Skill Combat

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Paizo's performance combat system can be adapted to create skill challenges. Here's how. You can adapt these rules for other forms of "Combat" as well, especially if you want to run a series of extended and opposed checks (such as for a heist).


Skill Combat

Whether a debate, a wilderness trek, or a hurriedly given speech, Skill Combat can provide a framework for skill-based encounters. This is just a framework, however; you'll need to adjust to your situation.

Skill combat can represent encounters that involve:

  • Influencing a crowd
  • Gathering information
  • Sneaking through a large camp
  • ...and more

The Skill Combat Sequence

Once the GM has determined the starting Difficulty, the sequence tends to follow:

  1. PCs take an action that results in appropriate skill combat check
  2. Apply modifiers.
  3. Determine results.
  4. Reward or subtract a victory point based on results.
  5. GM adjusts Difficulty based on results.

A Skill Combat is won when the Difficulty is reduced to 1 by either side, or by whichever side has reduced it the most. In the case of a tie, the number of Victory Points determines a winner.

Set the Initial Skill Combat Difficulty

Before Skill Combat begins, the GM determines the difficulty of the initial challenge. This is based on two factors:

Overall Difficulty on a scale of 1-5
Any modifiers, most commonly the number of NPCs to be affected


Skill Challenge Starting Difficulty
Challenge Starting DC Descriptor
5

"Hostile"

20 The Hostile difficulty imposes a –2 penalty on all attack rolls, combat maneuver checks, ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws. This is a mind-affecting effect. If the PCs are attempting to sway a crowd, a caster may not attempt to influence a hostile crowd while casting a spell.

If the crowd is hostile towards a group and a member of that side fails a their Skill Combat check by 5 or more, that side automatically loses that part of the combat.

4

"Unfriendly"

15 Unfriendly crowds and situations have a demoralizing effect. The unfriendly difficulty imposes a –1 penalty on all attack rolls, combat maneuver checks, ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws. This is a mind-affecting effect. If the PCs are attempting to sway a crowd, a caster may not attempt to influence an unfriendly crowd while casting a spell.
3

"Indifferent"

10 Indifferent crowds and situations can be potentially open-minded or open-ended, but may swing either way. Audience members show little emotion other than anticipation and a desire for daring feats of combat to occur. A township may shrug its shoulders.
2

"Friendly"

15 A friendly crowd or situation grants a +1 morale bonus on all attack rolls, combat maneuver checks, ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws for their chosen side. This is a mind-affecting effect. At this difficulty, the crowd or situation is beginning to be swayed toward one side.
1

"Helpful"

20 Helpful crowds and situations are helpful and supportive. This difficulty grants its chosen champions a +2 morale bonus on all attack rolls, combat maneuver checks, ability checks, skill checks, and saving throws. This is a mind-affecting effect.

Does the Size of the Crowd Influence It?

This can refer to the number of people in a crowd, an enemy camp, a township, and so on. The base DC is modified by the size of the crowd, the number of participants on each side, and a number of other circumstances.

Size of the Crowd: Larger crowds are harder to sway to one side or the other. It takes great shows of daring or a progression of numerous displays of crowd-pleasing actions to get them to change their attitude. Presented here are the general crowd sizes and their effects on the DC to improve crowd attitudes and gain victory points.

Small Crowd: A small crowd contains no fewer than two and no more than 25 creatures. It does not increase the base DC of all influence combat checks.

Medium Crowd: A medium crowd contains no fewer than 26 and no more than 100 creatures. A medium crowd increases the DC of all influence combat checks by +2.

Large Crowd: A large crowd contains no fewer than 101 and no more than 300 creatures. A large crowd increases the DC of all influence combat checks by +3.

Massive Mob: A massive mob is made up of no fewer than 301 creatures, and its numbers can expand into the thousands. A massive mob increases the DC of all influence combat checks by +4.

Total Number of Combatants: The participation of a large number of combatants increases the difficulty of swaying the crowd. Large groups of combatants make it difficult for a crowd to follow the entire battle and to catch actions from individuals that could possibly sway the audience's attitude. Adjust these modifications as combatants enter or leave the battle.

Small Battle: If the battle is between a total of 2–8 combatants, there is no change to the base DC to improve the attitude of the crowd or gain victory points.

Medium Battle: If the battle is between 9–16 combatants, the DC to improve the attitude of the crowd or gain victory points increases by +4.

Large Battle: A battle with 17 or more total combatants increases the DC to improve the attitude of the crowd by +8.

Other Influencing Factors

Other circumstances that always affect the DC to improve the attitude of the crowd or gain victory points include the following.

Cheating: If one side visibly cheats or breaks the rules, the DC for that side of the influence combat to improve the attitude of the crowd increases by 2 for the remainder of the influence combat. This increase can occur multiple times in a battle. For the purpose of spotting cheating, determine the base Perception and Sense Motive for the average member of a crowd (usually +0 if you assume an average human) and apply the following modifiers based on crowd size. The DC is based on whatever action the combatant is using to hide any cheating (usually Bluff or Stealth).

Crowd Size Bonus on Perception and Sense Motive Checks to Spot Cheating
Small crowd +8
Medium crowd +12
Large crowd +16
Massive mob +20

Outnumbered: If one side of the battle outnumbers the others by less than a 2:1 ratio, the DC for that side to improve the attitude of the crowd or to gain victory points increases by 2. If one side outnumbers all others by a ratio of 2:1 or more, the DC for that side to improve the attitude of the crowd increases by 6. These increases to the DC end or are reduced to the appropriate level if the numbers become even or if the 2:1 ratio of combatants is ever brought down to outnumbering the other sides by less than a 2:1 ratio.

Unfair Advantage: If one side of the battle has an obvious unfair advantage (for example, one side starts the battle in a fortified position or has better weapons and armor, or its opponents are not armed at all), the DC to improve the attitude of the crowd is increased by 2. A GM can increase the DC by as much as 6 if the unfair advantage is severe enough.

Bribery or Coercion: Crowds can be bribed or coerced. Typically a successful bribe or attempt at coercion involves paying some amount of gold based on the crowd size, and succeeding at a Diplomacy check with a DC based on the size of the crowd. If the gold is paid and the Diplomacy check fails, the side gains a penalty for cheating instead, though the gold is still spent. If the check succeeds, the DC to improve crowd reaction and gain victory points decreases by 2. For every 5 points over the DC by which the combatants make the check, the DC to improve the crowd's attitude or to gain a victory point decreases by 1.


Crowd Size Influence DC Gold Paid
Small crowd DC 15 25 gp
Medium crowd DC 20 250 gp
Large crowd DC 25 750 gp
Massive mob DC 30 2,000 gp

Determine PC and NPC Modifiers

Whenever a PC, or NPC, has a chance to make a difference in Skill Combat, he or she makes a check. Parties can also make a check together. The check is an Attribute Bonus check modified by ranks in an applicable skill. Tenebrae allows appropriate Craft and Profession skills to apply both as knowledge and social skills within their area of focus.

PCs could also gain a +1 or a -1 for things like opposing nationalities, faiths, and so on.

Hit Dice Bonus on Skill Combat Check
0 +0
1–5 +1
6–10 +2
11–15 +3
16+ +4
Highest Skill Ranks Bonus on Skill Combat Check
0 +0
1–5 +1
6–10 +2
11–15 +3
16+ +4

When to Make a Skill Combat Check

Skill combat checks tend to occur due to the results of actions of the PC, or NPCs. For example, a PC might utter a few words in an attempt to influence someone, or enact a plan to sneak past a row of tents, before moving onto the next--which is more heavily guarded.

So, the type of action required for the check varies and there is some flexibility in determining it. For example, a swift action could represent a flourish, while other actions would be more involved.

When a combatant performs or causes one of the triggers described in the sections that follow, he can typically make a influence combat check as a swift action to improve the attitude of the crowd. The swift action usually involves some form of flourish, display, or show in the attempt to grab the attention of the crowd.

Mandatory checks could be triggered by the opponent doing something particularly effective that the characters would then need to counter, not unlike a debate or an encounter with a watchful guard. It could also be doing something like casting a Verbal spell while trying to sneak.

Victory Points

When a side is benefiting from a helpful crowd reaction or situation and succeeds at a skill combat check, that side gains a victory point.

Victory points are kept in a pool, and can be spent by anyone on a given side of a influence combat at any time during the influence combat, as long as no one on the side objects to the use of the victory point. Victory points can be spent during a performance combat in the following ways. Spending a victory point is not an action.

Victory Point Cost Benefit
1 Automatic success on a skill combat check (so long as the difficulty is worse than 1 or "helpful")
1 Make a free or immediate action influence combat check as no action, allowing the combatant to make the check when it is not the combatant's turn without spending an immediate action.
1 Force an opponent in a influence combat to reroll a influence combat check. The opponent must take the effect of the reroll.


At the GM's discretion, unused Victory Points may be carried over to the next encounter.

Splitting Up Victory Points: Sometimes, in the case of team influence combat, the lineup of a influence combat team may change. If this occurs, it may be important to split up any victory points the team has gained. Victory points should be split as evenly as possible among the combatants within a team, with the remainder going to combatants in any way the team chooses (but with no individual player receiving more than 1 point from the remainder). For instance, if a team is made up of four combatants, but at the end of a bout there are 6 victory points, all four combatants gain at least 1 victory point, and two members of the team each receive 1 additional point, as chosen by the members of the team in any way the members deem fair.