This is the fourth blog of my Unbloodied Heroes series exploring alternatives to 4e’s noncombat mechanics. In this blog, I will describe proposed mechanics for Travel and other Group Efforts. The blogs in this series are:
Unbloodied Heroes 1: An Introduction
Unbloodied Heroes 2: Exposition from a Point of View
Unbloodied Heroes 3: Interludes: Backgrounds and Retraining
Unbloodied Heroes 4: Travel and Group Efforts
Unbloodied Heroes 5: Exploration and Individual Efforts
Unbloodied Heroes 6: Skills Reimagined
Related to this blog series are my prior series on Combat Investment, Social Challenges, and Protagonocentrism.
A group effort constitutes any effort in which the party must fail or succeed together. Travel is the most obvious example of a group effort. The entire party will reach its destination together.
Presently, group efforts are handled as Skill Challenges. I am not entirely satisfied with this approach for several reasons.
Skill Challenges generally require training in a handful of Skills. Individuals who are not trained in any of the Skills designated for a challenge are generally relegated to the role of support staff, rolling Aid Other checks, a relatively unsatisfying position.
In Skill Challenges, we generally receive a description of what each Skill represents as an action, but successes and failures are generally abstracted. This can make the challenges seem repetitive and uninteresting as the party is encourage to attempt the same action over and over (if allowed), or simply jumps from Skill to Skill with the DM getting little narrative guidance as to how PCs should react to failure or to success.
To address this, I have developed an approach I call "Group Effort", which differs from Skill Challenges in the follow ways:
SUCCESS AND FAILURE MEAN SOMETHING
Rather than describe how skills are used in the challenge, the challenge describes specific hurdles the PCs need to overcome to succeed in the challenge, with specific consequences for each failure. In a travel challenge, the hurdles might include “sheltering from a storm”, “foraging for food”, and “avoiding notice of the King’s Guard”. Failure should have specific consequences. Starvation could result in a loss of healing surges. The storm may result in a disease. The King’s Guard may have time to prepare for the next adventure, eliminating a chance for surprise.
Rather than having individual characters pore over their character sheets looking for ways to shoehorn their best skills into the challenge, the party, as a team, discusses how they are to approach each hurdle of the challenge. This should occur narratively, without reference to the party’s skills. Once the party has determined how they want to proceed, the DM can then determine what rolls should ensue, which brings us to...
The party will roll skill checks in a Group Effort as a team. The check for each hurdle is determined as follows:
Step One: Choose the Skill. The DM should determine which skill best represents the party’s approach to a hurdle. If multiple Skills might apply, choose which you believe is primarily applicable.
Step Two: Determine the Mean Ability Bonus. The DM takes the median bonus of the entire party for the ability that applies to the Skill chosen.
Step Three: Add a Half-Level Bonus: Add a bonus equal to half the mean level of the party.
Step Four: Add Training Bonus. For each character trained in the Skill, grant a +1 bonus to the check, up to a maximum bonus of +3.
Step Five: Add Ancillary Bonuses. If the party has magic items, ancillary skills, powers, feats, backgrounds, or other features that might apply to this hurdle, grant a +1 bonus for each such ancillary source, up to a maximum bonus of +3. No ancillary source can be used more than once in a Group Effort.
Step Six: Apply Circumstantial Bonuses and/or Penalties. If the party comes up with something surprisingly clever, or surpassingly absurd, the DM should feel free to grant the party a bonus or penalty to the skill between -3 and +3. (If the party’s idea is so good that it by all rights should obviate the hurdle without any likelihood of failure, or something so astoundingly boneheaded that they could not possibly hope to overcome the hurdle, the DM can of course declare an automatic success or failure.)
Because the applicable bonuses are capped, the results are relatively predictable. Generally, it can be assumed that the median party Skill check will be approximately 14 + ½ level +3/tier. An easy DC check should be about 11 + ½ level +3/tier, a moderate DC check should be 15 + ½ level +3/tier, and a difficult skill check should be 19 + ½ level +3/tier.
Because the party works as a team, everybody is encouraged to come up with ideas that might contribute to a circumstantial bonus, or come up clever ancillary sources to use in the Group Effort. Moreover, because each success or failure represents a specific hurdle to be overcome, the Effort plays in a much more natural and narrative manner than a Skill Challenge.
Stay tuned for my next blog where I discuss rules for exploration and other individual efforts, as well as a chronic problem with Skill checks I call Skill Spread.