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


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clearstream

(He, Him)
As an aside, I've been experimenting in homebrew with something a little like SCs, with a key change that more difficult checks are worth more successes. So a very hard check is worth 3 successes, for example.

This makes the difficulty mix flexible as where say multiple hard checks are called for, PCs will need fewer of them. There's no need to mandate a mix. Also, to my taste this makes the conclusion liable to feel a bit more "organic" as others have used the term. For the fiction to follow well we need whatever the PCs described to invoke a possibly-final check to be legitimately possibly-finalising. It can't be something that even if successful leaves another step to go. And the converse! If seemingly finalising it shouldn't force us to make more checks

That is one reason I think that to use SCs successfully means applying the mechanics and parameters flexibly: the system as written often fails... but one ought not to use it as written. If after the 6th success a 7th seems required, add a 7th. It may be an auto-success. If the 5th seemed legitimately finalising, one can finalise.

I'm still not 100% on using a fixed number of failures... essentially trying to identify a similar rubric.
 

pemerton

Legend
For the fiction to follow well we need whatever the PCs described to invoke a possibly-final check to be legitimately possibly-finalising. It can't be something that even if successful leaves another step to go. And the converse! If seemingly finalising it shouldn't force us to make more checks

That is one reason I think that to use SCs successfully means applying the mechanics and parameters flexibly: the system as written often fails... but one ought not to use it as written. If after the 6th success a 7th seems required, add a 7th. It may be an auto-success. If the 5th seemed legitimately finalising, one can finalise.
Which participant(s) are you envisaging make(s) the determination about how things seem?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Which participant(s) are you envisaging make(s) the determination about how things seem?
The same participants that uphold the fictional position. As this is a facet of our fictional position. Depending on the mode of play, participants may have a stronger say in legitimating some aspects of the position (e.g. Robin is often in a better position to say what is legitimate for their character, than Addy is.)
 

As an aside, I've been experimenting in homebrew with something a little like SCs, with a key change that more difficult checks are worth more successes. So a very hard check is worth 3 successes, for example.

This makes the difficulty mix flexible as where say multiple hard checks are called for, PCs will need fewer of them. There's no need to mandate a mix. Also, to my taste this makes the conclusion liable to feel a bit more "organic" as others have used the term. For the fiction to follow well we need whatever the PCs described to invoke a possibly-final check to be legitimately possibly-finalising. It can't be something that even if successful leaves another step to go. And the converse! If seemingly finalising it shouldn't force us to make more checks

That is one reason I think that to use SCs successfully means applying the mechanics and parameters flexibly: the system as written often fails... but one ought not to use it as written. If after the 6th success a 7th seems required, add a 7th. It may be an auto-success. If the 5th seemed legitimately finalising, one can finalise.

I'm still not 100% on using a fixed number of failures... essentially trying to identify a similar rubric.
Yeah, you could do something like take the 4e system, multiply all the tallies by 3, and decree that a DC is worth 3, a medium DC is worth 2, and an easy DC is worth 1. That would apply to both pass and fail. I think the issue is that it opens up a really big avenue of optimization for the party. If they can muster high skill bonuses they just try hard DC stuff as much as possible. If they don't have such high bonuses they can go the other way and just pass lots and lots of easy DC checks. Of course that assumes such are available to try, but presumably with a system like that such would be the idea (at least moreso than with the existing system).

I guess the question is, is it really 'better'? I like the brute simplicity of the current system. I have not really run into a situation where I ended an SC early. There's ALWAYS more ways things can come up to confound the PCs! lol.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Yeah, you could do something like take the 4e system, multiply all the tallies by 3, and decree that a DC is worth 3, a medium DC is worth 2, and an easy DC is worth 1. That would apply to both pass and fail. I think the issue is that it opens up a really big avenue of optimization for the party. If they can muster high skill bonuses they just try hard DC stuff as much as possible. If they don't have such high bonuses they can go the other way and just pass lots and lots of easy DC checks. Of course that assumes such are available to try, but presumably with a system like that such would be the idea (at least moreso than with the existing system).
Right, it does depend on the designs philosophy toward scaling. Are the numbers getting bigger, but odds remaining the same (or even being trivialised) or are the odds of hard always going to be meaningfully lower than easy?

My homebrew is nearer E6, with skill bonus scaling topping out at +6 and ability bonus at +4. The meaning of hard is odds-against a straight success (without expending resources), although success with complications is significantly more likely. The target is set more by contemplating the mix of undertakings that would desirably resolve it (by way of example, RC complexity 2 would imply 8, which could be achieved as two hard and one moderate, etc.)

Journeys are resolved this way, too. Legs = target number of successes. Supplies = permissible failures.

I guess the question is, is it really 'better'? I like the brute simplicity of the current system. I have not really run into a situation where I ended an SC early. There's ALWAYS more ways things can come up to confound the PCs! lol.
For me, yes, because it's not only the matter of finalising, but also flexibility where players opt into more hard undertakings than prescribed (or if they avoid hard undertakings!) It is possible for DM to adroitly manage the DCs, but I feel this better respects player choices.
 
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A Battle of Wits

Set-Up
Skill Challenge Level: Variable
Complexity:3
Number of Successes:8
Number of Failures:3
Primary Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Insight
Important NPCs: Your foe, a mysterious man dressed only in black; the hostage(s)

Let’s suppose you and your opponent were unable to act against each other due one or the other having a hostage. You are unable to reach an arrangement, and therefore, are at an impasse. To break this impasse, your foe challenges you to a battle of wits; for the hostage(s); and to the death. He pours two glasses of wine and then pulls out a small vial before saying the following. “This is Iocane powder. It is odorless, tasteless, and dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadly poisons known to man.” He then takes both glasses and turns his back towards you. A moment later he returns both glasses to a nearby table. “All right; where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right, and who is dead.”

Skill Challenge

Bluff (DC Hard): A well placed lie is always useful when playing mind games. However, this masked man is no fool and will not be easily tricked.

Diplomacy (DC Hard or Normal): Talking is always an option when dealing with people. If the PC(s) use diplomacy in order to discern clues about which cup is poisoned use the hard DCs and limit them to two successes with this skill. The masked man is not willing to give away much if any information. If the PC(s) pursue a peaceful compromise to end the impasse use the normal DCs. If four successes are achieved this way, the skill challenge immediately ends due to the PC(s) and the masked man reaching an agreement of some type.

Insight (DC Normal): By observing the masked man, you can learn his dispostion and motives. Up to three successes can be achieved this way. After each success, give the PCs one of the following tidbits...

1. The masked man is still willing to pursue a peaceful solution to the situation. The PC(s) learn that Diplomacy can still be used to achieve a compromise.

2. The masked man is both smart and wise. The PC(s) learn that Bluff is set at the Hard DC.

3. The masked man is quite calm and relaxed for a life or death situation; perhaps too relaxed?

Nature (Normal DC): Knowledge about the poison may be helpful. The PC(s) can learn where the poison comes from as well as other trivia related to it. The DM generally should customize the information to suit his/her campaign world. A successful check does not count as a success (or failure) but does add a +2 bonus to the next Insight check made.

Streetwise (Normal DC): PC(s) can use their knowledge of local culture (or any knowledge skill, depending on how the PCs justify it) to figure out the masked man's mindset. A successful check does not count as a success (or failure) but does add a +2 bonus to the next check made.

Of course, the DM can allow other skills to be used if PC(s) can justify their reasoning for using it well enough and/or roleplay it out in an entertaining manner.

Ending the Challenge

Success: The PC(s) successfully acquire nine successes trying to figure out which cup is poisoned, they instead figured out that battle of wits is a shell game. In that event, the PC(s) and the masked man are back at square one. If the PC(s) acquire four diplomacy checks trying to reach a peaceful settlement, then they do so. The terms of the agreement is left up to the PC(s) and DM to decide.

Failure: If the PC(s) fail the skill challenge, they come to the conclusion that one of the glasses is safe to drink. By drinking from from any of the glasses; they guessed wrong. Both cups of wine were poisoned. The masked man has developed an immunity to the poison. By drinking from any wine cup, they fell for the trap. The poison takes its full effect on the PC(s).

Experience Points

If successful, the PC(s) earn experience points equal to defeating three monster at the level of the Skill Challenge.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
A Battle of Wits

Set-Up
Skill Challenge Level: Variable
Complexity:3
Number of Successes:8
Number of Failures:3
Primary Skills: Bluff, Diplomacy, Insight
Important NPCs: Your foe, a mysterious man dressed only in black; the hostage(s)

Let’s suppose you and your opponent were unable to act against each other due one or the other having a hostage. You are unable to reach an arrangement, and therefore, are at an impasse. To break this impasse, your foe challenges you to a battle of wits; for the hostage(s); and to the death. He pours two glasses of wine and then pulls out a small vial before saying the following. “This is Iocane powder. It is odorless, tasteless, and dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadly poisons known to man.” He then takes both glasses and turns his back towards you. A moment later he returns both glasses to a nearby table. “All right; where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right, and who is dead.”

Skill Challenge

Bluff (DC Hard): A well placed lie is always useful when playing mind games. However, this masked man is no fool and will not be easily tricked.

Diplomacy (DC Hard or Normal): Talking is always an option when dealing with people. If the PC(s) use diplomacy in order to discern clues about which cup is poisoned use the hard DCs and limit them to two successes with this skill. The masked man is not willing to give away much if any information. If the PC(s) pursue a peaceful compromise to end the impasse use the normal DCs. If four successes are achieved this way, the skill challenge immediately ends due to the PC(s) and the masked man reaching an agreement of some type.

Insight (DC Normal): By observing the masked man, you can learn his dispostion and motives. Up to three successes can be achieved this way. After each success, give the PCs one of the following tidbits...

1. The masked man is still willing to pursue a peaceful solution to the situation. The PC(s) learn that Diplomacy can still be used to achieve a compromise.

2. The masked man is both smart and wise. The PC(s) learn that Bluff is set at the Hard DC.

3. The masked man is quite calm and relaxed for a life or death situation; perhaps too relaxed?

Nature (Normal DC): Knowledge about the poison may be helpful. The PC(s) can learn where the poison comes from as well as other trivia related to it. The DM generally should customize the information to suit his/her campaign world. A successful check does not count as a success (or failure) but does add a +2 bonus to the next Insight check made.

Streetwise (Normal DC): PC(s) can use their knowledge of local culture (or any knowledge skill, depending on how the PCs justify it) to figure out the masked man's mindset. A successful check does not count as a success (or failure) but does add a +2 bonus to the next check made.

Of course, the DM can allow other skills to be used if PC(s) can justify their reasoning for using it well enough and/or roleplay it out in an entertaining manner.

Ending the Challenge

Success: The PC(s) successfully acquire nine successes trying to figure out which cup is poisoned, they instead figured out that battle of wits is a shell game. In that event, the PC(s) and the masked man are back at square one. If the PC(s) acquire four diplomacy checks trying to reach a peaceful settlement, then they do so. The terms of the agreement is left up to the PC(s) and DM to decide.

Failure: If the PC(s) fail the skill challenge, they come to the conclusion that one of the glasses is safe to drink. By drinking from from any of the glasses; they guessed wrong. Both cups of wine were poisoned. The masked man has developed an immunity to the poison. By drinking from any wine cup, they fell for the trap. The poison takes its full effect on the PC(s).

Experience Points

If successful, the PC(s) earn experience points equal to defeating three monster at the level of the Skill Challenge.
That's a good example, although I have concerns about eight successes landing the PCs back at square one. It may be better to not tie change to the situation to a given number of diplomacy checks. Really, this is a good example of why flexibility is needed.

I wondered how you would run a case where a player (having never seen The Princess Bride) just immediately picks up a goblet and quaffs it?
 

That's a good example, although I have concerns about eight successes landing the PCs back at square one. It may be better to not tie change to the situation to a given number of diplomacy checks. Really, this is a good example of why flexibility is needed.

I wondered how you would run a case where a player (having never seen The Princess Bride) just immediately picks up a goblet and quaffs it?
Yeah, there's definitely that danger. Of course then the question is whether that would actually be such a disaster! I mean, it might actually lead to success! Now the question is, can we save our comrade by use of Heal checks and whatnot instead.

I think something similar on the front of the Diplomacy stuff, maybe its better to simply be guided by the fiction and let things evolve in the direction of whatever solution fits the player's goals, providing reasonable obstacles along the way. I tend to focus on what the possible obstacles could be, consequences of failures, etc. when I am designing SCs. So, for instance its a bit problematic to say that a player DOES DRINK if there are N failures.
 

Yeah, there's definitely that danger. Of course then the question is whether that would actually be such a disaster! I mean, it might actually lead to success! Now the question is, can we save our comrade by use of Heal checks and whatnot instead.

I think something similar on the front of the Diplomacy stuff, maybe its better to simply be guided by the fiction and let things evolve in the direction of whatever solution fits the player's goals, providing reasonable obstacles along the way. I tend to focus on what the possible obstacles could be, consequences of failures, etc. when I am designing SCs. So, for instance its a bit problematic to say that a player DOES DRINK if there are N failures.

What is guided by the fiction supposed to mean? I thought I was using the fiction as a guide but it clearly led me to a different place then what some people envisioned.
 

What is guided by the fiction supposed to mean? I thought I was using the fiction as a guide but it clearly led me to a different place then what some people envisioned.
Well, first off, I don't think the SC design is bad. I think there are a LOT of different variations on what people envisage when they go beyond straight up traditionally structured play. This may be why its not ubiquitous. You have to start answering questions about exactly how things will work. Nobody's way is wrong.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
What is guided by the fiction supposed to mean? I thought I was using the fiction as a guide but it clearly led me to a different place then what some people envisioned.
Perhaps something like "let things evolve" and I suppose especially don't pre-author what players must do. Instead, follow your fiction as it evolves.

Picture for instance a player who having seen The Princess Bride says "On no account will I/we drink from either glass". So drinking can't follow from what happens, and there is now some doubt over their sincerity of engagement with the puzzle as presented.

One idea I have been developing is that where task resolution resolves actions, SCs resolve intentions. So the outcome should orient to not the forced action of drinking the wine, but why the battle of wits was entered into in the first place.
 

Perhaps something like "let things evolve" and I suppose especially don't pre-author what players must do. Instead, follow your fiction as it evolves.

Picture for instance a player who having seen The Princess Bride says "On no account will I/we drink from either glass". So drinking can't follow from what happens, and there is now some doubt over their sincerity of engagement with the puzzle as presented.

One idea I have been developing is that where task resolution resolves actions, SCs resolve intentions. So the outcome should orient to not the forced action of drinking the wine, but why the battle of wits was entered into in the first place.
If you remove the part that describes which skills to use and how there're used, skill challenges would be a lot shorter.

In that case, I imagine it would be more improv or FKR. That's not a bad thing at all. It would be nice if the DMG had a chapter about making judgement calls
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
If you remove the part that describes which skills to use and how there're used, skill challenges would be a lot shorter.
I feel it is okay to list skills that are likely relevant, and to have a sense of the direction they are likely to evolve things. I liked much of your thinking in that regard. Two elements that struck a chord of concern for me were
  • Dictating a PC action as one outcome
  • Landing at the end of the SC with no change as a possible successful outcome (or I suppose, perhaps just gating a second SC behind this one)
That said, the example is in a sense incomplete. In play, probably the PCs had some intention that brought them to this situation. Perhaps they committed to drinking? Most likely they are looking for that intention to be resolved by this SC... not just to have an opportunity to make further rolls to resolve it.

In that case, I imagine it would be more improv or FKR. That's not a bad thing at all. It would be nice if the DMG had a chapter about making judgement calls
My approach in DnD is what others have characterised as more "organic". I agree with the philosophy behind SCs - that a sum of actions can resolve an intention and it's beneficial to follow a principled/constrained methodology. The line between SCs and my approach is fuzzy. One concept I apply is that of "legitimate intentions"... the series bends toward a point where an action can legitimately resolve an intention.

I'm sure that has raised enough for further conversation :)
 
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Perhaps something like "let things evolve" and I suppose especially don't pre-author what players must do. Instead, follow your fiction as it evolves.

Picture for instance a player who having seen The Princess Bride says "On no account will I/we drink from either glass". So drinking can't follow from what happens, and there is now some doubt over their sincerity of engagement with the puzzle as presented.

One idea I have been developing is that where task resolution resolves actions, SCs resolve intentions. So the outcome should orient to not the forced action of drinking the wine, but why the battle of wits was entered into in the first place.
Right, so here's the fundamental sort of difference. In our BitD game I created a character. I described the character as exotic, equipped with a katana and a wakizashi, etc. I described the katana as possessed by an Oni, and the character's vice as an obligation to it. He supposedly came from a far land. I didn't really try to explain what the details of the backstory were up front, there are just those elements, and that he fought in a war and was now associated with the other PCs in a crew centered on an orphanage (though AFAIK he was never an orphan there).

Now, we have been doing the usual sorts of 'crew stuff' that happens in BitD, but the character's story has been evolving. Once he killed some of the crew's allies because they murdered a girl (we don't know why, but he killed them for it). Hit before last he suddenly spotted a child that clearly comes from his island, which is supposedly destroyed. The sword/Oni wanted him to go kill her, because it was jealous. He didn't and now they are set to have a big blow up/throw down. Obviously none of that was part of any planned or authored fiction, etc. It just happened and the game engine spun out situations where it could be elaborated on and grow and take a place in the fiction.
 

Stalker0

Legend
That's a good example, although I have concerns about eight successes landing the PCs back at square one.
When I did a lot of math on the 4e skill challenge system (and eventually in developing my own Obsidian Skill Challenge system), one thing I learned is, the more successes you have in a given challenge, the more "unstable" it becomes.

Sake of argument (and these aren't the actual numbers I'd have to recalculate them, but just for an example). Lets say a group has a 50% chance to accomplish a 3 success challenge. If you were to lower the DC by 1 lets say, that might improve their odds by 10% (so 60%). Meanwhile for a 7 success challenge, it could be 20% (ie 70% total chance to win).

Likewise, any bonuses or penalties a group has are magnified the more successes the given challenge requires. It can make it difficult to eyeball a standard DC, as even small changes can have massive impacts.

It is the very reason I limited all of my Obsidian challenges to a 3 success system; otherwise, it becomes difficult to provide a consistent level of difficulty.

I recognize that you are combining this with a concept that large skill check results can lead to multiple successes, so I'm not really sure how that affects things (my intuition is, it will make it even swingier), but just to give that bit of fair warning from my practical experiences.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I have used SCs for a long time, both the core systems in 4e and my own system.

Generally what I found over time was....less is more. I think SCs can be very useful, but it is VERY EASY to shoehorn them in to narratives where they don't belong. More often than not I've found, when in doubt....don't use a SC. A badly done SC is boring as mud, and feels really gamey and arbitrary.

The secret of a good SC is to craft it in a way that the players don't really know they are in a SC, and that usually takes planning and work. I don't think casual SCs are that great.

I also think the best skill challenges involve some sort of real "progression". If your scene is static, its often best to just make a few rolls and be done with it. SCs work better in things like chase scenes where the action keeps moving, prison breaks where you are moving from one area of the prison to another. A diplomatic skill challenge is best in a large party settings where you are moving from one NPC to another learning bits of info, rather than just sitting down with the duke and throw down Persuasion checks until you hit your magic number. Ie there needs to be a narrative reason to roll more checks. When you are in one place with one person and you are rolling checks just to fill your SC meter....it feels arbitrary and gamey. When you are making a new check because the chase has taken you to a new area....well that just feels narratively appropriate.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
When I did a lot of math on the 4e skill challenge system (and eventually in developing my own Obsidian Skill Challenge system), one thing I learned is, the more successes you have in a given challenge, the more "unstable" it becomes.
I share this intuition!

It is the very reason I limited all of my Obsidian challenges to a 3 success system; otherwise, it becomes difficult to provide a consistent level of difficulty.

I recognize that you are combining this with a concept that large skill check results can lead to multiple successes, so I'm not really sure how that affects things (my intuition is, it will make it even swingier), but just to give that bit of fair warning from my practical experiences.
Granting multiple successes on harder checks mitigates the exponential decline in odds of success (because if the checks are harder, you make fewer of them) and hands players control of the volatility. It doesn't strictly mitigate the volatility. I must reread your system to remind myself.

In play, PCs can opt in to more easier or fewer harder tasks, instead of having a prescribed X moderate, Y hard per the RC. I believe that will pay out in more possibilities for our fiction... but the system is in the playtest stage so that hunch very much needs validating.
 

I have used SCs for a long time, both the core systems in 4e and my own system.

Generally what I found over time was....less is more. I think SCs can be very useful, but it is VERY EASY to shoehorn them in to narratives where they don't belong. More often than not I've found, when in doubt....don't use a SC. A badly done SC is boring as mud, and feels really gamey and arbitrary.

The secret of a good SC is to craft it in a way that the players don't really know they are in a SC, and that usually takes planning and work. I don't think casual SCs are that great.

I also think the best skill challenges involve some sort of real "progression". If your scene is static, its often best to just make a few rolls and be done with it. SCs work better in things like chase scenes where the action keeps moving, prison breaks where you are moving from one area of the prison to another. A diplomatic skill challenge is best in a large party settings where you are moving from one NPC to another learning bits of info, rather than just sitting down with the duke and throw down Persuasion checks until you hit your magic number. Ie there needs to be a narrative reason to roll more checks. When you are in one place with one person and you are rolling checks just to fill your SC meter....it feels arbitrary and gamey. When you are making a new check because the chase has taken you to a new area....well that just feels narratively appropriate.
Now, back when you first posted on SC probabilities, in the dim dark ancient days of 2009 or so, lol, I thought much like you in terms of numbers and probabilities. However, as time went on, I came to the conclusion that all of that was pretty much secondary, practically irrelevant really, to what mattered about SCs. They are not a mechanism for regulating probability of success, nor of gating some valuable outcome behind a highly risky set of dice rolls, etc. Instead its a yardstick, really. Sure, it matters that you can either succeed or fail, and as a general proposition both outcomes should be reasonably likely to arise from time to time. That provides some sense of conflict and uncertainty, and lets the outcome be owned by everyone instead of being a product of any one specific set of rulings or tactics, etc.

After that I just went back to the original (1st errata) SC system, and mostly accepted the various tweaks that DMG2/RC added. However, I just run pretty much EVERYTHING as SC, unless its a combat, and make it very open-ended. Yes, a given sequence is likely to focus on certain skills, and I can sometimes say to myself ahead of time "oh, yeah, and if the player does X here, then I'll respond with Y, and that's likely to provoke a chance for the other player to use his character's best skill..." but I don't think the whole writing things out process that 4e always envisaged is that helpful. Most SCs are too organic, and arise too much out of something that the players start. It just provides structure, really.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
It is the very reason I limited all of my Obsidian challenges to a 3 success system; otherwise, it becomes difficult to provide a consistent level of difficulty.
Is there a version after 1.2? The way I understand it is that more successes are needed (up to a dozen), but they're accrued over three rounds.

One nagging doubt I have for my own efforts is that WotC's well-equipped design team invested effort into multiple revisions of SCs and ultimately decided not to take them forward into 5e. What reassures me is the trace of SCs preserved in Social Interaction and some downtime activities, which gives me a sense that for specific purposes they can work.

In that light, your comment on casual use is interesting. For casual use, I use an approach in the same design space as SCs, but without preset targets for successes and failures. I now feel motivated to get into my design a rubric for that approach.
 
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