Clarify Extortion skill?

The extortion skill confuses me, in relation to the intimidate skill. The skill description for intimidate says that it is “the communication of threat”, and when we play, we’re used to interpreting the nature of that threat broadly; it can be a physical threat, financial, social and anything else for that matter.

So with this in mind, I don’t much see the point of the extortion skill. If a character has uncovered some juicy details and threatens someone to make him pay you for not disclosing them, I’d say that’s a perfectly fine way to use the intimidate skill. And if a character with a well-honed intimidate skill should suddenly be forced to rely on a beginner’s luck extortion test to do that, I think the player would feel cheated. Why should extortion be used here? The only explanation I can see at the moment, and I might well be wrong, is that the intimidate skill is constrained to communicating physical threats, alone. That would leave extortion for the social threats and blackmail.

A useful thing to know about BW Skills is that they’re overlapping, not exclusionary. You can use either Intimidation OR Extortion to get money from people.

So why use Extortion, ever?

First, Extortion is explicitly about getting money, whereas, Intimidate is not. If you’re trying to get money in a larger scale operation (“I spend the month shaking down businesses in the burrough”), Intimidation vs. Extortion is the difference between muggings and racketeering - the former puts you in more danger and gets you less money.

Second, you can’t really use Soothing Platitudes or Persuasion with Intimidate. But, man, if you see a smooth tax collector or high official squeeze nobles and merchants for money? It’s all Extortion with nice social skills. The Church loves some Extortion with Suasion. Courtiers use Extortion with Seduction, etc.

Remember, a Skill in BW is not just by itself, it forms a “web” of skills that can FORK or Help it, so the overlap makes close skills more like a venn diagram rather than a pointless extra. Intimidate and Extortion have different webs of skills they connect with, though they have some overlap.


Thanks Chris, that’s really helpful!

I knew about how skills are very overlapping in BW, but it seemed as if Intimidate had overlapped Extortion so much that the latter was completely subsumed under the former; that is, there was nothing that extortion could do that intimidate couldn’t. Your explanation of the nuances of each is really good.

It also seems to me that Intimidate is more ‘zoomed in’ than Extortion. Intimidate’s listed use, outside of DoW, is to force someone to hesitate - it’s a momentary thing, based on being physically, visually, verbally imposing. Extortion strikes me as the whole process, from hitting up your marks to collecting the cash. It’s part Intimidate, part Persuasion, part Haggling. It’s the Get a Job equivalent, like Sword vs. Soldiering.

Exactly, Extortion lets you recover lost resources via shakedowns. I think of it as one of the least utilised highly useful skills in the game.