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Using Star Wars SAGA Skill Challenges in 5e

Imaro

Adventurer
I wasn't the biggest fan of skill challenges in 4e (presentation, math, advice, and so on... all kind of coalesced to turn me off of them big time in the 4e PHB)... I recently pulled out my Galaxy of Intrigue book for the Star Wars SAGA line and... wow! I'm not sure why 4e didn't just import the rules & advice for skill challenges whole cloth from this book, change the math appropriately for 4e and publish it. Anyway reading over the section has got me thinking I wouldn't mind using the GoI skill challenges in my 5e games so I'm going to make an attempt to go over and adapt them for 5e play... and possibly build one out using the adapted framework

So to begin let's take a look at the steps (in an abbreviated form) for designing a skill challenge in GoI...

1. Choose the concept for your Skill Challenge
a. How does the scene encourage or require skill use
b. What kind of risks can the heroes take to achieve success
c. What provides the tension for the scene

2. Consider the Duration
a. Skill Challenges can span a single scene or multiple scenes
b. SC's can be broken up by other events and encounters
c. Strict guidelines for duration aren't required but consider pacing

3. Determine Tier and Complexity (See Table 1-1 below)
a. Tier is the tier of the challenge or threat your PC's are facing
b. Alternately for a more scaled game tier can be the average tier of your party
c. Complexity 1= 5 successes/ Complexity 2= 8 successes/ Complexity 3= 11 successes
d. Always X successes before 3 failures

4. Set skill DC's
a. Easy: Assign whenever you believe the action would be easy to achieve and represents a good solution to that part of the challenge
b. Medium: Assign when the action should succeed but there is still some risk of failure due to a rare mistake
c. Hard: Assign when the PC's actions use a skill that is not optimal but could possibly produce successful results
d. Very Hard: Assign when the PC's action probably should fail but luck or exceptional skill could produce a miracle

5. Choose Primary Skills (Optional Step)
a. Assign DC's to a small number of skills the PC's are likely to use during the skill challenge
b. You will need to improvise some DC's during the SC (Alternately this step can be ignored and all DC's can be improvised in the moment)
c. These "Primary Skills" are a starting point for the SC, don't let them limit the SC in any way

6. Create Opportunities
a. Opportunities are created by the setting and description of the setting for the skill challenge
b. Presenting multiple characters, locations, objects, scenery, etc. allows players more leeway to come up with interesting actions

7. Add Challenge Effects
a. Small alterations the the game mechanics of the skill challenge that change the way it plays out
b. Add with discretion as some may be incompatible with others.

Table 1-1
TIEREasyMediumHardV.Hard
1st10152025
2nd11162126
3rd12172227
4th13182328
5th14192429

So this is the basic structure for creating a skill challenge in GoI. A few things of note.

1. I think calling out the setting of Primary Skills as optional in the rules is a necessary difference from 4e that allows some leeway for those who desire more organic challenges.

2. Challenge Effects are another key difference that I love and that really should have been a part of the 4e skill challenges. Modular rules one can easily insert into a SC to change the mechanics in order to achieve different types of game play to support different fiction. Oddly enough they address one of my major dislikes about 4e SC's... mainly the fact that the abilities of an NPC or monster have no bearing on DC's... I'll be going into them in more detail in the next post.

3. The option to base the DC's of the Skill Challenge on Threat tier or Character tier isn't a part of the rules but I've changed/included it because I feel it again gives options for a wider variety of play styles when it comes to SC's.

4. I created the DC's based on tiers because it seemed intuitive and to work better with bounded accuracy... that said I am not a math guy and I haven't had an opportunity to play test this yet so the math could be totally broken. would love to hear thoughts around it.

5. For those wondering Tier 5 is 20th level +... where boons and alternate rewards from the DMG come into play.

6. Trying to figure out how to tie Complexity and Tier to the XP system of 5e for rewarding PC's when a SC is completed successfully... any ideas on this would be welcome as well.

7. Also thinking about alternate rewards in the vein of the various failure conditions associated with GoI skill challenges (will be looking at these in a later post as well.


Next up... A look at Challenge Effects
 

Matrix Sorcica

Explorer
Hope you provide some examples on using this system for a 5e situation.

Edit: D'oh! Maybe I should read the entire post before posting.....
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
At my table we make frequent use of Challenges, which have evolved from the concept of Skill Challenges but hold remarkable little mechanically in common - mathematically the X successes before 3 failures has a non-intuitive relationship to chance of failure (usually punatively) that also has an outsized penalty for characters ebver reaching outside their comfort zones of high skills, plus it assigns the same weight for moving towards success and protecting against failure to all rolls - it assumes a single success and failure on a line.

The most important difference between a Skill Challenge and a Challnge is knocking the word "Skill" off - you can "gain successes" through any action. A clever idea, use of an appropriate spell or other consumable resource, bringing in specialized knowledge your character has ("tell him about what they did to his sister").

Secondly, some things are clear they work in a boolean matter of advancing success or advancing failure - if you're trying to keep your ship off the rocks in a stornm, a piloting check is a good example. But other checks can just help keep away failures or (in rarer cases) only add to success without increasing the failure track. Pumping out water in the bilge can help prevent sinking and mildly giving you a shallower draft - it prevents failures from sinking but doesn't help that much with getting out of the storm.

Which leads into separately tracking one or more success conditions (either exclusive or independent) and one or more failure conditions. Blades in the Dark clocks are a great tech for this - see how much water you've taken on, see how bad your sails are, see how much the progress towards the safe harbor has been made. A social challenge might have several goals you are working toward and some actions might help one part while hurting another. And there could be a failure condition of being thrown out from angering the king, another for losing the support of the count, and a third for convincing the duke to send support to the small town getting attacked by hell hounds.
 
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robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
c. Complexity 1= 5 successes/ Complexity 2= 8 successes/ Complexity 3= 11 successes
d. Always X successes before 3 failures
This 3 failure rigidity really puzzles me, because it doesn't scale well to larger groups.Because with larger groups everyone one wants a chance to participate, but with a rigid limit that increases the chance of triggering the failure limit.

Why not make it relative to the group size? # of failures = # of PCs - 1?

Also this system seems quite complicated compared to other skill challenge systems suggested for 5e?
 

MarkB

Adventurer
This 3 failure rigidity really puzzles me, because it doesn't scale well to larger groups.Because with larger groups everyone one wants a chance to participate, but with a rigid limit that increases the chance of triggering the failure limit.

Why not make it relative to the group size? # of failures = # of PCs - 1?

Also this system seems quite complicated compared to other skill challenge systems suggested for 5e?
The number-of-failures factor is a difficult balancing act. The first version of D&D 4e's skill challenges increased both the number of successes required and the number of failures allowed for more complex tasks, but this had the effect of actually making complex tasks more likely to succeed, which is why subsequent iterations of the rules fixed it at "before 3 failures" for all levels of task complexity.

However, this does play into the binary nature of 4e skill challenges, which I don't get the impression the above Saga-edition rules rectify - essentially, because you're using skill checks rather than expending spells or other resources, and have clear victory and failure conditions but nothing in between, the outcome of the challenge tends to be either complete victory with no major resources consumed, or a straight-up failure with whatever consequences that implies.

A fix for this is to not necessarily use fixed numbers of failures, but instead have each failure impose a cost - a resource that is used up or a condition that is imposed. For example, in the aforementioned keeping-the-ship-off-the-rocks example, a failed check might deal some damage to a character (they get thrown about by the pitching ship, or swallow some seawater while pumping the bilges) which could be represented either by straight damage or expended hit dice; or it might represent their strength failing as the wrestle with the wheel or rigging, imposing a level of exhaustion upon them.

This allows a task to succeed at a cost, imposing lasting penalties for individual failures without causing the whole endeavour to fail at some arbitrary point - at least, until those penalties start stacking up.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
I'll address some of the thoughts here when I have a little more time... but I wanted to get the summary of challenge effects for the Saga SC system up before doing so, which I think addresses at least some of the concerns that have been posted so far especially around rigidity, costs, binary nature, etc.

Challenge Effects

Antagonist
When to use: When you want to represent an opponent that actively works against the PC’s as they perform the skill challenge..
Effect: The PC’s don’t accrue failures when they fail a skill check. Instead, the antagonist takes its own actions and makes its own skill checks (against the same DC’s faced by the PCs)' and each success the antagonist accrues counts as one failure for the PC’s. The antagonist takes an action each time all the PC’s have taken action, ensuring that failures are accrued only after the PC’s have had a chance to earn successes.

Catastrophic Failure
When to use: When the PC's plight is so delicate that a significant failure causes the situation to worsen rapidly.
Effect: If a participant fails a skill check by 10 or more, the PCs accrue two failures instead of one.


Changing Objectives:
When to use: When a more significant shift than usual occurs in the PCs' situation.l
Effect: As the PC’s accrue successes and failures, the objectives of the skill challenge change, and the relevant skills and actions available to the PCs change as well.

Close Call:
When to use: Use in situations in which the PCs can fail to make progress toward their goal without making overall conditions worse.
Effect: With this effect, the PC’s accrue a failure only if they fail a skill check by 5 or more.

Containment:
When to use: In situations where the actions of the PC’s can bring only success, not failure.
Effect: the PC’s do not accrue failures for failed skill checks. Instead, they accrue a failure only if no PC earns a success during an increment of time predetermined by the Gamemaster

Degenerating:
When to use: In situations where failures can make the situation worse without ending the skill challenge.
Effect: The challenge does not end when the PC’s accrue three failures. Instead, the general difficulty category for skill checks increases by one step for each failure accrued. For example, on the first failure, easy checks become medium checks, medium checks become hard checks, and so on. Each success decreases the difficulty category by one step. The skill challenge ends when there are no possible skill DCs below a certain general category (as determined by the GM). For example once all skill checks reach very hard.

Degrees of Failure:
When to use: When the skill challenge grows more dangerous as the PC’s accrue more failures
Effect: The skill challenge ends when three failures are accrued, as normal, but even if the PC’s succeed, they must deal with consequences based on the number of failures accrued during the challenge.

Degrees of Success:
When to use: In a situation where incremental benefits can be gained even in the face of ultimate failure.
Effect: Each time the PC’s earn a certain number of successes, they gain some type of benefit, regardless of the number of failures they have accrued. The number of successes needed to gain a benefit can vary depending on the skill challenge.

Extreme Success:
When to use: In situations where PC’s bring a skill challenge to its conclusion more quickly by pulling off exceptional actions.
Effect: If a PC earns a success with a check result that is 10 or more points higher than the target DC, the PC earns two successes for the party instead of one.

Individual Effort:
When to use: When resolution of a situation relies on separate PC’s contributions to the challenge.
Effect: Each PC must earn a number of individual successes equal to the challenge's complexity before the party accrues enough failures as a whole to fail the challenge

Opposed DC
When to use: a situation in which someone or something is actively working to deter the PCs' efforts
Effect: the DC is set by the skill check or defense score of an opponent as opposed to the table.

Recovery
When to use: In a situation in where the PC’s can make amends for mistakes they made earlier
Effect: When a PC succeeds on a check by 5 or more, that PC can choose to remove one failure instead of earning a success

Restricted Skills
When to use: a situation in which the same trick will not work more than a few times, if at all.
Effect: Forbid certain skills from being used in the challenge or limit the number of times that certain skills can be used, or rule that when a PC accrues a failure with a certain skill, that skill can no longer be used to earn successes

Second Effort
When to use: In a situation in which, despite a lack of skill or composure, the PCs may succeed through pure grit and determination.
Effect: Any PC who accrues a failure can make a sacrifice to turn that failure into a success. The exact nature of the sacrifice is up to the GM

Timed Challenge
When to use: A situation in which the PC’s must worry more about the passage of time than about their individual failures.
Effect: the PC’s do not accrue failures for failing skill checks, but instead must earn the required number of successes before a certain amount of time passes (either in rounds or in a more general sense)


EDIT: Next let's take a look at Success & Failure in the SW Saga SC system...
 
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Imaro

Adventurer
The most important difference between a Skill Challenge and a Challnge is knocking the word "Skill" off - you can "gain successes" through any action. A clever idea, use of an appropriate spell or other consumable resource, bringing in specialized knowledge your character has ("tell him about what they did to his sister").
I did want to quickly touch on this point since this is addressed in the SC section of GoI... The usage of Talents, Feats, Equipment, Combat Actions & Force Powers in a Skill challenge are each given their own section in the chapter which goes into great detail in how PC's cn leverage them mechanically for a SC. If I get some time I will post a few examples... now that said I am trying to avoid reprinting the rules in their entirety since not sure whether that would be cool or not.

EDIT: Again I really wish the detail, explanation and discussion SC's received in GoI had been reprinted for the 4e PHB.
 

MarkB

Adventurer
Thanks for the further update, the Challenge Effects sound like the meat of the system, and they do help in addressing my concerns regarding binary success/failure situations.

EDIT: Again I really wish the detail, explanation and discussion SC's received in GoI had been reprinted for the 4e PHB.
To be fair, the 4e PHB was published in 2008, and Galaxy of Intrigue was published in 2010.
 

pukunui

Adventurer
Yeah, the GoI skill challenge rules were a refinement of the 4e rules (which were technically in the DMG, not the PHB).

That said, I remember trying to run a skill challenge in my SWSE game using the GoI rules. It didn’t work out so well in my opinion. Still felt too artificial. Have avoided skill challenges ever since.
 

MarkB

Adventurer
D'ope... I have always believed they were published in GoI before 4e...
Yeah, I had to look it up, though I do remember there being a degree of overlap timewise between the two systems. But just from reading the rules in your first post, it was pretty clear that they'd incorporated some of the refinements that 4e made through successive errata - such as the fixed number of failures at differing complexity levels.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
Yeah, the GoI skill challenge rules were a refinement of the 4e rules (which were technically in the DMG, not the PHB).

That said, I remember trying to run a skill challenge in my SWSE game using the GoI rules. It didn’t work out so well in my opinion. Still felt too artificial. Have avoided skill challenges ever since.
This is all just theory at this point, since I haven't playtested using these rules in my 5e game... but would you care to elaborate what the issues were you ran into? Maybe it's something we can look to avoid here.
 

Zardnaar

Explorer
SWSE had the 4E problem where you could have a +15 or so difference in skill levels reasonably early on perhaps even at level 1 (+5 trained, +5 expertise, 20 whatever vs someone else who lacked that). Certain skills were also heavily rewarded (eg piloting, use the force).

We tried the GoI rules once, thought it was kinda pointless and didn't add much to the game.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
SWSE had the 4E problem where you could have a +15 or so difference in skill levels reasonably early on perhaps even at level 1 (+5 trained, +5 expertise, 20 whatever vs someone else who lacked that). Certain skills were also heavily rewarded (eg piloting, use the force).

We tried the GoI rules once, thought it was kinda pointless and didn't add much to the game.
Hmm... I'm thinking 5e's bounded accuracy would keep the disparity between skill values within a reasonable range... a little worried about expertise but I'm thinking even with that it should work better than 4e/SAGA.
 
Hmm... I'm thinking 5e's bounded accuracy would keep the disparity between skill values within a reasonable range... a little worried about expertise but I'm thinking even with that it should work better than 4e/SAGA.
Star Wars SAGA's approach was better but still had some underlying maths problems that made failure very likely & the 3 successes before X failures was not a model that fit all situations.

I made a "Skill" Challenge for an upcoming 5e game, and you can see my approach here: Crossing the Nsi Wastes - travel challenge. I put "skill" in parentheses because mine have run better since I stopped thinking of them as "skill challenges" following a mold, and more organically as "challenges" each with a unique structure/approach.

EDIT: One of the keys is that for each step of the challenge, I try to include 3 possible solutions and restrict myself to writing down only 1 skill check. I'm a big fan of clever role-playing/negotiation, creative spell use, and outside-the-box class feature use contributing toward success (without requiring a roll).
 
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Laurefindel

Explorer
I made a "Skill" Challenge for an upcoming 5e game, and you can see my approach here: Crossing the Nsi Wastes - travel challenge.
Cool stuff you've got there [MENTION=20323]Quickleaf[/MENTION]. I've been thinking about something like that for a while to spice-up the exploration pillar of the game, and hopefully make a generic "travel challenge/encounter" set of tables for different types of environments.

I haven't seen ToA, is this taken directly from the adventure, inspired by some elements of it, or completely made-up by you?
 
Cool stuff you've got there [MENTION=20323]Quickleaf[/MENTION]. I've been thinking about something like that for a while to spice-up the exploration pillar of the game, and hopefully make a generic "travel challenge/encounter" set of tables for different types of environments.

I haven't seen ToA, is this taken directly from the adventure, inspired by some elements of it, or completely made-up by you?
I'll PM so as not to de-rail Imaro's thread!
 

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