The GM Awakens: SkillZone – Leadership

Image by Michael Philip Atkins

Welcome to the SkillZone.  This article is one in an occasionally running series on one of the cornerstones of most RPGs:  Skills.  Skills usually have pretty cut and dry uses in roleplaying games.  They are used by the player characters to perform actions and see if they are able to accomplish tasks.  If your group is like my play groups, there are about 6 or 7 skills are used in almost every adventure, 3 or 4 that pop up occasionally, and about 10 that are rarely used.  But one thing I’ve found is that creative, narrative use of skills that aren’t necessarily obvious in the moment is what separates good players from great players, and good games from great games.  These uses generally create the best roleplaying fodder as well!

So in the SkillZone we will discuss skill uses not commonly thought of, and possible creative uses of skills that are too often taken for granted.  For the next examination, we’ll cover another skill that’s not used enough in my games:


Leadership is a skill that makes its way to my tables once in a while.  But, admittedly, it’s only done so by Leadership-based characters in moments to trigger Leadership-based talents.  No one uses it otherwise.  (If it’s a social skill, my team tends to head for Coercion and Deception.)  Aside from that, Leadership, at least in my games, is largely ignored.  But Leadership, like many of the skills in any RPG, can be quite potent and cinematic if used in fun, narrative ways.

Leadership, in other RPGs, could be referred to as Command, Influence, or Authority.  Leadership is, quite simply, the action of leading a group or organization, at its simplest definition.  It combines being able to make smart decisions, being decisive, and instilling loyalty or trust.  Also, in this game, Leadership can explain and describe how you act and present yourself, as opposed to a specific action or actions.  As such, it’s considered a social skill.  It represents the ability to get others to believe in the character and trust what they say, instilling loyalty and respect.

So in the game, the Leadership skill describes not only actions, but intent and demeanor as well.

Common Uses

Some of the common uses for the Leadership skill are spelled out in the core rule books, and some are somewhat obvious.  One of those is that Leadership can be used to combat fear in the game.  So, if a fear check is used, players may roll against their Leadership if they choose, representing the character shouting out orders perhaps to keep calm, or to rally the troops to believe they can win a dire fight.  One could also use Leadership to speak to a large crowd, to sway them or perhaps a committee or group of people to make a decision.  A player might also use Leadership to encourage people in any situation or skill check, possibly adding a boost dice as the PC says things like, “You can do it,” but certainly more narrative and encouraging than that.

The difficulty of these sorts of checks depends on the kinds of orders or encouragement that’s being given, and who they’re being given to.  Trying to command a group of loyal soldiers to attack may be easy, while trying to get a group of villagers to rise up against the Empire might be quite difficult.  It’s important as players when using the Leadership skill to focus on the “intent” and “approach.”  The intent is what you want to do and accomplish with the check.  The approach is the “how” behind what you’re trying to accomplish.  Both are important, and will affect the difficulty of the check.

If a Leadership check is used to entice a person or group to do something against their natural tendencies, an opposed check should be used.

Use in Social Situations

Leadership seems straight forward in some social situations.  Trying to get some children to follow you to safety would be one example.  Getting people riled up to fight against the Empire is another.  These are obvious uses for social situations.  But what about some creative uses?

Imagine a negotiation between the PCs party and some smugglers.  Instead of a straight up Negotiation check, what if the lead smuggler is an ex-Navy man, who would respond more favorably to a PC showing strong Leadership?  Perhaps in the middle of a Sabacc game, a player could use a Leadership check to gain boosts on his checks to win games by gaining the other players’ respect as they listen to his war stories rather than pay attention to his hand.  Maybe when drinking at a bar, trying to get a patron to blab about where the nearby Imperial prison is, a Leadership check can be made to make him drink with the PCs and gain his trust.

Just remember, when another social skill may seem obvious, don’t overlook Leadership.  You might find you get even better results out of your check.

Use in Combat

Combat is where many of the Leadership check talents lie within the scope of.  They’re spelled out cleanly in their appropriate specialization tree and require little explanation, so we’ll skip by those.  But when the blasters start flying, many players want to just make sure that they get off their own shots, so they forget about any social skills, including Leadership.  But how might a player use Leadership creatively in the midst of wild combat?

One fairly obvious use, but rarely used in my games, is to use Leadership to issue orders to others, be it other PCs perhaps or NPC soldiers.  Instead of perhaps rolling a Ranged (Light) check for soldiers to shoot at bad guys, you could roll Leadership, representing your orders on when and where to fire… successes and advantages act just like they would with a combat check.  Maybe you use a Leadership check to have soldiers cut off a group of stormtroopers’ retreat, with the successes and advantages dictating how successful the orders are or how many get cut off.

Many times my players will use Coercion or Deception to try and get bad guys to surrender.  But why not a Leadership check instead?  The approach would be critical, but the PC could present a very strong Leadership presence on the battle, shouting with confidence and cockiness that if they do not surrender, they’ll surely die.

Maybe a different PC needs to sneak across the room full of blaster fire.  A Leadership check can be used to order the other PCs to lay down cover fire for the player.  Successes and advantages can lend boost dice or upgrades to the Athletics or Stealth check of the PC trying to sneak across the room.  This makes for a fantastic, cinematic moment that folks might not consider.  I’d allow the other PCs, even if they had technically used their actions during the current round, lay down the cover fire as part of another player’s Leadership action.

Or lastly, an idea might be to use Leadership to save a nearly dead colleague.  Perhaps you have a party member near zero Wound Threshold who is one hit away from being dead.  I think it’d be very cinematic to use Leadership to yell, taunt, holler at the enemies and get them to fire at you and focus on you rather than your nearly downed teammate.  You also might use the same skill in the same situation to get your team extra maneuvers to rally to help him.

I could go on with many more examples but hopefully you see the some of the creative uses for Leadership in your games.  How about you?  Have you ever used this skill in a really creative, narrative fashion?  Do you know of some fun examples that exist outside the known talents for the game?

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Scott Alden

Scott Alden

Scott is a full-time IT Manager living in Lawrence, KS. (Rock Chalk, Jayhawk! Just outside Kansas City for those who don't know.) Scott is a veteran of several role playing, table top miniatures, video, and board games, starting with the Atari 2600 when he was 6, and the classic red box Dungeons and Dragons game when he was 12. After a long hiatus away from the hobby, Scott has recently picked up gaming once again, and is running two different campaigns in Fantasy Flight Games' Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny lines. He is an avid X-Wing miniatures player, as well as Armada, Imperial Assault, Space Hulk, and Rebellion. (His family is obviously a Star Wars family, right?) Scott is married to his high school sweetheart, and has 2 children in middle school, both Black Belts in Krav Maga martial arts.
Scott Alden

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