Talking Body (Communication in Pathfinder)

Telepathy Bar Small

Keeping the party alive of means working together, but working together often means letting one another know what to do. Or at least we think they should do. The nature of combat, social skills and time-distortions (played vs. in-game) in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game often lets players have far more time per relative second than their characters could possibly experience. So to enhance the verisimilitude of  communication in-game its good to have an idea of the basics.

Communication Basics in Pathfinder

When discussing in game communications it is important to keep certain realities in mind, particularly in combat or social situations (such as those with opposed rolls or other skill checks). With practice a lot of communication basics become more intuitive and can lead to less confusion and less drag on gameplay. Keep in mind:

  • Can you communicate? – Establishing a language in common is often a mistake players make in NPC interactions, particularly with rural or savage cultures. Nothing like a half-hour of roleplaying with the kobold chieftan only to realize no one speaks draconic or any other shared language. Verify language as early and often as possible. If there isn’t a language at a minimum the “Hunch” result of Sense Motive should allow for basic trust and communication of intent (harm or help) at the GM’s discretion.
  • Can you hear the communication? Can they? – As important as language is the ability to perceive it. Negotiating across a chasm may be frustrating if half the words get lost to the wind. Fortunately loud sounds like battle or yelling start in the negatives for Perception DCs.
  • How much time do you have to talk?Speaking is generally a free action and GMs are given privilege to restrict or allow those as they see fit. Make sure the group has clear understanding of allowable limits on speaking free actions, otherwise, a group may find some members interject directives and commentary so often another player may be hedged out entirely. Diplomacy is ineffective in combat situations and Intimidate usually requires a standard action.
  • Are you being cautious if overheard?Bluff is a wonderful thing for getting a point across on the sly needed only a 15 DC check to work in a simple message or a 20 DC for something complicated hidden from other listners. The result also set the DC for unintended creatures understanding the message.

Communication Pitfalls

With a brief overview of general communication in mind it is easy to start to see how we can have issues arising from time to time. The following pitfalls are commonplace enough to be aware of before a player comes to a table:

  • Out-of-Game Knowledge – Whenever possible a player is advised to not act on things their character is not aware of. This can be difficult to manage but if a skill check was failed, language was unknown or a character otherwise wasn’t privy to information then they shouldn’t be reacting to it. Some players try to manage this by ignoring play when they are not involved but this extreme not only disengages a character (and player) but slows down game play if characters are required to re-tell learned information. Try to cultivate an ability to compartmentalize in-game knowledge from player knowledge.
  • Excessive Interjections – Technically speaking a permissive GM could rule that each free action can go up to the limited “few sentences” suggested in the speak action and then that a player might take any number of free actions around. In this case, players can grind play to a halt with quips, jokes and even commands…
  • Coaching Others – Generally speaking gamers come to a game to play their character and have fun friends. Very few of them come to have fun and have their friends play their character. In Pathfinder’s combat system the tactical implications or optimal configurations can be minced to the smallest five foot increment or square. Keep in mind that everyone has their play style and might not have the same tactical views. If a player feel they MUST advise another player keep realistic time limits in mind. Tactical recommendations in-character are more immersive and tend to prevent pontification on any given action. Players who need advice will ask.
  • Ignoring Verisimilitude – Responding to languages they don’t understand, ignoring distances or acknowledging innuendo without a skill check are examples of poor attention to communication that will aggravate others at the table. Part of the roleplaying experience is taking the actions a character would in a situation, that includes uninformed mistakes or non-optimal actions.

Solving for Communication

If the above complexities are issues that are familiar, a lot of tools exist in game and out to help minimize communication issues. Here are a few:

  • Common Languages – In a lot of default settings it is assumed that player characters all have a default language in common. This is somewhat less realistic in planar or interstellar games. Regardless of initial conditions, consider leveling the party into a common rare language. This gives them the ability to communicate in semi-privacy without needing characters trained in social skills. You can even still Bluff if needed though Aklo metaphors are pretty tricky.
  • Command Structures – If communication issues seem to indicate constant strain on tactical decisions or mismanaged resources, consider building a group command structure. This highly benefits from being an in-character discussion. Communication and “coaching” issues will surface and be discussed instead of left to seethe til the next combat where a mistake might get you killed. Roleplaying command structure also allows players to stand up for their decision and if no clear leader can be achieved then people understand they cannot expect to give orders.
  • Telepathy – Hands down the easiest verisimilitude fix for communication, telepathy removes language barriers and communicate selectively. It circumnavigates language barriers and MIGHT be slightly faster one on one than verbal language (GM discretion). Shorthand, telepathy makes metagame discussions of actions more reflective of gameplay. Core Rulebook games are likely waiting til 9th level to see telepathy regularly for the entire party but a 3rd-Party friendly games can see it as soon as 3rd.

Gaming is social, and not every moment in game is going to be spent in character, but respect others at the table enough to care about the communication going on. Better communication will lead to more immersive roleplay, faster paced combats and fewer disagreements.

If you want some new character options to talk about you can see ours at:, drivethruRPG, Paizo and RPGNow.


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