Skill Focus: Intimidate

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 2, 2009

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.

Example 1

“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.

Example 2

“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.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rob G April 2, 2009 at 5:50 am

I hate the way Intimidate never seems to have a use, because if you use it you are punished, yet the description says you can make enemies surrender quite easily.

Your use is a good one and shows it has more versatility. I personally have used it in versatile way my self to give a bonus to heal checks.

“Get up soldier! You lily livered blob of snot! If you don’t get up now I’ll kick you into the Shadowfell myself!” ect, etc.

2 Emily Mottesheard April 2, 2009 at 11:58 am

I’ve got a few house rules (not sure whether I came up with them on my own or borrowed them from other folk’s ideas) that makes intimidate a more useful skill for players to pick up. For instance, if a player encounters some bad guys, and has the opportunity to speak some bravado and bluster to discourage them, I let the player roll an intimidate check. Even if the player isn’t saying anything, but trying to do a stare down or make a threatening action, their goal is the same so I encourage them to roll a check to see how effective it is. The bad guys, in turn, roll a will save verses the player’s total roll. If they fail, they are effected as if shaken, and take a -2 to attacks, representing the player’s ability to strike fear into his enemies.

3 Ameron April 3, 2009 at 7:47 am

@Rob G
My group has had a lot of success in using Intimidate to force an enemy to surrender during combat. Under this circumstance the PCs know when using Intimidate is appropriate. It’s during skill challenges that we always run into trouble. A PC will do what’s “in character,” namely use Intimidate when Diplomacy is clearly a better option, and earn a failure in the skill challenge. In a way they’re being penalized for role-playing their character. This, in my opinion, isn’t right.

I like your idea of using Intimidate to assist with Heal checks. I suppose it could be used in a similar way to assist with Endurance of Athletics checks. I’ll have to remember that.

@Emily Mottesheard
Your scenario seems balanced and appropriate for the circumstance. You’ve provided another great way to use Intimidate. Thanks.

4 Guy Goddard May 20, 2013 at 3:04 am

I know a late post. I’m new to this web site.

How about a dwarf running up to a foe yelling and screaming wielding a battle axe, stating that he is trying to use Intimidate? With a DC of appropriate level I’ll give him a +2 to attack if successful and a -2 if failed.

5 Earl July 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm

I totally disagree with example 2 above. This is NOT intimidate but rather diplomacy. Intimidate means the target fears ME – not some bandit – or it should go off of the bandit’s skill level. With intimidate, YOU are using the targets fear of YOU to gain a “friendly” reaction. You are not being nice and friendly. You are threatening the target – plain and simple. I tell my players that it is like pulling a gun on someone in modern times. You get what you want because they fear what may happen with the gun. It does ruin any true friendly reaction later but… it can help accomplish the mission at hand.

6 Ameron (Derek Myers) July 8, 2013 at 9:44 am

@Earl
The description of Intimidate in the 4e PHB is intentionally vague to allow DMs to interpret the skill as they deem appropriate. The skill description says: “Make an Intimidate check to influence others through hostile actions, overt threats, and deadly persuasion.” Personally I’d allow a player to roll Intimidate in place of Diplomacy any time they’re trying to play on a person’s fears; be it the fear of the PC them self, fear of the situation at hand, or fear of pending doom. If you or your DM want to limit an Intimidate check to fear of you and only you, that’s your call. I think both ways are valid.

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