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I'm currently running a 5e campaign and one of my players has pretty much maxed out his persuasion ability very early on in the campaign.

I don't recall exactly what he has but he rolls more often in the high twenties/ low thirties than not. He absolutely loves to roll persuasion checks.

I'm wondering how to handle this and tell a story without railroading, since checks that high are supposed to be almost godlike feats. A lot of the story is starting to devolve to the party meeting an NPC and then pretty much getting the NPC to do whatever they want through persuasion. It hasn't gotten too bad yet, but I'm afraid of what can happen if this is left unchecked.

I don't wanna ignore good roles or cheat at NPC roles though, so how do I balance the game?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What sort of rolls are you allowing as Persuasion? An example or 2 might help, as I think you might be allowing Persuasion rolls in places where there should be no chance of success (no roll should be called for, so their high skill doesn't matter). \$\endgroup\$ – BrianH Sep 30 '16 at 19:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ How high of a bonus are we talking about here? How was such a high bonus achieved? It's possible the problem is a math error, and we can help solve it directly. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 1 '16 at 2:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ You mention that rolls that high are supposed to be godlike feats. I'm not entirely sure what you meant by that, but it's worth saying that high rolls does not mean that improbable outcomes occur. Persuasion is not mind control. \$\endgroup\$ – Thunderforge Oct 2 '16 at 1:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ What level is the character? I would expect high twenties/low thirties from 12th to 15th level, not from, say, 5th level. \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Oct 2 '16 at 6:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related question and answer here. I'd recommend that you spell out what level the character is, what class, what class abilities the character has chosen/uses, and what the Charisma score is. Then give two examples of encounters where you found this to be a problem. How often to you apply advantage or disadvantage to a roll, based on a situation? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 5 '18 at 13:52

11 Answers 11

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I'm not familiar with fifth edition, but I can offer some general advice on dealing with high social skills.

His massive bonus on his social skills does not mean he can convince an NPC to do everything. No matter how well you ask wizard to hand you his spellbook whenever you please, he's going to say no. And no matter how flattering you sound, that lord is not going to give you his castle for free.

At the end of the day, rolls aren't everything. Some things will just not happen no matter how nice you ask it. This is no different from real life. I can't convince you to give me the entire sum of your bank account no matter how I ask it.

Same goes for lying.

Don't be scared of high checks

Try to stay reasonable. If he is trying to convince a guard that he is the king of the castle, the guard will know he's lying because he simply knows the truth. At most the guard will believe that the player thinks he is the king of the castle and will probably dismiss him as a crazy person.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know... there's a lot of scams where people do manage to talk someone into giving them their life savings. \$\endgroup\$ – Bobson Oct 2 '16 at 20:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ And there's a lot of scams where people convince someone they're Nigerian royalty, too. \$\endgroup\$ – 16807 Oct 2 '16 at 23:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ “What, you think you're some kind of Jedi, waving your hand around like that?” \$\endgroup\$ – spectras Oct 3 '16 at 6:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ If a magic spell can be resisted, and it is by a powerful wizard, then there's just no way normal persuasion can beat that. It simply doesn't make sense. It's not like a wizard with a charm spell can beat your campaign, so why can a smooth talker? \$\endgroup\$ – Nelson Oct 3 '16 at 8:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bobson - However those scams tend to rely upon finding a gullible victim out of millions of attempts, rather than upon the scammer's ability to persuade anybody and everybody. The vast majority of such scams are so poorly put together that most people never fall for them. Essentially the opposite of having a strongly persuasive character; it's more like churning through every NPC in sight until you find one that's particularly easy to persuade. \$\endgroup\$ – aroth Oct 3 '16 at 9:50
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The player doesn't decide that a persuasion check is called for: you do

If you are role playing and a player says "I make a persuasion check" it is perfectly sensible for you to say "The NPC watches you roll and says "I've no time for dice games now. Perhaps at the tavern after work?" Although this is a technique that should be used sparingly to educate, not to punish.

Remember the basic structure of D&D 5e is:

  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

And:

The DM calls for an ability check when a character or monster attempts an action (other than an attack) that has a chance of failure. When the outcome is uncertain, the dice determine the results.

Describing what they want to do should be " I try to convince her to dance with me" or "Orc priest, my companions and I wish to desecrate your temple and steal all its wealth, please stand aside!". These may trigger a persuasion roll or not depending on your assessment of the difficulty. For example the first may be so easy that no roll is required, the second may be so hard that it's impossible - in those cases the result is not uncertain.

In addition, Charisma (Persuasion) is generally not made against a fixed DC. If the NPC is opposed to what the player wants them to do then we have a Contest (p. 174). This introduces a much greater range of outcomes and also adds the NPC's ability modifier (generally Charisma (Persuasion) as they try to talk themselves out of whatever the player is trying to talk them into) all modified by the difficulty of the task. Yes the player will be able to persuade mooks but will have a harder time with similar level bards or sorcerers.

Remember too, that as soon as the player tells lies they are no longer persuading, they are deceiving which is a different (perhaps non-proficient ability). Similarly if they threaten the NPC, they are intimidating, not persuading.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This. +1 for...well everything. I like the break down of WHEN persuasion is actually used versus, deception, or intimidation perhaps. As well as the pointing out of the players do not just go around making checks; the players go around rolling whatever the DM tells them to, and only when he tells them to. \$\endgroup\$ – Airatome Oct 1 '16 at 1:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1 because it is not "perfectly sensible" to take an out of character statement and make it in-character. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Oct 1 '16 at 7:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well worth my +1, although I agree with T.J.L. that the first sentence is counterproductive. \$\endgroup\$ – Greg Martin Oct 1 '16 at 22:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find it funny, and to be fair, the player started it by saying he “makes a persuasion check”. I like this way to tell the player he should remain in character (assuming he takes the hint). \$\endgroup\$ – spectras Oct 3 '16 at 6:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ In my experience, Persuasion checks usually are against a set DC, as it doesn't really make sense in most cases for it to be a contest (unless, for example, two different characters are trying to convince a third character to rule in their favor, or that they are telling the truth). Generally, when someone tries to convince you of something, you're not actively trying to persuade yourself of the opposite - you're just weighing whether their argument is persuasive enough to convince you. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Feb 5 '18 at 0:04
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Persuasion isn't mind control, so if the npc wouldn't normally do something, like kill their neighbor, the player probably can't convince them to do so.

You can introduce mindless monsters (undead minions or something) or use language barriers to control how often persuasion is even possible.

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Story first, mechanics second.

Generally for any sort of intimidate, or persuade check I ask the persuader to actually make their argument and assign a GM granted bonus based on how well they do. This goes hand in hand with the types or requests the PCs are making in the persuasion check. Someone unrelated to, or actively hostile to the group is never really going to be simply talked into doing things of a certain difficulty, risk, or contrary to their nature and beliefs. The DMG has a good DC rating chart for checks that illustrates this concept (p. 244-245) where at best you can talk a "Hostile" (in terms of against the group/PC, but not hostile in the combat sense) into doing something that is of no danger to them and involves no sacrifice. Think of this as asking a personal enemy IRL to hand you a pen, you're gonna need to be very persuasive to even get them to do that and they would never do anything to help you if it in any way inconvenienced them.

Create situations that cannot be talked out of

Working on what I said above you can create situations where the persuader has a chance to really shine, but also create situations where no amount of talk can get the party what they need/want. Maybe they go to a town with a rigid caste society where no one acts out of their station regardless of persuasion or something along those lines to help reduce the overall impact this one PC has.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Alternatively; talking takes time. So in combat, this means the character has ~6 seconds to convince someone to listen, which isn't very long when someone wants blood! \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Oct 1 '16 at 19:56
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Pillars

The game has three pillars: exploration, social interaction, and combat.

Persuasion is a great skill for the second pillar, but it can't stand on its own. At times, you are also going to need Intimidation, Deception, and Insight. Maybe also Perception, Investigation and Perform.

Persuasion might help with the first pillar (gaining information from locals) but won't help out in the wilderness where there are no people to talk to.

None of the social skills are generally any use in the third pillar. Once weapons are swinging and spells are flying, talking doesn't really help. If talking is useful in stopping a fight that's already underway, Intimidation is probably the appropriate skill. Or Sniveling and Weaseling, but I don't see them in the PHB. :-)

Additionally, it doesn't matter how good a character is, some things are just not possible. If the character can't possibly succeed, then the GM should say "You can't succeed", and if the player tries anyway, then say "You didn't succeed."

Numbers

I'm a bit worried about the "high twenties, low thirties" comment. What level are the characters? I'd expect low 30s to start appearing at level 9, no earlier. At level 9 a player could have spent all their ASIs getting their Charisma to 20 (+5). If they have Expertise in Persuasion (which only two classes get, I think) then their proficiency bonus is +8. Rolling at a total of +13, they are getting in the 30s only 15% of the time. If they don't have Expertise, then a total in the 30s is impossible without magic.

If they are using magic, then how are they hiding it from those they are talking to? If a merchant sees someone casting a spell, then that person comes over and talks with a honeyed tongue, that is good grounds for suspicion.

Be a fan of the PCs

On the other hand, the player obviously wants their character to be an excellent talker and negotiator. Make sure there are opportunities for them to shine at this.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A rolled Half-Elf can start the game with 20 in Charisma. In my group, we have two players (out of 5) with rolled 18, without race modifier. \$\endgroup\$ – Olivier Grégoire Oct 3 '16 at 8:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ugh, so they can. I completely forgot about rolling for stats, since I don't use it (and this question is an example of why I don't use it). I also forgot to mention advantage, which increases the chance of getting 30+. \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Oct 3 '16 at 9:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your last paragraph is a good point to include in any answer. Suggest addressing DM adjudicated adv/disadv based on circumstance. (PHB has a pretty clear text on this). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 5 '18 at 14:02
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Others have mentioned the option for the GM to just say, "No," or to express difficulty by exceptionally high difficulty checks. These are perfectly valid tools and should be ready at your fingertips.

Another tool, which can be harder to use but is also subtler, is to use GM fiat to structure the amount of time and/or effort that goes into persuasion techniques. Literature, history, and probably our own real lives do have examples of persuasive people able to convince people to act against their best interests, and simply shutting that down when a player has built a character around it can be awkward.

But even these examples are usually not as simple, cut-and-dried, or one-shot as gaming situations make them out to be. Persuasion is very situationally relevant-- can you convince someone to take you home for the night at a singles bar? Very possibly. Can you persuade the local minister's spouse to take you home for the night after meeting at the Temple Tuesday Social? Probably not unless it's a fertility cult.

Is he or she completely off-limits forever? Mmmaybe. Maybe not. But it might reasonably take weeks, even months of careful planning and effort. And there is nothing wrong with a GM saying, "Yeah, no, not on the spur of the moment-- that won't happen. Get me N successes over a time period, and tell me-- and role-play-- the approach, with identical approaches penalized for lack of spontaneity, and we'll talk."

This sounds like (and is inspired by) the notion of the 4e Skill Challenge, but while Skill Challenges usually focus on multiple characters and skills, this is really focusing on one or a few core skills and one character, so it isn't quite the same thing.

It does allow for both organic and meaningful uses of persuasion if you can set them up in advance and telegraph them to your player. A month of persuading a key member of the town council or palace guard that the character is his new best friend can be invaluable at the right time...

...If the game allows for it. I'll admit, it's not always easy to design that in.

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There's a whole section on this in the DMG

I'm a little surprised that this hasn't come up yet in all the posts so far. But, starting on DMG244, there's a whole section detailing how Social Interaction works and it does a lot to mitigate the fact that a character with Expertise in Persuasion is going to routinely rock all Persuasion checks.

To summarize...NPCs have a particular Attitude towards the characters when social interaction starts. Hostile, Indifferent, or Friendly.

The NPC's attitude places a ceiling on what you're able to convince them to do. Regardless of how well you roll, the most you will get out of a Hostile character is that

The creature does as asked as long as no risks or sacrifices are required

An Indifferent Character can, at best, be convinced to

Accept[s] a minor risk or sacrifice to do as asked.

A character must be Friendly in order to

Accept[s] a significant risk or sacrifice to do as asked.

All from DMG245.

There's also a whole section in there on adjusting a creature's attitude. I'll bold out a few sections for emphasis

The attitude of a creature might change over the course of a conversation. If the adventurers say or do the right things during an interaction (perhaps by touching on a creature’s ideal, bond, or flaw), they can make a hostile creature temporarily indifferent, or make an indifferent creature temporarily friendly. Likewise, a gaffe, insult, or harmful deed might make a friendly creature temporarily indifferent or turn an indifferent creature hostile.

Whether the adventurers can shift a creature’s attitude is up to you. You decide whether the adventurers have successfully couched their statements in terms that matter to the creature. Typically, a creature’s attitude can’t shift more than one step during a single interaction, whether temporarily or permanently.

DMG244

In short...by the rules as laid out in the DMG, you can't just "Roll Persuasion!" and magically accomplish things, even if they are reasonable things. Naturally, the Rule of Common Sense applies here. Persuasion is not a magical effect--the most silvered tongue in the realm is not going to talk a King into handing over his crown.

But, depending on a creature's attitude, even reasonable requests may be refused regardless of how well you rolled. And you can't just "Roll Persuasion" to improve a creature's attitude. First, the DM has to determine that improving this creature's attitude is possible, THEN you have to actually determine the right things to do or say to improve their attitude (see the section on Determining Characteristics on DMG 245).

To put this in perspective...

Imagine you are interacting with someone you despise. You just can't stand this person. This person is asking you to take them somewhere. It doesn't matter how nicely they ask, does it? You're not driving them anywhere, you don't even want to talk to them.

Now, suppose that you are the sort of person to whom family is extremely important. You'd do anything for your family. So now, this person whom you despise tells you that their parent is very sick and they need to go visit them. This might...maybe tug enough on your heart strings to make you change your mind. You might decide that yes...for the sake of family...you'll set aside your differences and help them out this once.

Now, suppose this person asks you to permanently give them your car. Does it matter what they say? Does it matter that they have a sick parent that you sympathize about? Nope. You are not giving your car to this person.

And that is basically a model for how attitude modification and persuasion checks work together in D&D 5E.

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I generally agree with Joshua Aslan Smith's sentiment of story first/ mechanics second.

Are you running a campaign you wrote or a premade module?
If you have the latitude, desire, and skill I recommend against strong arming them via rules or drastically rescaling the rolls or NPCs. Let the storyline create balance.

If the players are creating ripples with their techniques then it is likely others have noticed. Here are some story seeds:

Make the players into pawns in a larger game.

Perhaps a powerful wizard intends to cause a war and sees your party as the perfect pawns. He consistently places the party face to face with people who are doing important work and must not be pushed off track.

Put players in front of NPCs that they are likely to try to persuade without regard to what the NPC is trying to accomplish. If they like shiny or rare items then put the temptation to take them their. If they like to cause general chaos then encourage it. If they seek political power then allow them to steal it. I don't know to what ends the players are motivated, but here are some examples of NPCs for them to influence a blacksmith forging a ceremonial sword, a soldier guarding a border wall, an influential merchant carrying a one-of-a-kind item, a betrothed traveling to her new country, or a messenger carrying a new royal seal(the stamp) to a king.

Enforce the geo-political aspects of their seemingly minor or petty decisions. If the players fall for these traps make sure they eventually know they caused the war and give them the chance to take sides or to end it.

Make Persuasion the Key to a quest/dungeon where Persuasion will not work

Create NPCs, who if properly persuaded, are able to reveal the location of valuable items. Once they accomplish getting the location, make the dungeon a place where persuasion rolls become meaningless. This way persuasion keeps it value but is balanced by the dungeon.

After the players get the item:

-NPCs could be waiting in ambush to take it from them- it was a trick all along

-Perhaps the town needs some special item that is also directly useful to the party from the dungeon to save themselves from a curse, a warlord, or a dragon. Make the players explicitly choose whether they give the item to the town or take it for themselves. Allow for consequences to play out regarding either choice.

Apprentice to a Legend

A king, demi-god, demon, dragon, or legendary figure learns of this "godlike" persuasion skill and is considering taking the player on as an apprentice. But he or she needs some greater proof! A task is given for the party to persuade some grand un-persuadable thing like a god, dragon, or demi-god. Allow them to use the persuade skill to get an audience, but make this being himself/herself immune to any kind of persuasion generated from feats, stats, or dice rolls. Persuade the creature to do what? Something that will allows the other players too shine too.

This story seed can be combined with the first and/or second seed if the test for apprenticeship is held without the player/ party knowing they are being tested.

Whatever you do, I ask that you please do not make the player feel punished for making an effective character. Reward the player by making them need growth.

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I see two options.

First "persuasion" doesn't allow a PC to tell a NPC what to do.

Persuasion can be be pressed pretty far. For example, persuading an NPC that a villager store his crop, and that the lord won't do anything about it, and that the NPC should start an uprising, and that once the uprising is done the PC should be installed as the new lord. I could see that happening. But, that would be an entire "story" in it's self. In other-words the "story" can't be "convince lord to give me title and castle" but you could get there via "story". That could make for a fun campaign, or at least part of one.

Second, rumors and reputation can outweigh persuasion.

I don't know of a mechanic that does it, but think of examples in real life where you know someone that basically comes off as "Look I don't care what you say, your are known for not having other's interests at heart. Go Away." There are plenty of examples of real-life and "story" people who are very persuasive and never get to even speak because of a bad reputation. If your PC is running around persuading people to kill one-another, or causing unrest, surely that will get around. Heck, he may even be charged with using magics or something like that (think villager screaming "Witch!!" but make it fit the environment.) In short, his reputation as a smooth talker may work ahead of him to have a negative effect that can only be canceled out by the checks. Such a negative reputation is ground for, on some of the persuasion checks, to assign disadvantage to the character's attempts to persuade.

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Several answers mention either outright ignoring the roll and doing whatever you want with the story, or an idea that magic should always trump skills, or else you should let the player shine at what they clearly want to play.

There's a few issues with these approaches.

Story taking precedence over mechanics is a good idea in theory, except it can easily feel like steamrolling the player.

If you make a character with an extremely high AC, and suddenly all the monsters are getting 30+ on their attack rolls, it feels like the world is specifically out to get you. If you roll a 40+ on a Stealth check and the town guard sees you anyway, you're going to feel rightfully feel cheated.

Likewise, if such insanely good skill rolls are always one-upped by magic, then it begins to feel like a game of The Almighty Wizard and His Amazing Friends, rather than Dungeons and Dragons (something D&D already arguably struggles with).

A specialized 20th level Rogue getting a 30+ on a disguise check being immediately detected without a save by a 3rd level Wizard casting a Detect Thoughts spell is bad enough, also stating that simple spells like Disguise Self should always beat that 30+ roll just because its "magic" is just adding salt to the wound.

Being a fan of the PC's and letting characters shine at what they are built for is fun, but it can become too much if it begins to outshine the other PC's.

A DM should be a fan of all the PC's, and they should each have a chance to shine, without one guy zooming in like Superman to fix all their problems, all the time.


This is where it sounds like you are at: the PC in question has a super high Persuasion score, and is using it to overcome an overabundance of challenges and it's taking away from the story and from other characters in the party.

To fix this issue, we ought to first identify more fully what the issue actually is. Is the issue that the player is abusing the skill? Should Persuasion not actually be able to do this? Is there such a thing as "impossible" for a Persuasion check? Someone has mentioned that a person is not going to give up their savings account to a stranger, no matter how good their Persuasion check is. Except, ironically, people do exactly that in real life. Gullible people are taken advantage of by con men all the time.

In game terms, "gullible" means having a low Wisdom and/or being untrained in Insight. A con man, on the other hand, is likely to have very high Charisma, proficiency in Deception, and possibly Expertise as well. So if we imagine that persuading someone to give up their savings account would be a Deception check, with perhaps advantage or disadvantage coming into it based on how well the con man is using personality traits of the mark (like being greedy, for a Nigerian Prince scam, or being compassionate, for a "help my dying grandma" sort of scam), and then the opposed roll is Insight to see through the lies, you could also have bonuses or penalties based on the stakes.

Convincing someone to give you their life savings might incur a huge penalty, because of what is at stake, but someone with 6 Wisdom and no Insight might still fall for it, given a persuasive con man (maybe beating the opposed check by 10 or more, for example).

So if the issue isn't whether Persuasion should be able to convince NPC's to do all this stuff (just increase the DC), what is it?

I would think the issue is A) whether the player actually can hit the target DC (once adjusted for mitigating factors), and B) how many opportunities are you giving the players to solve their problems through Persuasion.

For the second point, imagine instead you had a player who specialized in dealing massive amounts of physical damage. Maybe it's a barbarian, using a great axe. If 9/10 encounters are straight-forward ogre battles, with tactics like "I run up and hit it" being sufficient to pass, the barbarian is going to look like a god. Mix in some ghosts, flying enemies, spellcasters, social skill encounters, hidden enemies, etc. Now that barbarian shines when he gets the chance to engage in melee with a enemy, but the rest of the party can still feel good about their own contributions for the rest of the time.

For your Persuasion specialized character, maybe mix in some more dungeon crawling, exploration-based encounters, or simply NPC's who can't speak his language, but other party members can. That way the silver tongued devil still appropriately demonstrates his godlike charm when it applies, but hopefully won't disproportionately hog the spotlight for the whole session.

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I typically play a high charisma character, with my top 3 stats typically being bluff, persuasion and intimidation. I have found the best way to equalise this is to nerf the character, saying that if they are going to max a certain stat, it has to be at the detriment of another, typically either Stength or Constitution. I find that this best allows for equal gameplay. Yes they can do alot with their social roles, but in a fight? They find themselves in a sticky situation, either forcing themn to make their stat bonuses higher, or by focusing on other elements in order to make their character less likely to die. I once had a character with a charisma score of 17 and a constitution score of 8 and a Strength score of 7.He could talk his way out of a lot of situations, but his base hp was 4 at level 1, so I had my heavy social character, but he was next to useless in battle. Make it so they can have their character, but at a price

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    \$\begingroup\$ The calculation of attributes that most use for 5e is already the point buy system, which practically does what you propose: that to get a high stat, they need to make low ones too. Your experience seems to come from earlier editions and might not be applicable or as useful here. \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Sep 11 '17 at 12:15

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