What's the point of the -4 penalty to Demoralize if you don't have a language?


Rules Discussion


Thinking out loud here, because the other day, my party's Druid tried to have her bear scare some critter, and they were slapped with a -4 penalty for not being able to speak a language. Needless to say, that went poorer than expected.

But it does raise to me the question of why the penalty exists in the first place. A raging level 1 bear is actually less scary than an untrained level -1 gnome in their pajamas.

It's clearly not intended to be a hindrance to PCs. Intimidating Glare only requires Trained in order to intimidate any non immune critter at no penalty. It really only affects monsters without language, really, since they don't have feats. It only penalizes animal companions and monsters that just have an Intimidate modifier in their stat blocks, and I'm just wondering... why? Does it make the game more fun? Is there a rules trick or exploit that occurs if things without a language can intimidate effectively? I'm genuinely curious.

Thank you!


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My guess is they just wanted a penalty for the sake creating feats to overcome it.


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The rules are written from a player-character-centric point of view, and from that point of view the penalty exists to enable the intimidating glare feat to exist and otherwise to provide a mechanical incentive to learning additional languages.

Aside from that, the creature rules are written from a point of view that if something is a significant piece of the essence of a creature that it will have specific abilities representing that thing - so "is frightening" gets represented by abilities like Terrifying Display of apes, Terrifying Touch of banshees, a bunyip's Roar, or the Frightful Presence of dragons and things of that sort.

Is it "weird" that creatures we'd consider scary as heck in real life aren't given Intimidation modifiers or special abilities related to frightening characters, even if only by being good at the Demoralize action? Not really. A line has to be drawn somewhere between things which are scary but not to a degree that carries game mechanics and things which are scary enough that game mechanics are justified, and it's actually a good thing for that line to lean very far into making it seem like player characters aren't afraid of much because the alternative would be an over-saturation of the frightened condition because everything that PCs face in combat in the game is "scary."


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I agree with much of what Noble Drake wrote.

Also, that penalty goes way back, so I doubt it's a problem so they can sell you the solution. IMO, it's a problem because language is really important if you want to break somebody's morale. Football and basketball players are typically huge, but it's not their glare or attitude that demoralizes their opponents (at least not their peers).
It's the trash talk.
Or the threats to soldiers to get in their heads.
Or the bleak picture painted for prisoners.
Etc.

The bear vs. gnome used to be represented by the size bonus to Demoralize, and as a situational bonus a GM could freely add (or subtract) to account for such factors.

Funnily enough, I don't find bears that scary viscerally. Yes intellectually, mainly from knowing how many people have underestimated them and lost a limb or their life to a casual claw swipe.


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thenobledrake wrote:


Aside from that, the creature rules are written from a point of view that if something is a significant piece of the essence of a creature that it will have specific abilities representing that thing - so "is frightening" gets represented by abilities like Terrifying Display of apes, Terrifying Touch of banshees, a bunyip's Roar, or the Frightful Presence of dragons and things of that sort.

While I can sort of understand that, it still feels like the devs included a trap option in adding the Bully animal companion specialization or giving the Bear an Intimidate trained skill at all.


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Or... possibly it was a rule created by human developers who were only thinking of humanoid interactions when they made it.

Oversight and all.


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Strill wrote:
My guess is they just wanted a penalty for the sake creating feats to overcome it.

I mean. It wouldn't be Paizo, if they didn't come up with some feat taxes, right? At least is not something too frequent.


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Castilliano wrote:
I don't find bears that scary viscerally.

As I sit on the couch this morning sipping soda water while I wait for an answer to my own rules question, this really resonates with me, Castilliano.


As a GM, I'd probably add relevant circumstance bonuses in combat for the demoralize action, based on how the combat was going re: successful attacks, remaining hitpoints, etc, but it absolutely applies to the coerce action.


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The Gleeful Grognard wrote:

Or... possibly it was a rule created by human developers who were only thinking of humanoid interactions when they made it.

Oversight and all.

I doubt they were only thinking of humanoid interacts in general. More like that's the default - anything beyond that or being able to do the same thing but with a substantial amount of the information transmitted by words lost requires more investment.


The DM of wrote:
Castilliano wrote:
I don't find bears that scary viscerally.
As I sit on the couch this morning sipping soda water while I wait for an answer to my own rules question, this really resonates with me, Castilliano.

That just goes back to nobledrake's point though that pretty much any monster you're going to encounter is going to be pretty scary, since a meaningful encounter implies being in a life or death situation against a powerful monster that can and will try to kill you.

Bears are scary to you and me, but should they be scary to someone who regularly spends time in that environment? Or, more importantly, should they be intrinsically more scary than anything else?


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Bill Dunn wrote:
The Gleeful Grognard wrote:

Or... possibly it was a rule created by human developers who were only thinking of humanoid interactions when they made it.

Oversight and all.

I doubt they were only thinking of humanoid interacts in general. More like that's the default - anything beyond that or being able to do the same thing but with a substantial amount of the information transmitted by words lost requires more investment.

I stand by it.

"how do we balance a PC intimidating a monster that doesn't even share the language" line of thought. Having a penalty makes sense there.

I reallllyyyy doubt that they were thinking "yeah grizzly bears should be bad at intimidating humans and rabbits"


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Strill wrote:
My guess is they just wanted a penalty for the sake creating feats to overcome it.

Wild Order druids with Wild Empathy allows making an impression using diplomacy on animals without using language! It is not a somatic or verbal feature so should hold up in animal form.

The Exchange

Squiggit wrote:
The DM of wrote:
Castilliano wrote:
I don't find bears that scary viscerally.
As I sit on the couch this morning sipping soda water while I wait for an answer to my own rules question, this really resonates with me, Castilliano.

That just goes back to nobledrake's point though that pretty much any monster you're going to encounter is going to be pretty scary, since a meaningful encounter implies being in a life or death situation against a powerful monster that can and will try to kill you.

Bears are scary to you and me, but should they be scary to someone who regularly spends time in that environment? Or, more importantly, should they be intrinsically more scary than anything else?

Having the intrinsic penalty means that they are intrinsically LESS scary than anything else.

Interestingly, according to the rules "a cutting put-down" is far more likely to cause you to be "gripped by fear" than a bear performing an intimidation action such as rearing up and roaring (not just a bear being intrinsically scary).

The Exchange

It just means that the bear animal companion special skill of intimidation (Demoralize) is rather useless and they should just take the 2nd attack since that is far more likely to do something.

I was planning on taking the bear since Intimidate is a ranged ability but Wolf or Cat is now the better option (wolf has virtually the same HP and cat has special skill that is actually useful)

Good thing about the deafened condition is that it now gives you a 4 point improvement versus Demoralize


So if I understand this right, A Grizzly Bear is less intimidating than a Kobold Scout, because the bear can't speak common?

The Exchange

Mellack wrote:
So if I understand this right, A Grizzly Bear is less intimidating than a Kobold Scout, because the bear can't speak common?

Yes, you are absolutely correct. ANY animal trained in Intimidation is less able to demoralize someone than a kobold untrained in Intimidation


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Technically, a 100 foot tall cliff never rolls an Intimidation check to Coerce people not to climb it, but many people avoid climbing it nevertheless. Likewise, if a Grizzly Bear runs into three fools and eviscerates the first fool, the other two fools are going to run away, no matter how poorly the Grizzly Bear's Intimidation roll would be. You don't need to roll for Intimidation if people know how scary you are.


Mellack wrote:
So if I understand this right, A Grizzly Bear is less intimidating than a Kobold Scout, because the bear can't speak common?

Close... but no:

A Grizzly Bear is less Demoralizing than a Kobold Scout, because you aren't guessing what the sounds the kobold is making mean.

As EberronHoward's example illustrates, how "intimidating" something is doesn't directly mean it has any kind of modifier for the Intimidation skill or the actions that said skill can be used with.


The problem with not having the penalty would be that against a normal human who only speaks common, shouting "I want some chicken salad" in dwarvish is just as intimidating as shouting "I will take that sword from you and use it to end you and your entire family tree" in common.

The first is loud shouting in gibberish, while the second is loud shouting articulating a specific threat that also targets that person's loved ones.

Being able to articulate a threat that your opponent can understand and picture in their head definitely makes it more threatening - I think that the solution to the issues shouldn't be to remove the penalty, but to just make creatures that should be really scary expert or master in intimidate - that way, an awakened bear who can speak in common and knows exactly where your family lives, and can describe what your family was wearing yesterday, has a bigger chance of intimidating you than a regular bear.


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Mellack wrote:
So if I understand this right, A Grizzly Bear is less intimidating than a Kobold Scout, because the bear can't speak common?

To be fair, you can't really understand the grizzly bear grunting that he's going to eat your entrails quite like you can hear the kobold scout saying he's going to wear your intestines as a necktie.

That said, the grizzly bear also starts with a much worse Charisma than the kobold scout so he's generally less believable as well.

At the end of the day, it's worth noting that the GM isn't stuck with just using Charisma to intimidate someone. That bear's got a Strength bonus of +4 - it makes sense for him to use that instead, particularly if his intimidating display also emphasizes his size and strength.


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I mean, I'd find a bear that tried to scare me by speaking my language scarier than a non-talking bear, all other things equal. At least +4 scarier.


masda_gib wrote:
I mean, I'd find a bear that tried to scare me by speaking my language scarier than a non-talking bear, all other things equal. At least +4 scarier.

How about a bear speaking infernal at you trying to intimidate you. That would concern me more than a bear threatening me in common.


The Gleeful Grognard wrote:
masda_gib wrote:
I mean, I'd find a bear that tried to scare me by speaking my language scarier than a non-talking bear, all other things equal. At least +4 scarier.
How about a bear speaking infernal at you trying to intimidate you. That would concern me more than a bear threatening me in common.

Hm, I don't know how Infernal sounds. Would it be recognizable as not being bear noises for a Common-only speaker?

The Exchange

All of these comments are great as houserules etc and as common sense concepts but it still means that in PFS or other campaigns requiring RAW, thinking that the Bear AC's ONLY signature skill is going to be useful is foolish before level 14 (the cat's stealth skill or even the wolf's survival skill will be much more useful).


Hmm...
If a bear intimidates in Sylvan, does anybody hear it?
I mean, other than gnomes.
Or
If a Treant fails in the woods, does anybody fear it?
No, wait, the rules are pretty clear on that.
If a Treant and a bear walk into a bar, does that break its morale?
Never mind, I'm going to go take a crap. Somewhere.
Maybe with the Pope, if he's Catholic.
/s

(All due apologies to those, especially from other cultures, attempting to find something intelligible in that, which there is, it's just warped.
So maybe there isn't.)
Cheers.


Two cases regarding the bear companion having intimidation trained and that not being "foolish" to think it is useful at low levels:

1) The "GMs exist for a reason" factor: a GM that is familiar with the Gnome ancestry feats Burrow Elocutionist and Animal Elocutionist might see them as reason to treat animal sounds as being their own language that gnomes happen to be capable of learning rather than the explanation of those feats being some kind of constantly active, works even in an antimagic field sort of gnomish magic that acts upon the animal(s) being heard and spoken to by the elocutionist gnome.

So that GM might have the bear not take the -4 language barrier penalty when attempting to intimidate animals.

2) The "Kobold & Goblin test": both kobold warriors and goblin warriors are examples of creatures that have will save modifiers in the "low" range according to the monster creation rules preview (and I'll note that potentially worse will saves exist because there is a "terrible" rating for saves too). They both have a +3 modifier for Will saving throws, which means that the bear companion has a 30% chance of success and 5% chance of critical success with the Demoralize action at 1st level.

That's not a terrible chance of success on a debuff coming from a bear cub.


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Is the requirement to avoid the penalty to have a language or to be able to speak a language? A wild shaped druid has one or more languages that he knows and understands perfectly well but is physically unable to speak at the moment.

Would a Silence spell inflict this same penalty on someone?


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Specifically, it says "If the target does not understand the language you are speaking, you're not speaking a language, or they can't hear you, you take a -4 circumstance penalty to the check."

So yes, a silence spell inflicts the same penalty. As would the target you are trying to demoralize having been deafened.


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David knott 242 wrote:

Is the requirement to avoid the penalty to have a language or to be able to speak a language? A wild shaped druid has one or more languages that he knows and understands perfectly well but is physically unable to speak at the moment.

Would a Silence spell inflict this same penalty on someone?

I mean, would you be intimidated if someone pointed at you and mouthed a bunch of stuff you couldn't hear? Maybe confused as to what they said, but intimidating through pantomime is a skill of its own (and a skill feat!).

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thenobledrake wrote:

Two cases regarding the bear companion having intimidation trained and that not being "foolish" to think it is useful at low levels:

1) The "GMs exist for a reason" factor: So that GM might have the bear not take the -4 language barrier penalty when attempting to intimidate animals.

As I said - these were good houserules but inapplicable to PFS

thenobledrake wrote:


2) The "Kobold & Goblin test": both kobold warriors and goblin warriors are examples of creatures that have will save modifiers in the "low" range according to the monster creation rules preview (and I'll note that potentially worse will saves exist because there is a "terrible" rating for saves too). They both have a +3 modifier for Will saving throws, which means that the bear companion has a 30% chance of success and 5% chance of critical success with the Demoralize action at 1st level.

That's not a terrible chance of success on a debuff coming from a bear cub.

Yes those are your level 1 AC chances against a creature two levels below it (level -1, a level 1 kobold has +6 will p212) - On an attack, the AC will hit 50%/ crit 5% killing the Kobold level -1 outright over half the time. (it is even more lopsided against a goblin level -1)

I think your examples supports my contention that Intimidation is foolish to use


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BellyBeard wrote:
David knott 242 wrote:

Is the requirement to avoid the penalty to have a language or to be able to speak a language? A wild shaped druid has one or more languages that he knows and understands perfectly well but is physically unable to speak at the moment.

Would a Silence spell inflict this same penalty on someone?

I mean, would you be intimidated if someone pointed at you and mouthed a bunch of stuff you couldn't hear? Maybe confused as to what they said, but intimidating through pantomime is a skill of its own (and a skill feat!).

Thanks -- that makes a lot of sense. A bear growling at you can be quite scary, but the penalty would be the difficulty that the intimidation target would have in figuring out what he can do other than fight/flight to prevent the bear from mauling him.


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masda_gib wrote:
The Gleeful Grognard wrote:
masda_gib wrote:
I mean, I'd find a bear that tried to scare me by speaking my language scarier than a non-talking bear, all other things equal. At least +4 scarier.
How about a bear speaking infernal at you trying to intimidate you. That would concern me more than a bear threatening me in common.
Hm, I don't know how Infernal sounds. Would it be recognizable as not being bear noises for a Common-only speaker?

I think any language would be recognizable as speech -- but in this case it seems that the target must not only recognize that language as speech but actually understand it to be demoralized with no penalty on the check.


Laran wrote:
As I said - these were good houserules but inapplicable to PFS

Pretty sure nothing would stop a PFS GM from not applying the -4 to a bear animal companion intimidating another animal... not definite on that since I've been deliberately avoiding league-based play of any table-top games for years.

Laran wrote:
Yes those are your level 1 AC chances against a creature two levels below it (level -1

You say that like it isn't following the encounter building advice/guidelines in the book to frequently use creatures of lower-levels than the PCs.

Laran wrote:
On an attack, the AC will hit 50%/ crit 5% killing the Kobold level -1 outright over half the time.

That's only relevant if the goal of the encounter is dead creatures.

Laran wrote:
I think your examples supports my contention that Intimidation is foolish to use

It's fine for you to disagree, I'm just some dude on the internet with a broader view of what can be useful in a game, not the thought police.


This might be a good errata target, maybe something saying that monsters and animal companions generally don't share that penalty, since it's a PC-centric rule given that monsters and NPCs can't take feats to eliminate the penalty. Don't know how humanoid monsters would go though (I'd err on the side of assuming all monsters avoid the penalty and all humanoid monsters or NPCs that have Intimidate as a skill have the benefits of the glare feat automatically, otherwise you're just adding confusion as to what the real bonus you roll is).

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thenobledrake wrote:
I'm just some dude on the internet with a broader view of what can be useful in a game, not the thought police.

As are we all (except those who are not dudes) :)


BellyBeard wrote:
David knott 242 wrote:

Is the requirement to avoid the penalty to have a language or to be able to speak a language? A wild shaped druid has one or more languages that he knows and understands perfectly well but is physically unable to speak at the moment.

Would a Silence spell inflict this same penalty on someone?

I mean, would you be intimidated if someone pointed at you and mouthed a bunch of stuff you couldn't hear? Maybe confused as to what they said, but intimidating through pantomime is a skill of its own (and a skill feat!).

That doesn't make sense for it to be a skill feat. How is a bear going to intimidate someone except by standing up, raising its paws, and roaring? You're saying it needs a skill feat just to use intimidate in the only way it possibly could? If anything, intimidating through words should be the skill feat.


We had this exact thread already.

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Yes - The problem is that ofttimes individuals do not connect to the question in the way it is originally stated.

I was concerned about the bear companion being given a signature skill that is severely handicapped. Others thought more about the untrained skill itself and how it would work with other animals. Others thought of how tactics would work or the incongruity of some creatures being much more frightening than others (the level 0 leshy podling being one of the most fearsome)

Thus, some thought of a bear rearing and roaring at the initial encounter and how the rules make almost all these displays useless by animals. Some thought about how a kobold baby would be more likely to demoralize a smilodon/bear with a cutting remark than a smilodon/bear would with snarling jaws.

The problem is that there is no elegant way to justify the -4 language barrier for animals. The demoralize function is really designed to mimic the humanoid tactic and they probably did not want animals to access it. The simplest way would have been to say that it would not work period without a shared language (and then give the bear another skill).

I do enjoy the image of a gnome intimidating glare against a smilodon and having the smilodon be terrified


...is this thread not that thread? I didn't even realize that, oops.

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thenobledrake wrote:
...is this thread not that thread? I didn't even realize that, oops.

Nah - someone else started this thread (I started the other thread since I was focused on the animal companion part)


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thenobledrake wrote:

Specifically, it says "If the target does not understand the language you are speaking, you're not speaking a language, or they can't hear you, you take a -4 circumstance penalty to the check."

So yes, a silence spell inflicts the same penalty. As would the target you are trying to demoralize having been deafened.

Unless the person can read lips or knows sign language, and you used the sign-language version of the language to make your threat.

You also can probably convey your threat via telepathic connections without sound, if you have that an an ability. I believe that telepathic connections require having a shared language in common, but it might only impact older versions of the game. (pretty sure it is part of Starfinder, but that is a different set of rules)

I agree that it isn't unreasonable for the bear to be able to intimidate another bear, assuming enough shared language between it and its own species to allow for an intimidate without penalty. It isn't hard to argue allowing that to most animals. There are mentions in books that seem to imply that animals can communicate with like animals, and they can sometimes share that ability with their master, for instance.

A gnome scaring burrowing animals, because it shares a language... that sounds perfectly viable. It would be perfectly scary for an animal to find it understands a threat coming from a two legged creature when it isn't used to such understanding. eeeek

One might be able to argue that after taking down an ally, someone making an intimidation attempt, perhaps shouldn't need to have a common language to intimidate a remaining foe. Granted, such a rule would discount taking a feat to remove the language requirement from such requests. But the gist... being after taking down and potentially killed an ally. You have conveyed a certain intent that should be understandable, even without audible language's assistance.


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The animal companion feels like a corner cases problem to me. Certainly not enough to make a new general rule for animals ignoring the language penalty. The monster creation rules are flexible enough to handle it as is for creatures that are actually supposed to be intimidating as opposed to just dangerous. You can either give the creature special intimidating actions like an owlbear's screeching advance, or just give the monster an "extreme" intimidation bonus to offset the penalty.


The one place where your bear AC can intimidate without penalty is when you encounter other ursine creatures.
I think it's not houserule territory to rule that all bear-like animals speak the same "language" for this purpose.


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Well, isn't violence considered to be an universal language? There, problem solved. ;)


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masda_gib wrote:

The one place where your bear AC can intimidate without penalty is when you encounter other ursine creatures.

I think it's not houserule territory to rule that all bear-like animals speak the same "language" for this purpose.

That actually makes a lot of sense. Most predators are going to primarily use intimidation to run off other members of their species which might enroach on their territory.


I think "ROARING" from a dragon or bear or whatever should not suffer this penalty. Everyone understand what information a roar is conveying.

Language rule makes sense for humanoids that can't quite do that, but not for animals and monsters with that very "universal" language.

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To play the flipside advocate. Pathfinder is about the PCs being heroic and being able to shine. They are heroic so they should not be susceptible to being intimidated by animals/monsters (except in certain *ahem* dragonic encounters or such). Thus, it would make more sense that animals should NOT have the ability to demoralize (in a mundane fashion) and bear AC should probably have a different skill (my initial issue was that the bear AC was given a skill which comes with a -4)

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