Things to do in a tabletop rpg that are not combat related?

I am wondering a couple things though.

1. I read that in like D&D 2e and previous there was no perception/spot check and you had to actually say what your doing in the room?

There were specific abilities like the thief had for detecting traps and elves detecting secret or hidden passages on a d6 roll. If you really dig into the DMG and PHB you also find little rules here and there for things. There was more of an emphasis on interacting with the scenery. So the elf might get that d6 roll automatically for just being near a secret panel, but they didn't want to discourage People from describing how they investigate a chamber (i look under the bed, or i turn the statue around). The approach to social interaction was similar. There wasnt a diplomacy or bluff skill in 2E. They had etiquette, but that was a knowledge roll (it specifically said it couldnt be used to replace roleplaying).

That said, ability checks were a big gap filler if you needed to roll for that sort of thing. So you might make a wisdom check to see people spot something. I 2E you just had to roll under your ability score to succeed (non-weapon proficiencies worked the same way).

There were also non-weapon proficiencies for non-combat (they were were optional) and two other optional skill methods.
 

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Joe Sumfin

First Post
I just wanted to say thanks again for all the feedback I've gotten. You've given me food for thought and I bow to your creativity.

I'm just currently a player right now and prefer the RP mystery side and wouldn't mind playing an intrigue or plot heavy thing because as it sits I just follow along what the DM reads, sort of, go where he tells me to and deal with whatever obstacle comes up. Usually something combat related. 98% of the time at least.

He did say he turned a chase we had to do into a skill challenge of sorts, and no offense to him, it was ok but it all just came down to us all rolling like 3 times each and we got him. I was intrigued when he said skill challenge but the way he went about it got me less intrigued. I thought he was going to put us on like a city grid and have us actually try to find him or something but then I thought about that later and not sure that'd be fun. It'd be fun to me for a few minutes but it could drag out.

I'm mostly in a non-RP group. One guy loves to sandbox game and just throw curve balls. One guy likes to throw rules at the DM. 2 players are min-max'ers. The DM, when he did play was ok either way but likes plots, less mission based.

I'm just rambling and/or bitching.

I appreciate the advice and thanks all. =)
 

Dungeoneer

First Post
I just wanted to say thanks again for all the feedback I've gotten. You've given me food for thought and I bow to your creativity.

I'm just currently a player right now and prefer the RP mystery side and wouldn't mind playing an intrigue or plot heavy thing because as it sits I just follow along what the DM reads, sort of, go where he tells me to and deal with whatever obstacle comes up. Usually something combat related. 98% of the time at least.

He did say he turned a chase we had to do into a skill challenge of sorts, and no offense to him, it was ok but it all just came down to us all rolling like 3 times each and we got him. I was intrigued when he said skill challenge but the way he went about it got me less intrigued. I thought he was going to put us on like a city grid and have us actually try to find him or something but then I thought about that later and not sure that'd be fun. It'd be fun to me for a few minutes but it could drag out.

I'm mostly in a non-RP group. One guy loves to sandbox game and just throw curve balls. One guy likes to throw rules at the DM. 2 players are min-max'ers. The DM, when he did play was ok either way but likes plots, less mission based.

I'm just rambling and/or bitching.

I appreciate the advice and thanks all. =)
Skill challenges were introduced in Fourth Edition. The problem is that as they were presented there was something of a disconnect between the rules (roll a bunch of dice) and what they were trying to achieve (create cool, interactive non-combat encounters). Some of the later 4e adventures have more interesting examples of skill challenges. The community has also attempted to refine them. You should check out Critical Hits' advice for running skill challenges if somebody hasn't pointed you in that direction already.

But basically, skill challenges are a good idea that needs to be fleshed out. Some DMs are comfortable doing that, others are not. But I would definitely look at some of the examples you will find on Critical Hits, because they may give you ideas for how to approach non-combat scenarios like you describe. Even if you don't use them wholesale. For instance this person came up with a modified version of a skill challenge to simulate a drinking game.
 


Ketherian

Explorer
I tried to find the book but couldn't. Will have to look some more later.

My question now is HOW do you run the festivals?

,,,

I'm just wondering how you play out the things that go on that aren't combat? Do you apply rolls to them and they need to actually roll to win or just RP it all out?

It depends. First off, in Harnmaster, everything (even combat) is a series of skill challenges.

In the case of the joust, I found a fan-written article that had me print out cards that showed the type of attack. Players picked a card and slammed it down simultaneously. They rolled against their ride skill to handle the animal and results were determined; but I also described it in detail - the pounding of the hooves on rough ground, the weight of the lance and shield on their back and shoulder, and of course - the imact. Did it knock someone off their horse, did they sway dangerously sideways, the weight of their armor bearing them down, etc.etc.etc.

Archery is more straight skill checks, progressively getting harder as the butt is moved further and further back; but there's the crowd's reaction, the waiting for their turn -- lots to describe.

With wrestling, I had them make some rolls then told them how it went (briefly) because it was getting late, and I was tired. I could have done straight unarmed combat between folk, but it was more interesting for all involved to hear the highlights than the blow-by-blow. Same with the footraces.

With the liturgy contests - it was memory (int) checks; a passage is read and the player-character has to finish it. Do they remember? Simple, but fun when they hear how people goof it up, or a few who get it almost right.

I kept rolls in the tourney events to keep the events random and to give the players a sense of control.

During the grand melee, it was almost all discussion of tactics. They figured out how to cross a field of "enemy combatants", keeping some occupied while others raced to the opposition's flag. There was one brief fight against the flag's guard, but most of that battle was discussions; moving icons on a map. I used a very simplified combat system to keep the event light (and because a successful hit meant the defender/attacker was out -- this was a mock combat after-all). So that one was almost entirely RP.
 

Celebrim

Legend
First of all, you can do anything in tabletop RPG you can imagine. And if you do it right, most things can be fun.

But before I get into that let me say that 4e style skill challenges is a terrible idea in most cases.

To understand why, let's just look at a very basic level how a PnP RPG works.

In general you have one or more players and one special player, the referee or game master who sets the stage or frames the scene. Players propose actions for their characters to attempt based on an understanding explicit or otherwise of the stakes, and then the results are randomized based on a fortune mechanic and the game master on the basis of the results of the player's fortune narrates an outcome or resolution that changes the scene or possibly leads to a new scene.

The exact system can very in a variaty of interesting ways. You can have explicit or implicit stakes. You can have a fortune that precedes the narration of the proposed action, or the narrated action can come before the fortune. You can have different sorts of fortune mechanics, and you can have the players take a role in narrating the outcome. But in overview, that's how a good PnP RPG works.

The problem with 4e style skill challenges are many. First, they abstract away any relationship between the players proposition and the outcome, so that it doesn't really matter what the player proposes the outcome is purely based on fortune. This is about as interesting as the card game 'war'. It reduces the system to something that barely takes any player input. Secondly, they propose a system where by the fortune - the odds of success - radically doesn't depend on the actions being undertaken but on an arbitrary generic structure with totally broken math. Thirdly, it substitutes the above organic evolving mutually creative process for a fixed framework. Fourthly, it produces a system that isn't 'cinematic' in the sense that doing normal process simulation like the above just naturally creates a story with many branching points and concrete scenes. You don't have to work to make it a story, it just becomes one. You either leapt over the pit, or you fell into it. Either outcome creates a visual impression in the imagination. Either outcome strongly encourages all participants to share in the imagined scene. A 4e skill challange just encourages participants to share in the really dull game system it is defined by.

That isn't to say you couldn't occassionally have a skill challenge that made sense, but that it would work very differently that 4e's skill challenge does by default. An example I've actually ran in a game back in 1992 before 3e was even a remote reality much less 4e, was an impromptu arm wrestling match between a PC and an NPC that fundamentally amounted to "gain 3 successes before the opponnent does". I adopted that because it seemed natural that an arm wrestling match worked that way, and made it obvious where the arms of the participants were. So yes, sometimes you'll need a skill challenge like mechanic, but most of the time it will just get in the way and destroy your game and the fun.

Don't try to create a generic system for resolving problems. Complex interrelating skill checks will evolve on their own if you just create complicated situations. Suppose for example you set a scene where its in the players benefit to get at least 5 of a cities 9 Aldermen to support the PC's in some initiative. This is a skill challenge in a sense, but its a wide open one. It could be resolved with something as simple as making conversation and 5 successful diplomacy roles. Or, it could be that each Alderman has a different set of conditions to persuade them - some are hard to persaude by diplomacy, but perhaps can be persuaded by blackmail, or bribery, or intimidation, or simply by successfully using Charm Person. Maybe some want to make bargains with the PC's, offering the vote in exchange for some service the PC's can provide - fetching a dingus, killing a foe, rescueing their daughter, etc. Maybe the PC's are in position to assassinate one and have him replaced. Different approaches will have different outcomes and repercussions and chances of success but either way you've got story naturally being created as a result of the play, and not added to a static system as an afterthought.

Ok, so things that I know you can do in an PnP RPG that are fun:

1) Have a Chase Scene: This is something like a skill challenge, in that it generally involves at a fundamental level getting more successes than failures over a time period, but its not really tightly structured like that. Also, keep them fairly short if you can, because dice rolling without signfiicant changes of scene is boring. Instead, think of the sort of things you've seen happen in a Holiwood chase scene and string together a series of mini-challenges. "The bad guys are getting away with the loot in a wagon, we've got to chase them.", creates a natural chase seen. "The assassin is on the roof!", creates another one. So does, "The monster is atop the princess's carriage" or conversely, "We're riding shotgun on the princess's carriage when its attacked by the dark overlord's elite cavalry!"

2) Investigate a Mystery: The classic non-combat challenge. Find the breadcrumb trail that leads you to be able to open up a door, pass judgement on who is the enemy, and find the missing whatsit. Remember as the game master to follow the 'three clue rule'.

3) Compete in a contest: Arm wrestling, chariot racing, gladiatorial combat where putting on a good show is as important as winning, aerobatic pegasi contest,

4) Get to know NPCs: A lot of the joy of a good PnP RPG is thespian. Being in character, exploring your character, in relationships with colorful NPC foils, rivals, friends, enemies, paramours, servants and leiges with their own quirks and agendas.

5) Help a poor widow maintain her farm: Again, this is something like a skill challenge, but its not got an arbitrary format. It's more like, "Tend the animals", "Harvest the crop", "Weed the vegetable garden, but don't get bit by the rattlesnake.", "Get rid of the moles.", "Remove the wasp nest from the outhouse.", and "kill the giant rat under the hen coop" Combat, spells, skill use, and simple hard work resolves the problem. Situations like this where you resolve ordinary problems are great at low levels, for small children, and as changes of pace. Tailor things like this to the players interests. Some players want to 'make a difference'. Others just want 'phenomal cosmic power'. Players that want to 'make a difference' don't always just enjoy killing bad guys in ways that seem barely different than robbery and murder of guys with black hats.

6) Explore the world: Much of the joy of an RPG is finding surprising, clever, complicated and wonderful things that the GM has put into his game that makes it seem alive and real.

7) Survive Hardships: One game I wouldn't mind running would start with a shipwreck, and the PC's being the sole survivors stranded on a remote island with basically no equipment. Figuring out where to find water, food, shelter, and ultimately tools and weapons would I think make a great low level campaign. One thing I'd love about it is just how important any Craft skill you had would be. Just getting a good night's sleep would be a challenge at first.

8) Mass Combat: Run a large battle using a mass combat system of some sort, with the players 'commanding' the troops. This is another sort of sitaution where you want and abstract system rather than trying to apply the normal skirmish rules to 10,000 fighting individuals, but where you don't want anything like a 4e skill challenge because the system that works is one that is tactical, positional, and visual. You want the players to be able to see the charge of the cavalry, the flank being overwhelmed, and so forth. You don't want to be narrating a thin tacked on story layer to the sytem as an after thought. You want the system to actively create the story.

9) Figure out puzzles, or answer riddles: Sometimes its fun to make the skill challenge actually challenge the players rather than the characters. Ideally these should be fairly short and involve every player able to contribute ideas. Mazes are bad ideas (they take too long to be interesting) and chess probably is as well (only one player is really playing). But there are plenty of little puzzles you can put into your game organically (repair a derelict ship to keep it from sinking, bypass a trap) or inorganically (a riddling door, a puzzle to open a treasure box). If you know your players are particularly good at something, put that in the game.
 

Herobizkit

Adventurer
Anything that gives you and the players a tie to the campaign world is almost always successful (it tends to be less successful if the DM runs pre-generated 'modules' as many are designed to be play-and-forget).

That said, consider the campaign I'm playing in now. At level one, the PC's started on a prison island. I was playing a lowly clerk who got out of menial labour by being a brown-nose who was good with paperwork and languages. Using said paperwork, he was able to identify a couple of folks who were unjustly imprisoned (including the other players), rallied them together and stages a boat robbery.

We sailed for a month, dealing with bad weather, monster attacks, low food supplies, and one ship-on-ship battle that doubled our strength. We sailed into (what essentially was) a pirate's cove, whereupon we learned that there were two main "gangs" in the city - one who ran business like a Mafia (using toughs/muscle and intimidation, gaining respect out of fear), and one who ran business like the Triads (running "white-collar" crimes, controlling the money and import/exports and generally leaving the non-gang members alone, gaining respect by keeping the Mafia in check). When we arrived, the "Mafia" were gaining ground and the very reclusive Mayor supported them.

Team PC took it upon themselves to find out why the Mayor was so reclusive; through Stealth, Diplomacy, and Streetwise, we learned that someone was rallying a horde of Wererats in the sewers and capturing Crown soldiers to make more. We put a stop to it, learned the Mayor had been replaced by a Changeling, removed him, and promptly took over the city - all without the city's populace catching wise.

From the shadows of the mayoral estate, we explored this new land and discovered tribes of assorted races, all living on their own, all trying to avoid the heavy hand of the Crown Empire and their puritan ways (the Empire is a Monarchy who believes in the purity of their bloodline and abhor anything non-human; while they create no active campaigns against humanoids, they make no qualms of crushing any who impede their expansion).

So, being slaves ourselves, we weren't happy with other races being looked down upon and chose to rally them to our own banner. We made roads. Forts. Created and explored mines. Met Underdark folks. Gathered resources. Eventually, we came to forge a "province" of assorted Humanoids, all working together-ish for mutually assured assistance. Then the Emperor showed up, patted us on the head and said 'keep it up' as long as we could assure that the Humanoids weren't going to be an issue.

This took us to level 9. We're now investigating a rival country with rumours of war preparations.

Much of the activity involved in all of this required no fighting; we played many 4-5 hour sessions where all we did was talk and run skill checks.

One player's character is a Thri-Kreen who is a "Japanese tourist". Everything he sees, he wants to somehow make part of himself. He has learned skills, feats, and powers that are very similar to my own (as a Human Hexblade) and our other player, who is playing a Goliath Druid in the style of Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender (a man-child with an elemental-themed destiny who is to accomplish a great deed before unlocking his full potential).

Phew.

I guess that's long-winded, but I wanted to show you how a series of random events (as the DM is running a fairly loose sandbox-style adventure) can turn into a large campaign involving a lot more than "go here, fight that".
 

ExiStanc3

First Post
All very good answers and advices here.

If I may about the tournament ... Why is there one? Why are your characters taking part in it? Who's organizing it? What is at stake here? What if your players win it? What if they loose? Are there many sides involved in it? And why? On which sides are your players? Why?

Answer those questions and suddlendly you'll have a LOT for your players to do. Don't play a tournament scene. Create a context around about a tournament, with things happening before and after, and you've got yourself a story!!!

Good luck.
 

Herobizkit

Adventurer
If I may about the tournament ... Why is there one? Why are your characters taking part in it? Who's organizing it? What is at stake here? What if your players win it? What if they loose? Are there many sides involved in it? And why? On which sides are your players? Why?
If you're going for intrigue, one idea could be that the local Lord called all of the land's Champions into one spot to help tip the scales for another Lord waiting to attack their common enemy(the same Lord is mysteriously missing from the event, and no Champions from his lands are represented - this would be the hint for the PCs to learn more).
 

ExiStanc3

First Post
If you're going for intrigue, one idea could be that the local Lord called all of the land's Champions into one spot to help tip the scales for another Lord waiting to attack their common enemy(the same Lord is mysteriously missing from the event, and no Champions from his lands are represented - this would be the hint for the PCs to learn more).

Or is it? Maybe the tournament is for the recruitment of assassins in a secret society that works for the power in place? And maybe the group is investigating that society and the links it has with some previous plots they were following?

More seriously, what I mean is that the real challenge, the excitement should be about the outcome of the tournament, not rolling the dices ... You need stakes, not mechanic.
 

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