In D&D 3rd Edition, 3.5 Edition, and even Pathfinder, it is ridiculously easy as a player to purposely or inadvertently break the skill system, especially with Diplomacy.

For example: A level 5 Halfling Bard with a Charisma of 18, netting a +4 Ability Score Bonus to all Charisma based checks would have at the bare minimum a +12 to Diplomacy (+4 CHA, +3 Trained class skill, +5 Ranks.) This is discounting the possibility of taking the Skill Focus feat, but even with that the Bard would receive a base of a +15 to Diplomacy! At this point the .5-ling Bard who came up against a CR7 Young Brine Dragon (Bestiary 2, p. 94) would have a Diplomacy DC of only 26 if the Dragon is hostile and a 21 if it is just plain unfriendly. That's the worst case scenario. The Young Brine Dragon is Lawful Neutral, and baring the party from being outright evil, the Dragon is probably indifferent (DC 16). Regardless, with even a fair to middling role, the Bard could raise the creature's attitude quite easily. And this is even discounting the Aid Another ability! If the Bard was a member of a 6 PC party and the other 5 members passed their checks, the Bard would net an additional +10 bonus to the Diplomacy check!

I'm not even talking about a "Min-Maxed" Bard, because then the base bonus would be even higher!

Aside from requiring players to role-play out the Diplomacy fully and disregard all Diplomacy rolls (I know a fair number of DMs, myself included, who prefer either the roll or the role-play and the roll itself) how can this skill be fixed? Diplomacy is a great skill in game, from both a roll and role-playing perspective, and while it is good to be able to haggle, turn enemies into friends, and end potential combats with words, it breaks the game if/when the skill mechanic is abused, purposely or not.

Now, I know that Giant In the Playground had a great but somewhat needlessly complex solution to the problem, but it was just that, needlessly complex. What are some other solutions to the broken Diplomacy skill in 3.0E, 3.5E, and Pathfinder?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that it takes a full minute to use diplomacy. If the dragon's charging you, you can't sway his attitude fast enough to keep him from eating you: they have to be willing (or forced) to hear you out. \$\endgroup\$
    – dlras2
    Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 18:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Noa mount of persuasion will change the mind of an insane creature, or construct, or one immune to mind -affecting...or, for that matter, one with a closed mind, or particular world view. \$\endgroup\$
    – YogoZuno
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 3:09

7 Answers 7


[The following is based on my experiences in 3.5e, but from what I know about Pathfinder it should be trivially adapted. Also, I apologize in advance for what I'm certain will be a post filled with incorrect terminology -- I've been playing 4e for quite some time now, and it's been even longer since I last sat down with 3.5e.]

If you think Diplomacy is broken at level 5, just wait until you get to the Epic levels! This is where we were when my DM decided to address it.

They way he approached it was to completely ditch the static DC list -- static DCs make sense for climbing ladders (which don't typically get harder as you get higher in level), but they don't make sense at all when you're dealing with more and more experienced and powerful individuals; just like AC and other such things, as the CR goes up so, too, must the DC.

So he sat down and took the table of Diplomacy skill DCs and turned them into situational modifiers. I think he started with "Neutral" granting a +4 (reasoning being that changing people's minds is not easy, even if they don't dislike/distrust you), and then each step toward Hostile added an additional +2, while each step toward Friendly added a -2.

The resulting modifier was then used on the NPC's own opposed Diplomacy roll. Thus the table of Diplomacy DCs that is so trivial for PCs to game was gone, replaced by opposed checks to modify a character's attitude.

But he went even further. Between each stage on the "trust continuum" (i.e. Friendly, Neutral, Hostile, etc.), the DM added a "half step"; a successful Diplomacy check would move the NPC's attitude half a step, not a full step, thus requiring 2 successes to effect a change in the character's attitude. (When an NPC is on one of these "half steps", his/her attitude is the one "rounded" toward neutral; thus an NPC is effectively Neutral across 3 distinct "steps", but 2 "steps" for all others.)

Finally, he added one more thing: Continued successful/failed checks could move an NPC further than the ends of the "attitude spectrum", although no further mechanical advantages were earned. What it did do was make it less likely for the NPC's attitude to be changed later, by simply keeping track of how many "steps" would need to be adjusted.

These were the mechanical changes he house-ruled into Diplomacy. He also required certain role-play elements to also be met before a Diplomacy check could even be attempted -- the Halfling Bard walking up to the dragon and rolling an impressive 34 Diplomacy is just wasted effort if said dragon isn't even listening! There were also common-sense limitations imposed: a dragon who's entire life is centered around accumulating his horde is not going to just give it up, no matter how many Diplomacy successes the Bard accumulates!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Okay, so I just read the GitP article, and realize it's actually quite similar to what I've just said. Should have read it before answering. :-P That said, I do think this is simpler, although the GitP approach of evaluating an offer as opposed to modifying attitude could be a much better fit in many circumstances. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kromey
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 22:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know from personal experience that it gets even more busted at higher levels! I chose level 5 because in my opinion that's when it starts to go downhill more noticeably. I really like your DM's idea of opposed Diplomacy rolls and minor role-play aspects (giving a potential circumstance bonus, perhaps). Even without the other circumstantial modifiers you mentioned it's a pretty solid idea, maybe using the creature's Wisdom mod instead of their Charisma mod in the opposing roll. You've given me a lot to think about! \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 24, 2011 at 22:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Sorcerer Blob Actually, you just reminded me that the NPC's opposed check (although with all the same modifiers) oftentimes used a different skill/attribute -- Diplomacy would only make sense if the other character were actively negotiating. I think it was a special "character level" check, using the NPC's level as the "skill ranks" with either Wisdom or Intelligence giving the attribute modifier. I'm not really certain, bit it would free up the NPCs from having to invest heavily in Diplomacy while still scaling with the party level! \$\endgroup\$
    – Kromey
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 22:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Between the two of us I think we've come up with a pretty solid house-rule mechanic for Diplomacy checks! \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 24, 2011 at 22:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Pathfinder doesn't use opposed rolls. Consider, instead, using a DC which scales with the target's level. See, for example, the formula used for the Feint action, under Bluff (p. 90). I would suggest 10+Diplomacy bonus as the DC, +/- a static bonus based on attitude. If the creature doesn't have Diplomacy, I would make the default be a lower score (10+1/2 HD+Cha). This way, creatures who aren't very savvy will be easily talked down, and creatures with a high Diplomacy will still be formidable foes. I also don't like the "neutral +4". It should be 0 for balance reasons. \$\endgroup\$
    – RMorrisey
    Commented Jul 23, 2011 at 14:42

I don't know how much you will like this answer. But I am creating a world, where some of the major leaders (or significant players) are bards. That is not to say that all the leaders are Bards, just some of them. Basically, people either rule by diplomacy or intimidate.

So if a PC tries to make someone who is hostile into someone who is helpful, not only do they have to beat the score in the table, but also the roll made by the NPC bard (or NPC cleric, etc.). For instance, a dragon is on a mission (to guard the entrance) for another NPC, because the NPC (and all of the NPC's friends) made a great diplomacy roll. Then my ruling is the dragon will only become unhelpful to the NPC and helpful to the PC if the PC bard can beat the DC rolled by the NPC. The same applies to hostile groups as well. If a group is told to attack anyone by a 20th level NPC bard, then a 5th level bard should not be able to beat the diplomacy roll of the 20th level NPC bard, to make the group unfriendly, etc.

I hope this helps.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Very interesting concept of pre-existing NPC Diplomacy checks. And don't think I was hating on Bards, I think Bards have the potential to be amazing! \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 25, 2011 at 5:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I am glad the idea made you think differently about Diplomacy checks, I have no idea if it will work or not, since I haven't started my game yet :). Also, I didn't think you were hating on bards. I quite like them myself, I am playing one currently, with a cleric/bard cohort. \$\endgroup\$
    – jaye1234
    Commented May 25, 2011 at 6:53

One thing I'd do for Diplomacy is have it function as a "favor system"; the DC determines the number of favors (taking the old system I'd say 1 for 15, 2 for 20, and so forth for indifferent characters), with some things taking up favors.

For instance, getting someone to walk across a courtyard wearing a trademark item of yours would be one favor, but getting them to do it if they knew there was a trigger-happy sniper looking for you would be no fewer than five or six favors. As such, it would require a roll in the 40's or so to get a risky following.

In addition, I'd make diplomacy work for a small group or individual only, and it only works once until all previous favors are called or forgotten and some time has passed.

I'd also outright deny it in combat situations, unless there's a good reason (i.e. dramatic battle with the lord of the realm would work; sword fight with bandit wouldn't work unless you're trying to join him or get him to a different target).

Basically, the way it works is this:

When the party meets someone in a social situation (i.e. not combat or passing by in the street) a player rolls Diplomacy. The Favor Rating they get is then determined by how much they beat the DC for the Diplomacy check.

Favors are used similar to how Wealth DC checks work in d20 Modern; favors are assigned a value at the GM's discretion-a noble can give money easily, but may be unwilling or unable to dirty his own hands. As such getting an item or stipend from the noble would be simple (as much as a +5 modifier, depending on how rich he is), while getting a favor would be hard (up to and potentially even beyond -5 as a modifier). Unlike Wealth DC, Favors always use up the Favor Rating, whether successfully called in or not. Using a favor directly to get a physical item should result either in it being a loan or a fairly insubstantial item; if the players don't return/repay a loan they either lose double Favor Rating (if not originally planned on) or they may only receive something one Favor Rating category lower (i.e. Trivial instead of Average)

Once Favor Rating is determined, it is used to roll to see whether or not a favor can successfully be called in.

Favors are assigned the following DC values (based on US middle class, long term "work" implies 10-20 hours a week):

1-5 Trivial; this would be something like a few minutes' work or a couple dollars. Costs 1 Favor Rating.

6-10 Average; no more than a day's work or a hundred dollar loan. Costs 2 Favor Rating.

11-15 Difficult; a week's work, a thousand dollar loan. Costs 3 Favor Rating.

16-20 Substantial; a moth's work, a several thousand dollar loan. Costs 5 Favor Rating.

21-25 Monumental; a year's service, a hundred thousand dollar loan. Costs 7 Favor Rating.

26-30 Crippling; five years' service, several hundred thousand dollars loaned. Costs 10 Favor Rating.

31+ Epic; lifetime assistance, a million dollars loaned. Costs 20 Favor Rating.

These values should be adjusted relative to the NPC in question, obviously, and exceptional results could decrease the Favor Rating cost, but this is the system I'd use instead of the Diplomacy in the book; it's a little bulkier than the standard rules in some ways and requires more DM discretion, but it's more balanced and fairer to everyone, and also allows an alternate currency system for calling in favors from powerful patrons.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I had a good use in a combat situation of diplomacy. It was during a battle and an extended roll situation to convince the grunts of a kobolds priest that he had been tricking and lying to and betraying them this whole time. It had the benefit of being true and after a number of rounds I was in fact able to get them to turn on that leader. It wasn't easy, but I see no reason it should be impossible. \$\endgroup\$
    – RDM
    Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 3:15

Modify the diplomacy difficulty based on the creatures will save.

I've seen this done in two main ways; use the opposing will save as a direct modifier in cases where you are trying to convince someone to do something against their interest. So, say someone has a will save of six it could increase the difficulty of the diplo check by 6.

I've also seen it done as an opposed roll involving the diplomacy check on one side and a modified will save in the other side(modified by all the standard modifiers for diplomacy).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you elaborate on this a little more? The idea is good, I'd just like to see more specifics, if you have any. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed with @DuckTapeal \$\endgroup\$
    – LitheOhm
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 19:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, I'll often use the opposing will save as a direct modifier in cases where you are trying to convince someone to do something against their interest. So, say someone has a will save of six it could increase the difficulty of the diplo check by 6. Or I've seen someone do it as an opposed roll involving the diplomacy check on one side and a modified will save in the other side(modified by all the standard things they modify diplomacy with) \$\endgroup\$
    – RDM
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 23:17

You could handle Diplomacy response via a random chart and just have Diplomacy skill add to the 2d6 die roll. (My cheat sheet link below has a random chart on page 2.)

Or you could accept that the Giant in the Playground system isn't needlessly complex, it's just complex the way 3.5 combat is complex: to allow satisfying task resolution. Internally simulating an NPC's mental state is in reality a lot more complex than a d20 roll, no matter how many factors go into that d20 roll.

Edit: this is my cheat sheet for the GitP system, it has led to a lot of fun religious schisms, political takeovers, prisoner exchanges, and what have you, where before I would just have NPCs switch between "belligerent" and "cooperative" modes. I expanded the DC range from 10 to 20 based on some examples I saw.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you used that chart? Or GitP's system? How did they work out? \$\endgroup\$
    – Pat Ludwig
    Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 17:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ They both saved me a ton of stress in roleplaying because before I never knew what to say (the random chart helps) and I had trouble making conversations challenging and rewarding (the GitP system brings that in line with the rest of the game, and lets diplomacy have a big effect on the plot). I added my take on GitP to the answer, even though the OP said he didn't want to hear it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Noumenon
    Commented Apr 3, 2012 at 22:39

I have a few house-rules that might help.

Try looking at it from a slightly different angle than pure-skill. If you read the diplomacy skill, it states that a minute of conversation is required to change someone's attitude... well, in your dragon example, is an evil dragon really going to put up with a talkative halfling long enough for said halfling to change its attitude? That, right there, I would say requires a diplomacy check. Basically, you first have to ask the dragon to Not eat you, which is quite a lot to ask for, especially considering where you would be if you were talking to a dragon. And, as the rules say(fourth paragraph, middle of the page), so long as the Dragon isn't at least indifferent to you to begin with, you can't actually ask it for aid.

That said, there is one simpler answer to this problem; Don't allow players to make a diplomacy check against creatures that are hostile. If you're invading a Dragon's den, chances are he's not going to want to chat at all... he's probably just going to try and kill you. And why not? You're in his home, presumably uninvited, and generally the only reason creature's like halflings would be there is to steal his horde. Paladins wouldn't respond to the same situation much better, if you think about it.

It doesn't always have to be a completely mechanics answer. If you can find an RP solution to a problem with mechanics, it will be a lot easier to explain to your players how you came to that answer, as opposed to explaining to them how you came up with a completely different mechanic to represent something you thought was off.


PCs can easily have a high Diplomacy rank, but so do NPCs.

Check: You can change the attitudes of others (nonplayer characters) with a successful Diplomacy check; see the Influencing NPC Attitudes sidebar, below, for basic DCs. In negotiations, participants roll opposed Diplomacy checks, and the winner gains the advantage. Opposed checks also resolve situations when two advocates or diplomats plead opposite cases in a hearing before a third party.

We can add a simple homebrew rule here.

When you use Diplomacy on somebody, and that somebody also has Diplomacy rank, they will know you are trying to make yourself a friend of them, and they would probably doubt your hidden intention behind this friendly face. Then, you may use the DC of the original table or the opposite Diplomacy check, whichever is higher, to determine whether an attitude change that PC desires would happen.

Just like in real life. An interviewer (which usually has a high Diplomacy skill) won't be so easily affected by interviewees' Diplomacy skill. But the actual hiring manager (which might not have as high rank as an interviewer) might be much easier to be given a good first impression with the same rank of Diplomacy.


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