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

pemerton

Legend
The problem is skill challenges are designed with action resolution in mind rather than actually describing the problem in question and leaving it to the players to solve the issue.
4e DMG pp 72, 74:

Define the goal of the challenge and what obstacles the characters face to accomplish that goal. . . .​
Begin by describing the situation and defining the challenge. Running the challenge itself is not all that different from running a combat encounter (see Chapter 3). You describe the environment, listen to the players’ responses, let them make their skill checks, and narrate the results.​

4e PHB pp 179, 259:

Whatever the details of a skill challenge, the basic structure of a skill challenge is straightforward. Your goal is to accumulate a specific number of victories (usually in the form of successful skill checks) before you get too many defeats (failed checks). It’s up to you to think of ways you can use your skills to meet the challenges you face. . . .​
In a skill challenge, your goal is to accumulate a certain number of successful skill checks before rolling too many failures. Powers you use might give you bonuses on your checks, make some checks unnecessary, or otherwise help you through the challenge. Your DM sets the stage for a skill challenge by describing the obstacle you face and giving you some idea of the options you have in the encounter. Then you describe your actions and make checks until you either successfully complete the challenge or fail.​
Chapter 5 describes the sorts of things you can attempt with your skills in a skill challenge. You can use a wide variety of skills, from Acrobatics and Athletics to Nature and Stealth. You might also use combat powers and ability checks.​

In other words, the GM describes the problem in question the situation and the obstacles to the PCs' goal, and the players solve the issue think of ways to use their PCs' skills and their other resources (like powers) to meet the challenge.
 

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FallenRX

Adventurer
4e DMG pp 72, 74:

Define the goal of the challenge and what obstacles the characters face to accomplish that goal. . . .​
Begin by describing the situation and defining the challenge. Running the challenge itself is not all that different from running a combat encounter (see Chapter 3). You describe the environment, listen to the players’ responses, let them make their skill checks, and narrate the results.​

4e PHB pp 179, 259:

Whatever the details of a skill challenge, the basic structure of a skill challenge is straightforward. Your goal is to accumulate a specific number of victories (usually in the form of successful skill checks) before you get too many defeats (failed checks). It’s up to you to think of ways you can use your skills to meet the challenges you face. . . .​
In a skill challenge, your goal is to accumulate a certain number of successful skill checks before rolling too many failures. Powers you use might give you bonuses on your checks, make some checks unnecessary, or otherwise help you through the challenge. Your DM sets the stage for a skill challenge by describing the obstacle you face and giving you some idea of the options you have in the encounter. Then you describe your actions and make checks until you either successfully complete the challenge or fail.​
Chapter 5 describes the sorts of things you can attempt with your skills in a skill challenge. You can use a wide variety of skills, from Acrobatics and Athletics to Nature and Stealth. You might also use combat powers and ability checks.​

In other words, the GM describes the problem in question the situation and the obstacles to the PCs' goal, and the players solve the issue think of ways to use their PCs' skills and their other resources (like powers) to meet the challenge.
"In a skill challenge, your goal is to accumulate a certain number of successful skill checks before rolling too many failures. Powers you use might give you bonuses on your checks, make some checks unnecessary, or otherwise help you through the challenge. Your DM sets the stage for a skill challenge by describing the obstacle you face and giving you some idea of the options you have in the encounter."

Your goal is to accumulate a specific number of victories (usually in the form of successful skill checks) before you get too many defeats (failed checks).

Its has already set the method to resolve the problem, because it is designed with the resolution first. in mind, that is how bad and contradictory that system is as written.
 

pemerton

Legend
Its has already set the method to resolve the problem
All you are describing here is the mechanical success condition.

From the AW rulebook, p 197:

When you try to seduce or manipulate someone, tell them what you want and roll+hot.

For NPCs: on a hit, they ask you to promise something first, and do it if you promise. On a 10+, whether you keep your promise is up to you, later. On a 7–9, they need some concrete assurance right now.​

This "sets a method to resolve the problem": roll 7+ (or 10+ if you don't want to have to provide any assurance).

Or consider In A Wicked Age: conflict resolves (one way or another) after 3 rounds of rolls. It can resolve earlier if one roll doubles another, or by negotiation (see the summary on p 23 of the rulebook).

Or consider extended contests in HeroQuest revised, where you win by being the first to accrue a certain number of success points (I don't have the actual table of points required ready-to-hand).

It's pretty typical for RPG rules to establish mechanical frameworks for determining whether a PC who attempts to achieve something does or doesn't achieve it. Otherwise it's just free negotiation around the fiction.
 

niklinna

učim hrvatski
"In a skill challenge, your goal is to accumulate a certain number of successful skill checks before rolling too many failures. Powers you use might give you bonuses on your checks, make some checks unnecessary, or otherwise help you through the challenge. Your DM sets the stage for a skill challenge by describing the obstacle you face and giving you some idea of the options you have in the encounter."

Your goal is to accumulate a specific number of victories (usually in the form of successful skill checks) before you get too many defeats (failed checks).

Its has already set the method to resolve the problem, because it is designed with the resolution first. in mind, that is how bad and contradictory that system is as written.
As opposed to the method to resolve the problem is in the DM's head and the players only learn what it was when the DM tells them they have resolved the problem?

It is possible for the fiction to change such that the method to resolve the problem changes, and for everybody at the table to know it. The two are not incompatible.
 

FallenRX

Adventurer
As opposed to the method to resolve the problem is in the DM's head and the players only learn what it was when the DM tells them they have resolved the problem?

It is possible for the fiction to change such that the method to resolve the problem changes, and for everybody at the table to know it. The two are not incompatible.
Yes, by simply using the mechanics to describe the problems in questions, this is not hard, im not saying dont use mechanics to resolve, thats dumb, im saying the mechanics in question should be focused on being descriptions of the problem in question, as i noted in my HP example,

If the players need to get over the wall, use mechanics to describe the wall, not write "The players use X skill to break the wall they have 3 tries if they fail the wall falls on them" that is the problem. That is a whole scripted sequence of events that implies a specific set of actions the players take here. Just design the problem, just say "with a DC of 15 athletics the wall can be pushed down, it has a AC of 10, a HP of 20, the wall can be teleported through, It can be climbed with a DC of 20" you see the difference? I didnt just say players need X success before x failure to push down a wall, I just mechanically presented the options to deal with the wall, there is no assumed way to deal with it, just a toolset of options, if the players think of anything else it doesnt matter because it wasnt designed assuming anything else.

This is the difference between making a plot, and making a flexible situation, a tool kit with many options, that doesnt assume how the players get to it or deal with it.
 
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Because they are designed if a specific player input in mind to achieve these things divorced from the reality of the problem, and not really accounting for the variety of ways the players can actually handle the problem. (And also in the original they actively discourage that by increasing the DC for doing anything else). Like for example, you can present the collapsing tunnel as the challenge itself, but if the players just have a dimension door, and it takes them out in time whats the point? This is a very basic example of just one possible solution(a pretty shallow one to be fair), but when the players are engaging with the challenge in question and find reasonable solutions to problem, i think you should actually engage with the fiction of the solutions, not the fiction of the input of X amount. its so sad because Skill challenges are a bad framework for even the challenge you presented forward, you better off just making a set of obstacles on the way out of the challenge, and having the players come up with solutions to those obstacles than the totality of it all itself.
Yeah, this is baloney. There's nothing in the design of SCs that talks about being 'designed for a specific input'. The GM frames the situation, there's a known PC goal, which represents the win condition, and definable consequential failure conditions, but the 'path' through the thing is whatever it is that happens! Now, I agree that the possibility could exist that a player can come up with some sort of solution that is 'situation busting', its not impossible. Usually though those are your pretty simple and mainly linear sorts of SCs where the goal is VERY specific (IE the 'mine is collapsing'). So, sure, maybe the PCs come up with a power or something that gets them out, but chances are you can still provide some checks to see if it is feasible (IE can they perform the ritual 'Dimension Door' while blocks of stone crash down around them).

But I disagree as to what you are 'better off' doing. Think of it this way, if you specify a bunch of specific obstacles, jump the cravasse, dig out the collapse, find the air shaft, etc.) now what if the PCs decide to sit and do a teleport ritual instead? Your prepared 'stuff' is no good, you can obviously come up with other dangers, as I mentioned above, but so can I in an SC!!!! I don't see how that structure, in a mechanical sense, constrained me. We both want obstacles to overcome. It is really no different, I just have a measured number of them that I will deploy according to a rule.
Thats why i say this is clearly rails, 4E skill challenges as presented has always had the issue of being basically a script to solve a puzzle, and not actually describing the problem and letting the players figure out solutions, its why that mechanic failed.
No, that's just not true! I had a 'goblin mine collapse' scenario once. The PCs unleashed an old 'mining golem' to help them beat the goblins, so this kicked off an SC, can they beat the goblins using the mining golem! Well, the dwarf rolled badly and the golem started smashing support beams, part of the roof clearly became unstable! The PCs retreated with their basic objective already achieved (they got a gem or something, I forget exactly) so they ran off. The ranger rolled well, you find a MINE CART! Off they went in the cart, careening down the rails! But they haven't escaped yet, there's still more checks to pass! The goblins leap into the next cart and give pursuit! The cleric sees a switch in the line and manages to throw it as they race past, soon the goblins are on a parallel track! One leaps across onto the PC's cart and grabs hold of the gem! The fighter and the thief wrestle with him, barely avoiding low ceilings and the goblin's blade! Finally the goblin grabs the brake and stops their cart, but the rogue knocks him out, he falls off the cliff at the end of the line, which the brake fortuitously kept the cart from going over, and as the PCs watch, the cart full of goblins on the other track pitches off into the void and is gone. They go back a few dozen yards and find an old air shaft that is still open, and climb to safety as the mine slowly collapses below them.

None of it was scripted at all, really. I mean, there was a scenario, the PCs in a mine trying to lose goblin pursuit and get away with the treasure, that was basically it. All of the rest was just imagining an action packed Spielberg-esque scenario with plenty of possibilities for checks to be made, where each such followed from the others, but the whole was cohesive in terms of a goal and consequential fail conditions. I'm sure BitD can easily handle the same scenario, you could set an opposed clock, or a 'collapse clock' and an 'escape clock', or I guess a few possibilities. I haven't really RUN BitD, just played a bit, so I allow that @Manbearcat, or yourself perhaps, are more practiced with the clock approach, but I've done 100's of 4e SCs, including some pretty 'out there' ones. They work reasonably well. I do think that 'framing' the SC in 4e is a bit trickier than most BItD situations, but a lot of that is just how extremely episodic BitD is. I mean, its a heist a week game, it lends itself very well to these closed scenes, as well as extended clocks mapped onto the factional conflict motif of the overall campaign.
Actually the collapsing tunnel example frustrates me quite a bit, because its so obviously bad, like screw the skill challenge, describe the problems of getting out of the tunnel and let us engage with that, not your weird skill rolling minigame, its so weird like how does that actually work at a table and not be god awful.
Yeah, I think you've psyched yourself into a specific idea about this. YOU may find it hard to run once you have made up your mind, but lots of other people have had pretty decent luck. I'm open to improvements, but its remarkably hard to do.
 

niklinna

učim hrvatski
Yes, by simply using the mechanics to describe the problems in questions, this is not hard, im not saying dont use mechanics to resolve thats dumb, im saying the mechanics in question should be focused on being descriptions of the problem in question, as i noted in my HP example,

If the players need to get over the wall, use mechanics to describe the wall, not write "The players use X skill to break the wall they have 3 tries if they fail the wall falls on them" that is the problem. That is a whole scripted sequence of events that implies a specific set of actions the players take here. Just design the problem, just say "with a DC of 15 athletics the wall can be pushed down, it has a AC of 10, a HP of 20, the wall can be teleported through, It can be climbed with a DC of 20" you see the difference? I didnt just say players need X success before x failure to push down a wall, I just mechanically presented the options to deal with the wall, there is no assumed way to deal with it, just a toolset of options, if the players think of anything else it doesnt matter because it wasnt designed assuming anything else.

This is the difference between making a plot, and making a flexible situation, a tool kit with many options, that doesnt assume how the players get to it or deal with it.
I've already posted about how 4e skill challenges being scripted is a misinterpration (at best) of the rules, and various responses have elaborated on that, and even pointed out that the OP directly addresses that issue.
 

Imaro

Legend
Better yet its not even worth it...

@pemerton If you want to address any of the points I made about SC's I'd be happy to discuss but at this point I have no idea what you comparing them to combat was supposed to actually convey... so I'll leave that line of discussion alone.
 
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Pedantic

Legend
What's the DC to dethrone an illegitimate monarch?

I'm not going to entertain that first point, because we both know it's ridiculous and I'm already tired of having my position caricatured. DCs are for discreet actions, not geopolitical goals.

What's the DC, even, to cross a river?

The DC to cross is a river, in the kind of skill system I'm proposing, will be resolved by the appropriate swimming, levitating, flying, rope tying, boating, long jumping, or whatever other rules the PCs bring to bear against the challenge, no doubt informed by the speed of the current, presence of monsters, visibility and anything else going on.

Unlike a skill challenge, the number of times they roll will vary wildly, based on which of those approaches they took, the appropriate speeds of the methods of transport available to them as a result of those choices, and in some cases will be trivial, as perhaps someone actually bought a folding boat. Honestly, the only difference between the sort of system I'm advocating and a skill challenge model, is that DCs are intrinsic to the tasks being attempted and the effectiveness of any given check is specified by the action that allowed the check in the first place, instead of attached to a timer on the number of checks or number of successful checks.

I don't think it's irrelevant to this discussion that the concrete example you give of constraining fiction is a wall that the players might want their PCs to circumvent. Even then, most discrete action resolution systems that I'm familiar mechanise the smashing through of a wall by giving it "structure points" and resolving actions analogously to D&D attack, the aim being to wear down those points.

Oh totally. Give me structure HP, and we can figure out if there's a downside to attacking the wall, or if climbing is faster/safer, or if some completely unrelated approach will most efficiently solve the problem. The way I play these games is essentially iterated heist planning.

So, sure, maybe the PCs come up with a power or something that gets them out, but chances are you can still provide some checks to see if it is feasible (IE can they perform the ritual 'Dimension Door' while blocks of stone crash down around them).

But I disagree as to what you are 'better off' doing. Think of it this way, if you specify a bunch of specific obstacles, jump the cravasse, dig out the collapse, find the air shaft, etc.) now what if the PCs decide to sit and do a teleport ritual instead? Your prepared 'stuff' is no good, you can obviously come up with other dangers, as I mentioned above, but so can I in an SC!!!! I don't see how that structure, in a mechanical sense, constrained me. We both want obstacles to overcome. It is really no different, I just have a measured number of them that I will deploy according to a rule.

This is the fundamental difference here. In a system with objective actions, players are incentivized and rewarded for trying to find the most efficient solution to that problem, and will go off to deal with new problems, while in a skill challenge scenario they cannot have made a good decision about which path to take, because you specified a set of obstacles ahead of time. In some cases you might be able to resolve a situation thus that you face no or fewer obstacles than some other path, and the satisfaction is in finding and using that route, an option that isn't possible with a skill challenge structure.

Certainly the skill challenge will produce a consistently cinematic set of events you could narrate later, but it isn't interesting as a game to play in the moment because you cannot do well as a player. The entire proposition is to use a skill challenges as a structure to generate fiction that's sufficiently exciting to talk about, when that's precisely the opposite of what I want to do at a gaming table. I want to receive a fictional situation, figure out the best way to resolve it to my advantage, and be rewarded if I manage to do so.

I don't think it's controversial to point out that this is something skill challenges don't and by their structure, cannot, do. That they do not do this is straight up getting called a strength in these examples, as they point out how you might set up a new challenge when you check the fictional situation before that last success is rolled. My point is that this strips them of a particular kind of gameplay.

To summarize, in a skill challenge stripped of its fictional context you roll dice and try to get high numbers, and every once in a while you can cut down the number of times you need to do so by a third by spending some other resource. If the nature of the challenge was allowed to scale on the number of relevant rolls and the difficulty of those rolls was unbounded from the challenge, you would have more tactical engagement to make better choices. At that level of mechanical engagement, a skill challenge system loses out to a specified action system in terms of player agency.

It's very possible not to care about that. To be honest, I actually think a lot of these defenses of skill challenges could be restated as claims that lower mechanical agency makes for more consistent pacing and story structure, and allows for more freedom in narrative agency to players. That is a reasonable trade-off, one could in good conscience support, and specifically write mechanics for it, and arguably a bunch of indie games have. It's just not as interesting to play as a game, in the very specific sense I've been using the word game.

If that's what you want from your non-combat system, that's completely reasonable, but it's not an intrinsic good and does sit in opposition to various kinds of fun you can wring out of a roleplaying game.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
if anyone wants in example of what a skill challenge actually can look like in motion:

In the above thread there was no script to follow, no predetermined end beyond that if successful we would get to meet with the king. As uyou should be able to see from the above thread skill challenges take the evolving fiction into account when determining when a check should be easy, medium, hard or unfeasible. Their distinguishing feature is that they have a defined end and explicit stakes.

Whether those explicit stakes are something you consider a feature or not is entirely a personal judgement. For me they add real, meaningful tension to play. They add teeth. They help to combat the temptation to softball consequences or drive the narrative in preconceived directions.
 

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