Apologies for the late post, I had forgotten to publish it this morning. Last week we covered Insight, and this week we’re covering Intimidation. Enjoy!
Using Skills – Intimidation
The Goliath chieftess cracks her knuckles and smiles to the goblin captive, who turns a paler shade of green. A diplomat quietly whispers into the magistrate’s ear, reminding him of the dangers of going against the Earl during the council vote. The knight throws down his shield and holds aloft the holy symbol of his deity to the unruly mob, checking their simmering anger with a reminder of divine retribution. Intimidation is the skill used by those who persuade with a closed fist rather than an open hand.
The PHB describes it thus: “When you attempt to influence someone through overt threats, hostile actions, and physical violence, the DM might ask you to make a Charisma (Intimidation) check. Examples include trying to pry information out of a prisoner, convincing street thugs to back down from a confrontation, or using the edge of a broken bottle to convince a sneering vizier to reconsider a decision.” (PHB pg. 179)
Essentially, Intimidation is the act of convincing using force or a show of force. It has a wide range of uses beyond interrogating a captured monster, and used more subtly is a way to navigate politics or bureaucracy if you can back it up. There are pitfalls that Persuasion doesn’t have as Intimidation skirts closer to law-breaking territory, especially if you are using an overt threat. Therefore it could be seen as more direct but also more dangerous to use.
Keep in mind the optional rule in the Player’s Handbook (page 175) that allows you to use Strength with Intimidation rather than Charisma where appropriate (and with your DMs permission). This can be something like slamming your hand on a table and making it crack in the presence of your prisoner or similar feats of strength meant to show someone that you mean business.
What it is Not
- Outright Violence – While you can hurt someone to intimidate someone, it’s not necessary. Threats or hints of bodily injury are just as effective as far the mechanics of the game are concerned.
- Complete Control – Intimidation isn’t going to let you completely control a person or creature if you are successful, especially if what you want them to do would cause them injury. They’ll certainly be more pacified and willing to share information, but keep in mind that the person you are threatening might say anything to get you to leave them alone. Even they do tell you the truth, it might be fragmentary or purposefully left vague. It’s often a good idea to combine Intimidation with other skills to get a full picture of situations. The DM should set baselines for his NPCs. How do they react to failing an Intimidation check?
The following are optional or edge cases for Intimidation, and are entirely dependent on the Dungeon Master.
- Battlefield Intimidation – You can use your action to perform an intimidation on anyone that can see and understand you. This might be simply slamming your shield with your sword or yelling a battle cry or a challenge. If doing so, roll an Intimidation check contested against the creature’s Wisdom Saving Throw. If they fail, their attacks against you have disadvantage until they or someone they can see successfully hits you in combat.
- Inspiring Intimidation – You may perform an intimidation action in front of troops, soldiers, or followers under your command. Roll a Charisma (Intimidation) check against a DC 15. If you are successful, any NPC under your command gains a point of inspiration. Someone can only gain inspiration in this way once a day.
Dungeon Master Examples
The following is meant to inspire the Dungeon Master to design with intimidation in mind. Keep in mind that Intimidation can be a very powerful tool for the PCs. It is always best to develop before hand an idea of how your monsters and NPCs would react to role play situations, and how helpful they would be if intimidated by a PC. Don’t make it so a successful intimidation is ever useless to a PC, but make them role play the encounter out instead of letting the dice rolls determine exactly what happens, what is said, and what the intimidated creature does.
- The Ceremony of Gruumsh – When a special even occurs, such as a chieftain’s wedding or the defeat of a powerful foe, an orc war-band will often hold a feast and a day of celebration. It is a time for eat and drink as well as contests of strength and skill, all in tribute to the chieftain. One such event is called the Test of the Unblinking Eye. The PCs, depending on the cultural and political context, might find themselves able to compete in these trials. To compete in the Test of the Unblinking Eye, follow the following:
- Any PC that enters must cover one eye with a patch or strip of clothe.
- The contest is held one on one in a series of rounds until all but one contestant is eliminated.
- The contest itself is simple: the two competitors must stare unblinking with the uncovered eye. The first to blink loses and is shamed.
- The contest is resolved with a series of contested Charisma (Intimidation) checks. The lower roll means that person blinks. On ties neither blink, and another roll is called for.
- Whoever wins is given a small boon by the chieftain, often a weapon or shield embossed with the great eye of Gruumsh.
- This can easily be adapted for any barbarian tribal contests for holidays, feasts, weddings, etc.
Thanks for reading! I am really happy about the feedback this series has been getting on Reddit and on Twitter. It is very much appreciated. Next week we switch gears with a new race of sentient constructs. See you then!