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

pemerton

Legend
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
As per the OP's quotes from the DMG, the DMG does say that the player needs to actually explain what is happening in the fiction.

And it's clear why this is so: if the player doesn't do that, the GM can't narrate a consequence that then establishes the circumstances for the next check.

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)
I'm pretty sure they do, because I was doing this in early 2009 with nothing but the DMG to guide me, and I doubt that I made it up on my own! I haven't got my DMG ready-to-hand, and so can't remember if it's on p 42, in the skill challenge section, or somewhere else.

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.
This issue of "unlocking", and the related issues of skills that can't work (eg Intimidate vs the duke) have been much discussed over the past 14 years. In technical design terms, to me it's like an invisible foe on a 4e battlefield - it's fair if the players have the chance to work out the parameters of the situation by deploying their resources; it's not fair if it's just a hosing by the GM. The borderline here is very context-specific.

In a physically-oriented challenge you might note that if the PCs grab the rope, then they can use it to climb down the cliff. The idea of unlocking skills, and unusable skills, in a socially-oriented skill challenge is the same sort of thing. It's not just skill 1 => skill 2; it's skill 1 => changes fiction => skill 2. A common complaint is "the fighter does push-ups to impress the duke"; the idea of "unlocking" is that someone first does something (eg Diplomacy-based) to make the fighter's prowess salient in the fictional context, and then the fighter can impress the duke with their push-ups or whatever. In an example I've linked to in this thread, the social characters engaging with the baron prompted him to declare himself a man of action, and the fighter PC was able to agree (and at that point I allowed the player to express that agreement via an Athletics check; I can't recall the precise fictional details of how that manifested).

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.
I see the function of prep here being much the same as the "tactics" notes associated with monster stat blocks and published encounters in modules: 4e D&D is a fairly complex system and can benefit from the GM thinking in advance about how they are going to frame and narrate and resolve a situation that they are thinking of presenting.

So if you're envisaging the PCs might have to run to cover in a goblin-besieged homestead (as was the case for my second, perhaps third, session back in 2009), it makes sense to think what are some obvious skills the players might try and use? - eg Athletics, Acrobatics - and also what are some obvious things that might happen on a failure - eg encirclement by goblin wolf-riders. It's easy enough to incorporate unanticipated action declarations into a planned framework. Eg a PC uses a teleport ability (warlock or eladrin, say) and that grants a bonus to (or reduces the difficulty of) the Acro check.
 
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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.

Your point is it’s a bad game?

I thought @niklinna was responding to 19 post Heraldolfi not 1 post Pedantic?

EDIT - I see this was…clarified!

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.

Gotcha. It was a good attempt at Steelmanning his position (and thanks for doing so as it at least gave me something to respond to as I wasn’t getting the answer from the poster)!

And absolutely agreed on the AW Threat Clock and 4e Skill Challenge framework. Same fundamental impact for particular threats but delivered on a different technical platform.
 
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niklinna

Snickers satisfies!
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.
If you strip back the improv part of declaring an action, you might as well be playing craps. The fiction is what makes a role-playing game a role-playing game, just as the skill checks are what make it a game. The actions you choose influence the fiction, as do the dice rolls and resulting outcomes. I alluded to this from several angles in my first post.

I had my issues with 4e back when I played, but skill challenges were not among them, and I don't think 4e was a bad game.
 

Imaro

Legend
I think the reason that SC's work for some and don't work for others is because they are the solution to a problem/desire only experienced by some groups. The main problem/desire they seem to solve is the need for a pre-determined & closed point of success to a series of skill checks used to obtain a goal. Outside of you need X successes before Y failures they don't really bring anything else to the table that can't be provided by a DM calling for skill checks and letting the fiction flow from what the resolution is organically.

It seems the want and/or need for this is driven primarily by having a DM/group who is not able to bring a series of checks to address obstacles to an organic length & resolution (based on the resulting fiction) that is agreeable to the group without some kind of hard delimiter... (or the need to have official rewards based on said delimiter, though I would say this is secondary). Honestly I thought I didn't really get SC's at first but the more I tried to get them, the more I realized I didn't fall into this group and was trying to make use of a tool that didn't really present an advantage for me and my group, but instead hit me with constraints that ultimately felt unnecessary and worked against the adaptability and possible resulting fiction of my players solutions and ingenuity.
 

If you strip back the improv part of declaring an action, you might as well be playing craps. The fiction is what makes a role-playing game a role-playing game, just as the skill checks are what make it a game. The actions you choose influence the fiction, as do the dice rolls and resulting outcomes. I alluded to this from several angles in my first post.

I had my issues with 4e back when I played, but skill challenges were not among them, and I don't think 4e was a bad game.

Yeah, the “it’s just an exercise in disconnected dice rolling” refrain has been levied at every noncombat conflict resolution system since they were invented. Even Dogs in the Vineyard! You can’t just throw your “My brother’s my hero” Relationship dice on the table without (a) marrying it to the fiction and (b) bringing into play consequences related to your relationship with your brother (or at least your own feelings on the matter)!
 

niklinna

Snickers satisfies!
As per the OP's quotes from the DMG, the DMG does say that the player needs to actually explain what is happening in the fiction.

And it's clear why this is so: if the player doesn't do that, the GM can't narrate a consequence that then establishes the circumstances for the next check.
Exactly. I was making the point that I can easily see how people would jump from, "Oh so these are the approved skills for this challenge" to "I just pick option B because where my high number is" and come to the conclusion that skill challenges are nothing but mechanics (as much combat in every edition of D&D can be perceived).

This issue of "unlocking", and the related issues of skills that can't work (eg Intimidate vs the duke) have been much discussed over the past 14 years. In technical design terms, to me it's like an invisible foe on a 4e battlefield - it's fair if the players have the chance to work out the parameters of the situation by deploying their resources; it's not fair if it's just a hosing by the GM. The borderline here is very context-specific.
Again though, it's easy to misinterpret this on the mechanical end as a skill challenge being something like, "Make a Diplomacy check, then you can make a History check", and there's no creative fictional alternative to the Diplomacy check.

In a physically-oriented challenge you might note that if the PCs grab the rope, then they can use it to climb down the cliff.
Yes, this is motivated by the fiction, not by a sequence of skills devoid of any fiction.

The idea of unlocking skills, and unusable skills, in a socially-oriented skill challenge is the same sort of thing. It's not just skill 1 => skill 2; it's skill 1 => changes fiction => skill 2. A common complaint is "the fighter does push-ups to impress the duke"; the idea of "unlocking" is that someone first does something (eg Diplomacy-based) to make the fighter's prowess salient in the fictional context, and then the fighter can impress the duke with their push-ups or whatever. In an example I've linked to in this thread, the social characters engaging with the baron prompted him to declare himself a man of action, and the fighter PC was able to agree (and at that point I allowed the player to express that agreement via an Athletics check; I can't recall the precise fictional details of how that manifested).
Exactly! The part I bolded is the part I see many detractors of skill challenges (and their equivalents in systems such as Blades in the Dark) leaving out.

I see the function of prep here being much the same as the "tactics" notes associated with monster stat blocks and published encounters in modules: 4e D&D is a fairly complex system and can benefit from the GM thinking in advance about how they are going to frame and narrate and resolve a situation that they are thinking of presenting.

So if you're envisaging the PCs might have to run to cover in a goblin-besieged homestead (as was the case for my second, perhaps third, session back in 2009), it makes sense to think what are some obvious skills the players might try and use? - eg Athletics, Acrobatics - and also what are some obvious things that might happen on a failure - eg encirclement by goblin wolf-riders. It's easy enough to incorporate unanticipated action declarations into a planned framework. Eg a PC uses a teleport ability (warlock or eladrin, say) and that grants a bonus to (or reduces the difficulty of) the Acro check.
Yes, that all fits, but by saying any skill you didn't think of ahead of time automatically has a hard DC and can only be used once in the skill challenge, 4e messed that up and gave the impression to some people that there's a, well...script. Even if it has branches. Even if the rules say not to say no and to reward creativity.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
Taken at face value, I don't see how what you say here is different from any other dice-based RPG resolution system.

But as per @niklinna reply to you, I'm not sure why we should take your post at face value given that it completely disregards the relevance of the fiction, although it is the fiction that is key to RPGing. And as per the OP, the fiction in a skill challenge is not mere colour - it is crucial to the resolution. If you want to "tumble your way through a problem" then you need to declare actions that will establish fiction that makes tumbling salient.

In the Marut's skill challenge that I posted about upthread, the fighter wanted to be able to fight the Tarrasque without interference from the Maruts. So the fighter's player declared Intimidate - not a strong skill for him. In the fiction, he explained to the Maruts, with no mincing of words, that he was there to defeat the Tarrasque and they'd best not get in his way. At the table, the player spent an action point to get his success when his initial roll failed. Having changed the fiction so that he could fight his way through the problem, he commenced to do so. The other PCs continued the job of bringing the Maruts around to their way of seeing the situation.

You assert that this is poor, low agency gameplay. But to me it looks like good and high agency gameplay: good, in the sense that at the table it was interesting, with high stakes (what were the Maruts going to make of the PCs' attempt to stop the Tarrasque; would they end up joining the fight on the Tarrasque's side?); and high agency, in that the players got to impose their will onto the fiction in a range of ways (persuading the Maruts; defeating the Tarrasque; and in the process helping settle the larger question of whether or not the Dusk War is upon us).

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.
See what I've written just above. How is this a bad game? How are the choices not meaningful? They're as meaningful as anything I've heard about in D&D play. Far more meaningful than whether or not to Dimension Door out of a collapsing tunnel (@FallenRX's example from upthread) which on its face does not seem very compelling to me. 4e is not oriented towards that sort of nitty-gritty operational play. That's not to say it can't handle collapsing tunnels, but if that's the main sort of thing a table wants to focus on in play then there are better iterations of D&D to handle it (eg B/X or AD&D).
 
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Pedantic

Explorer
Yeah, the “it’s just an exercise in disconnected dice rolling” refrain has been levied at every noncombat conflict resolution system since they were invented. Even Dogs in the Vineyard! You can’t just throw your “My brother’s my hero” Relationship dice on the table without (a) marrying it to the fiction and (b) bringing into play consequences related to your relationship with your brother (or at least your own feelings on the matter)!
Exactly. I was making the point that I can easily see how people would jump from, "Oh so these are the approved skills for this challenge" to "I just pick option B because where my high number is" and come to the conclusion that skill challenges are nothing but mechanics (as much combat in every edition of D&D can be perceived).
I think criticism is being misunderstood here. I'm not concerned that if you remove the fictional context the mechanics are just dice rolls, I'm concerned that if you remove the fictional context, the decision making one has in the mechanical layer isn't good. If you tore out the roleplaying game bits and presented a skill challenge as a board game, it would have the mechanical heft of Chutes and Ladders.

You could, for example, present D&D combat in isolation of the rest of the system as a board game if you specified some specific character level range it works best at in various editions. That game would actually be pretty fun, as a puzzle to solve cooperatively to try and come out of alive on the other end. Round to round, players have multiple options, multiple choices, and their decisions will meaningfully affect the outcome. Each mechanic they use is interesting, because there is more than 1 path to victory, and charting the best route through to victory would involve making a series of interesting decisions.

The same is not true of a skill challenge system. While you may be flexing interesting narrative muscles as your roleplay, you aren't engaging in meaningful gameplay, where you make decisions to try and optimize for a desired outcome, or doing so is pretty trivial.

I want the game to be good and interesting, wherein players will pick the course of action they feel will best achieve their goal, and pointedly not pick another because they think it will hurt their aims. Skill challenge systems can't do that. To be fair, skill systems in general have become such an anemic part of design they're rarely interested in doing it regardless of whether a skill challenge model is implemented or not.
 

pemerton

Legend
The part I bolded is the part I see many detractors of skill challenges (and their equivalents in systems such as Blades in the Dark) leaving out.
Thus the OP!

Yes, that all fits, but by saying any skill you didn't think of ahead of time automatically has a hard DC and can only be used once in the skill challenge, 4e messed that up
I think that's why they errata-ed that out in extremely short order (like within weeks, maybe a month or two).
 

pemerton

Legend
I think criticism is being misunderstood here. I'm not concerned that if you remove the fictional context the mechanics are just dice rolls, I'm concerned that if you remove the fictional context, the decision making one has in the mechanical layer isn't good. If you tore out the roleplaying game bits and presented a skill challenge as a board game, it would have the mechanical heft of Chutes and Ladders.
This is true of Apocalypse World too: what move is made on the player-side doesn't change the span of results (6-, 7-9, 10+). Or Marvel Heroic RP: what move is made on the player-side doesn't change the fact that a dice pool is rolled and its result compared to a similar opposed dice pool. Or Burning Wheel (outside of Fight! and maybe Range and Cover) or Prince Valiant or Agon or Cthulhu Dark or In A Wicked Age.

Skill challenges aren't a wargame resolution system. Nor a boardgame resolution system. They're a RPG resolution system. The fiction is central, as the OP states. What drives them is not clever wargaming play but caring about the fiction, engaging with it, and changing it. Just as in the other RPGs I've mentioned.

I also find it slightly ironic, or at least amusing, that the traditional criticism of 4e, that it's too boardgame-y, has now morphed to be that it's not boardgame-y enough!
 

pemerton

Legend
I think the reason that SC's work for some and don't work for others is because they are the solution to a problem/desire only experienced by some groups. The main problem/desire they seem to solve is the need for a pre-determined & closed point of success to a series of skill checks used to obtain a goal. Outside of you need X successes before Y failures they don't really bring anything else to the table that can't be provided by a DM calling for skill checks and letting the fiction flow from what the resolution is organically.

It seems the want and/or need for this is driven primarily by having a DM/group who is not able to bring a series of checks to address obstacles to an organic length & resolution (based on the resulting fiction) that is agreeable to the group without some kind of hard delimiter
This element of finality is the way in which they resemble the basic method D&D uses to resolve combat. Instead of the GM deciding when the situation is resolved, a mechanical process is used to do this.
 

Voadam

Legend
I think criticism is being misunderstood here. I'm not concerned that if you remove the fictional context the mechanics are just dice rolls, I'm concerned that if you remove the fictional context, the decision making one has in the mechanical layer isn't good. If you tore out the roleplaying game bits and presented a skill challenge as a board game, it would have the mechanical heft of Chutes and Ladders.

You could, for example, present D&D combat in isolation of the rest of the system as a board game if you specified some specific character level range it works best at in various editions. That game would actually be pretty fun, as a puzzle to solve cooperatively to try and come out of alive on the other end. Round to round, players have multiple options, multiple choices, and their decisions will meaningfully affect the outcome. Each mechanic they use is interesting, because there is more than 1 path to victory, and charting the best route through to victory would involve making a series of interesting decisions.

The same is not true of a skill challenge system. While you may be flexing interesting narrative muscles as your roleplay, you aren't engaging in meaningful gameplay, where you make decisions to try and optimize for a desired outcome, or doing so is pretty trivial.

I want the game to be good and interesting, wherein players will pick the course of action they feel will best achieve their goal, and pointedly not pick another because they think it will hurt their aims. Skill challenge systems can't do that. To be fair, skill systems in general have become such an anemic part of design they're rarely interested in doing it regardless of whether a skill challenge model is implemented or not.
Combat is mechanically significantly more complex than skill challenges.

Skill challenges are more complex than a skill check.

Skill checks have more mechanics than DM ad hoc adjudication.

These are a continuum with each having advantages and disadvantages for different situations, not a scale of good to bad. DM ad hoc adjudication can be a great part of the game.

Skill challenges are generally for when you want some rolls for an adjudication, but more than just a single decision point and roll.
 



Imaro

Legend
This element of finality is the way in which they resemble the basic method D&D uses to resolve combat. Instead of the GM deciding when the situation is resolved, a mechanical process is used to do this.
I want to be clear we are talking about the same thing here... What is the mechanical process that is used to decide when combat is resolved? If you say zeroing out of hit points then it would mean no NPC or monster can surrender, run away, etc.
 

niklinna

Snickers satisfies!
I think criticism is being misunderstood here. I'm not concerned that if you remove the fictional context the mechanics are just dice rolls, I'm concerned that if you remove the fictional context, the decision making one has in the mechanical layer isn't good. If you tore out the roleplaying game bits and presented a skill challenge as a board game, it would have the mechanical heft of Chutes and Ladders.
You're not supposed to remove the fictional context!

You could, for example, present D&D combat in isolation of the rest of the system as a board game if you specified some specific character level range it works best at in various editions. That game would actually be pretty fun, as a puzzle to solve cooperatively to try and come out of alive on the other end. Round to round, players have multiple options, multiple choices, and their decisions will meaningfully affect the outcome. Each mechanic they use is interesting, because there is more than 1 path to victory, and charting the best route through to victory would involve making a series of interesting decisions.
I have always found D&D combat to be incredibly tedious, not interesting, and not fun. I much prefer combat in Blades in the Dark, and even then I much prefer handling things in ways other than combat, with a skill-challenge system that works with the fiction instead of imposing round-by-round attrition of a predetermined set of resources (spell slots, attacks/round, hit points).

The same is not true of a skill challenge system. While you may be flexing interesting narrative muscles as your roleplay, you aren't engaging in meaningful gameplay, where you make decisions to try and optimize for a desired outcome, or doing so is pretty trivial.
Hard disagree. And I'm not (exclusively) looking for an optimized desired outcome, I'm also looking to be surprised and entertained.

I want the game to be good and interesting, wherein players will pick the course of action they feel will best achieve their goal, and pointedly not pick another because they think it will hurt their aims. Skill challenge systems can't do that. To be fair, skill systems in general have become such an anemic part of design they're rarely interested in doing it regardless of whether a skill challenge model is implemented or not.
Again, hard disagree. I think skill challenge systems excel at that.
 

Imaro

Legend
Good thing, although sadly I'm pretty sure my DM wasn't checking errata....
Honestly, I doubt the average DM of 4e kept up with the errata... or bought the books with the subsequent changes to them. I'm pretty sure the vast majority of D&D groups at that time ran off the core books
 


I think criticism is being misunderstood here. I'm not concerned that if you remove the fictional context the mechanics are just dice rolls, I'm concerned that if you remove the fictional context, the decision making one has in the mechanical layer isn't good. If you tore out the roleplaying game bits and presented a skill challenge as a board game, it would have the mechanical heft of Chutes and Ladders.

You could, for example, present D&D combat in isolation of the rest of the system as a board game if you specified some specific character level range it works best at in various editions. That game would actually be pretty fun, as a puzzle to solve cooperatively to try and come out of alive on the other end. Round to round, players have multiple options, multiple choices, and their decisions will meaningfully affect the outcome. Each mechanic they use is interesting, because there is more than 1 path to victory, and charting the best route through to victory would involve making a series of interesting decisions.

The same is not true of a skill challenge system. While you may be flexing interesting narrative muscles as your roleplay, you aren't engaging in meaningful gameplay, where you make decisions to try and optimize for a desired outcome, or doing so is pretty trivial.

I want the game to be good and interesting, wherein players will pick the course of action they feel will best achieve their goal, and pointedly not pick another because they think it will hurt their aims. Skill challenge systems can't do that. To be fair, skill systems in general have become such an anemic part of design they're rarely interested in doing it regardless of whether a skill challenge model is implemented or not.

Does it have as much mechanical heft as Dogs in the Vineyard?

No it does not.

But the statement that it has little heft at the mechanical layer and no meaningful decision just doesn't mesh with my vast, vast, vast amount of GMing of the system.

I mentioned elsewhere that I've run about 700ish Skill Challenges in all my 4e GMing. I've had maybe 35 to 70 macro-failures as I reflect back on it so somewhere between 1 and 2 and 20 Skill Challenges in ended up as failures...which had both (a) story snowballing implications and (b) gamestate through line implications.

I can think of dozens and dozens of decision-points off the top of my head where a player made a decision in a Skill Challenge that reverberated not just mechanically through the Skill Challenge but also snowballed into the through line of the subsequent gamestate (for several gamestates to come).

An easy one was when a player of a Fighter PC was in a Social Conflict to convince a demon-worshiping Gnoll Tribe to momentarily cease hostilities with the neighboring steading and join them in their conflict against a greater threat of a cult of Devil-Worshippers in their collective midst...they could go back to warring afterward. It was very important to this player (thematically due to their Theme and Paragon Path) and to the group at large to have the Companion Characters (1 x Huge Swarms of Hyenas that would turn into 1/2 budget worth of Minions on Bloodied+ 1 x their Elite Leader) available to them for the conflict to come with the powerful cult and their devilry.

So in the middle of the social conflict, with things turning against them, they pulled out:

Steely PersuasionFighter Utility 10​

Your skill with the blade is enough to daunt even stalwart foes.

EncounterMartial
Free Action
Personal

Trigger
: You make an Intimidate check or a Streetwise check

Requirement: You must be wielding a melee weapon.

Effect: You gain a bonus to the skill check equal to the weapon's proficiency bonus plus the weapon's enhancement bonus.

This gave them a huge bonus to their Intimidate check (which they were trained in but they had no Cha bonus) to try to get them a much needed success when things were swinging against them in the SC. They failed their check. This is an escalation to violence. As such, they know this beforehand that this is turning into a nested combat where they have to physically cow these Gnolls (who are now drawing weapons themselves) in order to get back to the Social Conflict.

* So meaningful decision vs an alternative because of the escalation of the consequence space.

* Consequential because they needed to win this social conflict to get these assets for subsequent gamestate purposes + their staking Daily resources now (Healing Surges and Dailies in this combat) in order to facilitate this.

* Worth it for this player due to thematic reasons.

* The investment of PC build resources into this Skill Power was worth the opportunity cost over another Power because it let them ignore Charisma and positively impacted a great many Skill Challenges (just not this one) and Surrender moves in combat against Bloodied Leaders....and it was thematically coherent with their PC.




My 4e games were shot through with this where the 4 bullet points were in play.
 

Pedantic

Explorer
This is true of Apocalypse World too: what move is made on the player-side doesn't change the span of results (6-, 7-9, 10+). Or Marvel Heroic RP: what move is made on the player-side doesn't change the fact that a dice pool is rolled and its result compared to a similar opposed dice pool. Or Burning Wheel (outside of Fight! and maybe Range and Cover) or Prince Valiant or Agon or Cthulhu Dark or In A Wicked Age.

Skill challenges aren't a wargame resolution system. Nor a boardgame resolution system. They're a RPG resolution system. The fiction is central, as the OP states. What drives them is not clever wargaming play but caring about the fiction, engaging with it, and changing it. Just as in the other RPGs I've mentioned.

I also find it slightly ironic, or at least amusing, that the traditional criticism of 4e, that it's too boardgame-y, has now morphed to be that it's not boardgame-y enough!
I mean, I'm not a big fan of any of those games. Detailed lists of specific skill actions is very much my preferred approach, but we're really into an ideological discussion of what TTRPGs are for.

Fundamentally, I think RPGs differ from board games primarily in that your objectives are unbounded, and player determined. You get to decide what you want, and then roll back to the mechanics to best achieve those outcomes. Trying to optimize for those outcomes is a fun and engaging part of the game, and the same part of the brain I'd use to say, play a game of Barrage and navigate difficult worker placement through limited choices. TTRPGs offer a unique ability to do that, while engaging in a narrative, and while controlling the victory conditions that result from my choices.

There's no reason a skill system couldn't be built with high-agency decision making. You could absolutely present a situation wherein a player has a difficult choice to make between diplomacy and stealth, because both will spiral out into different failure points and tax different abilities (and/or cost different resources) that they have to decide the best trade-offs between.
Combat is mechanically significantly more complex than skill challenges.

Skill challenges are more complex than a skill check.

Skill checks have more mechanics than DM ad hoc adjudication.

These are a continuum with each having advantages and disadvantages for different situations, not a scale of good to bad. DM ad hoc adjudication can be a great part of the game.

Skill challenges are generally for when you want some rolls for an adjudication, but more than just a single decision point and roll.
Complexity is related, but not directly comparable to the kind of decision making agency I'm talking about. "More mechanics" does not lead to more agency necessarily. A 3e Fighter built for tripping, for example, will be playing a mechanically heavy combat game, but will actually have a really straightforward set of decisions to make. The optimization/decision making case will usually be "trip something, then attack it," because that's really all that build could do, and having to do anything else is a failure state.

On the other hand, getting over a wall might involve only a single skill check, but could be a higher agency situation. You might have a viable case for trying to jump it (unlikely but puts you in a better position) climbing it (slower, but pretty easy) or smashing through it (loud, but hey, if you're made of adamantine, it will definitely work and quickly). A player might reasonable choose any of those options to optimize for a specific state they want to be in, because the next skill check they have to make will be advantaged in some other way they believe they can predict.

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

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

It's easy to resolve, and easier to make declarations about the fictional state around, but it's less engaging as a game*.

*I realize I'm using "game" idiosyncratically here, I'm not trying to suggest anything absolute about what makes an experience gameplay, but I'm striving for language to differentiate the loop of making optimization decisions that is engagement with most games, vs. the narrative/improv/storytelling aspect that is also part of the RPG experience.
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

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