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yukonhorror
12-16-2010, 11:32 AM
Q-man posted a blog about skill challenges and got me thinking. We should share what we can about skill challenges. Ones that worked, ones that failed. Tips on running them, tips on playing in them.

I'll start:

One thing I have used, played , and seen is group checks (and I like it). I.e. if a majority is successful, it counts as a success. Finding a cave in the forest, all players make END checks. Those that fail are winded and lose a HS, but if x number succeed it counts as one success. That way, one can fail, without blowing it for the whole group (especially if not trained in said skill).

My main goal in running skill challenges is to promote and reward creativity. If it is the standard, "I roll dungeoneering... what do I learn" I don't give them anything. But if it is "How do booby traps like this normally work? Can I use dungeoneering to find out?" I am all for that. That's a natural form of deduction in mechanical D&D form. And if it is something non conventional, but makes sense, I give them that too, "I am going to throw my axe just right to wedge it between the falling ceiling trap and the wall". In this way, players with creativity can play to their strengths (instead of just aiding another or sitting out).

So please, share what you can.

And this isn't only for 4e D&D. I think the concept/mechanic of skill challenges can be used in ANY game, just tweaked to fit the specifics.

DMMike
12-26-2010, 09:05 PM
The trick to making a skill challenge work is creating a scale of success. On one end is perfect success and perfect failure on the other. Have at least one more point in between. This way, when the players fail a skill check, they've lost their shot at perfect success, but they can still achieve partial success, and so are motivated to continue.

Example:
Ren and Stimpy encounter a lovely red balloon that Stimpy absolutely must have. But there's a fence, yard, and pit bull between them. Skill challenge 1: climb the fence.
Success: go to dog challenge.
Failure: go to gate challenge.
Skill challenge 2: avoid the dog by diving into the bushes.
Success: go to balloon challenge.
Failure: dog mauls player until the owner comes out to rescue. Go back to fence challenge.
Skill challenge 3: untie the balloon quickly.
Success: go back to bushes challenge.
Failure: dog gets closer, repeat balloon challenge.
Et cetera...

Skill challenges look to me like they apply best under a time constraint or a save-or-die situation. Otherwise, you should just stick to good-old-fashioned roleplaying. In fact, skill challenges are, in a way, just a means to get more roll playing.

Sascha
12-27-2010, 03:35 PM
One thing I have used, played , and seen is group checks (and I like it). I.e. if a majority is successful, it counts as a success. Finding a cave in the forest, all players make END checks. Those that fail are winded and lose a HS, but if x number succeed it counts as one success. That way, one can fail, without blowing it for the whole group (especially if not trained in said skill).
I can see using something like this for mass combats - army vs. army deals, without breaking out the main combat system. 'Specially when followed up with the personal-scale encounter at the end.


My main goal in running skill challenges is to promote and reward creativity. If it is the standard, "I roll dungeoneering... what do I learn" I don't give them anything. But if it is "How do booby traps like this normally work? Can I use dungeoneering to find out?" I am all for that. That's a natural form of deduction in mechanical D&D form. And if it is something non conventional, but makes sense, I give them that too, "I am going to throw my axe just right to wedge it between the falling ceiling trap and the wall". In this way, players with creativity can play to their strengths (instead of just aiding another or sitting out).Yeah, that's how I see them, too. Set the stage, make the stakes clear, then step back and let the players meet the challenge. How they get there (skills used, and in what manner) is up to them, as long as it's enjoyable. The key is to get the players involved, and allow them to get creative with their resources.

The Dresden Files has a similar bit in its Thaumaturgy (ritual magic) rules; the caster gets their skill checks, and the other players can go about other actions to gather components to assist. It's nice to keep the whole table involved in the game's events, rather than the traditional "your turn, my turn" style of niche protection.


The trick to making a skill challenge work is creating a scale of success. On one end is perfect success and perfect failure on the other. Have at least one more point in between. This way, when the players fail a skill check, they've lost their shot at perfect success, but they can still achieve partial success, and so are motivated to continue.
A degree of success mechanism is a good touch for some skill challenges; infiltrating a keep to get to the jail / throne / lord's chambers, for example, or the mass combat to skirmish challenge adding to the difficulty of the next encounter.


<Snipped Balloon Challenge>Not a very good skill challenge :\ Sorry. The branching paths are recursive, which make failure tedious, not interesting. Each roll in a skill challenge should deliver something - successes bring the characters closer to their goals; failures emphasize the stakes of losing. Part of this could be closing off a course of action related to the skill, or making progress along that course more difficult.

Example: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indy's going through the three trials to get to the grail room. His initial failure on the second trial ("...spelled with an 'I'") doesn't move him backwards, nor does it stop his progress; it emphasizes the penalty for failure (seemingly bottomless pit), and he now has to hop carefully through the puzzle (switching skills to an Athletics check).


Skill challenges look to me like they apply best under a time constraint or a save-or-die situation. Otherwise, you should just stick to good-old-fashioned roleplaying. In fact, skill challenges are, in a way, just a means to get more roll playing.
Or, y'know, are a method of engaging the rules *with* the "roleplaying." Dismissing mechanics like skill challenges as "roll playing" doesn't help when the topic is "using skill challenges." Some of us actually like our rules to mesh with our play acting, instead of being separate entities.

DMMike
12-28-2010, 02:59 AM
...which is why I made sure to contribute before dismissing :) By the way, I prefer to use roleplaying to add a bonus to skill checks: your bonus/roll isn't very good, but if you play it out well, I'll nudge the roll in your favor.

Granted - a recursive branch would be tedious, but that might depend on the situation. Take, for example, a scene from my new favorite PS3 game (that Santa didn't get me, what a jerk). The hero must defeat a massive golem. It's so massive, that combat rules don't apply. But skill checks do. The sum of the skill checks - the climbing, balancing, jumping, timing, etc. to destroy each of the golem's weak points - constitute the skill challenge. A given failure probably means the hero falls to the ground, having to start over. Which would be tedious if everything else stayed static. But if each fall means you're closer to death, or you've wasted more time needed to keep the golem from destroying something valuable, then there could be excitement yet.

tesral
12-28-2010, 05:24 PM
Not a very good skill challenge :\ Sorry. The branching paths are recursive, which make failure tedious, not interesting. Each roll in a skill challenge should deliver something - successes bring the characters closer to their goals; failures emphasize the stakes of losing. Part of this could be closing off a course of action related to the skill, or making progress along that course more difficult.

An ideal challenge for Toon. It's a good cartoon plot. Consider the Coyote's multiple tries at Roadrunner dinner. Or Sylvester trying to get Tweety. The humor is in the failure.

Sascha
12-28-2010, 08:45 PM
...which is why I made sure to contribute before dismissing :) By the way, I prefer to use roleplaying to add a bonus to skill checks: your bonus/roll isn't very good, but if you play it out well, I'll nudge the roll in your favor.
Would probably be best without the dismissal in the first place. Following what almost reads as a straw man skill challenge, the "roll playing" comment really doesn't help discussion of the mechanic it dismisses.


Granted - a recursive branch would be tedious, but that might depend on the situation. Take, for example, a scene from my new favorite PS3 game (that Santa didn't get me, what a jerk). The hero must defeat a massive golem. It's so massive, that combat rules don't apply. But skill checks do. The sum of the skill checks - the climbing, balancing, jumping, timing, etc. to destroy each of the golem's weak points - constitute the skill challenge. A given failure probably means the hero falls to the ground, having to start over. Which would be tedious if everything else stayed static. But if each fall means you're closer to death, or you've wasted more time needed to keep the golem from destroying something valuable, then there could be excitement yet.
Yes, but failure doesn't put you in a situation you've been in before, in that case. Your example skill challenge, as posted, didn't read like this; it read like some of the old BASIC programs from high school programming class. Lots of "GOTO 10" lines, sending you back in the code without letting the program finish.

(Also, game design where a failure is a setback like that needs to be killed. Preferably with fire. I don't have the patience to play through stuff I've already done, just 'cause I fail later on :P)

I'd run the rampaging golem challenge far more loosely. Set up the required number of successes, the allowable number of failures, and let the players have at it. If I know the players and their characters, I might make certain avenues of action harder or easier, but I wouldn't design in the solution steps. (I'm a lazy GM, anyway; writing up the solution with the problem goes against that core principle.) Take the lead of Star Wars and have failure fry R2, or knock the antenna dish off the Falcon, rather than swing the action to an earlier point in the trench/Death Star core.


An ideal challenge for Toon. It's a good cartoon plot. Consider the Coyote's multiple tries at Roadrunner dinner. Or Sylvester trying to get Tweety. The humor is in the failure.
That's the intent, yes. DMMike's challenge structure as presented doesn't really model that, though; the Coyote's multiple tries at the Roadrunner is a series of crazy schemes, not attempting the same failed scheme over and over again 'til he gets it right.

tesral
12-28-2010, 11:09 PM
That's the intent, yes. DMMike's challenge structure as presented doesn't really model that, though; the Coyote's multiple tries at the Roadrunner is a series of crazy schemes, not attempting the same failed scheme over and over again 'til he gets it right.

The difference is the crux between roll playing and role-playing. The challenge remains the same, but you approach it from different angles. OK, running across the yard didn't work. I'll use stilts this time. Same balloon, same dog, same yard. You alter the challenge by altering your approach to same. Simply rolling against a DC does not do this. Jack is a dull boy indeed if he keeps trying the same thing. As the GM I would give a repeat of the same solution a minus to succeed. You get mangled and tossed over the fence again. Rather I would be looking for an imaginative method to get around the problem, not someone just rolling dice.

As a GM I will help a player that brings creative solutions to a problem. I will not help someone that just wants to roll dice to solve everything. System will not model imagination for you, you must bring that to the party yourself.

Sascha
12-29-2010, 12:35 PM
The difference is the crux between roll playing and role-playing. The challenge remains the same, but you approach it from different angles. OK, running across the yard didn't work. I'll use stilts this time. Same balloon, same dog, same yard. You alter the challenge by altering your approach to same. Simply rolling against a DC does not do this. Jack is a dull boy indeed if he keeps trying the same thing. As the GM I would give a repeat of the same solution a minus to succeed. You get mangled and tossed over the fence again. Rather I would be looking for an imaginative method to get around the problem, not someone just rolling dice.
Equivocation to exclude the middle. What you're arguing against isn't what's presented in the thread's premise. Creating the distinction between "what we do, so roleplaying" and "not what we do, so clearly not roleplaying" doesn't address this. Setting up a dull example of a mechanic, only to slam it as the latter doesn't address this. Implying that users of a given mechanic are unimaginative doesn't address this. They perpetuate style elitism.


As a GM I will help a player that brings creative solutions to a problem. I will not help someone that just wants to roll dice to solve everything. System will not model imagination for you, you must bring that to the party yourself.
That's my point. It's a play style issue, not a mechanics issue; the (dis-)use of any given rule is window dressing. What you want and what the hypothetical player wants don't match. Blaming the rules for different styles doesn't help. Using terms to elevate one style over another *doesn't help.* Especially given that the topic is all about using elements of that other style.

Q-man
01-02-2011, 10:36 PM
One thing I did not put in my post that I'm trying to make use of, its similar to what DMMike had proposed but a little easier on the players.

The easiest skill challenge requires 4 skill successes before 3 failures, by rule that doesn't get a lot of XP so I like the more difficult ones requiring additional successes to keep the rewards on par with combat. The difficulty is that most of the time my players will come up with a viable solution that doesn't require all that many skill checks. So then I get stuck trying to draw out the RP in order to tease out a few more checks. This just isn't rewarding, the players have the solution and have done the checks, they want to know if it works not waste time on additional minutia.

So I've tried putting in a few moving parts to the skill challenge, similar to what DMMike suggested I have multiple sections to it. Rather than have each piece be its own self contained challenge, the players will need to get several successes in each piece before 3 failures. It lets the players come up with a good solution without unnecessary fluff to meet the skill roll requirements, and lets me use more difficult challenges and increase the rewards.


Here's an example in case all of that exposition doesn't explain anything:

The Setup: A lady shouts that a thief has just stolen her purse and calls out for help.

Part One: A physical test, the party needs acrobatics checks to weave through the crowd, athletics checks to run after the thief, and endurance checks to not get bogged down by their heavy armor while chasing the thief down.

Part Two: The chase takes the party far away from where the lady was calling for help, while the thief is being caught the scuffle catches the guard's attention. The party then needs bluff or diplomacy checks to convince the guards they are catching a criminal, thievery or streetwise checks to find some evidence on the thief they caught, and intimidate checks to make the thief confess in order to get the guards to bring the correct party to justice.


This shouldn't belabor the RP of either part of the challenge, since both only require 3 or 4 checks each. It also allows you to drastically change the skills needed partway through, so the more physical party members can work on one part while the PC's that are more cerebral can work on the rest. It also gives you a few different failure conditions, depending on which part of th skill challenge the 3rd failed check shows up in.

Well its something else that I've been playing with anyway.

DMMike
01-03-2011, 05:56 PM
Maybe a different perspective on skill checks will get the brain juices flowing:

Attack rolls are skill checks. In some systems, attacking is a skill you're required to take, which gets better automatically as levels go by. In this light, combat is a skill challenge, and your progress is measured by the opponent's hit points. Some combatants make the same check over and over, some make slightly different attacks.

So you could design a progress system for your particular skill check like hit points, or use the same skill over and over with slight variations on each check.

DMMike
02-14-2011, 02:52 PM
Another different perspective:

Skill checks are attack rolls. Your progress is hit points. Give a task a certain amount of Progress Points, and each successful skill check reduces those progress points.

Say, MacGruber has a bomb to defuse. Well, he has 30 seconds to defuse it. He makes skill checks each round against DC 15. Every time he succeeds, he rolls d10 Progress Points (d6 if you're using a cross-class skill), and has to make 10 progress points to succeed.

I'll come up with a fantasy version of this example if you really need one.

Q-man
02-14-2011, 03:13 PM
I like the concept of the progress points, combined with the die roll it gives a more fluid feel for the skill check. I wonder if perhaps the die roll for the progress points could tie into your check value somehow. For example for each 5 above the DC value you increase the die size or add an additional die.

The only complaint I have with this style (without actually trying it in a game) is that it keeps things very mechanical. Players will be looking for ways to boost the dice results. Which is fine in some instances, however, if the skill challenge is the entire encounter its my opinion that it should be more role play then roll play.

There's nothing saying that you can't assign their die rolls based on their characters actions rather than on the skill check. Perhaps you can use the role play to determine the die size and the skill check to determine the number of dice? It would be kind of subjective, but would encourage some creative thinking.