The GM Awakens: Skillzone – Skulduggery

Image by Fantasy Flight Games

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 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:


I have played the Star Wars RPG nearly weekly for 18 months solid.  And I have never seen a Skulduggery check at my table.  Not one.  If one has happened I can’t remember.  Usually, my players find reasons, even if they are crazy and convoluted, to use only the skills they are highly ranked in to perform a task.  Skulduggery, partly due to my inability to explain the skill properly to my players as well, has been woefully ignored, even in sabotage and subterfuge situations.  It’s simply one that my players don’t do.

So what, exactly, is Skulduggery?  Well it’s a very broad skill name that encompasses just about anything a good spy would need.  According to the core rule books, Skulduggery encompasses a wide range of skills that would be used to perform covert and criminal actions.  These can be physical activities as well as the mental aspects.  To quote the core books:

These include picking locks, breaking into and out of secure facilities, covert operation, disguise, setting traps, and other underhanded actions.

And a key point that the rules in the core books indicate, is that a player can ask the GM to use Agility instead of Cunning when making a Skulduggery check to reflect a more physical approach to the check.

Common Uses

Skulduggery has some pretty obvious and normal uses that are important to talk about.  Picking locks, when not using Computers to break electronic locks, is maybe the single, most obvious use.  The books also identify escaping from cells, along with identifying vulnerable aspects of a security system, are pretty normal uses for Skulduggery.  Skulduggery, if you need to do opposed checks, are generally opposed by Perception, to see if the other character can pick up on what’s happening.

Other common uses can be sneaking into a facility through air ducts, or making a disguise to sneak past an Imperial listening post.  One could even use Skulduggery to set a lock on a door instead of Mechanics, allowing the player to anticipate any lock-breaking attempt and place anti-theft elements into the lock.  Just be a little creative and you can easily think of things to use Skulduggery to do for you.

Image by Fantasy Flight Games

Use in Social Situations

This is an area I must admit none of my players consider Skulduggery.  Part of this is situational of course, and the other part is that in social situations, social skills are the ones most think of.  So how can one use this during a social situation?

Imagine you’re being interrogated tied to a chair while bad guys try and get information out of you.  A Skulduggery check can be made to slip out of the binders your hands are in.  Perhaps Advantage and Triumph can be used to not only escape, but to do so in a way that your captors do not notice.

Maybe while your team is negotiating with a notorious smuggler, you can use Skulduggery to scan the room visually for any and all security devices.  Perhaps you even sneak over and turn off the security cameras so his security team can’t eavesdrop on the conversation.

Or, while your team member is negotiating with him, you can pick his pocket to try and get the very code cylinder that you’re hoping to get out of him.

Use in Combat

This is where a truly creative PC can get make non-combat checks shine when the blasters start firing.  I love when PCs make non-combat checks in combat.  But Skulduggery being what it is, how would one use it when the lightsabers and guns come out?  Well, creativity is paramount as is awareness of the surroundings, environment, and situation.

In an Imperial bunker, it’s not uncommon for automated turrets to be part of the security system.  While your teammates are firing back at Stormtroopers, perhaps a player can hack into the security system to shut them down.  Advantage or Triumph might be used so that the turrets can be turned back onto the bad guys.  Or perhaps a Skulduggery check can be made to scope out the air ducts to find a way to flank the Stormtroopers who have the team pinned down.

In another case, and one I’ve heard of from a couple fellow players, one might use the pick-pocketing aspect of Skulduggery at the right moment.  Imagine a dark Jedi with two lightsabers, one is on his belt while he uses the other.  In the middle of your duel, you can use Skulduggery, with an Agility basis, to try and snatch the lightsaber right off his belt.  I love that sorta thing!

Further, imagine a situation where your team is pinned down by Imperials.  Skulduggery can have a character whip up a fast costume of an Imperial Officer.  It won’t be that accurate, but perhaps it’s just enough time to tell the Stormtroopers to stop shooting and get them to look towards you.  Then your team can get the jump on them once they look.

Skulduggery is one of those skills that, if not used creatively, can quickly be forgotten unless you’re a Spy-type character.  It’s one of the most thematic and cinematic skills in your arsenal.  So next time you browse your skill list for something to do, you might wish to stop when your eyes scan over Skulduggery.  Your game might get some flair it doesn’t always have.

Have you ever used Skulduggery in a creative fashion?  Perhaps during times that the skill normally wouldn’t be called for?

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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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  1. I’m kind of surprised you’ve had so little use for skulduggery. My Rebel group always seems to be needing to break into a location or disable security systems. My Jedi group, not so much, but they tend to bypass any issues related to keys and locks with the simple application of a lightsaber, so…

    • I agree. But every time they get to a point where one makes sense, they narratively create a reason to use Computers, Mechanics, Athletics, etc. They’re creative in their narration. But for *both* my campaigns, if they have no ranks in something, they won’t try it. They will manipulate everything around them until they figure out a way to use something they have ranks in. And this just isn’t one of them. When I talk to them about “don’t look at your skill list, just narrate what you’d do…” they tell me, “well, my character is good at Mechanics so this *is* what he’d do.” I can’t really argue with them.

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