The Insight skill is probably one of the most misunderstood and underused skills in all of D&D 5e.
What a pity!
Insight checks are a great way to add an extra dimension to your game!
So today we’re going to cut through the confusion and demystify what the Insight skill ACTUALLY is and how to use it.
What is the Insight Skill for in D&D 5e
In D&D 5e, Insight is a skill that reflects a character’s ability to read people or situations. You might think of this as a type of intuition or “gut feeling” for your character.
A lot of your character’s personality goes into the Insight skill. It’s a combination of their experience, worldview, attention to detail, and general savvy.
Because of this, there’s not just one specific way to use the Insight skill. Similarly, there’s not just one way for DMs to describe the results of an Insight check.
While any character is capable of making an Insight check, some will generally have a better insight than others.
Clerics and Druids rely heavily on Wisdom which makes them particularly insightful. Monks and Rangers will also typically have a solid bonus to their Insight skill due to their Wisdom scores.
You Might Like: Ranking the Druid Subclasses in D&D 5e
Ever the social beings, Bards might be inclined to pick up proficiency in Insight to aid their ability to work with people. In particular, Bards of the College of Eloquence and College of Whispers are especially likely to benefit from this.
Last but not least, some Rogues stand to gain quite a bit with the Insight skill.
Inquisitive Rogues rely heavily on the Insight skill thanks to their Insightful Fighting feature.
It might not be a bad idea for Rogues who take the Mastermind or Assassin archetype to invest in Insight as well. Masterminds need to be able to read people well to further their own schemes. Meanwhile, an Assassin could possibly use their Insight skill to help pick out a high priority target to ambush.
How is Insight Useful and When Should You Use It?
The Insight skill is useful for bringing a new dimension of immersion into the game. Like I mentioned, this is a character’s “gut feeling” on a situation backed up by careful observation of a creature’s behavior or general situation.
There are many situations in which the Insight skill is useful.
Consider a few example situations:
- You need to find a gang’s hideout and want to determine if one of the gang members in front of you could be motivated to tell you with either coin or interrogation.
- You require a meeting with the city’s mayor but the gatekeeper is being less than helpful. If you can figure out why, they might be persuaded to be more accommodating.
- You’ve captured an enemy who is pleading for their life. They promise they won’t pursue you or make trouble if you just let them go.
- Things are oddly tense in the tavern your group is visiting. Are people tensing up because of you or is it something else?
- The noble who has hired your party for jobs on several occasions is acting more erratic than usual. This is out of character for them and many of their attendants are concerned.
These are all unique situations that require you to be able to read people in slightly different ways.
Let’s look at what a successful Insight check might reveal in each of those situations:
- One of the gang members is fidgety and looks like he’ll talk if he’s separated from the other members. He’d likely respond to either motivator: coin or intimidation.
- The Gatekeeper has a sadness about them. They seem heartbroken about something and are projecting that onto you and your allies. Talking to the Gatekeeper and helping them might grease the wheels enough to get you an audience with the mayor in the meantime.
- Your prisoner is being absolutely honest with you. They were just hoping to make some extra coin and have no loyalty to their group beyond that.
- The tavern is a front for some kind of illicit activities. The group that operates out of this tavern knows that you are heroes of the realm and are trying to figure out if you’re here to bust them or not.
- The noble has been charmed with the goal of sending your party on wild goose chases away from the actual villain that you’re pursuing.
Is Insight a Lie Detector?
While the Insight skill is used to determine if a creature is lying or not, it’s not limited to that just that. Furthermore, it’s not necessarily a guarantee that you can 100% determine if someone is telling the truth or not.
If you’re trying to determine if someone is lying or not, you would roll an Insight check contested by their Deception check.
(Quick note for DMs: even if the NPC isn’t lying, your players will assume that they’re lying if you roll the dice. Personally, I prefer setting a reasonable DC for the Insight check instead of a contested roll that will be taken as an admission of guilt.)
Just keep in mind that the Insight skill is also used for anticipating a creatures’ actions. You won’t be reading any minds with the Insight skill, but you can draw logical conclusions about what that creature will say or do next.
Let’s use the tavern example from the previous section.
Clearly, everyone in the tavern is making it a point not to draw your party’s attention. Rolling a high insight check might clue you in that several of the people keep discreetly looking over to one person in particular.
It’s reasonable to expect that this is their boss and they’re trying to play off of him. If he gives the signal, they need to be ready to fight.
Because you’ve determined this, you might be able to approach the boss directly and handle the situation diplomatically with any of your social skills.
Nobody was necessarily lying to you, but they were trying to downplay their body language. It’s a subtle difference, but a notable one.
Like Intrigue? Check out my review of the Wild Beyond the Witchlight!
Describing Insight Checks for Dungeon Masters
Let’s say the party is trying to determine whether or not an NPC is lying to them.
The party’s Druid makes an Insight check since they have proficiency. While the party is talking to the character, the Druid is watching for any strange body language or mannerisms that might indicate the NPC isn’t being truthful.
“I’m just a grunt!” the NPC says, “the Boss doesn’t tell us how to open the door to his treasury! Why would he?!”
The Druid makes an Insight check and nails it with a 19 plus their bonuses.
As it turns out, the NPC is lying. He’s pretending to be a clueless grunt, but is actually an officer in the Boss’s force and knows exactly where the treasury is and how to get into it.
That said, it cheapens the experience if you just say “he’s lying.”
Instead, mention to the Druid that this NPC isn’t carrying himself how a typical grunt would. His tone might sound genuine, but he’s too collected and carrying himself how someone of a higher rank would.
Let the Druid connect the dots themselves from there and communicate this to the party. Based on the NPCs rank, the player will reasonably assume that the NPC will know how to get into the treasury.
When describing the results of an Insight check, you want to focus on the general feeling and sense that the character gets.
Give the player the metaphorical “dots” and let them connect them. The better a character rolls on their Insight check, the more “dots” you can give them to connect.
Not only will this keep a certain level of fun tension in the scene, it provides a great way to engage the player doing the Insight check and incentivize more roleplaying as they communicate their observations to the party.
Perception vs Insight
It’s not uncommon to confuse the Perception and Insight skills. Both use Wisdom as their ability and reflect the character’s observational abilities.
However, there is a core difference between these skills that determines whether a skill check should be Perception or Insight.
Perception is more about a character’s ability to notice things. They might see, hear, or smell something that causes them to notice a detail that others might miss.
Insight is more about understanding what you are seeing and not just noticing it.
Where a Perception check would be useful for noticing that there is NPC hiding behind some barrels, an Insight check could reveal if the NPC is hiding in fear or attempting to ambush you.
If you’re trying to spot something, use Perception. If you’re trying to read someone’s behavior, use Insight.
Recommended: Passive Perception in D&D 5e Explained
Conclusion – Using the Insight Skill in D&D 5e
Like I said at the beginning of this article, I think the Insight skill is the most underused skill in all of 5e. When it does get used, it’s generally done so as a type of “lie detector” skill.
However, its uses can go beyond determining if someone is lying to create situations that are much more immersive and open up new ideas to the characters!
I hope this has helped clear up any confusion you might have about using the Insight skill in D&D 5e!
Still have questions? Let’s chat in the comments!
Want to keep up with all of the latest D&D tips, tricks, guides, and more? Sign up for the Tabletop Joab newsletter below!