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D&D General Difference in Exploration & Skill Challenges

I was recently working on an adventure path, and trying to do it justice for players that like all pillars, it occurred to me that I actually break the game apart in four pillar - not three. I do not know why this hasn't occurred to me yet. I think I have always broken the exploration pillar down into two sections, whereas RP and combat I don't.

An example is a group of skill challenges (in this case they had to take a dinghy to an island, and pass three skill challenges to make it there with consequences: a small reef, a shoal of razor clams and pounding surf. Each person in the dinghy had their specific tasks (skill challenges). Once on the island, they had to decipher some runes carved in trees: music notes and phases of the moon. No real skill challenge, just using the player's knowledge to see if they can figure which moon phase goes with which music notes.

Basically, it is the difference between rolling skill checks or using riddles or sometimes handing them puzzles in real life for use as a timer. It is kind of a meta-exploration. Heck, even piecing together the history of a dungeon or the glyphs can be used as exploration, but doesn't happen with rolls. It is purely the player, not the character.

In summary, my exploration pillar seems to be broken down to character or player.

Anyone do the same? Or break it down differently?
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I was recently working on an adventure path, and trying to do it justice for players that like all pillars, it occurred to me that I actually break the game apart in four pillar - not three. I do not know why this hasn't occurred to me yet. I think I have always broken the exploration pillar down into two sections, whereas RP and combat I don't.

An example is a group of skill challenges (in this case they had to take a dinghy to an island, and pass three skill challenges to make it there with consequences: a small reef, a shoal of razor clams and pounding surf. Each person in the dinghy had their specific tasks (skill challenges). Once on the island, they had to decipher some runes carved in trees: music notes and phases of the moon. No real skill challenge, just using the player's knowledge to see if they can figure which moon phase goes with which music notes.

Basically, it is the difference between rolling skill checks or using riddles or sometimes handing them puzzles in real life for use as a timer. It is kind of a meta-exploration. Heck, even piecing together the history of a dungeon or the glyphs can be used as exploration, but doesn't happen with rolls. It is purely the player, not the character.

In summary, my exploration pillar seems to be broken down to character or player.

Anyone do the same? Or break it down differently?
I'm not sure I agree with your distinction, or that it's terribly significant. To me, both are player challenges. The first involves solving the problem with your character's abilities and the resolution mechanics. The second is solving the problem with your abilities and no formal resolution mechanics. As such, I'm not sure this is an actual difference in pillars of play, because I'm not sure the second even sits inside the rules of the game and isn't actually a different game being tacked on in an ad hoc manner. Now, let me be absolutely clear I'm not disparaging this, I think it's fine to do this, but I think it does bring up questions on the meta level of which game you're playing where. The meta is how these two different games compliment or provide inputs into each other.

In other words, I think you have the start of an interesting point here, but I think it's not about pillars of play in 5e, but about how we can switch between different games inside the same concept place. Like how you could play a Star Trek game, but switch to Starfleet Battles for ship-to-ship combat. Some games build this shift into their rules, having entirely different resolution systems for different parts of the game. I think it's worthwhile to note that when this happens you aren't playing the same game, but rather related games that have inputs into each other. And I think this is important because, outside of those interfaces, what happens in each is a black box to the other parts -- what happens in the puzzle solving part has no bearing at all on how the skill challenge operates, for instance. It can only ever affect it via the input into starting fiction, and, usually, these shifts don't directly interface, but instead go to an intermediary point where one is solved to get to the place the next begins. The middle point is fixed (often). I've started considering this for other games recently, so this is serendipitous. My thinking started with something Ron Edwards said in a podcast last month about Blades in the Dark that I violently disagreed with, but kicked off a chain of thought where I tried to consider his point of view and reconcile it (I still disagree) but it pointed out that Blades has completely separate pieces that really only have interfaces between them. These are well interfaced, but, honestly, you could use an entirely different downtime resolution system and it wouldn't impact how the other pieces work except at the input interfaces, which you can easily modify.

Perhaps it's the system engineer in me, but I see these as completely separate processes that have handoff inputs -- there's no feedback, just forward -- and then, perhaps, iterate as needed. As such, you can change the process so long as you keep the interface. For instance, if you replaced the puzzle parts with another skill challenge, this doesn't perturb the rest of the game at all. The outputs are the same -- you solve or do not solve the puzzle, it takes X time, Y resources are spent. These change, sure, but they change per iteration (ie, a different table doing the same adventure will have different values, it's not dependent on the challenge, per se, but the resolutions), and the next part just takes that and moves forward.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The existence of an ability check implies the existence of a challenge since there's something making the outcome uncertain. But a challenge need not ever have an ability check to qualify as a challenge. A challenge is just something at which the characters can succeed or fail. You don't always need an ability check to determine that since we only roll ability checks when there's an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure.

The difficulty of the challenge is how hard the decisions are or how much it may tax the characters' resources - and difficulty starts to move up or down as soon as the players' decisions are implemented.

As well, any given challenge may involve any number of the pillars. Exploration, at least as defined by the most recent version of the game, is "the adventurers' movement through the world and their interaction with objections and situations that require their attention..." which is of course quite broad.
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
I see the exploration pillar as literally discovering the world.

It's everything that we do that isn't combat or social interaction.

The mechanics to handle that varies.

It isn't D&D without the 3 pillars. It is still D&D without your 4 pillars.

I think we're just using different definitions of what a 'pillar' is in this context.
 

Yeah to me I see this as the equivalent of:

Social Pillar: Roll some persuasion checks and we move on.
vs
Roleplay out the scene with a long conversation


Both have their uses at difference times, but its still the same pillar to me. So I don't see a strong distinction.
That seems to be a good way to look at it.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Anyone do the same? Or break it down differently?
I think these are just two different ways of implementing an exploration challenge, which would suggest they both fall under the same pillar. It would be like saying the social pillar is multiple pillars because the PCs can learn the guard is hard up for cash and would be receptive to a bribe to be a bit late on their rounds tonight versus engaging in a skill challenge to convince them you’re the cleaning crew when you get caught.

My thinking started with something Ron Edwards said in a podcast last month about Blades in the Dark that I violently disagreed with, but kicked off a chain of thought where I tried to consider his point of view and reconcile it (I still disagree) but it pointed out that Blades has completely separate pieces that really only have interfaces between them. These are well interfaced, but, honestly, you could use an entirely different downtime resolution system and it wouldn't impact how the other pieces work except at the input interfaces, which you can easily modify.
I’m curious what he had to say. Do you have a link to the podcast?
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think these are just two different ways of implementing an exploration challenge, which would suggest they both fall under the same pillar. It would be like saying the social pillar is multiple pillars because the PCs can learn the guard is hard up for cash and would be receptive to a bribe to be a bit late on their rounds tonight versus engaging in a skill challenge to convince them you’re the cleaning crew when you get caught.


I’m curious what he had to say. Do you have a link to the podcast?
Video sent SEPCOR so as to not clutter this thread with Blades/Ron Edwards stuff.
 

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