Skill Challenges

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There are threads for cities, npc's, adventures, quests, rules.. just about everything, but I haven't seen anything for skill challenges.  I'm new to 4e (only played original and 2e) and the suggestions in the DMG are great but I'd like to see what some of the other DMs like.

Also, since I've never ran one.  Do you guys have any tips on running a skill challenge to make it fun?

There are threads for cities, npc's, adventures, quests, rules.. just about everything, but I haven't seen anything for skill challenges.  I'm new to 4e (only played original and 2e) and the suggestions in the DMG are great but I'd like to see what some of the other DMs like.

We usually see one every week or so.

Also, since I've never ran one.  Do you guys have any tips on running a skill challenge to make it fun?

I love skill challenges.

You can ignore all other advice if you make your skill challenges interesting to run, interesting to win, and interesting to lose. The tips below go into this more, but take the previous sentence as your guiding light, particularly the last part.

Don't run them just to run them. Some situations are really only worth a single roll, some are worth none. I think of them as a scene unto themselves, like an action setpiece in a movie, or the overarching question in an episode of a show.

Don't run them unless there's some kind of additional pressure. In fact, don't call for skill checks at all unless there's some reason the PC can't just stand there and take their time until they get it right. I usually combine skill challenges with combat, traps or each other. The characters then have to make actual choices, instead of just putting their best person on the task and aiding them.

The "primary skill list" is just the list of things that definitely will (or sometimes won't) work. Any skill can be applied, but it's fair to ask for some fiction to go with it. As per the DMG, it's also valid to require a Hard check for non-primary (once called "secondary") skills, or only allow one success with them.

Along the same lines, not every action someone takes in a skill challenge requires a roll and not every roll has to make an actual difference to the skill challenge. That said, don't lead the players on, making them think they're making headway. Be transparent, which also means clarifying what the primary skills are, if anyone wants to know.

Describe copiously. It's easy for skill challenges fall flat and devolve into uninspiring dice rolls. If the scene doesn't lend itself to cool descriptions for every action or dice roll, it probably didn't deserve to be a skill challenge.

If the players aren't sure what to do, have the challenge "go on the offensive." Something changes or gets worse in a way that directly involves one character. Think of action movies where no one notices one piton coming loose, or a rope fraying, until suddenly the worst possible person is in the position of having to salvage the situation. Don't arbitrarily block someone who wants to step in, or force anyone to make a roll they don't want to make, but players will often step up when the fiction seems to direct them to.

Don't tell the players what their skills look like. Have them tell you what their skills look like. The original write-ups for skill challenges make it look like the players roll and the DM tells them what it means. The examples make it more clear.

Roll to do, don't roll to know. Knowledge checks seem to mean that the PC is just standing there thinking. Don't have them roll Arcana to see if they can figure out which lever to pull. Have them pull the lever, and then roll Arcana to see if that was the right one. A slight change from the rules-as-written, but I think you'll find it makes scenes (and not just skill challenges) more compelling.

By and large, if you've run non-combat situations before, nothing has changed. Just do what you always did, and use the aspects of skill challenges that fill the gaps. Skill challenges were created because of endless questions about what DC to use, what skills to allow, how many rolls to require, how many failures to allow, and how much XP to give. There are useful official answers to all of those questions now, but you don't have to use any that you have your own answers for.

That's enough for now. If I had written that in a blog and just linked you to it, do you think you would have gone to read it?

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

I've DM'd 4e for about a year now, and running a skill challange is a very fun and rewarding experiance. With skills such as Athletics (running and jumping) or Acrobatics ( Balance and coordination) be sure to give some detail on the environment to give hints on what they might want to try. If a player wants to use a skill other than what is suggested for the challange, have them explain how it will help them get through. The key things are common sense and being flexible with your players, along with providing details as needed. Happy gaming!
Centauri provides good advice. I also find that pictures and props help players understand what is going on in a scene. Keep the complexity of skill challenges low, like 1. I find it's smarter to link a few simple skill challenges together to fill out a scene, this way they can fail some sections of the scene and still get experience points. If you are going to run a skill challenge, build it so everyone in the group is going to be involved and not just aid other rolls. The party succeeds or fails on everyones input, not just the person with the best skills for the job.

I like to create skill challenges with stages. In each stage the heroes are faced with a different situation and must make different kinds of checks. Every couple of successes the players score on the challenge moves them to the next stage. Planning a skill challenge in stages helps the players feel like they are making progress throughout the challenge. I find it is helpful to have the circumstances in some stages of a challenge to allow the players to decide how they want to deal with the situation and roll an appropriate skill, while other stages simply call for everyone to make a particular skill check. For example, I've had skill challenge for the heroes attempting to escape a dungeon. One stage had them enter a multi-level chamber where they had to find a way to get from the bottom to the top. They could have done this in a variety of ways, and the players had the chance to be creative and play to their characters' strong points. In the next stage their trying to avoid notice by patrolling guards, so I simply had them each make a Stealth check. Mixing things up in this way means the players get the chance to be clever, but they don't have to be creative at every step, and it keeps things flowing at a good pace.

Another consideration is failure. When, for story reasons, I really don't want the heroes to fail at a skill challenge, I get around this by making the results of failure simply success with a penalty. For example, maybe they accomplish what they wanted to, but they lose healing surges to represent fatigue, or they lose gold to represent an unexpected cost, etc.

Centauri provides good advice. I also find that pictures and props help players understand what is going on in a scene. Keep the complexity of skill challenges low, like 1. I find it's smarter to link a few simple skill challenges together to fill out a scene, this way they can fail some sections of the scene and still get experience points. If you are going to run a skill challenge, build it so everyone in the group is going to be involved and not just aid other rolls. The party succeeds or fails on everyones input, not just the person with the best skills for the job.

Agreed, that's why I advocate combining skill challenges with other things, particularly combat. Even negotiations can occur during combat. That way, anyone who doesn't feel directly relevant to the skill challenge can at least protect those who are. Designing a single skill challenge to involve everyone gets ridiculous quickly. Better to have one that speaks to no particular character, than one that speaks to all of them.

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



Apr 28, 2013 -- 11:14AM, Prom wrote:

Centauri provides good advice. I also find that pictures and props help players understand what is going on in a scene. Keep the complexity of skill challenges low, like 1. I find it's smarter to link a few simple skill challenges together to fill out a scene, this way they can fail some sections of the scene and still get experience points. If you are going to run a skill challenge, build it so everyone in the group is going to be involved and not just aid other rolls. The party succeeds or fails on everyones input, not just the person with the best skills for the job.



Agreed, that's why I advocate combining skill challenges with other things, particularly combat. Even negotiations can occur during combat. That way, anyone who doesn't feel directly relevant to the skill challenge can at least protect those who are. Designing a single skill challenge to involve everyone gets ridiculous quickly. Better to have one that speaks to no particular character, than one that speaks to all of them.


I don't agree that skill challenges that involve everyone are ridiculous. I'm not a fan of skill challenges for negotiation or social interactions, I still feel that should be left to roleplay, rather than dice. I'm of the opposite view that if the skill challenge speaks to one character, don't run it. If it's something in the adventure that only uses one characters skills, then a single dice roll seems smarter. Maybe we don't agree with how a skill challenge should be run, that doesn't happen often.
Golden rule: don't tell your players something like "we're gonna have a skill challenge now". Make a smooth transition. Keep track of the success/failure mechanic. And be creative. Inspire your players to think of a way they can help and contribute to a common goal but don't say skill names.
I don't agree that skill challenges that involve everyone are ridiculous.

They're not inherently ridiculous, but no activity easily encompasses every skill anyone might train. I've seen some very silly attempts to make Athletics, Intimidate or Diplomacy relevant, and they won't always be.

Besides, giving everyone a way to use their best skill is angling for victory every time. The whole point of non-combat scenes (though it should be the point of combat scenes too) is that failure isn't something to be worried about, because it doesn't end the game or the characters.

 I'm not a fan of skill challenges for negotiation or social interactions, I still feel that should be left to roleplay, rather than dice.

Well, whatever. There's plenty of history showing why this doesn't work for many people. For those people, there are skill challenges.

 I'm of the opposite view that if the skill challenge speaks to one character, don't run it. If it's something in the adventure that only uses one characters skills, then a single dice roll seems smarter. Maybe we don't agree with how a skill challenge should be run, that doesn't happen often.

Are you assuming that it's only one player doing anything? Because I'm talking about having multiple things going on, such as combat while trying to open a door or conduct negotiations, or one group chasing a suspect, while another group tries to save a dying witness. Everyone is involved, but not everyone is doing the same thing.

And if you're just starting out, don't keep the skill challenge hidden from them. But at the same time, don't make it a mini-game, just do what you'd normally do and use the skill challenge mechanics for tracking and pacing.

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

Do you guys have any suggestions for good skill challenges in the wilderness?
Do you guys have any suggestions for good skill challenges in the wilderness?

Waht kind of question do you want to ask about them being in the wilderness? Maybe "Will they find shelter?" What if they don't?

Have a question that needs to be answered. If you don't, you're not going to be able to make a very inspiring skill challenge. Or combat.

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

Do you guys have any suggestions for good skill challenges in the wilderness?



I had my group do a nature/perception challenge (4 succes/2 failures nature or 6 perception/3 failures) to follow a map they had never read before going to a place they had never been before during winter.  It was nature to deal with the map and follow it outside without a road and perception to follow any landmarks and to notice that the distant landmarks have moved.

In this instance, they failed, got lost, ran into a random encounter, had to do another smaller challenge to back track to where they were(they succeeded this time) and then continue on.  They lost the time it took to do the skill challenge, the resources for the combat, and still had to cover the distances over again.  And they enjoyed it because it was them that affected whether they were off course, got back on course, ran into the encounter etc.

I have had them do it twice, the first time to get out to a small farm they had never been before and the other time to go out beyond the farm.  Since they had been to the farm before, there was no challenge but there was once they went beyond the farm. 

@koshinuke
Did you have them make the skill checks all in a row, or as they traveled they made skill checks?

Some ideas might include avoiding a pack of ferocious wolves or an appropriotely difficult enemy from which they would flea. From hiding from them, out-maneuvering them, throwing one, climbing a tree to avoid them, moving a boulder to block a cave, or leaping across a massive gap are all checks that can be used for a wilderness skill check. Of couse they can choose to fight them, but that within itself should be have similar checks inside the battle to make it fun.

@koshinuke
Did you have them make the skill checks all in a row, or as they traveled they made skill checks?




I would have the whole group roll a round and then stuff would happen(move along safely, start veering off course, whatever the rolls started to dictate) and then have all of them do a roll again.  With what I have set up, it usually does not take more than 2 or 3 groups of rolls to find out whether the entire group makes it safe or gets lost.  But it is important to give everyone a chance to roll.
My group loooooooves skill challenges. I know there are a couple of them who would love nothing more than an entire campaign of skill challenges without combat. (I know, it's crazy!)

I like to just go around the table asking each person if they want to do something, what they want to do, and then resolve it. 

I only told them "This is a skill challenge" for the very first one, to explain how it worked. There's no need to announce it every time. It's basically just a structured mechanic to aid your group in roleplaying, so it shouldn't feel like a game mechanic, it should feel like organic roleplaying to the characters/players. You're just giving them a specific goal.

A great example of Centauri's comment about skill checks while other things are going on is Chris Perkins' game with the writers of Robot Chicken. (I found it on Youtube in a billion parts). In one of the encounters, the wizard player asks if he can try to take control of a sentient flame thrower, so Chris has him do a skill challenge of Arcana checks while everyone else tries to battle the monsters. Then in another room of the dungeon, they find arcane rune traps/locks. The wizard gets to work on the Arcana skill check while everyone else once again deals with the enemies, and then the other players were able to help out once combat was over but the runes weren't dispelled yet. It was exciting for the players, and made memorable moments in their game.
A great example of Centauri's comment about skill checks while other things are going on is Chris Perkins' game with the writers of Robot Chicken. (I found it on Youtube in a billion parts). In one of the encounters, the wizard player asks if he can try to take control of a sentient flame thrower, so Chris has him do a skill challenge of Arcana checks while everyone else tries to battle the monsters. Then in another room of the dungeon, they find arcane rune traps/locks. The wizard gets to work on the Arcana skill check while everyone else once again deals with the enemies, and then the other players were able to help out once combat was over but the runes weren't dispelled yet. It was exciting for the players, and made memorable moments in their game.

Yes, Chris tends to be pretty good about mixing skill challenges with combat. Another one is the players having to get through a trapped hallway while crossbowmen shoot at them. But his combats tend to be just combats.

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

While everyone else was using the plethora of options available to them in the combat encounter, how many times did he ask that wizard to spam an Arcana check?

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Apr 28, 2013 -- 5:29PM, Prom wrote:

I don't agree that skill challenges that involve everyone are ridiculous.




They're not inherently ridiculous, but no activity easily encompasses every skill anyone might train. I've seen some very silly attempts to make Athletics, Intimidate or Diplomacy relevant, and they won't always be.

Besides, giving everyone a way to use their best skill is angling for victory every time. The whole point of non-combat scenes (though it should be the point of combat scenes too) is that failure isn't something to be worried about, because it doesn't end the game or the characters.




I wouldn't suggest building a skill challenge to encompass every characters best skill. I don't build skill challenges to fit the characters, but to fit the action or events in a scene. If the skill challenge is not mixed with combat or traps everyone should be involved by creating urgency for everyone in the party. Example, is an avalanche of snow falling, every PC is on the mountain, so everyone is in danger, but a range of skills can be used in the situation. Failure might mean getting dug out of the snow, being knocked unconscious or winding up in a tree.
I wouldn't suggest building a skill challenge to encompass every characters best skill. I don't build skill challenges to fit the characters, but to fit the action or events in a scene. If the skill challenge is not mixed with combat or traps everyone should be involved by creating urgency for everyone in the party. Example, is an avalanche of snow falling, every PC is on the mountain, so everyone is in danger, but a range of skills can be used in the situation.

Yes, but there are some that won't be used.

I understand players not wanting to roll skills they're not good at, but a lot of that comes from players not wanting to fail the skill challenge and especially not wanting to be blamed for it. The "group check" makes sure that no one person is at fault, but I think it's much better overall to make it clear to the players that failure in a skill challenge isn't the end of the world and can in fact be more interesting than success.

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

While everyone else was using the plethora of options available to them in the combat encounter, how many times did he ask that wizard to spam an Arcana check?

I think it was about 3 or 4 times. This sort of improvised skill challenge can be used, but it's a very boring application. I would not say that it's a very good example of a skill challenge. A mininum of three primary skills for a challenge or don't bother with it, is my general guide.
While everyone else was using the plethora of options available to them in the combat encounter, how many times did he ask that wizard to spam an Arcana check?

I think it was about 3 or 4 times. This sort of improvised skill challenge can be used, but it's a very boring application. I would not say that it's a very good example of a skill challenge. A mininum of three primary skills for a challenge or don't bother with it, is my general guide.

If only one person is working on it and it's not "on the offense," of course the player is going to use the same skill over and over again. No reason they shouldn't. But a lot of description will need to go into that to make it worth the player's time.

Which is another think I like about most skill challenges: if the players don't want to bother with them, there's no real problem. The adventure goes on, perhaps with an interesting consequence, but if everyone wants to just ignore the mechanics of it (which they should usually do, based on skill challenges I've seen) they can.

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



Apr 30, 2013 -- 8:01AM, Prom wrote:

I wouldn't suggest building a skill challenge to encompass every characters best skill. I don't build skill challenges to fit the characters, but to fit the action or events in a scene. If the skill challenge is not mixed with combat or traps everyone should be involved by creating urgency for everyone in the party. Example, is an avalanche of snow falling, every PC is on the mountain, so everyone is in danger, but a range of skills can be used in the situation.



Yes, but there are some that won't be used.

I understand players not wanting to roll skills they're not good at, but a lot of that comes from players not wanting to fail the skill challenge and especially not wanting to be blamed for it. The "group check" makes sure that no one person is at fault, but I think it's much better overall to make it clear to the players that failure in a skill challenge isn't the end of the world and can in fact be more interesting than success.


I agree that one or two players feeling like they let the team down can be a problem, if they are using skills they aren't good at. This is why I suggest multiple level 1 complexity skill challenges, so that the whole scene has less chance of leading to failure and no experience points. If failure does occur it carries the adventure forward with complications, that are hopefully interesting to the group. Group checks are a good tool and spread the risk across the group, rather than singling out one person.
I agree that one or two players feeling like they let the team down can be a problem, if they are using skills they aren't good at. This is why I suggest multiple level 1 complexity skill challenges, so that the whole scene has less chance of leading to failure and no experience points. If failure does occur it carries the adventure forward with complications, that are hopefully interesting to the group. Group checks are a good tool and spread the risk across the group, rather than singling out one person.

I can't stand group checks, except in the original sense of one person acting and the others aiding. And I'm all for multiple smaller skill challenges, though not so they don't fail. It might make them even more likely to fail, even if designed otherwise.

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

agreed skill chalanges , minions, and action points, some of the better 4e rules. 

 i had a friend play a skill challange. kind of like when goku climed the huge tower as a kid.i used dice roles and descriptions, 1st check, sucess the

 mud at the base of the tower clings to your boots as you asend(1/5th of the way there). 2nd check, you can feel the vertigo set in as the ground  

 becomes smaller and the air fresher (2/5th of the way there) 3rd check fail, you begin to sweat from your palms as you slide towars the muddy        

 ground. 4th check sucess,  you get your self re aquainted with the tower and begin to claw your way past the clouds, seeing the peak, glowing with runes.
 
 5th check, sucess, you reach the top and see a case, etched in runes, that glows and hum with power as you touch it.

 he threw it to the ground and dove off the top, into the river far below.  the case slid into the ground halfway, and asorbed all the water from the mud. and poped open, revealing two sick arm blades.  

Troll king

@theprince
Is it a complex activity that involves most or all of the party, with interesting (and non-game stopping) potential outcomes given PC choices, individual success/failure, and overall victory or defeat? If the answer is "yes" then a skill challenge is a good fit.

Also, bear in mind there is no "one size fits all" skill challenge - each skill challenge benefits from having unique rules. Examples include maps, time limits, power usage as resolution, random encounter tables, interesting or unusual results on failed checks, props, etc.

Say you want to run a wilderness overland travel montage scene. It's a multi-day trek thru mountains and forest that involves the whole party traversing new unexplored areas of the campaign world. Let's say the PCs are traveling to meet up with a noble beleaguered by invading monsters. You want the players to feel a sense of challenge from this journey to reinforce the campaign theme that "travel is rugged & dangerous, it is not safe or convenient", and don't want to describe their journey in narrative fast-forward. Instead you decide to use a skill challenge. 

For this sort of exploration skill challenge, having an overland hex map and two random encounter tables (forest & mountain) is a good start. Next you'd consider what is at stake...time, resources, or detection by enemies work in an overland travel scenario. Maybe if the PCs' journey takes too long the noble's keep is overrun by monsters and the PCs will need to sneak by enemy lines or even into an occupied keep? Maybe there are monster scouts looking out for the PCs once they are close, drawn by campfires or "loud" combats?

Already you've got a skill challenge in the making there. Throw in some complications and you might end up with...

----------

Reaching Mistamere Keep
Skill challenge; 8 successes before 3 rounds, where each round represents a day of travel. 

The PCs travel across forests and mountains to reach Mistamere Keep where the lord has called on the PCs for their aid against savage monsters who assail the keep's surrounding lands nightly. It sounds like the keep is in bad shape and it's only a matter of time before the monsters assail its walls. From the lord's last comunique you'd guess the keep could only withstand 3 more nights against the monsters before morale and defenses broke.

Forest & Mountains: For each round/day (or fraction thereof) spent within the forest, roll once on your Forest Random Encounter Table. The same holds true for the mountains. If the result is "monster scouts", and the PCs let some of the scouts get away, then they automatically fail the skill challenge.

Overland Travel & Strategies: Mounted PCs move at 50 miles/day. In forest reduce that by 3/4, and in mountains reduce that by 1/2. Strategies should be a mix of player ideas and responses to terrain challenges presented by the DM. Successful Hard DC checks might increase the party's overland speed by 5 miles/day. Failed checks means the party travels without making as much headway as they hoped, reducing their speed by -5 miles/day that day.

Forced March (Endurance, medium DC group check): The party tries to press on for another two hours of travel that day, and all PCs lose a healing urge & increase risk of random encounter by 10%. If half or more succeed, the party manages to press on. If less than half succeed, they cannot press on, and lose an additional healing surge each. If they attempt to forced march a second night in a row, increase the DC to Hard.

Victory: The PCs reach the keep before the monsters attack, can get their quest from the lord, and help prepare the keep's defenses.
Defeat: The PCs don't reach the keep in time and it is overrun by monsters who take the lord and his family captive. Now how do the PCs handle this?

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Personally, I dont describe each possible action in a skill challenge (e.g, Diplomacy DC 18: convince the Duke that...). To me that's a waste of energy (since the players are going to surprise you anyhow) and may be needlessly restrictive; instead I just jot down potential 3-4 strategies as a guideline for myself or a reminder if the players get stuck, then let the players go to town.
Victory: The PCs reach the keep before the monsters attack, can get their quest from the lord, and help prepare the keep's defenses.
Defeat: The PCs don't reach the keep in time and it is overrun by monsters who take the lord and his family captive. Now how do the PCs handle this?

This is key. Notice how both of these outcomes keep the story moving forward in interesting ways. Preparing to defend a keep: interesting story. Rescuing hostages from monsters: interesting. Once you have a cool outcome like this in mind, it almost doesn't matter how you handle the rest of the design of the skill challenge.

Personally, I dont describe each possible action in a skill challenge (e.g, Diplomacy DC 18: convince the Duke that...). To me that's a waste of energy (since the players are going to surprise you anyhow) and may be needlessly restrictive; instead I just jot down potential 3-4 strategies as a guideline for myself or a reminder if the players get stuck, then let the players go to town.

Right, I agree, and I think the rules suffered from giving the impression that they were describing what happened in context when the players pushed the "Diplomacy" button, or whatever. But that's not really part of the rules and is easily done away with.

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

basicaly, set the goal, assess how many successes it will take , and keep it tense. other than that, improvise 

Troll king

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