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

Voadam

Legend
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.
I don't have it yet but apparently 5e compatible Doctors and Daleks adapts the 5e combat system to handle out-logicking or out-quipping your enemies to handle combat lite roleplaying.

"Rules for playing fast-paced, combat-light sci-fi adventures using the world’s most popular roleplaying game system. Fight like the Doctor with non-lethal weapons, manoeuvres, gadgets, and the power of emotional and logical arguments — or just run away really fast!"

Sounds interesting but I will wait to see how well the transition from narration/fiction to game mechanics works for that.
 

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clearstream

(He, Him)
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.
I understood @Pedantic to be criticising 4e SCs for that, rather than 4e as an overall system. I think there was a comment that you could remove SC's and 4e would be fine. I could be mistaken.
 

Pedantic

Legend
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!

And here is where I think we fundamentally disagree. I do want to point out, that I don't think these situations require a unique point of game design in every instance, I think an interesting game emerges from their iteration, not from having a set of unique mechanics applied to all of them individually.

I don't think, for the record, that encounters and obstacles should be designed intentionally as intricate puzzles in the sense you're saying, I think that will happily all live in a resolution system that exist ahead of time. A castle isn't a problem to solve unless a player decides it is one; arguably "things in the setting" are more like toys and the actions available to players are the child's hand they can use to manipulate them.

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.

I think a ton of that work is offloaded on having iterative and variable goals. The game design work underlying an interesting tactical board game and an RPG are similar, but I think the need for each decision in the board game is necessarily higher as you don't have any motivation outside of that specified by the game to fall back on. Players uniquely get to care about anything they want inside an RPG, which provides meaning and context to their actions more broadly than say, the victory conditions in Spirit Island, which are set ahead of time, and only loosely mapped to fiction.

That and you have generally want to wrap up your board game in a few hours, which means the decision making must necessarily be much tighter and engaging, vs. the months-years of playtime you might have in an RPG.

I don't agree, because the gameplay and the fiction are inextricably linked in RPGs.

You know I don't actually disagree about this point, I just don't think the link is where everyone is putting it with a skill challenge. The situation and goals are the interesting fictional elements that make RPGs engaging, not deciding my course of action. That's entirely gameplay, and that's entirely mediated by character immersion. My character wants something, there is a situation I need to resolve to get the something, now I play a game to get there. The first two elements are the fictional connection, not the bit where I decide what I'm doing.

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!

I screamed loud and hard in the 5e playtests that we needed objective skill DCs, and I of course did not get them. My preferred resolution system would specify the actions that are possible with each skill, the time they take, relevant modifiers, and the difficulty of static checks, opposed checks, and so on. I would be fine with a system that didn't necessarily use randomness in skill evaluation. Perhaps instead your level of skill just opens various declarations, and you use those to overcome whatever challenges are set your way. I haven't yet found a diceless system that isn't incredibly loose with its available set of actions, but who knows, design might get there.

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.

Or perhaps our fighter is specialized in jumping, and has specifically sought this wall as an entry point to the keep, because being able to leverage jumping is more effective for this fighter than other actions, and by making a leap he's avoided a series of other possible failure points.

What you're doing right there is the thing I'm talking about. You've flattened the scenario thus that any approach has roughly the same value, and all that changes is the description. I mean, not to play into the meme, but I'm saying I want to be able to "win at D&D" in the very specific and limited context of any given challenge. I want to be presented with a situation and then through my choices come out of that situation in a state I think is better than some alternative. Or, fail to do so, which can be equally interesting.

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.

I mean, we might be at the agree to disagree point here. I really do believe it's possible to provide players a comprehensive set of available actions that have discrete fictional mapping, thus that they can use that palette to approach a wide variety of fictional situations.

And yeah, I always found SCs kind of baffling in the context of 4e, as they very much lean toward the underlying spirit of your "rulings" style play, just more mechanistically than has been historically the case. Why shouldn't the out of combat game be as specified as the in-combat one? It's always been weird to me that the edition arguably most lauded for pushing player agency in combat was so happy to have a low-agency game outside of it.

I understood @Pedantic to be criticising 4e SCs for that, rather than 4e as an overall system. I think there was a comment that you could remove SC's and 4e would be fine. I could be mistaken.

Yeah, I'm criticizing very specifically SCs as a not particularly engaging tactical game, and claiming that such a tactical game can and should exist inside skill systems (and out-of-combat RPG resolution more broadly). SCs are obviously a 4e invention and very related to that system, but I generally have found that much virtue that gets ascribed to them is not intrinsic to their structure.
 

I don't believe this is relevant to the point at hand. Unless I'm misunderstanding the example, the success state for the skill challenge was a diplomatic solution and temporary truce to deal with a devil threat and the failure state was continued conflict between the gnolls?

The PC's action in this case changed the failure state of the skill challenge, something outside the listed rules, but again, I think the correct choice and a reasonable extrapolation of the fictional state. The quote you're pointing to seems to be suggesting something more like say, attacking a necromancer's minions while disrupting his magic circle, which I don't think is a contentious example of a skill challenge in a combat scenario.

This is not true and its not clear why you think is true.

In a Skill Challenge you have (a) micro-failures (up to 3) and (b) macro-failure (Loss Con at 3 failures).

The failure in this situation was a micro-failure, not the macro-failure of the Skill Challenge. There are lots of ways micro-failures can be realized in the fiction in 4e just like there are lots of ways to achieve micro-successes beyond just Skill Checks. This is what DMG2 has to say on micro-successes and micro-failures. They should:

* Introduce a new option that the PCs can pursue. a path to success they didn't know existed.

* Change the situation, such as by sending the PCs to a new location. introducing a new NPC. or adding a complication.

* Grant the players a tangible consequence for the check's success or failure (as appropriate), one that influences their subsequent decisions.


These should always be (i) goal-relevant and (ii) honor the fiction accreted thus far.

4e has nested Skill Challenges in combats. This is what it says above about consequences/complications for micro-failures. Why do you feel that a GM escalating to a nested combat as a consequence when a PC pulls a weapon creating an implicit threat of violence > fails on check is "something outside the listed rules?" Resolve your nested combat complication and we're back to the Skill Challenge framework as it was prior.

This is no different than if you're running a Social Score in Blades in the Dark (as I listed above where you have a 4 Tick Clock to "Break Down Their Guard" and then an 8 tick -starting at 3 - Tug of War Clock to "Convince the NPC"), the PC makes a Command Action Roll w/ Desperate Position > fails > I tick the Tug of War Clock back 1 (say from to 4) as a Complication and I use the rest of my Desperate Position Complication-space to have the NPC call in 2 of their badass Thugs to physically pat down every member of the Crew in the room because they don't like their tone.

Is that "going outside the rules" in Blades in the Dark?




Until we all get on the same page of (a) how intent/goal-based conflict resolution works generally and (b) how 4e Skill Challenges work specifically (how they're actually executed), we can't even move to the "is this a compelling mini-game as a game" portion of the conversation. So we need to resolve this hanging issue first.
 

Pedantic

Legend
This is not true and its not clear why you think is true.

In a Skill Challenge you have (a) micro-failures (up to 3) and (b) macro-failure (Loss Con at 3 failures).

The failure in this situation was a micro-failure, not the macro-failure of the Skill Challenge. There are lots of ways micro-failures can be realized in the fiction in 4e just like there are lots of ways to achieve micro-successes beyond just Skill Checks. This is what DMG2 has to say on micro-successes and micro-failures. They should:

* Introduce a new option that the PCs can pursue. a path to success they didn't know existed.

* Change the situation, such as by sending the PCs to a new location. introducing a new NPC. or adding a complication.

* Grant the players a tangible consequence for the check's success or failure (as appropriate), one that influences their subsequent decisions.


These should always be (i) goal-relevant and (ii) honor the fiction accreted thus far.

4e has nested Skill Challenges in combats. This is what it says above about consequences/complications for micro-failures. Why do you feel that a GM escalating to a nested combat as a consequence when a PC pulls a weapon creating an implicit threat of violence > fails on check is "something outside the listed rules?" Resolve your nested combat complication and we're back to the Skill Challenge framework as it was prior.

Okay, this is legitimate confusion on my part. You're suggesting that the failure states for skill challenges might result in other minigames irrespective of the larger skill challenge, which makes sense and is not a scale on which I'd considered the use of a skill challenge.

I don't think it really answers any of my concerns, but it's interesting. If you generalized the skill challenge structure away from resolution and up to adventure design, thus that your "failures" and "successes" aren't so much about individual roles but generic obstacles, I'd be more onboard. Though again, I don't know that I'd find the particular timing structure useful so much as restrictive.

This is no different than if you're running a Social Score in Blades in the Dark (as I listed above where you have a 4 Tick Clock to "Break Down Their Guard" and then an 8 tick -starting at 3 - Tug of War Clock to "Convince the NPC"), the PC makes a Command Action Roll w/ Desperate Position > fails > I tick the Tug of War Clock back 1 (say from to 4) as a Complication and I use the rest of my Desperate Position Complication-space to have the NPC call in 2 of their badass Thugs to physically pat down every member of the Crew in the room because they don't like their tone.

Is that "going outside the rules" in Blades in the Dark?




Until we all get on the same page of (a) how intent/goal-based conflict resolution works generally and (b) how 4e Skill Challenges work specifically (how they're actually executed), we can't even move to the "is this a compelling mini-game as a game" portion of the conversation. So we need to resolve this hanging issue first.

I really want to clarify that I don't like Blades, I've played it once, and found it profoundly disempowering, as the entire game is bent on pushing you toward increasing complication. I think there's a separate line of discussion contrasting SCs and BitD clocks, which is not a race I have a dog in, and if I had to pick, would probably push for skill challenges, as they at least don't include "success at a cost" as a possible outcome on every roll.

When I played Blades, it captured exactly the inverse feeling I want from a heist, in that it eliminates the fun careful planning bit, and then sets up incentives thus that you can never actually benefit from having been prepared because the entire game is structured to keep sending you complications. I spent that whole game trying to figure out how not to trigger rolls.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I’m struggling to understand the objections about skill challenges that don’t apply to more “organic” play. What makes play “organic”? Keeping things from the players? Concealing information in order to avoid committing to clear states of success or failure?

And doing the opposite has been called railroading? Really?

Poppycock.
 

Imaro

Legend
I’m struggling to understand the objections about skill challenges that don’t apply to more “organic” play. What makes play “organic”? Keeping things from the players? Concealing information in order to avoid committing to clear states of success or failure?

Not sure who, if anyone, in particular you are addressing but I do believe I used the word "organic" so I can go ahead and explain what I mean by it, though I can't speak to what others may or may not have meant by it..

IMO, organic play is when the fiction and the resolution mechanic used are chosen real time in response to the previous fiction, results of mechanics and action declaration of the PC's.

As a very simplified example... if there was a D&D combat where the GM used a framework where the only mechanic in use was melee attack rolls and no matter what it ended after 3 rounds... without consideration for the fiction or the actual actions being declared... I would label it a non or in-organic combat. It has nothing to do with keeping things from players or concealing information though both of those could be present.

As for clear states of success and failure... if you as a player are stating what you hope to accomplish for the task that you are attempting... we have them. You succeed on the check, use of the power, whatever and you achieve what you were hoping to. You don't and the DM will set the consequences... just as he would in a SC

NOTE: This post makes me think proponents of SC's want to have it both ways... it can be this mutable thing you create in the moment and run off the cuff, that's not akin to a script you are running your players through... But it's also this thing where Success and failure rates are clear and there is no hidden information and we know exactly how many successes or failures we need to complete it. I guess it's possible it could serve both of those masters equally well, but that wasn't my experience with them

And doing the opposite has been called railroading? Really?

Poppycock.
I don't think I've personally used "railroading" but I could see that assertion being made since so much of a SC is pre-determined... or I could see it as totally unfounded if you ascribe to SC's being improv, mutable and spur of the moment.
 

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.

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 will try to answer it as best I can but it is like you said you cannot win an entire SC with one roll.
One roll, for me, doesn't satisfy a heated debate between two parties when there is an exchange of ideas, persuasion, manipulation, bribery, coercion, deception, reading your opponent, argument and counter-argument...etc. It is social combat. What benefits or gain are we getting for running long combats?

SC are only utilised in specific scenarios and not for your run of the mill persuasion encounter similar to how I may pull out a grid for the session's or module's BBEG but run everything else ToM.
A group check could work, but the novelty of the SC is its own thing - and the way I design them, they are essentially a puzzle requiring the PCs to think out the box. I have fun designing them (when I do), but I'm open to PCs using resources to auto earn a few successes or bypass the entire SC if they come up with something innovative.
 

Pedantic

Legend
As for clear states of success and failure... if you as a player are stating what you hope to accomplish for the task that you are attempting... we have them. You succeed on the check, use of the power, whatever and you achieve what you were hoping to. You don't and the DM will set the consequences... just as he would in a SC

Just to differentiate our positions, I would say I'm more dogmatic that the consequences should emerge from the mechanics of resolution. The DM may need to re-describe the scene or provide new information, but I wouldn't say they are determining the consequences.
 

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.
Your acting like the terms of success isnt something the DM arbitrarily made up beforehand using skill challenges, in fact i trust this even less, because how the heck are you making up terms for success or how long it would take, before i ever even put forward a solution as a player, what kinda of nonsense is that.

I also have this terrible dislike of this super weird mistrust in the DM, and its equally to me as nonsensical, you mistrust the DM to make judgment calls in the moment but you trust him enough to make terms of success and resolution before anything solution by the players was put forward? What kinda crap is that?
 

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