log in or register to remove this ad

 

5E How can you add more depth and complexity to skill checks?

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I don't see it that way, though the thinking you describe is how some GMs approach it, especially with combat encounters. But I merely see it having prepared certain mechanically somewhat more involved things in advance. Like if there is a situation where combat might ensue, then it probably is the best to have the stats of those creatures at hand instead of scrambling to find (or write!) them when it turns out that the characters decide to solve the issue with swords. Being prepared allows the situation proceed smoothly, the suspenseful and tense escalation of hostility directly leading to the combat without being interrupted by the GM having to sort out the mechanical details. Same with many of the more complex skill usage mechanics being discussed in this thread, having the the framework ready will help. And sure, you cannot be prepared for everything and more importantly you shouldn't be fixated on what you planned having to happen. My favourite moments are when the players resolve a problem in some utterly surprising and unexpected manner. So yeah, again, you can do both, be prepared and be flexible; these things don't need to be enemies.
You shifted the pea, again, from expecting a solution to the challenge to having prep available for possible things. There's a difference between having a stat block on hand if a fight breaks out and planning a challenge to be a fight. The latter will lead you to presentations that push towards a fight, the former is just ready if the players decide to have a fight.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I don't see it that way, though the thinking you describe is how some GMs approach it, especially with combat encounters. But I merely see it having prepared certain mechanically somewhat more involved things in advance. Like if there is a situation where combat might ensue, then it probably is the best to have the stats of those creatures at hand instead of scrambling to find (or write!) them when it turns out that the characters decide to solve the issue with swords. Being prepared allows the situation proceed smoothly, the suspenseful and tense escalation of hostility directly leading to the combat without being interrupted by the GM having to sort out the mechanical details. Same with many of the more complex skill usage mechanics being discussed in this thread, having the the framework ready will help. And sure, you cannot be prepared for everything and more importantly you shouldn't be fixated on what you planned having to happen. My favourite moments are when the players resolve a problem in some utterly surprising and unexpected manner. So yeah, again, you can do both, be prepared and be flexible; these things don't need to be enemies.
Sure, I’m not saying don’t ever prepare anything. I’m a prep-heavy DM myself, and obviously it’s a good idea to have monster stats at the ready if you think you’re likely to end up needing them. But it comes back to the old “don’t prep plots, prep scenarios“ nugget. Plan for the initial conditions of a challenge - the obstacles in the way of your players’ goals, not for expected solutions to those obstacles. If you plan solutions, you can end up funneling your players towards those planned-for solutions, sometimes unconsciously.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Sure, I’m not saying don’t ever prepare anything. I’m a prep-heavy DM myself, and obviously it’s a good idea to have monster stats at the ready if you think you’re likely to end up needing them. But it comes back to the old “don’t prep plots, prep scenarios“ nugget. Plan for the initial conditions of a challenge - the obstacles in the way of your players’ goals, not for expected solutions to those obstacles. If you plan solutions, you can end up funneling your players towards those preplanned solutions, sometimes unconsciously.
This actually goes to the OP, in a way. Combat is often seen in D&D as a complex resolution mechanic that requires resources and danger of failure (which seems to almost always be death, sadly). Noncombat resolutions, though, tend to be seen as 'make a skill check (sic).' This feels bad to GMs because it seems like the replacement for the longer, more detailed and complex resolution mechanic is being swapped for a single d20 roll where the players can stack benefits or class abilities to make it nearly meaningless. So, a lot of GMs just push the fight, no matter what, because the fight has teeth and the skill check (sic) doesn't.

This is where a lot of GMs are making a mistake. By just letting skill checks (sic) stand in for the players saying what the PCs do, you lose a lot of the possible teeth of a non-combat encounter -- playing off of actions to build a fictional scene. If you look at non-combat resolutions are more than a single check to do something, but instead as a fluid interaction where a check changes the situation but doesn't singularly solve it, and you apply consequences to failures, you put teeth into the non-combat situation. This is where an impromtu fiction-first skill challenge can stand in for a combat and provide as much depth of choice and resolution and resource expenditure as the combat does. Just don't let a single roll decide everything -- build in a change to the fiction that present a new challenge while honoring the outcome of the checks before.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
That's because Colville's approach is still the scripted skill challenge which means it puts a lot on the GM to preplan a clear path through or that it feels like you're still rolling even when things should have happened already. If you have a very clear goal, like the one he presents in escaping the collapsing keep, then you can do what he did, which is script in a number of individual challenges and deal with them in a roll. This is less a skill challenge and more just a string of set challenges that you use ability checks to overcome instead of the usual freeform. This structure really starts to show it's issues with anything that doesn't lend itself to a series of scripted challenges.

This is a frustration I have with how skill challenges get presented -- it's like they ignore the easiest approach of fiction first skill challenges (I really need to get that thread up). In a nutshell, the three important things about a skill challenge are the mechanical structure, the goal the PCs are going for, and making sure that each check advances the fiction. The structure is the usual, X successes before 3 failures, but this helps frame and drive the challenge towards the goal. Each check should start with a framed scene that places a challenge to achieving the goal in front of the players. You then get the action and adjudicate it per the normal loop. If the check succeeds, you change the fiction to represent that -- the PCs either advance the current challenge to a new obstacle or they succeed in bypassing it and you move to a new scene with a new challenge. On a failure, you add a consequence that changes the current obstacle, making it more dangerous/harder/costly or you have that line of approach closed out and frame a different approach (in consultation with the PCs). The important thing in both cases is to advance the fiction! Don't leave the situation the same, make it breathe.

Now, you cannot script these things because you don't know what the PCs are going to do to overcome a challenge or how it will come out. If you do try to, you'll end up with all kinds of branching possibilities, most of which won't matter. Instead, to prep, think about the nature of the goal and the current fiction and jot down some notes about possible consequences or players in the challenge. This will aid you when you're moving scenes within the challenge to quickly add new issues. Keep the overall state of the checks in mind, though -- things should be looking dire on 2 failures and no successes! Use the current state, the goal, the PCs themselves, and your prepped ideas to drive the skill challenge. Don't be afraid to make failures hurt and always, always, always honor successes by moving things toward the goal. This way the players feel the situation in the framing, see how successes move towards their goal and how failures cause things to go pear shaped. Mix and match consequences -- make some mechanical, like loss of hitdice or hp or spell slots; make some physical, like loss or damage to gear or property; and make some fictional, like angering an NPC, losing reputation or status. But, always change the fiction and honor the success or failure!

For less complex challenges but still more complex than normal, the 3 ability check combo works. This is because it ties a single challenge to multiple rolls, and where you don't adjudicate the outcome until you see all the rolls. I use something very similar for my expanded downtime activities list for my current 5e game. As an example, Pit fighting is a downtime activity (if that gives you a sense of things) that's handled by a DEX check, a CON check, and an attack roll against a fixed DC. Successes/failures determine the outcome. It's a quick, simple approach that adds some range of outcome, but I'm not sure if it's well suited to most tasks in D&D.

Yep, that's how I handle it. Works like a charm. Complications in the context of the overall challenge, resolved by the normal play loop, with progress combined with a setback as the normal means of adjudicating failure.
 

Sure, I’m not saying don’t ever prepare anything. I’m a prep-heavy DM myself, and obviously it’s a good idea to have monster stats at the ready if you think you’re likely to end up needing them. But it comes back to the old “don’t prep plots, prep scenarios“ nugget. Plan for the initial conditions of a challenge - the obstacles in the way of your players’ goals, not for expected solutions to those obstacles. If you plan solutions, you can end up funneling your players towards those planned-for solutions, sometimes unconsciously.
This is a rather vague differentiation. My advice is to be prepared for likely outcomes. That I prepared a combat encounter containing bandits and not one containing farmers even the characters will meet both doesn't mean that they couldn't scare/bribe/befriend the bandits and pick a fight with the farmers. I merely assessed that it is far more likely that they will fight the former rather than the latter, thus I prepared that and didn't bother preparing the farmer fight. Nor I see it as at all a bad thing if the GM has an idea of what a solution for a problem or an obstacle could be.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Now relating to actual topic, I'd like to mention one very basic thing that I think many GMs still overlook. The players choose the skills for their characters for a reason (this naturally applies to any choosable trait or feature.) So when designing and adventure, actually look at the character sheets of the party. Note what skills and other traits they have chosen, and try to come up with ways those things actually could be relevant for the adventure. Such things of course need to feel organic, you can't just place a random singing contest on the middle of the dungeon so that a character can use their performance skill (or can you?) And often this can actually give you ideas for the adventure and it becomes more nuanced and interesting for it. And whilst you cannot shove every skill in every session, you should try to avoid a situation where the player starts to wonder why the hell they picked 'animal handling' when there is never any situations where the characters could meaningfully interact with animals.

There's really no need to do this. I prepare adventures with challenges with the potential to engage across more than one pillar of play. The players will tend to naturally advocate for resolving the challenges in ways that their characters might be good at since the game incentivizes them to do so. If there are some beasts in the way of their goal, to build on your example, a player with a character with proficiency in Animal Handling might decide to try to deal with them in a way other than fighting. And I didn't even have to look at their character sheets and them come up with challenges so they can feel good about their build choices. Like @Ovinomancer, I have no idea what the PCs' skill proficiencies are and frankly don't want to know.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
This is a rather vague differentiation.
I think it’s pretty clear.

My advice is to be prepared for likely outcomes. That I prepared a combat encounter containing bandits and not one containing farmers even the characters will meet both doesn't mean that they couldn't scare/bribe/befriend the bandits and pick a fight with the farmers. I merely assessed that it is far more likely that they will fight the former rather than the latter, thus I prepared that and didn't bother preparing the farmer fight. Nor I see it as at all a bad thing if the GM has an idea of what a solution for a problem or an obstacle could be.
And my advice is the opposite. Plan obstacles and let your players decide what to do about them without trying to guess ahead of time what you think they will “likely” do about them. That gives you the maximum flexibility in how to resolve the situation. Much like calling for an ability check and letting the player suggest an applicable proficiency does.
 

There's really no need to do this. I prepare adventures with challenges with the potential to engage across more than one pillar of play. The players will tend to naturally advocate for resolving the challenges in ways that their characters might be good at since the game incentivizes them to do so. If there are some beasts in the way of their goal, to build on your example, a player with a character with proficiency in Animal Handling might decide to try to deal with them in a way other than fighting. And I didn't even have to look at their character sheets and them come up with challenges so they can feel good about their build choices. Like @Ovinomancer, I have no idea what the PCs' skill proficiencies are and frankly don't want to know.
"If there are beasts." Yes, you have to have animals for animal handling to matter! The GM has to put them there. Players will of course gravitate towards solving problems with the the tools they have, but that still doesn't make them equally applicable regardless of the content of the adventure. If a player made a character which invested heavily on social skills, they might be somewhat disappointed if the adventure solely deals with mindless undead who couldn't care less about what the characters have to say.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
"If there are beasts." Yes, you have to have animals for animal handling to matter! The GM has to put them there. Players will of course gravitate towards solving problems with the the tools they have, but that still doesn't make them equally applicable regardless of the content of the adventure. If a player made a character which invested heavily on social skills, they might be somewhat disappointed if the adventure solely deals with mindless undead who couldn't care less about what the characters have to say.

That's handled by way of the second sentence in what you quoted: "I prepare adventures with challenges with the potential to engage across more than one pillar of play." I don't need to know anything about the PCs' skill proficiencies.
 

And my advice is the opposite. Plan obstacles and let your players decide what to do about them without trying to guess ahead of time what you think they will “likely” do about them. That gives you the maximum flexibility in how to resolve the situation. Much like calling for an ability check and letting the player suggest an applicable proficiency does.

I don't think it is in practice even possible to not anticipate or predict likely outcomes. We all have been players, so when you plan an obstacle as a GM you will already be thinking what you would do about it as a player.
 

Because this leaves it unspecified whether the proficiency bonus from a skill can be added or not.

Ok, but everything in this discussion should apply (shouldn't it?) to both ability checks with a related skill proficiency, and to ability checks without a related skill proficiency. So having the discussion in the context of "skill checks" would suggest that it's excluding straight ability checks, whereas calling them "ability checks" suggests both.
 

That's handled by way of the second sentence in what you quoted: "I prepare adventures with challenges with the potential to engage across more than one pillar of play." I don't need to know anything about the PCs' skill proficiencies.
Some skills are rather narrow in their application. My original example used 'animal handling' for a reason.
 

Rabulias

Adventurer
And my advice is the opposite. Plan obstacles and let your players decide what to do about them without trying to guess ahead of time what you think they will “likely” do about them.
In my prepping I try to foresee at least one avenue (if not more than one) that players can take to overcome an obstacle. I don't want to create an obstacle they cannot overcome in some way. They might not think of it, or they may find the method too risky or a resource cost too high, but there is at least one way to try to surmount it that could succeed. I just feel that's fair.
 

In my prepping I try to foresee at least one avenue (if not more than one) that players can take to overcome an obstacle. I don't want to create an obstacle they cannot overcome in some way. They might not think of it, or they may find the method too risky or a resource cost too high, but there is at least one way to try to surmount it that could succeed. I just feel that's fair.
Yep. The same way that you are supposed to gauge whether the combat challenges are actually beatable.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I don't think it is in practice even possible to not anticipate or predict likely outcomes. We all have been players, so when you plan an obstacle as a GM you will already be thinking what you would do about it as a player.
Sure, you’re naturally going to have a pretty good idea what you would do in the scenarios you prep. If you regularly play with the same group of people and are familiar with how they tend to play their characters, you might have some sense of what they might do as well. But I’m sure we’ve also had the experience where the players did something totally unexpected. If you plan for what you think the players are likely to do, that effort gets wasted if they do something completely different, and that can push you to nudge them towards the solution you planned for.

In my prepping I try to foresee at least one avenue (if not more than one) that players can take to overcome an obstacle. I don't want to create an obstacle they cannot overcome in some way. They might not think of it, or they may find the method too risky or a resource cost too high, but there is at least one way to try to surmount it that could succeed. I just feel that's fair.
I don’t think it’s necessary to plan for a potential solution in order to know if an obstacle can be overcome or not.
 

Sure, you’re naturally going to have a pretty good idea what you would do in the scenarios you prep. If you regularly play with the same group of people and are familiar with how they tend to play their characters, you might have some sense of what they might do as well.
Yes, exactly. And assuming that you're gonna prepare for something, but not for everything, then it makes sense to prepare for what you think is most likely.

But I’m sure we’ve also had the experience where the players did something totally unexpected.
Yes, of course. That's the best.

If you plan for what you think the players are likely to do, that effort gets wasted if they do something completely different,
Sure. Perhaps it can be altered and recycled later, and if not it's not a big deal.

and that can push you to nudge them towards the solution you planned for.
That won't, but what will is if they get stuck. And that I think is perfectly fine. There is nothing worse than frustrating dead ends and the game grinding to a halt.

I don’t think it’s necessary to plan for a potential solution in order to know if an obstacle can be overcome or not.
How else would you know? You have to at least have a vague idea of potential approaches that might be successful.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
In my prepping I try to foresee at least one avenue (if not more than one) that players can take to overcome an obstacle. I don't want to create an obstacle they cannot overcome in some way. They might not think of it, or they may find the method too risky or a resource cost too high, but there is at least one way to try to surmount it that could succeed. I just feel that's fair.
The only way to create an obstacle that cannot be overcome is to decide no solution will overcome the obstacle before it even gets into play. This is part of prescripting solutions -- you have planned for the obstacle to be insurmountable, often foreclosing avenues of approach by design. The other option is that you do this by accident, and that's still exceedingly unlikely or part and parcel of deciding lines of approach aren't feasible instead of remaining flexible and letting the players have a fair go with their actions. I mean, I can't think of an accidental closure like this but I can think of lots of ways to force a closure like this. Don't force it, either in planning or in play, and this won't happen.

That isn't to say that there are bad approaches to things and that consequences or automatic failure should be avoided -- absolutely this can happen. Follow the fiction first. But, truly impossible challenges are either boogeymen or part of the GM doing something intentional by closing off avenues of approach in planning.
 


Hriston

Hero
In my prepping I try to foresee at least one avenue (if not more than one) that players can take to overcome an obstacle. I don't want to create an obstacle they cannot overcome in some way. They might not think of it, or they may find the method too risky or a resource cost too high, but there is at least one way to try to surmount it that could succeed. I just feel that's fair.
Let the players come up with the avenue to overcoming the obstacle, and if it's within genre and they have the fictional positioning, let it succeed or move to action resolution.
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top