Revisiting the Past: Insight Checks in OSR

Anybody used to playing older versions of D&D (pre-4e) is probably wondering what the heck an Insight check is.

Imagine for a moment that your PC is interacting with a NPC and you want to know whether the NPC’s motives are pure. Are they lying to you? Are they hiding something? Are they being forthright?

So you look at your character sheet, find the Insight skill, and roll a d20 adding any bonuses.

Here’s the definition of the Insight skill from 5e…

“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.”

Honestly I have to admit that playing 4e and 5e, I have fallen into the lazy trap of using this skill frequently. It’s easy to rationalize it. My character will notice things I won’t. Why not use the skill?

Well, this skill doesn’t exist in Mazes & Perils, nor should it in my opinion. Unless you’re a Thief, you don’t really have skills anyway in M&P. So it’s not an option. 🙂

And I need to quit being a lazy roleplayer myself and using it for other editions.

A Hacky Fix

If you really want to do 4e/5e-style Insight check in M&P, you could go with a Wisdom attribute check. Grab 4d6, roll under the Wisdom score, and then react as you might in the other editions.

Let’s say you have a bandit who is trying to negotiate with your party and you want to know if he’s exhibiting any of the traditional signs of lying such as not wanting to keep eye contact or getting all twitchy. Your Cleric (usually the PC with the highest Wisdom) decides to take a closer look at the speaker and does a “Wisdom check.”

The player rolls 4d6. He either misses the roll, in which the GM says that he doesn’t notice anything wrong, or he makes the roll, and the GM can give him specifics on things the character may have noticed.

The Better Way

The better way to do this is without any die rolls at all. The player is role-playing the character. If the player senses something is off and believes the character would also notice it, he needs to speak up. But this also requires more investment on the part of the GM. The GM can inject some description of behavior or even just some weird slip-up in what the character says — and if the player picks up on it, they can react. If they don’t, then the NPC accomplishes whatever goal he had in mind.

This, to me, is more the “Old School” way to approach this. It’s less about “roll-playing” and more about “role-playing” again.


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7 thoughts on “Revisiting the Past: Insight Checks in OSR”

  1. Neither here nor there, but the skill was there with a different name in 3rd edition as well. Prior to that it didn’t exist at all.

    I’ll eventually see how it plays out in 5e, but my inclination as a player would be to only ask for a check if I as a player sense something is amiss. Even then, whether or not the roll succeeds, I’m likely to tread cautiously (well depending on the personality of the character).

    1. I’m sure it was. 3e was about the time things really began going to the skill side of things. But that’s a good approach as a player. I wonder how you might cultivate that restrained approach in players at the table?

      1. I never had to worry about it in 3rd ed when we briefly played with it. Generally, if someone is trying to bluff the PCs, I might make an NPC check versus a passive Sense Motive check from the character… and just gauge how over the top to make the action seem if the player should notice something.

        I think part of it is trust in the GM that they are going to apply common sense to when the skill should apply. I had a game session in Rolemaster in college where the GM didn’t mention what skill was needed to search for secret doors …. none of the PCs had the correct skill and so she let us flounder for hours in one room as the PCs were convinced that there was a secret room. When they got frustrated with my character who wasn’t helping and instead scared off one of the horses by “conveying the word ‘snack’ to them”. I came into the house they were searching asked what was the problem. And proceeded to break down the wall that hid the secret door (setting off a magical trap in the process).

        I was more than a little annoyed with the GM that she didn’t point out useful skills that everyone should have during character creation since none of us really knew the system but her.

        I digress from your question though. I think, if you detect it getting relied upon too heavily you discuss it out of game and let them know that the GM will have the skill applied passively where it makes sense without having to ask for it all the time. I don’t know if that would completely solve it, but it would be my first shot at reigning it in. Mileage may vary. In games with children, the GM and more experienced players are going to set the tone on whether skills are used a lot or not.

        I generally don’t mind the new-school stuff, but I generally ask for a description of what the PC is doing before allowing any sort of roll. I’m a big meanie that way.

  2. I prefer a mix of player skill and pc skill. So, the player describes what theyre looking for to tip them off, or just a sweet bit of role playing, and they get s bonus or penalty on the roll (so pc skill still relevant). In some instances may not need a roll at all

    1. Steve, that makes a lot of sense and is along the lines of what I was trying to get at behind the asking the questions instead of just allowing naked rolls for the sake of rolling a die.

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