The Alexandrian

Today I want to talk about the single most-broken rule in all of D&D: The Diplomacy skill.

Oh, there are almost certainly abusive combinations of rules which can achieve a similar or even greater level of power (Pun-Pun comes to mind), but I know of no rule so inordinately broken when it is used precisely as the designers intended and exactly as it is written.

In short, the Diplomacy skill is the win button for D&D. It is the equivalent of punching UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT A B SELECT START into a Konami cartridge. It is the unmitigated silver tongue of victory. Consider:

1. Hostile is the absolute most negative opinion someone can have of you. Helpful means that the person is willing to “protect, back up, heal, and aid” you — it is literally a person willing to put themselves in harm’s way for you.

2. To turn a Hostile character into a Helpful character requires a DC 50 Diplomacy check.

3. This takes 1 minute. But by accepting a -10 penalty on the check you can perform it as a standard action. And this is explicitly allowed even if you are engaged in active combat with the character in question.

So, effectively, if Frodo were to sit down for a chat with Sauron and make a DC 50 Diplomacy check, Sauron would give him a tour guide and a detailed map showing him the best hiking paths to Mount Doom.

A PC could be facing an ancient red wyrm, it’s mouth gaping to release a fiery blast of death, and in less than six seconds they could turn the ancient red wyrm into a helpful friend with a DC 60 Diplomacy check. And the ancient red wyrm would be helpful forever after because there is absolutely no provision given for the effects of a successful Diplomacy check to ever come to an end.

“Well, sure, that’s true,” you may be thinking. “But we’re talking about a DC 50 or a DC 60 check. That’s a pretty tough check to make.”

That’s true. But once you can make a DC 60 check, you never need to fight a round of combat ever again. (You may be thinking that mindless opponents might still pose a challenge. But consider: You can now turn Zeus himself into a helpful ally willing to back you up in less than six seconds. Even if he doesn’t bring the rest of the Greek pantheon with him, you can spend another couple of minutes to get them all onboard. Invest in some magical communication devices — and by invest I mean “ask that 20th level wizard who became your new best friend in the last six seconds to make them for you” — and all those gods are now effectively on-call for you. “Zeus old buddy, old pal, could you lend a friend a lightning bolt?”)

And how difficult is it to achieve that DC 60 check? Not very. Consider an 8th level character with Diplomacy as a class skill:

  • +6 Charisma (18 starting, +2 ability increases, +2 ability boost item)
  • +11 skill ranks
  • +3 Skill Focus
  • +2 Negotiator feat
  • +2 synergy bonus from Bluff
  • +2 synergy bonus from Knowledge (nobility and royalty)
  • +2 synergy bonus from Sense Motive
  • +15 skill boost item

That’s a total +43 bonus to Diplomacy checks. The DC 50 check is now achieved 65% of the time and the DC 60 check is achieved 15% of the time.

By 13th level the game is over. The wealth-by-level guidelines now allow you to pick up a +30 skill boost item and you are automatically succeeding on the DC 60 check. No matter what the DM throws at you, six seconds later it’s your best friend. Unless it’s mindless. And if it’s mindless, you shouldn’t have any difficulty finding someone to kill it or you, since everyone in the world who has a mind loves you at almost the instant that they see you.

And, it should be noted, that the DC 60 check is only the most abusive use of the Diplomacy skill. Remember our scenario involving winning Zeus over as a helpful ally willing to put himself in harm’s way for you? Well, unless you’ve done something to piss Zeus off at you, Zeus isn’t likely to be hostile towards you. He’s probably Indifferent at worst.

To move Zeus from Indifferent to Helpful is only DC 30. A 1st level human can make that check every single time:

  • +4 Charisma (18 starting)
  • +4 skill ranks
  • +3 Skill Focus
  • +2 Negotiator feat
  • +2 synergy bonus from Bluff
  • +2 synergy bonus from Knowledge (nobility and royalty)
  • +2 synergy bonus from Sense Motive

That’s a total bonus of +19 for the win. By 4th level you can automatically make the DC 40 check necessary to do it in less than six seconds.

When I point this out to people who have not previously considered it, I am often met with one of two rejoinders:

REJOINDER 1: “No DM in his right mind would allow that.”

This is true. But this is also an example of what I refer to as the Rule 0 Fallacy. To whit: “The rule isn’t broken because I can fix it.” In the very act of admitting that no DM would allow it, you have admitted that it is a broken rule which needs to be fixed. (Whenever someone invokes this fallacy I often wonder if they try to use the same logic in real life: “Those brakes aren’t broken, any decent mechanic could fix them.” “There isn’t a hole in that bucket because I could patch it whenever I wanted to.”)

REJOINDER 2: “Holy shit!”


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3 Responses to “Diplomacy Design Notes, Part I”

  1. louis says:

    This is why when I don’t understand a rule I want the Alexandrian take on it. Every Dm should read your blog.

  2. Noumenon says:

    This post needs hyperlinks or “<Back – Next> buttons.

    Edit before submitting for the second time: Also, all the posts need the security question to be above the Submit Comment button.

  3. Thoth says:

    It doesn’t really change the point, but you need five actual skill ranks to get those synergy bonuses. That poor first level character will have to wait until level two…

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