Endurance checks: How often?

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So, I'm hoping to get the group out into the wilderness. Fording streams, lifting heavy objects, climbing mountains, jumping across gaps, etc. All in cold and hostile weather. The journey will take a few in game days. How often should I ask for an endurance check?

Also, I would like to make things like climbing a mountain feel real. Is it a good idea to ask for athletics checks every round? In other words, the characters make the check and climb half their speed. Then they make another check and climb half their speed, etc. Is that too many checks? Is this something that would work as a skill challenge?

Thanks for any help!

EDIT: We play a game online by post. So, there's no 'all in one session' time limit or whatever. If that helps. 
That sounds like a skill challenge, it's definitely not someething you should be doing by rounds.
Harrying your Prey, the Easy Way: A Hunter's Handbook - the first of what will hopefully be many CharOp efforts on my part. The Blinker - teleport everywhere. An Eladrin Knight/Eldritch Knight. CB != rules source.
OK. I've never run a skill challenge before. To be honest, they're a little over my head. Is there a good resource for advice?
In both skill challenges and when asking for checks outside of skill challenges, you should only be asking for rolls if both success and failure are interesting. Normally this will only be in "charged" situations, where the PCs are under some kind of pressure. If you cannot think of interesting failure conditions, then it shouldn't be a roll. The character can just perform the action with or without cost (which you can negotiate with the player). Not every little thing needs to be rolled for.

Onikani should be posting a skill challenge guidebook soon. Keep an eye out for it. 

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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OK. I've never run a skill challenge before. To be honest, they're a little over my head. Is there a good resource for advice?

The DMG1 is really the best resource, but you have to read it carefully.

Apart from only rolling when both success and failure are compelling, the other great piece of advice I've received is to roll only when it makes sense. Maybe that's another way of saying the same thing, but sometimes a check is glaringly obvious, such as when someone tries to pull a gate open, or something. Endurance suffers from this, in that one feels that "endurance" is an ongoing thing. However, as you and they describe their journey, you'll see certain opportunities when someone is clearly "enduring" something. Fording a freezing river, braking a slipping line with your bare hands, fighting to the peak in thin air. Roll at those dramatic times.

Strange as it may seem, what makes things seem real is not realism. What makes things seem real are drama and evocative description. Rolling over and over will quickly become boring because, guess what, travelling is mostly boring. Focus on the interesting events, as you listed, and only a few of the most dramatic points within those. Be prepared for them to fail, and be prepared to make that interesting.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

In both skill challenges and when asking for checks outside of skill challenges, you should only be asking for rolls if both success and failure are interesting. Normally this will only be in "charged" situations, where the PCs are under some kind of pressure. If you cannot think of interesting failure conditions, then it shouldn't be a roll. The character can just perform the action with or without cost (which you can negotiate with the player). Not every little thing needs to be rolled for.

Onikani should be posting a skill challenge guidebook soon. Keep an eye out for it.



Troo Story. Pelor willing, it should be up this week.



Also, I would like to make things like climbing a mountain feel real. Is it a good idea to ask for athletics checks every round? In other words, the characters make the check and climb half their speed. Then they make another check and climb half their speed, etc. Is that too many checks? Is this something that would work as a skill challenge?


If there is no in-game deadline for the players to reach the top, then you don't need to make checks; have fun, describe a few scenes, let the players roleplay a few things, et voila, success.

If there is an in game reason/deadline (ie they need to do it as quickly as possible) then you can have checks to see how long it takes them.
I'll make up a quick skill challeenge right now, this is a relatively simple skill challenge to run, kinda boring but it's (mostly) in the standard wotc skill challenge format, and it's direct and to the point.

Climbing the Mountain
In order to climb this mountain quickly and effectively, we are going to need to work together.
Complexity 3 Skill Challenge (8 successes before 3 failure).
XP value: Equivalent to 3 standard monsters of the party's level
Duration: 3 days
Success: Party makes it to the destination within 3 days.
Failure: The hardships of the mountain slow the party. Exhausted, they don't arrive until day 5.

Basic Structure:
Day 1:
You will ONLY have the party make 2 group checks. One athletics check to overcome some obstacle, and one endurance check to avoid exhaustion and the elements. 
(A group check is defined as every pc making the appropriate skill check against the EASY dc of that level. If half or more of the party succeeds, then the group earns a success. If fewer than half succeed, they party earns a failure. Players cannot assist or use Aid Another for group checks).

Group Check 1
If we can successfully climb this cliff/cross this river/move this boulder we'll save hours worth of hiking time! It's worth a try!
Group Check 1 - Athletics (Low DC)
Special - any player that has the ability to bypass the obstacle by flying will auto-succeed on his check.
Success - you are able to quickly and efficiently bypass the obstacle in a timely manner. 
Failure - the party bypasses the obstacle, but progress is slowed. Party earns a failure.

Group Check 2
The first day? Cold and raining. The first night? the water on my armor turned to ice before it could dry. My armor is freezing solid, literally.
Group Check 2 - Endurance
Special - Anyone under the benefit of the Endure Elements (or similar) ritual gains a +5 bonus to this check.
Special - Any individual pc that fails this check loses 1 healing surge. Surges lost in this way can not be regained until the party after the party spends an extended rest in a more hospitable environment (such as an inn). This surge loss is cumulative with other surges lost in this way.
Success - As a group, the party keeps warm and staves off exhaustion. Party earns a success.

Day 2 & 3
"After the first day of travel, we realized this was going to take a little longer than we originally thought. We needed to think creatively, and even that got harder and harder as time grew short".
On days 2 & 3 - First have the party make both group checks again.
Afterwards, you can allow the players to brainstorm ideas on how skills (other than athletics and endurance) can be helpful in shaving time off the journey. When they suggest something plausible, you can allow one party member to use Aid Another and let one other player roll for the skill check
On Day 2, the DC is against the medium value for the party's level
On Day 3, the DC is against the hard value for the party's level (this represents trying to accomplish the same goals under time constraints)
Success adds a success, Failure adds a failure.
Maximum number of successes: 5 (this includes the total for both days)

Random examples i'm making up. Do NOT limit your players to these options, these are jsut a few examples of things they may come up with.
Players decide to use a perception check to look for tracks. Maybe the local wildlife knows an easier route?
Players decide to use a nature check to notice something peculiar that saves time. The wind always blows in the same direction, travelling across the wind will let us avoid snow drifts.
Players decide to use a history check to remember some fact about the mountain. The Wolfpaw Barbarians always rode down the west side of the mountain, maybe that side is an easier climb?

Statistical Expectations and potential outcomes:
The party will succeed on 5/6 of the group checks meaning they will need 3 more successes to arrive on time.
The party will succeed on almost all of the checks made on the second day.
The party will succeed on about half of the checks made on the third day.

Some proactive (and lucky!) parties wll acquire 8 successes by the end of day 2. If this happens, let them arrive early!
Most parties will end day 2 with 6 successes and 2 failures. This is because they succeeded on 3/4 group checks, and 3/4 skill checks. They will then attempt to gain the last 2 successes with the group checks the following day.
A party that acquires 6 successes on all 3 group checks, but waits until day 3 for other checks will most-likely fail.

Mixing in Combat:
This skill challenge and combat run mostly independently of each other; do not allow combat to provide successes and failures.
However, you can allow combats to occur as a result of a failure, if the result of which will be fun for your group. (Follow the tracks he said, we followed them right into a bear cave! We got attacked, and lost 2 hours backtracking!; Wolfpaw barbarians, yep they still live on the wset side of the mountain, we didn't find them, but got stuck in a giant net and then lifted 20 feet into the air...).
Lastly, remember that surges lost from losing the Endurance group check will accrue while on the mountain. Keep that in mind when designing encounters.


EDIT - i hate the way this thing keeps changing my spacing and font sizes
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
Hireing a wolfpaw barbarian guide would be a great way for a CHA primary hero to help the party up the mountian. Also from one of the better LFR mods- social skills used to calm and lighten the mood of the party, because if the fighter is still grumbleing about that bear cave the next day the trip might seem just a bit rougher and the going may be just a bit slower.

Not that Onikani's list was bad these are just some possible suggestions that the PCs could have made on days 2-3. 
The sea looks at the stabillity of the mountian and sighs. The mountian watches the freedom of the sea and cries.
Yeah, there's a lot that could be used to flesh this into something really awesome, but he said that he had absolutely no clue where to begin, so i gave him something straight forward...

And as i said, that list is in no means exhaustive... 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
As already suggested, skill checks in overland travel are generally best used when there's a specific event. However, this can also mean that the party has reached a decision point with variable outcomes, even if there's no immediate pressure or threat.

Do you want to cross the treacherous mountain pass, with all of the difficulties that presents? Maybe you can find a guide to make it easier? You could just follow the river valley as it winds its way around, but that's going to be much slower, and the place is haunted by mischievous fey who may cause problems. You could try to raft along the river, which is a little faster, but it does present some risks of its own. Etc.

The success of any of those courses could be affected by a skill check (most likely a group check), with some consequences (good or bad) occurring as a result. (IE: The fey could cause some serious harm if the party does badly there, but if the party does well then the fey might be impressed enough to show them a shortcut through the Feywild, making it the fastest route of all...)
So, what is a good mix for group and individual skill checks? For example, scaling a cliff. That seems like a group thing, right? Each player rolls to aid the 'point-man' and then he rolls to see if they succeed.

Another question, if you don't mind. Let's say the group or individual fails a check in precarious spot. Like, crossing a rotten rope bridge. Is it appropriate to have them fall (after rolling a saving throw to catch themselves)? While the books say that a failure shouldn't end the adventure, is it okay to have a PC die in this manner? Not that I'm trying to kill anyone, but if you fall off a bridge from a great height, you're going to kick the bucket (unless you're Daniel Craig). 
I find it's best to stick to group checks unless the activity really is something that only one person could plausibly do.

As for the failed checks: they shouldn't end the adventure, no.

The failed check results in a less optimal outcome, whether it be a loss of resources, a difficult encounter, or a setback in meeting an objective. The collapsing rope bridge might either come at a moment that results in some unpleasant buffeting (and lost healing surges), or the plunge into the river sweeps them (a little more bedraggled than before) somewhere else downstream - somewhere they probably didn't want to be and that poses a new set of challenges.

A skill challenge is really nothing we haven't been doing for years and years (if you've been playing D&D for a while) - describing a challenge and asking for some rolls. It's a way to encourage shared storytelling. The mechanic of the skill challenge simply adds framing and pacing so that it presents an appropriate challenge that lasts for a specific time in the game experience.

I think the issue in grasping them is one of presentation fail by WotC. I've reworked the format a bit to be a little more intuitive and useful, at least for me. Here is one I wrote up the other day for a friend's campaign at his request. We ran it last night and it worked beautifully. It (and the players, of course) produced a story that nobody saw coming. If you use it, I recommend making it complexity 4 skill challenges (8 successes) tops. DCs are set for a party of level 16.

“I AM THE LIZARD KING!”
8 successes before 3 failures
The amity of the chieftain of the Cold Sun Federation comes with the protection and support of thousands of lizardfolk and information on the looming threat that is the black wyrm, Rhashaak, Guardian of Haka’torvhak. Also, you won’t be eaten.

Complications:
Fear of Rhashaak, Ill Omens, Impossible Demand, Limbic Brains, Potential Challengers, Racial Enmity, Shamanic Opposition, Test of Worth

Consequences (player choice): Curse of Scalerot, Head on the Block, Mark of Rashaak, Vicious Beating

Setback: Take -2 forward on next PC’s check (player describes it).

Standard Action (Primary Skills)
DC 31+: Success
DC 22-30: Success plus setback
DC 21-: Failure plus setback and consequence

Minor Action (Secondary Skills)
DC 18: Aid Another

Draw upon an asset (NPC, monster, circumstance, item, feature of the area, trope, etc.) once per round as a minor action to gain a +2 bonus to a skill check. You can only use a particular asset once to gain this bonus.

Victory: An alliance with the Cold Sun Federation is forged and diplomatic relations with the human settlements are strongly considered. The PCs are safe in Cold Sun territory. They are also given useful information about the black wyrm Rhashaak, the Blackscale, Haka’torvhak, and Leland d’Cannith’s operations in Q’barra. (This information must be optional, but really useful, not something the PCs are going to get anyway.)

Defeat: No agreement can be reached with the Lizard King. The PCs are bound and carried through the jungle to Haka’torvhak to be offered as sacrifice to the black wyrm, Rhashaak. The Cold Sun does nothing while the Blackscale attack the human settlements.


HOW TO USE IT TO RUN A SHARED STORYTELLING SESSION:

Describe the overarching activity. Make sure the stakes (Victory & Defeat) are very clear to the players. Ask them why they care. Ask them which of them is willing to die to see it through. Ask them what they see around them, what they've heard of the Cold Sun Federation. What odd things do they see in the village? How dangerous do they perceive it to be? What steps have they taken to prepare themselves? Solicit everyone's input. Keep it rolling like a good brainstorming session. Write it all down, use some of it for your Complications and Consequences list. No answer is wrong that doesn't contradict what someone else has already said or what is known to be true in your game.

The questions above plus follow-up questions that spring to mind will be a good warm-up exercise to encourage them to get into a creative mode and ready for improvisation. When you think they're ready and you have plenty of things down on paper, hit them with a Complication. You can roll it randomly or pick one. I go for the latter because I can pick something everyone focused on during the warm-up. Describe the complication and how it's a problem for them. Then ask, "What do you do?"

The next part is tricky. The urge is to ask for a bunch of skill checks. Don't. People will likely be suggesting different things and collaborating on a plan. When they start taking actions, let them just do it. Only ask for an actual check when a player(s) suggests taking an action where success and failure can both be fun. When it's pivotal. When it really matters toward resolving a Complication. If it's definitely something the whole group has to work on, make it a group check where the majority (high, middling, or low) result is the overall result for the check. Otherwise, just let one person hog the glory (or the shame). Try to share the spotlight equally over the course of the whole challenge though.

On a high DC roll, their plan goes off without a hitch. Awesome - mark a success. On a middling DC roll, their plan works, mark a success, but there's also a Setback. If you've been soliciting input this whole time, you should have a lot of context to work with for ideas on what that setback is or better yet, just ask your players. When the next Complication arises, ask them how the Setback works against them in this situation. For example, a middling roll to deal with Shamanic Opposition may mean emboldening (Setback) some Potential Challengers to the Lizard King. So the next check to, say, intimidate those rivals will be harder. A failed check means both a Setback on the next Complication and a Consequence. Offer one or more of them to the players and let them choose the one that is most interesting to them and ask what it means in context.

Now, the DCs are set fairly high for unfettered success, because from a shared storytelling standpoint (which is what a skill challenge is), you want to encourage the PCs to work together (Aid Another) and to use their environment to their benefit (Asset). So if they are dealing with a Test of Worth, then a player might suggest there are vines that make it easier to climb the totem pole and take a +2 bonus to the check by working that into the action. It costs them nothing to do this, so encourage them to take advantage of it. It simply adds more details to the shared story.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Dungeon Master 101  |  Find Your GM Style  |  Structure First, Story Last  |  No Myth Roleplaying  |  5e Monster Index & Encounter Calculator
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Skill challenges are a lot of fun, and my players seem to enjoy them.  I don't have much to add on that account to what's already been offered.

As for a straight endurance check, failure can simply mean that the PCs are taxed some resource -- healing surges make a lot of sense and can encourage outside the box thinking when combat rolls around, as the surges become a little bit more precious.  PCs can also try to mitigate their risk when rolling the endurance check -- the fighter takes extra weight out of the wizard's pack, or whatever, but only if 1. it's fun for your players and 2. there's a trade-off for doing so (what might the wizard have parted with that he could need instant access to?)
So, what is a good mix for group and individual skill checks? For example, scaling a cliff. That seems like a group thing, right? Each player rolls to aid the 'point-man' and then he rolls to see if they succeed.



4 people assisting a 'point man' is not a group check. It is an indiviual check with a lot of help. You should keep these kinds of checks to an absolute minimum in your DM'ing career. And when you do use, only use them in mid-heroic tier, and set the dc to HARD.

A group check is when the entire group makes a check against the low dc. If half or more of the members of the group succeed, then the group succeeds. Otherwise the group fails.
Scaling a mountian or a cliff is a great example of this. The pc's are probably tethered together and using things like pitons to help them climb. The individual burden on each pc is actually very small, which is why they all get the low DC.


Another question, if you don't mind. Let's say the group or individual fails a check in precarious spot. Like, crossing a rotten rope bridge. Is it appropriate to have them fall (after rolling a saving throw to catch themselves)? While the books say that a failure shouldn't end the adventure, is it okay to have a PC die in this manner? Not that I'm trying to kill anyone, but if you fall off a bridge from a great height, you're going to kick the bucket (unless you're Daniel Craig). 



I wouldn't typically recommend allowing someone to die from a failed skill check. While it's true that falling from a great height results in a lot of d10's getting rolled, it in no way gaurantees death. Besides, what's at the bottom of the ravine? A river? Lots of trees that can break their fall? Failing the check may result in splitting the party, which means they may need to take more time to double back and find each other. There are a lot more options than death...
But, some groups enjoy death. So talk to your players, ask them if they would enjoy the thrill of putting 'all or nothing' on 2d20 rolls. If so, it's all good!


FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis

“I AM THE LIZARD KING!”

...snip





We've had this conversation before, and generally i don't like the concept of allowing the entire group to use aid aanother to achieve a high DC: the math breaks down at higher levels, and iwhile your method does work in the middle levels, it is actually a response to players only training skills atttached to their best stats (again, something the base system math actually discourages).

IMO, if the entire group is using aid, you are just better off using a group check: it's straightforward, doesn't require rules changes, and (depending on the level) it's more likely to produce a success. Finally, it encourages players to spread out their skill training so they have a bigger variety of skills and are more useful overall.
Plus you still gain the benefit of getting everyone to tell a story...
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis


I wouldn't typically recommend allowing someone to die from a failed skill check. While it's true that falling from a great height results in a lot of d10's getting rolled, it in no way gaurantees death. Besides, what's at the bottom of the ravine? A river? Lots of trees that can break their fall? Failing the check may result in splitting the party, which means they may need to take more time to double back and find each other. There are a lot more options than death...
But, some groups enjoy death. So talk to your players, ask them if they would enjoy the thrill of putting 'all or nothing' on 2d20 rolls. If so, it's all good!





This.  
So, what is a good mix for group and individual skill checks? For example, scaling a cliff. That seems like a group thing, right? Each player rolls to aid the 'point-man' and then he rolls to see if they succeed.

That's a fine way to play it, and in fact if there's no compelling in game reason they can't (they're not present, they're sleeping, they're doing something else), there's no reason not to aid. Well, there is a chance at causing a penalty now, because people couldn't figure out compelling game reasons not to aid, so the rules had to provide one. But originally there was no reason not to.

But I think you're talking about a mandatory group check, as mentioned in the DMG, which requires everyone to aid, as I recall. There's also the kind where everyone has to roll, which is fairly common and rather annoying. But it's valid.

But, it's also valid for something that seems like a group effort to really only involve one PC and one check. It takes a bit of thought, but it's not hard to imagine one person blazing a trail in such a way that their efforts make the task trivial (or at least automatically successful) for everyone else. If someone is described as chopping through jungle growth, or climbing ahead and pounding in pitons, then I would make that character roll, but perhaps not anyone else.

Another question, if you don't mind. Let's say the group or individual fails a check in precarious spot. Like, crossing a rotten rope bridge. Is it appropriate to have them fall (after rolling a saving throw to catch themselves)? While the books say that a failure shouldn't end the adventure, is it okay to have a PC die in this manner? Not that I'm trying to kill anyone, but if you fall off a bridge from a great height, you're going to kick the bucket (unless you're Daniel Craig).

The only thing a skill challenge really needs to do is not cause the game to stop. Failure needs to be interesting, not a complete dead end. If you can figure out a way to do that with a PC dying, and the players are bought in (which they should be if the failure is interesting enough), then go for it. Me, I take death off the table for skill challenges. Yeah, the person is dangling off the bridge, but they'll be saved - just tell me how. The group might even still succeed at the skill challenge, but they might also fail even if they save the PC. But that's okay, because they'll fail in an engaging way.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I have a check for Trek thru the Wilderness I use in such situations:


Skill Challenge: Trek through the Wilderness


 


This challenge is used whenever the PCs are trekking through the wilderness.  Resolve the checks in order below x times per


                journey, and apply penalties for failures.  On average, a party loses 3-6 surges per round of this challenge, dep.on


                skill levels.  Note surges lost herein (as opposed to those used in combat) can’t be regained while in the wild.


1) Perception (easy DC, assist): Success = +1 bonus to all checks this round.


2) Endurance (easy-hard DC):  Each PC must make this check if in bad weather/terrain - failure = lose one surge.


3) Nature (easy DC): One PC in the party (plus 1 ally may aid) must do.  Failure =all PCs lose one surge.


4) Athletics (easy-mod.DC minus 10):  Each PC rolls, but a successful PC may apply an Aid +2 to another PC.  All


                PCs make their rolls before any Aid is designated. Failure means the PC loses one surge.


5) Heal (easy DC):  Restore one surge lost by you or an ally.


 


 
I have a check for Trek thru the Wilderness I use in such situations:


Skill Challenge: Trek through the Wilderness


 


This challenge is used whenever the PCs are trekking through the wilderness.  Resolve the checks in order below x times per


                journey, and apply penalties for failures.  On average, a party loses 3-6 surges per round of this challenge, dep.on


                skill levels.  Note surges lost herein (as opposed to those used in combat) can’t be regained while in the wild.


1) Perception (easy DC, assist): Success = +1 bonus to all checks this round.


2) Endurance (easy-hard DC):  Each PC must make this check if in bad weather/terrain - failure = lose one surge.


3) Nature (easy DC): One PC in the party (plus 1 ally may aid) must do.  Failure =all PCs lose one surge.


4) Athletics (easy-mod.DC minus 10):  Each PC rolls, but a successful PC may apply an Aid +2 to another PC.  All


                PCs make their rolls before any Aid is designated. Failure means the PC loses one surge.


5) Heal (easy DC):  Restore one surge lost by you or an ally.


What happens if they fail the skill challenge?

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

The penalties are within the body of the text of the skill checks - essentially the party loses surges.  It's a little different format than other skill challenges in that there is no overall success/failure of the Challenge itself.  For example, let's say you have a trek thru cold, desolate wastelands for 4 days.  The party should do this challenge once/day in such conditions.  So each day, you run thru the checks indicated, in order.  Depending on the success you have w/the checks, members of your party may lose a certain number of surges.  These surges are NOT replaceable while in the hostile environment.  The next day, rinse repeat.  At the end of the trek, the party will be down a good number of surges as they enter their destination dungeon....

I often use tha Trek challenge in combination w/a Search the Wilderness Challenge below.  If the PCs fail the Search challenge, they must undergo another Trek challenge, etc. 


But I think you're talking about a mandatory group check, as mentioned in the DMG, which requires everyone to aid, as I recall. There's also the kind where everyone has to roll, which is fairly common and rather annoying. But it's valid.



This is almost completely BS.
A 'mandatory group check' does not work this way; it does not require everyone to aid.
In fact: There is no mechanic in 4e that requires people to aid. Ever.

The second kind of check he is referring to is probably a group check as i described above. 
However, IMO it's not very common (i've only sen it present i 2 modules ever), and there is nothing annoying about it. 
It is all too sad how many people confuse "rules" and "opinion".... 
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
We've had this conversation before, and generally i don't like the concept of allowing the entire group to use aid aanother to achieve a high DC: the math breaks down at higher levels, and iwhile your method does work in the middle levels, it is actually a response to players only training skills atttached to their best stats (again, something the base system math actually discourages).



Math aside, it's actually a response to encouraging shared storytelling through added contribution which is the goal of a skill challenge in the first place (or at least my goal). Where I think there might be a disconnect is that you can succeed without ever making a single unfettered success (high DC). Because the middling success range is still a success in the challenge. The middling range starts at medium DC for that level. Back to math (and you know I rely on you for this stuff):

At 16th-level, for example, that's a 22. Untrained with no ability score mod means a 14 is needed. Add a single Aid Another and a single Asset (no roll) and you're at a 10 or better on the die, presuming a Setback hasn't been carried forward in which case it's a 12 (which can be further offset with a second Aid Another, if appropriate). So what you've encouraged here, essentially, is one player to give something a shot and to establish a scene detail (the asset) while two of his buddies help out by adding fiction of their own. That's a lot of fictional detail!

And that's assuming the off chance they'll approach a solution that is not a skill they've trained and have no ability score modifier or items or powers or... whatever... to get a boost.

IMO, if the entire group is using aid, you are just better off using a group check: it's straightforward, doesn't require rules changes, and (depending on the level) it's more likely to produce a success. Finally, it encourages players to spread out their skill training so they have a bigger variety of skills and are more useful overall.
Plus you still gain the benefit of getting everyone to tell a story...



I mention this briefly in my suggestion on how to run it - that if everyone is able to participate in the resolution of a specific Complication, it's probably a group check and how to resolve that as well. I notice a lot of groups love to pig-pile Aid Another just by going "I aid!" and throwing a die. That's obviated if the group takes the approach that not every action is a skill check (also mentioned in my suggestions), not even an Aid Another which is a skill check, too. Any action that gets a check must have interesting success and failure, otherwise, there's no roll. You fictionally aid, sure, but not mechanically.

As far as player skills go, they'll train them where they're going to train them, at least in my experience. I doubt any specific mechanic is going to get them to change that part of their approach.

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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As far as player skills go, they'll train them where they're going to train them, at least in my experience. I doubt any specific mechanic is going to get them to change that part of their approach.

No, nor is anything other than forbiddance going to block aiding. That has to come from the fiction, not gimmicks. The update to Aid Another is a tremendous take back (does anyone bother to try aiding now, except when there's high overlap?) and an acknowledgement that, yeah, most of the party will probably just be standing around doing nothing during skill checks, and have no reason not to pitch in.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.


At 16th-level, for example, that's a 22. Untrained with no ability score mod means a 14 is needed. Add a single Aid Another and a single Asset (no roll) and you're at a 10 or better on the die, presuming a Setback hasn't been carried forward in which case it's a 12 (which can be further offset with a second Aid Another, if appropriate). So what you've encouraged here, essentially, is one player to give something a shot and to establish a scene detail (the asset) while two of his buddies help out by adding fiction of their own. That's a lot of fictional detail!



Yes, except that's still only the dc to succeed with a penalty. So if you do succeed, you need a 16 now, which means you need to reduce it to 12-14 by Aids/Assets, and yet you are still most likely to fail... 

The DC to succeed without a penalty is more like 33; which means a 19 on the die is needed, nigh unnobtainable, even with +2/+4 bonuses.
Someone with a +6 additional bonus from either training or a high stat or something needs a 13 on the die. More reasonable, but only happens 1/3 of the time. Again, help is needed just to ensure a 50/50 success rate...<
I understand you have a lot of success with this model, and your players enjoy it, but to me it's still a self-perpetuating math cycle.
We'll see if we can reach more of a concesus in a week or two ;) 
As far as player skills go, they'll train them where they're going to train them, at least in my experience. I doubt any specific mechanic is going to get them to change that part of their approach.

Yep. And you can choose to educate them and encourage or discourage them to spend their skills a certain way.
It's as easy as saying "hey guys, let's try this 'new' thing i keep reading on the boards...".
FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
I understand you have a lot of success with this model, and your players enjoy it, but to me it's still a self-perpetuating math cycle.



Could you elaborate on this a bit? Specifically, what do you mean by "self-perpetuating math cycle?" Does that mean failure will be reached more often than not statistically? Or that it perpetuates the need to pig-pile Aid Another? I've got nothing but anecdotal evidence unfortunately. What I'm seeing so far is no skill challenge failures and most successes falling in the middle.

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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Thanks for all of the replies! It's given me a lot to think about. So, how do you guys usually handle failed checks? I know that losing a healing surge is a common 'punishment', but let's say the group has to balance their way across that rickety, rotten rope bridge and they fail their Acrobatics. Would it be appropriate to have the bridge break and have them swing to the other side then have to climb their way up (WHILE BEING ATTACKED BY SPIDERS!)? In other words, should failures result in external consequences or should they be limited to HS loss and the like?

I feel like either one is okay, but I'm just interested in what y'all have to say. 
Thanks for all of the replies! It's given me a lot to think about. So, how do you guys usually handle failed checks? I know that losing a healing surge is a common 'punishment', but let's say the group has to balance their way across that rickety, rotten rope bridge and they fail their Acrobatics. Would it be appropriate to have the bridge break and have them swing to the other side then have to climb their way up (WHILE BEING ATTACKED BY SPIDERS!)? In other words, should failures result in external consequences or should they be limited to HS loss and the like?

I feel like either one is okay, but I'm just interested in what y'all have to say. 



Either is good.  At least give them a saving throw before they plummet to their death.  Saving throws are just for that type of fail situation, kinda like even dying has a Death Save.  If you want to make their failure turn out interesting, you really should do it in a way so that the players don't feel like you're simply babying their failures with goochi goochi kisses. Who would want to play that game where failure without failed outcome never exist and only babying occurs?  Any skill challenge that can result in death.. make sure it's not just one skill check.  Make it a series of skill checks, a skill challenge.  Like your scenario of crossing a rickety rotten rope and a pc fail their acrobatic check.  It's your rotten rope bridge.  Be prepared for the player outcomes resulting from it.  Make him fall, but give him another check to catch a dangly rotten rope near by.  If he fails that check, tell him as his falling down, he sees tree root vines crossing the chasm (like the ones in King Kong) which he can attempt to grab or slow his fall... or even a flying giant bird passing under (this can be really cool).  If the fool fails at every opportunity you prepared for him to save himself... then he plummets into whatever darkness you prepared at the bottom of the chasm...  I probably would make the fool splash into cold rushing water, taking some serious fall damage.. and then he can try save himself again before drowning.  If the pathetic pc fails EVERY ROLL..around every corner.. well, he can drown then.  He only has his dice and himself to blame.  Maybe he won't wear all platemail with no acrobatic skill next time he decides its a brilliant idea for him to tightwalk a rotten rope across a deadly chasm without harnessing himself to anything...  Players can be soo stupid sometimes, and too much babying your players from fail outcomes can turn them that stupid. "My daddy will save me, no matter what I do!.."  Seriously? Are you madmen? This is Sparta!  

I mean DnD...

Thanks for all of the replies! It's given me a lot to think about. So, how do you guys usually handle failed checks? I know that losing a healing surge is a common 'punishment', but let's say the group has to balance their way across that rickety, rotten rope bridge and they fail their Acrobatics. Would it be appropriate to have the bridge break and have them swing to the other side then have to climb their way up (WHILE BEING ATTACKED BY SPIDERS!)? In other words, should failures result in external consequences or should they be limited to HS loss and the like?

I feel like either one is okay, but I'm just interested in what y'all have to say.

The important thing is that failure be interesting to the players and the DM.

Loss of healing surges is generally not interesting, at least not for very long. The prevalance of that failure mode has made it a cliche. Avoid it.

A failed skill check means that the ratio of Successes to Failures has gone up, which is the same as increasing the Complexity of the challenge. I try to take that literally, so I prefer things like having the rope bridge break. They can still succeed, but failure looms much larger.

That said, don't paint yourself into a corner where the only plausible outcome is a dead-end of some kind. I'd even go so far as to tell the players that they're not going to die or even be deprotagonized as a result of the skill challenge, but that how they deal with it is what's important and what determines how the story will proceed - because it definitely will procede.

In general, combining skill challenges with combat is exactly the way to go. In a movie, the travel scene might be epic and gorgeous, and highlight the characters' abilities, but it's probably just a montage, without much tension. When a fight breaks out, that's when we start to care if they're able to scale the cliff in time, or whatever.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Personally I am not a big fan of healing surge penalty. They are cliche, but the biggest reason is that they tend to apply the penelties unevenly on the group. The PCs who are likely to fail the checks that cause healing surge loss, are also the ones with the least healing surges, creating a situation where one half of the group is in dire straits and the other half is perfectly fine. Sure, do it often enough and players invest in physical skills and healing surges, but that has a tendency to harm the role divisions within the party. Mind you, it is the easiest and quickest effect to apply, so I still use it on occassion.

My preference is to stick to story complications that either require other skills to solve, closes one route and forces the PCs to take a secondary path, start a fight or simply forces the players to use their problem solving skills. Note that those complications are not always directly related to the nature of the check. For example, some time ago my group was chasing down an enemy scout. They rolled crappy on their Endurance check. Instead of them loosing the scout automatically, they came across the scout in the paws of two displacer beasts (still alive). The group decided to chase the animals away through Intimidation, but they could have picked a fight. In this particular case loosing the scout itself would not have ended the adventure, it just would have meant the enemy knew of the PCs and they would have had less time to rescue to hostages. Still, failing that one Endurance check was only the first failure of the "skill challenge" so having that happen just felt wrong ;) Of course, the group later used those presence of the displacers to their advantage by allying with them against those same enemies in a great RP encounter (it is fun watching PCs negotiating with creatures that don't have a language through illusions and hand signals ;)). It is still a favorite encounter for my players.
Ok, so I'm going to come out in favor of having failed endurance checks tax PCs a surge.  This isn't to say that those DMs who don't like to do so are wrong; madfox11 just offered a great example of what a failed endurance check might mean, but I find it problematic to write off a mechanical effect as cliche, at least in this case.

 It seems that the desire of those who don't like taxing surges is the desire to encourage roleplaying and the assumption that since taxing healing surges are so common that eliminates the ability to roleplay.  If I'm off base here, please let me know as I don't want to attack a position that doesn't exist.  I don't see where taxing surges eliminates roleplaying, though.  

1. The squishier characters are most definitely the ones most affected by failed endurance checks, but that seems to be in line with the concept of those character types.  "The three day trek through the swamp has left the burly fighter no worse for the wear, but the bard is used to well-traveled roads and will have to think quick to compensate for her weariness."  On the other hand, there's no reason why a wizard's failed check could only affect the wizard.  The warden, seeing her comrade flagging, hoists him on her shoulder until it's time to stop for lunch (and thereby taking the surge penalty herself). 

2. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that these checks are a little draconian and inflexible when it comes to character agency.  Perhaps there's an herb common to said swamp with amphetamine-like properties.  It'll sure get you where you're going but at what cost?  Guides, beasts of burden, and other PC's assistance can help the squishier ones deal better with the environment.  These checks can also increase a player's available choices, rather than limiting them.  A failed endurance check might mean that a slower pace is more prudent and will ensure PC's resources, or the PCs can push ahead at breakneck speed, but they pay a cost for their more timely travel.

3. I think taxing player resources actually increases the perception of heroism in the game.  It's one thing to eat a nice balanced breakfast, have a shave, and then go downstairs fresh and revived to bathe in your opponent's blood.  It's another entirely to come out victorious after arduous journey, or months into a siege long after the food stores have run dry.  In a lot of movies this is also accomplished by reducing the number of living heroes before the final showdown, but the most efficient way I've found in DnD to accomplish the same aim is by mechanical effects having a clear story-driven purpose.
I think any objection to using healing surges as cost for failure are really because it's usually somewhat flat. It doesn't offer much fiction or suggest additional complications other than, "We're down slightly on resources next encounter." A lot of DMs don't offer much beyond "lose a surge." A failure is an awesome opportunity to up the ante in an interesting way in addition to losing a surge.

This is why I prefer the format I use:

Complications: Fear of Rhashaak, Ill Omens, Impossible Demand, Limbic Brains, Potential Challengers, Racial Enmity, Shamanic Opposition, Test of Worth

Consequences (player choice): Curse of Scalerot, Head on the Block, Mark of Rashaak, Vicious Beating



I never write a single skill down in my skill challenges. (To be fair, I used to.) To me, that's suggesting to the players how they should solve their problems and this doesn't fit with my style. I create challenges, not the solutions to those challenges. I hit them with a Complication in the larger context of their challenge. It's up to them how they deal with it and what skill they use. I think it's cheap to call for things like group Endurance checks or Athletics checks to overcome a given challenge. Maybe that's not how they want to deal with that given fictional complication. By confining their choices to a given skill ahead of time, I am taking away their agency in some regards. If I do call for a group check, it's because they've indicated they're working together on a given Complication to resolve it and I would still not confine it to a single skill.

As for Consequences, I don't usually write down what the mechanical penalty will be either. I just write some ideas, as above, that the player can choose based upon the fictional context at that time. Failed to deal with Shamanic Opposition? Well, now you've got the Curse of Scalerot. What does that mean? I don't know. But I bet the player has a good idea if it means a loss of surges or not. And if he suggests that, then I know I've got buy-in.

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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It seems that the desire of those who don't like taxing surges is the desire to encourage roleplaying and the assumption that since taxing healing surges are so common that eliminates the ability to roleplay.  If I'm off base here, please let me know as I don't want to attack a position that doesn't exist.

I used to think healing surge loss was okay, but it was really just overused, and I saw some bad reactions to it. I had a guy who was bored by a skill challenge and just wanted to hand in his surges and get it over with. I don't blame him for being bored in that case, and players should be able to just "fail out" of a skill challenge, and anyway I approach things an entirely different way now. But that experience turned me off of healing surge loss as a failure mode.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Of course other PCs can take the hit by using alternative skills, but that only increases the problem Centauri and Isertith describe. Not only did they make a boring skill check that leads to a boring result, but now they made that roll for nothing since their fellow PCs would automatically remove the penalty anyway.

Just to clarify, just like Iserith I don't remove the healing surge penalty completely. When it makes sense to remove a healing surge on a failed check, such as for example when crossing a river and failing an Athletics check, I still do so. I just add something more exciting to it as well.

Note btw that I have never been a big fan of wilderness track skill challenges, especially when there is no time preasure. With stuff like bags of holding and rituals like Create Campsite and Endure Elements the terrain must be dangerous indeed for to pose any realistic challenge to a prepared party. Furthermore, environmental challenges can usually be avoided if you have the time. Even if the PCs get lost, it could take days before the PCs get into any serious trouble and while in RL the consequence of failing survival is death, I rarely run the type of campaign where I want my PCs to die to dehydration, hunger or disease ;) If I want to expand the journey a bit beyond a three line description I might add an encounter or two (random or otherwise) that have individual consequences but not towards any overarching goal of survival.
If I have a challenge that requires 8 or 10 successes, does that mean I need 8 or 10 separate obstacles? Or can I say, "well 3/5 players passed the check, so that's 2 successes." Or would it be 3? How do you tend to handle that?
If I have a challenge that requires 8 or 10 successes, does that mean I need 8 or 10 separate obstacles? Or can I say, "well 3/5 players passed the check, so that's 2 successes." Or would it be 3? How do you tend to handle that?

Personally I don't care about defining the exact number of checks beforehand. In my experience that only results in DMs and players looking for checks even though narratively the challenge already reached its conclusion or DMs and players cutting the challenge short even though there are still obstacles to overcome. Still, a good guideline in my experience is that the complexity of a challenge roughly equals the number of distinct scenes to keep the narrative and pacing appropiate with potential repeating intermittent group checks counting as 1 scene. In other words, if you want the trip to be difficult and taking a lot of time, you could pick a Complexity of 4 and then design 3 distinct obstacles to overcome during the trip and add a generic group check after each distinct scene. In general, overcoming a challenge would require about 2 to 3 checks which results in a total of 8 (more or less depending on the number of failures).

Mind you, I don't use experience anymore and hence never start an encounter design with defining the complexity of a skill challenge. Instead, I look at what makes narratively sense. For example, some time ago the PCs kidnapped/freed a kid and fled with him while being chased down by the local thieves' guild. A look at the map of the city and its surroundings showed that it made sense to detail a scene/obstacle for each distinctly different "neighborhood" (and this included not just city neighborhoods but also a bay and a stretch of wilderness). There were three logical paths, each four neighborhoods long (including the starting palace district). PCs picked a path they thought fitted their skills best. Individual obstacles had their own direct consequences, including a potential fight or two with the thieves hot on their trail, but also potentially long drawn out negotiations with the Captain of the Guard, nearly drowning in the bay or causing an accident in the foundry and so on. If they screwed up completely, the thieves' guild would realize where the PCs were going, find the PCs' employee and it would result in a hostage situation. Players liked it. I gave them the map of the city, let them plan the route and they picked what they thought would fit their skills best simply based on my descriptions of the various neighborhoods and started dodging watch patrols and guild agents ;)
If I have a challenge that requires 8 or 10 successes, does that mean I need 8 or 10 separate obstacles? Or can I say, "well 3/5 players passed the check, so that's 2 successes." Or would it be 3? How do you tend to handle that?



Yes, I make a list (Complications) of usually 6 to 8 things that will challenge the PCs in the context of the overall skill challenge. I generally make that list myself, though it's a fun exercise to ask the PCs to add their own. It is up to the PCs to decide whether they want to make a group check to overcome a given obstacle or to let one person make the primary check with or without help (Aid). 

My reason for doing it this way is that when I see most DMs do skill challenges, they will describe the overall challenge and then kick it back to the players. The players, not having enough fictional context to take clear actions, go right to their character's highest trained skills and start Intimidating the grass or Athletics to clear away brush. With the Complications, I at least have a little seed that I can use to build a narrative around a specific thing the PCs must deal with that is part of the overall challenge. This provides fictional context and makes it easier for the players to imagine a solution to it rather than coming up with a challenge themselves by looking to their trained skills.

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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If I have a challenge that requires 8 or 10 successes, does that mean I need 8 or 10 separate obstacles? Or can I say, "well 3/5 players passed the check, so that's 2 successes." Or would it be 3? How do you tend to handle that?

I tend to give one success for a group check, when they make a group check, which I generally detest anyway.

Not every success has to involve a separate obstacle. One scenario I like to run is a pair of concurrent skill challenges representing travel trough a dungeon and avoidance of the denizens. When I've run that, several checks will generally be spent on a single obstacle scene, but not all of them.

Obstacles are good to throw out when (or just before) the scene has gotten stale. If someone's trying to figure out what to do, or how to describe a roll, make something happen in the skill challenge. Describe the environment, give them ideas. What seems like an obstacle might seem to them to be an opportunity.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

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