Theorycraft - skills

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So over in the Intimidate - how to play it well thread, there have been several discussions which have come up as part of people chewing on some of the earlier posts.  I'd like to know the answers to a few of those.

Questions which have come up and furthur questions I have because of them:

Edit: I have clarified #2, I'd like you to spend a little more time on how you define "Makes sense" if that is your metric.  Also Added a #6 for assisting.

1. How by the book are you and your players on skills? If it's not an action which is explicitly covered under the definitions of the skill in the handbook, would you let a player use the skill anyways if they can justify it?

2. If you allow players to justify the use of skills, what metric do you use to determine if the skill applies (i.e. how do you judge their justification)?  If your justification is it just has to make sense, how do you gauge if it makes sense? Are you the sole arbiter in this?

3. How much weight do you put into making your players use multiple different skills to approach problems?  (if all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails)

4. If you expend effort on 3.  how much of that is driven by you trying to stop powergamers, and how much is driven by a craving for varity?

5. If you crave variety how would you react if the player had a new/different explination each time he went to use the same skill?

6. If your players want to help each other out, do they have to use the same skill?

If at all possible, please use specific examples so that we can try and see the reason that you are doing what you are doing.
1. How by the book are you and your players on skills?

I tend to use the book DCs, and the book action costs. I almost always just use a DC, rather than opposed rolls, or the weird math for Athletics checks or whatever.

If its not an action which is explicitly covered under the definitions of the skill in the handbook, would you let a player use the skill anyways if they can justify it?

Even if they can't justify it, as long as they consider the check they're making to be worthwhile.

2. If you allow players to justify the use of skills, what metric do you use to determine if the skill applies (i.e. how do you judge their justification)?

I don't judge whether or not a skill applies. It absolutely does apply, and I will help a player figure out how if they need me to.

3. How much weight do you put into making your players use multiple different skills to approach problems?  (if all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails)

I don't make them. I might offer incentives, such as by making it easier for a second stringer to get into position for a skill, but I never make them use different skills. The party wizard, in particular, loves to use Arcana and I love helping the player come up with reasons why it should apply.

Example: the players were in a magically climate-controlled greenhouse dome. One of them had made it to the center of the garden to perform a task, and the others had retreated from the onslaught of ambush vines. The wizard wanted to use the magic controlling the dome to give the separated character some advantage in the challenge he was facing. We determined that the controls were in a nearby gazeebo (which they quickly killed) and so the wizard set to work on those. I picked DCs out of the book and he and I worked together to figure out what success and failure (which did happen on some rolls, despite his massive bonus) looked like. It was some of the most fun I've had with skills.

4. If you expend effort on 3.  how much of that is driven by you trying to stop powergamers, and how much is driven by a craving for varity?

I can get variety even if the same skill is used. I just want cool situations.

5. If you crave variety how would you react if the player had a new/different explination each time he went to use the same skill?

Great.

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

1; Yes. One of my players once wanted to try and channel arcane energy into a mundanely locked door to make the door suceptable to arcane commands (such as open, close, lock, etc.). An Arcana check later and the player had full control over a door's most basic abilities.

2; It depends on what it is they want to do generally. In the above example, the player was trying to maniuplate an onject through magic. It's no different than a Wizard saying for their Ghost Hand cantrip to do the same thing, so sure, why not? I tend to say yes most of the time, as my players are smart enough to not try and do something too silly. Every now and again we have to laugh at an idea and decide it's too silly to work or not.

3; Most of my group is comprised of veteran players who know how to think outside the box. The few newbies we've brought in I didn't do much since the more experienced players offered advice and ideas. I guess I'm lucky in that regard.

4; If and when I do have to push the players to look at it in a different way, I don't really consider any power gaming prevention in mind. We're all powergamers by nature at my table, so it's more of a slight adjustment towards their capabilities than trying to hamper them. You can still challenge a powergamer as a DM without being a jerk about it.

5; I don't always crave variety. The players are in charge of their own narrative details. If they come up with different stuff each time, hey, more power to 'em. They still have to roll for success if it's something worth rolling for in the first place.


1. Yes; as long as a player can make a logical argument for a skill to be used; they can use it in my games.

2. Common Sense,  a player in one of my game wanted to use their knowledge of thievery instead of acrobatics to crawl successfully under tripwires; I thought that was a logical use for the skill so gave it the thumbs up (sadly they rolled a 2 but at least they tried lol)

3. Varies party to party; if I have one which are only using their skills they trained in I will try to put skill challenges which are easier to pass with other skills to try to nudge them into trying new things; but by far not a priority in my games.

4. 100% desire for my players to be more creative with their choices.

5. As long as it was a logical use I'd love it and encourage it.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/1.jpg)

First thing to realize is that I have houseruled skills in three ways:
  • a) all skills can be used untrained
  • b) all skills are treated as class skills at level 1 and if a cross-class skill is taken at level 1 it is treated as a class skill for that character from that point on.
  • c) one can "critically succeed" and "critically fail" in skills.

1.  I am moderately "by the book."  If a player wants to do something and wants to use a specific skill (probably one his/her character is really good at) to do so, I will try my best to accept the player's justification or I will find a justification of my own, but if one does not exist then I give the player a list of skills he could use in that situation.  Yes, if a skill is untrained the chance of success is smaller, but never impossible.

2.  100% subjective.  Player wants to do something and wants to use a skill and gives me a justification I can buy into I say, "Sure. Roll your d20."  On occasion (purely based on my own logic), I will increase the DC though, but not by much (max 5) and will always let the player know that ahead of time, "Sure, but the task is a little more difficult.  DC X+3 instead of X.  Roll your d20." The player does have the opportunity to better defend his choice, and I can be persuaded to reverse my decision, but when I say that my mind is made up, my players know that the debate is over during the session.  I am more than happy to continue the debate after the session and my players know that.

3.  I always try to give my players as many options as possible when it comes to solving problems through skills.  But sometimes "by the book" and my mentality align and there is only one option.  However, these instances are usually my trying to allow a PC to shine in that moment, but it is up to the player to understand that.  If he/she fails to recognize their chance to shine, I am more than happy to let someone else steal the spotlight.

4.  I am driven by giving my players as many options as possible, so that the players feel included as often as possible.

5.  I am all for my players coming up with innovative ways of using all their characters' abilities.  Skills are no different.  So long as I can buy into their explanation, I'm all for it.

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
1. How by the book are you and your players on skills? If its not an action which is explicitly covered under the definitions of the skill in the handbook, would you let a player use the skill anyways if they can justify it?



I'm very much by the book on DC's and action costs. I'm also consistent in my application of any particular process we use (or strive to be) during play. If the skill entry says a skill is used for this thing right here, then we use that skill. If a player can justify using another skill instead, he or she is welcome to do so. That justification is ALWAYS true and valid so long as it does not contradict existing fiction. That justification is also the creation of fiction which adds to the game. Saying "No, you can't do that," adds nothing. This is not part of my DM agenda.

2. If you allow players to justify the use of skills, what metric do you use to determine if the skill applies (i.e. how do you judge their justification)?



I don't judge it - they do or the rules do. If there is some belief that a player is not engaging with the game in good faith, it is deserving of an aside to determine intent. The only thing I'm looking for as DM is that what you're saying is consistent with what's been established so far.

3. How much weight do you put into making your players use multiple different skills to approach problems?  (if all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails)



None. Part of this can be attributed to archetype and niche protection. Nobody should be surprised when the wizard always uses magic (Arcana) to overcome a challenge. He's a freaking WIZARD. If some like to attribute this to powergaming, that's unfortunate but not surprising.

I'm not sure if I have any examples that might apply or more clearly explain what I mean, but if anyone has any questions perhaps I can give it a crack.

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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So over in the Intimidate - how to play it well thread, there have been several discussions which have come up as part of people chewing on some of the earlier posts.  I'd like to know the answers to a few of those.

Questions which have come up and furthur questions I have because of them:

1. How by the book are you and your players on skills? If its not an action which is explicitly covered under the definitions of the skill in the handbook, would you let a player use the skill anyways if they can justify it?

2. If you allow players to justify the use of skills, what metric do you use to determine if the skill applies (i.e. how do you judge their justification)?

3. How much weight do you put into making your players use multiple different skills to approach problems?  (if all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails)

4. If you expend effort on 3.  how much of that is driven by you trying to stop powergamers, and how much is driven by a craving for varity?

5. If you crave variety how would you react if the player had a new/different explination each time he went to use the same skill?

If at all possible, please use specific examples so that we can try and see the reason that you are doing what you are doing. 




1) 100% by the book. Because, the book tells you that you should occasionally improvise, so technically, any use of improvation is by the book.

2) A combination of common sense and the occasional quick look back at 3e rules. For example 3.e has a skill called Balance, which included things like running on ice. In 4e "Balance" got rolled into Acrobatics with a few other skills, so if i have a player that needs to stay upright on ice, it's probably going to be an acrobatics check.

3) A lot, but mainly because i reverse engineered the skill challenge mechanic and all of the scaling math of the game, and put it through a statistical analysis (and found that, you get better results with this method). This should be at least partially intuitive, since the DC for a skill goes up when you gain a success from it (RC159). So obviously, if you keep trying to spam the same skill you'll eventually lose. It is far easier and requires fewer resources  (feats, gear, etc) to have several skills that can continually hit the moderate Dc than it is to try to hit the high DC with 3-4 skills and ignore the rest.

4) Neither, i just adhere to the ruleset.
My players know how the rules work, if they choose to use the same skill over and over, i don't stop them, math does.
They've learned the math, and as a result, embraced the variety. And as a result, what used to be a painful process, has become something they rather enjoy.

5) It is absolutely ludicrous to think that every single situation imaginable can be handled neatly with the exact same 17 options. So, if the shoe fits, wear it.
 
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
Onikani,

Your response to #3 Intrigues me,

Why did you decide that the skill system needed revamping?  How would you have answered the questions if you had not revamped the system?
1.  I used to think I was making up DCs on the fly, but after checking the rulebook, I see that I was almost always -2/+2 with the published material. Now I just go with that.  My players will narratively describe what they're doing, and if the skill can anyway be associated with that narrative they get to use the skill they want.

2.  I start with the assumption that the skill will work.  Again, I go with the narrative description.  If it makes sense, I'm all for it.

3.  I encourage the use of skills that players may not be trained in, but I often times come up with actually making a skill check on the fly.  If we get to a place in the narrative where things could go in a couple of interesting directions, I'll ask for a skill check to help determine what happens next.  Personally, I have a desire to see my players use a variety of different skills, but I recognize that my players may not have that desire, so I try to reign it in.

4.  My bias would be that I'm craving for variety, even if what keyword I attach to the roll will have little impact on the overall enjoyment for everyone.  See above.

5.  That's great for me.  I like hearing about how this particular landscape has great tubers if you know where to look, or how complimenting the hobgoblin on his dapper ensemble will provide just the distraction that the rogue needs to become hidden.

   
Onikani,

Your response to #3 Intrigues me,

Why did you decide that the skill system needed revamping?  How would you have answered the questions if you had not revamped the system?



I didn't revamp the system, i run my skill challenges exactly to the letter in the RC.
I just looked at the numbers and ran it through some statistics.
The numbers are quite shocking when you start comparing projected skill levels vs DC's vs the actual rules set (X successes before 3 failures).

I even started to write a "primer" on it, kinda like the CharOp handbooks but one that explained what i found, and how best to implement it. But then life happened and i never finished it. Which is a shame, cuz had i actually finished it, my response to every single question about skill usage and skill challenges would be a single link to that thread.
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
And now I need to go read that page (RC159), thanks for pointing out a place where my education was deficient, as its been a while since I've looked over that.
You're Welcome. `

Give it a good read, and pay close attention to the section on Advantages, it's pretty important that you use them for any complexity 4 or 5 skill challenge (the pc's are almost garenteed to fail if you don't).

Hit me up when you're done so we can chat about it some more.  
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
No pressure Onikani, but I am kind of waiting with baited breath to read your guidebook. I'll just stand here innocently staring at you till it's posted. That won't be awkward at all.

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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No pressure Onikani, but I am kind of waiting with baited breath to read your guidebook. I'll just stand here innocently staring at you till it's posted. That won't be awkward at all.



I've managed to put it off of 5 months now.
Awkward will be when i finally publish it the day that 5e releases.

In all seriousness, I will have time again to work on it in the coming weeks. I'm not promising anything, but I may be able to get it in by July.

The last few days have provided quite a bit of good discussion, and have sorta re-lit the fire.



EDIT i just saw that a #6 got added to the first post.
And my response is i do not allow players to directly use Aid Another in most challenges (but successful rolls on certain checks will allow them to automatically grant a +2 bonus on a future roll)
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
4. If you expend effort on 3.  how much of that is driven by you trying to stop powergamers, and how much is driven by a craving for varity?



My efforts in this vein are not to stop powergamers but to stop possessive gamers or me-me-me gamers that try to force every skill check into something that they are good at instead of letting other players strut their stuff.  There are already plenty of skill checks where he has a good chance for success and no shortage of opportunities to show it, but his attempts to argue that he should be able to roll them when there is virtually no way his skill set is applicable is tiresome, he doesn't need to hog the limelight and be good at everything. I don't want to block him but he is a broken record and I have to give the other players their opportunities too.

For the most part I am happy to let players argue in favor (justify the use) of a certain skill being useful and they are 99% of the time reasonable and persuasive, its just the one who I am afraid to give an inch lest he take a mile. I try to stay out of the way and not let my judgement decide too much, but there are times when arbitration is needed to curb the over-enthusiastic before they take over the game and steal all the fun away from the other players.

As far as #5, I'm still waiting for the player to come up with one creative explanation for using his skill, let alone many, I would love to see some creativity out of my group, it is always rewarded.
So over in the Intimidate - how to play it well thread, there have been several discussions which have come up as part of people chewing on some of the earlier posts.  I'd like to know the answers to a few of those.

Questions which have come up and furthur questions I have because of them:

Edit: I have clarified #2, I'd like you to spend a little more time on how you define "Makes sense" if that is your metric.  Also Added a #6 for assisting.

1. How by the book are you and your players on skills? If it's not an action which is explicitly covered under the definitions of the skill in the handbook, would you let a player use the skill anyways if they can justify it?

2. If you allow players to justify the use of skills, what metric do you use to determine if the skill applies (i.e. how do you judge their justification)?  If your justification is it just has to make sense, how do you gauge if it makes sense? Are you the sole arbiter in this?

3. How much weight do you put into making your players use multiple different skills to approach problems?  (if all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails)

4. If you expend effort on 3.  how much of that is driven by you trying to stop powergamers, and how much is driven by a craving for varity?

5. If you crave variety how would you react if the player had a new/different explination each time he went to use the same skill?

6. If your players want to help each other out, do they have to use the same skill?

If at all possible, please use specific examples so that we can try and see the reason that you are doing what you are doing.



1. I often have players wanting to perform a task which is "foggy". I have a player with a character who, 10,000 years ago, fell into the deepest part of the dream and lost his own memories keeping only the binary elements of their soul. Just now, the player encountered something which triggered an eclectic memory from the Akasha.  I noticed the player had a higher intelligence than wisdom, so I ruled they should make a "Will Save" using intelligence.

2. I am the sole arbiter. I look at the entire context, and ask if this really is a grey area; often it only looks that way. If it is, I present the player up to 3 options, and let them pick. I am also open to player suggestion if they have a different idea.

3.  When designing plots of any kind, or situations, I look at the character sheets. I carefully design encounters where they MUST use their skills. I look at their highest rank skills, and assume they wanted to use those skills. This rewards players for "having to do" what they are most invested into. I also consider their spells, and items as answers to a problem.

4.  I crave variety, and powergaming doesn't work in my game. I don't fear it, because every time it has been tried, it miserably failed. Not because of me blocking, but because my game doesn't suit powergaming.

5. If you tell me that you should be able to use your ranks in Ride instead of your ranks in Knowledge (Nature) to determine how much you know about using a Griffon as a Sky Mount, then I will let you.

6. I created a skill called "Learn/Assist" for this. If you want to "Aid Other" you will roll an Assist and if successful, contribute your "Ranks" in assist to the completion of the goal. Likewise, lets say you get 2 griffons but the other person has no ranks on Ride. I will let the one who has ranks make a "Assist" roll, and you make a "Learn" roll.  If you are both successful, then the one who has "Ride" ultimately "Shows You" how to do it. You may "Learn" up to one thing at a time, and "Learning" something else causes you to forget the prior thing "Learned".


 

Within; Without.

Regarding #6: I don't ask the assisting players to roll the same skill as the primary check for Aid Another.

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

Regarding #6: I don't ask the assisting players to roll the same skill as the primary check for Aid Another.

Right.  The rogue's bluff about the cleric's past exploits could really help her with the diplomacy check.
6. If your players want to help each other out, do they have to use the same skill?



No.  In fact there are rules for skill synergy.  Granted they are intended to apply to one character having two or more skills and therefore they get a bonus, but why can't that apply to different party members?

The rogue trying to open a lock can certainly be assisted by the dungeoneering expert who recognizes the type of lock he's trying to open.

The bard spinning a tale of heroism (perform) can be assisted by the cleric sensing that those listening are not buying the story (sense motive).

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
Here's the relevant part of a post i recently made as it pertains to 4e Skill scaling (i've edited it slighly from the original, mainly to remove the points specific to that conversation and keep it more 'generic'). 

Show



The post errata moderate values are mostly based on the following equations
Heroic Tier: Moderate Dc = half level +12 
Paragon: Moderate Dc = Half level +14
Epic Tier: Moderate DC = Half Level +16 
(they are often -1 for the first 2 levels of a tier and +1 for the last 2)

This is because (as this article explains) WotC expect the DC's to be a "reasonable challenge" by a character with natural talent (high score) or low/average talent with training. WotC then goes on to define "reasonable challenge" in 4e to mean "succeed on a roll of 8 or better".

And since the "half level" is represented on both sides of the equation (the DC and the pc's bonus), we can factor it out. 
Assuming that we need to roll an 8 (per wotc standards), we can also subtract that out.

Which means we're left with the bonus that the pc's need to have from only from stats/training/racial/feats/etc.
Unscaled Bonus needed to succeed on a roll of 8 or better:
Heroic tier: +4 (so, a 16 stat is probably good enough). 
Paragon Tier: +6 (if i started with a 16 in that, it's recieved 4 bumps, so my stat bonus is +5 for most of this tier).
Epic Tier: +8  (Four more bumps gives me an additional +2, so my bonus is +7 for most of this tier, and goes to +8 at level 28).


The reasons Skill challenges are hit and miss with groups is because the initial rules and initial set of dc's were not statistically viable for most groups. Meaning that the math was (poorly) designed in such a way to almost garentee that team pc loses.
Wotc caught on to this and errata'd it: The rules for skill challenges, handling dc's and compensating for complexity 4 and 5 skill challenges is clearly outlined in the RC. If you follow those rules, suddenly things start working.



Here's the original if anyone wants it:
community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758... 

 
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
Really good thread!

So over in the Intimidate - how to play it well thread, there have been several discussions which have come up as part of people chewing on some of the earlier posts.  I'd like to know the answers to a few of those.

Questions which have come up and furthur questions I have because of them:

Edit: I have clarified #2, I'd like you to spend a little more time on how you define "Makes sense" if that is your metric.  Also Added a #6 for assisting.

1. How by the book are you and your players on skills? If it's not an action which is explicitly covered under the definitions of the skill in the handbook, would you let a player use the skill anyways if they can justify it?



Of course. Skills and tasks are already pretty broad and there is no problem that can't be tackled from different angles.

2. If you allow players to justify the use of skills, what metric do you use to determine if the skill applies (i.e. how do you judge their justification)?  If your justification is it just has to make sense, how do you gauge if it makes sense? Are you the sole arbiter in this?



Anything reasonable basically flies. With reasonable meaning acceptable group concensus or fervant support from the player. After all, something making that much sense to them might just mean they are thinking in different terms than (perhaps) the entire table or just know something we don't about how things work.

3. How much weight do you put into making your players use multiple different skills to approach problems?  (if all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails)



I like to offer multiple ways to approach almost any skill check. Fact about an old religion that's from this area? sounds like Religion, History of Local, etc. Stuff like that. I rarely have anything ever have only one skill applicable...and even then I default to my methodology outlined above where just because I haven't thought of it doesn't disqualify it.

4. If you expend effort on 3.  how much of that is driven by you trying to stop powergamers, and how much is driven by a craving for varity?



I don't care how my players approach problems so this is non-applicable. My players can tackle which problems they wish how they wish.

5. If you crave variety how would you react if the player had a new/different explination each time he went to use the same skill?



I crave only action, not specific actions.

6. If your players want to help each other out, do they have to use the same skill?



Not if above criteria is met (reasonable overlap).

If at all possible, please use specific examples so that we can try and see the reason that you are doing what you are doing.



Hope I explained well enough. If not, I'll gladly clarify.

I'm on a journey of enlightenment, learning and self-improvement. A journey towards mastery. A journey that will never end. If you challenge me, prepare to be challenged. If you have something to offer as a fellow student, I will accept it. If you call yourself a master, prepare to be humbled. If you seek me, look to the path. I will be traveling it.

 

Proudly playing in many wrong ways. I'm not afraid of playing wrong according to the rules. Why are you?

 

100 Crack Reply of the Yagamifire. You are already wrong.


1. How by the book are you and your players on skills? If it's not an action which is explicitly covered under the definitions of the skill in the handbook, would you let a player use the skill anyways if they can justify it?


Generally speaking the player chooses the skill. I'll make suggestions, but the players know that is just the default, and they frequently suggest (and justify) alternative skills ... mostly nature. Darn you nature.


2. If you allow players to justify the use of skills, what metric do you use to determine if the skill applies (i.e. how do you judge their justification)?  If your justification is it just has to make sense, how do you gauge if it makes sense? Are you the sole arbiter in this?


Good question! Mostly it is just one of those on the fly 'yeah, that makes sense.' eg: Using nature to speak to spirits to learn about local folktales about monsters, makese sense if you're a shaman, but probably not if you're the basic twin strike ranger. Usually I'll accept what they suggest, and I'll say (outloud) that it might be particularly hard or easy (or normal) to do. That lets them know yes, they could use nature to fix this, but as it is a long shot it'd be going against the hard DC, not the normal DC.


3. How much weight do you put into making your players use multiple different skills to approach problems?  (if all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails)


I like to see it, but if someone has a decent reason to use their best skill, then they use their best skill. It makes sense in character to rely on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Shamans will rely on their spirits to learn about things (nature), not on chatting up the locals (streetwise) if their nature is high and their streetwise is low.

In short - I'm a person who believes what is on the sheet should be reflected in the character, and vise versa. If you have high STR and low CHA, then chances are you are physically strong and not very likable. If you have high diplomacy and low althetics, then you are naturally charming, but not very physically fit. If you have low endurance you might whine a lot whenever you have to do some physical exertion.

I know some others feel though that the sheet should have no bearing on the character - the sheet might say I'm a 2 weapon fighter human, but that was just CharOp - my character is a 7 year old elf girl with a stuffed teddy.

6. If your players want to help each other out, do they have to use the same skill?


That's what aid another is for! Nice and easy DC 10.

6. If your players want to help each other out, do they have to use the same skill?

That's what aid another is for! Nice and easy DC 10.

Because DMs couldn't figure out how to keep every PC and NPC from aiding the person rolling the skill, that rule was revised in 4th Edition to require a roll equal to 10+ half the assisting character's level. Still pretty easy, but never a slam dunk unless that character has also maximized the skill. And while success still grants a +2 to the target, failure grants a -1.

Instead of that change, I would have preferred to Aid Another made automatic and see DMs advised not to call for rolls in situations in which there's no tactial downside to everyone helping. If everyone wants to help disarm a trap or pick a lock, and there's no time pressureor anything else going on, just let them. In fact, don't call for that roll at all, since there's nothing really at stake and no reason not to take their time with it. If everyone wants to help disarm a trap or pick a lock in the middle of combat, or while piloting a ship through a storm or something, just let them. They're choosing not to deal with monsters or to let the ship spin out of control, so there's already risk and cost associated with aiding the character.

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

Disarming a trap should pretty much always call for a roll, since failure usually means setting off the trap.
It doesn't matter how may people help, sometimes accidents happen.

Now if the trap being set off is completley insiginificant, it begs the question as to why we are spending time even discussing it's presence. 
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
Should you tell the players the skill DCs? Or keep them secret and only tell them whether they succeed or fail?

I've seen skill challenges that suggest upping a skill's DC after the first success, or having different DCs for different skills. Given the slim margin of failure (3 failed checks = loss) in most challenges, it doesn't seem like the PCs have the margin to figure out DCs via trial-and-error. I've seen players focus solely on their highest skill, even if an alternate skill would technically be easier to reach, because they have no idea what their DCs are. And secretly raising a skill's DC without telling them just seems like trouble.
Should you tell the players the skill DCs? Or keep them secret and only tell them whether they succeed or fail?

I've seen skill challenges that suggest upping a skill's DC after the first success, or having different DCs for different skills. Given the slim margin of failure (3 failed checks = loss) in most challenges, it doesn't seem like the PCs have the margin to figure out DCs via trial-and-error. I've seen players focus solely on their highest skill, even if an alternate skill would technically be easier to reach, because they have no idea what their DCs are. And secretly raising a skill's DC without telling them just seems like trouble.



Both at different times.

Be concise about where, when and how.

Most of my players just "know" when the DC is "probably" 15, 20, 25.  If they roll a 12, or 14 and it isn't critical they seem hopeful to succeed. If they roll 6-11, they consider Aid Other, Action Points or using something else to increase their odds of success before I reveal success or failure. Likewise, when they roll 5 and under they "toss in the towel" and hope for the best unless they think it critical, at which they almost always add an action point if they are still above 3.

So, what is the DC?  Usually, 8 - 12 will result in a minor success, 13-16 a cool success, 17+ an awesome success and natural 20 is great. They also know if their total hits certain "benchmarks" like 25, 30, 35, they might have "more than just a success". Natural 1's make great comedy.

Within; Without.

Should you tell the players the skill DCs? Or keep them secret and only tell them whether they succeed or fail?

I've seen skill challenges that suggest upping a skill's DC after the first success, or having different DCs for different skills. Given the slim margin of failure (3 failed checks = loss) in most challenges, it doesn't seem like the PCs have the margin to figure out DCs via trial-and-error. I've seen players focus solely on their highest skill, even if an alternate skill would technically be easier to reach, because they have no idea what their DCs are. And secretly raising a skill's DC without telling them just seems like trouble.



The baseline assumption is that primary skills used in skill challenges are at moderate difficulty.
Secondary skills are at high difficulty
According to the RC 159, A success with a primary skill, converts the DC to hard for successive attempts by the same player.

The solution? Well, there needs to be a bit of trust here.
The DM should stick to the guidlines as publised. Then the players know what the basics are and know they should switch skills once they recieve a success with any given one.
Also, in order to make this realistically viable, players should attempt to spread out their skills in order to get a decent bonus in as many skills possible (as i mentioned earlier in this thread, roughly half level +4 for heroic tier).
All things together, players will succeed on most skill checks most of the time (about 2/3's of the time). And overall should succeed on complexity 1-3 skill challenges most of the time. And will also frequently succeed on complexity 4 and 5 challenges, asuming the dm is properly using Advantages. Even still, complexity 4 and 5 challenges should have partial success, so it's unlikley they will completely bomb it. 
Again, all of this is clearly outlined in the RC over the course of 5 pages or so.

And lastly, who says the dc should be raised in secret? "The baron is clearly moved by your words, but you can tell he is getting restless, you think it may become harder to keep holding his attention with diplomacy alone".
If the players have a basic understanding of the system, they'll know exactly what this hint means.
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
First thing to realize is that I have houseruled skills in three ways:
  • a) all skills can be used untrained
  • b) all skills are treated as class skills at level 1 and if a cross-class skill is taken at level 1 it is treated as a class skill for that character from that point on.
    ...




I use these house-rules as well.  I also encourage my players to invent skills at character creation that fit the character concept well, and if their invented skills seem fair, I would gladly allow them (actually, none of my players ever actually chose to try inventing skills, but the option was still there).

I've dabbled from time to time with critical successes and critical failures, but never really felt comfortable with them.



I enjoy seeing players come up with creative uses for their skills.  I'd probably put my foot down if one player were to really get silly with it, though, at the expense of other players enjoying themselves.  And, I think you'd have to have a pretty good explanation to get by with using Intimidate as an alternative to, for example, Open Lock or something like that
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I suppose it is worth mentioning, I scrapped the books and made my own races, classes and skills. feats and spells are chosen from the book, then modified.

I have skills split into categories:

Class Skills (you have it from your class, or you don't have it) For example, "Decipher Script, Move Silently, Repair".
Character Skills (Every humanoid has them) For example, Spot, Search, Listen, Balance, Climb, Jump, Swim, Tumble.
Special Skills (Often gained from a class, template, or item. For example, "Trance", "Prayer", "Rune Weave" and "Duel".


I also gave every skill a one sentence descriptor, which is open ended, and subjective to interpretation which permits my players to be creative about the checks they want to make.

Within; Without.

Should you tell the players the skill DCs? Or keep them secret and only tell them whether they succeed or fail?

Tell them. Description is good, and I like the approach of "beginning and ending with fiction," but if you just tell the player the DC, they can make an informed choice about how hard the challenge is. A DM might not know a character's facility with a skill, and will not know how a player measure's risk. You can and should talk about the width of chasm, and it's jagged edges, and slippery approach, but also give the DC.

I've seen skill challenges that suggest upping a skill's DC after the first success, or having different DCs for different skills. Given the slim margin of failure (3 failed checks = loss) in most challenges, it doesn't seem like the PCs have the margin to figure out DCs via trial-and-error. I've seen players focus solely on their highest skill, even if an alternate skill would technically be easier to reach, because they have no idea what their DCs are. And secretly raising a skill's DC without telling them just seems like trouble.

I agree. If a DC increases, the players should be aware, and the fiction should change correspondingly.

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

First thing to realize is that I have houseruled skills in three ways:
  • a) all skills can be used untrained
  • b) all skills are treated as class skills at level 1 and if a cross-class skill is taken at level 1 it is treated as a class skill for that character from that point on.
    ...




I use these house-rules as well.  I also encourage my players to invent skills at character creation that fit the character concept well, and if their invented skills seem fair, I would gladly allow them (actually, none of my players ever actually chose to try inventing skills, but the option was still there).

I've dabbled from time to time with critical successes and critical failures, but never really felt comfortable with them.



I enjoy seeing players come up with creative uses for their skills.  I'd probably put my foot down if one player were to really get silly with it, though, at the expense of other players enjoying themselves.  And, I think you'd have to have a pretty good explanation to get by with using Intimidate as an alternative to, for example, Open Lock or something like that



I think the skill list is big enough and where, when, and how skills can be used are broad enough that inventing new skills is not really needed.  That being said, I have toyed with the idea of introducing "specializations."  For example in 4e the single skill perception replaces the 3e skills listen, spot, and search.  Keep the perception skill as is, but allow the players to specialize in one of the three aspects.  I have not delved into how they would specialize though.  Will probably use specialization in my next campaign, so I have a lot of time to hammer out the details.

I do use critical successes and failures with skills - roll a 20 and you roll again and simply add the next number to the skill roll.  The point being that with skills a nat 20 is not always a success.  If one needs a 25 (rare in my game at the moment but possible) and they have no skill then they need a nat 20 and a 5 or better to succeed.

It also influences my "legendary magic" house rule.  If someone blows away a skill check, something extraordinary may happen.  I have a bard in my group who with her perform skill all she had to do was not roll a nat 1 and she would succeed at entertaining the crowd...she rolled a 53 (skill +14, nat 20 and a 19).  Suffice it to say, something legendary happened - her flute now sounds like an orchestra.

As for failures, on a nat 1 a confirmation is required - roll again: if one beats the DC then the failure is not confirmed it is a simple failure, if one fails to beat the DC then the failure is confirmed and based on the situation something "interesting" happens.

Should you tell the players the skill DCs? Or keep them secret and only tell them whether they succeed or fail?



I used to keep them secret, but I find myself more recently not necessarily telling what the DC is outright but informing them, "with your skill, just don't roll a one," or "with your skill you are going to need a nat 20 and a decent roll after," or "with your skill it's a fifty-fifty shot," or something to that effect.

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.
And lastly, who says the dc should be raised in secret? "The baron is clearly moved by your words, but you can tell he is getting restless, you think it may become harder to keep holding his attention with diplomacy alone".
If the players have a basic understanding of the system, they'll know exactly what this hint means.



I think the issue is GMs apply the same amount of secrecy to skill challenges as they do to combat and only mention whether the PCs "hit" or "miss". They don't mention the "defenses" (DCs) or "hit points" (# of successes needed). Unfortunately, skill challenges don't allow players unlimited failures to trial & error things.

Actually, I wonder why GMs insist on keeping monster defenses/HP secret. The trial-and-error of tossing various attacks at the monsters and seeing what hits doesn't seem as interesting as a PC choosing between trying to kill a monster with a high defense or just injuring a different monster with a lower defense. The main use of secret defenses I've seen so far is for tricking players into expending a +4 boost on a roll that still misses. "Gotcha."
Actually, I wonder why GMs insist on keeping monster defenses/HP secret.



Tons of reasons. The most common I see are (1) some nebulous and unfounded fear of "metagaming" and (2) because the rules say Knowledge checks are needed to get such information. (We use Knowledge checks for actual actions in our game, not as a check to see if your character knows stuff.)

I'm transparent in all of these things and when I share metagame information with the players, I work with them on how and why their characters might know such things in the context of the game/scene. The easiest explanation is, "You're adventurers - this is what you do." But the more fiction you can create to explain such things creates more context for possible use later.

Basically, "You, the player, know this information mechanically so you can make clearer decisions. You, the character, know the same information but fictionally in context. Tell me how."

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

All things together, players will succeed on most skill checks most of the time (about 2/3's of the time). And overall should succeed on complexity 1-3 skill challenges most of the time. And will also frequently succeed on complexity 4 and 5 challenges, asuming the dm is properly using Advantages. Even still, complexity 4 and 5 challenges should have partial success, so it's unlikley they will completely bomb it. 
Again, all of this is clearly outlined in the RC over the course of 5 pages or so.



First, if a GM doesn't have the Rules Compendium, where else can he look up the most up-to-date skill challenge info?

Second, if skill challenges have a standard success rate of 66%, should a skill challenge failure have the same weight as failing a combat? Or should a skill challenge failure mean a "success with complications"?
Second, if skill challenges have a standard success rate of 66%, should a skill challenge failure have the same weight as failing a combat? Or should a skill challenge failure mean a "success with complications"?



What does it mean to "fail a combat?" Death? Because that's just one way to fail in that kind of scene. One very specific way that somehow appears to have made it to the default failure condition in D&D.

A failed skill challenge should default to "success with complications." I think this is the proper way to think about skill challenges. Anything else would be a variant in context.

Edit: Think about skill challenge victory/defeat conditions as "Yes, and..." or "Yes, but..." If you win, you succeed at what you were trying to do and get a bonus going forward. If you fail, you succeed at what you were trying to do and get a complication going forward. (Another good example of why "Yes, but..." should only ever follow the outcome of dice rolls.)

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

All things together, players will succeed on most skill checks most of the time (about 2/3's of the time). And overall should succeed on complexity 1-3 skill challenges most of the time. And will also frequently succeed on complexity 4 and 5 challenges, asuming the dm is properly using Advantages. Even still, complexity 4 and 5 challenges should have partial success, so it's unlikley they will completely bomb it. 
Again, all of this is clearly outlined in the RC over the course of 5 pages or so.



First, if a GM doesn't have the Rules Compendium, where else can he look up the most up-to-date skill challenge info?

Second, if skill challenges have a standard success rate of 66%, should a skill challenge failure have the same weight as failing a combat? Or should a skill challenge failure mean a "success with complications"?



I believe the Compiled Update to the books on the WotC website has the updated Skill Challenge info in it. Less well laid out than in the RC, of course, but it's in there.

As to your last question, I think the way the answer is "whichever gives you the most options going forward." If failing the challenge either kills the players, or puts them into a dead end (success is the only way to continue) then it probably shouldn't be a skill challenge. You should just let them win. If the Skill Challenge is there to circumvent perhaps a tough fight, or allows the party to interrupt the kidnapping of the princess instead of reacting to it, then failure doesn't stop them from proceeding, they just have to do it "the hard way".

That's the sense I am starting to get with the Skill Challenge design. I have vowed to never make an all or nothing skill challenge again, personally. Of course, that's easier said than done! 
So many PCs, so little time...
Second, if skill challenges have a standard success rate of 66%, should a skill challenge failure have the same weight as failing a combat? Or should a skill challenge failure mean a "success with complications"?



What does it mean to "fail a combat?" Death? Because that's just one way to fail in that kind of scene. One very specific way that somehow appears to have made it to the default failure condition in D&D.

A failed skill challenge should default to "success with complications." I think this is the proper way to think about skill challenges. Anything else would be a variant in context.

Edit: Think about skill challenge victory/defeat conditions as "Yes, and..." or "Yes, but..." If you win, you succeed at what you were trying to do and get a bonus going forward. If you fail, you succeed at what you were trying to do and get a complication going forward. (Another good example of why "Yes, but..." should only ever follow the outcome of dice rolls.)

Or at the very least failure should mean forward momentum with interesting complications.  When my group games next, we'll be kicking off the session with a skill challenge focusing on how the keep guards will treat the PCs once it becomes known that the Baronet whom the PCs just killed was a vampire.  Getting that information across is easy, but convincing the guards that the PCs shouldn't still be hauled in before the Baroness is another matter.
Or at the very least failure should mean forward momentum with interesting complications.



Agreed. This is what I meant by "variant in context." It's a little trickier to talk about in the abstract. New DMs might do better to think about it in terms of success or success+new problems as a starting point and then get more nuanced once they've gotten a hang of the thought process.

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

Or at the very least failure should mean forward momentum with interesting complications.



Agreed. This is what I meant by "variant in context." It's a little trickier to talk about in the abstract. New DMs might do better to think about it in terms of success or success+new problems as a starting point and then get more nuanced once they've gotten a hang of the thought process.

Yes.  You're definitely getting past the ghost of Brislow.  The question is, do you have a new ally or enemy, etc.
First, if a GM doesn't have the Rules Compendium, where else can he look up the most up-to-date skill challenge info?

You have a DDI account. You can get the updated DCs per level from the online compendium. That's really all you need. It's more than you need, actually, but it's handy.

Second, if skill challenges have a standard success rate of 66%,

First of all, they don't, and anyone who says differently is working from a highly idealized scenario. Even if that's the average, it's a slippery average, and it's very easy to fall away from that into impossibility or triviality.

should a skill challenge failure have the same weight as failing a combat? Or should a skill challenge failure mean a "success with complications"?

Read the DMG: that's exactly what skill challenges were always meant to mean. The story continues, but there's a problem. That doesn't have to mean success in the ostensible goal, unless failure inherently means that the story can't move forward. For a travel skill challenge, you make it to your destination regardless. For a stop the ritual skill challenge, you might not stop the ritual, but the story continues anyway.

This comparison between skill challenges and combat should really make one think. Since combat can also quickly go from "challenging" to "impossible" or "trivial" quickly, maybe the consequences of failure in combat shouldn't carry the weight they traditionally do. Maybe it's okay to "succeed with complications" in combat, or for complete and utter failure in combat not mean death, capture, failure, retreat, or any other outcome that's generally considered hateful and boring.

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

Actually, I wonder why GMs insist on keeping monster defenses/HP secret.



Tons of reasons. The most common I see are (1) some nebulous and unfounded fear of "metagaming" and (2) because the rules say Knowledge checks are needed to get such information. (We use Knowledge checks for actual actions in our game, not as a check to see if your character knows stuff.)

I'm transparent in all of these things and when I share metagame information with the players, I work with them on how and why their characters might know such things in the context of the game/scene. The easiest explanation is, "You're adventurers - this is what you do." But the more fiction you can create to explain such things creates more context for possible use later.

Basically, "You, the player, know this information mechanically so you can make clearer decisions. You, the character, know the same information but fictionally in context. Tell me how."



First bolded - This is probably the most common reason for DMs keeping things secret.  I used to do it, but I have found it to be more trouble than it's worth.  I am now far more open with everything I do as a DM.

Second bolded - In my game last night, the party was basically mopping up (finishing) an encounter and one of the characters was going to use a powerful class ability on a nearly dead monster.  I told her its remaining HPs and she changed her actions.

 

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/19.jpg)

Are you really "entitled to your opinion"?
RedSiegfried wrote:
The cool thing is, you don't even NEED a reason to say yes.  Just stop looking for a reason to say no.