Using Skills – Insight

Last week we covered History. This week, it’s all about that woogy feeling you get around creeps. That’s right, Insight. Or, a PCs spider sense. Enjoy!


Using Skills – Insight


The guard captain reads over the suicide note a third time, noting a rather matter-of-fact tone that wouldn’t match the nervous man now hanging from the barn rafters. The barbarian narrows her eyes at the guide she hired to get her through the city to the harbor, finding his manner and speech ringing false. The minstrel strikes a chord on his lute as he listens to the crowd, getting a feel for their mood before deciding what to play. Insight is your natural awareness and empathy of other people and creatures.

The Player’s Handbook describes it thus: “Your Wisdom (Insight) check decides whether you can determine the true intentions of a creature, such as when searching out a lie or predicting someone’s next move. Doing so involves gleaning clues from body language, speech habits, and changes in mannerisms.” (PHB pg. )

Normal Usage

Insight is a skill that sees a lot of use, especially in sessions or campaigns that provide a lot of character interaction. You can use it to get a sense of someone and why they do or say what they do or say. It is also useful for trying to glean if someone is telling the truth, making it a good companion of Intimidation during an interrogation session.

It depends on the play style of the group whether or not Insight is something you can choose to roll at anytime, or something the Dungeon Master calls for. One good way to think of it is as “Perception” for behavior. It reveals through various signals and how those coalesce a road map of the character’s motivations. Of course, some characters are quite good at hiding their motivations.

What it is Not

  • Prescience – Insight lets you attempt to suss out motivations or detect falsehoods. It does not give you a clear and complete picture of the truth. If you can tell a character is lying about the orc raids having ceased, you will still need to work to figure out why the character is lying about that. Certain things can’t be read from body language or darting eyes.
  • Investigation – The act of deduction using a set of clues is a matter of intelligence. Insight might gain you clues that would be helpful for investigation, but insight itself is purely focused on character observation of character. The two work well hand in hand, however.
  • Appropriate at Anytime – Insight can easily be abused. It is fine to ask to see if you can read someone with it, but spamming it multiple times on every NPC you meet would get tiring fast. Consider using it only if you have some suspicion already that the NPC might be lying or if knowing the motivation of the NPC is important to your goals. If you have rolled it for an NPC already, unless there has been some significant change in circumstance, do not try to roll it again. This is really something up to the play-style of your group of course, however it can really slow the game down if you want to roll it for every blacksmith and sundries merchant you meet.

Optional Uses

The following are optional or edge cases for Insight, and are entirely dependent on the Dungeon Master.

  • Combat Insight – Spending a moment to study an enemy might be beneficial for survival. During combat you may spend your Bonus action to observe an enemy and try to gain insight on their actions. Roll a Wisdom (Insight) check against a DC equal to 10 + the Charisma (Deception) modifier of the creature. If you succeed, you know what it’s next action is going to be, including who that creature’s next target is if any.
  • Secondhand Insight – It is possible to glean insight into someone’s motivations from second hand sources. You might try to do so from witness testimony, writing or other communication the person has produced, or other such sources. Doing so, however, is difficult and the DC should be set at least 5 points higher.

Dungeon Master Examples

The following is meant to inspire the Dungeon Master to design with Insight in mind. Keep in mind that Insight can be useful for the PCs, but not to let them get out of hand with it. Once having rolled insight on someone, for instance, do not allow them to roll on that person again unless there is some significant change in their behavior or in the overall circumstance. If the person is actively masking their motivations or lie, their Insight check is against the person’s Charisma (Deception). Alternatively you can preset DCs based on how difficult you think it would be to read a certain person or creature.

  • The Murder – The PCs become embroiled in a controversial murder investigation. A prominent noble has been killed in his bed, and the PCs have been hired by a Guard Inspector to help bring the killer to justice. There are multiple people who might have reason to commit the deed, and the PCs must use their powers of insight to suss out their motivations and then bring those together to figure out who actually did so.
    • Design multiple NPCs, each with an outward alibi, a hidden motivation that would make them want to kill the noble, and whether or not they did kill or helped to kill the noble.
    • The PCs must speak with them, and may try to persuade or intimidate them, however they must suss out whether they are lying (Wisdom (Insight) DC 15 or vs. Charisma (Deception)) first, and then if doing so convince the NPC to reveal any motivation they would have (even if the NPC is innocent). Even the true killer would eventually with successful rolls reveal their motivation while maintaining their innocence.
    • For each NPC, have a witness for their alibi. The killer’s alibi (or killers’ if multiple) is false, however, and when speaking with the witness this lie can be detected with a DC 15 Wisdom (Insight) check. Have them roll for all witnesses, even the truthful ones, and if they succeed on the DC 15 they know for sure whether or not the witness is speaking the truth.
    • They must bring together the motivations and the alibis to the Guard Inspector and decide on who is the killer.
    • This investigation can also be combined with a physical investigation using the Investigation skill and other factors to make it a full blown murder mystery session. If doing so, this part of it (the speaking with the suspects) should come after investigating the scene of the crime and coming up with background information on the murdered person. You can then have some of the innocent people have false alibis, and therefore a physical clue and a false alibi are needed to flag the true killer(s).

Thanks for reading! Join us next week for a look into Intimidation in our next part of the Using Skills series!

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