff, I'd see a problem in your game. If not, he just gave you a (small) chance to luckily shine.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Diplomacy was a skill. I was a Cleric of Heironeous, and lying wasn't exactly my thing. I will mention Diplomacy to him. That would be a much better exchange between my character and his NPC's as well. We (the party) was telling a farmer that he should seek a safer place than his farm while we "investigate the evil presence on his land." I am guessing he "didn't believe us" and thought we were trying to displace him. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Nov 29 '14 at 9:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I'd go diplomacy as a DM. Probably with houseruled DCs, because the existing ones makes it too easy to specialize and autowin every argument. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Nov 29 '14 at 10:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel: And you are not the only one, this article of the Alexandrian suggests adding a Convince action to Diplomacy to try and convince someone that you are telling the truth. \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Nov 30 '14 at 12:15
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The Bluff skill determines how good you are at making people believe things that are not true, so in this case I think your DM made a mistake. However, as the DM, it's his mistake to make. If he wants you to roll bluff, roll bluff. There is another option...

I would instead make the case that an Intimidate check is the better option in your particular circumstance (either in place of, or in addition to the Bluff check). Most characters, especially unusually honest ones who have a sense of honor, would be extremely offended by even the slightest hint that their honesty has been called into question. This would also allow you to roleplay a more believable response. Example:

You: Tells Truth, Rolls Bluff Check

NPC: Doesn't Believe You

You: "How dare you! Are you calling me a liar, sir!? My honor has been sullied! If you refuse to recant your accusation, then I have no choice but to challenge you to a duel! May the gods themselves determine who is being truthful." Rolls Intimidate Check

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One way to think of that situation is how can people believe that global warming is fake? aka they rolled a sense motive against reality and failed :D

In the situation described as a DM i might have you roll Diplomacy instead of bluff, since bluff by definition(To mislead or deceive) is trying to conceal something. where as diplomacy is trying to deal with someone and convey your idea.

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Questions and Answers

  1. Did the DM employ house rules when he had my character make a Bluff skill check when my character was telling the truth?

    Yes. Officially, the Bluff skill uses are appear innocuous (Complete Adventurer 102), creating a diversion to hide (Player's Handbook 67-9), delivering a secret message (PH 67-9), disguise surface thoughts (Epic Level Handbook 39), display false alignment (EL 39), feinting in combat (PH 67-9), heckle (Races of Stone 130), "I meant to do that" (April Fools column "Fabulous Cats!"), instill suggestion (EL 39), and lying (PH 67-9).

    Undoubtedly, there are more uses for the skill Bluff in other sources, but none of the above skill uses support the DM's ruling that a character makes a Bluff skill check when telling the truth.

  2. If it isn't strictly necessary to make a Bluff skill check when telling the truth, are there circumstances when a Bluff skill check when telling the truth could be necessary?

    Outside of the DM saying, "Make a Bluff skill check now," I can't think of any. The most common Bluff skill use is lying, and, while the Bluff skill can do other things, making a character who's already telling the truth seem more believable isn't a published function of the Bluff skill. (Asking the DM to quantify his house rules for what was obviously an off-the-cuff ruling is liable to lead to hard feelings, however.)


"Well, then, why'd the DM make me roll?"

The DM probably made you roll because he was in a narrative corner and needed an out. Maybe the DM was expecting you to gather more evidence before having this encounter and didn't know what to do when you hit it early. The DM, caught with his pants down, hadn't previously quantified exactly how much evidence the NPC needed as proof of your veracity, and, instead of employing any one of a variety of DM techniques that could've been more satisfying, he made you roll, even though you aren't doing anything that necessitated a roll.

"What could've the DM done?"

The NPC who posed the question could've asked you the question, and, when you told the truth, could've simply said, "You're lying." Then, upon protesting your truthfulness, the NPC could've proposed a test, a quest, or the gathering of more proof of your claim that would lead to his belief in your honesty. In other words...

Example 1

DM: (as Lord Flaconsun) Are you my son, heir to Castle Falconsun?
Player: (as Tyrone Falconsun who was reincarnated as troglodyte) Yes.
DM: Then prove it.
Player: How, father?
DM: Only my son knows the answer to this riddle: What remains in an empty pocket?
Player: A hole, father. I remember that riddle from when I was young!
DM: And what kind of tree can one carry in one's hand?
Player: You have never asked me that riddle before, father.
DM: Seek... the answer! (Ominous music.)
Player: I will seek it to reclaim my place by your side.

Example 2

DM: Are you my son, heir to Castle Falconsun?
Player: Yes.
DM: I cannot believe you. You must prove yourself a Falconsun.
Player: How, father?
DM: By defeating the Demon Dragon of Horrorspike Pass! (Ominous music.)
Player: It will be done, father!

Example 3

DM: Are you my son, heir to Castle Falconsun?
Player: Yes.
DM: Then prove it.
Player: Here is a notarized document from the Arsisus the Kind Forest Druid who reincarnated me, expressing his dismay at my new form. Here's an affidavit from King Blghrth of the troglodytes, relinquishing all claim on me as one of his subjects as my scent was unlike any he'd ever smelled. Here's the signet ring you gave me when I was 7.
DM: It is enough. Son!
Player: Father!

And if the question involved the NPC not believing you because you are the messenger rather than someone the NPC trusts, perhaps the NPC needs to hear the same information from a more reputable source that you're supposed to find. Either that, or the DM expects you to improve your reputation before returning and being posed the question again.

...But it doesn't sound like the DM had made these plans. So, instead, he made you roll, and, lacking a skill or statistic for gauging your character's sincerity, the DM had you make a Bluff skill check because, he assumed, that's close enough.

"What should've the DM done?"

I don't think--in this case--anyone should've rolled. Some things aren't up to the dice. The adventure is often gathering enough evidence, while presenting that evidence to the authorities means just hoping it's sufficiently actionable and seeing what happens. There's no roll for that part after the evidence is gathered unless one's browbeating fake witnesses, forging evidence, lying about events, or whatever.

Many games mechanize sincerity to a degree that makes me uncomfortable as DM and player (e.g. the Hero System's skill Persuasion). A character's ability to be sincere is, barring sociopathy, the character's normal state. The hypothetical special ability or skill Convince Others of the Absurd but True eliminates even more already limited NPC agency. Let the PC and the evidence do the talking and let the NPC do the deciding.

"What can I do so this doesn't happen again?"

Okay, if the DM insists on have the character make Bluff checks when telling the truth, change the goal. Instead of lawyering up when asked a question, answer the question by asking for something.

Example 3.1

DM: Are you my son, heir to Castle Falconsun?
Player: I've come for my inheritance.
DM: The effrontery of this troglodyte! Remove him!
Player: Here is a notarized document from the Arsisus the Kind Forest Druid who reincarnated me, expressing his dismay at my new form. Here's an affidavit from King Blghrth of the troglodytes, relinquishing all claim on me as one of his subjects as my scent was unlike any he'd ever smelled. Here's the signet ring you gave me when I was 7.
DM: Son!
DM: Father! And gold!

Asking for something should turn the Bluff skill check into a negotiated Diplomacy skill check. (If the character's really bold, he might attempt an Intimidate skill check instead, but given the situations in which PCs usually find themselves this is liable to be unwise.) It's entirely reasonable, for example, for the PCs to present the king with evidence of the impending orc invasion then ask to be placed in charge of an army to crush the orc forces. That second part's a Diplomacy check using the negotiation rules (PH 71-2), but that first part's just showing up with enough orc heads in a bag of holding to prove to the king the threat's for real.

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