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I'm creating a skill challenge in which the characters might be selected for a "random" search by the local police that could go badly for them. If they look anxious or aggressive, the police are far more likely to target them.

What skill or ability would best dictate how nonchalant they appear? Stealth? Diplomacy? Streetwise? Bluff? Base charisma?

(There are, of courses, other skills that might get them out of the situation too. But I like to cover all my bases.)

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

As written, Bluff is the only appropriate skill.

You can make what’s false appear to be true, what’s outrageous seem plausible, and what’s suspicious seem ordinary. You make a Bluff check to fast-talk a guard, con a merchant, gamble, pass off a disguise or fake documentation, and otherwise tell lies. (PHB1, p183)

Since the party would be attempting to "make what's suspicious seem ordinary" and use social fakery, Bluff is the right ability. Diplomacy is for tact, good faith, and etiquette; Streetwise is a knowledge skill; Stealth is for physical rather than social situations; and Thievery is even less a social skill than Stealth.

But don't hold to that too strictly: allow creativity.

I've found it's very helpful to allow the players to attempt to justify any skill as appropriate to a skill challenge. Takes some of the pressure off me, makes the challenge (and the ensuing story) more interesting, and engages the players more in the agency of story-telling instead of my telling them the only ways their story can be told (by pre-selecting the skills in the challenge and only allowing those skills).

For example: Streetwise could be used to know more about what makes one "ordinary" in that town. Diplomacy might be leveraged to make friends in high places whose social weight would make the police less likely to "randomly" target the party. Stealth could be used to avoid the police entirely, while Thievery can be applied to more effectively conceal or ditch any secret items.

If the proposed non-planned skill is allowed, allow it without penalty; there's no point in penalizing a player for being successfully creative, unless you want to discourage such participation in the future.

[Tangentially, I used Stalker0's Alternate Core Skill Challenge System to great effect; it's a bit more mathematically balanced than the original system, and has great structural ideas you might find useful (they appear in some individual 4e skill challenges in pre-made adventures, but here are institutionalized in the skill challenge system itself.)]

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I would argue that this is not a passive action, but rather the character is actively attempting to "go unnoticed" or "not seem suspicious".

To that end, I would argue that Bluff, and Diplomacy are skills that you use while interacting socially, and would not help here. Also base Charisma seems like the wrong roll to me, because charisma is the force of the characters personality, those with high personality are usually the ones that do stand out from the crowd. Streetwise is about how much you know about the streets, and its mechanics and description don't indicate it being used for actions like this.

Stealth seems like the best option to me, stealth is about how your character knows not to be seen, which would probably include elements of stalking or following people in a city without being noticed. An active roll that your character performs in order to not be seen or not stand out.

To add to that, here is the description of the Stealth skill (bold on relevant):

Make a Stealth check to conceal yourself from enemies, slink past guards, slip away without being noticed, and sneak up on people without being seen or heard. This skill is used against another creature’s Perception check or against a DC set by the DM.

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