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Vile Traveller

Insight Skill

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I've never liked the Insight skill. To me it's simply unusable. It's one of those skills which should always be rolled by the referee, because if you fumble you totally misinterpret your target. In other words, as a player you can't rely on what the referee tells you your adventurer thinks. "You think she's lying," means (a) the target is lying, or (b) the target is not lying. You don't know.

 

Edited by Vile

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I disagree that it’s worthless. It’s true the GM needs to roll it but I love roll playing certainty if the GM says my character feels one way or the other. Lots of great roll playing when you get in an NPC’s face because their lying and they aren’t!

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Insight is an essential skill. Just because a player maybe be good at reading the GM, does not mean their character should be good at reading any particular NPCs intent; just because a player is terrible at reading people in general should not mean they can ever play a character who understands and can read people.

Insight fumbles are no more problematic than fumbles of Search or Listen; Chroniclers need to be careful about when and why they call for skill checks, or allow players to make checks, but that’s a good general principle. A skill check is always as much a stage direction, a tool to shape the drama and tension, as it is a logic gate in information flow.

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Thanks for your feedback, gents. I'm still going to push a little more, if you don't mind. 😉

As a player and referee I've found Insight more difficult to judge than other secret rolls, say, Listen or Move Quietly. With Listen you know you've heard something, or you haven't, the only uncertainty might be what you heard (i.e. your character may have mis-heard). With Insight the result itself is in question - did you catch the other party lying or didn't you? With Move Quietly, you have made your decision to move before you roll, you are already acting and the consequences will come no matter what. With Insight you will base your action on the result of the roll - which you don't know.

Let me try it from another angle, inspired by Nick's point about skill checks as tools. How do you apply the principle of not only rolling for significant skill use (e.g. no Climb rolls for scaling a farm gate)? Are there instances when gaining Insight would be so insignificant that you just waive the roll and tell the player?

Or another one, group tests. If one member of a group fails a hide test, the whole group might be discovered (depends on how they're hiding, of course). If one member of a group fails their Search roll, the rest of the group probably finds what's hidden, anyway (again, unless they are searching different parts of a room or the like). Do you allow multiple Insight checks by groups? Even limiting Insight to those actively interacting with the target, that could still mean several characters.

The difficulty I've had with Insight in action is that, as a player, I've always had a hard time making a decision based on what I found out (or didn't?). As a referee, I've rarely had players use Insight and then act on what they found - they've tended to "try it just to see", but it's never factored in a big way in their subsequent choice of action. How do you make it appear more reliable? I guess one way is to use it a lot and rely on the law of averages. Another is to have a really high skill level and trust that fumbles don't happen that often.

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1 hour ago, Vile said:

Are there instances when gaining Insight would be so insignificant that you just waive the roll and tell the player?

Not me. If they succeed, I tell them, and if I hadn't prepared anything because they're talking to an NPC that isn't supposed to matter much, I still make up something (which may link back to the main plot, or might lead to a new side-plot). I take a note of it and expand on whatever it is as necessary before the next session.

1 hour ago, Vile said:

The difficulty I've had with Insight in action is that, as a player, I've always had a hard time making a decision based on what I found out (or didn't?). As a referee, I've rarely had players use Insight and then act on what they found - they've tended to "try it just to see", but it's never factored in a big way in their subsequent choice of action. How do you make it appear more reliable?

As a GM, I try to make it vaguely reliable -- because it's already hard enough as it is for my players (especially since I tend to run investigation scenarios or open-worlds with a fair amount of intrigue). So I tell them something wrong only if they roll a fumble, usually. And depending on the campaign tone and on the players, I let them roll, instead of rolling it myself. It doesn't quite fit a, say, conspiracy-based spy thriller thing (like when I play Delta Green), but it does work with most genres, and my players are good enough to roleplay believably even though they know themselves that they're acting on the wrong information.

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 Apparently, this question has triggered a strong thread of thought on my part! I apologise for the length and degree of rambling of the below, and I hope there is something useful in my meanderings! Really not sure all the verbiage below says anything more useful that lordabdul's far more succinct post! 🤣 

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As a player and referee I've found Insight more difficult to judge than other secret rolls, say, Listen or Move Quietly. With Listen you know you've heard something, or you haven't, the only uncertainty might be what you heard (i.e. your character may have mis-heard). With Insight the result itself is in question - did you catch the other party lying or didn't you? With Move Quietly, you have made your decision to move before you roll, you are already acting and the consequences will come no matter what. With Insight you will base your action on the result of the roll - which you don't know. 

I don't believe or play it that Listen or Move Quietly are unambiguous in this fashion. There may be a noise it would be helpful to pick out from the general background, but a failure at Listen doesn't automatically mean one has mis-interpreted it, it could just mean one didn't pick out the sound the Chronicler was thinking of. Likewise,  if one makes a Move Quietly roll why can one not revise ones approach on the basis of the roll? Being in mind I generally combine Move Quietly and Hide as a single Stealth skill under Perception, a character with Stealth above base who fails may well (depending on circumstances) know immediately if there's no chance of staying concealed. In general in my games only fumbles from complete novices at Stealth result in Adventurer's deluding themselves them are concealed a la Drax in my games. See comments elsewhere about my dislike of maximally dis-advantageous outcomes. 

To quote the rule book on Insight: 

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The Adventurer can learn another person’s 

character and motives with this skill. This understanding takes a few minutes within the target’s presence. Skilful deceit cannot be penetrated unless the Adventurer jars the target’s confidence by revealing unexpected events or knowledge. 

With a special result, the target’s motives are laid bare, and the skill-user says just the right thing to get immediate agreement. With a fumble, the Adventurer badly misinterprets everything. 

 

To me it is clearly NOT a simple lie-detector skill - it is about discerning "character and motives." Was the lord surprised, or annoyed, that the Adventurer's know the Wizards name? Is the scholar angry at something the Adventurers have said, or was he already in a bad mood when they arrived? Is the Lady avoiding something specific in her conversations? With Insight you KNOW the lord is annoyed (but trying to act surprised), the scholar was already angry, that the Lady is evasive about something related to a particular painting in the hall, what is in question is WHY? 

For me the purpose of Insight, as both GM and player is to expedite such social scenes - because, as I said earlier,  not every player (or GM!) is a master psychologist, and in general Magic World games are ones of broad fantasy rather than intricate character studies, so I  need a way to condense these things. 

Quote

 

Or another one, group tests. If one member of a group fails a hide test, the whole group might be discovered (depends on how they're hiding, of course). If one member of a group fails their Search roll, the rest of the group probably finds what's hidden, anyway (again, unless they are searching different parts of a room or the like). Do you allow multiple Insight checks by groups? Even limiting Insight to those actively interacting with the target, that could still mean several characters. 

 

Would you only allow one character a Search check, or a Track test? If ALL the adventurers attend the feast, why would they NOT all get to make Insight rolls to attempt to read the NPCs they meet? I might well break it up a little on the basis of whom each adventurer focused on rather than everyone getting an insight roll and getting a read on everyone attending - the former imperial soldier would probably have more in common with the Captain of the Guard, whilst the disgraced Imperial noble could plausibly blue their way in to a seat at the high table and talk to the Lord and Lady... But both characters are trying to get a read on the NPCs they interact with and Insight serves that purpose well, without the session getting bogged down in roleplaying out every word of every adventurers conversation with every NPC. And I'd hope (and encourage) my players to work with me in their choices in such a scene. But if the shy, socially awkward player has chosen to play the rakish and charming exiled black sheep of an Imperial Noble House, that adventurers should absolutely be able to schmooze with the Lord and Lady, and the adventurer ought to be able to get a read on the nobles "character and motives" in the scene: which an Insight roll handily covers. 

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The difficulty I've had with Insight in action is that, as a player, I've always had a hard time making a decision based on what I found out (or didn't?). As a referee, I've rarely had players use Insight and then act on what they found - they've tended to "try it just to see", but it's never factored in a big way in their subsequent choice of action. How do you make it appear more reliable? I guess one way is to use it a lot and rely on the law of averages. Another is to have a really high skill level and trust that fumbles don't happen that often. 

Insight is not a skill that generally (absent critical and fumbles) gives that sort of definitive information. Search can let one spot an Ambush; Insight tells one the Lord is covering some deeper concern or apprehension under bluster and good cheer, and that his wife is deeply troubled by something. What the players do with such information is a matter of further role playing - and perhaps further Insight would allow a perceptive Adventurer to discern when either makes a statement they are not confident in, or whether they are saying something they HOPE to be true rather than BELIEVE to be true etc. 

In large part this is a matter of "training" oneself, and ones regular players, in to the habits of using Insight to provide those "tight 3rd person" viewpoint annotations on motive and character that are part and parcel of written fiction. In a real life discussion, human interaction is full of subtleties and myriad verbal and non-verbal cues it is impossible to fully simulate in a game; in written fiction, the author can insert whatever details they wish to illuminate or obscure motives and character, both from the viewpoint character and the reader. In a game I feel we need a mechanism to modulate this - precisely this sort of interaction defines characters, both GM and player controlled, so it is an area that should be subject to indeterminacy, to game rules, not simple GM fiat. Where is the role playing in either having no adventurer at the feast discern anything about the various NPCs motives, or in ALL adventurers, irrespective of their own attributes, discern everything? How reliable are my characters Insights? THat's a matter of my characters skill, and what I rolled - and role-playing the result of a fumbled roll is as much part of playing the game as role-playing a critical result. 

 

Edited by NickMiddleton
Mangled th equoting and FML but the editor is a pain in this forum software!
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Haha, succinct and rambling are both good - you never know how my brain reacts to variant stimuli!  😆

A lot of interesting thoughts. As you may have gathered by now, what I'm looking for with my question is different ways of approaching this skill. I'm always well aware of how an old face-to-face gaming group tends to fall into the same thought patterns, and often the only way to get a fresh perspective is to break out and get some second and third opinions.

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Insight is on my list of deleted skills, along with Listen, Move Silently, Bargain and Jump/Climb/Swim. Combined into Spot, Stealth, (Persuade/Etiquette/Streetwise depending on the situation), and Athletics respectively.

Every study conducted has demonstrated that humans are no better than chance at detecting deception (Ekman & O'Sullivan 1991, 913-920; Granhag & Strömwall, 2004, 169; Mann & Vrij 2004). If you want to read minds, use powers. That's why I exclude insight.

If I want the player to know something about the character's behavior or nature, I don't leave it up to my acting skills. I tell them outright. If it is supposed to be ambiguous, then I don't want it up to a die roll, I want the player to have to make up his mind about this NPC. getting rid of Listen does make Spot more powerful, but I'm running a sci-fi game, so half the spotting is done with Computers anyway.

Athletics is a compromise for my players, allowing them a little more ability. Doesn't include Throw, because grenades.

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Insight works like Intuition. A successful roll shouldn't detect lies, but should bring some doubt to the PC. You may also roll Insight to read someone's intent. Perhaps you see someone in the crowd and a successful Insight roll tell you he seems to be looking for someone and has a violent attitude. 

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2 hours ago, hix said:

Insight is on my list of deleted skills, along with Listen, Move Silently, Bargain and Jump/Climb/Swim. Combined into Spot, Stealth, (Persuade/Etiquette/Streetwise depending on the situation), and Athletics respectively.

Every study conducted has demonstrated that humans are no better than chance at detecting deception (Ekman & O'Sullivan 1991, 913-920; Granhag & Strömwall, 2004, 169; Mann & Vrij 2004). If you want to read minds, use powers. That's why I exclude insight.

If I want the player to know something about the character's behavior or nature, I don't leave it up to my acting skills. I tell them outright. If it is supposed to be ambiguous, then I don't want it up to a die roll, I want the player to have to make up his mind about this NPC. getting rid of Listen does make Spot more powerful, but I'm running a sci-fi game, so half the spotting is done with Computers anyway.

Athletics is a compromise for my players, allowing them a little more ability. Doesn't include Throw, because grenades.

I mostly agree with you here but just as an aside many sales people train in neuro lingustics programming (NLP) and it greatly enhances your ability to understand how the other person thinks. Maybe it wouldn't be useful in discovering deception but it certainly gives you the ability to analyze and categorize people by the way they think and makes you much more effective when you are trying to persuade them of something.

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11 minutes ago, rsanford said:

more effective when you are trying to persuade them

And that sort of thing I would apply to the Persuade skill. :)

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