Skill Challenge: Secret Identity

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 28, 2011

As the PCs become more powerful and earn a reputation they’re going to become better known across the land. However, there are going to be times when this fame and notoriety will actually be a hindrance. So when one of those situations arises why not throw a skill challenge into the background of the story in order to remind the PCs that if they want to keep their identities a secret it’s going to require a little bit of work.

I want to stress that this kind of skill challenge should be going on in the background and not be a full-on skill challenge in the traditional sense. By the time the PCs have earned enough experience to be recognized, a skill challenge to hide their true identities will seem beneath their level. When I say recognized, I mean to the extent that they can no longer walk among the common folk without drawing crowds and onlookers.

However, by making this a skill challenge with real consequences and XP, the players will realize that it needs to be taken seriously. It also gives the players additional motivation to really get into the role-playing.

The description below follows the Inside Out Skill Challenge format we described a few months ago. Rather than just listing all of the possible skills with DCs and possible outcomes we’re going to focus on the most like tasks the PCs will undertake to succeed with their objective. Some sample skills will be provided, but the exact choices are left to the PCs.


The goal of the skill challenge is to remain anonymous. Assume that the PCs have made enough of a name for themselves that if they take no effort to conceal their identities people will almost immediately recognize them. As soon as their true identities become public knowledge they’ve failed the skill challenge. This in and of itself may not seem like a very negative consequence, but it’s assumed that whatever they’re trying to accomplish will be a lot more difficult if every move they make is witnessed and shared among the locals.

There are many ways the PCs can keep their identities secret. They can work together and attempt similar methods for success or they can each take an approach that plays to their own strengths. Let the role-playing determine the best course of action.

Method 1 – Disguises

  • The most obvious solution is to use disguises. This could be something as simple as using different names or as elaborate as using make-up to alter your appearance. Any attempt to become someone else should incorporate more than just physical changes. People have unique mannerisms, posture, vocabulary and habits. Hiding these kinds of things successfully should really be judged based on the role-playing. Coming up with a change isn’t hard, but keeping it up convincingly for weeks is exceptionally difficult. Slipping in and out of a foreign accent is more likely to arouse suspicion than just wearing a mask.
  • Suggested Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Endurance, Insight.

Method 2 – Mind Games

  • The PCs can use their wit and guile to simply deny that they are who people think they are. This is a very risky tactic since it’s a bold-face and blatant lie. However, once a few people are convinced (of the lie) it will become easier to convince others. Successfully implementing this tactic will require careful planning and selective interactions with the locals. If PCs can convince someone well-liked and possibly even in high standing within the community of the lie, then their support of your lie will make others more open to believing it.
  • Suggested Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, History, Streetwise.

Method 3 – Stay Out of Sight

  • One approach is to simply stay out of sight all together. This could come with all sorts of other problems, especially if the PCs are planning to be in town for any extended periods of time. They can’t stay in the shadows forever. At least they can’t all stay in the shadows. DMs should make it clear that no more than half of the party can take this approach and still hope for overall success. Even the guy in the dark corner eventually draws suspicion.
  • Suggested Skills: Stealth, Perception, Thievery.

Method 4 – Hide Your Stuff

  • Another more subtle way to use Stealth is to hide the unique things that people will likely recognize and connect to the party’s true identity. This includes things like magic weapons, implements and armor as well as jewels and clothing. A peasant wielding Excalibur is going to be recognized as King Arthur in a poor man’s clothes, but if he hides the sword and arms himself with a club or a dagger he’s going to blend in a lot more easily.
  • Suggested Skills: Stealth, Streetwise.

These are just a few of the methods that PCs can use to try and keep their identities secret. The skills I’ve listed are the most likely ones the players will attempt to use to gain success, but any skill can be used if it makes sense. Reward creativity.

This kind of skill challenge isn’t intended to be exceptionally difficult. It will end up being as complicated as the players choose to make it. The DM is encouraged to reward good role-playing and even give bonuses to important checks if the role-playing warrants such a reward.

With this skill challenge happening as a sort of sub-plot to the larger story arc, the players will need to decide just how much time and focus to put toward keeping their identities secret versus just completing whatever their actual objective is. Some groups will relish the opportunity for this added opportunity to role-play while others will be content to just make a few quick checks and be done with it. It’s up to the DM to decide how much freedom to give to the players and how significant he’s willing to let skill challenge become to the overall story. Just remember to have fun with it.

Visit our Skill Challenge archive for more skill aides and skill challenges.

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1 Joshua Mabry January 28, 2011 at 10:40 am

Awesome idea! I’ve never considered the notion that when higher level heroes come into town, it’s big news.

2 Sunyaku February 10, 2011 at 9:37 pm

LOL. My players just reached level two, so they are far from such notoriety, but this is an amusing idea. 🙂

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