Mastering the Intimidate skill is difficult, probably more so than any other skill in the PHB. Intimidate is availabe to 12 classes (as shown in our Skill Matrix by Class) making it the most widely available skill (along with Athletics and Endurance). If you’re playing a class like the Fighter where you have very few skills to choose from, Intimidate is a very popular choice.
Despite the large number of PCs who take training in Intimidate, it’s a skill that has very limited uses. Using Intimidate during a skill challenge often counts as an automatic failure. If not, then you usually get only one try with Intimidate. In a perfect scenario a successful Intimidate check brings you one step closer to accomplishing the objective of the skill challenge. If you fail it can make future checks more difficult and count as one more strike. So it’s important to know when to use Intimidate and when to rely on a different skill.
The PHB describes Intimidate as the ability to influence others through hostile actions or overt threats. How you accomplish this is really a matter of how you role-play your PC in a given situation.
Below are two examples that rely on Intimiade. Both are acceptable options and both have the same DC. But they illicit a totally different outcome from the NPCs whether you succeed or not.
“Tell us where the bandits are hiding. Don’t make me beat a confession out of you.”
This scenario relies on the villager’s fear of a powerful PC. Although this method of persuasion may yield results it won’t make future dealings with other villagers any easier. If the Intimidate check fails, any subsequent Diplomacy or Streetwise checks will be more difficult. Some DMs may rule that any attempt to use Intimidate to scare information from the frightened villagers automatically fails. This is when a quick Insight or Perception check made before an Intimidate check can prove useful.
“Tell us where the bandits are hiding. Not helping us will only make things worse for you and your village because we won’t be able to stop the raids. By not helping us you’re helping them. It might as well be you stealing your neighbour’s wares. The raids won’t stop until the bandits are dealt with.”
This scenario relies on the villager’s fear of a common enemy and not fear of the PC. So a failed check here may not mean a failure against the overall skill challenge, just the closure of one avenue of information gathering. This method is also less likely to make subsequent Diplomacy or Streetwise checks any more difficult. In fact, if the goal of the PC is to demonstrate the pure motives of the party then a successful check could provide a +2 bonus to the next Diplomacy or Streetwise check the party makes. It all depends how the player defines what their doing and what their intentions are.
I try to make it clear to my players if using Intimidate will or won’t be appropriate to a situation. It’s up to them to play their characters as they see fit, but I want them to understand that using Intimidate can, and often does, have negative consequences. I like to think of Intimidate as that secret weapon that you bring out for special occasions. It tends to yield better results this way and makes for more memorable role-playing.
What do you think? How has Intimidate been used successfully during skill challenges at your gaming table? If you’ve come up with creative uses please share them with us.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out all of our Skill Aides, including other entries in the Skill Focus series.