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Stalker0's Obsidian Skill Challenge System (Update: Version 1.1) Now with PDF!!

Scud.NZ

First Post
First, my apologies for such a long first post.

Second, I really like the look of your skill challenge system, and I'd like to echo the sentiments of those who feel let down by the shoddy "official" system. The one thing, above others, that I really like about your system is how, IMO, it seems to rewards those players who really make an effort to be creative [Magus, I did enjoy reading through your description of the bear encounter. It kind of got me thinking of the old saying "I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!"].

Finally, I'm intending to give it a go in the near future with my players. I'd been developing some encounters for a journey across a moorland region, and came up with this one. I'd be very interested to know what you, StalkerO, or anyone else thinks of the encounter, and how I intend to link the combat counter that follows it. Does it fit the spirit of the system? Are the consequences of success or failure appropriate? Here goes...

[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Cry for Help! - Level 2 (800XP)[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]This encounter will only occur during watch periods 1 to 4. The PC's see a young lad (his name is Eafa) running in terror across the moorland. If they can catch him, they may eventually be able to calm him enough to get him to tell them what's going on.[/FONT]


[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Some creatures attacked our farm, Sir. One of 'em killed old Aelwig, and then it ate him, oh it was horrible...he screamed and screamed...Criba tried to fight 'em but it was no good. So we hid in the house and the barn, and barricaded ourselves in. M'Pa told me to run away, so when it was safe I was lowered out of a window and I ran and ran. Can you help us, kind Sir, please, please!”[/FONT]


[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]The creatures are in fact ghouls, and there are three of them. They attacked the farm to find fresh meat.[/FONT]


[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]The combat encounter is preceded by the following Skill Challenge.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Purpose: Get to the farm as quickly as possible, scout out the area for the creatures, and place yourself in an advantageous position to fight the creatures or rescue the people on the farm.[/FONT]


[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Level 1: DC 18[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Challenge Type: Physical[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Primary Skill: Round 1 - Endurance; Round 2&3 - Stealth[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Party of 5: V8+, PV6-7, F<6[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Party of 6: V10+, PV8-9, F<8[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Failure: The house has been broken into and the family eaten. All non-evil PC's suffer -1 attack penalty in the ensuing combat due to this blow to morale. Do not award the party the 200XP for the skill challenge. [All ghouls are placed within the house][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Partial Victory: You make it to the farm in time, but you have not worked yourself into an advantageous position. [1 ghoul is placed, then two PC's, repeat][/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Victory: You have worked yourself into an advantageous position. Expect a bonus. [All three ghouls are placed, then PC's place themselves][/FONT]


[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Turn 1: Get to the farm as fast as you can[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Knowledge: Nature allowed – avoids terrain hazards such as Boggy ground which would otherwise slow the party down. Only allowed once per player per encounter.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Social: Intimidate – might be used to push some of the weaker members of the party into picking up the pace a little. Only allowed once per player per encounter.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Endurance – get there just that little bit faster.[/FONT]


[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Turn 2: Scout out the farm and identify the creatures[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Knowledge: Religion allowed – Provides monster knowledge as per description.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Knowledge: Nature not allowed - The ghouls are undead, so this skill will not identify them.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Perception allowed – They are trying to spot the ghouls and avoid stumbling into them.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Athletics – might be used to climb a tree, or building in the farm to get a better view of the ghouls or shot at them.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Social: Intimidate – might be used to shut up the chatty group member who would otherwise reveal the presence of the PC's.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Stealth – Avoid being detected by the ghouls as you scout out the farm.[/FONT]


[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Turn 3: Get into an advantageous position to fight the creatures, or rescue the family members.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Knowledge: Religion allowed – Provides monster knowledge as per description. Not allowed if used last turn. Only allowed once per player per encounter.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Knowledge: Nature not allowed - The ghouls are undead, so this skill will not identify them.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Perception allowed – They are trying to spot the ghouls and avoid stumbling into them.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Athletics – might be used to climb on to the roof of a farm building to get a better shot at the ghouls.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Social: Intimidate – might be used to shut up the chatty group member who would otherwise reveal the presence of the PC's.[/FONT]
[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Stealth – Avoid being detected by the ghouls as you get into the ambush position that you want. Not allowed if used last turn.[/FONT]


[FONT=Verdana, sans-serif]Treasure: none (unless payment demanded from farmers). Farmers offer to put up the party for the night. A good nights rest results in a bonus healing surge

What do you think? I included my notes on what I think my players might try. Too much detail?for the party [usable the next day only].
[/FONT]
 

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Stalker0

Legend
First off, I love the idea of changing the primary skill from the 1st turn to the next one. I've never even considered that idea, but it is such a nice and elegant way of showing a change of dynamic in your skill challenge, bravo!

2nd, I like your idea for the F, PV, and V conditions...that is a good way to handle a skill challenge before a combat scenario. I especially like the idea that the player's reward for a victory is to get to place themselves on the board after you place the ghouls, that is a cool bonus.

Third, as the dm you can never be too detailed in your notes as long as they are useful to you, its a question of how much time and effort you want to spend. I do think your trying to justify intimidate too much for this challenge. Remember that in Obsidian, it is assumed that not everyone is going to use their best skills all the time. It looks like you designed a running, stealthing physical challenge, so that means its time for your athletic, acrobatic, stealthy players to shine, not your social guys.

If you do want intimidate, you might allow it for the last round to scare off the ghouls from eating a farmer or something.
 

Stalker0

Legend
Part Shameless bump, part information gathering.

I'm curious to hear how people have found Obsidian in play. Any particular praise/problems as people have had some time now to try it out for themselves?
 

Fredrik Svanberg

First Post
I'm still waiting for a chance to DM 4E again, but I fear it will be another month or so before I get into it. However I would suggest that you put these rules up on the Wiki for easy access.
 

jaelis

Oh this is where the title goes?
Is the fact that the DCs for levels 12 and 13 are one less than you expect a typo or a deliberate choice?
 

Stalker, I've got more data points for you.
I've used the Obsidian system in a campaign I've been running with three players, two of whom were completely new to roleplaying. I've run one skill challenge in each of the two sessions I've run.

A few general comments:
The system was incredibly easy for the players (old and new) to grasp, and the simplified mechanics were a real boon to roleplaying. They weren't struggling with modifiers or an overload of choices like they did in combat, and it flowed like a straight role playing scene with the dice rolls providing structure.

The target numbers (DC and successes needed) felt very fair, in a party that was not especially optimized as far as skills were concerned.


The first challenge: Sneak through the City
Level 1; DC 18; Physical (mostly)

The PCs had to find their way through the Warrens (the slums of Ptolus) without being detected by the City Watch or any of the street gangs.

Primary skill was Streetwise, although the +2 bonus made it somewhat boring for the player whose Warlord was trained in it, as he had little mechanical benefit to trying anything else. I think I might try changing the primary skill like Skud did, it provides some interesting variance.

I mentioned how the skill checks could also represent actions to aid fellow party members, rather than contributing directly to the task at hand, and my players really picked up on it.
The ranger succeeded on a Stealth Check, and the player described his character walking around the party, tightening their armor straps and tucking their coin purses into their pockets so they would make less noise.

The system also gave a lot of narrative freedom to my players, something that I was really hoping for. One of the newer players described his Paladin hearing some rustling down an alley they passed and a can being knocked over, and rolled an initiative check to place his hand the handle of his axe threateningly.
I was really trying to encourage creativity, so I allowed it and described an old crone in the gutter, her pleas for assistance quickly cut off in fear before they gave the party away.


The party succeeded admirably, with only two failures. The skill challenge was followed up by a combat challenge against a street thug and his two hounds.
As a reward for their success, the players were allowed the freedom to position their characters anywhere on the map they liked before the encounter, in addition to being given a surprise round.
Partial success would have given them only the surprise round, but a tougher fight, and a failure would have had them ambushed by a larger group of thugs.


The second challenge: Bribe the Docksmaster
Level 1; DC 18; Social (mostly)

The party needed to find out what dock a ship they were interested in raiding would be moored at, and needed to ply the Docksmaster for the information without provoking his guards.

The Primary skill was Diplomacy, and as the characters had done a bit of snooping around to find out that the Docksmaster had a penchant for fine chocolates, their initial bribe gave them all +1 bonuses in the first round.

This skill challenge didn't run quite as smoothly as the first, mostly due to the differences in roleplaying a social encounter - mechanically, it worked just as well.
I found structuring a conversation into three rounds, and giving each player something to do in those rounds to be a bit more difficult than applying the same system to a physical encounter.

The +2 bonus to Diplomacy as a primary skill was a bit of a damper on roleplaying, as it affected the same player it did in the first encounter. Once again, he didn't really get to be as creative with his Warlord's actions.

The Warlord and Paladin played Good Cop/Bad Cop alternating Diplomacy and Intimidate, with middling success. I didn't feel that it was necessary to penalize the Intimidate checks, but had the encounter ended in a failure, it would have caused the situation to devolve quickly into combat with the guards.
The Ranger had no social skills, and seeing that the challenge would not be won without his contributions, decided to try and use Stealth. In a standard diplomatic encounter, I would have ruled against this, but they were speaking to the Docksmaster through a locked door. He was able to sneak around the building, enter a window, and pilfer the ledgers with the information they needed.

The party had barely achieved a victory, and it showed me the need to not lock down anything until all the rolls had been made.
 

Scud.NZ

First Post
Thanks for your feedback, Stalker0, and thanks again for designing such a good alternative to the official system!

I'll consider what you said about Intimidate. What was going through my mind when I put pen to paper was Stargate Atlantis. I was kind of thinking about how Ronan and Sheppard intimidate McKay on occasion to get him to grit his teeth and "press on", or shut the hell up when they are surrounded by bad guys. Is this a little too micro-management, should I be thinking in more general terms?

When I read again Q1 in your FAQ, I think I may have answered my own question. "Mechanically, helping your party is the same skill check as taking a more active role"; so if my big, burly PC describes intimidating the weak, unfit PC and makes the skill check then the successful check that he has earned effectively is the bonus that would, in the official system, be awarded to the weaker PC because big, burly has contributed to the successful completion of the challenge. Is my line of thinking here correct?

Looking through my player's character sheets I see that the Warlord has CHA18, and only CON12. So, it would definitely be in his interest to try to use a Social skill at some point in the challenge (once per player per encounter, yes?). Given that he has +9 Intimidate, compared to +6 Endurance, and taking the primary skill bonus in turn 1, he is marginally better off going with Intimidate. Does this sound reasonable?

PS: I like your idea about intimidating the ghoul in the last turn, as it adds to the "just in time" suspense I want to generate.

Finally, How can I model good leadership contributing to the challenge? [Seeing that the Warlord is meant to be an inspiring leader not a bully] At first, I might say its a kind of "positive" Intimidation, and use that skill. However, there is no guarantee that the Warlord is trained in that skill?

So, I'm not really sure. How would you handle this?
 

Scud.NZ

First Post
JasonBostwick, I just have to say it was really handy reading your post.

I mentioned how the skill checks could also represent actions to aid fellow party members, rather than contributing directly to the task at hand, and my players really picked up on it.
The ranger succeeded on a Stealth Check, and the player described his character walking around the party, tightening their armor straps and tucking their coin purses into their pockets so they would make less noise.
I love it! This is perfect thinking "outside the box". I will definitely have to use this as a good example for my players.

I like the idea of "narrative freedom", and I applaud your paladin player using his Initiative bonus. In a game where "maximizing" is so prevalent it's refreshing to see such good roleplaying. Quickly looking at the PHB I see that Paladins aren't exactly built for sneaking through back streets. None of his trained skills seem to be particularly useful, Diplomacy or Intimidate might have been used as social skills once in the encounter (perhaps to persuade a street urchin not to give them away). In any instance, hurrah for the Paladin.

I agree that the Warlord has his actions somewhat decided for him, but then isn't that the function of the Primary skill bonus, to focus the encounter and let a specific player shine. The Warlord was most appropriate to lead them through the streets, was most appropriate to conduct the negotiation (or offer advice to whoever was doing the talking). It was his chance to shine! You were running an encounter in "his" environment. Stick him in a library researching an old tome, and he outside of his comfort zone. Someone else steps up. I wouldn't worry about it, as long as you vary your encounters [plus, changing the Primary skill from round to round might also shake things up a bit].

Do you think that people would like to see a separate thread functioning as a library of sorts, for skill challenges using the Obsidian system? Certainly those placed in this thread so far have given me something to think about, and will provide inspiration for skill challenges of my own in the future.

What do you think?
 

Zinovia

Explorer
I think it would be great to compile some Obsidian skill challenges in a thread or on the Wiki so other GM's could make use of them or be inspired by them. Hearing how they actually turned out in play is very valuable also.

I haven't had a chance to run 4E yet, but my first game is tonight. I'm looking forward to incorporating Obsidian for skill challenges. Thanks Stalker0 and to all those who've written up challenges here. It sounds like just what I've been looking for.
 

dammitbiscuit

First Post
Just chiming in to say that I, too, like this system a lot. I had a campaign that I ran for nearly 2 years in 3.5, and I'm finally starting it up again after a break we took several months ago, and it's 4e time now. The skill challenge rules are so mathematically wonky, especially in the higher-complexity success chance numbers, that I'd scratched my head so hard it had a crater in it. I really wanted to make it consistent, but it looked like I was going to be forced to carefully evaluate DCs per encounter for things my party was crummy or awesome at.

I'll let you know after I've run my first obsidian skill challenge. It's an evil party of adventurers, so I'll probably not have to work nearly as hard as the rest of you do at "justifying" uses of intimidate. ;) As a personal challenge, I think I'm going to try to work Heal in eventually, since no one else has managed to do it.
 

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