Verbal Duels

The art of debate is among the most important that a person can master, for being able to linguistically confuse and confound enemies gives one the edge in negotiations of all ilk, and ultimately helps secure an individual’s interests. In many ways debates are like duels, battles of words rather than swords. In a verbal duel, a duelist’s greatest weapons are facts, wordplay, and rhetorical flourishes that enable her to win arguments or sway the masses.

Verbal duels are a specific type of success-based skill challenge in which two characters face off in a contest of wit and wordplay to attempt to win a series of exchanges with an ever-increasing ante. Verbal duels follow similar rules for a standard success-based skill challenge, but they are largely based upon the ever-changing conflict between the duelists rather than static difficulty classes. To this end, verbal duels have a significantly different action hierarchy, use different special actions, and have drastically different stat blocks. In addition, there are special actions that only apply to verbal duels. Unless otherwise noted, assume that verbal duels follow all of the standard rules associated with skill challenges with the same completion method (success-based).

Running a Verbal Duel

Although verbal duels follow the same rules for running them as standard skill challenges, the skills used to earn completion vary not from duel to duel, but by the decisions made by those participating in them. Furthermore, verbal duels feature the presence of opposition, rivals that actively oppose the PCs’ attempts at victory during the skill challenge. Except where noted otherwise, the opposition follows the same rules as the PCs when determining how they act during a cycle in a verbal duel.

Characters can participate in a verbal duel for up to 8 hours per day without suffering any ill effects. Characters wishing to duel other characters for longer periods of time may attempt to as described in the Running a Chase Challenge section of the Chase Rules, but few characters will tolerate such long-winded attempts at dueling them and often claim that such long-winded tactics are a sign of concession, which may impose a penalty of the GM’s choosing on the overbearing character or cause her to fail the verbal duel outright. Verbal duels follow this sequence:

1. When the skill challenge begins, all characters assign their skills to the various tactics, as described under the Completion section below.
2. After all skills have been assigned to tactics, all characters can attempt a Diplomacy, Knowledge (history), Knowledge (local), or Sense Motive check to discover the audience’s biases. If there is no audience present to witness the verbal duel, skip this step.
3. After skills have been assigned and biases have been discovered, characters roll initiative, using the higher between their Dexterity modifier and their Intelligence modifier for this purpose.
4. Characters act in initiative order (highest to lowest).
5. When everyone has had a turn, the next cycle begins with the character with the highest initiative, and steps 4 and 5 repeat until the skill challenge ends (either because the characters won or lost).

Rewarding Inspired Roleplaying

Although verbal sparing is an acquired skill that not every player will excel at, offering your players rewards for roleplaying their tactics during a verbal duel can help increase the tension and the power of the verbal duel as both a mechanical challenge and as a pivotal scene during an adventure. Whenever a player offers a particularly inspired or heart-felt bit of roleplaying, the GM can reward up to a +2 modifier on her skill check to earn completion. If the player’s roleplaying is brilliant, the GM might instead reward an edge that is either general (meaning it can be used with any tactic) or specific to an appropriate tactic of the GM’s choice.


Verbal duels are success-based skill challenges, and earning completion during a verbal duel is generally the same as earning completion during any other success-based skill challenge with several notable exceptions. First, verbal duels do not have a standardized list of skills used to earn completion. Instead, at the start of each verbal duel she assigns her skills to the list of tactics available for use in a verbal duel (see Tactics). A character can only assign a given to a single tactic at a time, so if a character assigns Perform (oratory) to allegory, she couldn’t also assign it to emotional appeal.

Second, when attempting skill checks to earn completion during a verbal duel, a character is limited in which bonuses she can apply to skill checks that she makes to earn completion in a verbal duel. When making a skill check to earn completion in a verbal duel, a character gains a +1 bonus for each rank in that skill she possesses, as well as the +3 bonus for having ranks in the class if it is a class skill. Finally, she adds her Charisma modifier to any skill check made to earn completion in a verbal duel, even if that skill isn’t normally Charisma-based. Any other modifiers that the character has grants edges instead of a bonus on her skill check to earn completion (see Edges).

Third, verbal duels possess one or more opponent characters, known as the opposition. The opposition in a verbal duel functions as described in the chase and contest rules (see Opposition), with the two characters making opposed checks that represent their back and forth debate. In addition, the number of successes needed to clear a verbal duel is based upon each character’s magnetism, native intelligence, ability to gauge and react to her opponent’s tactics, and similar factors. In order to win a verbal duel, a character must accumulate a total number of successes against her opposition equal to her opposition’s Hit Dice + the average of her opposition’s Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma modifiers (rounded down, minimum of 0).

Verbal Exchange

Verbal duels are fought in a series of exchanges. Each exchange is an argumentative back-and-forth in which each duelist attempts to gain the upper hand over her opponent earn successes towards completion. The end of an exchange often signals the end of the verbal duel or mark a change in the flow of the debate’s conversation. Verbal duels may contain a single long-winded exchange or many smaller exchanges depending upon the tactics used by the duelists.

The first exchange begins at the start of the verbal duel. The character with the higher initiative result is the opening duelist, while the character with the lower initiative result is the countering duelist. At the start of the exchange, the opening duelist chooses a tactic that she has assigned a skill to (see Tactics) and attempts a skill check to earn completion as cycle action. Doing so increases the current ante from 0 to 1, and the exchange’s DC is set to equal the result of the opening duelist’s skill check.

During the countering duelist’s turn, the duelist must decide whether she wishes to counter, end the exchange, or concede the duel. These choices (and their consequences) are detailed below. If she fails to counter the opening duelist or she concedes the exchange, the opening duelist earns a number of successes equal to the exchange’s current ante and her opponent gains 1 edge (see below). If this isn’t enough successes for the opening duelist to win the verbal duel, the countering duelist decides whether to begin a new exchange (wherein she is now the opening duelist and her opponent is the countering duelist) or concede the duel.

If she successfully counters her opponent, her opponent must decide whether she wishes to counter, end the exchange, or concede the duel, as described above. The two duelists repeat this cycle until one character concedes or manages to earn a number of successes equal to their opposition’s Hit Dice + the average of their opposition’s Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma modifiers (rounded down, minimum of 0).

The actions that a duelist can take during her turn are described below.

Counter: If a character decides to counter her opponent, first she increases the current ante by 1. Next, she chooses a tactic that she has assigned a skill to (see Tactics) and attempts a skill check to earn completion with that skill. If her check equals or exceeds the exchange’s exchange DC, the exchange continues and the exchange DC is set to the character’s skill check result. The character’s opponent then has an opportunity to counter, end the exchange, or concede.

End the Exchange: If a character ends the exchange, her opponent gains a number of successes equal to the exchange’s ante and her opponent gains 1 edge (as described above), but the character can begin a new exchange. In this new exchange, the character who ended the exchange becomes the opening duelist, while her opponent becomes the countering duelist.

Concede the Duel: If a character concedes the verbal duel, she automatically loses, as if her opponent had earned enough successes to win the verbal duel.

Special Actions

In addition to the list of special actions that you can perform during a standard success-based skill challenge, there are several special actions that you can take during a chase that are unique to this type of skill challenge. This section discusses all of the various actions that you can perform during a chase other than attempting to earn completion or using one of the special actions detailed in the standard skill challenge element rules.

Discover Biases

If a character failed to discover the audience’s biases before rolling initiative, she can attempt a second discovery check to discover the audience’s biases at a –5 penalty once during the verbal duel. If she succeeds, she learns the audience’s biases as if she succeeded on her initial check. Regardless of whether she succeeds or fails, a character can only attempt one check to discover the audience’s biases once the verbal duel has taken place—she is simply too overcome by the mental demands of dueling to take a second, closer look at her audience.

Attempting to discover an audience’s biases is a free action that a character can attempt during her turn.

Seed the Audience

During a verbal duel, allies of either duelist can attempt to seed the crowd to grant that duelist benefits to help her succeed. In order to seed an audience, at least one character (the duelist or one of her allies) must have successfully discovered the audience’s biases. Seeding an audience requires a successful Bluff, Diplomacy, or Intimidate check with a DC equal to 10 + the verbal duel’s CR + the crowd’s size modifier (see Audience).

When attempting to seed a bias, a character chooses whether to seed a positive bias or a negative bias. If a character succeeds at a skill check to seed a positive bias, one duelist of that character’s choice gains an edge (see below) that can be spent with that duelist uses the tactic associated with the positive bias during the verbal duel. If a character succeeds at a skill check to seed a negative bias, one duelist of that character’s choice gains an edge that can be spent when that duelist counters the tactic associated with the negative bias. Regardless of whether she seeds a positive bias or a negative bias, a character cannot attempt to seed the same audience again if she fails her skill check, and if she fails by 5 or more, no character can attempt to seed whichever bias she tried to seed (positive or negative) again in her duelist’s favor for the rest of the verbal duel. Both sides can attempt to seed the audience, and the GM might allow either side to seed the audience before the skill challenge begins as appropriate. A duelist can only benefit from a single successful seeding of a particular bias (positive or negative) once per verbal duel.


Edges are special advantages that duelists gain throughout a verbal duel from using various measures. A duelist can spend an edge to reroll a skill check to earn completion during a verbal duel. Some edges have limits to when they can be spent. For instance, edges gained from seeding a positive bias can only be spent when using the tactic associated with the positive bias. Several circumstances that grant edges to characters participating in a verbal duel are detailed below.

Class Features, Feats, and Other Effects: Some class, such as the wit archetypeUI for bards, grant bonus edges that can be used during a verbal duel. Such effects note all (if any) restrictions placed on those edges.

Ending the Exchange: Whenever a character wins an exchange, either from her opponent failing to counter her or from her opponent ending the exchange, she gains 1 edge. This edge can be used with any skill check to earn completion during the verbal duel.

Seeding a Negative Bias: Whenever a character or her allies successfully seed a negative bias into the audience, that character gains an edge that she can use whenever she attempts to counter her opponent. She can only use this edge if the skill that her opponent used to set the exchange DC is the skill associated with the seeded bias. For example, if Graxiclees and Roy are dueling and Virgil manages to seed a negative bias towards the rhetoric tactic, Graxiclees would gain 1 edge that he could use to counter Roy should Roy use the rhetoric tactic to set the exchange DC.

Seeding a Positive Bias: Whenever a character or her allies successfully seed a positive bias into the audience, that character gains an edge that she can use with the particular tactic associated with the seeded bias. For example, if Virgil manages to seed a positive bias towards flattery into the audience while Graxiclees participates in a verbal duel, Graxiclees would gain 1 edge that he could use when he uses a skill associated with the flattery tactic to earn completion.

Skill-Modifying Effects: Characters participating in a verbal duel only add their bonus from skill ranks, their class skill bonus, and their Charisma modifier to skill checks made to earn completion during a verbal duel. However, other effects that would normally increase the modifier of an entire associated skill (not just circumstantial uses of that skill, such as the glibness spell’s bonus on Bluff checks made to lie) grant edges instead. When determining the number of edges gained from such effects, total all such bonuses that the character gains and divide the sum by 3. For example, if Graxiclees has Skill Focus (Diplomacy) and a circlet of persuasion, he would total the bonuses on Diplomacy checks from those effects (+6) and divide that bonus by 3 to determine the number of edges he gains from those effects. In this case, +6 divided by 3 results in a total of 2 edges.

All edges gained in this way are limited to the particular tactic associated with the skill. For instance, if Graxiclees assigns Diplomacy to the flattery tactic, he could only use these bonus edges on Diplomacy checks.


When a verbal duel begins, all characters participating in the verbal duel (the “duelists”) can assign any skill that they have ranks in to one of the tactics associated with that skill. A duelist can only assign a given skill to a single tactic, so if a duelist assigns Perform (oratory) to the allegory tactic, she couldn’t also assign it to the emotional appeal tactic. A duelist’s choice in tactic might grant her additional bonuses or penalties to skill checks made to earn completion with that tactic.

The various tactics that duelists can employ during a verbal duel are summarized here. Additional rules and considerations are also provided below.

Last Tactic

Its often considered bad form and awkward to counter with the last tactic used against you. Whenever a character counters her opponent with the same tactic that her opponent used to set the exchange DC during the previous round, she takes a –2 penalty on skill checks made to earn completion with that tactic. For instance, if Roy uses the rhetoric tactic against Graxiclees in a verbal duel, Graxiclees could counter with the rhetoric tactic if he wanted to, but doing so would cause him to take the aforementioned penalty on his skill check to earn completion.

Tactic Interaction

Some tactics are less effective at countering other tactics. Others are more effective at countering specific tactics, and others still have special rules governing their use. For instance, it is harder to counter a logical argument with mockery, and most tactics have a hard time foiling a verbal trap set by baiting.

Tactics with special interactions feature an “interaction” entry that details that tactic’s conflicts and synergies.

Repetition of Tactics

Using the same tactic over and over again is not an effective way to win verbal duels. Over the course of a verbal duel, each time a character wins an exchange, she takes a cumulative –2 penalty on all further skill checks to earn completion using the skill that she assigned to that tactic for the remainder of the verbal duel. In effect, she’s already given the best she has to offer using that tactic, and subsequent to use it are less effective as a result.

Versatile Performance

A character with the versatile performance ability (such as a bard) can assign any Perform skill that she has chosen with versatile performance to a number of tactics equal to 1 + the number of skills that she can substitute her Perform bonus for using versatile performance. She can only assign a Perform skill to tactics that list the chosen Perform skill, or any skill associated with that Perform skill.

For example, Graxiclees, a 2nd-level bard, has the versatile performance (Perform [dance]) ability, which is associated with Acrobatics and Fly. Therefore, he can assign Perform (dance) to up to three different skills: one skill that lists Perform (dance) as an associated skill, one that lists Acrobatics as an associated skill, and one that lists Fly as an associated skill.

However, some perform skills might not have skills associated with them that are also associated with verbal duel tactics. For instance, no verbal duel tactic is associated with Acrobatics or Fly, so despite Graxiclees having the versatile performance ability he can only assign Perform (dance) to a single tactic because no tactics listed below have Acrobatics or Fly as an associated skill.


You use a fable or parable featuring an underlying message to frame the debate. While it is sometimes difficult to use allegory in the heat of an exchange, it makes a very effective opener.

Associated Skills: Knowledge (history), Knowledge (religion), Perform (act), Perform (oratory).

Interaction: You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when using allegory as a counter.

Special: If you use allegory to open an exchange, and your opponent chooses to end the exchange rather than attempt to counter your allegory, you gain 2 additional successes towards clearing the verbal duel instead of gaining an edge.


You hurl taunts and barbs, or level false dichotomies, goading your opponent into a trap. Baiting works best when the stakes are already high, since in that case backing down can be even more damaging than blundering into your trap.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Intimidate, Perform (comedy), Sense Motive.

Interaction: A duelist using a tactic other than presence takes a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when countering baiting.

Special: Baiting cannot be employed to open an exchange. If your opponent ends an exchange rather than counter your baiting, your baiting doesn’t suffer the normal –2 penalty on future associated skill checks for winning an exchange.

Credibility Challenge

You insinuate that your opponent’s arguments are invalid or desperate because of some aspect of that opponent’s being, such as their personal failings, background, or bloodline.

Associated Skills: Intimidate, Knowledge (history), Knowledge (local), Knowledge (nobility).

Interaction: You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when countering the presence tactic by challenging your opponent’s credibility. You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check if your opponent or your audience is aware that you have a higher social standing than your opponent. This higher social standing might be due to noble birth or to life circumstances. For instance, an honest trader might be deemed to have a higher social standing than a criminal (even a reformed criminal).

Special: Courtly audiences usually have a positive bias towards the credibility challenge tactic, even when this tactic isn’t seeded. A character that successfully seeds a positive bias towards a courtly challenge in a courtly audience earns 2 edges rather than 1; her chosen duelist can spend these edges only on the credibility challenge tactic.

Emotional Appeal

You make an argument appealing to the emotional desires of your opponent or audience. This tactic is particularly useful against an opponent with an advantage in status or knowledge; raising the emotional stakes can be rewarding, but it can also be dangerous.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Perform (oratory), Sense Motive.

Interaction: You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when using an emotional appeal to counter logic, presence, and rhetoric.

Special: Successfully countering with an emotional appeal increases the exchange’s ante by an additional 1.


You ingratiate yourself to your opponent, causing him to either let down his guard or to gain some other advantage. While usually deceptive and manipulative, this tactic also covers the actions of characters who are genuinely likeable and friendly.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Knowledge (nobility).

Interaction: You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when using flattery to counter mockery. You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when using flattery to counter presence.

Special: If you win an exchange with flattery, reduce the ante of the exchange by 2 (minimum 0) and gain an edge that can be used with any skill check in a verbal duel.


When you use logic, you present facts, figures, and expert testimony. While logic can still be used to mislead your adversary or the audience, unlike most other tactics, it still requires a strong understanding of the subject matter to do so.

Associated Skills: Knowledge (any pertinent); occasionally, other skills will apply instead, such as Appraise (for a verbal duel involving barter or haggling) or Profession (for a verbal duel involving knowledge or practice of that profession’s skill set, such as Profession [barrister] during a trial).

Interaction: You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when you use logic as an opener. You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when you use logic to counter baiting, emotional appeal, mockery, red herring, or wit.

Special: When you win an exchange with logic, you gain 1 edge that you can only use with logic.


You use personal attacks, mudslinging, or creative insults to belittle your opponent. Mockery works best when you capitalize on your opponent’s use of an unpopular tactic.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Intimidate, Perform (comedy).

Interaction: You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when you use mockery to counter logic and wit.

Special: You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when you use mockery to counter a tactic with a negative audience bias, and if you win the exchange with mockery against such a tactic, increase the ante by 1. You take a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when you use mockery to counter a tactic with a positive audience bias, though if you succeed, reduce the ante by 1.

Polite Befuddlement

You pretend to be unclear about your opponent’s points, encouraging him to explain further, provide examples, or otherwise become distracted from his main point. When he provides a poor example or contradictory explanation to your feigned ignorance, you pounce on his error in order to invalidate his position. Polite befuddlement is most effective when countering tactics based on structure or reason.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Perform (comedy).

Interaction: You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when you use polite befuddlement to counter the allegory, logic, or rhetoric tactics.

Special: You can’t use polite befuddlement as an opener. As polite befuddlement relies on an impression of poor understanding or simple thinking, audiences rarely have a positive bias toward polite befuddlement.


You make a show of confidence or true nobility or you simply put on airs, and an opponent’s claims slide off and bounce back against him, leaving you unscathed. This tactic works to deflect baiting and mockery but is less effective against other tricks.

Associated Skills: Intimidate, Knowledge (nobility).

Interaction: You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when you use presence to counter baiting or mockery. You takes a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when using presence to counter allegory, emotional appeal, or red herring.

Special: If you win an exchange with presence, you regain 1 determination (to a maximum amount equal to your starting determination).

Psychological Manipulation

This insidious tactic is used to carefully attack an opponent, rather than an opponent’s argument. You subtly question your opponent’s memory and sanity, insisting that past events are not as your opponent remembers them or trivializing your opponent’s position. Psychological manipulation is most effective when the opponent lacks witnesses to draw upon for support.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Intimidate, Perform (act).

Interaction: A duelist takes a –2 penalty on the associated skill check when countering psychological manipulation if the duel has no audience.

Special: When you win an exchange with psychological manipulation, your opponent is thrown off balance and loses 1 edge of her choice (if she has any).

Red Herring

You use this tactic to distract your opponent or the audience from the heart of the debate, avoiding the danger of the current exchange. While a red herring can’t be used as an opener, it can be used to quickly end an exchange that is getting too dangerous to continue.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Perform (oratory).

Special: You cannot use red herring as an opener. When using a red herring as a counter, you can choose to gain a +4 bonus on the associated skill check. If you do so and succeed, instead of continuing and escalating the exchange as normal, you reduce the ante to 0 and automatically win the exchange. Unlike normal, you start the next exchange.


You use versatile debating tactics, applying advantageous rhetorical devices to squash your opponent’s arguments. Most of the verbal maneuvers included in this tactic are simple and forthright linguistic devices; deceptive debating gambits are often included as part of other tactics such as baiting, emotional appeal, mockery, or red herring. Rhetoric is a multipurpose tactic that lacks some of the dangers of other tactics, but doesn’t offer any significant rewards either.

Associated Skills: Diplomacy, Linguistics, Perform (act), Perform (oratory).

Special: Since rhetoric involves subtle word choices that most audiences don’t notice consciously, it is very rare for an audience to have a negative bias toward rhetoric.

Spurious Argument

You refute an argument that is similar to, but subtly different than, your opponent’s actual position. This allows you to exploit the difference to make your opponent’s position seem erroneous or foolish. A spurious argument is particularly useful against nebulous emotional appeals, but crumbles beneath rigid logic that identifies the tactic’s false distinctions.

Associated Skills: Bluff, Perform (act), Perform (oratory).

Interaction: You gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check when you use a spurious argument to counter the allegory or emotional appeals tactics. A duelist using logic to counter spurious argument gains a +2 bonus on the associated skill check.

Special: You can turn a well-crafted spurious argument against your opponent later. When you win an exchange with a spurious argument, you gain 1 edge that you can use only with mockery, a red herring, or wit.


You use humor or cleverness to gain an advantage over your opponent, but the tactic can backfire if your jokes and jibes fall flat.

Associated Skills: Linguistics, Perform (comedy).

Special: When using wit, you can choose to gain a +2 bonus on the associated skill check. If you do so and fail the associated skill check, decrease your determination by 1. If you fail by 5 or more, you take a –2 penalty on wit’s associated skill checks for the rest of the duel.

Elements of a Verbal Duel

All verbal duels have the following elements: type*, frequency, completion (successes-only)*, benefit*, and penalty*. Some verbal duels might also include optional elements, such as audience or time pressure*. Elements marked with an asterisk use the same rules as those found in standard skill challenges.


Verbal duels are success-based skill challenges in which opposing characters compete to defeat their opponent with wordplay. During a verbal duel, which skill checks are used to earn completion are determined by each character’s tactics.


The amount of time represented by one cycle varies from verbal duel to verbal duel based upon theme, and a verbal duel’s frequency notes the amount of time that each cycle represents. Verbal duels almost always have a frequency of 1 round, as most verbal duels are fast-paced exchanges between two opponents. However, verbal duels can also take place over longer periods of time, such as two writers who engage in a “verbal duel” through opinion pieces in competing news papers. Such verbal duels can have a frequency of 1 minute, 10 minutes, 1 hour, or even 1 day depending upon the nature of the skill challenge.

A verbal duel’s frequency limits which abilities and effects are applicable to the chase. Each cycle that passes reduces the duration by the amount of time indicated by its frequency. For instance, each effect active on a character who is participating in a verbal duel with a frequency of 10 minutes would have its duration reduced every cycle by 10 minutes. As a general rule, an ability or effect cannot have a meaningful impact upon a verbal duel if its duration is less than the chase’s frequency, for it is unable to last for the entire cycle.

Audience (Optional Element)

Many verbal duels have an audience presence who watches and indirectly participates in the verbal duel. If an audience is present, this entry notes the size of the audience, as well as its general make up. This can include information about the audience’s race, sex, age, background, and other identifying information. If a specific piece of identifying information is not included, assume that the audience is a well-distributed mix of persons belonging to that identifying category. For instance, if no sex is listed for the audience, the audience is likely an even mix of both male and female attendees.

If no audience is present, characters cannot attempt to discover the audience’s biases, nor can they attempt to seed the audience. Seeing as most verbal duels take place between two individuals, an audience allows the PCs who aren’t participating in the verbal duel to contribute in a meaningful way, and as a result GMs are generally advised to have a decently-sized audience attend a verbal duel whenever it is appropriate for the scene that the GM is setting.

The difficulty to seed biases among the audience depends upon the audience’s size, as described below.

Small Crowd: A small crowd contains no fewer than two and no more than 25 creatures. Small crowds have a size modifier of +0.

Medium Crowd: A medium crowd contains no fewer than 26 and no more than 100 creatures. Medium crowds have a size modifier of +2.

Large Crowd: A large crowd contains no fewer than 101 and no more than 300 creatures. Large crowds have a size modifier of +3.

Massive Mob: A massive mob is made up of no fewer than 301 creatures, and its numbers can expand into the thousands. Massive mobs have a size modifier of +4.

SQ (Optional Element)

Verbal duels can possess numerous special qualities—specific qualities that use standard rules that are referenced (but not repeated) in skill challenge stat blocks. Verbal duels have their own, unique list of special qualities to choose from, which is presented below. A verbal duel cannot have a special quality that is not specifically attributed to a verbal duel.

Critical Fumble: Whenever a character rolls a natural 1 (the d20 shows 1), she fails regardless of her skill check’s result and has “fumbled,” meaning the failure might be a critical failure.

To determine if its a critical failure, the character immediately makes an attempt to “confirm” the critical fumble—another skill check with all the same modifiers as the skill check she just made. If the confirmation roll also results in a failure against the skill check’s DC, the original failure is a critical failure. (The confirmation roll just needs to fail to equal or exceed the skill check’s DC to cause a critical fumble, it does not need to come up 1 again.) If the confirmation roll beats the skill check’s DC, then the failure is just a regular failure.

A critical failure means that the character loses completion towards clearing the skill challenge. When a character critically fumbles during a verbal duel, reduce the number of successes that the character has earned by an amount equal to her opponent’s highest mental ability score modifier (their Charisma, Intelligence, or Wisdom).

Imbued: The area where the verbal duel takes place is imbued with one or more spells, whose effects linger for the duration of the skill challenge. The spells imbued in the area are listed in the entry along with their caster levels and save DCs (if any). Imbued spells have no duration; their effects are permanent, though a successful dispel magic attempt (or a similar effect) can suppress an imbued spell for 1d4 cycles. Most imbued spells use the minimum caster level and ability score required to cast the spell to determine their effects, but the GM can use more powerful magic if necessary.

Limited Completion: The nature of some verbal duels prevents multiple allied characters from attempting to earn completion or advantages at the same time or assisting the same character. Verbal duels with the limited completion special quality only allow a limited number of characters to make skill checks to earn completion or seed an audience—these characters are known as primary participants. Likewise, they might restrict the number of allies who can act as assistants to a primary participant using the aid another action.

Momentum: By default, verbal duels are won when characters accrue sufficient successes to seize victory from their opponent. However, an equally viable tactic is to steal the steam from their opposition’s sails, leaving them demoralized and unwilling to debate further. In a verbal duel with the momentum special quality, characters don’t accumulate successes to determine the debate’s winner. Instead, each duelist has an amount of momentum equal to their Hit Dice + the average of their Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma modifiers (rounded down, minimum 0). During the verbal duel, whenever a duelist would normally gain successes, her opponent instead loses momentum equal to the number of successes that the duelist would have otherwise gained. When a character’s momentum reaches 0, that character can no longer participate in the verbal duel. The last duelist with 1 or more momentum remaining wins the verbal duel.

Multidirectional: Verbal duels usually involve debates between two sides, but verbal duels between more than two parties exist. In a verbal duel with the multidirectional special quality, more than two independent duelists actively participate in the verbal duel at the same time. Multidirectional debates follow the same rules as standard verbal duels, except when a duelist opens a debate, she chooses one duelist to be the countering duelist, and the exchange continues between the two of them. When the exchange’s winner is determined or the exchange ends, the winner must then start an exchange with a different duelist. A verbal duel with the multidirectional special quality must also have the momentum special quality.

Specific Completion: Although most verbal duels allow some flexibility in regards to the tactics that can be used to clear them, verbal duels with the specific completion special quality require successes with one or more specific tactics in order to complete them. The entry typically notes which tactics are required to clear the verbal duel and the number of successes that must be earned using those tactics to complete it. Completion earned to satisfy a verbal duel’s specific completion special quality still counts towards clearing that verbal duel as normal. For instance, if a verbal duel that requires 4 successes to clear it has the special completion (rhetoric 2) special quality, the character must successfully earn 4 successes from winning verbal exchanges to clear the skill challenge, and at least 2 successful skill checks made to start an exchange or open a verbal exchange must be made with the rhetoric tactic.

Specific Tactics: Although most verbal duels allow enough flexibility that characters can use whatever dueling tactics they wish with GM permission, sometimes specific tactics are not appropriate for certain skill challenges. Although no one can stop a PC from using that tactic anyway, doing so comes at a high price. A verbal duel with the specific skills special quality imposes a –10 penalty on all tactics listed by this special quality. In addition, if the verbal duel has an audience, they always start with a negative bias against the listed tactics.

Special: Some verbal duels have miscellaneous qualities that produce special effects, such as drowning or ability damage. Saving throws are typically equal to 10 + the skill challenge’s CR.

Team: Sides in a verbal duel are usually one duelist versus one duelist, but some verbal duels feature several people representing one side of a debate. In a verbal duel with the team special quality, each side of the duel consists of multiple characters, as noted in the quality’s entry. Team duels typically feature an equal number of duelists on each side, but GMs can decide to allow teams to be made lopsided if one side would otherwise have a significant advantage over the other.

To start a team duel, all characters on both sides roll initiative normally, then determine which character on each side has the highest initiative result. These characters (those with the highest initiative results from each side) are then compared to determine the initiative order of the sides—the side of the character with the highest initiative is side 1 and the side with the character with the second highest initiative is side 2.

During each cycle, turns cycle first between sides, then between characters based on their initiative result on that side. For instance, the characters on each side act first by order of side (side 1 goes first, team 2 goes second, and so on). Next, the characters on each side with the second highest initiative acts by order of team, and so on. When all duelists have acted, the cycle ends and the next cycle begins.

Whenever a side wins an exchange, the duelist who won the exchange for that side takes a cumulative –2 penalty on all skill checks to earn completion for the rest of the verbal duel. All team duels have the momentum special quality, and the team possesses a single momentum score. When determining a side’s momentum, first determine the highest Charisma, Intelligence, and Wisdom modifiers possessed by members of that side and average them together. Next, determine the average number of Hit Dice possessed by duelists on that side. Finally, add the side’s average Hit Dice total to its average mental ability score modifier together, then multiply the result by 2.

Verbal Duel Stat Block

Verbal duels are organized in standard blocks that appear similar to standard success-based skill challenges, except they’re considerably more concise. This is where a summary of the different rules in effect during the verbal duel can be found. A verbal duel stat block is organized as follows. Note that in cases where a line in a chase stat block has no value, that line is omitted.

Name and CR: The verbal duel’s name is presented first, along with its Challenge Rating (CR). A verbal duel’s CR is always equal to the CR of the opposition.

XP: Listed here are the total experience points that the PCs earn for clearing the chase.

Type: This line notes the type of skill challenge that is being conducted. In a verbal duel, this always lists ‘verbal duel.’

Goal: This is a brief description of what the PCs and their opposition are trying to accomplish during the chase.

Frequency: This lists the amount of time that passes between each cycle during the chase.

Time Pressure (Optional Element): This lists the number of cycles that the PCs have to finish the verbal duel. If neither side has claimed victory in the listed number of cycles, the verbal duel ends with a draw.

Audience (Optional Element): If an audience is watching the verbal duel, a brief description of the audience is noted here.

Audience Bias (Optional Element): If the audience has any positive or negative biases at the start of the verbal duel, they are noted here.

Backlash (Optional Element): This entry notes any negative effects that the PCs take when they fail a skill check to earn completion during the verbal duel.

SQ (Optional Element): This entry notes any special qualities or rules that the chase has.

Benefit: This is the reward or boon that the PCs gain for completing the chase.

Penalty: This is the consequence that the PCs incur should they fail to complete the chase.

Sample Verbal Duels

The following verbal duels were designed using the rules described above.

Law and Order in the Court (CR 9)

XP 6,400
Contest (verbal duel)
Goal The PCs are attempting to prove a criminal guilty of theft, manslaughter, and other crimes. The criminal is attempting to prove himself not guilty.

Frequency 10 minutes
Time Pressure 6 cycles

Audience Medium crowd of mostly adult humans, as well as a minority of adults from other common races; Audience Bias positive (emotional appeal, logic)
Benefit The criminal is found guilty, resulting in his imprisonment and ending his reign of terror on the city streets. For their services, the city’s governor grants the PCs a stipend worth 4,000 gp.
Penalty The criminal is found not guilty, resulting in his release. Citizens fear to leave their homes after dark, and the criminal will be looking to settle the score with the PCs.

Verbal Duelist Stat Block

While giving each duelist their own stat block in a verbal duel isn’t necessary if you already have a stat block for that character, summarizing the statistics relevant to the verbal duel in a verbal duelist stat block can be a helpful space saver for the GM. Verbal duelist stat blocks are concise and provide only the information needed to use the character in a verbal duel.

Name and CR: The character’s name is presented first, along with its Challenge Rating (CR). Use the character’s CR as if it were encountered during combat for this purposes—if the character is significantly better-suited to verbal dueling than the PCs, you may add +1 to the duelist’s CR. “Better” is defined as having significant bonuses in multiple skills associated with verbal dueling tactics, as well as feats or class features that are suited to verbal dueling. If the character is significantly worse at dueling than the PCs, you may reduce the duelist’s CR by 1. “Worse” is defined as having few or no skills that are well-suited to verbal dueling, or having some other impairment that makes dueling difficult as determined by the GM.

Appearance: The duelist’s physical appearance, including their apparent age, race, sex, and garb, is described here.

Background: A brief detailing of the duelist’s background, as it pertains to the characters participating in the verbal duel, is described here.

Goals: This is a list of the duelist’s goals.

Skills: The verbal duelist’s skill bonuses in all skills that it can assign. Typically, the following skills are included: Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, Knowledge (history), Knowledge (nobility), Knowledge (religion), Linguistics, Perform (act), Perform (comedy), Perform (oratory), and Sense Motive. In addition, since duelists can assign any pertinent skills to the logic tactic, any other skills relevant to the skill challenge can also be noted here.

Abilities: Any other abilities that the verbal duelist has that are relevant to the verbal duel are noted here.

Completion: This entry notes the number of successes that a PC needs in order to win the verbal duel. If the verbal duel has the momentum special quality, this notes the duelist’s momentum instead.

Tactics: This entry notes the duelist’s general tactics, such as what skills she assigns to each tactic and how she opens her first exchange. Note that tactics listed here are the NPC’s preferential tactics—she isn’t beholden to them if the opportunity to employ tactics that are obviously more beneficial arises.

Sample Verbal Duelist

The following verbal duelist is a simplification of relevant information from a character’s stat block.

Roy “Redstrip” Rosewood (CR 9)

LN mephian alchemist (clone master) 10
Appearance Standing as tall as a human, this skunk-like humanoid is garbed in resplendent finery, including several jeweled rings and bangles as well as a ruffled collar. His gaze is cool and calculated, and he seems almost amused by his current situation as a defendant.
Background Orphaned as an adolescent after his parents died in a gruesome raid, Roy studied with some of the world’s best alchemists. When he returned home, he found his city had stagnated politically and culturally, and took up a life of crime targeting the political elite in order to force them to adapt to the changing times. Instead, he was apprehended by the PCs, and now stands trial at their hands.
Goals Roy seeks his freedom so he can continue his schemes against the ruling council of the city. In his arrogance, he feels that the PCs pose little threat to him within a house of law, and does not take them seriously as a result.

Skills Bluff +10, Diplomacy +10, Knowledge (history) +10, Knowledge (nobility) +10, Sense Motive +10

Successes 11
Tactics Roy assigns Bluff to the polite befuddlement tactic, Diplomacy to the rhetoric tactic, Knowledge (history) to the credibility challenge tactic, Knowledge (nobility) to the presence tactic, and Sense Motive to the baiting tactic.

Designing a Verbal Duel

Verbal duels essentially run like standard success-based skill challenges, but designing them is fundamentally different from designing other skill challenges. Unlike standard skill challenges, a verbal duel’s difficulty is derived entirely from the interaction between the two duelists—there is no need to calculate Difficulty Classes, choose primary or secondary skills, or even list what skills can and cannot be used in the verbal duel. Even with the presence or absence of an audience and over a half-dozen special qualities for GMs to choose from, nearly all verbal duels play similarly from duel to duel, making them one of the most simple skill challenges to build and run.

When designing a verbal duel, you begin by designing the opposition—the duelist or duelists who will actively duel against the PCs. Once the duelist or duelists have been designed, you design the scene where the verbal duel will take place by determining whether it will have an audience and the like. Once this is done, the verbal duel is ready for play.

Designing the Opposition

When designing the opposition for a verbal duel, the only aspects of the character that truly matter are its ability scores, total Hit Dice, and skill bonuses. You need the opposition’s ability scores and Hit Dice to determine the number of successes needed to win the verbal duel (or the amount of momentum that the opposition has, if the verbal duel has the momentum special quality), and you need the opposition’s skill bonuses so the opposition can participate in the skill challenge. Although this is simple enough, you likely want to know the character’s class features, feats, racial traits, and magic item selection as well, as the effects provided by these options and traits can potentially provide duelists with additional edges that they can use during the verbal duel. As a result, it is most helpful to build an entire stat block for your character, especially if you intend the duel to potentially end in violence.

When deciding on your skill bonuses for a duelist, try to make sure that the duelist has at least three skills from among those usable in the verbal duel that possess the maximum number of skill ranks, as well as a class skill bonus and an ability score modifier of at least +1, plus an additional +1 for every 4 CR the character has. Its okay to have fewer bonuses than this, but the CR of the encounter should be lowered to compensate the decreased challenge in dueling the NPC.

Another equally important part of the NPC duelist is determining their tactics. Choosing tactics in advance helps to speed up gameplay, as the players don’t have to wait for you to make those decisions. In additionally, it encourages you to pick tactics based on the character’s personality and demeanor during the skill challenger, rather than based on what the PC duelist choose. For instance, a character who is condescending towards the PCs is likely to pick tactics like mockery and credibility challenge, while a duelist who wants to give off the impression of being knowledgeable often relies on logic or rhetoric. How your NPCs assign their tactics often offers a gateway into their personality, so use special time and consideration when making this choice.

Designing the Scene

Once you have designed the NPCs that will participate in the verbal duel, the next step is to determine how the verbal duel will play out. Compared to other skill challenges, verbal duels are easy to design because most of the work put into a verbal duel is aesthetics—you must determine where the verbal duel will take place, what topic will be debated, and how much time the verbal duel takes.

Perhaps the most important part of designing a verbal duel is deciding whether or not an audience is presence. The audience gives PCs who aren’t participating in a verbal duel something to do—they can actively attempt to seed biases into the audience to grant benefits to their ally. If having an audience isn’t appropriate for a verbal duel, consider giving the verbal duel the team special quality instead so multiple characters can participate. In some situations, it might be appropriate for a single PC to have a one-on-one showdown with an NPC in a verbal duel, perhaps against a personal rival or a major antagonist, but such scenes should always be kept to the minimum to avoid allowing one character to hog the spotlight for too long.

When considering which biases to give an audience at the start of a verbal duel (if any), it helps to keep in mind the political climate surrounding the duel in mind, as well as the topic being debated. For instance, if the topic being debated is one that the audience has a strong emotional connection to, they will likely have a bias for the emotional appeal tactic. Of course, they just as likely be swayed by logic involving the nature of coal mining, or challenges against the PC’s credibility that their employer makes. Ultimately, GMs are encouraged to pick no more than three biases for their audience, as the primary purpose of the audience is to give PCs something to do, and having too many innate biases in the audience diminishes how effectively the PCs are able to interact with that audience.

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