Skill challenges - who else likes them as the core non-combat sub-system?

There are plenty of times when a prepared skill challenge works well. Tallying failures also works well in many cases. For example sailing your ship to a foreign port. Each failure results in delay and damage to the ship, 3 failures could mean fighting pirates and possibly not arriving at all, or losing money on ship repairs, delay causing complication at the other end, etc. This is perfect for a high complexity challenge using the rules pretty much straight out of the DMG.

As I and others have said before, the challenge needs a narrative and progress, thus conditions change and different skills come to the fore. You can't win by just having one or two characters spam their best skill. Give it a level +5 or even 7 and it will be challenging enough.

log in or register to remove this ad

Tony Vargas

The Skill Challenge system presented in the DMG1 was a nice idea, but very rough. The number were off, and the ways it might be implemented by the DM inadequate. Skill Challenges are one area where 4e still needs to be improved. Hopefully there will be some good stuff to glean from future suplements.

The Skill Challenge system presented in the DMG1 was a nice idea, but very rough. The number were off, and the ways it might be implemented by the DM inadequate. Skill Challenges are one area where 4e still needs to be improved. Hopefully there will be some good stuff to glean from future suplements.

Heh, I was just looking over some of the stuff in DMG2 again for whatever reason and it is really full of a lot of stuff about common issues. People should spend more time reading it. They did fail to get out certain things about SCs even there, but just the general advice on running a game can make a huge difference and SCs really work better the more narrative force your game has. The players need to be really wanting to push ahead and each SC should be either VERY short or really dynamic. The real tricky part is they can fail in a lot of different ways. Combat tends to fail in only a few predictable ways.


I like what I originally imagined them to be: a system where the players joined in in narrating non-combat events, choosing their own actions, setting the difficulty of those actions and in general contributing and having fun.

The result was lots of skill rolling, no risk, no strategy, and really the only input is narrative.


First Post
I can't recommend enough the awesome Dungeon adventure Dead By Dawn, which includes skill challenges into its structures to mimic the "barricade vs. zombie horde" feel of movies such as Dawn of the Dead. Very inventive.


I liked the skill challenge system in 4E so much I ported it to a bunch of different types of games, including Star Wars SE before it was officially added. Skill challenges are similar to Chases in Spycraft. The checks need to match up with narrative elements but provide a nice structured way to determine the outcome of some actions. As was mentioned a second read through the DMG2 would be recommended to anyone who simply declares SCs broken beyond repair. I think they tend to work pretty well in many cases. Here's some methods I've used to make them flow a bit better in games.

1. Group challenges contemporaneously and have them execute simultaneously. For instance characters need to talk to two different NPCs but have to do so at the same time so there's a physical limit on Aid Another since the characters end up dispersed.

2. Require by some narrative device that different challenges be done by different people. This way the skillful Rogue or Ranger don't end up dominating a challenges and everyone else just sits them out. I try to give each character a check to make and usually something they're good at.

3. Failures are penalized in modifiers to subsequent checks depending on the magnitude. Just barely failing a check might not get a penalty but really screwing up will have the recheck be even harder. I don't get sadistic about it but I find it adds tension because players are willing to spend action points to reroll a check rather than have it end up harder than the first time.

4. I reward players for giving good narrative descriptions of how they're going about the check. If they get really detailed and involved in their character's action I give them bonuses on the actual check. I'll rarely penalize a player for not describing their actions well but I make sure they know I want them to really get involved and will be rewarded for doing so. If they go all out in their description I'll just have them take 20.

5. I'll also run abstracted skill challenges where the characters have to act as a group. I have them all roll and take the lowest or mean value. This works well for something like the characters sailing a ship where they each need to do something similar. Every check spans a long period of time and the job only gets done as well as the worst person doing it. Failures increase the challenge for everyone and increase the time it takes to do the challenge overall.

6. I use skill challenges to let the characters attempt to completely non-combat and non-ritual related. I think this is way better than skills in underwater basket weaving and cake baking. Besides the obvious like sailing or haggling prices of things I let them try their hand at fishing or repairing a thatch roof for a farmer. In these cases I have failures simply add to the time it takes to get it done since these aren't usually life-or-death situations. I also have the action itself take place off-camera and we simply say some time passed and they accomplished their job.

7. Think about the thing the characters are trying to accomplish and come up with creative uses for skills. I like to include Endurance and the Knowledge skills to help all the characters get into the act. I think of this as the Goonies method of skill challenges. The different challenges faced by the Goonies in the caves were solved by different characters' specialties. Mouth could read the map, Annie could play the organ, Data's gadgets helped slow down the Fratellis.


I like the skill challenge system. I was indifferent to them until I participated in the one from the MMII game day adventure. Then I ran the one in H2. After that, I've always enjoyed them.

I like them for two reasons: 1) they match the way I was already handling some in-game actions, and 2) they have a failure tolerance greater than 0.

If someone wanted to do a complex task, I was already breaking it down into smaller parts and having the PCs roll their skill checks to complete each part of the task. I suspect I'm not the only one.

The only problem I ran into was this: how many failures should I allow for I say that them fail the overall task? If the check is repeatable and time is not a problem, why don't they just take 20 on all the checks? If the check isn't repeatable, then don't they fail after one missed skill check? I need a number of failures >0 and skill challenges give me a framework for deciding on that number.

That said, I set up and run skill challenges more loosely than most writeups I've seen; I tend to allow people to try whatever and make whichever skill check fits, given the situation and the action. Encourages creative play and role-play better IMO than a short list of strictly allowed skills which limit half the party to 'aid another' or pure suck.

That's pretty much how I've been running them. Works very well for me. :)

An Advertisement