|From the Player's Handbook II supplement,|
Illustration by Steven Belledin
Now, LS of Papers & Pencils and -C of Hack & Slash have both dissected these skills and weighed in on their problems. There posts can be found here and here. I highly recommend reading them. However, since the social mechanics have been on my mind as I collect all of my house rules for Pathfinder into a single, easy to reference document, I decided to weigh in on the topic as well.
For those of you who might not be familiar with how the Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate skills work in Pathfinder, I'll give a quick overview for you. Like most skills, the three social skills are supposed to represent how adept you are when performing the action. When you attempt to use one of these social skills, you roll a d20 and add the relevant modifiers and try to match or overcome a target number determined by the GM based on the difficulty of the task. For social skills, the difficulty is determined by the opposing party's attitude towards you and other miscellaneous modifiers.
On paper, that doesn't sound that bad. However, in practice it causes a couple of problems. Probably the biggest problem is that it tends to boiler a situation that should incorporate some fun roleplaying down into a simple die roll. Even if the player does roleplay out the situation, his or her words may only grant him a simple modifier on his roll. The player could have their character make a very good argument but the opposing party doesn't go along with it because they happened to have a moment of bad luck and rolled a 1 on their Diplomacy check.
So, I started to think of a way to handle social situations better in my home games and I think I've discovered a way to do it. While reading through the Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition book, I found myself captivated by one section in that book in particular. The section detailed a system for social interactions that I think could easily be adapted to Pathfinder and help fix the problem of the social skills.
Each major social "conflict" is broken down into three rounds of conversation, each focusing on one particular point (or a few highly connected points). Further rounds represent the turn of conversation to additional points. Each round, the player character roleplays his argument and makes the appropriate social skill (or an opposed skill check if a rival is arguing against him). The DC the PC has to either match or beat is determined by adding 10 to the opposing party's Will saving throw modifier. If the opposing party is particularly unfriendly or has something against the PCs, the modifier is raised by 4. If the opposing party is particularly friendly or likes the PCs, the modifier is lowered by 4.
At the end of each round, the speaker who manages to succeed at their skill check will accumulate 1 point of success. At the end of the final round of the social conflict, the side with the most points "wins" the argument.
The GM should grant a plus 2 bonus to a side that makes a particularly brilliant or undeniable point; or a minus 2 penalty if the speaker commits a faux pas, such as making a provably untrue statement or insulting the audience he hopes to convince. If the characters are arguing technical points, such as a legal battle or the best plan for a kingdom's defense, the character receives a plus 2 bonus for every 5 ranks they possess in an appropriate Knowledge skill.
While I think this system would fix some of the problems inherent to how social skills work in Pathfinder, I feel it might add a level of complication to the game I might not be too happy with. I'm going to try and playtest it in my next game and see how it actually works in play before I make any serious changes or revisions.