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

Aldarc

Legend
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.
From what I have gathered in my time in this forum, "railroading" rarely means anything more than "I don't like this," and I'm not sure if this use here is anymore of an exception to that trend.
 

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FallenRX

Explorer
From what I have gathered in my time in this forum, "railroading" rarely means anything more than "I don't like this," and I'm not sure if this use here is anymore of an exception to that trend.
I am very careful when i say railroad, but this unironically is 4E style skill challenges quite literally punish any other forms of engaging with the challenge, to get the players to do the specific skills they want you to do a certain amount of time to get a specific outcome separate from what the players are doing, they are that bad. If you haven’t rolled four successes yet, then your characters haven’t succeeded (no matter what they’ve achieved with those checks)
 

Aldarc

Legend
FYI, here is Matt Colville talking about Skill Challenges:


I am very careful when i say railroad, but this unironically is 4E style skill challenges quite literally punish any other forms of engaging with the challenge, to get the players to do the specific skills they want you to do a certain amount of time to get a specific outcome separate from what the players are doing, they are that bad.
IMHO, that you say you are careful when you use "railroad" makes it all the more the tragedy when you misuse it this way, especially with such accompanying loaded language.

If you haven’t rolled four successes yet, then your characters haven’t succeeded (no matter what they’ve achieved with those checks)
If the point of the skill challenge is to get out of a collapsing tunnel system in time and this requires 4 successes, however they are earned (e.g., skill checks, powers/spells, magic items, costs, etc.),* and the players fail to achieve those successes, then why should they have succeeded in getting out of the collapsing tunnel in time regardless of whether they evaded the pit trap, avoided the falling rocks, etc.?

* Because even in the original 4e DMG discussion of Skill Challenges it says that (a) players will use skills you do not expect or in ways you don't expect them, and (b) that other things that players have at their disposal (e.g., powers, rituals, etc.) or whatever may be appropriate to the fiction can also be used to resolve Skill Challenges. So it's far less railroady than you are depicting it to be. It's no more "railroading" than requiring a particular check for the outcome of a single roll.
 
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I am very careful when i say railroad, but this unironically is 4E style skill challenges quite literally punish any other forms of engaging with the challenge, to get the players to do the specific skills they want you to do a certain amount of time to get a specific outcome separate from what the players are doing, they are that bad. If you haven’t rolled four successes yet, then your characters haven’t succeeded (no matter what they’ve achieved with those checks)

Ok, I was right.

I thought that is what you were putting forth; that conflict resolution mechanics are arbitrary things that are inherently not associated with the imagined space and cannot be associated with the imagined space.

This is basically "dissociated mechanics redux."

With respect..."no." It wasn't true then and its not true now. And if it is true now or if its been true ever...then D&D is the mother load of this problem with Hit Points ("you're telling me I can't just kill this dude...I just stabbed him in the face!!!!1111!") and so many other aspects of its system architecture.

So you say Blades in the Dark Progress Clocks are "ok" (how...I don't know) presumably because your sense is that they either (a) are inherently associated with the imagined space or (b) can trivially be associated with the imagined space and (c) presumably in a way that Skill Challenges cannot be. Can you engage with the below question because I'm really curious how you've built out your working model for this without getting ensnared along the way. Talk to me about "inherent association with the imagined space" or "inability to be associated with the imagined space in each of them, if you would be so kind to indulge me:

1) BLADES: I've got a Master Rook (con artist, spy, socialite) NPC in Blades in the Dark that is Quality 3. The players have done the heavy lifting to pursue a Social Score with this NPC. Its going to see a whole lot of Desperate Position and Limited Effect because of their Tier and Quality relative to the Quality of this NPC. They're also going to be straight up "eating" Desperate or Risky social Complications (that they can Resist) because that is how Master NPCs work in Blades. I mechanize the challenge as follows:

* Linked Clocks of Mission Clock 4 to "Remove Their Guard" and a Tug of War 8 Clock to "Convince the NPC" which starts at 3 and the PCs have to get it to the zenith (8) before the NPC gets it to the nadir (0). So first they have to defeat the 4 Ticks of the first Clock to engage with the back-and-forth of the 2nd Clock.

I'm framing the scene based on the engagement roll > action > consequence/new framing > action > consequence/new framing.

4e: Exactly the same situation as above except sub out the mechanical intricacies of Blades for 4e. This is a highly capable NPC within a Social Conflict so in 4e this is represented by (a) Level of Skill Challenge and (b) Complexity (as tasks become more complex, the mathematical prospects of winning goes down). I decide upon PC level + 3 (which is going to bring every DC up from 1 to 3 depending upon PC level) and Complexity 4 (which is going to give me 3 Hard DCs to throw at the players...and those DCs will be increased due to level). I'm basically doing exactly as above. The initial part of the challenge will be framed around "taking the NPC guard down" so they're amenable to subsequent overtures while the rest will be the back-and-forth of the overtures and complications relating to that.

In both cases, I'm GMing roughly the same ethos-and-technique-wise. I'm framing obstacles to PCs goal > rendering a change in in the fiction (that matches the newly altered gamestate) after the player action > resolution loop takes place.

Why is the Blades version of this inherently associated with the fiction while the 4e version is not and is also irredeemably not?





I'm just going to stop there, but I can do this exact_same_thing with Opposed Racing Clocks in Blades where you're trying to Escape Pursuit (whatever pursuit might be...it might be Bluecoats/security while you're on a Stealth Score ...or a terrible supernatural storm while you're in The Deathlands on a Transport Score) which matches up seemlessly with a 4e Skill Challenge of x Level and Y Complexity (or even linked Skill Challenges or nested Skill Challenges). You can do the same thing with a Mission Clock to "Purge the Malevolent Spirit Before its Possession Kills Your Friend" in an Occult Score in Blades that works the exact same way as a Skill Challenge via the Adjure Ritual in 4e...or an "Unlock/Seal the Arcane Gate" in both systems (via Mission Clock or 4e Skill Challenge of Level x and y Complexity). I can go on like this forever and I've done it in real life because I've got an obscene amount of GMing of both systems and doing exactly this (with zero problems in 4e).

But I'd really like to know the answer to the bolded question above.

* And as a complete aside...I don't remotely understand the usage of the term "railroad" here. GM Force is when a GM subordinates a player's tactical, strategic, thematic decisions by imposing the GM's own outcomes upon play. Railroading is sufficient deployment of Force to pass the table's "Railroad Threshold" lets call it. This isn't about deploying mechanics of a game system. If it were about deploying mechanics of a system then just go back to my HP problem for D&D:

Player: "WHAT WHAT WHAT...you're gating their death/"scene staying power" behind Hit Points? HOW ARE THEY NOT DEAD? I STABBED THEM IN THEIR STUPID FACE! THIS HIT POINT CRAP IS TOTAL RAILROADING!"
 
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From my own experience with 4e, the more experienced you become as a GM with the skill challenge structure as well as the broader mechanical workings of the game, the easier it is to establish and manage complex fictional situations with only modest, or even no, prep. But it always remains crucial to focus on the fiction and keep it at the centre.
I think this needs to be restated.

It can't be stressed enough how well an experienced and creative DM can narrate a skill challenge.
 

pemerton

Legend
Player: "WHAT WHAT WHAT...you're gating their death/"scene staying power" behind Hit Points? HOW ARE THEY NOT DEAD? I STABBED THEM IN THEIR STUPID FACE! THIS HIT POINT CRAP IS TOTAL RAILROADING!"
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.
I didn't get a reply to my post.
 

pemerton

Legend
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
I don't remotely understand the usage of the term "railroad" here. GM Force is when a GM subordinates a player's tactical, strategic, thematic decisions by imposing the GM's own outcomes upon play. Railroading is sufficient deployment of Force to pass the table's "Railroad Threshold" lets call it.
There's a notion that the players can "simply resolve the problem" independent of the skill challenge resolution framework.

How that works hasn't been explained.
 

I didn't get a reply to my post.

Look at you being all demanding! :p

But yeah, (as you know) I agree that HP are obviously not regarded as railroading and nor should they be!

What I'm wondering is how that squares with various forms of conflict resolution (eg 4e Skill Challenges), mechanical architecture and process, being (a) railroading and (b) irredeemably unassociated with the imagined space.

Alright, let me pull up your crux:
* 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.

I don't think I agree in total...maybe in part...but not in total. I think both of your above apply to both games in some portion (in a rough sense). Take a look at my example above.

In the Blades example, there are several intersecting parts that serve to model (in some rough sense) the objective difficulty of the task at hand before I get to Clock implementation in a Social Score. They are:

* What has led up to this Social Score to date. This includes a host of features:

  • the present state of the Crew and resources they can bring to bear
  • the accreted and complicated fiction/gamestate to date
  • the nature of Factional Statuses related to the impending conflict (and how they will be perturbed)
  • the immediately preceding Info Gathering Scene that actuates the Score archetype (Social), provides the Score Detail, and modulates the Engagement Roll (which tells us how troublesome/threatening the initial scene framing should be for the scene)
  • what is the prospective Payoff & Heat and Faction and Crime Boss situation of this Score

* Tier and Quality of the adversary with respect to Tier and Quality of the Crew (and if the PCs have Scale - numbers - here or not).

* The Master status of the NPC Threat Level (this is basically action economy...Master Threat NPCs can just straight up put the equivalent of Hard Moves on PCs...they can Resist them at the potential cost of Stress...but I can go hard at them with straight up Ticks on these Clocks or alterations to the fiction that make the situation more threatening/troublesome).

* The mechanics of Position (how troublesome/threatening the obstacle/situation is) and Effect (what you can get done with this particular Action Roll) and all of the intersecting mechanics/resources (go back to Tier/Quality disparity above).




So the combination of the above does the heavy lifting for "objective difficulty" or "placing this in the imagined space."

But going with the Clock array I proposed above (the Linked Mission to Tug of War Clocks and their values)? I'll use that arrangement regardless of all of the stuff above so its independent. That is mostly about putting into effect the genre aspects of a social conflict generally, these sorts of high stakes social conflicts in particular, and the architecture to thematically and mechanically pace and provide budget/structure to the gamestate and fiction of a particular Score (so overwhelmingly metagame reasons).

So, by my reckoning of it, you've got a large space of overlap on the Venn Diagram (no its certainly not complete overlap...but plenty of it) when it comes to 4e SCs/certain types & implementation of Blades Clocks and that coincides simultaneously with a huge amount of technical prowess (as both a GM and a player) overlap that you're leveraging in the exact same way whether you're running or playing Blades or running or playing 4e.

Again, not the same by any stretch, but a good chunk of overlap.
 

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.
Yeah, its possible that could happen, if the players decide they are no longer interested in achieving their objective. Its basically the same situation as deciding to cut and run from a fight.
 

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".
Right, I always saw the 4e Complexity scale as just "how much focus goes on this part of the narrative." When its a climactic confrontation between the PCs and some enemy that is blocking them from their final goal, its likely to be a Complexity 5 situation. You don't play out 3 weeks of narrative and then have a 5 minute at the table resolve, that would be a let down. Instead the resolve takes 40 minutes or something, and involves a number of steps/reverses and recoveries/etc.

I think the BitD clocks are just situational. A faction clock will tick once per 'loop' (free play, score, fallout, downtime makes one loop). Some other clock may be longer or shorter depending on the effort required to fill it, which could be difficulty, or just time. Players get to decide what resources to expend (usually stress) to gain more effect, which generally ticks more of a given clock.
 

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)."
Right, I don't have the precise errata in front of me. The official version that was last published is the Essentials Rules Compendium version. There's no initiative, and all challenges fail at 3 failures, regardless of complexity. This is not to say that the original design is 'wrong', it was just felt by most commentators that the odds of success were better for higher complexity because you had more margin. However, I had some long discussions with guys on rpg.net who considered the original system to be a superior design. They had their reasons for that.
 

FallenRX

Explorer
FYI, here is Matt Colville talking about Skill Challenges:



IMHO, that you say you are careful when you use "railroad" makes it all the more the tragedy when you misuse it this way, especially with such accompanying loaded language.


If the point of the skill challenge is to get out of a collapsing tunnel system in time and this requires 4 successes, however they are earned (e.g., skill checks, powers/spells, magic items, costs, etc.),* and the players fail to achieve those successes, then why should they have succeeded in getting out of the collapsing tunnel in time regardless of whether they evaded the pit trap, avoided the falling rocks, etc.?

* Because even in the original 4e DMG discussion of Skill Challenges it says that (a) players will use skills you do not expect or in ways you don't expect them, and (b) that other things that players have at their disposal (e.g., powers, rituals, etc.) or whatever may be appropriate to the fiction can also be used to resolve Skill Challenges. So it's far less railroady than you are depicting it to be. It's no more "railroading" than requiring a particular check for the outcome of a single roll.
Because they are designed if a specific player input in mind to achieve these things divorced from the reality of the problem, and not really accounting for the variety of ways the players can actually handle the problem. (And also in the original they actively discourage that by increasing the DC for doing anything else). Like for example, you can present the collapsing tunnel as the challenge itself, but if the players just have a dimension door, and it takes them out in time whats the point? This is a very basic example of just one possible solution(a pretty shallow one to be fair), but when the players are engaging with the challenge in question and find reasonable solutions to problem, i think you should actually engage with the fiction of the solutions, not the fiction of the input of X amount. its so sad because Skill challenges are a bad framework for even the challenge you presented forward, you better off just making a set of obstacles on the way out of the challenge, and having the players come up with solutions to those obstacles than the totality of it all itself.

Thats why i say this is clearly rails, 4E skill challenges as presented has always had the issue of being basically a script to solve a puzzle, and not actually describing the problem and letting the players figure out solutions, its why that mechanic failed.

Actually the collapsing tunnel example frustrates me quite a bit, because its so obviously bad, like screw the skill challenge, describe the problems of getting out of the tunnel and let us engage with that, not your weird skill rolling minigame, its so weird like how does that actually work at a table and not be god awful.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Because they are designed if a specific player input in mind to achieve these things divorced from the reality of the problem, and not really accounting for the variety of ways the players can actually handle the problem. (And also in the original they actively discourage that by increasing the DC for doing anything else). Like for example, you can present the collapsing tunnel as the challenge itself, but if the players just have a dimension door, and it takes them out in time whats the point? This is a very basic example of just one possible solution(a pretty shallow one to be fair), but when the players are engaging with the challenge in question and find reasonable solutions to problem, i think you should actually engage with the fiction of the solutions, not the fiction of the input of X amount. its so sad because Skill challenges are a bad framework for even the challenge you presented forward, you better off just making a set of obstacles on the way out of the challenge, and having the players come up with solutions to those obstacles than the totality of it all itself.

Thats why i say this is clearly rails, 4E skill challenges as presented has always had the issue of being basically a script to solve a puzzle, and not actually describing the problem and letting the players figure out solutions, its why that mechanic failed.

Actually the collapsing tunnel example frustrates me quite a bit, because its so obviously bad, like screw the skill challenge, describe the problems of getting out of the tunnel and let us engage with that, not your weird skill rolling minigame, its so weird like how does that actually work at a table and not be god awful.
Reading along and I found a problem with your post pretty quickly, and I'm sure others familiar with 4e did likewise. You can't transport other people out with you using the 4e Dimension Door power:
Dimension Door - Wizard Utility 6
You trace the outline of a doorway in front of you, step through
the portal, and reappear somewhere else nearby.
Daily ✦ Arcane, Teleportation
Move Action Personal
Effect: Teleport 10 squares. You can’t take other creatures
with you.
Bold mine.

There are probably creative ways that you could use Dimension Door in a Skill Challenge: e.g., teleport to other side of a ravine and lower the draw bridge or something. Nothing is stopping you from doing this, FallenRX. The possibility for players to use powers or other assets in skill challenges is EXPLICIT in the 4e DMG (p. 74).
 

FallenRX

Explorer
Reading along and I found a problem with your post pretty quickly, and I'm sure others familiar with 4e did likewise. You can't transport other people out with you using the 4e Dimension Door power:

Bold mine.

There are probably creative ways that you could use Dimension Door in a Skill Challenge: e.g., teleport to other side of a ravine and lower the draw bridge or something. Nothing is stopping you from doing this, FallenRX. The possibility for players to use powers or other assets in skill challenges is EXPLICIT in the 4e DMG (p. 74).
Ah, got it mixed up with the 5E version where your allowed to bring at least one.

Though as I said it was a simple shallow example, but to prove the point of characters having a lot of options to deal with situations, and innately designing a scenario with the idea or concept with a specific way or set of ways for the party to deal with it, and it requiring a set amount of processes to deal with it, is ultimately an extremely fragile and unrobust framework that I don't feel is good at all.

And the fact that there are better frameworks for this that actually work, as i presented in the post in question. For example simply describing the problems they face on the way out and letting them deal with that, feels like a much better and more engaging structure.
 

niklinna

Snickers satisfies!
I think some people are operating under the impression that 4e skill challenges are always rigidly scripted. They aren't (or at least, the rules don't say they are; I certainly saw examples of scripted skill challenges back when I played, and see below). They do list the skills most "natural" for the challenge, but there is text right there in the rules telling the DM to be ready for players to figure out creative uses of skills, and to "try not to say no" to them. Unfortunately, there is a bias toward those "natural" skills in that if players want to use other, "secondary", skills, the rules explicitly impose limitations on their use, and state that the DC for them should be hard, regardless of how well the creative use of a skill actually applies to the fiction.

Also, although not in the procedural rules, the very first example of a skill challenge describes how use of certain skills is needed to "unlock" use of other skills. That is perilously close to rigid scripting, and I think it was a huge mistake to set that precedent as one of mechanics over fiction.

And so, I can easily see how the impression got out there that skill challenges are scripted with little room for player creativity, especially if people just say, "I roll Diplomacy" (because it's on the list of approved skills), without bothering to explain what their character says and does and how that applies to the fiction in order to justify the mechanic of the die roll (including the DM considering the player's specific narration to apply modifiers to the skill check, which I don't think the rules even mention).

If anything, 4e is guilty of assuming a DM needs to prep skill challenges in detail ahead of time in order to run them effciently at the table. It could have left a lot of that out, and saved a couple pages of text—and then used those pages to explain better how to improvise and dynamically fit fiction to mechanics. I think 4e made some key mistakes in their design of skill challenges, which fortunately are easily corrected (just chuck out any idea of natural skills or skills that unlock using other skills, and wing it!), but the text definitely put some emphasis on those mistakes.

By the way, compare 4e skill challenges to Torg Eternity's dynamic skill resolutions. You have 4 skill checks that must be performed in a specific order (ABCD) within 5 rounds, and you can only perform each when their respective letter comes up on an initiative card. The fiction involved is usually provided in published modules, detailing exactly what the PCs must do at each step and what skill must be rolled (rarely with alternatives). The initiative & player cards allow for some unexpected stuff to happen, but really the challenge itself is very rigidly scripted (and in several instances in the campaign I'm playing in, literally on a train 😉).

Edit: Fixed a typo.
 
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hawkeyefan

Legend
Actually the collapsing tunnel example frustrates me quite a bit, because its so obviously bad, like screw the skill challenge, describe the problems of getting out of the tunnel and let us engage with that, not your weird skill rolling minigame, its so weird like how does that actually work at a table and not be god awful.

I've played games that worked both ways, but I'm curious to hear how you'd handle the collapsing tunnel. How does that work specifically?
 

Heraldofi

Explorer
I think some people are operating under the impression that 4e skill challenges are always rigidly scripted. They aren't (or at least, the rules don't say they are; I certainly saw examples of scripted skill challenges back when I played, and see below). They do list the skills most "natural" for the challenge, but there is text right there in the rules telling the DM to be ready for players to figure out creative uses of skills, and to "try not to say no" to them. Unfortunately, there is a bias toward those "natural" skills in that if players want to use other, "secondary", skills, the rules explicitly impose limitations on their use, and state that the DC for them should be hard, regardless of how well the creative use of a skill actually applies to the fiction.

Also, although not in the procedural rules, the very first example of a skill challenge describes how use of certain skills is needed to "unlock" use of other skills. That is perilously close to rigid scripting, and I think it was a huge mistake to set that precedent as one of mechanics over fiction.

And so, I can easily see how the impression got out there that skill challenges are scripted with little room for player creativity, especially if people just say, "I roll Diplomacy" (because it's on the list of approved skills), without bothering to explain what their character says and does and how that applies to the fiction in order to justify the mechanic of the die roll (including the DM considering the player's specific narration to apply modifiers to the skill check, which I don't think the rules even mention).

If anything, 4e is guilty of assuming a DM needs to prep skill challenges in detail ahead of time in order to run them effciently at the table. It could have left a lot of that out, and saved a couple pages of text—and then used those pages to explain better how to improvise and dynamically fit fiction to mechanics. I think 4e made some key mistakes in their design of skill challenges, which fortunately are easily corrected (just chuck out any idea of natural skills or skills that unlock using other skills, and wing it!), but the text definitely put some emphasis on those mistakes.

By the way, compare 4e skill challenges to Torg Eternity's dynamic skill resolutions. You have 4 skill checks that must be performed in a specific order (ABCD) within 5 rounds, and you can only perform each when their respective letter comes up on an initiative card. The fiction involved is usually provided in published modules, detailing exactly what the PCs must do at each step and what skill must be rolled (rarely with alternatives). The initiative & player cards allow for some unexpected stuff to happen, but really the challenge itself is very rigidly scripted (and in several instances in the campaign I'm playing in, literally on a train 😉).

Edit: Fixed a typo.
The issue is bigger than just scripting; consider the actual game being played by players engaged in skill challenge resolution. Setting aside narrative development concerns, let's assume that whatever the challenge is, the players are motivated to achieve their goals, ideally as efficiently as possible.

Your character has say 3 skills they're effective at, 1 that they're very good at, and generally poor numbers with the rest. The incentive this creates is to figure out how to apply your effective skill to the situation, so if your highest number is Acrobatics, you're always going to try and tumble your way through the problem. If you can't do that, or if the DM provides enough context for you to understand that you're rolling against a worse DC with your preferred skill, you may be able to run a quick calculation and figure out which of your 3 effective skills you can leverage.

If we're in a basic skill challenge, you're entirely out of interesting decisions to make, and the game is a series of improv prompts. There's just not a lot of agency in a skill challenge scenario, because you can't meaningfully play well, outside of that small optimization to push for your highest skill number.

Skill challenges make for quite poor and low agency gameplay. Players can't generally do anything meaningful to affect the situation, outside of pushing to use their highest numbers.

If you want them to engage with the situation as a series of obstacles, they have to have abilities that affect the resulting game state unequally, thus that some choices will produce more (or faster, or greater) success than other choices. Ideally you don't want that to be intrinsic either, thus that Athletics is always a superior choice to Acrobatics, but that it can be in some situations.

You can do that in a skill challenge framework, but what are you really achieving then? You're just designing a bunch of new skill applications that are temporarily available for one challenge. The superior option is just to design a comprehensive skill system that provides a whole palette of actions and choices players can leverage well ahead of time. If your skill system spells out a series of actions that players can do ahead of time, (perhaps in the "Skills" section of your player's guide), then what's the point of the skill challenge? Just specify the obstacles, and let the PCs figure out how best to counter them in light of whatever goal they're trying to achieve.
 

niklinna

Snickers satisfies!
You can do that in a skill challenge framework, but what are you really achieving then? You're just designing a bunch of new skill applications that are temporarily available for one challenge. The superior option is just to design a comprehensive skill system that provides a whole palette of actions and choices players can leverage well ahead of time. If your skill system spells out a series of actions that players can do ahead of time, (perhaps in the "Skills" section of your player's guide), then what's the point of the skill challenge? Just specify the obstacles, and let the PCs figure out how best to counter them in light of whatever goal they're trying to achieve.
The point of a skill challenge is to marry fiction to mechanics, just like combat rules do. But this doesn't require much beyond, "You need to get a certain number of mechanical successes over failures, however you can justify it in the fiction." Which was pretty much the thrust of my post. Skills that don't apply well according to the fiction will have less effect or have higher success thresholds. There's no need to spend an entire page of an adventure module listing specific skills and how they apply (and especially not in what order), when that stuff is pretty much second nature to most players at the table in play. But the core of translating the fiction to the mechanics remains.
 

Pedantic

Explorer
The point of a skill challenge is to marry fiction to mechanics, just like combat rules do. But this doesn't require much beyond, "You need to get a certain number of mechanical successes over failures, however you can justify it in the fiction." Which was pretty much the thrust of my post. Skills that don't apply well according to the fiction will have less effect or have higher success thresholds. There's no need to spend an entire page of an adventure module listing specific skills and how they apply (and especially not in what order), when that stuff is pretty much second nature to most players at the table in play. But the core of translating the fiction to the mechanics remains.
My point is that this is a bad game. If strip back the improv prompt part of declaring an action, players engaged in a skill challenge are rarely making meaningful choices. There is very little reason to pick one action over another or the optimization problem is trivial to solve.

Edit: Sorry, I should clarify, I'm Heraldofi from above, I recalled I had a much older account set up with a preferred name and swapped back.
 

pemerton

Legend
Alright, let me pull up your crux:


I don't think I agree in total...maybe in part...but not in total.
I was trying to make sense of @FallenRX's posts. I don't know BitD well enough to have an independent opinion. If you think that the contrast I've posited doesn't hold, I'm happy to believe you. (This also serves as a reply to @AbdulAlhazred on the same point.)

I'm more confident in talking about AW, and as I posted somewhere not too far upthread I think the GM gets to exercise a control over the pacing of resolution in AW - by choosing the hardness of moves, and how much to circle or to rush up to conflict, etc - which is quite comparable to the decision about the complexity of a skill challenge and the resulting resolution, although implemented via different technical processes.
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

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