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

clearstream

(He, Him)
Sure.

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

That is a good thing!

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

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

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

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

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

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pemerton

Legend
Or those quoting 2008 rules hard at me :p

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

The mathematics don't change that.

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

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

The DMG2 has this same chart.

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


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

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

pemerton

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

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

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

clearstream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1661171524378.png


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

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

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

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

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

* Spook (E) to sub Arcana for Intimidate.

* Suggestion (E) to sub Arcana for Diplomacy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Campbell

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

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

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


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

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


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



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


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

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

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

Campbell

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

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

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