November Rules Updates - DM impacting Rule Items

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What is the correct way to apply the MM and DMG errata to LFR?

Off the top of my head, the following items have been adjusted in power level:

Magical Crossbow Trap
Needlefang Drake Swarm
Carnage Demon
 
and the old favorite
Skill Challenge DCs

* Should the DM apply these changes when aware of them through DME?
or
* Should the DM run the adventure as published.

Thanks!  

Stick to the errata, BUT remember that the DCs of a skill challenge can deviate from the standard DCs and hence a DM should take care before making the adjustments (assuming he makes them just because of the errata). Also remember that the adventures have been playtested with the stats as printed in the adventure and hence without the errata. You should do fine without the errata under most circumstances and forcing the DM to change stuff mid-adventure is not going to endear you to many people at the table.

It might be useful to have a player-created wiki or document with a listing of all errata that should be applied to modules.

Not only are there creature changes that should be applied, as well as skill challenge modifications, but it would be useful to point out places were terrain descriptions or tactics are clearly incorrect according to the current rules (e.g., a statement that 5 squares of light fog causes heavy concealment, or having creatures make Stealth checks without total concealment/superior cover).

And, no, "We playtested the adventure and it ran fine under the old rules, so you should be free to ignore the errata" is no more a valid response than "I played many an adventure with my paladin using the old Hero of Faith feat and those ran fine, so we should be free to ignore the errata."
And, no, "We playtested the adventure and it ran fine under the old rules, so you should be free to ignore the errata" is no more a valid response than "I played many an adventure with my paladin using the old Hero of Faith feat and those ran fine, so we should be free to ignore the errata."



But this is fourth edition and the rules are different for players.

Though pessimism aside, there is a lot of justice in your argument beyond the "good for the goose/good for the gander" aspect. Maybe the mod was playtested with a crossbow turret that did 2d8+3 damage, but there is a good chance it was also playtested with an unerrataed battlerager vigor fighter and a leather armor wearing avenger. If we are to take the playtest as evidence that the old stats were balanced, that can only be valid when applied to the old characters. Once characters have been nerfed by errata, there is no assurance that playtesting with pre-nerf characters demonstrates the balance of any encounter for post-nerf characters.
I am not using it as an end-all type of argument. I am using it as an argument that as a player you should not disrupt the game because the DM is not using the errata because he was unaware of them or usure whether or not to apply them to the adventure. Changing adventures on the run is rarely a good idea.

More importantly though, D&D is designed around the idea that the DM (or in LFR case the author) can CHANGE the rules for monsters and terrain. The errata might have ruled that light fog does not heavily obscure sight beyond 5 squares, but had the authors realized that, they could have turned it into heavy fog or ultra-heavy fog and use those same circumstances (e.g. CORE1-10). At times it is going to be difficult for a DM to determine what is cause for errata and what is not. Of course, such a wiki would help, as would asking here.

In the end it is fun that is important, so a DM can change these aspects for the sake of fun (in fact the adventure with the mist error actually mentions to reduce the effects of the mist if it frustrates the players so much that it ruins their fun).
I suppose I should've noted that I was asking as a frequent gameday organizer and senior DM, so that I could provide instruction for my judges, and myself.

The final point for me is, as a judge, should I consider part of my prep for an adventure to be applying these errata? If we should continue to run as-published (I don't remember seeing a crossbow turret trap all that recently, i think the authors may have decided they were Too Beefy But Dull, because, well, they are...)

Specifically in respect to the skill challenge DCs, i've grown used to needing to adjust the early-releases so that the median DC of the skill challenge is the median DC of the level specified for the encounter, and move the other DCs relative to that position (with some notable exceptions, like a specifically-DCd skill check usage from the PH skill use tables).

If so, could I respectfully request that the errata be applied to the adventure file downloads and a thread created noting when an adventure has been updated?
 
If we should continue to use the mods as published, that's fine, I just wanted to be sure.  
I'm no one official, but I suspect the amount of work everyone has will prevent updates to previous adventures. Just thinking about Tulach's schedule alone makes me doubt we will see updates to those mods.

For a con organizer, my suggestion is that you go with the safe policy of using the errata. That's what should really happen.

At the same time, I would encourage DMs to look at the changes and take them into account. For the turrets, for example, this is a decent nerf to what was one of the harder combats at the first GenCon. So, as a DM, I would run that encounter with the realization of that change and be prepared to use DME if more challenge is needed (and if the players want more challenge). It probably won't be!

The most dangerous situation is where a monster/trap improved. In those cases the DMs should use the errata but be prepared to pull back as needed. And, if the mod is recent, we should probably consider errata. I'm not aware of any cases in LFR adventures already out.

A big change that is hard to notice and check for is the clarification on the guidance for how high a level a monster in an encounter is appropriate (changing the wording from 4 to 3 in the later part of "Monsters in a standard encounter might range from three levels below the characters to about three levels above them."). The LFR writer's guidelines have a recommended "Individual enemies within an encounter can go up to 4 levels higher or lower than the average."

I think this is ok, but it should be something that authors consider when writing new adventures and that DMs consider with old ones. The logic for an elite in a certain EAST mod, for example, is a bit more strained than it already was. It is all still fully legal (the new wording does still say "about"), thus the writer's guidelines don't need to change. But, it is another thing to consider and I think might have tipped the scales for the author/reviewers.

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The following modules may require the DM to make changes based on the most recent errata:
* ADCP1-1 (eladrin arcane archer)
* BALD1-2 (needlefang drake swarm)
* CORE1-1 (magic crossbow turret)
* CORE1-3 (magic crossbow turret)
* CORE1-12 (eladrin arcane archer)
* EAST1-1 (magic crossbow turret (reflavored as "Dumathoin’s Wrath"))
* EAST1-2 (yuan-ti abomination)
* LURU1-1 (magic crossbow turret (reflavored as "Hidden Archers"))
* SPEC1-3[P1] (paralyth)
* TYMA1-1 (needlefang drake swarm)

This list may be missing some adventures (the 1-1 modules had a penchant for renaming creatures, so there are likely more reflavored crossbow turrets out there) or false positives (it's based on a simple text search, so some of these could just be references as opposed to actual creatures).
great start to the updates doc, Brian. Thanks!
Have mods been updated for previous errata? The following have cropped up in mods I've played, and appear in the errata document under 'old errata', but I'm unsure whether the change has been made or not in the mods in which they appear (in some case I'm certain not, but I can't always remember which mod):

Cave Bear
Eye of Flame
Imp
Ettercap Fang Guard
Githerazi Mind Mage
Gnome Arcanist
The diseases Filth Feaver, Moon Frenzy and Mummy Rot
Ogre Savage
Gelatinous Cube
Shadar-Kai Gloomblade
Mezzodemon
The LFR adventures are not normally updated for errata, nor do I expect that in most cases.   I recommend if a monster was errated, go ahead and use the new, errata version.

In the case of skill challenges, my consistent recommendation remains you should only change the DCs based upon the specific PCs at the table (using DME).  As Mike Mearls has indicated in his Running Skill Challenges series in Dungeon (DDI), particularly in the October article, the DCs set in the DMG, even the errata version, don't really handle all cases well.  Mike reminds DMs that they are guidelines for a range, not meant to be specific hard points. 

If you want to fine tune the DCs, you have to compare what this specific table of PCs have versus what is stated in the adventure.  Say for instance there is a physical skill challenge in an adventure.  If you ask what the PCs have for modifiers (Athletics, Acrobatics, Endurance),  add 10 like a passive check, set the medium DC maybe two below the median number, set the hard DC near the highest number, and the easy DC near the lowest number.  If that span matches what is in the adventure, you are spot on.  If there seems to be a variation, then raise or lower to match.  I have not studied the exact adjustment numbers, but this comparison should improve the outcome.

Keith

Keith Hoffman LFR Writing Director for Waterdeep
If you want to fine tune the DCs, you have to compare what this specific table of PCs have versus what is stated in the adventure.  Say for instance there is a physical skill challenge in an adventure.  If you ask what the PCs have for modifiers (Athletics, Acrobatics, Endurance),  add 10 like a passive check, set the medium DC maybe two below the median number, set the hard DC near the highest number, and the easy DC near the lowest number.  If that span matches what is in the adventure, you are spot on.  If there seems to be a variation, then raise or lower to match.  I have not studied the exact adjustment numbers, but this comparison should improve the outcome.



Talk about a reductio ad absurdium of the 4th edition "it doesn't matter what your character is good at or how good your character is, did you roll a 3+/7+/13+ on the die?" philosophy. Why both having skills at all in that case? You could just roll the d20, don't bother adding any numbers, and be done with it.

As a side note, it would ensure that the standard "figure out who is best at the required skill, aid other if you feel like leaving no room for error, and have him roll" always (rather than usually--it can fail if the best character in the party isn't good at the required skill) works.

Like combats, the skill challenges are supposed to be scaled to character level.  If you consider with a hard DC, that the best skilled PC would only have around a 50% chance of success, as being "always" successful, I guess you have a different perspective from me.

Keith

Keith Hoffman LFR Writing Director for Waterdeep
Why should DC be based on the skill of the PC? Shouldn't it be based on the difficulty of the task? Not only does this not make sense (a 10' jump is a 10' jump, regardless of the fact that the PC is a shifter and has +2 to athletics), but it makes investing in a skill a waste.  Why take skill focus at all if it's just going to make the DC 3 points higher?

This is actually one of the things that really bothers me about skill challenges.  A challenge should be the same to everyone regardless of level. If you try to influence a guard at 1st level the DC is 11 or 12, come back and talk to the same guy at 11th level and it's arbitrarily much higher.  What's the point of getting better at your skills if you have no better chance to accomplish a mundane task? In 3rd edition, as you went up in level you could do harder things with your skills, amazing things, because you were really good. In 4th edition, apparently, normal things get harder and harder as you get better and better.
Why should DC be based on the skill of the PC? Shouldn't it be based on the difficulty of the task?



I'm going to assume this isn't a troll.

The reason 4th edition skill challenges are based on the (expected) skill of the PCs involved is twofold:

1) To provide challenge for the PCs and give them a reason to care about their skills, and
2) To reward players who focus on certain skills above and beyond the 'basic' level.

If you're going to have static DCs for certain situations, the fact that players' skills increase by a minimum of +1 every two levels means that certain tasks become irrelevant after a certain level -- a DC10 task can be accomplished by any 20th level character, for example. Thus there's no point in including a DC 10 skill check in an adventure for 20th level characters -- if you're going to have a skill check, make it one they could fail, otherwise why bother including it at all?

Additionally, if you're going to make a skill check DC so that an untrained character without the appropriate high characteristic has a 50-50 chance of making the roll, then a trained character with an appropriate high characteristic has probably at least an 85% chance of making the roll and likely higher. Again, this isn't a challenge, and there's no reason for such a character to bother considering feats or magical items that increase their skill checks, since they're already so close to auto-success on any check.

I'm sure others can come up with equally good explanations for these things, but they'll ultimately boil down to the fact that you're playing a game, not running a dungeon simulation. 
I agree with you that higher level characters should be challenged more.  And I agree that there's no point in making a player roll a bunch of checks that are going to be automatic successes, that's no fun for anybody.  My point is that in higher level skill challenges you should be doing more difficult things, or the skill DC's don't mean anything and it doesn't feel like your character is improving at all.  At first level making an endurance check to walk a long distance is reasonable. At 8th level, if there are no other circumstance, why should that DC be higher?  If you're going to raise the DC, there should be other factors. It's really hot or cold, you're going up a mountain, it's hailing; so that it feels like your character is actually doing something more difficult and your higher skill means something.  That your character is actually better. 

Like combats, the skill challenges are supposed to be scaled to character level.  If you consider with a hard DC, that the best skilled PC would only have around a 50% chance of success, as being "always" successful, I guess you have a different perspective from me.

Keith




I think I'm on the record as stating that skill challenges are dumb ideas with no redeeming qualities whatsoever and are actually counterproductive in encouraging role-playing--with their primary use being A. to gloss over non-combat elements of the story and B. to ensure that the party stays on the railroad even if they utterly fail in the non-combat portions of the story.

But I'm old enough to know that LFR has to use skill challenges because they're in the rules and the designers of 4th edition are not likely to admit that they were wrong about skill challenges being a good mechanic or a good idea. So, for now, I will sum up my perspective on this as:

If your party is a bunch of 8 strength gnomes without a single person trained in athletics, acrobatics, or endurance, you do not deserve to have the DCs of the "climb the cliff" skill challenge lowered in order to ensure you an equal chance of success to the party of 20 strength half-orc barbarians, fighters and warlords, all of whom are trained in athletics. Even if you like the 4th edition philosophy of scaling everything to a character's level (which I do not, but I'm stuck with it), I am of the opinion that characters should still be good, mediocre, or bad at things in absolute terms rather than relative to whoever the best person in the party is. For instance, when I played Drag 1-3, nobody in the party had a bluff better than 1/2 level -1. We had insight, diplomacy, and intimidate but no bluff. And I don't think that the DC of the bluff check should have been scaled down for us. (I do think that the DM should have been flexible in considering our ways to plan around our recognized and acknowledged weakness rather than insisting "the skill challenge says that you need at least one bluff check for success, so someone roll me a bluff already.") Likewise, if I end up in a party where characters are good at the skills required for the skill challenge, I would hope that the DM says, "OK, you're good at these skills, you succeed" rather than, "Wow, you guys put a lot of effort into being good at this stuff, let's crank up the DCs to ensure that you still have a significant chance of failure (not counting "that'll do" cards)."

Additionally, since fourth edition did not even come close to delivering on their promise of making skills scale in a manner that is relatively similar for all characters, increasing the DCs based on the skill level of the best character in the party will frequently mean that characters who are not particularly optimized for that skill have no chance of success at all. For example, if we go back to that physical skill challenge and posit that one character is my dwarf ranger (from the east rift with a +2 cloak of survival and a 20 con at 8th level for a +17 to his endurance including armor check penalty) and another is my wizard (in this case, scaled up to 8th level with a 14 Con, not trained in endurance, and without an item bonus, for a total of +6 to endurance), any skill check that the dwarf fails on a 10 (50% chance) will be completely impossible for the wizard to succeed at--even on a 20. This is perhaps most likely to come up on perception checks which probably have a higher tendency to be optimized for than most other skills--with 16 point differences between characters of the same level not being unheard of. (8 wis, untrained is not uncommon for perception, but I've seen my number of 20 wis elf clerics or avengers from agalarond or durpar with alertness or skill focus: perception (potential for +17 at first level if they bother with skill focus) and sometimes with item bonuses to perception on top of that).

Adjusting skill challenge DCs in a manner that is relative to the skills in the party is likely to result in: A. Parties strengths and weaknesses becoming irrelevant to their success or failure in tasks that they should be strong or weak in. B. Mathematical difficulties due to the extremely large differences in skill bonuses that frequently crop up in 4th edition.

It would be much better to leave skill challenge DCs alone (except to account for the early errata) and rather to run them flexibly so as to enable parties to succeed (or fail) with creative solutions for tasks where their skills would be inadequate--and to succeed because they're "just that good" for tasks where their skills are optimal.

Like combats, the skill challenges are supposed to be scaled to character level.  If you consider with a hard DC, that the best skilled PC would only have around a 50% chance of success, as being "always" successful, I guess you have a different perspective from me.

Keith





Adjusting skill challenge DCs in a manner that is relative to the skills in the party is likely to result in: A. Parties strengths and weaknesses becoming irrelevant to their success or failure in tasks that they should be strong or weak in. B. Mathematical difficulties due to the extremely large differences in skill bonuses that frequently crop up in 4th edition.

It would be much better to leave skill challenge DCs alone (except to account for the early errata) and rather to run them flexibly so as to enable parties to succeed (or fail) with creative solutions for tasks where their skills would be inadequate--and to succeed because they're "just that good" for tasks where their skills are optimal.



QFT

And I actually think that skill challenges can be FUN.

(I also  think that they should always award their XP budget, by adding their failure budget into a combat encounter...)
EB, your opinion is noted and you are entitled to your opinion. If you feel the entire concept of skill challenges is a dumb idea, then my discussing how to help them work well during actual play may be pointless.   

to all:
I firmly believe skill challenges are a good idea, not perfect, but still improving.  If a DM decides to just use the DCs as stated in a LFR adventure, I am cool with that, but it may be too easy or too hard for some groups.  Adjusting the skill challenge is no different in my opinion than adjusting a combat to the strengths and weaknesses of a group of PCs.  With a consistent group of players, a DM would know and most likely build challenges to suit the PCs.  In LFR, we do so against a benchmark, and have to trust that the DM adjusts, as stated in the LFR adventure boilerplate, in order to keep the game fun (the first two bullets under important DM information).   Is it useful, important or fun (for anyone) to be certain that a group of PCs who might not be all that knowledgeable fail in a knowledge-oriented skill challenge?  I am by no means an advocate of making a skill challenge (or combat) fail proof; if it could not fail, then there is no challenge, and a skill challenge should have never been used.  Enough said.

Keith
Keith Hoffman LFR Writing Director for Waterdeep

I think I'm on the record as stating that skill challenges are dumb ideas with no redeeming qualities whatsoever and are actually counterproductive in encouraging role-playing--with their primary use being A. to gloss over non-combat elements of the story and B. to ensure that the party stays on the railroad even if they utterly fail in the non-combat portions of the story.

But I'm old enough to know that LFR has to use skill challenges because they're in the rules and the designers of 4th edition are not likely to admit that they were wrong about skill challenges being a good mechanic or a good idea. So, for now, I will sum up my perspective on this as:

If your party is a bunch of 8 strength gnomes without a single person trained in athletics, acrobatics, or endurance, you do not deserve to have the DCs of the "climb the cliff" skill challenge lowered in order to ensure you an equal chance of success to the party of 20 strength half-orc barbarians, fighters and warlords, all of whom are trained in athletics. Even if you like the 4th edition philosophy of scaling everything to a character's level (which I do not, but I'm stuck with it), I am of the opinion that characters should still be good, mediocre, or bad at things in absolute terms rather than relative to whoever the best person in the party is. For instance, when I played Drag 1-3, nobody in the party had a bluff better than 1/2 level -1. We had insight, diplomacy, and intimidate but no bluff. And I don't think that the DC of the bluff check should have been scaled down for us. (I do think that the DM should have been flexible in considering our ways to plan around our recognized and acknowledged weakness rather than insisting "the skill challenge says that you need at least one bluff check for success, so someone roll me a bluff already.") Likewise, if I end up in a party where characters are good at the skills required for the skill challenge, I would hope that the DM says, "OK, you're good at these skills, you succeed" rather than, "Wow, you guys put a lot of effort into being good at this stuff, let's crank up the DCs to ensure that you still have a significant chance of failure (not counting "that'll do" cards)."

Additionally, since fourth edition did not even come close to delivering on their promise of making skills scale in a manner that is relatively similar for all characters, increasing the DCs based on the skill level of the best character in the party will frequently mean that characters who are not particularly optimized for that skill have no chance of success at all. For example, if we go back to that physical skill challenge and posit that one character is my dwarf ranger (from the east rift with a +2 cloak of survival and a 20 con at 8th level for a +17 to his endurance including armor check penalty) and another is my wizard (in this case, scaled up to 8th level with a 14 Con, not trained in endurance, and without an item bonus, for a total of +6 to endurance), any skill check that the dwarf fails on a 10 (50% chance) will be completely impossible for the wizard to succeed at--even on a 20. This is perhaps most likely to come up on perception checks which probably have a higher tendency to be optimized for than most other skills--with 16 point differences between characters of the same level not being unheard of. (8 wis, untrained is not uncommon for perception, but I've seen my number of 20 wis elf clerics or avengers from agalarond or durpar with alertness or skill focus: perception (potential for +17 at first level if they bother with skill focus) and sometimes with item bonuses to perception on top of that).

Adjusting skill challenge DCs in a manner that is relative to the skills in the party is likely to result in: A. Parties strengths and weaknesses becoming irrelevant to their success or failure in tasks that they should be strong or weak in. B. Mathematical difficulties due to the extremely large differences in skill bonuses that frequently crop up in 4th edition.

It would be much better to leave skill challenge DCs alone (except to account for the early errata) and rather to run them flexibly so as to enable parties to succeed (or fail) with creative solutions for tasks where their skills would be inadequate--and to succeed because they're "just that good" for tasks where their skills are optimal.


Seriously open a vineyard with this amount of whining
First you complain about the DC's being lowered for a table full of PCs who should know damn well the world as a whole is designed for medium creatures. 
Second THEY'RE FREAKIN GNOMES if life handed them lemons they'd grow a lemon tree just to climb and watch the hot neighbor undress
Third the Wizard SHOULD NEVER BE PRIMARY for Endurance if the Dwarf Ranger can do a better job and if the Wizard must make an endurance check that he can't pass I've got three words for you TENSOR'S FLOATING DISK. 
I like the skill challenges they can be a fun diversion from long tiresome combats some mods have and if the mod wants to cut some slack on a table full of feeble PCs they deserve it. Remember the God made Gnomes so the Dwarves could have a race to point and laugh at. 
Not to brag or anything but a +15 with a +2 cloak for a +17 at level 8 to Endurance really that's it my Dwarf Battlerager Fighter will get a +18 without any item bonuses at all when he hits 8th and he's got a 16 Con. If he buys +2 Dwarven Armor then he'll be at a fat +20 to Endurance which drops to +18 with the penalty but with a 20 Con and Dwarven Armor I could easily hit a +20 to Edurance even with the -2 penalty.    
            
 
Seriously open a vineyard with this amount of whining



[VCL HAT ON]

Let's keep things civil.  Let's disagree without becoming disagreeable.

[/VCL HAT OFF]
Sorry WOTC, you lost me with Essentials. So where I used to buy every book that came out, now I will be very choosy about what I buy. Can we just get back to real 4e? Check out the 4e Conversion Wiki. 1. Wizards fight dirty. They hit their enemies in the NADs. -- Dragon9 2. A barbarian hits people with his axe. A warlord hits people with his barbarian. 3. Boo-freakin'-hoo, ya light-slingin' finger-wigglers. -- MrCelcius in response to the Cleric's Healer's Lore nerf
Seriously open a vineyard with this amount of whining



[VCL HAT ON]

Let's keep things civil.  Let's disagree without becoming disagreeable.

[/VCL HAT OFF]



Sorry I just felt the need to vent after reading it.  
Didn't feel like a whine or brag to me. It was an example to illustrate his opinion that somebody bad at climbing should not be penalized for travelling with somebody great at climbing, nor should the PC be punished for being great at climbing by making the DC dependend on his skill. Personally I disagree with his opinion on skill challenges (I love them), but I do agree with him on the DCs.

I also find comparing them with a fight to explain why adjusting DCs is a good idea odd. We vary the level of fight to get a variable challenge, just as that we vary the type of opponents and terrain (and DME does not allow a change in terrain or actual monsters). I doubt that Mike Mearl's advice is something he feels should be applied to all skill challenges under all circumstances. It is something a DM should keep in mind when designing a skill challenge as the guideline to create a skill challenge of average difficulty. As always a DM can and should deviate from it if it makes sense.

As for the DCs, I also firmly belief those should make sense for the nature of skill used and not just the level of the characters or the skill challenge. At paragon level the PCs are not going to make talking with the average guard patrol or swimming in calm waters part of the challenge. Instead the PCs should be talking with elite guards of the local ruler or swimming in a raging storm.
Characters who are bad at, say, bluffing should be trying to use other skills as part of a skill challenge, not have the bluff DC adjusted down so that they have as much chance as the party bard.

Of course, this means that skill challenges that require a success in bluff are undesirable when writing the adventure, because it means that certain parties will not be able to pass. This is just as bad an idea as requiring that the party includes a dragonborn character to pass a certain skill challenge.
Characters who are bad at, say, bluffing should be trying to use other skills as part of a skill challenge, not have the bluff DC adjusted down so that they have as much chance as the party bard.Of course, this means that skill challenges that require a success in bluff are undesirable when writing the adventure, because it means that certain parties will not be able to pass. This is just as bad an idea as requiring that the party includes a dragonborn character to pass a certain skill challenge.

The comparison is not entirely correct since everybody can make a Bluff check, while a racial requirement is a bit harder to avoid ;) Furthermore, there is no skill challenge were failure leads to a failed adventure. It might cost you resources, make the next fight harder or cost you some indirect benefits/minor rewards, but it never leads to the end of the adventure - not in LFR anyway.
Characters who are bad at, say, bluffing should be trying to use other skills as part of a skill challenge, not have the bluff DC adjusted down so that they have as much chance as the party bard.Of course, this means that skill challenges that require a success in bluff are undesirable when writing the adventure, because it means that certain parties will not be able to pass. This is just as bad an idea as requiring that the party includes a dragonborn character to pass a certain skill challenge.

The comparison is not entirely correct since everybody can make a Bluff check, while a racial requirement is a bit harder to avoid ;) Furthermore, there is no skill challenge were failure leads to a failed adventure. It might cost you resources, make the next fight harder or cost you some indirect benefits/minor rewards, but it never leads to the end of the adventure - not in LFR anyway.



Maybe not the 'end' of the adventure, but I've had a couple whereby failure has resulted in 'failure' for the mod.

Depends whether you define failure in terms of XP/gold, or story, of course.
Umm, there's a skill challenge where failure can kill party members and/or, in extraordinary circumstances, a possible TPK... it's quite unlikely, but yes, failing a skill challenge can fail an adventure. And how

In a home game, upping or lowering the difficulties to match the party can work better because they can end up getting more/less xp + treasure as a result, but that's not an option for LFR so I think it's better to not fluctuate the DCs greatly.
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
If you want to fine tune the DCs, you have to compare what this specific table of PCs have versus what is stated in the adventure.  Say for instance there is a physical skill challenge in an adventure.  If you ask what the PCs have for modifiers (Athletics, Acrobatics, Endurance),  add 10 like a passive check, set the medium DC maybe two below the median number, set the hard DC near the highest number, and the easy DC near the lowest number.  If that span matches what is in the adventure, you are spot on.  If there seems to be a variation, then raise or lower to match.  I have not studied the exact adjustment numbers, but this comparison should improve the outcome.



The numbers seem off on this suggestion, if you do the math.  Unless the intent is to have roughly 40% of the groups fail a typical 6 success / 3 failure challenge.

So I wouldn't follow this suggestion.

Plus, in LFR the scenarios don't break it down like this (easy/medium/hard) and it's not obvious unless you also take into account the type of challenge (4 successes vs 12 successes for example) and the xp awarded for the skill challenge.  Which is *way* more than a typical LFR judge can handle.

So they'd probably do more harm than good.  Not recommended...

In fact, it illustrates just how hard it is to set DCs.  We've had two fixes so far from WotC for fixing skill challenge DCs.  The D&D designers seem to be trying (and failing) to do it by "gut" instinct.  I personally don't get why WotC can't just get some of their Magic The Gathering math gurus to take a look and resolve this once and for all.

But then again, if we're scaling DCs based on the PCs stats, then I have to agree with others: it's really just turning into "roll a 7 or higher on a d20".  It's an exercise in dice-rollling.  Which to be honest has been my complaint about skill challenges from the start.

The thing people like about skill challenges is the role-playing.  And yes, if you disguise skill challenges with enough role-playing and interaction then people think they like skill challenges.  But oddly enough, if you take away the skill challenge mechanic then it works just as well.  Ask the PCs want they wish to do, let them roll skill checks or use powers as appropriate, and let the PCs actions guide the role-playing.  Don't be shackled by "they need 6 successes, and one of them has to be Bluff".

It'll make a lot more sense as well, and seem less vague and abstract to the players, as the PCs actions will have direct consequences that they can see.

Here's a dirty little secret: some of the best Judges I know totally ignore the number of successes needed, or they change the number of successes needed as they deem fit.

If you want to fine tune the DCs, you have to compare what this specific table of PCs have versus what is stated in the adventure.  Say for instance there is a physical skill challenge in an adventure.  If you ask what the PCs have for modifiers (Athletics, Acrobatics, Endurance),  add 10 like a passive check, set the medium DC maybe two below the median number, set the hard DC near the highest number, and the easy DC near the lowest number.  If that span matches what is in the adventure, you are spot on.  If there seems to be a variation, then raise or lower to match.  I have not studied the exact adjustment numbers, but this comparison should improve the outcome.



The numbers seem off on this suggestion, if you do the math.  Unless the intent is to have roughly 40% of the groups fail a typical 6 success / 3 failure challenge.



While I don't advocate his suggestion, I think you're overlooking the power of "That'll Do" as well as aid another. I haven't failed a skill challenge since the campaign launched at Gen Con (failed one there) and now, especially since the errata, the notable thing is to get any failures at all.
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
If you want to fine tune the DCs, you have to compare what this specific table of PCs have versus what is stated in the adventure.  Say for instance there is a physical skill challenge in an adventure.  If you ask what the PCs have for modifiers (Athletics, Acrobatics, Endurance),  add 10 like a passive check, set the medium DC maybe two below the median number, set the hard DC near the highest number, and the easy DC near the lowest number.  If that span matches what is in the adventure, you are spot on.  If there seems to be a variation, then raise or lower to match.  I have not studied the exact adjustment numbers, but this comparison should improve the outcome.



The numbers seem off on this suggestion, if you do the math.  Unless the intent is to have roughly 40% of the groups fail a typical 6 success / 3 failure challenge.



While I don't advocate his suggestion, I think you're overlooking the power of "That'll Do" as well as aid another. I haven't failed a skill challenge since the campaign launched at Gen Con (failed one there) and now, especially since the errata, the notable thing is to get any failures at all.



Two things here:

1. We shouldn't be counting on everyone having one or more That'll Do cards in their stack in order to make the math work. The cards do indeed have a dramatic impact on the result of skill challenges (so much so that the use of a that'll do card can change a skill challenge from "statistically, it is likely for the party to fail" to "statistically, it is unlikely for the party to fail") but if we build skill challenges on the assumption that everyone will have a that'll do card available, then we are punishing players who don't use cards or who would rather have something other than that'll do.

The campaign cards are meant to be something extra that players can bring to the table not as an essential patch that enables the core rules deployed in the modules to actually work. Assuming the use of that'll do cards in skill challenges transforms them into a band-aid that is necessary to make the system work.

I will add furthermore that assuming the people who this will hurt the most are the least tactically savvy and/or experienced players.

2. Aid other as a way to succeed at skill challenges is an obnoxious strategy that detracts from what skill challenges are supposed to accomplish and is of dubious legitimacy in the eyes of the designers. Yes, it will be very rare to fail a skill challenge if you do the smart thing and figure out who is good at the skill and then have everyone aid other before that person rolls the check. But playing the mechanics of the skill challenge like that:

A. Slows the system down to a crawl--you have a minimum of 24 rolls with explanations to the DM before the skill challenge is over (for a 4 successes before 3 failures skill challenge too--if people were just making individual rolls, the maximum possible number before the challenge would finish is six).
B. Turns it into even more of a dice game than it already is.
C. Is of dubious applicability. In the various skill challenge articles in Dragon, designers have suggested severely limiting the amount of Aid Other actions permitted per attempt and even having failed aid other attempts inflict penalties (failed aid other attempts become less likely as characters level up but are not generally impossible until mid-paragon if the character is aiding with a bad skill). Both of these are IMO bad ideas but they are both relatively frequent rulings by DMs.
D. Acts to severely limit roleplaying since many judges will (not unreasonably) ask the first player to role-play significantly to roll a primary check. If it is essential for all of the aiding players to roll before the primary check, then each of them may either mumble "aid other" or give a one-sentence description "please consider the words of our wise friend..."/"what he said." Even if the player who decides to give his impromptu adaptation of Henry V's St. Crispin's day speech (which while not necessarily role-playing is unquestionably involved) is not asked to roll the primary check, he has certainly made it difficult for the other player to roleplay rolling the primary check. How can you follow that up? (Maybe you crib from Faerie Queen, but odds are good that the first guy made most of the relevant arguments anyway so you're probably just repeating things).
Even without That'll Do, the +1s and +2s from cards often lock in skill challenges. It is possible for people to play without cards, but since they can just download them, I'm not seeing that happen lately. And, really, do we want the game to be completely trivial for those who have the cards, because some choose not to?

Nevermind the fact that a 40% chance to fail most skill challenges is really no big deal. Any properly built skill challenge should have something interesting on both success and failure.

Interesting tangent, but I wonder if the folks writing modules for LFR actually don't take into account rewards cards. The most prominent one that could change adventure design being Snap Out Of It.

As far as aid another goes, I try to avoid it myself, but it's hardly realistic to look the other way and pretend it doesn't exist. It's a basic mechanic, used frequently by those in skill challenges. If you want to say that something has a high percent chance of failure then ignore the most common means of reducing that chance of failure...
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
Even without That'll Do, the +1s and +2s from cards often lock in skill challenges. It is possible for people to play without cards, but since they can just download them, I'm not seeing that happen lately. And, really, do we want the game to be completely trivial for those who have the cards, because some choose not to?

Nevermind the fact that a 40% chance to fail most skill challenges is really no big deal. Any properly built skill challenge should have something interesting on both success and failure.

Interesting tangent, but I wonder if the folks writing modules for LFR actually don't take into account rewards cards. The most prominent one that could change adventure design being Snap Out Of It.

As far as aid another goes, I try to avoid it myself, but it's hardly realistic to look the other way and pretend it doesn't exist. It's a basic mechanic, used frequently by those in skill challenges. If you want to say that something has a high percent chance of failure then ignore the most common means of reducing that chance of failure...



If you want LFR modules to assume that every player will pack two not this times and three snap out of it cards then that should be written into the rules with no flexibility permitted. Otherwise, you are judging the difficulty based on unrealistic assumptions about what players will do. Player reward cards should be exactly that: rewards that are above and beyond the assumed character power level. If they then cause the campaign to be too easy for players who use them, the campaign staff should seriously look at discontinuing their use rather than ramping up the challenge on random parts of the mods where they assume that "everyone" is using cards to compensate.

Otherwise the game will be especially challenging for the new players who don't realize that skill challenges are written to be challenging with the assumption that 1-3 failures will be turned into successes by that'll do cards and impossible without those cards. (One might add that such players are the ones likely to experience the greatest challenge even in a fair system and that they are also the players who are probably most susceptible to discouragement, making it a triply bad idea to assume the use of skill cards).

Also, as a side note, for someone who purportedly has not failed a skill skill challenge in nearly 18 months and rarely gets any failures at all in skill challenges, you seem surprisingly unconcerned about the prospect of other people failing skill challenges. If a 40% chance of failure is not a big deal, why is it that your groups always do what is necessary in order to avoid failure? (Assuming that you are not exaggerating about your record and you are using unweighted dice would seem to be everyone always packing that'll do cards and never rolling skill checks in challenges except with high modifier characters aided by the rest of the group. Otherwise, it is statistically inevitable that you would have had at least one failed skill challenge in the last year). Obviously, you have worked to achieve a 0% chance of failure. If failing is not fun for you (and it obviously isn't, or you wouldn't put out the effort to reduce a 10% chance of failure to 0%), why do you suppose it is fun for anyone else?
If you want LFR modules to assume that every player will pack two not this times and three snap out of it cards then that should be written into the rules with no flexibility permitted.

Players will bring along the cards that suit them, as much as they'll pick the feats and treasure that suit them. I'd hope that they aren't basing the difficulty of modules on players that choose to not use, say, magic equipment.

That said...

If they then cause the campaign to be too easy for players who use them, the campaign staff should seriously look at discontinuing their use rather than ramping up the challenge on random parts of the mods where they assume that "everyone" is using cards to compensate.

This is a very relevant point. The rewards cards are extremely valuable - and at higher level you actually have so many that it gets a little ridiculous.

Also, as a side note, for someone who purportedly has not failed a skill skill challenge in nearly 18 months and rarely gets any failures at all in skill challenges, you seem surprisingly unconcerned about the prospect of other people failing skill challenges. If a 40% chance of failure is not a big deal, why is it that your groups always do what is necessary in order to avoid failure?

You have to do anything special to not fail a skill challenge? I was playing a level 1-4 module the other day where we had someone with a -1 modifier talking (language gap) and we still got through that skill challenge fine. Ditto when my level 1 paladin had to make Endurance checks at -2 for another skill challenge. Post-errata, the skill DCs are _low_, and most skill challenges nowadays seem to be of complexity 1 or 2, increasing the chance of succeeding before failure even on an even chance.

A 12th level skill challenge has a moderate DC of 16. My 12th warlord has Athletics +17, Diplomacy +18, Endurance +15, Intimidate +20, Streetwise +18. How do I even fail? I still keep a That'll Do on tap so I can succeed at a, say, Stealth check (+6) or History check (+8). I mean, I've got 5 cards, and that way I can RP however I want without worrying about the consequences. I certainly don't spend time worrying about skill challenges or maximizing aid anothers. In truth, I actually feel I've wasted resources on my skills... but it occasionally lets me effectively pull off impressive things, when I throw a 30 and the DM plays along with it.

In a home game, I'd much rather that there was a meaningful chance of failure for skill challenges, because I don't need to decrease the xp as a result. A failed skill challenge is just an excuse to throw some more excitement into the players' laps. That's good. In LFR, skill challenges often have no chance of failing in a good group and frankly it's not fun to lose out on the xp. When it just triggers a more difficult combat, or whatever, sure.
Keith Richmond Living Forgotten Realms Epic Writing Director
If you want LFR modules to assume that every player will pack two not this times and three snap out of it cards then that should be written into the rules with no flexibility permitted.

Players will bring along the cards that suit them, as much as they'll pick the feats and treasure that suit them. I'd hope that they aren't basing the difficulty of modules on players that choose to not use, say, magic equipment.

That said...



For my part, while I would expect the modules to be written for characters using magical equipment, I would hope that the campaign staff is not writing them assuming that everyone is wielding specific overpowered equipment. If the campaign staff had been assuming that everyone would be using pre-errata bloodclaw weapons, then the monsters' hit points would now be quite a bit too high (and also, it would have simply increased the pressure to play Dale 1-3 and get the same weapon everyone else was using).

Likewise, while it is probably good for writers to consider that a lot of players may take snap out of it cards and therefore they probably don't want to write an encounter where keeping everyone dazed all the time is the encounter's schtick (actually, I would argue that they shouldn't do that anyway--because it makes the encounter take forever and it's not fun, but that's beside the point). That does not mean that it is a good idea to figure, "we're writing this module that will daze every character every round but it's ok because they'll all have two snap out of it cards."

If they then cause the campaign to be too easy for players who use them, the campaign staff should seriously look at discontinuing their use rather than ramping up the challenge on random parts of the mods where they assume that "everyone" is using cards to compensate.

This is a very relevant point. The rewards cards are extremely valuable - and at higher level you actually have so many that it gets a little ridiculous.



It seems we agree on more than is initially apparent.

Also, as a side note, for someone who purportedly has not failed a skill skill challenge in nearly 18 months and rarely gets any failures at all in skill challenges, you seem surprisingly unconcerned about the prospect of other people failing skill challenges. If a 40% chance of failure is not a big deal, why is it that your groups always do what is necessary in order to avoid failure?

You have to do anything special to not fail a skill challenge? I was playing a level 1-4 module the other day where we had someone with a -1 modifier talking (language gap) and we still got through that skill challenge fine. Ditto when my level 1 paladin had to make Endurance checks at -2 for another skill challenge. Post-errata, the skill DCs are _low_, and most skill challenges nowadays seem to be of complexity 1 or 2, increasing the chance of succeeding before failure even on an even chance.

A 12th level skill challenge has a moderate DC of 16. My 12th warlord has Athletics +17, Diplomacy +18, Endurance +15, Intimidate +20, Streetwise +18. How do I even fail? I still keep a That'll Do on tap so I can succeed at a, say, Stealth check (+6) or History check (+8). I mean, I've got 5 cards, and that way I can RP however I want without worrying about the consequences. I certainly don't spend time worrying about skill challenges or maximizing aid anothers. In truth, I actually feel I've wasted resources on my skills... but it occasionally lets me effectively pull off impressive things, when I throw a 30 and the DM plays along with it.

In a home game, I'd much rather that there was a meaningful chance of failure for skill challenges, because I don't need to decrease the xp as a result. A failed skill challenge is just an excuse to throw some more excitement into the players' laps. That's good. In LFR, skill challenges often have no chance of failing in a good group and frankly it's not fun to lose out on the xp. When it just triggers a more difficult combat, or whatever, sure.




I think you underestimate the difficulty of skill challenges or have DMs who are generous in the amount of information they give you. Even if you have an 85% chance to succeed on each individual skill check, you will still fail the skill challenge 10% of the time (6 before 3) or 35% of the time (12 before 3). Given a large number of modules, I've failed more than a few (probably in the 5-10% range).

In my experience, skill challenges are generally blind gambles. My warlord has similar abilities to yours, but I don't know whether a particular DC is hard, moderate, or easy until I try it. Thus, if endurance is one of the skills and I roll endurance, there's a 25% chance to add one failure right there (absent a that'll do card, of course). Now, if I'm rolling one of my strong skills against a moderate or easy DC, I'm not going to fail. But since we never know if the DCs are hard or easy and a bad roll against a hard DC is a failure, we will accumulate some failures even in encounters where we have all the appropriate skills.  Now, if you figure that you can do whatever you want and roll a weak skill, even a that'll do card won't save you if you were going against the hard DC. Make a group that lacks certain skills or a skill challenge that requires players to roll with their weak skills and failure is not only possible but actually likely. (The jousting skill challenge in In the Bleak Midwinter was run this way for our group--everyone in the party was required to joust--even the wizard, pacifist cleric, and druid. That setup alone, pretty much guaranteed our failure).

Now for my part, I do not enjoy the skill challenge mechanic itself so the only times that they are enjoyable is when they serve as a mechanism to allow the party to accomplish an actual task outside of combat. In that case, I don't think there is any reason for having an inherent chance to fail. I would much prefer my group to succeed if we have a plan that is appropriate to the situation and to fail if our plan is inappropriate to the situation or we lack the skills to pull it off.


Also, as a side note, for someone who purportedly has not failed a skill skill challenge in nearly 18 months and rarely gets any failures at all in skill challenges, you seem surprisingly unconcerned about the prospect of other people failing skill challenges. If a 40% chance of failure is not a big deal, why is it that your groups always do what is necessary in order to avoid failure? (Assuming that you are not exaggerating about your record and you are using unweighted dice would seem to be everyone always packing that'll do cards and never rolling skill checks in challenges except with high modifier characters aided by the rest of the group. Otherwise, it is statistically inevitable that you would have had at least one failed skill challenge in the last year). Obviously, you have worked to achieve a 0% chance of failure. If failing is not fun for you (and it obviously isn't, or you wouldn't put out the effort to reduce a 10% chance of failure to 0%), why do you suppose it is fun for anyone else?



I also can't think of a time where I've failed a skill challenge since Gencon 2008 (and that was a preview mod with a pregen character and my 1st ever 4th ed game) and as a DM I've probably only failed players 2 or 3 times due to their own silly actions.

As a DM I don't adjust DCs to suit the party but I do adjust DCs to suit the role playing of the party. I inform all players before the game starts that I will give bonuses during skill challenges based on how they role play the skills that they plan on using and in that I will also grant negatives to the roll if they actively role play against the situation.

eg If the bard comes up with a fantastic salutation towards the noble lady then I'll give them a bonus to their diplomacy roll of 2 to 5 depending on the situation and how well they said it. Similarly though if the bard tramps into the noble house right up to the noble lady and says something along the lines of, "Hey you! You're an alright sort how about we go and make out." Then I'll give a negative to the role.

Similarly if the roles are reversed and it's not a noble but a commoner in the gutter and the bard were to give the fancy salutation they'd probably not gain a bonus where they would have had they dealt with them on an appropriate level with appropriate language.

Also if the group (or specific players) I'm running for doesn't have an interest in the role playing aspect but would prefer roll playing then I'm happy to run with the DCs as are written.

I'll also allow for skills outside the reccommended ones if used with a suitable explanation and will change secondary skills to primary if a good use is given to me.

Skill challenges are largely easy to run IMO, if you're a flexible DM and prepared to apply DME to the situations as they arise.

I also don't believe that players should be forced to all make an athletics check just because they're adventurers. There should always be an alternate method using the skills that the party is good at, after all they're a collective party for each mod not a set of characters who are all there to be treated as individuals. I think here the group check mechanism works well and I'm happy to combine skills into a group check, if relevant reasons are given.



I think you underestimate the difficulty of skill challenges or have DMs who are generous in the amount of information they give you. Even if you have an 85% chance to succeed on each individual skill check, you will still fail the skill challenge 10% of the time (6 before 3) or 35% of the time (12 before 3). Given a large number of modules, I've failed more than a few (probably in the 5-10% range).



Let me just use a basic example based on yours to generate a few simple probabilities. Let's assume that all skill checks (checks, not challenges) will succeed 85% of the time. That's a 15% probability of failure. Let's say that the skill challenge is 3 checks and to fail the challenge you need to fail all three skill checks (I'm deliberately making this simple because I don't want to pull out my calculator and prob/stat text book). The chances of failing in any of them is 15%, to fail all three of them is 0.3375%. That's less than 1/3rd of 1%. To fail two is less than 3%. Now, it gets more complex for say ... 6 successes before 3 failures, but it is still a low probability of failure of the -entire- skill challenge.

With cards like "That'll Do" which make can turn a failure into a success, and with powers that let you re-roll (backgrounds exist for a lot of the usual skills like Arcana, Nature, etc), the probability of failing goes down even further.

Now, 85% is rather pessimistic, I think. I've seen folks rolling 42's in a 7-10 game, so the chance of them failing for most DCs is probably less than 15% ... might even be 0% in all but the most difficult checks, and even then it might well still be only 5%. So, while I don't expect that every player will have a +20 in a pertinent skill, I do expect them to have fairly high checks in their primary skills.

Funny thing about skill challenges is that, unlike combats, they don't scale correctly to the party. A skill challenge is worth more total XP to a party of 6 than a party 4, and usually they're easier because a party has a greater selection of skills at their disposal.

I'm a big fan of skill challenges, but I think they're extremely difficult to write well.


I think you underestimate the difficulty of skill challenges or have DMs who are generous in the amount of information they give you. Even if you have an 85% chance to succeed on each individual skill check, you will still fail the skill challenge 10% of the time (6 before 3) or 35% of the time (12 before 3). Given a large number of modules, I've failed more than a few (probably in the 5-10% range).



Let me just use a basic example based on yours to generate a few simple probabilities. Let's assume that all skill checks (checks, not challenges) will succeed 85% of the time. That's a 15% probability of failure. Let's say that the skill challenge is 3 checks and to fail the challenge you need to fail all three skill checks (I'm deliberately making this simple because I don't want to pull out my calculator and prob/stat text book). The chances of failing in any of them is 15%, to fail all three of them is 0.3375%. That's less than 1/3rd of 1%. To fail two is less than 3%. Now, it gets more complex for say ... 6 successes before 3 failures, but it is still a low probability of failure of the -entire- skill challenge.



It does indeed get more complex. It's a negative binomial distribution. I had some help from a statistician friend when I worked up my spreadsheet a few months ago but with an 85% success rate on each skill check, the odds of six successes before 3 failures is 89%. 12 successes before 3 failures is 65%. That'll do cards have a dramatic impact on the math. (But calculating the exact impact would require me to go back and rework the basic math as though the skill challenge required fewer successes and allowed more failures with the same minimum number of iterations--I'm not up for that work at the moment, so I'll settle for dramatic).

Now that is indeed a low probability of failure on the entire skill challenge, but it is most definitely not non-zero. And with 1-3 skill challenges per mod, a player playing 1 mod a week is almost certain to fail several skill challenges over that time unless the probability of success on each roll is 95-100%. Now perhaps it is because I approach skill challenges as a mechanism for telling a story rather than a mini-game (it makes a terrible mini-game), but I would expect that many of the challenges involved in a skill challenge will in fact require everyone in the group to either make a check or figure out some way around it. If the whole party is trecking through the jungles of chult in 120 degree weather, I would expect all of them to make endurance checks--not just the dwarf whose build is conducive to maximizing endurance. If the wizard wants to avoid that check, he'd better know the endure elements ritual or have some other way to get around it; the skill challenge mechanic should not be used to give him a pass. It's pretty stupid to treat a joust in that manner but there are quite a few situations where it is appropriate. So, unlike you, I expect that consistently keeping success rates on individual checks in the 85% range is rather unrealistic. Sooner or later, you will be in a situation that no-one in the party is prepared for or a situation where people cannot avoid their weak skills.
Looking at the results of the adventure questionaires, the average failure rate for skill challenges in adventures from my region is roughly 10%. In my own experience as a DM most skill challenges only fail when I am running an adventure for a group lacking vital skills (e.g. no PC with any social skill) or when the PCs start goofing around and even then rarely.

Note that the whole idea of the skill challenge is to give a guideline for the DM to judge when a group of players fails or succeeds at a long range task. It is not a set of rules to force the players to roll. You are supposed to hide it behind roleplaying in case of social challenges and problem solving challenges.
I likewise do not recall failing any skill challenges in the past year. This has two reasons.

(1) many players around here react to a SC by rolling their highest skill, then making up a vaguely plausible excuse for why this skill might apply to whatever the situation is, then fast talk the DM into accepting this. Since the highest skill is in the +15 to +20 range, this means they don't fail. The SC rules actively encourage this kind of meta-gaming, even if it means using the heal skill for lifting rocks, or arcana for breathing underwater, or stealth to help a divine praying ritual.

(2) several SCs have the consequence for failure listed as "same as success, but you lose one healing surge", or "same as success, but you are at -4 initiative on the next combat" or something similarly trivial. I may well have failed a few SCs without being aware of it, because there sometimes are no real consequences to failing. Note that I said "sometimes", not "always".

I do recall having my players fail a SC when I was the DM. This is generally due to players doing something really stupid, like punching an NPC in the face and then rolling a diplomacy check (no, I'm not making that up). I do believe such a situation warrants a huge situational penalty.
This is a very relevant point. The rewards cards are extremely valuable - and at higher level you actually have so many that it gets a little ridiculous.



Absolutely. Now that we're in paragon, everyone can use five of them (or six with some kind of convention benefit, apparently) which is more than people actually need. That is, people end the session with three or four of them left untouched. This means that (a) they really aren't all that valuable, actually, and (b) it will become even more ridiculous by epic.

Overall, players here have started not using reward cards for the bragging rights (and because RPGA adventures are pretty easy anyway, even without cards), and some DMs have started giving out extra XP to a party that doesn't use reward cards. The only cards that I've seen used recently are Snap (to make the 'dazed' condition completely irrelevant) and That'll Do (to account for overly random skill checks that are sometimes required).