Help with Skill Challenges

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I have been playing 4E from the very beginning, with a lapse of a year or so where I played Mutants & Masterminds more. I am back to D&D4E now, and I'm restarting my DMing by converting Red Hand of Doom to 4E (it was our last 3E campaign and it ended before we could get too far).

From the very beginning, I loved the idea of skill challenges, but I have always had difficulty dealing with them. Of the games I have played in, I have seen two styles of running challenges that I liked. One style was DM driven, with challenges popping up and letting the players choose how to overcome them (think the opening scene in "Raiders of the Lost Arc"). The other style is player driven, where the players are presented with a situation and it is up to them how to deal with it.

My trouble with running skill challenges has been making the goal apparent in such a way that it doesn't break the verisimilitude of the scene. When an ogre breaks through a door, the players know an encounter has begun. I have always had trouble with this, but I think it might be because I am describing skill challenges poorly, or starting them poorly.

How have you used them effectively? Please no "don't use them" answers, as that isn't going to help anyone. 

Poe's Law is alive and well.

When I run a skill challenge I try to make sure that their is a story element to it or to present something that they need to use skills to handle, some examples are:

The party needed to get to the center of a goblinoid army to kill the dragonborn and kobolds that were forcing them to attack the country the PC's were defending, at each point in the skill challenge they had to either history/intimidate/bluff to get past the guard post/agressive goblinoids or they had a fight, each checkpoint being a check in the skill challenge, so they knew that if they could bully the goblinoids they wouldn't have to fight and could get to the real encounter.

Another skill challenge was when the party needed to convince the ruling Baron that they needed his assistance more than the nobles that were squandering his resouces, I ran the skill challenge as a debate between the PC's representative and one of the town council's representatives, they knew it was starting when the councilman started firing back at their claims and it was done when the Baron made his decision.

The skill challenge in the D&D + Robot Chicken videos to take over the arcane ballista was also a good one.
The DM of the Critical Hit podcast runs a very interesting style of skill challenge that is very narratively driven and cinematic. I highly recommend checking it out.
Keep it simple and straightforward when you're starting out, something like climbing a cliff, where the task is obvious. They can approach it in various ways, but it's clear what they ultimately have to do.

You'll find that single skill challenges generally aren't much of a challenge, and that it's difficult to involve everyone in the same challenge. As soon as you're at all comfortable with it, I recommend stepping away from single, lone challenges and incorporating them with other things, namely combat and other skill challenges.

It's okay if a skill challenge doesn't have a clear goal, and isn't announced as obviously as combat, because it's okay for the PCs not to address the challenge. If they miss that it's occurring, they can either catch on to it later, or the events of the challenge play out as if they'd failed every roll, which is okay, because it's okay to fail skill challenges. The game keeps going, and might even be more interesting for it.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

But do you list the core skills as the books have sometimes advised? Or do you leave things up in the air? Do you call for which skill check you want, or leave it to the players as to what they want to use?

Poe's Law is alive and well.

I don't announce the fact that a skill challenge has started, but just use the structure of success/failure to record the party's successes and failures.
I ask my players what they do, they tell me what they want to do and I think of a fitting skill.

I tried telling them "This is a skill challenge, 4 successes before 3 failures, etc.", but we ended up with the players thinking really long to tell me what they wanted to do using their best skill, and it was quite repetitive and boring. 
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I agree. Don't structure it explicitly.

Beyond that it really helps to map out the possible outcomes of the challenge. Try to make different things happen, depending on whether they overcome each part of the challenge. Try to make a kind of tree diagram. This gives the players a lot of control over what kind of stuff happens.

I remember running a cool chase scene in which each succes meant they caught up to the bad guy a bit and each failure meant they had to work a bit harder at it. Repeated failures would lead to a bar fight with a bunch of thugs and a string of successes meant they caught up with him and could arrest him without trouble.

In between anything could happen, from him diving into an alley to knocking over a fruit stand (with resulting acrobatics checks to avoid slipping over a banana peel).

Just try to think ahead and make each decision by the players matter.
But do you list the core skills as the books have sometimes advised? Or do you leave things up in the air? Do you call for which skill check you want, or leave it to the players as to what they want to use?


Just remember this: ACTIONS not SKILLS. When you go into a skill challenge, ask your players what they are doing, not what skill they are using. When they state what they are doing, then tell them what skill applies or let them suggest it. Otherwise, you'll have players just checking their sheets for what they're trained in and you'll grow quickly tired of the fighter Intimidating the grass.

Personally, I am completely transparent with skill challenges. I give them the title of the challenge, a clever description, the number of successes required, broad strategies for dealing with the challenge (along with appropriate skills) to frame the scene, and any special notes. I don't give them the Victory or Defeat conditions. I usually put this in text or as a handout. Then I let them figure out how to use that information to make the scene the most interesting possible. Here's an example:

The Trust, Part 1
Group Check
A thrilling chase through the streets and canals of Trolanport led you to a battle against ill-tempered fish-men with frickin’ lasers beams on their heads. This could draw some unwanted attention.

It’s What You Can Prove (DC 19): A little disinformation campaign on the locals might see The Trust chasing false leads which could buy you some time. Make a Bluff, History, or Streetwise check as a standard action (or as a minor action to aid an ally with a DC of 13).

The Price of Freedom (DC 23): Canny vigilance could reveal potential Trust agents or informants. Make an Insight, Perception, or Thievery check as a standard action (or as a minor action to aid an ally with a DC of 13).

The Better Part of Valor (DC 19): You do your best to keep your presence amidst the chaos as minimal as possible. Make an Arcana, Stealth, or Thievery check as a standard action (or as a minor action to aid an ally with a DC of 13).

What Else You Got? (DC varies): Describe an action and use a skill that fits the scene as a standard action.

A lot of skill challenges fall flat because the players don't know what to do. Transparency solves that issue and allows those who like to strategize couple their strategy with good storytelling.     

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
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But do you list the core skills as the books have sometimes advised? Or do you leave things up in the air? Do you call for which skill check you want, or leave it to the players as to what they want to use?

There's no one way to do it.

iserith's got the right of it: find out what they want to do and ask for a related skill check if appropriate. Bear in mind that not everything they do in a skill challenge needs to be tied to a skill roll AND not every skill check they might make needs to apply toward success or failure.

The absolute key to skill challenges is that both failure and success are interesting. Once you've got that, almost nothing else matters.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy


Just remember this: ACTIONS not SKILLS. When you go into a skill challenge, ask your players what they are doing, not what skill they are using. When they state what they are doing, then tell them what skill applies or let them suggest it. Otherwise, you'll have players just checking their sheets for what they're trained in and you'll grow quickly tired of the fighter Intimidating the grass.

I preach and practice this regularly.  In my opinion, this is the best method for maintaining the story-telling aspect of the skill challenge and I find it highly immersive.

Personally, I am completely transparent with skill challenges. I give them the title of the challenge, a clever description, the number of successes required, broad strategies for dealing with the challenge (along with appropriate skills) to frame the scene, and any special notes. I don't give them the Victory or Defeat conditions. I usually put this in text or as a handout. Then I let them figure out how to use that information to make the scene the most interesting possible.

This part, I don't agree with so much.  I never let my players know they are in a skill challenge, nor do I ever inform them of the number of successes and failures.  It takes some time for my players to even recognize that they are in a skill challenge, if they even do at all.

Part of this is because my skill challenges are story driven.  The content of the successes and failures push the story along, not the number of successes and failures.  Thus, it is quite possible (although it has never happened), that the skill challenge could be completed with one success if the player is creative enough with their role playing.  It is also quite possible the same skill challenge could take up to 10-12 successes.  It's all a matter of the story's progression.

Finally, I usually have degrees of success and failure.  For instance, the party is trying to get through a magically sealed door.  If they succeed without failing, they completely avoid the gnolls approaching from around the corner, planning to ambush.  If they succeed with 1 failure, they discern that the gnolls are coming and can set up an ambush of their own.  If they succeed with 2 or more failures, they simply encounter each other.  If they completely fail, the gnolls surprise the party (well, at least the gnoll has the key to get through the door).  It's a rough example, but you get the idea.

Celebrate our differences.

Bear in mind that not everything they do in a skill challenge needs to be tied to a skill roll AND not every skill check they might make needs to apply toward success or failure.

The absolute key to skill challenges is that both failure and success are interesting. Once you've got that, almost nothing else matters.



This is sage advice and makes a big difference in how well a skill challenge is delivered.

Example 1: No Check Required
 
Player: I say Hi to the guards and wave.
DM: Make a Diplomacy check.
Player: All I did was say hello...

Example 2: Check Required (Interesting Failure)

Player (lying): I walk up to the guard and mention that I'm a good friend of the Duke's and I'd very much like to speak with him immediately. It's urgent.
DM: The guard looks at you somewhat incredulously. As your wizard friend pointed out, the Duke is well known for being reclusive and unfriendly. Make a Bluff check to see if the guard believes you.
Player (rolling): C'mon baby, give me a nat 20!

Example 3: No Check Required (Because It's a Good Plan)

Player: I walk up to the guard who I know is corrupt because my cleric friend sussed him out as such. I casually slip him a purse heavy with gold and silver and tell him I have some urgent news for the Duke concerning the goblins. It's imperative I speak with him immediately to stave off a threat to the land.
DM: The guard lets you in without a word, stuffing your coinpurse into his boot. "See the Chamberlain first. And I'll deny it if you say I let you in."

Granted, talking to a guard is not a particularly good skill challenge, but it can be with the right conditions and likely the above example is just part of a longer skill challenge in dealing with the Duke, his guards, and his chamberlain. What I'm doing here is showing you that actions don't need skill checks to work. My rule of thumb is: If it's interesting and based upon information the PCs have already "paid for" with other checks and interactions, then it's a success. If it's interesting, but risky with an interesting development upon failure, a check is needed. If it's a simple interaction, no check is needed.

Overall, a skill challenge should have a few things going on at one time or should evolve in stages. And as Centauri said, the success and failure of a skill challenge is paramount. If you can't think of interesting victory and defeat conditions, then it shouldn't be a skill challenge!

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

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This part, I don't agree with so much.  I never let my players know they are in a skill challenge, nor do I ever inform them of the number of successes and failures.  It takes some time for my players to even recognize that they are in a skill challenge, if they even do at all.

Part of this is because my skill challenges are story driven.  The content of the successes and failures push the story along, not the number of successes and failures.  Thus, it is quite possible (although it has never happened), that the skill challenge could be completed with one success if the player is creative enough with their role playing.  It is also quite possible the same skill challenge could take up to 10-12 successes.  It's all a matter of the story's progression.

Finally, I usually have degrees of success and failure.  For instance, the party is trying to get through a magically sealed door.  If they succeed without failing, they completely avoid the gnolls approaching from around the corner, planning to ambush.  If they succeed with 1 failure, they discern that the gnolls are coming and can set up an ambush of their own.  If they succeed with 2 or more failures, they simply encounter each other.  If they completely fail, the gnolls surprise the party (well, at least the gnoll has the key to get through the door).  It's a rough example, but you get the idea.



Part of my transparency comes from the interface we use to play (online) which makes it easy to throw the skill challenge in chat and let them reference it as needed. I feel it frames the scene better. We've all been in a situation when you're trying to run a skill challenge and the players just don't "get it." This alleviates that problem completely. They still have complete freedom to do as they wish, but by setting up broad strategies to deal with the complication at hand, you're allowing them to see what you mean more directly and how you as the DM envision the scene. Then I just sit back and let them do the rest. I prefer the players do most of the "work" on skill challenges as it is by far one of the best ways to engage a player to do some shared storytelling in part because the roll gives it teeth.

As well, I have found that more often than not, a D&D player will like to strategize and talk about strategizing. It's fun. So after describing the scene or situation, I post the skill challenge and go make myself a tall glass of Kentucky bourbon. When I come back, the players have discussed it, come up with the most creative plan possible within the bounds of what is strategically sound. And it works beautifully. I'm not terribly concerned about them seeing behind the DM's curtain - they all run games too and know how stuff works. I'm more concerned with how creative and interesting they can make the scene in context. The more information they have to work with, the better.

That said, I can see how this wouldn't work for some player and some DMs.     

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

List the critical skills? Well, I am divided on that one...

The DM should know a way that the party can get through the skill challenge - which will likely involve a list of specific skills.

However, that's **A** way, not **THE** way. The challenge is to achieve a particular sort of in-story result, not to pass a particular series of skill tests.

It may turn out that the way the DM envisioned things, and the way the party does things, have very little in common.

Also, since most skill challenges don't drain resources in the same way that combat does, there's nothing saying that a skill challenge has to occur all in one chunk like a combat encounter does. You might have a skill challenge to acquire several components of an item and assemble them properly, spread out over a couple weeks of game time with a half-dozen combat encounters, a week of travel, and three other skill challenges occuring in the interim.
"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
List the critical skills? Well, I am divided on that one...

The DM should know a way that the party can get through the skill challenge - which will likely involve a list of specific skills.

However, that's **A** way, not **THE** way. The challenge is to achieve a particular sort of in-story result, not to pass a particular series of skill tests.

It may turn out that the way the DM envisioned things, and the way the party does things, have very little in common.



Very true. I think you can still get away with framing the scene by suggesting courses of action that make sense given the scene's assumptions, while still giving the players free reign to do what they will. I consider transparency on skill challenges to be an example of what I'm thinking, not a straight jacket to compel you to do what I think best.

In short, I am not afraid to steal a player's idea and run with it if it's more interesting than anything I've thought of. And it often is. What I find is the less sociable/creative players latch onto my ideas and the more sociable/creative ones come up with their own.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

For me, whether or not I suggest possible courses of action depends on how much initiative the players are taking. Sometimes, I give them a situation and they grab the bull by the horns and go. They tell me what they want to attempt and I decide how to resolve it. Other times, they get a situation and just stare at me blankly. In those cases, I’ll inform the players with high insight that it occurs to them that perhaps this or that will help them towards their goal.


I really don’t like feeding them solutions unless the game would otherwise stall.


As an aside, I feel that if once the stage is set for a SC and the players feel stuck, the problem is most likely that I didn’t do an adequate job setting things up properly.

I really don’t like feeding them solutions unless the game would otherwise stall.

As an aside, I feel that if once the stage is set for a SC and the players feel stuck, the problem is most likely that I didn’t do an adequate job setting things up properly.


I have been watching a lot of movies and TV series and paralleling those with skill challenges.  The latest that I have been dissecting is Star Trek: the Next Generation.  There are countless skill challenges in that series, many of which parallel to D&D.  But what is interesting is each character's "recollection" of their past experiences when applying their specific strengths to a problem.  This could be anything from Picard's love for 1940's gumshoe stories to Worf's Klingon heritage to LaForge's ability to recognize various flaws in engineering.


Celebrate our differences.

List the critical skills? Well, I am divided on that one...

The DM should know a way that the party can get through the skill challenge - which will likely involve a list of specific skills.

However, that's **A** way, not **THE** way. The challenge is to achieve a particular sort of in-story result, not to pass a particular series of skill tests.

It may turn out that the way the DM envisioned things, and the way the party does things, have very little in common.



Very true. I think you can still get away with framing the scene by suggesting courses of action that make sense given the scene's assumptions, while still giving the players free reign to do what they will. I consider transparency on skill challenges to be an example of what I'm thinking, not a straight jacket to compel you to do what I think best.

Yeah, I tend to have a flowchart of the skill challenge.  There is one entry point and one to many exit points with several key points in between.  The characters meander through the flowchart, triggering those key points however they manage to (within the context of the skill challenge of course).  They are never forced down any one path, but the clues and scenery typically do guide them down those paths.

Celebrate our differences.

I have been watching a lot of movies and TV series and paralleling those with skill challenges.  The latest that I have been dissecting is Star Trek: the Next Generation.  There are countless skill challenges in that series, many of which parallel to D&D.  But what is interesting is each character's "recollection" of their past experiences when applying their specific strengths to a problem.  This could be anything from Picard's love for 1940's gumshoe stories to Worf's Klingon heritage to LaForge's ability to recognize various flaws in engineering.



Hilarious, my players and I all do the same thing when watching a show/movie. "Oh, that's an Athletics check and a half, right there!" TV and movies really are excellent sources for not just skill challenges, but a lot of elements in an adventure.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

For me, whether or not I suggest possible courses of action depends on how much initiative the players are taking. Sometimes, I give them a situation and they grab the bull by the horns and go. They tell me what they want to attempt and I decide how to resolve it. Other times, they get a situation and just stare at me blankly. In those cases, I’ll inform the players with high insight that it occurs to them that perhaps this or that will help them towards their goal.

I really don’t like feeding them solutions unless the game would otherwise stall.

As an aside, I feel that if once the stage is set for a SC and the players feel stuck, the problem is most likely that I didn’t do an adequate job setting things up properly.

Yeah, that's a problem I have too. One approach that helps me is to use skill challenges that do more than just sit there. Climbing a cliff is a good example of a basic skill challenge, but there's sort of nothing to it. You pretty much can either do it or not. And if you can't do it, well maybe you can come back and try again later.

If you make a challenge that can go on the offensive, it's easier to prod the PCs into action. Maybe instead of climbing a cliff just to get somewhere, they're climbing the cliff either to chase someone or get away from something. Now if they don't take some sort of action, the situation will resolve itself, and probably not to their advantage.

As long as there are still successes to be obtained, the DM has pretty free rein to describe the situation however he wants. If there are NPCs involved, they can obviously up the ante, but even a scene against nature can suddenly spring and unpleasant surprise on the PCs. It's still the same challenge, with the same DCs and primary skills, but if their list of apparently applicable options suddenly narrows due to your description, it sometimes helps get the creative juices flowing.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I have been watching a lot of movies and TV series and paralleling those with skill challenges.  The latest that I have been dissecting is Star Trek: the Next Generation.  There are countless skill challenges in that series, many of which parallel to D&D.  But what is interesting is each character's "recollection" of their past experiences when applying their specific strengths to a problem.  This could be anything from Picard's love for 1940's gumshoe stories to Worf's Klingon heritage to LaForge's ability to recognize various flaws in engineering.



Hilarious, my players and I all do the same thing when watching a show/movie. "Oh, that's an Athletics check and a half, right there!" TV and movies really are excellent sources for not just skill challenges, but a lot of elements in an adventure.

I just started getting into Hirst Arts molds and building dungeons out of dental stone...  Everywhere I go now, "I could make a mold out of that" or "That would make an interesting piece."  It's a sickness. 

Back to STTNG, though, I have actually thought about going back and converting each episode, starting from episode 1, into D&D fantasy (changing the character names as well, of course), just to see how long it takes my main group to figure out they are STTNG conversions.  I think it would be a freaking blast, regardless of whether they figured it out in 1 or 100 episodes. 
  

Celebrate our differences.

One thing I have been looking at is imposing a sense of urgency to the challenge. For example, from the work I've done for Red Hand of Doom, at one point the players are fighting to secure a bridge. When the players first assault the bridge, a green dragon who was standing guard with the hobgoblins flies away to alert the rest of the army. When the players have finished dealing with the hobgoblins, the green dragon returns for another encounter, but this time the army is closing in. The army is of sufficient size that the players know they can't deal with it alone. An NPC traveling with them will suggest they destroy the bridge to delay the army. During the fight with the green dragon, they need to destroy the bridge (Dungeoneering, Nature and Athletics seem like obvious skills, but others could fit in too). Rather than X successes before 3 failures, this seems more like X successes before Y rounds.

Great advice all around. I think I'm getting a better feel in my head. I have a tiny skill challenge in the first session that will determine how the villagers percieve the players; just a quick social thing with the captain of the guard. I should be able to do it without having to note that it's a skill challenge. 

Poe's Law is alive and well.

Sounds like a fun encounter with the bridge.  Let us know how it goes, as well as initial skill challenge.

Celebrate our differences.

On a related note, what would some valid general drawbacks for failed skill checks be? Physical skill checks can always end up having healing surge deductions as a penalty, but that hardly makes sense for a failed mental or social skill. Thoughts? This is in thinking of timed skill challenges rather than 3 failure skill challenges.

Poe's Law is alive and well.

I don't really like penalties on skill checks ON TOP of failure conditions placed upon them for blowing the skill challenge. It's not really necessary. I'd rather make the skill challenge optional and give them bonuses for doing things rather than put them through a mandatory exercise with the possibility of a double whammy failure.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

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I was saying penalties instead of counting a skill as a failure. It would be for a skill challenge with a round timer, rather than a failure counter.

Poe's Law is alive and well.

I was saying penalties instead of counting a skill as a failure. It would be for a skill challenge with a round timer, rather than a failure counter.



Ah, okay. I see what you mean now. That will depend largely upon what they're actually doing with those skills I would think. I think I would probably redesign the encounter to have the skill challenge during the fight. You're fighting the advance scouts of the approaching horde and you must kill them AND destroy the bridge before the main force gets there. Perhaps some villagers are there as well helping the PCs so that charismatic PCs can use their interaction skills to gain successes.

Make the skill checks standard actions to force choices between killing hobgoblins and destroying the bridge. This would make for a much more dramatic scene and enforce the time pressure on the PCs in a big way. In this case, I still wouldn't have penalties for failed skill checks because they will have "wasted" a standard action doing the skill instead of an attack. And that's penalty enough.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals | Full-Contact Futbol  |  Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs | Re-Imagining Phandelver | Three Pillars of Immersion | Seahorse Run

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

They're going to be breaking the bridge while fighting a dragon. Should be tense. But my suggestion was more "in the air" than dealing with this specific case. 

Poe's Law is alive and well.

On a related note, what would some valid general drawbacks for failed skill checks be? Physical skill checks can always end up having healing surge deductions as a penalty, but that hardly makes sense for a failed mental or social skill. Thoughts? This is in thinking of timed skill challenges rather than 3 failure skill challenges.

Knowledge skills carry the inherent penalty of not being able to be attempted by that character again once they've failed. When they can make another check is entirely at the discretion of the DM.

Avoid charging a healing surge for a failed physical check. It doesn't make much sense, and it's a tired cliche at this point.

There's really no need to inflict additional penalties onto failed checks. Whether it costs them a failure or costs them time (which is really just another way of setting up a number of failures) it complicates the challenge by increasing the success-to-failure ratio. Describe what that complication looks like and move on.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

So a Complexity 5 skill challenge is supposed to be comparable to an even level fight, but it shouldn't have any costs of player resources? That is what I am trying to model here, so that they fit into the costs of the day and aren't just tacked on.

Poe's Law is alive and well.

So a Complexity 5 skill challenge is supposed to be comparable to an even level fight, but it shouldn't have any costs of player resources?

Even though they're worth the same amount of experience and require multiple dice rolls, they're still different creatures.

You're welcome to have penalties for failed skill checks, I'm just saying that healing surge loss is a pretty tired one at this point.

That is what I am trying to model here, so that they fit into the costs of the day and aren't just tacked on.

A noble effort, though part of what I like about them is the reduced costs of trying them. They can serve in situations in which the PCs don't want to risk combat.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

So a Complexity 5 skill challenge is supposed to be comparable to an even level fight, but it shouldn't have any costs of player resources? That is what I am trying to model here, so that they fit into the costs of the day and aren't just tacked on.



As DM, don't you want your players do more cool things in a day than less?

Which is why I advise putting the skill challenge in the combat.  If they're fighting the dragon and trying to destroy the bridge at the same time, they'll have a lot more meaningful choices to make during what could be an otherwise boring fight with an elite or solo. Have it be something like 1.5-2 successes per PC to destroy the bridge with each attempt costing a standard, penalty being that they didn't use their round to attack the dragon. Doing it this way has the added benefit of not seeming "tacked on."

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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