D&D General Skill challenges: action resolution that centres the fiction

clearstream

(He, Him)
Sure.

User error is common in TTRPGing. Being quite deft at both the GMing role and the player role of any given game is a difficult thing. Its a skill to be earned via thoughtfulness, comprehension of principles/techniques/engine interactions and best practices, humility, and disciplined practice.

That is a good thing!

What isn't a good thing is what I see happen in a lot of Skill Challenge threads (historically). Refrains whereby people are basically committed to a decade + long effort of casting this sort of resolution and this particular game, 4e D&D, in as negative a light as possible and doing ZERO inventory of their own role in the problems their having):

  • Fail Forward doesn't work!
  • The fiction doesn't change after resolution!
  • The fiction is meaningless!
  • The fiction is too meaningful and there is no actual "game" there!
  • The math is broken so the system doesn't work!
  • This is an exercise in useless dice rolling and free form roleplay!
  • You can't use Powers or Rituals in Skill Challenges! They're totally prescriptive railroads!
  • The fiction of 4e is nonsensical!
  • Intent/Goal-based consequences of action resolution equals meaningless, nonsensical, agencyless play!
  • Fire doesn't cause ignition of flammable materials (and dozens of other wrong ideas about keywords and "Target - Creature")!

I could go on and on and on with these sorts of things.

The reality is, there was...and remains...a very large contingent of anti-4e sentiment by a particular (and particularly raucous and in your face...here and in real life) group of D&D players who have died on every hill...at every opportunity...for 14 years...overwhelmingly wrongly...who will never course-correct their wrongness and put it on the record because inevitably they're going to trot out the same nonsense 2 years later at first opportunity.
I hope it is clear that far from having any anti-4e sentiment, I'm very fond of the edition. I get why it doesn't appeal to all groups. I think a lot of groups used it in quite a different way than is often discussed here (focused on different aspects of what was available in the game texts)... to a certain extent the edition drew folk into one kind of play which, on sum of game text, it doesn't actually advocate.

I am quietly confident that lessons will continue to be learned from 4e as time goes by. It was remarkable at the time that WotC were willing to take the risk, and had employed designers willing also to do so. I remember being very surprised when I first read it (not surprised by how it worked, which came straight from Bo9S, but that WotC took the risk.)
 

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pemerton

Legend
Or those quoting 2008 rules hard at me :p

To be fair, from this vantage point looking back, one of the first tasks is to be sure what version of SCs folk are referring to. Is it right to say our baseline is 2010 then?
My "baseline" is the rules I've quoted in the OP, which are found in the 4e DMG (original printing) and then receive some elaboration in the 4e DMG2 (which is Sep 2009). These are what establishes how the situation is framed and checks declared and resolved.

The mathematics don't change that.

I started playing 4e D&D in 2009, and so was using this chart for DCs from the 2008 errata, as well as the N before 3 failures and the deletion of the text about turn-taking etc that @Manbearcat has already flagged:

Difficulty Class and Damage By Level [Revision/Deletion]
Level Easy Moderate Hard
1st–3rd 5 10 15
4th–6th 7 12 17
7th–9th 8 14 19
10th–12th 10 16 21
13th–15th 11 18 23
16th-18th 13 20 25
19th–21st 14 22 27
22nd–24th 16 24 29
25th–27th 17 26 31
28th–30th 19 28 33​

The DMG2 has this same chart.

In September 2010 the RC was published. This was around the same time my campaign entered Paragon tier. From that time I used the RC chart for DCs:


Level Easy ModerateHard
1 8 12 19
2 9 13 20
3 9 13 21
4 10 14 21
5 10 15 22
6 11 15 23
7 11 16 23
8 12 16 24
9 12 17 25
10 13 18 26
11 13 19 27
12 14 20 28
13 14 20 29
14 15 21 29
15 15 22 30
16 16 22 31
17 16 23 31
18 17 23 32
19 17 24 33
20 18 25 34
21 19 26 35
22 20 27 36
23 20 27 37
24 21 28 37
25 21 29 38
26 22 29 39
27 22 30 39
28 23 30 40
29 23 31 41
30 24 32 42​

These make skill challenges mathematically harder, stepping up all DCs but especially Hard ones; but the RC also has the system of "advantages" to compensate. I can't make any systematic comparison of difficulty. One reason for that is that 4e is geared around players spending resources to succeed at encounters, and so maybe the effect of the RC changes is to make skill challenges consume more player resources than otherwise would be the case. My general impression is that WotC underestimated the resources that players have access to, especially at Paragon and Epic tiers.
 

pemerton

Legend
It seems totally uncontentious to me to say that wargamers don't suppose there is no mud, potholds, blowing leaves, etc on the field where they aren't expressly listed and modelled, but leave it up to dice to say if those too-many-to-count factors had an impact.
OK. I don't know what you are inviting me (or others) to take from this.

I asserted that the sort of game @Pedantic is advocating for is, in a literal sense, impossible. Do you think wargaming is a counterexample? Is there a wargame system that will emulate, say, the outcome of the Spanish Civil War (including factoring in the international politics that determines the extent to which Fascist, Communist and liberal powers will intervene)? I just watched a TV show about the civil war in Myanmar. Is there a wargame that will predict whether the Peoples' Defence Forces will defeat the military regime there, that factors in the morale and political disposition of the people(s) of Myanmar, the relevant politics in China and Russia and India and Thailand, etc?

If the answer is no - and to the best of my knowledge that is the answer - then the idea that, by nothing more than granular task resolution we can determine whether or not a PC overthrows an illegitimate ruler is blown out of the water.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
OK. I don't know what you are inviting me (or others) to take from this.
Really, just a plain, unardorned note. Something that I thought about as I read your post. What you wrote didn't seem to quite capture the wargamer mindset as I have experienced it.

I asserted that the sort of game @Pedantic is advocating for is, in a literal sense, impossible. Do you think wargaming is a counterexample? Is there a wargame system that will emulate, say, the outcome of the Spanish Civil War (including factoring in the international politics that determines the extent to which Fascist, Communist and liberal powers will intervene)? I just watched a TV show about the civil war in Myanmar. Is there a wargame that will predict whether the Peoples' Defence Forces will defeat the military regime there, that factors in the morale and political disposition of the people of Myanmar, the relevant politics in China and Russia and India and Thailand, etc?
My comment was not making any combative argument. I don't know whether there are wargames modelling those events. There could be. Games like Twilight Struggle are in that direction.

If the answer is no - and to the best of my knowledge that is the answer - then the idea that, by nothing more than granular task resolution we can determine whether or not a PC overthrows an illegitimate ruler is blown out of the water.
As you know, I do think that the sum of what are imprecisely called task-resolutions can determine whether or not a PC overthrows a ruler. I wasn't really pursuing that line of argument in my comment about RNG in wargaming.
 

Just for funsies, I've grabbed the PCs from the last 1-30 game I GMed. I have just stray copies of them at various levels (I have the Rogue at 12, the Bladesinger at 20 and 30, then the Druid at 30 only).

Here is what a level 20 Bladesinger can bring to bear against an Epic Tier Skill Challenge. My Skill Challenges would run "of level" (normal), level +1 (hard), level +2 (very hard). Here are the DCs for those:

Level Easy Medium Hard
20 18 25 34
21 19 26 35
22 20 27 36

The overwhelming % of DCs will be Medium with 0, 1, or 2 DCs hitting Hard depending upon Complexity (I rarely used Complexity above 3, but I did in some cases).

1661171524378.png


That is a significant ability to hit the Medium DC for a very wide swath of obstacles. Then you have to consider the following resource suites they could call upon to broaden/amplify their Skill Challenge capability:

* Mage Hand (AW) where minor, ranged legerdemain could aid against a challenge granting a +2 bonus

* Flowing Evasion (E) for movement-based challenges where pursuit/acrobatics/grace/slipperiness are in play granting +2 bonus.

* Mighty Sprint (E) +5 bonus to Athletics when speed and/or jumping are relevant to the obstacle.

* Legend Lore (E) to sub History for Dungeoneering, Nature, Religion checks.

* Spook (E) to sub Arcana for Intimidate.

* Suggestion (E) to sub Arcana for Diplomacy.

* Fey Step (E) for automatic 1 success when bridging a 25 ft gap is the obstacle (or to use as auto secondary skill buff +2 to help allies cross).

* Philosopher's Crown (D) to reroll Arcana, Dungeoneering, History, Nature.

* Endure Elements (R) for 1 auto success when exposure or severe conditions/phenomenon are an obstacle.

* Pass Without Trace (R) for 1 auto success when leaving no trace of your trek through wilderness during a perilous journey is an obstacle.

* Warded Campsite (R) for 1 auto success when you're camping in the wilderness (this also ensures no nested combats happen as a result of a consequence of such a situation).

* Phantom Steed (R) for 1 or 2 auto success when travel over great distances is an obstacle for you and your allies.

* A whole lot of Coin to grease palms, attain physical assets, or purchase the aid of Companion Characters/Cohorts for either auto-success in an SC or persistent bonsues/help for combat/SCs.




That is what the capability of a PC entering Epic Tier looks like in terms of noncombat capability. Even though Hard DCs got progressively more difficult to accomplish, they weren't common, you're reliably hitting the Medium DC on a huge swath of obstacles inherent to your thematic archetypes, and you can marshal auto-success against a wide variety of obstacles (from Dailies, to Rituals, to using Coin for assets, hirelings, palm-greasing).
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Or those quoting 2008 rules hard at me :p

To be fair, from this vantage point looking back, one of the first tasks is to be sure what version of SCs folk are referring to. Is it right to say our baseline is 2010 then?

I don't think versions are important when we are talking about them from a conceptual standpoint. I think getting caught up in vagaries of the precise technical implementation are more likely to confuse the issue at hand than illicit any sort of meaningful conversation about the actual technique involved.
 


With 5e they made an extremely similar mistake on Group checks, which they later patched over with modified advice on how to run them. I would have thought they'd have learned by then!
What's the issue with group checks? the weirdness with even/odd number of participants or something else? And what was the patch?
 

That's fair enough, although it means our arguments are tangential to one another. I'm applying specific beats general. You're rightly pointing out that the language is vague. These arguments are not in conflict.


The Suderham example is pretty interesting. It feels like the designers are still figuring out what they can do with the SC architecture. They call out that...



...so once again, as I am talking about the normal rules for SCs, it seems tangential.


Would you agree the RC gives their landing point? Their final take on SCs? Or is there a later game text that carries the design work on further?
I mean, I guess there could be designers who worked on 4e who have done more/other. I don't really recall exactly what Strike! did, I only dabbled with some early playtests (but I don't think any of its designers actually worked for WotC, still it is definitely a take on 4e design). 13a is of course an obvious candidate, but it really doesn't do much in that department. Instead it focuses on character motive by way of archetypes and 'one unique thing'. Honestly, again I was involved in playtesting it, so I am not 100% sure about its wording of 'challenge-like' situations. I know it has no straightforward equivalent of an SC.

WotC itself obviously seems to show little interest in creating any new RPGs, nor on adding subsystems like SC to 5e. My feeling is Mike Mearls didn't seem to 'get' 4e very well, despite having been deeply involved in designing it, and he seems pretty strongly entrenched in "5e is a better rewrite of 2e." So I expect nothing on this front from WotC in the foreseeable future.

So, yes, the 4e RC is the last word on WotC-style SCs.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Pathfinder Second Edition has its Victory Points and other subsystems built off them, but that's pretty much racing clocks from Blades in the Dark down to having obstacles that require a certain number of points to overcome.

My reference point for skill challenges is still the 4e DMG2 which I consider essential for 4e. I never used any of the Essentials material at my table.
 


pemerton

Legend
That is a significant ability to hit the Medium DC for a very wide swath of obstacles.
Here are the 30th level PCs from my campaign (skill bonuses in brackets are circumstantial):

1661207205528.png

30th level DCs are Easy 24, Medium 32, Hard 42.

In their areas of specialisation, these characters don't struggle to hit Medium DCs. When they move out of their areas of specialisation - eg when Derrik makes social checks - they expend resources (eg Action Points to reroll).
 

@AbdulAlhazred I have some of your posts to catch up on, but meanwhile I found some math here on Enworld (from 2008) on SC probabilities


Just as with Group checks in 5e, it's quite important for a group to have grokked these odds when they implement the system (because they decline more sharply than is sometimes intuited.)

The RC came out in 2010, and perhaps the Advantages rules, along with the prescribed mix of difficulties at each complexity, were the designers' proposed solution to the maths problems. I suspect understanding and implementing the Advantages (you might like to call that that reifying the intent of previous handwaving, heh) is very helpful for groups to get SCs to work well at their table.

@AbdulAlhazred this is partially a response to your thought that

The RC is written as it is to tackle the maths problems of the earlier takes. My view is that it's pretty important for successful application to follow that design as written.
Honestly though, my expereince has always been that it is a lot like combat. The odds are not foremost on the mind, though tactics are. So when you see the lay of the land, you always try to pick the most obviously advantageous tactics (IE have PCs apply their best skills whenever possible). If that starts to look problematic, then deploying consumable/metered resources comes into play, and its fairly uncommon for the party to fail an SC they really seriously are determined to pass at any cost. Nor is it really to the GM's advantage to have things be surprisingly more or less difficult than expected, so they're also likely to play things in a way that doesn't 'pile it on' or 'lay off' too much, although now and then just being a brutal purveyor of hurt can make good dramatic sense (haha, what can I say, I'm evil).

The original variable failures version WAS very mathematically unstable though, too much for most people's taste. I agree that advantages and such may be intended to help there, but OTOH they serve a great purpose in narrative terms in that they give you another measure of what to dish out, but for and against the party so you're operating in a known mechanical space. As I said up thread a bit, I tend to think using them as given is good practice, but it isn't absolutely required to be slavishly set on every complexity 3 gets exactly 2 advantages every time.
 

How are you defining "Trad" in this context? What are it's distinguishing features?
I was being fairly loose in terms of using it, as in "like D&D commonly (traditionally) is." I know there's this jungle gym of hair-splitting terms used by everyone under the sun to distinguish themselves from the next guy over, who has a slightly different definition of hit points, lol. For this purpose its enough to just point at what MOST people seem to think falls within the things commonly taken to be elements of D&D (some of which 4e flaunts, though others it upholds).
 

In the context specifically of a game text that includes what I will refer to imprecisely as "task resolution", would you say that SCs can bring in what I will equally imprecisely refer to as "intention resolution"? That is to say, would it make sense for a group to view the razor between a simple series of tasks, and an SC, as being pursuit of an overarching intention (that N-tasks will resolve)?
Well, 4e certainly has both a vanilla skill system, not too different from 5e's really, as well as SCs. So it admits of the possibility of both approaches. I tend to feel that anything not worth at least a complexity 1 probably isn't interesting enough to roll (remember, 4e tells you to 'skip to the interesting stuff'). I think the allowance of 'free checks' in 4e boils down to A) traditionalism, and B) convenience. B is easy to consider, like how do you handle situations if you don't have free checks? Where does the monster knowledge check come into play for instance? And its very difficult to play out traditional dungeon exploration without them (when do you get a perception check if all you have are SCs?). Now, my answer is I don't think those sorts of situations are really great game play/design! I abolished free checks as a concept in HoML, it works fine, in fact the game plays better without them! But that is certainly just my answer.
In the tradition of wargaming, he may have been thinking of the die-roll as covering those myriad possible factors - wood chips hitting your eye and so on. The goal is something like surface to the table for player leverage those impactful factors they could reasonably observe and have power to interact with, and let the die roll model those innumerable factors - secret badgerhorses etc.

When we place out our painted minis on the felt, with a handful of terrain models, you certainly can describe that as "austere": it's true as you say that there's a ton of absent detail. I think we still imagine that detail is present.
Sure, but a distinguishing factor of wargames is that the SCENARIO is pretty well-defined. Maybe each side is allowed to have some hidden information (fog of war) and some factors might be left to be determined during play (IE what is the weather today). So, the RPG isn't really like a wargame at all, as the scenario is open-ended and quite ill-defined. Even if its a Basic D&D Dungeon delve its still a lot less nailed down than replaying the Battle of Borodino or even just making up a Chainmail Fantasy Supplement scenario.
 

That's not particularly typical.

At 1st level, a good skill bonus is +8 (+3 stat, +5 training). And medium difficulty at 1st level is DC 12 (Rules Compendium, p 26). Even with a poor stat, training will be +5 which makes 7 or 8 the number of success.

At 30th level, a good skill bonus is +34 (+8 stat, +5 training, +6 sundries from character build and items, +15 level). And medium difficulty is DC 32. Even with a poor stat (+0 or +1 at that level), that's 12 less sundries for a medium DC, and if the player wants to succeed on those skill checks they will acquire those sundries.

That's before we get to resource use, which is relevant even at 1st level but of course far more relevant at 30th (given the extreme depth of 4e character builds as levels are gained).
Right, IMHO that '2%' is like as if the PCs went into a full combat encounter, lined up in a conga line and used Basic Melee Attack as their only power for the whole encounter, and didn't maneuver at all. Sure, they would probably loose 98% of the time to a GM that was actually trying to win... I don't think that tells us much about the combat system though!

IME PCs don't really lose SCs that often, any more than they lose combats. I've had both happen, probably SCs are more swingy than combats, but not ridiculously so. They are also GENERALLY not life-and-death situations, at least not outright. You lose a fight, you are likely in TPK land, you lose an SC and you might be floating downriver in a sinking boat with all the oars broken and a nasty rapids coming up ahead.
 

pemerton

Legend
IME PCs don't really lose SCs that often, any more than they lose combats. I've had both happen
Yes to both.

One failed skill challenge:
The PCs had two ways out - the main tunnel, and the side tunnel that the eye of flame had come out of - and decided to go down the latter, as (i) it went down (and they think they want to go down to find the Abbatoir) and (ii) it seemed warm, and for some reason that I now can't remember that appealed to them. There were three minor encounters - a single fungal hazard dealt with by the ranger while expanding an overgrown, abandoned duergar farm, and a couple of skill challenges. The first, which had been commenced back at 17th level and involved navigating through the underdark, failed, and the PC fighter ended up falling through thin stone into the underground river the duergar had relied upon to irrigate their fungi. This then triggered another skill challenge for the party to recover the fighter and regroup successfully in the river, and they succeeded at that.
Which of course was nothing at all like:
you lose an SC and you might be floating downriver in a sinking boat with all the oars broken and a nasty rapids coming up ahead.
 

Just for funsies, I've grabbed the PCs from the last 1-30 game I GMed. I have just stray copies of them at various levels (I have the Rogue at 12, the Bladesinger at 20 and 30, then the Druid at 30 only).

Here is what a level 20 Bladesinger can bring to bear against an Epic Tier Skill Challenge. My Skill Challenges would run "of level" (normal), level +1 (hard), level +2 (very hard). Here are the DCs for those:

Level Easy Medium Hard
20 18 25 34
21 19 26 35
22 20 27 36

The overwhelming % of DCs will be Medium with 0, 1, or 2 DCs hitting Hard depending upon Complexity (I rarely used Complexity above 3, but I did in some cases).

View attachment 258658

That is a significant ability to hit the Medium DC for a very wide swath of obstacles. Then you have to consider the following resource suites they could call upon to broaden/amplify their Skill Challenge capability:

* Mage Hand (AW) where minor, ranged legerdemain could aid against a challenge granting a +2 bonus

* Flowing Evasion (E) for movement-based challenges where pursuit/acrobatics/grace/slipperiness are in play granting +2 bonus.

* Mighty Sprint (E) +5 bonus to Athletics when speed and/or jumping are relevant to the obstacle.

* Legend Lore (E) to sub History for Dungeoneering, Nature, Religion checks.

* Spook (E) to sub Arcana for Intimidate.

* Suggestion (E) to sub Arcana for Diplomacy.

* Fey Step (E) for automatic 1 success when bridging a 25 ft gap is the obstacle (or to use as auto secondary skill buff +2 to help allies cross).

* Philosopher's Crown (D) to reroll Arcana, Dungeoneering, History, Nature.

* Endure Elements (R) for 1 auto success when exposure or severe conditions/phenomenon are an obstacle.

* Pass Without Trace (R) for 1 auto success when leaving no trace of your trek through wilderness during a perilous journey is an obstacle.

* Warded Campsite (R) for 1 auto success when you're camping in the wilderness (this also ensures no nested combats happen as a result of a consequence of such a situation).

* Phantom Steed (R) for 1 or 2 auto success when travel over great distances is an obstacle for you and your allies.

* A whole lot of Coin to grease palms, attain physical assets, or purchase the aid of Companion Characters/Cohorts for either auto-success in an SC or persistent bonsues/help for combat/SCs.




That is what the capability of a PC entering Epic Tier looks like in terms of noncombat capability. Even though Hard DCs got progressively more difficult to accomplish, they weren't common, you're reliably hitting the Medium DC on a huge swath of obstacles inherent to your thematic archetypes, and you can marshal auto-success against a wide variety of obstacles (from Dailies, to Rituals, to using Coin for assets, hirelings, palm-greasing).
Yeah, if anything, my experience was that, even with the higher RC DC table that higher level PCs pretty close to laugh off skill checks. I mean, definitely if you don't want to spend resources, and maybe if your a fighter with a low CHA and INT, and a mediocre WIS (which is a feasible build) you might be a bit of a brick in that department, even at level 20, but you WILL still have some nice powers and probably some items and whatnot that are going to be pretty useful.

Once I got into a game with some people who I knew from the WotC boards, it must have been around 2011, because MOST everything, including pretty much all the Essentials stuff, was out there. So, I just decided I'd make the most stupidly ridiculously Swiss Army Knife wizard. He had Wizard's Apprentice, and a Tome implement, and expanded spell book, and every ritual and consumable I could possibly get hold of. The character was preposterous. I mean, even at 1st level, I was finding ways to bypass virtually any skill check I didn't like. I never got a chance to play the character at high level, but things like Sage of Ages, some of the additional spell book swapping feats and whatnot could just make you crazy capable. And Bards are worse, a half-elf bard just laughs at skill checks.

So, yeah, you really have to get kinda creative to seriously challenge epic tier PCs in an SC. Its certainly doable, but those increased DCs that @pemerton mentioned were DEFINITELY intended to help deal with the sheer variety of ways you could get skill bonus.
 



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