Roleplayer #23, May 1991

Intimidation and Ineptness

New Skill Rules for GURPS

by Steve Jackson

No matter how complete we think the system is, interesting new additions continue to crop up – because we have an interesting, creative group of users! Here are two new ideas for character creation – a skill and a skill-related quirk – from our gamer feedback.


This skill was suggested by a number of GURPS users on the BBS and elsewhere. After a great deal of discussion, we decided to add it. Certainly intimidation is similar in many ways to Acting and Fast-Talk – but it is also different in many ways. A thug can be a skilled intimidator without being at all quick-witted, and a fast-talking actor can be poor at intimidation. Or, perhaps, very good . . .

Intimidation is a Mental/Average skill, defaulting to ST-5 or Acting-3. It is a social "influence" skill, used for persuasion. The essence of intimidation is to convince the subject that you are able and willing, and perhaps eager, to hurt him.

Intimidation may be substituted for a reaction roll in any situation, though it is at a -3 penalty when used in a request for aid. A successful Intimidation roll gives a Good (though not friendly) reaction. A failed roll gives a Bad reaction. Most people will remember an intimidation attempt, whether successful or not, for a long time; it can permanently affect an NPC's attitude.

When Intimidation is used against a PC (or, at the GM's option, against a NPC), this can also be rolled as a contest of Intimidation vs. Will. See Influence Rolls, sidebar, p. B93.

Modifiers: Up to +2 for displays of strength or bloodthirstiness, or +3 for superhuman strength or inhuman bloodthirstiness. Appropriate reputation modifiers will certainly count! +1 for each 6" of height that you have over the subject, -1 if you are shorter (-2 if you are more than 6" shorter). +2 for hideous appearance.

The GM may give a further +1 bonus for witty or frightening dialogue, but should apply a penalty if the attempt is clumsy or inappropriate.

Fearlessness counts against intimidation attempts. The GM may apply any level of penalty if the PCs are attempting to intimidate somebody who, in his opinion, just can't be intimidated. This includes anyone with the Unfazeable advantage.

Magical and Psionic Modifiers: Spells and psi talents can also be used to frighten people. If any such ability is used to supplement an attempt to intimidate, allow +2 for a successful attempt – +4 for a critical success. A failure has no effect unless the GM wants to penalize a critical failure in some creative way.

Intimidating a Group: This skill may be used against several people at once. For every five targets you attempt to intimidate with a single roll, apply a -1 penalty to your skill – up through a maximum of -5 (25 people). A single person cannot intimidate a group of larger than 25 people. A group of characters may attempt to intimidate a group of larger than 25 – 3 characters could intimidate up to 75 (3 ×l; 25) people! Use the bonuses of the best intimidator in the group, and the penalties of the toughest target in the enemy group.

Running a Bluff: If the PC can make both a Fast-Talk and an Intimidation roll, and roleplays it well, he can appear to be intimidating even when he can't back it up. This is the only way to intimidate some people (martial arts masters, world leaders, bellicose drunks). Success on both rolls gives a Very Good reaction. Success on one and failure on the other gives a Poor reaction. Failure on both gives a Very Bad reaction.

Note that Interrogation skill can default to Intimidation-3. It will not help you tell a good answer from a bad one, but it can get people to talk.


There's been a lot of discussion of the general idea of "disabilities" or "ineptness." It adds a lot of a character conception to say that the person is simply terribly inept with certain skills. On the other hand, it would be easy to abuse a rule that gave points for ineptness. "Let's see. . . I'll be totally inept with weapons of all kinds. I'm a pacifist, so it won't matter. How many points do I get?"

The solution: Ineptness is a quirk, worth one point, good mainly for defining your character. When you are inept at a skill (or group of related skills – GM's call), you cannot study the skill, and your default is at -4. Sure, you can try . . . Thus, the point value is minimal, and the amusement and roleplaying value is high.

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