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

pemerton

Legend
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.
It was your example, not mine.

What are the discreet actions required to achieve a geopolitical goal? As far as I can see, whatever the GM says they are.

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.
In most versions of action resolution along the lines you are advocating, the application of swimming, boating etc skill would be related to the width of the river (whether that requires multiple checks - 1 per X distance - or sets a DC - difficulty Y to swim N feet rather than L feet). Who sets the width of the river? As far as I can see, the GM.

Who decides whether or not a log is being washed down the river, and impedes the swimmer? Or is a boon? The GM.

The difference between your approach, and a skill challenge, is that on your approach the GM makes an ad hoc decision (or decisions) that determine what, and how many, checks are required to actually resolve the scene. The main point of a skill challenge framework is to make this transparent. Does a log get washed down the river? If so, does it impede or harm? The GM narrates this as part of the consequences of a successful or failed check. The authoring of the fiction by the GM occurs within the mechanical resolution framework; it doesn't create it.

If you want to see examples of tactical gameplay in a skill challenge (in the sense of making decisions about skill use, power use, etc), the example that @Campbell linked to has plenty.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

clearstream

(He, Him)
Fundamentally, I think RPGs differ from board games primarily in that your objectives are unbounded, and player determined. You get to decide what you want, and then roll back to the mechanics to best achieve those outcomes. Trying to optimize for those outcomes is a fun and engaging part of the game, and the same part of the brain I'd use to say, play a game of Barrage and navigate difficult worker placement through limited choices. TTRPGs offer a unique ability to do that, while engaging in a narrative, and while controlling the victory conditions that result from my choices.
I found this interesting. There has been a strong thread in the general philosophy of TTRPGing that fiction is at the heart of it. Working from there, some very fruitful developments in what and how to design TTRPGs have come about. However, I think you are also right that there is the aspect of play as a series of interesting decisions, and actually fiction is not at the heart of that. Perhaps - paradoxically - both interesting systems and freeform principles are at the heart of it.

The job done by SCs depends on ones use cases and practice. I think they can forefront fiction, but on the other hand they're mechanically not very interesting. The interesting decisions, though, are expected to be interesting decisions in fiction, not system... which leads several posters to feel puzzled what work the SC system is doing. Perhaps one has to have these use cases in mind
  1. I want to foreground a widely diverse fiction
  2. I want the chain of resolution to be concluded by system, not the decision of any one participant
Which implies that
  1. Seeing as it's diverse, and we can't really have as-detailed-as-combat rules for every case (not ones that humans could manage), then we need a system with a light binding to specific game world situations
  2. Given it's a light binding, and that we properly take fiction as input and output (start and end in the fiction), one solution is to tally the results whenever we roll
I'm myself am not yet sure why it wouldn't be better to always use clocks, especially with some of the enhancements in games like BitD? I also see the risk that the situation doesn't really feel concluded by the sum of results supposedly producing its conclusion. That's because of the light binding. (I think others might be overlooking the specificity of combat, and how well-bound it is to what is normally supposed to be going on in the game world.)
 
Last edited:

Pedantic

Legend
It was your example, not mine.

What are the discreet actions required to achieve a geopolitical goal? As far as I can see, whatever the GM says they are.

I was demonstrating the flexibility of player goal setting. Given a corrupt monarch, you might well decide to depose them, and the game will continue in that state until it's achieved.

In most versions of action resolution along the lines you are advocating, the application of swimming, boating etc skill would be related to the width of the river (whether that requires multiple checks - 1 per X distance - or sets a DC - difficulty Y to swim N feet rather than L feet). Who sets the width of the river? As far as I can see, the GM.

Who decides whether or not a log is being washed down the river, and impedes the swimmer? Or is a boon? The GM.

The difference between your approach, and a skill challenge, is that on your approach the GM makes an ad hoc decision (or decisions) that determine what, and how many, checks are required to actually resolve the scene. The main point of a skill challenge framework is to make this transparent. Does a log get washed down the river?

Ah! Finally we get somewhere. The GM absolutely is not deciding the number of checks necessary to resolve the situation, they have decided the situation. Ideally, they aren't even deciding that, they're elucidating an existing world-state as it becomes relevant to the players. The river's width does not vary in reaction to the attempt actions to cross it, and decision making on how to tackle it is updated action by action, as the players ask for more information.

The GM isn't making ad hoc decisions about the number of checks or their difficulty, those are intrinsic to the actions the players attempt, and is instead describing the state of the world they see in front of them. I suppose a particularly dedicated GM could spend the necessary hours mapping out literally every action players have access to and the second order consequences of what other actions become available after the first set is applied if they really did want to decide the precise number of checks necessary, but I would contend that's both wasteful and not generally desirable. The whole point is that a player will try to most efficiently get past whatever obstacle exists.

And whether something in the game state even is an obstacle will be determined by that player goal setting above. The river's existence may have no bearing on their goals. It would be amusing to see that particularly determined GM's face after calculating there is no way to cross a river for less than 3 skill checks and a spell slot, only for the players to decide they'd rather travel upstream to the nearest bridge, so they can forage in the forest for the extra days of travel.
 

Pedantic

Legend
I'm in a very similar place. I follow a different process of converging to resolutions that everyone agrees must follow.

I like 4e, and I like much of the thinking around SCs. I think they risk mechanistic play... but then revert to @Manbearcat's coment that it's all a game of craps if you strip out the improv part. I suspect clocks better cover the use case those who value a systemically mandated point of resolution have in mind, while also for various reasons working better for folk who don't have (or don't always have) that requirement.
This is interesting to me, in that I don't know that I understand the appeal here. In a well described situation, with specified actions, resolution should be...obvious? Like, if you want to get in to the castle, you will know when you are inside, when the sum total of whatever actions you took to get there have put you inside the castle. You can just use repeated action resolution, and having set a goal of "get into that castle" you'll know when you arrive there.

On the point of light-binding...I am generally unpersuaded that we can't have comprehensive skill rules. No one has really solved social systems satisfactorily yet, but the basic premise of "roll to make them do something they wouldn't otherwise do" and "roll to figure out what they aren't telling you" leads to various systems that mostly work well enough.

Outside of that though, particularly if we're restricting our genre to heroic fantasy, we can quite reasonable guess at all the actions players are likely to want to take. You need physical rules for maneuvering in all the appropriate dimensions, climbing, jumping, all that, you need rules to see things, rules to know non-obvious information and so on. The rest is just writing good enough object interaction/destruction rules, and then slathering on abilities that exceed those base conditions so players have exceptional tools to play with.

It's not even that important that players completely understand all of these rules. If they're good enough, they only really need to come up as they're relevant to resolution. As long as the system is reasonably transparent about character effectiveness (i.e. being a thief-acrobat should mean doing rooftop parkour is a sensible and safe maneuver) then players won't necessarily need to review the mechanistic aspects of resolution unless they want to. Knowing you are good at climbing and jumping will lead you to try and use those abilities to resolve problems. You'll find ways to jump off things to accomplish your goals.
 

Imaro

Legend
Yeah, but there's another dimension to it. When, as GM, I'm looking at the situation and saying to myself "well, fictionally I could always just say you got out of the mine", say after a couple checks. OTOH my SC framework says "no, no, there need to be 12 successes here, or 3 failures" and now I'm going to keep building. I mean, I'd probably never, in 5e, bothered to come up with the mine carts, or the goblin jumping across, or whatever.

I'm having a bit of trouble parsing what you are saying here but I'm going to take a stab at it and if I'm wrong let me know...

1. The crux seems to be...A GM who has no pre-constructed mine (and thus the obstacles in it to get out).. decides to just say fictionally you got out of the mine after a few skill checks... though if these are the checks that flowed organically from the facts known about the mine and the PC's action choices... I'm not seeing how this would be wrong.

2. The SC framework has you decide beforehand that there needs to b 12 successes or 3 failures so you continue past the few skill checks to make sure that minimum number is met. But in a game like 5e you would have never chosen to come up with the mine carts or jumping goblins because it didn't enforce Y number of successes or X failures before the PC's could get out.

So my thoughts...

If the mine is mapped or detailed beforehand then I should know what obstacles are present in it that would impede the PC's leaving... If it is not detailed I should let the themes, and previously established fiction of the mine determine them. The actual number of checks made would be wholly dependent on the actions of the PC's and the resulting fiction of said actions. The number of successes vs failures to succeed or end would again be dependent upon the actions of the PC's and the resulting fiction.

For many players this system works, they trust their DM to create the obstacles and difficulties (Just as he would in a SC) as well as to judge how their actions affect the resulting fiction, DC's and further obstacles... (just as he would in a SC). Again the biggest difference I see here is that some groups either don't trust their DM to manage the "correct" number of obstacles and/or the DM doesn't want that responsibility. I can see it as an issue arising for some but I think there was a vast number of DM's who saw this as the answer to the wrong problem.

To further expound, and these are just my thoughts and opinions, many were looking at more robust and more granular resolution systems for their social and exploration conflicts... not a framework to mount it on. They wanted perhaps something akin to social and exploration feats or skill knacks. IMO, 4e got much closer to what many were looking for with some of their utility powers (and if I am remembering correctly... Star Wars SAGA did an even better job at showcasing something close to what many wanted)... Again I just thing SC's addressed an issue many groups just weren't having and weren't looking for a solution to.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
This is interesting to me, in that I don't know that I understand the appeal here. In a well described situation, with specified actions, resolution should be...obvious? Like, if you want to get in to the castle, you will know when you are inside, when the sum total of whatever actions you took to get there have put you inside the castle. You can just use repeated action resolution, and having set a goal of "get into that castle" you'll know when you arrive there.
Part of the appeal is availability to scrutiny. So the opacity and consistency of GM decisions are causes of concern.

Another appealing feature is that the GM's decision will be sufficiently constrained that player choices predictably result in what they expect (i.e. their intentions in making those choices.) One consequence is to allow players to engage skillfully with the game (fiction + system), no matter the skill of their GM in response (although for sure it will be more interesting where their GM is able to respond skillfully.) The play thus becomes even more driven (or potentially so) by player choices.

A further appeal can be avoidance of a kind of soft-pillow effect, where what the player puts out there goes into a kind of feather-filled void. Play in earnest must be rewarded in kind: the outcome once negotiated is hard-encoded.

It strikes me, too, that in OC mode, players might prefer systematically enforced points of final resolution.

On the point of light-binding...I am generally unpersuaded that we can't have comprehensive skill rules. No one has really solved social systems satisfactorily yet, but the basic premise of "roll to make them do something they wouldn't otherwise do" and "roll to figure out what they aren't telling you" leads to various systems that mostly work well enough.
By light-binding, I mean to fiction. Some mechanics are heavily-bound to a specific part of fiction: combat mechanics are a great example. Others can be applied to a much wider scope. In my own thinking on ability checks, I work in terms of scopes, just as an aside.
 

Imaro

Legend
The mechanics for resolving a combat, in D&D, canonically involve attack and hit point rolls. In WoTC editions they also involve positioning. In TSR editions they also involve morale.

Is this surprising or contentious? Hence, as I posted

No but you aren't addressing how combat is resolved here only that there are mechanics for combat. we are specifically speaking to resolution.

I guess if someone resolves their D&D combat primarily via GM free narration rather than the use of attack and hit point rolls, positioning, morale, etc they might not be familiar with what I've called the basic method D&D uses to resolve combat. But I doubt that you're such a person! Given your positing history, I'm pretty confident you're familiar with these mechanical procedures that the D&D rulebooks set out for resolving combat.
And yet the DM decides monsters surrender halfway through a combat... the PC's flee...or both groups decide to parlay after losses... none of these examples use combat mechanics to resolve the combat. I would actually say it's pretty rare in my game for intelligent creatures to fight until they are all wiped out.

In a SC there are only two ways to resolve X successes or Y failures. to drive home what I am saying can a DM decide that the SC has had enough and surrenders the goal to the PC's?
 

Imaro

Legend
I'm not sure they strongly discourage. Surely, like everything else it would be left to DM fiat which is something the more traditional style play advocates.

Well this is akin to saying if you are willing to disregard SC's they won't discourage it. And yeah but then you're not using SC's. It strongly discourages it because risk vs. reward is set. You can't win an entire SC with one roll no matter how clever an idea you have... it's just not how they work... and for some that is a strength.

From my experience it requires a great level of mastery to pull it off well, so that it doesn't seem like an exercise in die-rolling. I use SC very very sparingly and only when I think I have found narratively appealing fiction for their use which is entertaining, interesting and smart. And these days its always pre-planned and I have no issues with player innovativeness raking in some or all of the successes - as more often than not it usually costs resources which is fine.
Serious question here... what benefit or gain are you getting from running a SC in this manner. This isn't a gotcha or anything, I'm genuinely curious.
 

I think criticism is being misunderstood here. I'm not concerned that if you remove the fictional context the mechanics are just dice rolls, I'm concerned that if you remove the fictional context, the decision making one has in the mechanical layer isn't good. If you tore out the roleplaying game bits and presented a skill challenge as a board game, it would have the mechanical heft of Chutes and Ladders.
I see what you are saying, but personally I don't think that having some intricate logical puzzle of tactical skill to solve is going to ADD to an RPG. In fact I think it actually detracts! Now, it might be that you could, theoretically, construct an interesting game around any given situation you might encounter in game, but that solution won't be fit for any other sorts of situations, or at best only a very narrow range of them. We have combat systems ONLY because combat is so ubiquitous in D&D. If it wasn't, the page space would be largely wasted. I'd note that the combat system is NOT applied to other 'combat-like' situations either, because it clearly isn't entirely appropriate (IE we don't have a system for adjudicating 'races and chases' that relies on 'attack' rolls, 'hit points', etc.) You could mechanically do these things, but it would not mesh well with the fiction and the result is awkward and distracts from play, overall.

You could, for example, present D&D combat in isolation of the rest of the system as a board game if you specified some specific character level range it works best at in various editions. That game would actually be pretty fun, as a puzzle to solve cooperatively to try and come out of alive on the other end. Round to round, players have multiple options, multiple choices, and their decisions will meaningfully affect the outcome. Each mechanic they use is interesting, because there is more than 1 path to victory, and charting the best route through to victory would involve making a series of interesting decisions.
Meh, I don't really agree. D&D combat, even the 4e variety which was quite detailed and fairly tactical, isn't a GREAT wargame. I mean, I have done a lot of wargaming, I would not even bother for 2 seconds with a 5e-derived, or AD&D-derived, or 3.x-derived, tactical wargame. I might start with what is in 3.x or 4e, perhaps, but it would require a lot of refinement to be a passable combat game.

Its a decent tactical mini-game which is sufficient to adjudicate combat situations within the context of an RPG. Even just in terms of the way resource utilization and such work in 4e the combat system, as a standalone game, runs into some pretty big issues. I mean, we tried it, and all the PCs just alpha-striked the monsters with their daily powers and that was the end of that! I'm sure it isn't that hard to make adjustments, but also a lot of the powers don't actually work in an optimum way when you consider only tactics and not fiction, etc.
The same is not true of a skill challenge system. While you may be flexing interesting narrative muscles as your roleplay, you aren't engaging in meaningful gameplay, where you make decisions to try and optimize for a desired outcome, or doing so is pretty trivial.
I don't agree, because the gameplay and the fiction are inextricably linked in RPGs.
I want the game to be good and interesting, wherein players will pick the course of action they feel will best achieve their goal, and pointedly not pick another because they think it will hurt their aims. Skill challenge systems can't do that. To be fair, skill systems in general have become such an anemic part of design they're rarely interested in doing it regardless of whether a skill challenge model is implemented or not.
So, your answer is, I don't think the game play of an SC is good on its own, so I will just remove all pretense that there is any game play at all? Because the alternative is 5e free-form skill checks, which has so little structure it cannot even be called a game by itself! It certainly isn't even on a par with a 4e Skill Challenge. If you are suggesting that BitD clocks are somehow a robust standalone model of game play, I don't know what to say. They are so deeply embedded in the fictional flow of the game that I, once again, cannot really imagine the 'clock setting game' in any meaningful way outside of RP and fiction. It sure doesn't seem in some way to be a more robust game on its own than a 4e SC, which at least has a defined structure and win/loss criteria that are internally consistent, if rather boring on their own.

I find it difficult to understand where you're coming from, to be honest. RPG mechanics are part of a whole. They serve a purpose in helping to structure, guide, and direct the play of the game and provide some basic at-the-table motivations and indicators, resources, etc.
 

My preferred resolution system would allow me to adjudicate any of those three choices based on the known state of the fictional world, and then evaluate the game state after they've happened to try and come up with the next best course of action. A skill challenge system would weight them equally, leave the same amount of distance between my character and their goal after the check. The only thing I can manipulate as a player there is the combination of Hard/Medium/Easy DC I'm rolling against vs. the highest modifier I can leverage. It's a trivial problem to solve.

The levers I want to be able to play with are trying to get closer to my goal by trying one action over another, and ideally I'd like to be able to influence what kinds of actions are possible at all with my declared actions. Skill challenges smooth all of that out to a flat plane.

It's easy to resolve, and easier to make declarations about the fictional state around, but it's less engaging as a game*.
I just don't think that SCs are flawed in this way. Supposing your example fighter... If he climbs the wall (Athletics) he's pressed for time. If he leaps the wall (this will require expending some sort of power probably) then he's out a resource. If he smashes through the wall he's probably taking some damage and making a lot of noise. Each of those will have fictional ramifications that will impact the likely options available going forward, both within the current challenge and later.

And I just don't think you CAN make this hypothetical system you are talking about. It will, perforce, be largely detached from fiction (there will be few, if any, 'rightward arrows' as we say). I strongly doubt it will be very coherent WITH the fiction in most cases. I too find it ironic that you criticize 4e for being TOO ATTACHED to fiction, when practically every criticism ever of the system has revolved around precisely the opposite criticism.
 


AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Upcoming Releases

Top