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

With what has been presented to me they are pretty much the same thing. The only "differences" are:

1. tracking a number of success and failures until some "goal" resolution is met.
2. asking each PC what they are doing to contribute to achieving that number of successes.

Instead of #1, each success or failure affects the next step in the scenario until the scene is resolved. Since each PC can be contributing at the same time, this is not necessarily "linear" as people might think.

Instead of #2, the resolution is not binary as varying degrees of success is certainly possible.

In either case, you are making a series of skill checks, each of which can affect the scenario in information gained, interactions, etc.

Now, adding a pre-generated "structure" and options (if a PC does this and succeeds, it is one more success towards their final result) I can see (as I commented above) being helpful to novice or struggling DMs, but otherwise I would agree with this:

:)

Anyway, again thanks to all for outlining the differences. Of course, depending on the scenario, it could be a "solo" skill "challenge" (if indeed, such a thing exists?) or involve multiple party members. But, then again, combat can also be solo (a scout encountering resistance) or involve more PCs (typical combat).

I have found in combat certain players, PCs, and classes will contribute more; and in the other pillars certain players, PCs, and classes will contribute more. I don't expect a balance between the three pillars and players, PCs, or classes, as everyone plays their PC differently.
Yeah, but I still think there's a point that is missing from this discussion, which is that a 4e SC IS AN ENCOUNTER, it has a definite start, end, goals, and costs associated, and the GM is pretty much obligated to treat it as such. That encourages the advancement of the player's goals (or not, if they lose) in a fairly discrete and understandable way. Far too often in 5e games I've run into this sort of icky slippery thing where nobody is quite sure what has been accomplished, and all of a sudden the GM is throwing consequences at you that undo a lot of progress, or simply seems to never really get the point that some goal should be adequately reached by now. This is pretty common, and not just with less capable GMs (though obviously if you are, say, a new GM it is even more likely).

With the SC case, we won the SC, we got what was entailed in success. It is now clearly ours and we are going to keep it, unless we put it to stake for some reason. It can be a much cleaner method. Its also, when properly articulated, a fairly straightforward thing to implement.

And yes, there are certainly 'solo SCs' there's really very little issue with making them scale from 1 to 5+ PCs.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

clearstream

(He, Him)
I don’t know how you read it, but I intended it exactly as as I wrote it.

1) There is a play that exists where GMs have preconceptions and they intend to map those preconceptions onto the gamestate and fiction by imposition.

2) There is a play whereby the process of (1) (the imposition of a GM’s preconceptions upon gamestate/fiction) is neither transparently codified in the text of play nor inferable by the players. The experiential quality of this for the players is “arbitrary GM fiat.”




Let’s come at this another way. Any given conflict is an obstacle course with a starting point + an endpoint + an array of intervening obstacles. What is an easy analogue for this in life? A hole of golf.

Alright. A hole of golf has:

* A tee box (starting point).

* A pin location on a green (an endpoint).

* An array of intervening obstacles (fairways, rough, sand traps, out of bounds, burs, trees, etc).
One way in which I feel the golfing analogy may be not quite right, is that it's possible to see TTRPG play more in terms of performance than competition. What I mean is that it is the journey, not the destination, that counts.

We can be interested in the imagination, choices, and portrayals that participants commit. I think in many of the greatest sessions it's those, and not how we reach a conclusion, that matter. I'm probably forced to have that view because I hold freeform play equal (if different) to mechanistic play.

Now you can configure the realization of this “hole of golf” in TTRPG terms in a myriad of ways. But someone or some system process is deciding on each element…and they’re doing it at some time (pre-play or during play):

STARTING POINT

* The GM can preconceive and prescribe the starting point before play.

* A non-GM player can prescribe the starting point (either via GM prompt or system procedure) during play.

* The play itself can naturally evolve from one end point to generate a new, emergent starting point during play.
In my experience, at time 0 the game designer to some extent describes a situation, and one of the participants has curated that game design for the group and in many cases further developed the situation. Generally speaking, the imaginative qualities of that situation are impactful: if it's well considered, our play will more likely go on to be interesting. In the case of a Torchbearer game for example, through curation the starting point might be somewhere in Middarmark.

At time 1 and onwards, I don't really see your first option (GM preconceives) happening: we're all looking to continue our stream of play. In golf, perhaps each hole can be seen as a discrete sub-game? The players committed at the outset to some number of holes and they will play them in the sequence presented. Where TTRPG can be episodic, I think we can have
  • a participant continues to curate and may further develop the situation
  • at the same time, players alone decide what they will do next
The group upholds player-fiat so that as you say, "The play itself can naturally evolve from one end point to generate a new, emergent starting point during play." The traces of previous play are normally influential on what happens next, so I think it lacks the discrete nature of the next golf hole. (I'm not holding up your analogy just to nitpick: I'm hoping to use it to show why I think looking at play in that light might not be quite right. Or perhaps it's better to say, accepts a limit that needn't be imposed.)

ENDPOINT

* The GM can preconceive and prescribe the endpoint before play.

* The GM can pronounce that the conflict has reached its endpoint “by feel” and declare a winner.

* System declares that the conflict has reached its endpoint by codified Win/Loss condition and declare a winner by following its procedures to their conclusion.
If I understand your first option here correctly, then I think that yes, we do see a lot of that in traditional play. It's more or less the norm for published adventures, which is a great shame in my opinion because it by no means has to be.

I think the second and third options both have their merits. There are GMs I would trust over the results of some game systems, but that's more of an aside. Our experience of play is the journey, not the destination. The requirements of the outcome are simply this: picturing it, we felt inspired and our journey was enthralling.

That's on the one hand. On the other hand, I think we can also have
  • The conflict reaches its endpoint through a form of negotiation, where we work to shape the fictional position so that it must follow.
OBSTACLE COURSE

* The GM can preconceive and prescribe the array of obstacles before play.

* The GM can move through an improvised array of obstacles “by feel” without budgetary/procedural constraint.

* System procedures and budgetary constraints guide and bind a GM in their improvised generation of the array of obstacles.
I agree that the last term can help the play: it's good when a system guides a group in their improvisation. I don't especially see the need for "bind", but I suppose that's because I am assuming principles are in play that bind everyone at the table. I wouldn't pick out whichever participant accepts the burdens normally associated with GM for binding, especially.

In some cases, I would favour the first option. Where groups lean into heavily tactical play with a game system designed to support that, there can be substantial gains in satisfaction in well-crafted obstacles. I am not speaking here of any sort of encounter that will be relocated to inevitably be in front of the group. And many games now take a lighter-weight approach that can make it easier to develop satisfying obstacles on the fly (although less satisfying, for those who want heavily tactical play!)

Again, freeform play would generally not have a budget/procedural constraint, and pretty much what the group values is the focus on feel. To the extent that TTRPG play is an artform, I'm less dismissive of working by feel over working systematically. On the other hand, it's not ideal if the "feel" favoured by one participant in a privileged position of authorship overwhelms the feel that would be favoured by another participant. One possible resolution to this conundrum is different but equal privileges... but that doesn't work out in every case. @Campbell here and elsewhere lays out pretty well some of the reasons why.

Tying it back, I don't think what you have said in your latest justifies a fundamental position of antagonism and distrust toward a participant who takes on burdens to arbitrate and guide, and perhaps to work on world rather than character. I feel it is always hard to really be justified in a position that starts out with such negative characterisations, and the validity of your actual thoughts doesn't seem to require them!

And then of course, I definitely sustain the virtue of freeform play, which commits me to disliking any thesis that systematically determined conclusions to chains-of-resolution are inevitably better.
 
Last edited:

pemerton

Legend
That is a problem solved for a long time, which is just using mechanics to describe the problems at hand, its what statblocks have been used for, and are still used for.
What does a "statblock" look like for persuading the Maruts that they are wrong in their belief that they need to prevent interference with the Tarrasque as it is a harbinger of the endtimes?

One possible answer to that is a level 30, complexity 5 (I think it was) skill challenge.

If you design around the idea that the players must do X to do something, or have to do X things, you will always either end up doing way too much, or railing them into a handful of solutions, this is not good.
I don't know you reconcile this with your remark about statblocks. In D&D combat, the players must do X things - ie deliver X hp worth of damage - to defeat a foe in combat. I don't think that's normally regarded as railroading.

skill challenges are simply not good. Its why whenever I see most people using them, It always works better in theory then in practice
Well I don't know what your theory is but I've posted actual play examples of my practice. They worked well.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I feel it is always hard to really be justified in a position that starts out with such negative characterisations, and the validity of your actual thoughts doesn't seem to require them!
@Manbearcat Where I have used the word "validity" in my longer post above, I mean something like - the strongest ideas don't require the strawman. One may simply not accept the proposition that they play against GMs who exercise a harmful arbitrary-fiat, and if the argument is unchanged then that prejudice wasn't needed in the first place. And I think the important arguments are unchanged.

Skill challenges, clocks etc should be used, not just in case there are harmful, arbitrary GMs out there who we are forced to play against, but for other - better - reasons. Such as the focus on fiction suggested in the OP.
 

pemerton

Legend
The one thing that has to be understood is that the GM is no longer 'scripting' the challenge in the same sense, it could turn out to be 'about' something rather different than was envisaged at the start!
I think this is important, especially once the challenge gets more complex. The centring of the fiction that I mentioned in the OP permits the players (and their PCs) motivational and aspirational relationship to the fiction - how are they driven by it; how do they hope to change it - develop as the challenge itself unfolds.

I guess at a certain point development becomes inapt as a description, and what's really happening is that one skill challenge has been abandoned and another commenced. I don't recall this ever happening at my table, but I would fault anyone who did it this way at there's.
 

@clearstream

I think you're misconstruing my posts a little bit (ok, more than a little bit) because your responses above do the following:

* Your words extend my commentary beyond the instantiation of a singular conflict to play broadly. Both my commentary and the "hole of golf" analogy fails if you extend it beyond its intended use. It is intended exclusively for the resolution of one conflict, no more, no less.

* Your words appear to assume that a given matrix of the above component parts (Starting Point - SP, Endpoint - EP, Obstacle Course Array - OCA) doesn't exist. I'm fairly confident you can run a conflict with any given matrix of the above and that it almost surely takes place in the wild. I've talked to so many GMs, I've seen so much play, I've seen so much on forums, I've read so many TTRPGs, and I've run so many games that I'm pretty nearly sure of this. Yes, a particular group of conflict matrices manifest a fair bit more common than the others, but you can find pretty much all of them without looking too hard. You can find GMs who have prescribed all of an SP, an OCA, and an EPA for a singular conflict before play and you can find any one of those prescriptive components comingled with something different.

* Your words seem to be sensing I'm making a value judgement about a given conflict matrix (one iteration among multiple that you'll find in Trad games) that I'm not. My best friend in real life is the Traddiest Trad GM possible and we talk routinely about his scenario design and his running of conflicts and his (impossible not to happen in play) reveals and his (admitted) railroading. I don't have a negative feeling about his play. I know intimately why he does it. I know that it works swimmingly for his table and I know that his players wouldn't like some of the games that I run. I also know it is but one way to design scenarios and/or run conflicts in Trad games (there are multiple…you’ll find more diversity in conflict matrices in Trad games than in other games…and that is Working as Intended for those games…I’m not making value judgements about that…but I am affirming it exists and is distinguishable from an alternative matrix of SP > OCA > EP).

I don't have a value judgement about his Starting Point > Obstacle Course Array > Endpoint matrix for his conflicts. It is what it is. I'm not even interested in making a value judgement about it. However, I am interested in discussing 4e Skill Challenges and how they are distinct from the SP > OCA > EP of my friend (and they are quite different). That is an interesting conversation of design intent and play instantiation of various forms of conflict resolution.
 
Last edited:

pemerton

Legend
both of those things actually represent something that describes or is meant to represent the scenario in question, as a description, separate from the actions the players are supposed to take to engage with it.

4E skill challenges are meant and designed to be engaged in a very specific way, a very distinct mode of play focused on how the players resolve it not on mechanically describing the situation the players are actually in, just focused on how to resolved it, this is of the highest of importance, as it changes how players fundamentally engage with the mechanics in question, and why those mechanics actually feel good to use and not absolute terrible like 4Es.
I promise you I’m not gaslighting you…

But I have no idea what you mean above. I have zero idea what distinction you’re intending to draw between Dogs conflicts, Blades ToW or opposed Racing Clocks and 4e Skill Challenges with the words you’ve written above.

I can read the words…but I have no idea what you’re meaning.
I take FallenRX to be saying the following:

* In the case of the BitD clocks, the number of segments in the clock corresponds (in some rough sense) to the difficulty of the task/race/contest at hand;

* In the 4e skill challenge, the complexity of the challenge doesn't correlate to some "objective" feature of the task at hand, but rather is a purely metagame decision about how long the scene will last for.​

This is a core feature of 4e - the minion vs standard creature distinction is just the same, namely, at its core a metagame decision about how long the fight with the creature should last.

You also see it in BW (in some contexts - eg melee combat, social influence) and HeroWars/Quest - the choice to resolve a conflict via a single roll or an extended contest.

It is present in Marvel Heroic RP/Cortex+ Heroic in a more subtle fashion: the GM can extend a conflict by using Doom Pool dice to buff a NPC opponent. Of course there should be some fiction narrated to explain what the Doom die correlates to - but likewise in a skill challenge, the GM will be narrating fiction that explains why the conflict is still alive.

In the MHRP case the GM is limited by a budget - the Doom Pool is finite. In 4e the GM is not budget-limited in that way, but the more complex the GM chooses to make conflicts (via higher complexity skill challenges, or via standard as opposed to minion creatures) then the more XP the players earn - which bring treasure and levels - and the more rapidly they meet the requirements for earning action points. So the GM's "unlimited" budget feeds player-side resource development/renewal.

Threat clocks in AW are, I think, also somewhat similar to 4e in this respect - ie serving a metagame purpose rather than modelling an "objective" difficulty. A threat clock in AW progresses based primarily on the GM's narration of the fiction - moves - in response to the player action declarations as mediated (where applicable) via player-side moves. The GM can choose to use their narration to bring a conflict to a climax, or to draw it out.

Needless to say, I don't think that this technique, across these various implementations, is "absolutely terrible".
 

Voadam

Legend
Well, you can certainly play it that way. The original version of SCs published in DMG1 actually stated something like that, though I don't think it actually said everyone HAD to act, but that there was an initiative order (which implies some kind of round-like turn taking). There was a massive erratum of the SC rules maybe a month or two after release that obliterated that paragraph, along with fixing the number of failures to 3, regardless of complexity (in the original version it varied by complexity). Very few people seem to have really played by that 'first cut' of the system, though I suppose there were plenty of people who didn't notice the errata!
I own and have read the 4e DMG and used SCs out of there.

I remember there was discussion that the math was off and they rejiggered that later but since I was pretty much applying this to Pathfinder game situations the exact math was not important to me and I did not really pay attention to any errata specifics here.

Anybody have the errata they posted?

In the 4e DMG page 74 under running a skill challenge:

"Roll initiative to establish an order of play for the skill challenge. If the skill challenge is part of a combat encounter, work the challenge into the order just as you do the monsters.
In a skill challenge encounter, every player character must make skill checks to contribute to the success or failure of the encounter. Characters must make a check on their turn using one of the identified primary skills (usually with a moderate DC) or they must use a different skill, if they can come up with a way to use it to contribute to the challenge (with a hard DC). A secondary skill can be used only once by a single character in any given skill challenge. They can also decide, if appropriate, to cooperate with another character (see “Group Skill Checks,” below)."
 

FallenRX

Adventurer
I own and have read the 4e DMG and used SCs out of there.

I remember there was discussion that the math was off and they rejiggered that later but since I was pretty much applying this to Pathfinder game situations the exact math was not important to me and I did not really pay attention to any errata specifics here.

Anybody have the errata they posted?

In the 4e DMG page 74 under running a skill challenge:

"Roll initiative to establish an order of play for the skill challenge. If the skill challenge is part of a combat encounter, work the challenge into the order just as you do the monsters.
In a skill challenge encounter, every player character must make skill checks to contribute to the success or failure of the encounter. Characters must make a check on their turn using one of the identified primary skills (usually with a moderate DC) or they must use a different skill, if they can come up with a way to use it to contribute to the challenge (with a hard DC). A secondary skill can be used only once by a single character in any given skill challenge. They can also decide, if appropriate, to cooperate with another character (see “Group Skill Checks,” below)."
I think the issue is with my point, is people dont quite understand how ridiculous and unintuitive skill challenges actually are and what they do in 4e actually is.

Simply comparing this very the actual extended skill checks/progress clocks people here are talking about, makes it a lot clearer

However you built them, it literally just boiled down to players picking a list of actions and rolling more success then failures separate from what the players were doing, or how it was going on, completely dissociated alien stuff, that require some weird initiative to handle, this was my point of contention, and why Skill Challenges are actively really bad.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
* Your words extend my commentary beyond the instantiation of a singular conflict to play broadly. Both my commentary and the "hole of golf" analogy fails if you extend it beyond its intended use. It is intended exclusively for the resolution of one conflict, no more, no less.
Definitely not deliberately! So where I say...

One way in which I feel the golfing analogy may be not quite right, is that it's possible to see TTRPG play more in terms of performance than competition. What I mean is that it is the journey, not the destination, that counts.
...then the performance or journey I mean is the sequence of contributions to the narrative within the SC, so contained within the "hole of golf". I accept that I might have extended your analogy outside what you had in mind for it (always a risk with analogies.) Apologies if so.

* Your words appear to assume that a given matrix of the above component parts (Starting Point - SP, Endpoint - EP, Obstacle Course Array - OCA) doesn't exist. I
I don't quite understand your objection here. I accepted your matrix on face value (as existing), and spoke to each part. Perhaps we have a mutual misunderstanding?

'm fairly confident you can run a conflict with any given matrix of the above and that it almost surely takes place in the wild. I've talked to so many GMs, I've seen so much play, I've seen so much on forums, I've read so many TTRPGs, and I've run so many games that I'm pretty nearly sure of this. Yes, a particular group of conflict matrices manifest a fair bit more common than the others, but you can find pretty much all of them without looking too hard. You can find GMs who have prescribed all of an SP, an OCA, and an EPA for a singular conflict before play and you can find any one of those prescriptive components comingled with something different.
For sure. I don't think I wrote anything to the contrary.

* Your words seem to be sensing I'm making a value judgement about a given conflict matrix (one iteration among multiple that you'll find in Trad games) that I'm not.
At the start of this chain I did feel a doubt about whether you were making a value judgement, so I flagged that with a question. You responded that you meant what you said, which I (mistakenly, right?) took to mean that you intended to make the value judgements that were implied (by words like "against" and "arbitrary fiat".)

The above all comes as a surprising turn to the discussion, but of course I accept that you in fact did not intend a value judgement. I think SCs can be useful in traditional play, in part because they typically already accept systematically determined conclusions to resolutions in the form of combat. That said, clocks are possibly more successful at the same job.
 
Last edited:


There is a general requirement in TTRPG for mechanical structures that through a chain of resolution converge on an end result. Cyclical combat systems, skill challenges, and clocks all address that general requirement. The earliest reference I know of to skill challenges is in Mearls' Iron Heroes 2007 as Extended Skill Checks (Iron Heroes also contains "skill challenges", but those are a distinctly different mechanic.) Extended Skill Checks are essentially clocks, and include both monotonic and X before Y sub-mechanics. A faint trace of 4e Skill Challenges survives in 5e Social Encounters.

Regarding two possible key features
  1. skill challenges centre the fiction in the process of action declaration and resolution.
  2. the GM does not get to decide when the scene is resolved.
In terms of meeting the general requirement I outline above, the general purposes of TTRPG have traditionally included group wargaming* and narration. As perhaps @Jer gets at, any mechanical structure whether locked to a specific set of descriptions or freely applied can be wargamed (whether or not it's semantics are that of warfare.) Even so, it seems right to me to say that a less rigorous mechanical structure that accepts any semantics, is more likely to lean away from wargaming and into narration. So I agree with the first possible feature suggested by the OP.

Regarding the second possible feature, traditional modes of play often uphold a principle that upon entering into a cyclical combat system, GM does not get to decide when the scene is resolved. System decides. That is to point out that we have a host of options here, found in combinations of the following, and I'm not yet sure this thread has made clear why decider matters to centering the fiction (it can certainly matter to other qualities of play that we care about!)

1. Index of Results
The first concern (sometimes going unnoticed) is choosing what the possible results are. They can be chosen by system (game designers decide), a player acting as referee (GM decides), players with skin in the game (players decide), or a mixture, such as when GM chooses negative results and players choose positive. For example, "Skill Challenges" in Iron Heroes let's players add positive results by reducing their likelihood of success. I call the list of possible results their "index". Several posters point out that this list can evolve over the span of resolution.

2. Appointment of Decider
The second concern is who will decide between results. Often its roll, but it can be a negotiation, a rolling consensus, etc. If there will be multiple results converging to an overall result, decider might even move around.

3. Chain of Resolution
The scene is resolved at the end of the chain of resolution. The steps in that chain can include insertions and revisions, and can be singular or multiple, and temporally linear, cyclical, or retroactive. Typically, it becomes increasingly determined what the result is going to be as the chain is followed. It would be tedious to follow a chain with a predetermined outcome, so typically the mechanic will preserve the chance of a negative result even where things are swinging to almost certainly positive (and vice versa).

Regarding @DND_Reborn's comments, I agree that the "general requirement" has often been met informally, as non-combat encounters from simple to elaborate, compact to protracted. (Something I've discussed in other threads.) I feel what is most important to the fiction in many cases is that the resolution has a strong feeling of convergence to the end result, so that the group will agree it feels right for their fiction ("right" can mean a lot of things, including exciting, surprising, baffling... it doesn't have to mean simply obvious.) That may involve agreeing mechanisms for tracking along the chain, an index of outcomes either up front or by appointing from time to time new authors, and how we decide between them (in most TTRPGs, that is the core mechanic.)

At present, I haven't read anything that makes me believe that centering on the fiction depends on the decider of the result. I think it depends on the integrity of the system. That's not a fixed view, and perhaps further exploration of these ideas will change it?


*I use this word to mean tactics and strategy play generally, and not solely the simulation of warfare.
Yeah, I think WRT the comments that @DND_Reborn made, it is like with most of the approaches that are common to narrative play, you can achieve them purely by dint of playing most any RPG with careful attention to that. Many games will, however, work against you in some sense. Something like the 4e SC system is a pretty solid mechanical structure intended to bring about this 'bounded' characteristic of a 'scene'. It lets the GM focus on the fiction and how it evolves as opposed to worrying overmuch about what outcome to decide, or when things are decided.

Its interesting that many people ask for things like 'social combat' systems, but then when they get one, and the 4e SC pretty much fits the bill, its described as confining or trivial in effect. Certainly you could come up with different mechanics for such a thing, like opposed clocks and have the GM make checks for the 'opposition', but we found in the end all the alternatives we tried weren't measurably better, and were usually a bunch more complicated and often didn't quite fit well with the fiction in some cases. Its true that you can, now and then, find yourself tied in a knot over how to proceed with an SC, but following the structure is still the easier path, IMHO.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think the issue is with my point, is people dont quite understand how ridiculous and unintuitive skill challenges actually are and what they do in 4e actually is.

Simply comparing this very the actual extended skill checks/progress clocks people here are talking about, makes it a lot clearer

However you built them, it literally just boiled down to players picking a list of actions and rolling more success then failures separate from what the players were doing, or how it was going on, completely dissociated alien stuff, that require some weird initiative to handle, this was my point of contention, and why Skill Challenges are actively really bad.
The assertion I've bolded is what the OP denies.

To elaborate further on my post 67 upthread:

A GM in Apocalypse World has to make decisions about the hardness of moves. Say (as per the example of play in the rulebook) a PC goes looking for Isle, a NPC. What move should the GM make? In the example, the GM narrates the PC finding Isle sitting around eating peaches with friends and family. Imagine instead the GM narrates that the PC finds Isle bloodied and beaten to within an inch of her life, while the seeming perpetrator is driving off on a motorbike. Or imagine the GM narrates that Isle is nowhere to be found. Or is found dead. These different narrations, and the ones that follow on from player action declarations and their resolution, all shape the play space, open up and even invite some action declarations while closing off other possibilities.

The GM's narration in a skill challenge is more circumscribed than in AW, because the mathematics of progress towards overall success or failure are tightly defined. But the same sorts of skills a GM uses to narrate a skill challenge - a sense of opening up or closing of possibilities, of circling around conflict or forcefully putting it front and centre, of imposing costs and consequences, etc - will be useful in GMing AW. And vice versa.

And I think they're pretty different from the skills a GM needs to run (say) White Plume Mountain, or a typical CoC module.
 

I think you're conflating GM decides inputs into a scene with GM decides a scene's outcome. By judging the challenge of a scene to the PC's current fictional position, the GM, in setting the parameters of a Skill Challenge (or similar mechanic, like Clocks etc.), decides in the abstract the weight of a scene in the same way they do in setting the opponents in a combat challenge (do the PCs face a pair of dragons here or a kobold or three?). That's it. As each check along the way to deciding the final outcome of the SC requires changing the fictional position in some meaningful way, the GM does not decide in advance how (inevitably tied to when, since the success/failure tally, not any particular obstacle within the overall Challenge, is final arbiter) the overall Challenge's outcome gets decided; the players do, through the actions they declare and the success or failure of their rolls. There is a gulf of difference between "The PCs can navigate the haunted woods to find the witch's cottage by making 6 successful checks before 3 failures" and allowing the obstacles and action declarations chosen to shape the ensuing fiction and "The PCs can navigate the haunted woods to find the witch's cottage when I, GM, feel they have done enough to warrant it"! In the former, everyone at the table understands the criteria for meeting the Challenge; in the latter, the outcome is essentially whenever the GM whims it.
It is actually stronger than this, even! A 4e SC has DETERMINISTIC difficulty. Once a GM declares an SC of Complexity N and Level X, the total difficulty is a fixed, known, quantity. Certainly once the associated skills are chosen, nothing else weighs in (unless perhaps the players choose to spend some sort of resource to enhance their chances, like casting a ritual or expending a power). Granted, player tactics will have an impact, presumably, but its a pretty set thing, and most interestingly, it really does not depend on the specific fiction very much at all. Not to say the fiction is not central to the whole thing, but the point is more that the players are NOT in the thrall of the GM deciding to present situations they are good at, or which are less monumentally difficult, which would be the case in, say, 5e. In fact, the GM doesn't really have to care about that, her job is simply to make things interesting and etc.
 

Oh no Progress Clocks and such from blade in the dark are good, but those are pretty different from skill challenges, as they are used and resolved in a much different way, seperate from focusing on action resolution and more of a measure of something, usually time,, that is a smarter way of going about it, as its not expecting players needing to do X input to get X output or expecting an action to go in or out, and thats how they engage with a problem.

What im talking about is the very much player-action resolution-oriented 4E-styled Skill challenges that a lot of people seem to pedal those are awful, and will directly lead to the opposite of the resolves your describing because they are centered around how players engage with it, instead of designing based on describing the issue itself. That type of skill challenge is something far more designed, then the simple extended skill checks/Progress clocks we are talking about here.

I think throwing all of those mechanics under the Skill Challenge banner is bad, because Skill Challenges are a very specific type of thing, that is usually always terrible. This is a terminology issue, i feel.
Hmmmmm, I think that the problem then is applying SCs to pregenerated situations. I mean, there ARE SCs that will work fine as simple analogs of combat encounters, for instance, where everything is spelled out ahead. I don't think your objection holds there, any more than it does for combat. Those are pretty limited scope though. The OTHER kind, which is much more like what @Manbearcat is talking about are the more fluid situations which can take a wide variety of paths to resolution, or failure of resolution perhaps. If you try to script out something like that, it won't work. I saw a bunch of those types in Dungeon adventures back in the day. You can salvage them by just assuming whatever the author spells out is just one likely path that things could take, at least in some cases.

I remember an SC I had once where the PCs were trying to stabilize the planar location of a temple, and they just ran around the place doing rituals and various things. Once the dwarf failed a check and a big Godforged Colossus started careening around the place, and they invented various ways of distracting it while they resanctified the altar or something like that. It was just all made up, but whenever they did something it would have positive and/or negative effects that would complicate whatever they tried next, although a lot of times it just gave them some better chances to use their strong skills, lol. It was fun, and IIRC they barely succeeded in the end after one PC got crushed by the Colossus.
 

both of those things actually represent something that describes or is meant to represent the scenario in question, as a description, separate from the actions the players are supposed to take to engage with it.

4E skill challenges are meant and designed to be engaged in a very specific way, a very distinct mode of play focused on how the players resolve it not on mechanically describing the situation the players are actually in, just focused on how to resolved it, this is of the highest of importance, as it changes how players fundamentally engage with the mechanics in question, and why those mechanics actually feel good to use and not absolute terrible like 4Es.

Its why im saying, you need to break that terminology, these systems are something quite different then what 4E considers skill challenges, which are legit awful.
I think what I'm getting out of this is you somehow don't think the fiction is really important in an SC, and we'll have to disagree. Fiction is fundamental. There is no defined AMOUNT of fiction, just a defined number of checks that must be passed/failed before no more is required to reach a consequence. The fiction determines what is at stake, and how the different successes and failures 'snowball' into each other to create the next stage of the fiction. So there's a through fictional line from starting situation (scene frame) to final outcome. As I said before, the STRUCTURE is definitely deterministic, but it isn't related to that through line, which is where all the significance is. Seen that way, I don't see much difference between any of these techniques, really.
 

pemerton

Legend
A 4e SC has DETERMINISTIC difficulty. Once a GM declares an SC of Complexity N and Level X, the total difficulty is a fixed, known, quantity. Certainly once the associated skills are chosen, nothing else weighs in (unless perhaps the players choose to spend some sort of resource to enhance their chances, like casting a ritual or expending a power). Granted, player tactics will have an impact, presumably, but its a pretty set thing, and most interestingly, it really does not depend on the specific fiction very much at all. Not to say the fiction is not central to the whole thing, but the point is more that the players are NOT in the thrall of the GM deciding to present situations they are good at, or which are less monumentally difficult, which would be the case in, say, 5e. In fact, the GM doesn't really have to care about that, her job is simply to make things interesting and etc.
This is another point of resemblance to AW: the relative independence from maths and from tactics in the wargaming/boardgaming sense.

Tactics, in the context of a skill challenge, really means addressing the fiction so as to change the fictional position of one or more PCs so as to open up certain possibilities or maybe close of certain GM narrations (eg by picking up the idol, a player makes it much harder for the GM to narrate the players being knocked one way while the idol is knocked another).

My experience is that the resource expenditure is mostly initiated by players, when for whatever reason (eg it's the last check; but that's not the only reason I've experience) they care about the outcome of a particular check; but sometimes I'll call for it or perhaps negotiate with them to open up a particular fictional possibility (eg if you spend such-and-such a sort of encounter power, that makes it feasible to use such-and-such a skill in the way you want to - it's a bit like spending a Plot Point to "stunt" and boost your dice pool in MHRP).
 

Aldarc

Legend
If this is an example of what I would have found in 4E, I would probably have been thrilled when 5E was released. The more I learn of 4E, the more I understand why some players feel it was needlessly complex.

Anyway, again I do appreciate the replies to my request. Thank you! :)
I would suggest avoiding the temptation to conflate the complexity of @Manbearcat's writing style with the complexity of 4e's skill challenges.
 

@clearstream

My end of the course of our exchange was ruddered by the first thing you wrote to me:

I think where I most diverge from some others here is that I don't have this same sense of worry or antagonism about GM. They're just another participant whose role is differing but equal to others. They hope to unravel, discover and enjoy.

We then had a subsequent exchange over the "conflict as golf course" analogy of which you appended this to your thoughts:

Where I have used the word "validity" in my longer post above, I mean something like - the strongest ideas don't require the strawman. One may simply not accept the proposition that they play against GMs who exercise a harmful arbitrary-fiat, and if the argument is unchanged then that prejudice wasn't needed in the first place. And I think the important arguments are unchanged.

My takeaway from the above was a few things. If I've got you wrong, then please correct me. First, I want to remove the value judgements of "harmful" (with respect to arbitrary fiat) and "against" the GM (meaning a developed, negative adversarialism-oriented relationship when Skilled Play is prioritized because the GM is, by necessity, playing the opposition). I don't hold either of those two things as de facto orientations. It appears that you believe I did, but I don't. I'm just talking about games. Arbitrary fiat doesn't have to be "harmful" (in fact, it might be necessary for some forms of play) and the orientation of player : GM relationship doesn't need to be "against" even when they're in opposition with respect to "controlling units on the board" in a Skilled Play environment (in fact...to be honest...I think the "against" orientation is actually considerably more likely to turn out "injured and injurious" Skilled Play - and by that I mean "to the integrity of the competition of the players drawing upon their abilities to defeat obstacles dynamic of the game)."

Alright, so here is my takeaway of your above:

* Regardless of game, GMs are always oriented toward unraveling and discovering (this is a large area of disagreement).

* (I already talked about the value judgement above, but I'm going to talk about the actual process of play here) GM Fiat that is systemically and principally unconstrained (whenever you see me use "arbitrary", this is how I mean it...unbounded by narrowing game text constraints, driven by personal whim) is necessarily harmful to play.


So I don't agree with either of the above bullet-points and I folded that lack of agreement into my Starting Point > Obstacles Array > Endpoint model above. Some games and techniques require a GM be oriented toward unraveling and discovering. Some are absolutely the inverse (the GMs aren't discovering or unraveling...if play is, in any quantity outside of extreme exception, unmoored from what the GM already knows, then something has gone wrong). Some games and techniques require a GM be systemically and principally constrained such that their decision-making cannot be mistaken for unbounded, personal whim (while in the middle of play or upon review or even in their own head!). At every moment their thinking is anchored to/captured by multiple constraining parameters (along multiple, often converging, axes). Whereas other games and techniques rely upon the GM being unconstrained and work their way artfully through play by feel and whim. They aren't incorporating various parameters of constraint in their cognitive workspace. They're just "doing their thing."

The Conflict Matrix model I composed above relies upon agreeing with my directly above paragraph and disagreeing with the two bullet points above (which was my takeaway of your position).

So that is why I was flinching a bit at your seeming agreement with my model.

Thoughts? Again, happy to be corrected if the two bullet points above aren't your position and you agree with my paragraph above.

I would suggest avoiding the temptation to conflate the complexity of @Manbearcat's writing style with the complexity of 4e's skill challenges.

Obligatory

Great Gatsby Movie GIF by Sony



Speaking of "complexity of Manbearcat's writing style," behold the monstrosity of this post!
 

FallenRX

Adventurer
I think what I'm getting out of this is you somehow don't think the fiction is really important in an SC, and we'll have to disagree. Fiction is fundamental. There is no defined AMOUNT of fiction, just a defined number of checks that must be passed/failed before no more is required to reach a consequence. The fiction determines what is at stake, and how the different successes and failures 'snowball' into each other to create the next stage of the fiction. So there's a through fictional line from starting situation (scene frame) to final outcome. As I said before, the STRUCTURE is definitely deterministic, but it isn't related to that through line, which is where all the significance is. Seen that way, I don't see much difference between any of these techniques, really.
In your own post, you have shown the issue with the fiction in question, which is you have made a very specific set of inputs to get a specific output separate from the actual thing you're describing itself but focus on how the players with resolve X thing. This is terrible, because players can resolve X thing in 100 ways that go beyond that input scope, but you have basically limited them to a specific input, to get X amount of times to get an output separate from the reality itself. This is quite literally, unironically railroading, and if the players think up anything outside of that structure that simply resolves the problem, the structure itself quite literally doesnt work, because like railroads it is too frail to actually last in any meaningful way. Aka why 4E skill Challenges are terrible, notably worse then the far simpler progress clocks and such because those are separate from "How" the players resolve it, its more a measure of something else, like time. The point is no matter what "fiction" you make, no matter what you produce, it will not matter, you are just telling the players to roll X till they win, separate from the actual thing they are trying to do, and anything they do does not matter until they rolled a X amount of time to do X.
 
Last edited:

Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top