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


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Camelot

Adventurer
I had another idea for running better skill challenges:

Every time someone makes a skill check, instead of annoncing a success or a failure, have something interesting happen that opens up new options. Whether it's a good or a bad thing depends on the skill check, but no matter what, keep moving forward. This is probably what most people already do, but here's my idea. Still secretly keep track of the successes and failures, but don't have them determine when the skill challenge ends. When the players are satisfied that they have either succeeded or failed, end the skill challenge, and use the successes and failures you were keeping track of to determine the XP (if they succeed).
 

Shroomy

Adventurer
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 second this, its an especially good example of how to integrate a skill challenge into combat. I adapted "Dead by Dawn" to my campaign and it worked out great. My PCs managed to spectacularly fail all of the skill challenges, so they were hard-pressed and pretty demoralized by the end (it looked pretty grim once the corruption corpses broke in with the shard zombie), so much so, that they all but abandoned trying to keep the hungry undead out, choosing one final blaze of glory instead (though they did enjoy the delicious XP the extra zombie rotters provided). Luckily for them, they were barely able to beat back the invading zombies before dawn caused the power of the necroshard to falter.
 

Shazman

Banned
Banned
I think that skill challenges were a great concept that ended up failing spectacularly in their implementation. They were supposed to be a way to include the whole party in non-combat conflict resolution in a flavorful way. They ended up encouraging extreme metagaming where the only "teamwork" is everyone aiding the PC with the highest bonus in the relevant skill. It's lame enough so that you might as well have just one person make a roll and be done with it like in 3.5. At least it will be over quicker.
 

Shazman

Banned
Banned
I had another idea for running better skill challenges:

Every time someone makes a skill check, instead of annoncing a success or a failure, have something interesting happen that opens up new options. Whether it's a good or a bad thing depends on the skill check, but no matter what, keep moving forward. This is probably what most people already do, but here's my idea. Still secretly keep track of the successes and failures, but don't have them determine when the skill challenge ends. When the players are satisfied that they have either succeeded or failed, end the skill challenge, and use the successes and failures you were keeping track of to determine the XP (if they succeed).

That sounds like a good way to do it. Unfortunately, I've mostly experienced DM's that say something like. "You are entering a skill challenge. You need x successes before x failures. The relevant skills are......" Ugghh!!! The opposite should be done so that great pains should be taken to avoid the players overtly knowing that they are in a skill challenge. The less metagamey, the better.
 
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bert1000

First Post

I like skill challenges, and have gotten the execution to work pretty smoothly with a combination of Stalker's Obsidian, "changing the scene"/introducing new complications part way through the challenge, and leading with player narration vs. skills.

That said, I think the harder part is creating challenges with real consequences. I find skill challenges to be boring and pointless if they are not tied to a real and irreversible story goal. For example, failure that results in a level appropriate combat or loss of healing surges seems boring and pointless. Failure that results in the PCs not arriving in time to defend a village that they care about, and so it gets burned to the ground is great! It's a real penalty for failure and it creates an interesting branch for the PCs to go down. "Let's hunt down those murders!".

Meaningful success and failure terms is the real secret to good skill challenges IMO.
 

The Monster

Explorer
Skill challenges do for noncombat what regular combat rules do for combat. Combat, in crude mechanical terms, can be viewed as a series of die rolls. The target numbers vary somewhat, but are set within a narrow band depending on the difficulty of the encounter. Each die roll gives a success or failure, with a certain effect following each result. Each character, depending on their build (class, race, feats, etc.) have a greater or lesser chance of being 'good' at a particular encounter. Player actions (tactics?) have a significant effect on the outcome. Each character needs to make a contribution, or the effort is doomed. There's definite consequnces for success or failure.

Sure, the specific numbers (and especially numbers of die rolls needed) is very different, but conceptually the process is similar. In fact, it's helped me by acting as something of a reminder to cover all these aspects when designing a skill challenge.

From where I stand, what skill challenges don't have is three things: one, visuals - map and miniatures. Instead, it's all narrative and description. There's no toys or props to play with, which makes it less immediately and viscerally accessible. Two, long lists of detailed powers and feats. Yes, there are some utility powers, but they are largely secondary to the focus of the game material. Like maps & minis, it makes challenges less instantly attractive; when most people look at a class, they don't see "ooh, this guy would rock at diplomacy" - they say "ooh, this guy can do massive damage." Three, consequences. To fail in combat is seriously punishing, if it isn't a TPK which ends the adventure. Whether or not challenges should be equally crucial can be discussed, but from what I've seen, many published challenges are merely annoying if the party fails. Thus they invite neglect from goal-driven (not to say power) gamers.

The skill challenge motif goes a long way toward making noncombat action interesting, by applying some parallel procedures. There's always been so much focus on combat, it's nice to see the work presented in this area. (For the record, I'm not saying the focus should change entirely to noncombat; but it's nice to have the structure developing.)

Just sayin'.
 
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pemerton

Legend
For me as well. I don't make any sort of list of applicable skills. I just go with what makes sense based on what the player describes their character doing.
Me also.

I think that skill challenges were a great concept that ended up failing spectacularly in their implementation. They were supposed to be a way to include the whole party in non-combat conflict resolution in a flavorful way. They ended up encouraging extreme metagaming where the only "teamwork" is everyone aiding the PC with the highest bonus in the relevant skill.
I've never had this experience. I think it's because my approach in adjudication as a GM is "story/gameworld first, mechanics second" - not in the sense that I ignore the mechanics - I follow these exactly (including the 3 strikes rule) - but in the sense that before a player can make a skill check, they have to have established, through a description of their PC's action, what exactly is going on in the gameworld and how the action their PC is attempting contributes to the overall resolution of the challenge.

So aid another doesn't come up all that often, because there's no coherent way for a player to explain what aiding would consist in. This is especially so in social challenges, which are the predominant sort of challenge I've run.

Player actions (tactics?) have a significant effect on the outcome.
Agreed. My players haven't yet started to approach the tactical issues with quite the same precision as they do combat, however.

I even had a player make an attack roll as part of a skill challenge (to spill a tray of drinks on some rivals during a cocktail party, to mess up their scheming).
I've had this - use of an encounter power to take out some sentries in a "sneaking in" skill challenge. I followed the advice in DMG2 and treated it as a +2 bonus to the Stealth check.
 

the Jester

Legend
I lurve skill challenges, but I bend, fold, spindle and mutilate their basic structure to make them cool as needed.

I'm less prone to tell the pcs what skills they can use and more prone to have them tell me what they're going to try.
 

Lots of really good stuff here. SCs are really a black art to a large extent but it seems to me over the last couple years people have really been getting the hang of it and making it work really well. Personally I've always thought that SCs should be more significant. I think by making them fairly regular parts of the game and giving them serious story implications it really helps pull the emphasis of the game back a ways from the combat heavy stuff that I saw (and did) in the early 4e days.
 

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