Stalker0’s Obsidian Skill Challenge System
UPDATE!! The system has now moved to Version 1.1. The changes are small, here you go.
Changes from Version 1.0
1) Critical Success now gives 2 successes, instead of providing rerolls.
2) Table 2’s victory and partial victory numbers have been changed for a 2 person challenge.
UPDATE!! There is now a beautiful pdf version of the system, which is far easier to read than the forum. So save your eyes and take a look! Its at the bottom of this post
Welcome to the latest in my attempts at a new Skill Challenge System for 4th edition! Unlike my previous skill challenge ideas, this is a complete revamp from the standard system. So, the first question is who should consider using this system?
Consider using the Obsidian System if you believe in the following:
1) Players should always be included in skill challenges, but shouldn’t always get to use their best skills. A social character should shine in social encounters, and an athletic character should shine in athletic encounters.
2) Players shouldn’t feel that their participation is actually hurting the party’s chances of succeeding at a challenge. Players should always feel that they are helping the challenge, even if it’s to a smaller degree than a character with better skills.
3) A skill challenge should work as a decent encounter, but be easily scalable to a much longer and epic scale.
4) Players should spend more time describing their actions, and less time trying to find ways to use their best skills.
5) The skill challenge math should be solid enough to allow DM tweaking without causing problems.
6) The standard skill challenge system for whatever reason just isn’t for you.
If you’re still reading, here’s the deal. I will post the basic system in the first post. I will then post more advanced options for those who would like to use them in the second post. And then in the third post I will go into a detailed discussion of how and why the system works like it does. So basically, if you’re not into the nitty gritty just read the first or second post. The deeper you go, the more technical it becomes.
First of all, I need to give a special shout-out to Fredrick Svanberg. He was the first one to create the idea of doing skill challenges in rounds. From that idea, I have created a system I hope many can enjoy.
The Basic Skill Challenge
3 Segments: Every skill challenge consists of three segments. Each segment can last as long as the DM desires. For many challenges, a segment will be a single round. In others, it could be an encounter or several hours of work. During each segment:
1) Each player describes an action that his character is doing, whether it’s tumbling past a guard or talking with a duke. Players are free to describe actions that directly contribute to a skill challenge, or that simply help their fellow party members succeed. Both actions are considered equally important for the challenge.
2) The DM and the player work together to decide the right skill check for the action. In general, a player should be using skills that fit the challenge type (see Types of Challenges below) though the DM is the final judge whether a certain skill can be used.
3) If the player gives a particularly good description or role-plays well, the DM can give him a +2 to the skill check.
4) All players roll their skill checks versus the DC of the challenge. The DM counts up all of the successes that are made.
5) Steps 1-3 are repeated for the second and third segments of the challenge. The DM totals up all of the successes made, and then determines whether the party failed, obtained victory, or only obtained partial victory. See the “Winning and Losing” section below or more information.
DM NOTE: “DON’T CHANGE THE NUMBER OF SEGMENTS”. Increasing or decreasing the number of segments will have a very large impact on the system, and is not recommended. If you wish to have a longer skill challenge, take a look at “larger skill challenges” listed in the advanced options.
Player Options: While playing in a skill challenge, players can use the following:
Bold Recovery: A player may spend an action point to reroll a skill check they have made, before they might know if the roll was a success or failure. The player must take the result of the reroll. If the skill challenge is particularly long, the DM may grant the players the option to use additional action points.
Critical Success: A natural 20 on a skill check is an automatic success. In addition, the player receives one additional success.
Primary Skill: For most challenges, the DM assigns one or two skills as the center point of the challenge. Players using that skill receive a +2 to their skill checks. Example: In a negotiation with a Duke, diplomacy would be the primary skill. In a scene where the party sneaks into an orc camp, stealth would be the primary skill. If the players were researching a secret from ancient arcane texts, arcana would be the primary.
DM NOTE: Primary skills are designed to encourage players to use the “the right skill at the right time”. Further it allows players with weaker skills a chance to have a decent skill check to make. However, not all skill challenges must have primary skills. If you do use a primary skill, make it well known to your players.
STOP!!! If you’re a player, that’s really ALL you need to know to use this system, really. Feel free to keep reading, but note that most of the further information is about setting up a skill challenge.
Determining Skills Allowed and Setting Difficulty
What skills to allow?: One major difference between the standard 4e skill challenge system and the Obsidian System is that in the standard system, all players are assumed to use their best skills in the majority of skill challenges.
This is not the assumption in Obsidian. If players are in a social type challenge, they are expected to use social skills for example, even if they aren’t the best at it. This gives players that are good at certain skills a chance to shine and also lets each player roleplay their character at their best and worst moments. In general, use the Challenge Type (see below) to determine what skills to allow players to use. However, in some cases a player may make a very good case to use a different skill. As the DM, feel free to allow new skills, especially for creative, innovative uses.
As a good rule of thumb, only allow a player to use a nonstandard skill once per skill challenge and only if the player is creative with the skill.
Example: During a chase scene (a physical challenge) the rogue asks the DM if he can use bluff (a social, not a physical skill) to psych out the guards and escape. He gives a really good description of what he wants to do. The DM allows it, but for the rest of the challenge encourages the rogue to use physical skills (like acrobatics).
DM NOTE: “Why Intimidate is not a bad skill!” There are some skills that DMs have trouble relegating in their skill challenges. For example, if the party is in social challenge with a noble, the DM might think that intimidate is just going to anger the noble and so shouldn’t be used for the challenge. Whenever possible, try to think broadly when considering skills. For example, while a player directly intimidating the noble might not work, intimidate may work in a more subtle way. For example, the noble raises his voice and yells at the party, trying to get an advantage. However, when he looks over at the intimidating demeanor of a PC, he realizes such tactics won’t work, and he backs down (the player just rolled a success using intimidate). As a DM, if a player is trying to use a social skill for a social challenge, work with him to create a skill use that fits your story and lets the player use his skill.
Setting Difficulty: A standard skill challenge’s level is the same as the party’s. Table 1 below gives the DC’s for the skill challenge at each level. If a DM wishes to change the difficulty, a +1/-1 to DC changes the difficulty of the challenge by about +/- 10%.
Table 1. Difficulty Class at Each Level
Winning and Losing
Once the DM has totaled up all of the successes for a challenge, he compares the total number to Table 2 given below. The table shows how many success rolls the party needs for partial or total victory. If they get fewer than that, they suffer a failure. The number is based on the number of players that are in the challenge.
Table 2. Successes needed for Victory
Failure “Guys, we have a problem”: The party has failed to acquire the goals of the challenge and/or has suffered a significant setback in the process.
Players Victory P. Victory Failure
2 4+ 3 Less than 3
3 6+ 4-5 Less than 4
4 7+ 5-6 Less than 5
5 8+ 6-7 Less than 6
6 10+ 8-9 Less than 8
7 12+ 10-11 Less than 10
Partial Victory “Its not over yet”: The party has accomplished most of the goal, but there’s still more to be done, or there are loose ends to tie up.
Victory “A job well done”: The party has completed all of the goals of the challenge, and is ready for a new adventure.
Types of Challenges
Every Skill Challenge has a type chosen by the DM. The type determines what kinds of skills are generally appropriate to the challenge, as well as the consequences of success and failure. There are three possible kinds of challenges:
DM NOTE: The challenge types are designed to be a quick way for players to know what skills to use, and a guide for you to design the results of success and failures. However, never feel stifled by the challenge types; use them to your own benefit.
A Mental challenge lets the players using their minds and their senses to gain clues and to find their way around the world. DMs can use Mental Challenges to describe large scales of scenery and give players a chance to work out clues to obtain victory.
Example: Finding your way through an old forest, determining the secret entrance to the underground city, solving the puzzle of El-Karad, or finding the last ingredient for a ritual in an old library are examples of a Mental Challenge.
Standard skills for a mental challenge include:
*When dealing with anatomy or medical insights.
^For navigating urban terrain or gaining information on the street.
Failure: Failing a mental challenge often means you arrive at a different location than the one you had intended, or that you obtain a piece of information…only to later find out it is incorrect.
Partial Victory: You gain some of the information you need, but need more. However, you know where to go to get more information. You successfully navigate the terrain, but are greatly delayed, or miss out on a special place as you make your way.
Victory: You gain the information you need and solve the puzzle. You navigate the terrain quickly and easily, and find a special location along the way.
A physical challenge often is the most versatile of challenges. It can include subtle stealth or outrageous stunts. Players are encouraged to describe their actions in detail.
Example: Scaling a great cliff, sneaking past a group of guards, and crossing a raging river are good physical challenges.
Standard skills for a Physical Challenge include:
Knowledge (int or wis)^
*Social skills can sometimes be useful in physical challenges against other creatures. Using bluff to throw off a group of guards as you make your escape is a good example.
^Knowledge skills can sometimes be useful in physical challenges that involve certain environments. Using nature in a chase scene that involves the jungle is one example.
Failure: Failing a physical challenge usually involves physical fatigue and possibly great peril. Examples include every party member losing two healing surges. Or each person in the party loses ¼ of their hit points, and then is forced into a combat.
Partial Victory: The party has overcome the obstacle but may have created new obstacles in the process. For example, the party has to climb a rock wall in a way that leads to other hazardous terrain. Or the party completes the task but suffers fatigue in the form of losing 2 healing surges each.
Victory: The party overcomes the obstacle, fresh, strong and ready for the next one.
A social challenge generally involves talking and a large amount of roleplaying. Players are encouraged to use eloquent words, bold statements, and outright lies to win the day.
Example: A negotiation with the Duke, talking your way past the guards, and convincing an old hero to take up the cause once again are examples of social challenges.
Standard Skills for a social challenge include:
Knowledges * (int or wis)
*In some cases, some knowledge skills can be useful if they are particularly relevant to the challenge. Example: Using religion in a social challenge that involves a priest.
Failure: Failing a social challenge normally means the party does not get their desired help, and often the other group’s opinion of the party has dropped. If the opposing group was already hostile, it may result in combat.
Partial Victory: Generally the party gets what they want, but the other group wants something too. Good examples are a rare treasure, some key information, or a favor. This can often led to another quest.
Victory: The party gets what they want. In many cases the other side will feel greater respect (or awe) for the party.
Same Scene, Different Skill Type.
One DMs social challenge is another ones physical challenge. Most environments could have any of the three challenges. The question you have to ask yourself is, “what is the main challenge my party is trying to overcome?”
Example: The party is traveling through a forest. What challenge type would that be. The answer is….it depends!!
Scenario 1: The Forest of Wonders (Mental)
The party is traveling through an ancient forest. The forest moves and often those that enter it are lost forever. The party must use their woodsman skills and their knowledges to figure out the clues of the forest, and ultimately the way out.
Scenario 2: The Treacherous Forest (Physical)
The party is traveling through a forest that is more like a jungle. The heat is intense, and the humidity large. Disease is rampant, and the trees are so thick at times the party must cut their way through. The party must endure the harsh conditions of the woods in order to make it to the other side.
Scenario 3: The Druids of the Forest (Social)
The party is in a mysterious wood and can’t find the way out. They find a group of druids that may have the answer. But the druids will need convincing, and the wrong word could spell doom for the party.
For a basic skill challenge, give the party the same XP as you would if you were using a complexity 5 skill challenge in the standard system.
So that is everything you need to know to run the Obsidian Skill Challenge System. However, should you desire some more advanced options, including larger skill challenges and skill challenges during combat, check out the next post!