Why I like skill challenges as a noncombat resolution mechanic - Page 3




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  1. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    I can't profess to knowing every book for 3E/PF, but I'm pretty sure it has no mechanic that I could use to run any of the encounters I've described or linked to above, nor many of the other skill challenges I've run. I know that there are no mechanics to handle this in classic D&D. And this is so in two respects. First, these earier editions have nothing analogous to the pacing dynamic of a skill challenge, which requires the GM to keep the scene alive (including by introducing new complications) and the players to respond to the evolving scene, which continually, at least in the skill challenges I run, produce unexpected outcomes - of which the dwarf sticking his hands into the forge to hold Whelm steady is just one simple example.
    I think you must be missing Unearthed Arcana which includes complex skill checks - the rule framework upon which 4e skill challenges were based. UA even correctly highlighted the mathematical issues requiring multiple success causes.

    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    So there is no simple mechanic for (for example) evaluating the success of a dwarven fighter-cleric's attempt to facilitate the reforging of an artefact by shoving his hands into the forge and holding it steady.
    Is a Con check or Fortitude save somehow not appropriate here? I don't see why the skill challenge makes that possible while 3e/PF fails to do so.

    As critical as I may be of 4e and its presentation of skill challenges, I see some value in their use. Star Wars Saga Edition included a much better treatment of skill challenges in Galaxy of Intrigue, which I heartily recommend reviewing.

    For my uses, I'm not keen on the final resolution mechanic of achieving a certain number of successes before a certain number of failures and that finishing the challenge. I'd rather use the number of successes compared to the number of failures to determine degree of success or failure or avoidance/stumbling into of complications. In the SWSE example, the PCs are escaping a penal mine with a bunch of other prisoners. As failures mount, they lose some of the NPCs they're trying to help escape. Too many failures and they have to fight through a tough encounter at the space platform, whereas with more successes they'd have beat that encounter there and be able to escape without a dangerous fight they might lose.

    An analogous example from MegaTraveller might be going into Jumpspace while being pursued by Vargr corsairs. The pilot tries to open up a safe lead so they can make it to 100 diameters from the planet's gravity well and safe jump entry territory, the navigator tries to plot the jump vector while under full thrust, the engineers try to squeeze more speed out of the thrusters and tune up the jump reactor. Too many failures and they may get a jump incident. Perhaps the ship gets damaged, maybe their jump takes an unusually long time, maybe the passengers suffer jump sickness, and maybe they have a complete misjump and end up parsecs away from their target. In all cases, the ship can actually enter jump space - the question is how well did they do in doing it right?
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    I like the skill challenge concept as an idea, but it's a complex set of concepts and the execution so far has been more optimistic than comprehensive.

    I think they require a fair amount of DM skill to use smoothly, and that this is inevitable and unavoidable - I fear a skill challenge system that seamlessly connects the mechanics to the fiction of the setting is a pipe dream, it's always going to be work to implement.

    I suspect the backlash against the skill challenge concept is partially because of establishing expectations that skill challenges wouldn't need lots of work to implement, something that isn't true IMO.

    One of their biggest issues, but it's one that extends to every element of RPGs, is they require player buy-in to work. The players , at least some of them, need to want to achieve a particular goal. If they turn out not to, it may be time to short-circuit the planned activity in favour of something they actually want to do.

    It's important to encourage participation in any skill challenge system, something the existings system can fail do to with it's high penalty for any failure. I find some challenges better suit a time-limited mechanic, where the PC's need to achieve a certain number of successes within X time periods, and failures aren't penalised other than the consequences of the failure itself. When players can't damage the overall task by individual failures, they are more willing to improvise and take risks.

    Which is another issue - Failures need to be interesting as well, both individual failures and overall failure in a challenge. It's necessary that failure not be a road block to the adventure, but not sufficient, the new situation needs to be interesting in and of itself and perhaps throw up new possibilities. This is difficult to do, and there is insufficient assistance given to referees to help them on this.

    Tolerances of players for different types of activity varies hugely. In one game the suave diplomat PC may trick the boorish barbarian PC into missing a audience with the king to prevent the crisis that would be the likely outcome, to the acclaim of all players involved. in another the player of the barbarian might hate such manipulation and resent it out of character. It's impossible for rigid mechanics to anticipate such individual likes and dislikes, there needs to be some flexibility.

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    Quote Originally Posted by billd91 View Post
    I think you must be missing Unearthed Arcana which includes complex skill checks - the rule framework upon which 4e skill challenges were based. UA even correctly highlighted the mathematical issues requiring multiple success causes.
    Tried to XP you but couldn't. It often amazes me how many things people claim weren't in 3.x but actually were once you looked beyond the core rulebooks.
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    Quote Originally Posted by billd91 View Post
    For my uses, I'm not keen on the final resolution mechanic of achieving a certain number of successes before a certain number of failures and that finishing the challenge. I'd rather use the number of successes compared to the number of failures to determine degree of success or failure or avoidance/stumbling into of complications.
    This is why the actual numbers aren't as important to me as the ratio. When I set a resolution point it's a goal and I try to judge how many checked "steps" it will take to get there. On occasion the party actually gets there with fewer checks, rare times they take a longer route and I go with it, simply keeping the ratio in tact so if it's 6 successes before 3 failures but they manage to get there in 4 before 2 or meander 8 before 4, I count it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Imaro View Post
    Tried to XP you but couldn't. It often amazes me how many things people claim weren't in 3.x but actually were once you looked beyond the core rulebooks.
    IIRC, pemerton really only started playing D&D with 4E - so Unearthed Arcana is most likely an obscure rulebook to him.

    Also, the [url=http://dnd-wiki.org/wiki/Publication:Unearthed_Arcana/Complex_Skill_Checks]complex skill check[url] rules in UA were only ever talking about rolling for a single skill. Heck, they even say that Diplomacy is not well suited for a complex skill check - while I'd say that Diplomacy is a wonderful part of a social skill challenge that of course uses more than just diplomacy.

    4E my opinion lacking on good advice on how to narrate skill challenges so they don't become just an exercise in dice rolling.
    It may also be to strict in requiring a goal and deciding only success or failure - this goes along with the narration issue, by the way. As pemerton mentions, he likes skill challenges because they lead to unexpected outcomes - that definitely requires narration with each challenge - both from players and the DM, and it requires some "open ends". If the rules do not specifically require this, the advice on using the rules should probably contain ideas on this.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mustrum_Ridcully View Post
    IIRC, pemerton really only started playing D&D with 4E - so Unearthed Arcana is most likely an obscure rulebook to him.
    No, while he nearly completely skipped 3e (and most of 2e, I believe), he most certainly played before that (and particularly liked the original Oriental Adventures when it came out, if I remember correctly).
    As always, play what you like

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    I wish I still had my house rules for "social combat" that I wrote when my players were going to be in a Brelish courtroom. It was more sophisticated than the skill challenge system (and being a house rule, probably way too complex), but it felt better to me than the 4E skill challenge system as applied to social situations. For physical accomplishments, I pretty much always ran skill checks in a similar fashion (I did it a lot in the 3.5 version of White Plume Mountain) to how 4E recommends, even when 3E was new. I had a 2E DM who did it that way, and for awhile I didn't realize it was being done differently than the core rules.

  • #28
    For what its worth.

    We had a go at skill challenges. But really, they weren't that great for us (us meaning my group). They felt like putting structure on something that, we didn't need. Most of the time we kinda ended up getting bored trying to find ways to get to the "end point" when logically the situation already had. We could have stopped before the end point, in which case whats the point of having s skill challenge system? I could speculate that they cut things off before we reach the logical conclusion...hang on, no, that doesn't make sense either.

    In the end we just kinda winged skill scenario's with the occasional skill roll to back it up.

    Its just, well, when it comes to RP, we just dont need quantification.

    I dunno, skill challenges? They were a sound concept, but (IMO) missed the great point of tabletop games. The best part of TT games is when player's tell the story, and when you say "its ok, you can stop this story now, we have our success count" just feels like its not a great method, like telling an author he must have a certain word count in his next book.

    For me, The best stories have always happened when the system has had loose control and when the players have been given more freedom to run with it. Dont want skill challenges or other arbitrary mechanism's.

    For me, skill challenges were the mechanic I never needed in the first place.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    I don't know - I'm not a big fan of combat by attrition (and part of why I stopped GMing Rolemaster for 4e is that 4e takes D&D significantly beyond combat by attrition).
    Isn't a 4E Skill Challenge exactly combat-by-attrition?

    The challenge has 6 hit points. The party has three hit points. A successful skill check deals 1 point of damage. Last man standing wins.

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    I found skill challenges, as originally presented, a bit awkward to run. Many of the reasons have been highlighted already, but often it was hard to come up with a challenge that would cover a suitable range of skills without being arbitrary. For instance, you need to track down the lair of an owlbear to steal an egg - there are lots of useful skills that will help you achieve this, but the dynamics require a certain order: the wizard should research first, then someone has to look for tracks, then perhaps there's an environmental hazard to overcome and some sneaking to finish. There's no logic to first sneaking and later researching.

    Successful challenges that I ran moved away from X successes vs. Y failures and instead became Markov chains - like the disease track. I would usually impose a time limit, and sometimes have branching or parallel chains but in essence a success that made logical sense would move you along the chain towards the goal, a failure would get you nowhere or move you back, depending on the logic of your attempt or how badly things went. Most challenges would be grand-scale enough that there could be minor parallel tasks to achieve, which even characters trained in as little as possible would take pride in completing whilst the competent core group followed the main quest.
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