When your character attempts to stick their spear in a yeti (Attack Roll), track a unicorn in a forest (Survival check) or swing across a pit of molten lava on a fraying rope (Athletics / Acrobatics check) they generally know if they have succeeded or failed. However there are some scenarios, particularly those involving the skill Insight (p.178 of the Player’s Handbook), where the character has no way of knowing if they have succeeded or not. A character who has failed to swing across a pit of molten lava knows by the mild burning sensation on their skin that they have fallen short, but a character who has failed an Insight test could easily come away thinking they have succeeded… “undoubtedly this pale man with sharp carnivores and no shadow can be trusted wholeheartedly,” they might conclude, having been hoodwinked by the vampire’s charm. However if the 1 they rolled is staring them in the face, then it’s impossible for the player roleplaying the character not to realise that in fact the NPC is completely untrustworthy and that their PC is (temporarily at least) a gullible fool.
That’s why, for me, Insight checks should always be rolled by the Dungeon Master, not the player, behind the screen. After all a PC’s intuition might tell them that an NPC is completely trustworthy, or a pathological liar, but the PC’s intuition might be completely wrong. In gaming terms it’s important that they don’t know when to trust their character’s intuition or not… otherwise every insight roll reveals the truth every time. If the character rolls well, then they can be pretty certain to trust whether the NPC is lying or not. The character rolls badly, then the player knows not to trust his own character’s judgement. The more PCs rolling visibly on the table, the more certain the party can be of guessing what’s going on.
One of the highlights of any Dungeons & Dragons’ session should be the NPC interactions, and the party making decisions about who to trust and who to keep on the suspect list. Whilst an Insight check can set up a fun contest between two parties (one rolling Deception, the other Insight) it also removes the suspense from a tight situation the moment a PC tosses a high dice onto the table – which is why some DMs don’t allow Insight checks at all, rather the players behind the PCs must use make a call themselves based on the interaction. However there’s no need to go that far. Simply by putting the Insight check behind the screen, where it belongs, the tension returns to the game. Sure, three of the party might trust Count Bitealot, but two don’t – so what is their course of the action?
Try it and see the difference!
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