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Skill Challenges: Please stop

amnuxoll

First Post
I've given skill challenges a good shake. I've run a lot of them, designed some goods ones and ultimately come to the conclusion that they are a poor idea. Actually, let me frank: Skill challenges are a black pimple on the ass of this game. Show me a "well run skill challenge" and I'll show you a good roleplaying session wherein the DM managed to create a mapping of the player's decisions to skill checks.

Why are we bothering to do the mapping? All the unnecessary dice rolling does is add awkwardness and break immersion. It's akin to doing paint by number. Yes, you end up with a more consistent result but in the process you've greatly discouraged creativity.

Worse, skill challenges encourage the "I diplomacize him" style of play where negotiation and conversation are condensed down into a single diplomacy check made by the most charismatic character in the party (inevitably being played by the least charismatic player at the table...) In fact, it is my observation that it these rules-focused, munchkin players who are skill challenges' biggest fans.

Some of you will argue, that skill challenges are a "guide and not the law" and, using my analogy, you can ignore the numbered spaces on the paint-by-number canvas when it doesn't match what you want to do. My answer is yes, of course you can. But this is where it gets insidious: inexperienced painters have a much harder time finding the will to do this. Over time, they become dependent upon them and unable to play without the comforting presence of N successes before 3 failures. It's far better to just use a blank canvas. Yes, you will get less consistent and often bad results. But it's also the only way to get a truly great roleplaying session.

Some of you will argue that skill challenges are not just for roleplaying and that they're a good mechanic for traps, difficult travel, unusual tasks etc. Honestly, I'm not opposed to that and skill challenges of that form have been in the game for as long as there have been skills. But by formalizing them you are only encouraging the DM to deny simple, innovative solutions and insist on slogging through a certain number of successful checks. Again, I recognize that an experienced DM will be able to avoid that trap, but the majority of DMs won't have that maturity. And, as before, these budding DMs will be warped by an urge to "stick to the script" because that's how they've always done it.

Ultimately, skill challenges are akin to that urge to put rules on a relationship ("Kiss on the first date, second base on on the second date and sex on the third date.") It provides false comfort to people who can't bear to live in an unordered universe and annoys the piss out of the rest of us.

In sum: Skill challenges are a crutch. Stop trying to add rules to something that doesn't need rules. Just play!

28 Feb ADDENDUM: Boy, was I in a funk when I wrote this! My opinion on SCs is unchanged but I do apologize for the "bad wrong fun" tone that came off of it. That was not my intent. My intent was to try to be aggressive enough to wake up players who have been complacently using SCs without thinking outside the box. And, in all honesty, I think I accomplished that! Some really excellent comments came out of this thread and I'm grateful for them. For the long term, I'm going to start thinking about a better format for the concept of a "skill-based encounter" that doesn't encourage stilted/scripted play.
 
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renau1g

First Post
So people who are introverted or perhaps a bit "less charasmatic" IRL should be penalized in game, and the raging barbarian with the 8 CHA, but happens to be played by the Used Car Salesman with the silver tongue can talk his way through anything?

Anyone who maybe isn't the most verbose is automatically a munchkin? I play with many different players, one who suffered from a social disorder, but wanted to play as a bard, he loved music and stories. I could be a jerk and say "Sorry Timmy, until you overcome your problems you'll be in trouble at the table because you can't engage in a full out session long RP at the royal ball" or we can try to have fun and he can "diplomacize" as you say.
 

ggroy

First Post
In my previous 4E games which did not involve going through a module, we ended up dropping the skill challenge mechanic after awhile and just did roleplaying the (old) way we did previously.
 

jbear

First Post
I don't have to time to go into the why and why nots of my response at the moment, but I'm going to have to disagree with the notion that Skill Challenges are Crutch or pimples on posterior parts.

I run some awesome and memorable skill challenges of all kinds, both social, mental and physical.

Love 'em.
 

The Human Target

Adventurer
I think that skill challenges are wonky.

I also think that in a game with a Diplomacy skill and a Charisma ability score, one should be able to roll for things and have them happen.

If you want a "no rules for roleplaying" game, either house rule D&D heavily or switch to a new system.
 

Dungeoneer

First Post
I don't have to time to go into the why and why nots of my response at the moment, but I'm going to have to disagree with the notion that Skill Challenges are Crutch or pimples on posterior parts.

I run some awesome and memorable skill challenges of all kinds, both social, mental and physical.

Love 'em.
Seconded.
 

Stoat

Adventurer
A. WotC's initial implementation of Skill Challenges was shamefully busted.

B. WotC has done a terrible to mediocre job explaining Skill Challenges, and the method that it uses to present them in published adventures sucks.

C. I still like the idea of skill challenges, and I've had success using them in my game.

D. Stalker0's Obsidian system pwns WotC's Skill Challenge system.
 

MatthewJHanson

Registered Ninja
Publisher
I like encounter that have people use skills. I just am not always happy with the X successes before X failures way of keeping track.
 

amnuxoll

First Post
So people who are introverted or perhaps a bit "less charasmatic" IRL should be penalized in game, and the raging barbarian with the 8 CHA, but happens to be played by the Used Car Salesman with the silver tongue can talk his way through anything?

Well, ignoring your alarmist tone and hyperbole, yes. I've seen many cases of socially inept players blossom under the opportunity to roleplay. Please add the apparent decline of this benefit of roleplaying to the list of arguments against skill challenges.
 

Nullzone

Explorer
WotC hurt themselves with the delivery of skill challenges in the DMG; as a result, both sides of the table just don't really have a good grasp on them, so it makes them feel sloggish, obtuse, and unnecessary.

A skill challenge is a roleplaying scene, full stop. You're presenting the players with a scenario that they can't necessarily hack their way through (at least not without potentially dire consequences) and require them to think outside the box, acting out solutions rather than simply smashing their way through it. Most written skill challenges include a set of skills to use not so that you can say "everybody make me one of these checks" but so you can nudge players in the right direction if they seem completely lost.
 

smtwtfs

First Post
Ultimately, skill challenges are akin to that urge to put rules on a relationship ("Kiss on the first date, second base on on the second date and sex on the third date.") It provides false comfort to people who can't bear to live in an unordered universe and annoys the piss out of the rest of us.

♪♫♪♫
Let me sleep on it
Baby, baby let me sleep on it
Let me sleep on it
And I'll give you an answer in the morning
[FONT=&quot][/FONT] [FONT=&quot] ♫♪♫♪[/FONT]

(seeing if the morning after will buy me time to respond).
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
A. WotC's initial implementation of Skill Challenges was shamefully busted.

B. WotC has done a terrible to mediocre job explaining Skill Challenges, and the method that it uses to present them in published adventures sucks.

C. I still like the idea of skill challenges, and I've had success using them in my game.

D. Stalker0's Obsidian system pwns WotC's Skill Challenge system.

Are you referring to 4e D&D's treatment of skill challenges or do you also include SWSE's? Galaxy of Intrigue has a treatment of skill challenges far and away better than any I've seen in 4e. I don't know if you had looked into it or not.
 

KarinsDad

First Post
I think a lot of people are married to their dice.

In both the PBP games I play, and the house games I play, there are invariably players who think that they can just roll dice, get a good result, and should be rewarded.

I prefer just roleplaying a scenario and if as DM I'm on the fence as to whether to give out a given piece of information based on how the roleplaying has worked so far, then I can ask for a skill roll.

I've seen a lot of terrible skill challenges in WotC modules.

I think skill challenges should not be played as encounters, rather they should be played as roleplaying with the players sometimes making a suggestion and the DM sometimes asking for a skill roll for that suggestion.

The mechanical aspects of "I do an Aid Another on Joe's Stealth roll (or Joe's Perception roll or whatever) because I have no skills that are good for this skill challenge" really detrimental to the flow of the game.

And if the DM doesn't allow Aid Another skill rolls for a certain challenge, then the player is still forced (according to the skill challenge rules) to come up with some skill to hack around into something reasonable. That too, to me, is forcing the issue into a direction that I as DM do not necessarily want to handle.

As an example, it's a player's turn in a skill challenge. It is a diplomatic situation and he doesn't have skills like that. So the player says "I use my Acrobatics skill to roll a coin back and forth across my fingers to distract these guys". The player then rolls high on his Acrobatics roll. The player rolled high, so he is expecting that the skill helped and to get a success. As DM, the scenario might be such that I'm slapping myself on the forehead thinking "This is going to tick these guys off because this PC isn't taking them seriously". The player expected the NPCs to be mildly amused or distracted by what he was doing, but as DM, I know that this is not the case.

If the skill challenge rules did not FORCE the player to try SOME skill, he wouldn't have done this off the wall stupid thing and I as DM wouldn't be forced to penalize him for doing it. Now, some DMs would not give him a failure. Other DMs might tell the player that this is not going to work before he even tries. Or another DM might give him a success for trying something unique and the dice roll was good.

But the problem is that the player is scratching his brain, trying to figure out SOMETHING to do, when it is perfectly reasonable for that PC to not do anything. If we would have just roleplayed the scenario, then he probably would not have come up with this lame idea.

On top of that, if we just roleplay the scenario, then the player will often have his PC talk to the NPCs without worrying about Diplomacy rolls. In a diplomatic situation, I want EVERY player talking to the NPCs, not just the one with the highest Diplomacy skill. A skill challenge will encourage players with low Diplomacy (in this type of scenario) to keep their mouths shut in case the DM asks them for a Diplomacy roll which they know will almost always be a failure.

The entire structure of a skill challenge is often backwards from what I as DM want the players to be trying to do. I want them to participate without having to worry about how high their skill modifiers for the PC are.

Another problem with skill challenges is that the players become more concerned with successes vs. failures instead of just going with the flow.

Round one:

Player: "I use Diplomacy to convince him to talk with us".
DM: "I need you to roleplay. What are you saying to him?"

Round two:

Player "Err, I want to use Diplomacy again." (the player not sure if any of his other skills are applicable)
DM: "Again, I need you to roleplay. What are you saying to him?"

Instead of the game just being a conversation between the PCs and the NPCs, it becomes a discussion of which skills to use, rolling dice, and it actually pushes some players away from the roleplaying aspects of it. It becomes more of an out of character meta-game exploration of how to handle the skill challenge instead of an in game roleplaying experience of the encounter itself.

I vastly prefer in character roleplaying with the DM occasionally saying "Joe, give me a Diplomacy roll" or "Joe, give me a History roll" to augment the roleplaying with additional information for the player(s).

I really cannot think of a scenario where either roleplaying with an occasional skill roll, or just a series of skill rolls (everyone rolls Athletics to Climb) doesn't work better than the 4E going around the table rolling the dice skill challenge structure.

I view skill challenges to be a bit of a dice rolling crutch for DMs that want there to be rules about what works and what doesn't work in non-combat situations.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
In sum: Skill challenges are a crutch. Stop trying to add rules to something that doesn't need rules. Just play!

In sum: The need to declare that "I'm a REAL roleplayer because I have no need for RULES and thus no one else should either!" is a crutch. Stop trying to use your own personal likes and dislikes to make yourself seem "better" than other people who don't play the way you do. Just play. And let others do the same.

Guys, it's fine if you don't agree with him, but please argue out the point without using personal attacks. Amnuxoll, on your part, please work to phrase opinions in a way that doesn't speak for everyone else. You'll find it leads to much better discussions. ~ PCat
 
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Mengu

First Post
Skill challenges are what you make of them. If you and your group have a problem with them, don't run them by the book, I don't think anyone does. However, I'm not going to ask people to pick up shovels and show me how they are digging themselves out of a cave in, or quiz them on their knowledge of the structural integrity of a natural cavern. I'll be content with dice rolls to see how well their athletics, dungeoneering, and endurance skills are.

Personally I treat social skills much the same way. Sure we role play the social encounters. But when the 8 charisma shaman (with a player of 18 charisma) does all the talking, rest assured I'll ask for a diplomacy check and give NPC responses accordingly. For me the structure of a skill challenge, just gives me a rough outline of a script to go by, with branching points for success or failure. When people make compelling arguments, I'm perfectly happy giving them bonuses on their skill checks or even automatic successes (if I'm tracking successes which I don't always). But I'll always leave a little something behind, a piece of information, some secret they don't quite know about, until the last possible moment, so there is a consequence to failure.

As DM, skill checks in social situations help me with deciding NPC responses first and foremost. I might not always like what the player is saying, but asking for an insight check, I can give them some guidance on how to handle the NPC. When a PC lies, I as DM know that it's a lie, but does the NPC sense it too? That requires die rolls. I could run a diceless game where I make up all the results ala something like Storyteller, but that's not D&D. In D&D, players have skills, and they like to use them. So as DM I feel my job is to provide them with opportunities.
 

jimmifett

First Post
I personally like skill challenges when they are run transparently to the player. When a DM says "Skill Challenge!" and then offers me primary and secondary skills, I roll my eyes and groan.

When I and some other DMs use skill challenges, we have the skills we think would be primaries picked out, as well as secondaries. We don't tell the players they are in a challenge, we just roleplay the scenes. If a player does something roll worthy, I tell them to roll and make note of the result. If a secondary or non listed skill is used in some form of awesome that makes sense, I will treat it as a primary.

I also like skill challenges to be larger than a single encounter, with maybe a battle in the middle, and certain features of the battle affecting the skill challenge. Example, evacuating prisoners before concluding a battle would count as a success, not doing so would not be a failure. Allowing a prisoner to be killed during battle would count as a failure.
 

NewJeffCT

First Post
I like the idea of skill challenges and have used a couple of them in my games that have worked out okay.

However, I would much rather have a couple of skill checks in game that accomplish pretty much the same thing, rather than having the players roll the dice 10-15 times or more.

To me, just doing it on an adhoc basis for Diplomacy or Intimidate or making a History or Arcana roll seems to flow better than stopping the action to roll a bunch of skill checks at once and scoring how many successes & failures you get. I'm not one to judge that you need to impress the king 12 times before you un-impress him 3 times, or 9 times before 3 or whatnot. I think it disrupts the flow of the role-playing if you have to make that many rolls - making it seem forced & not natural.
 

Storminator

First Post
Way back when, we used to do dungeon crawls. "The hallway continues for 50' then comes to a T. Do you go left or right?"

There was a lot of exploration, tedious mapping, wandering monster rolls, etc. I've grown to hate all that. So when my PCs are in a cave complex, I turn all that into a skill challenge and break the challenge up at the major decision points, or set piece fights I want to have, or arrival at destination. The entire session is a skill challenge which forms the framework for the adventure. Seems to work pretty well.

PS
 

Piratecat

Writing Fantasy Gumshoe!
Actually, let me frank: Skill challenges are a black pimple on the ass of this game. Show me a "well run skill challenge" and I'll show you a good roleplaying session wherein the DM managed to create a mapping of the player's decisions to skill checks.
Nope, I totally disagree. I've definitely run really fun, tense skill challenges that don't fit this description. My players like them enough that one player is tailoring his PC to be great at them, instead of at combat.
 

jdcash

First Post
I think that one should first be able to define the box, before he/she can think outside of it. The skill challenge system is a box. Figuring out how to implement it and teach that to the players sets the base from which non-combat situations can be resolved. This is of particular importance for new players or timid players. Once the box is defined then start thinking outside of it.

I know that sometimes (and definitely in the case of 4e skill challenges) I attack a mechanic or concept rather than than take the time to figure it out and make it work. I now feel that I have a pretty good grasp. If a player wants to RP through a situation I can reward that without eliminating dice roll mechanic for those who are not as comfortable expressing themselves. Also, I found that if I accept a dice roll as the resolution without adding the flavor and putting it in context of the story then the experience is lacking. However, taking a success a describing what that means to the story provides an example of how to RP and serves as a teaching point to the newer/less comfortable player. This is only possible because I know what the box is.
 

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