View Full Version : How do you present skill challenges?

08-13-2009, 02:35 PM
As a DM you've got to somehow inform your characters that they are now participating in a skill challenge. How exactly do you go about this?

I've tried to explain the situation to them in a way that is supposed to imply skill is required. "The Mayor has offered a poor reward for the adventure, you'll need to negotiate some better terms." "The orc guards are on a slow patrol bast the entrance, if you make a bit of a distraction you should easily be able to sneak past."

Once I ask for initiative they immediately reach for their weapons and start planning attacks. I keep thinking its them being unfamiliar with the 4E rules and the mechanics of skill challenges.

Aside from blatantly saying "Ok, this is a skill challenge, leave the swords in their sheathes" I'm curious how I can present them to clue the players in to what they are supposed to do.

08-13-2009, 04:31 PM
Maybe the group is a kick in the door and kill everyone kind of group. If that's the case, that's just how they're gonna play. Diplomacy at swordpoint is still diplomacy.

The best thing to do is not to really PLAN a skill challenge. If it feels like that's the direction the players are taking things, go with it though.

08-14-2009, 05:16 PM
Sounds like you need frequent hints that it's not combat. Also don't let the players get away with just reaching for the dice- "I use Diplomacy" isn't enough (otherwise it's just rolling dice- I don't know about the rest of you, but that bores me).

As Korhal said, if they just want combat, might as well give it to them. Throw some skill challenge traps in to spice things up, but social challenges don't seem to be their thing.

08-14-2009, 05:58 PM
Guess I'll have to cook up another brand of them then. I'd hate to let them get away with all combat in the adventure. But I suppose if thats what they want I can cooperate a little.

How would a skill challenge for traps work? I'm not sure what other skills beyond thievery would be useful. Guess I'm thinking too small of traps, get the Raiders of the Lost Ark boulder trap going; some endurance checks for running, a few acrobatics to avoid tripping, then thievery to try and spot a way to stop or slow the boulder.

08-14-2009, 06:00 PM
obviously there is the blatant approach (no problems with that in my mind), but the skill challenge articles in the dungeon magazine have good ideas and as I have posted before, but will post again:


08-17-2009, 06:40 AM
A physical encounter (or two) that turns out to be tougher than they thought may make them more eager to seek alternate ways to achieve their goals...

08-17-2009, 04:31 PM
Ianos is on it. One way to stop the kill'em all approach is to throw in enemies that can't be killed.

DM: That key you need for the vault? It's in the statue's hand.

PCs: We chop the statue down!

DM: When your axe hits the statue, it clangs off loudly. The statue's blank eyes turn toward you, and its scythe swings viciously at anyone within reach. It doesn't leave its spot, so the rest of you are safe to plan another approach...

08-18-2009, 07:14 AM
Your players seem like Hack and Slashers, it is hard to get them to try skills. 4th takes normal combat and adds a lot of options so right now a lot of people are wanting to try it out. Combat is a lot of fun in 4th so how do you convience them to use skills. Reward them when they use skills instead of combat, maybe with xp or gp. Once they relize they get rewards for this they might try it more, use there greed against them.

08-19-2009, 06:28 AM
I hadn't taken them for hack 'n slashers with how much in character discussion they do; but I guess they have that streak in them somewhere. I've been working on a few skill challenges that only use the environment (traps, finding an entrance to a keep/dungeon, stuff like that) to see how those play out. I have been keeping the encounters pretty challenging, but I think they are starting to get over confident so I may need to knock them down a peg.

Thanks for the suggestions, I'll be adjusting my DMing a bit and see how things go.

08-24-2009, 01:54 PM
I think that Skill Challenges can be a tricky thing to present to the group if you wish to avoid the blatant "Now entering a skill challenge!" (as I do). The problem with saying things like "The mayor has offered you a lousy reward, you'll have to negotiate better terms." is that the average player unfortunately, will likely look down at his sheet, see that he didn't train Diplomacy, and then hope somebody else did. This is kind of the problem with social skill challenges in general. I think a lot of players are having difficulty thinking outside the box in terms of skill uses, particularly since skills in 4th Ed are so much broader than in 3.x.

As for the "combat" skill challenge, there are a couple of ways of doing it that can work. With respect to the trap, think about the types of traps involved. As an example, take the classic room filling with water trap (while fighting monsters that may or may not have problems with water).

Perception -- use this skill to locate the mechanism to disarm said trap
Athletics -- use this skill to work your way to the trigger/swim through water/etc.
Acrobatics -- water tends to make surfaces slippery, use this to balance
Thievery -- obvious use to disarm the trap
Dungeoneering -- to notice or guess where the water might drain out (perhaps to give a boost to a perception score to locate a drain might be located for an alternate method to disable the trap) where the drain in the room is (at some point the water has to drain out)

Can probably even add a couple more if need be (Heal, Endurance come to mind for instance).

Perhaps the best way to look at this as a whole though is to (as was mentioned earlier) show areas where fights were more difficult than they had to be. Perhaps leaving a note on the boss that talks about how he intimidated the mayor into offering a poor reward in the hopes that nobody would take the job, or the mercenaries have a note talking about how they really don't want to join in with the bad guys, but the pay is too good. To make this work of course, you have to have dropped some hints as to who is involved ahead of time, but at the very least, you have dropped the hint that perhaps the fight could have been easier. Finally, perhaps even let them find a diary entry from the mayor that has him boasting about how much he stiffed the "stupid" adventurers, etc.

08-24-2009, 08:35 PM
"The forest path ends in a deep ravine. A 25 foot tree trunk lies across the top of the ravine, and leads to what looks like another path on the other side. The ravine is 20 feet deep, but lined with foliage, so a fall is more likely to maim you than to kill you."

Insert sneaky archers, or aggressive bird flocks, as needed.

Tower Lord
08-24-2009, 11:15 PM
My experience with skill challenges is to weave it deeply in the story. By definition a skill challenge should be an event with multiple results that affect the party. The basic is a pass fail result on the situation itself. There can also be lesser degrees of success if you wish based on how close they were to success.
The players must never be told when a skill challenge has started, that can take them from the game and in to Meta-game mode. The need to resolve the challenge should be present as organic as possible. In social situations the party must be aware of some objective in dealing with an NPC for instance. If they meet Lord Unbar in the local dive, they might not know he is also the Envoy of the Hidden Ones and only he knows where the sanctuary is located. If they have an idea, then the skill challenge is to get this information from him. My rule of thumb is that itís not a skill challenge unless there is a clear goal to pursue.
Skill challenges like old school games should be description based when the player decides on an action. He should describe what he is doing before the roll is made. The roll exists to determine success, if failed the player can attempt something else, before he fails to often. The best rule is fail for one, fail for all. Having each player in turn attempt the same action looking for a success should not be allowed.
The skill challenge should be pre-created with a clear idea of the goal. Care should be taken in too much predefining on how the goal is reached, let your players explore this on their own. As GM youíre not the guide, let them play and let the dice fall where they may.
Ken M.

Dan Lynch
08-27-2009, 02:51 PM
Once I ask for initiative they immediately reach for their weapons and start planning attacks.
This might be part of the problem, since skill challenges do not use initiative at all. Perhaps you are still using the old rules from the first printing of the DMG?

08-27-2009, 04:35 PM
Aye, I missed the initiative part. Don't roll for initiative, or even make everyone participate. In fact, sometimes part of good "diplomacy" etc. is knowing when to shut up, so when the Half-Orc fighter with no diplomacy or social skills decides not to get involved in the negotiations, that might be a good thing.

08-31-2009, 07:10 AM
I was using initiative as a way to have all the characters take a turn during the skill challenge. I thought that was in the rules, can't remember where I got that from though. I wanted to go through the line up and ask them all for their action, at which time they could choose to do nothing.

I've since switched my style on them and tried to let them build up on their own. Describe a situation and after they start taking actions that I can apply skill checks to I wrap the situation into a skill challenge more or less on the fly. This keeps the group happy since I'm not trying to force them into skill challenges and let them deal with things in their own way.

However, it does lead to some haphazard challenges. Since I can't really prepare and think through the challenge I never end up with a nice set of skills that have limited uses or are automatic failures. I end up trying to puzzle it out based on what the character tries to do, which is probably a little better for the story since it seems less arbitrary.

The players seem happier this way, so I figure I'll stick to it. Odds are the next group will make me tweak my approach a little bit more.

08-31-2009, 03:20 PM
I was using initiative as a way to have all the characters take a turn during the skill challenge. I thought that was in the rules, can't remember where I got that from though.

That's how the rules are presented in DMG1. They were updated in errata though to have players make rolls when they want to, rather than initiative.

Personally, I use initiative order when it's a challenge that all members must participate in (like a trap), but not when it's a less immediate type of challenge (like a social one).