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Skill Challenges: Individual Failure

Fanaelialae

Legend
While certainly not the only complaint, a serious issue that many raise with regard to skill challenges is that shared failures discourage participation.

This can be contrasted with combat where a failed attack roll, while typically not beneficial, doesn't actively contribute to the group's failure. I can miss every attack roll and the party can still achieve a flawless victory (speaking from experience). In a skill challenge, that isn't the case unless I either avoid rolling (not possible if the DM requires everyone to participate) or the party can achieve the requisite number of success before I roll my three failures (which might be impossible, depending on party size).

I realize it's only the bare bones of a working concept at this point, but what if failures were restricted to the individual? Using combat as a metaphor, an individual failure would be akin to your character being reduced to 0 hp, while failure at a skill challenge would generally be akin a TPK.

Basically, a PC who rolls a failure would simply be unable to contribute further successes. It would negatively impact the group, particularly in a timed challenge, but they could still succeed. The party fails the skill challenge if all PCs are "KO'd".

To keep things interesting, perhaps "KO'd" PCs could contribute in other ways. An easy check might allow them to aid another, a medium check might allow an ally to reroll a failed check, and a hard check might allow an SC version of second wind, negating the failure and bringing that PC back into the challenge.

Has anyone designed something like this? If so, I'd be interested in seeing it.
 

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Yep. I had an eladrin orb artifact called the urun'thiel which granted memory altering powers. It had brought a memory of reading a cursed book to the fore in an NPC's mind such that she became a monster called the strigha.

It was a short skill challenge (4 successes) to use the orb to restore her true personality and put the curse into hibernation. I think 3 PCs attempted it, all touching the orb at the same time, and right off the bat 2 of them failed - the orb expelled them from the NPC's mind and knocked them back (prone actually, which had implications because the rest of the group was fighting the strigha and it had powers that kicked in on prone targets). The only remaining PC - the bard - made all 4 checks himself and thus subdued the curse!
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
This can work in certain situations, but this really only becomes an issue when you only provide players with ONE way to succeed. Lets say you have to assemble a puzzle. The only way to finish the puzzle is to match up the pieces right? Lets say that this is Insight. Well, how do players with low insight scores help? They can't really. There's no reason for them to even roll because with a DC25, that character with the +4 insight is never going to succeed(unless you consider 20 to be an auto-success, regardless of if they beat the DC). In my games, we used copious amounts of the "assisting" rule, which can be described in whatever way you see fit.

Personally I think the key is just providing multiple ways to success. Translating an ancient magical tome might require History(int) and Arcana(int) to begin with. But some of the information is missing or cannot be reasonably translated by your group, so now you need to get in touch with new sources of information, Streetwise(cha), Religion(int), Diplomacy(cha), who in turn might demand some tasks from you, such as recovering a stolen artifact, Thievery(dex), or transporting some large goods, Athletics(str). With such a system, all players get to contribute to the translating of the magical tome, instead of one or two simply rolling over and over again because they have the high scores.

Individual failure can lead to lack of participation just as much as group failure can, simply because if you present skill-challenges that only cater to a certain range of skills, those people aren't even going to bother.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
This can work in certain situations, but this really only becomes an issue when you only provide players with ONE way to succeed. Lets say you have to assemble a puzzle. The only way to finish the puzzle is to match up the pieces right? Lets say that this is Insight. Well, how do players with low insight scores help? They can't really. There's no reason for them to even roll because with a DC25, that character with the +4 insight is never going to succeed(unless you consider 20 to be an auto-success, regardless of if they beat the DC). In my games, we used copious amounts of the "assisting" rule, which can be described in whatever way you see fit.

Personally I think the key is just providing multiple ways to success. Translating an ancient magical tome might require History(int) and Arcana(int) to begin with. But some of the information is missing or cannot be reasonably translated by your group, so now you need to get in touch with new sources of information, Streetwise(cha), Religion(int), Diplomacy(cha), who in turn might demand some tasks from you, such as recovering a stolen artifact, Thievery(dex), or transporting some large goods, Athletics(str). With such a system, all players get to contribute to the translating of the magical tome, instead of one or two simply rolling over and over again because they have the high scores.

Individual failure can lead to lack of participation just as much as group failure can, simply because if you present skill-challenges that only cater to a certain range of skills, those people aren't even going to bother.
I largely agree. This certainly isn't intended to address the issue of poorly written SCs.

However, I do think it would encourage more participation. Under normal circumstances, having a PC sit out a combat isn't likely of any benefit to the party.

Similarly, if one chooses not to participate in this type of SC, they're not contributing anything. In the worst case scenario, you could still roll and hope for a nat 20. At worst you fail and are reduced to making Aid Another attempts. At best you get lucky and contribute a success.

I've seen SCs which allowed numerous skills, but in which some PCs couldn't think of a way to contribute with their particular skill set. While I do think it's good for a DM to keep his PCs' skills in mind when designing SCs, I don't think a DM should have to include Athletics and Endurance in every SC merely because those are the only skills the party fighter took. I think this would allow such a fighter to at least attempt to contribute in challenges he isn't particularly well suited to, without becoming an anchor for the rest of the party.
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
I largely agree. This certainly isn't intended to address the issue of poorly written SCs.

However, I do think it would encourage more participation. Under normal circumstances, having a PC sit out a combat isn't likely of any benefit to the party.

Similarly, if one chooses not to participate in this type of SC, they're not contributing anything. In the worst case scenario, you could still roll and hope for a nat 20. At worst you fail and are reduced to making Aid Another attempts. At best you get lucky and contribute a success.

I've seen SCs which allowed numerous skills, but in which some PCs couldn't think of a way to contribute with their particular skill set. While I do think it's good for a DM to keep his PCs' skills in mind when designing SCs, I don't think a DM should have to include Athletics and Endurance in every SC merely because those are the only skills the party fighter took. I think this would allow such a fighter to at least attempt to contribute in challenges he isn't particularly well suited to, without becoming an anchor for the rest of the party.
Emphasis mine. Of all the DM's I've had, the ones that I've liked the best are the ones that allowed me to give them a valid reason why this skill they may not have considered should be allowed. I think that players should be encouraged by the books and by the DM to at all times be creative. Perhaps your high dex means you were a dance savant, and while you may not be able to tell a person how to dance, it doesn't affect your innate ability to do so, or recognize other forms of dancing. So this ancient tome written in heiroglyphics seems to use some sort of dance-move for the final ritual.

Might be a stretch, but you get my point. It's one thing I do find favorable about RAW stat-based skill checks. I mean why is "Profession: Sailing"(3e), INT-based anyway? If you have spent your whole life at sea, it's just as likely to be WIS.
 

JamesonCourage

First Post
I mean why is "Profession: Sailing"(3e), INT-based anyway? If you have spent your whole life at sea, it's just as likely to be WIS.
In 3.5e, all Professions are Wisdom-based. I think it's the same for 3.0 as it is in 3.5, but I'm not 100%. Crafts were Intelligence-based, so maybe that's what you were thinking of? As always, play what you like :)
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
In 3.5e, all Professions are Wisdom-based. I think it's the same for 3.0 as it is in 3.5, but I'm not 100%. Crafts were Intelligence-based, so maybe that's what you were thinking of? As always, play what you like :)
I probably was thinking of them backwards, but the same holds true in either case. Diplomacy can be taught(INT) as much as it can be a silver tongue(CHA) as much as it can be learned intuitively from watching others(WIS).

It's my only real qualm with skill-lists. How they came to the conclusion that X must be Y seems rather abstract.
 


Fanaelialae

Legend
Emphasis mine. Of all the DM's I've had, the ones that I've liked the best are the ones that allowed me to give them a valid reason why this skill they may not have considered should be allowed. I think that players should be encouraged by the books and by the DM to at all times be creative. Perhaps your high dex means you were a dance savant, and while you may not be able to tell a person how to dance, it doesn't affect your innate ability to do so, or recognize other forms of dancing. So this ancient tome written in heiroglyphics seems to use some sort of dance-move for the final ritual.

Might be a stretch, but you get my point. It's one thing I do find favorable about RAW stat-based skill checks. I mean why is "Profession: Sailing"(3e), INT-based anyway? If you have spent your whole life at sea, it's just as likely to be WIS.
I agree. At my table if a player can think of a reasonable use for a skill that the DM didn't account for, it's allowed. The issue is that sometimes a PC simply won't have a pertinent skill. How many statues can the fighter honestly lift while negotiating a peace treaty with the king, before the game becomes farcical?

I think an individualized failure system is less discouraging to the fighter who wants to try to roll to see if he remembers a bit of relevant information he once overheard in a tavern while drunk, even though his Intelligence sucks and he's not trained in any relevant skills. Even if he fails, the worst thing that can happen is that he backs the rogue's play, rather than making a play of his own.
 

the Jester

Legend
Since many skill-challenges have consequences for the party, your idea is only practical sometimes, but it's quite practical at those times.

Examples where it works well: Fail a skill challenge, lose healing surges. Fail the skill challenge and take penalties until you have an extended rest. Fail the SC and catch disease. Fail and have enemy spies discover you are investigating the bad guys.

Examples where it works poorly: The party needs x successes to find their goal. The SC determines how long something takes to accomplish. The SC determines whether or not a repair job on the party's ship is adequate.

Here's something else that I've done to motivate players to participate when they might be discouraged from doing so by their skill lists: the party has, let's say, 3 "rounds" of skill challenge to succeed. If they don't acquire x successes in time, they fail the challenge. This means that the "Maybe not gonna" pcs have more weight in the SC; they can't just sit back and watch. (There's also the whole "you don't act, gain a failure" approach, but that is a bit heavy handed for my taste.)
 

the Jester

Legend
Emphasis mine. Of all the DM's I've had, the ones that I've liked the best are the ones that allowed me to give them a valid reason why this skill they may not have considered should be allowed.
I agree. At my table if a player can think of a reasonable use for a skill that the DM didn't account for, it's allowed. The issue is that sometimes a PC simply won't have a pertinent skill. How many statues can the fighter honestly lift while negotiating a peace treaty with the king, before the game becomes farcical?
Personally, when setting up a SC, I give the party a challenge and then give myself a list of likely actions the party might try and the DCs attached. It's not a list of "these skills work in these particular ways" so much as "here are some approaches they might attempt that I've thought about in advance." Sometimes the same skill might have vastly different DCs depending on how it's applied, too.

Strangely, I think being a sandbox dm might give me a big advantage in running skill challenges this way; I'm used to running with player ideas and choices in terms of the campaign's direction, so it's almost second nature to incorporate that style into SCs too.

Just for S&Gs, here's a skill challenge I used a couple of games ago. It was actually much more structured than many of my SCs. To give some background, Tarent is an immoth leader that the pcs were seeking in order to pursue their nemesis, Quah-Nomag, to the Mountain of Ultimate Winter, the immoths' hidden home in the Elemental Chaos. Tarent himself lives in a dungeon called Bile Mountain, cleaned out by a different group of pcs long ago. He has recently seen indications that the dreaded Bile Lords may be resurfacing, and in addition, has an unruly and subversive immoth named Trakkekt trying to supplant him.

[sblock] SKILL CHALLENGE: Getting Tarent's Aid in Reaching the Mountain of Ultimate Winter:

Assuming that pcs attempt to bargain for assistance in reaching the Mountain of Ultimate Winter, Tarent's first response is to flatly refuse, at which point this skill challenge begins.

What the Players Know: Inform the players that the pcs can bargain as long as they like, but the skill challenge has a limited number of ten minute rounds (during which each pc may make one check); after that, Tarent's position has hardened to its final position. If there are only three pcs present, the challenge has 4 rounds; otherwise, it has only 3 rounds. In attempting to persuade Tarent, the pcs will gain and lose influence points; the number of influence points the pcs have at the conclusion of the skill challenge determines Tarent's final position.

Running the Skill Challenge: The following are some examples of ways to gain or lose influence points with Tarent. However, creative players will doubtless come up with other approaches.

Peaceful Intent: If the pcs have not killed an immoth, they start with 1 influence point. If they have not killed anything on this level, they start with 2 influence points.

Investigate the Bile Seeps: A party that offers to pass up the stairs and investigate the possibility of a Bile Lord earns 2 influence points, or 4 influence points if they agree to wait for any information until they successfully breach the upper level and return.

Slay Trakkekt: If a pc has used Insight to ascertain that Tarent has a secondary concern (see below), the party can offer to slay Trakkekt. This gains the party 1 influence point.

Instant Friends or Similar Powers: A power such as instant friends will gain the pcs 3 influence points and will get Tarent to answer questions about the Mountain of Ultimate Winter excluding those that reveal its location. He will also volunteer that the place is so cold that even most creatures made of ice freeze to death there. The immoths, being the true natives of the place, can survive through rune-magic, and he could give a group the ability to survive there for a few days.

Demonstrations of Puissance: If the party has already offered to investigate the possible return of a Bile Lord, they may attempt to demonstrate that they have what it takes to traverse the stairs by making Arcana, Acrobatics, Religion, Thievery, Diplomacy, Bluff, Athletics or Endurance checks, DC 25. Each skill can be checked only once and gains the part 1 influence point.

Gifts: Though Tarent is not moved by mundane riches, an offer of a ritual of at least 15th level from a source other than the Players Handbook or Arcane Power earns the party 1 influence point; a second ritual of at least 18th level earns the party a second influence point, and if the pcs can offer him a third ritual of at least 20th level they can earn a third influence point, but that's the maximum rituals can earn the party. Similarly, if the party gives Tarent a magic item of 20th level or higher, they can earn 1 influence point.

Arcana: A character trained in Arcana may be able to find common ground with Tarent. This requires an Arcana check, DC 26. Success gains the party 1 influence point; failure costs them 1 influence point. The party may only gain 1 influence point this way.

Bluff: The pcs may attempt to trick Tarent, which is a surprisingly easy task. A Bluff check will succeed against him if it beats his opposed Insight check (his bonus is +10). This will earn the pcs 1 influence point, but each time he succeeds on his Insight check, he gains a cumulative +5 bonus to subsequent Insight checks in the challenge. A success earns the pcs 1 influence point, while failure costs them 2 influence points.

Diplomacy: The most straightforward way to influence him is with successful Diplomacy checks. The Diplomacy DC to influence him begins at 18 but increases by 2 each time the party makes a successful check. Success gains the party 1 influence point, while failure loses the party 1 influence point. A character can also attempt a DC 18 check to aid another character in the attempt; failure instead gives a -2 penalty.

Insight: With an Insight check, DC 28, the party can determine that Tarent has a secondary concern beyond his problem with bile. This doesn't earn them an influence point, but may allow them to learn about his problems with the mad immoth Trakkekt in area 92, which opens up the “Slay Trakkekt” option, above.

Intimidate: Attempts to Intimidate Tarent into speaking are difficult, but not impossible. The DC is 31; success earns the pcs 1 influence point, while failure costs them 1 influence point. If this reduces the party below 1 influence point, Tarent orders his bodyguards to attack the insolent fool that threatened him; after one round of attacks, if the party refrains from making any attacks, he calls his bodyguards off. The party can only gain 1 influence point this way.

RESULTS OF THE SKILL CHALLENGE
At the end of the skill challenge, the number of influence points the party has accrued determines the amount of help that Tarent is willing to offer:

Influence Points --- Results

Fewer than 6 --- Tarent turns the party away with no aid. If they persist in badgering him, he \grows angry and attacks. No skill challenge xp.

6 to 7 --- Tarent offers to plant a set of teleport coordinates to the Mountain of Ultimate Winter in the mind of one member of the party, explaining that the coordinates will be impossible to express to another and will burn themselves out of the recipient's mind once they have been used once. The party earns 2,800 xp.

8 to 9 --- Tarent offers to guard the party against freezing to death with his rune-craft, warning them that it will only last one day. He also offers to plant a set of teleport coordinates that lead to the Mountain of Ultimate Winter in the mind of one member of the party, explaining that the coordinates will be impossible to express to another and will burn themselves out of the recipient's mind once they have been used once. The party earns 5,600 xp.

10 --- Tarent offers to transport the party to the Mountain of Ultimate Winter, though they will have to descend out of the dimensionally locked area of Bile Mountain first. He also offers to guard them against freezing to death with his rune-craft, but warns them that it will only last one day. The party earns 8,400 xp.

11 --- Tarent offers to transport the party to the Mountain of Ultimate Winter, though they will have to descend out of the dimensionally locked area of Bile Mountain first. He also offers to guard them against freezing to death with his rune-craft, but warns them that it will only last one day. Finally, he gives them one potion of recovery (PH 255). The party earns 9,800 xp.

12 --- Tarent offers to transport the party to the Mountain of Ultimate Winter, though they will have to descend out of the dimensionally locked area of Bile Mountain first. He also offers to guard them against freezing to death with his rune-craft, but warns them that it will only last one day. Finally, he gives them 3 potions of recovery (PH 255). The party earns 11,200 xp.

13 --- Tarent offers to transport the party to the Mountain of Ultimate Winter, though they will have to descend out of the dimensionally locked area of Bile Mountain first. He also offers to guard them against freezing to death with his rune-craft, but warns them that it will only last a maximum of 3 days. Finally, he gives them 3 potions of recovery (PH 255). The party earns 12,600 xp.

14 or more --- Tarent offers to transport the party to the Mountain of Ultimate Winter, though they will have to descend out of the dimensionally locked area of Bile Mountain first. He also offers to guard them against freezing to death with his rune-craft, but warns them that it will only last a maximum of 3 days. Finally, he gives them 5 potions of recovery (PH 255). The party earns 14,000 xp.[/sblock]
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Since many skill-challenges have consequences for the party, your idea is only practical sometimes, but it's quite practical at those times.

Examples where it works well: Fail a skill challenge, lose healing surges. Fail the skill challenge and take penalties until you have an extended rest. Fail the SC and catch disease. Fail and have enemy spies discover you are investigating the bad guys.

Examples where it works poorly: The party needs x successes to find their goal. The SC determines how long something takes to accomplish. The SC determines whether or not a repair job on the party's ship is adequate.

Here's something else that I've done to motivate players to participate when they might be discouraged from doing so by their skill lists: the party has, let's say, 3 "rounds" of skill challenge to succeed. If they don't acquire x successes in time, they fail the challenge. This means that the "Maybe not gonna" pcs have more weight in the SC; they can't just sit back and watch. (There's also the whole "you don't act, gain a failure" approach, but that is a bit heavy handed for my taste.)
I don't think I quite grasp where you're coming from.

The way I envision it working, in the case of needing x successes, would be that the PCs need x successes before all of them fail. (Obviously the x successes need under this system would probably need to be modified from that of the original.)

In the case of seeing how long something takes, I think it would be quite straight-forward. Each check (or round of checks) consumes x time. PCs who fail cannot contribute successes (unless they "second wind" using a hard difficulty check) meaning that the task takes that much longer. If all of the PCs fail (and there's no failure condition), I suppose they'd simply keep trying to roll hard DCs to get back in the game, with time continuing on for each check/round.

In the case of determining whether their repairs are adequate, I would think it would be much like the first case. If the party accrues x successes before they all fail out of the challenge, then the repairs are sufficient. If they don't, then the repairs aren't up to snuff.

Timed challenges are certainly a useful element for writing good SCs. That said, it isn't always appropriate to the situation, and moreover, I don't see any conflict with the individualized failure approach.

Keep in mind that my idea is that a failure in an SC is the equivalent of having a PC KO'd during combat. (Although unlike a KO'd PC, my suggestion is that that PC should still be able to aid the party, simply to a less extent.) Under normal (non-timed) conditions, the party fails the SC if all PCs are KO'd.
 

pemerton

Legend
While certainly not the only complaint, a serious issue that many raise with regard to skill challenges is that shared failures discourage participation.
I've seen SCs which allowed numerous skills, but in which some PCs couldn't think of a way to contribute with their particular skill set. While I do think it's good for a DM to keep his PCs' skills in mind when designing SCs, I don't think a DM should have to include Athletics and Endurance in every SC merely because those are the only skills the party fighter took.
I don't have anything useful to say about your proposed rule. But I did want to post something about "participation".

In my experience, the way to get players participating in a skill challenge is to have things happen to their PCs. If you want the player of the fighter to make a Diplomacy check, have an NPC talk to him/her! In my experience, this will generally trigger some sort of response whether or not the PC is trained in Diplomacy. (The corollary of this approach is being careful in how you, as GM, narrate the consequences of failed checks.)

This can also produce situations in which the players, knowing that things are likely to go haywire if the fighter does too much of the talking, take steps to keep the fighter out of the conversation. At which point they open up other avenues for you as GM to apply pressure and thereby generate skill checks.
 

jbear

First Post
In my experience, the way to get players participating in a skill challenge is to have things happen to their PCs.
This hits the nail on the head.

When you approach a skill challenge as just a series of rolls that need to go over a certain number then it will suck badly. It will suck even more badly when you are 'forced by the DM' to make those rolls. E.g. You need to get from get across a mountain chasm. Everyone roll athletics 4 successes needed before 3 fails, DC 19. Go! (Eck! Horrible)

But what if you approach it like this:

The party has to cross the mountain chasm:
Stage 1: Get the party across the area where the path has collapsed: 1 success
Stage 2: Get past the pterosaur nests: 2 successes (1 to calm/neutralise the Bull pterosaur; 1 to physically get past)
Stage 3: Cross the Windy Swing Bridge: 1 success

The individual rolls can be successes or failures but not all will necessarily result in an overall failure/success towards the completion of the challenge. The individual rolls do not decide whether the group is successful. So PCs can achieve the goal anyway they can think of. As long as all the PCs get across or the PCs achieve the goal somehow, they get a success.

The catch is that the DM involves everyone (as per permeton's comment). Okay, in this physical challenge it's obvious how. All the PCs have to find a way across the collapsed area of the path. An eladrin might just teleport the 30 ft distance. Bamf. 1 down 4 to go to achieve the success. The Goliath might carry the halfling across on his shoulders. 2 more get across on the Goliath's roll. The dwarven cleric ties himself with the rope that the others have thrown across and makes his way across with a +2 bonus but rolls a 2. A fail ... but not a failure for the challenge. Nevertheless, something happens. So as DM you let the situation and the PCs actions inspire what it is that has gone wrong. In this particular case it's pretty obvious: the wall crumbles and the dwarf starts falling below. Imagine how this might be different if the PCs are sneaking past the pterosaur nests.

Now the challenge is halted until our intrepid adventurers resolve the situation. If they do it well, then they pull the dwarf to safety. If they do it badly ... perhaps they provoke an avalanche which does result in an overall failure towards the challenge. Of course this provokes a new dynamic situation that ALL the PCs again must find their own way to resolve.

And so on and so forth.

Basically: Reaching Goals achieve successes; the amount of rolls or pathways to do that is irrelevant and only limited by the players imagination. Rolls are used to adjudicate player decisions when necessary. When they individually fail their chosen action then the result is likely not a failure towards the challenge but the creation of a new challenging dynamic added to the challenge that the PCs need to resolve before they can advance.

An overall failure could arise from dealing with the new challenging dynamic badly. A failure might arise from a bad plan that sees 3 PCs out of 5 fail in their attempts to cross the collapsed path (for example) directly provoking the avalanche as they scrabble for their lives (for example). But I think a failure is best represented by a pressure the PCs face to resolve a situation or reach a goal before something else occurs.

It's all well and good that the party can make their way across the collapsed path, but what if they have to do that before ... Oh I don't know ... without thinking too hard ... before the cannibal scout they spotted racing away earlier reaches the nearby village and returns with a hunting party mounted on dire wolves. Suddenly time is a factor. Being a slow clumsy dwarf now poses a real problem because getting out rope, getting it from one side to the other, securing it at both ends ... that all takes time, and time is your enemy. And voilá, there you have your tension. The dwarf falling is a set back, sure. But the real problem is that he's going to be dangling from a rope like a piece of strung up meat when them darn cannibals arrive if the party don't get their A into G and get him up!

You have your frame work. Individual rolls matter and are rightly required. Character weaknesses/flaws are challenged and do create hurdles the party must overcome, and rightly so. But it is not: DM: "Roll athletics" Dwarf: "But I have a -1. Can't I use religion to pray to my god to give me strength or to get the wind to carry me?" DM: "No. Roll. DC 19". Dwarf: "A 6 minus 1 equals 5" DM: "The Dwarf falls. That's your third failure. You lose. Everyone loses a surge getting the dwarf back up who miraculously hung on by his fingers just long enough. Right ... moving on". I have seen that approach. It sucks. It sucks for the DM. It sucks for the players. If you have done skill challenges and they have been similar to what I describe, then I understand why people hate them and say they are crap.

My way on the other hand is pure awesome, if I humbly say so myself. :D There is a structure. DCs remain the same. Good ideas lower the difficulty of the DCs. Bad ideas make them harder. Legendary ideas don't require rolls. The XP rewards are set out and clear except you will probably have a number of 'mini-challenges' which should also have their reward (think minions type xp). Failures create a dynamic change in the challenge that the PCs must overcome in order to continue advancing. Things happen to the PCs during a challenge: Action -> Reaction. And then you just roll with it as you do in a good roleplaying game. (Though preparation of things that might happen should things go wrong or the planned introduction of dynamic events is highly recommended)

Skill challenges should be engaging, exciting, fun, dangerous, and tense. They should not be about coming up with a bollocks way to use Religion to climb a mountain path because that is your highest skill, or sitting back passively and letting the bard talk because he has high diplomacy. It should not be a purely numbers game. The numbers should just be used as improvisational props to inspire/justify the DMs introduction of new dynamics to the challenge and inspire players in their roleplaying of how their PCs are dealing with the situation.

If you are interested you can read a successful skill challenge I ran along these lines for my pbp game: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showth...-Lovers-(DM-jbear-Judge-Lord-Sessadore)/page4
Initially The PCs did not know they were engaged in a skill challenge during stage 1, which involved them discovering the danger and alerting the ship's captain before it was too late (For obvious reasons this was not overt until they had acted/failed to act). I think this showcases the potential for memorable and exciting skill challenges pretty well.
 
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