Hats off to Skill Challenges!

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I must say that I really like where skills are going in 4e. Someone could have told my "Skills are always max ranks, and they do more" and I would have been happy. But skill challenges exist, and from what I have experienced from the Pre-Release 4e Rules Compilation, and what I have read on the ENWorld forums, they are absolutely amazing.

To my best understanding, Skill Challenges work something like so: The characters are in a situation (duh?), and they need it to be resolved (preferably without combat), so they resort to using their skills.

The DM determines how difficult it will be to resolve the situation (Skill Challenge) by deciding on a number of "successes" in skill checks that the party must reach before they "fail" a number of times (IE, 6 successes before 4 failures). The DM also decides on the basic premise of what happens should the skill challenge succeeded or fail (IE, Success: Drug-lord agrees to the bargain presented by the PC's. Failure: Drug-lord is violent, and threatens to kill party unless they leave).

Once this has been determined, the players play out the situation by stating what their character does, what skill the character uses to perform the skill, and at what level of difficulty the character attempts to beat with his skill check. Easy checks only require a DC 11 to beat, but count as two failures should the player mess up on the check. Moderate checks require a DC 15, and have normal penalties or benefits for success or failure. Difficult checks require a steep DC 19 to beat, but upon success allows for a different skill check to be made for free at that moment with a +2 bonus. (These numbers are only applicable at 1st level, I would assume.) The DM does, however, get to be the one who decides on whether or not the usages of skills are relevant to the situation at hand, and can choose to ignore the success or failure from the success/failure count.


I particularly like the sounds of this system. I have already played in a skill challenge with my group (but did not have the "difficulty wager" function), and I found it to be most excellent. It promotes a cinematic feel to game play, reduces the need to look up skill usage tables and DC's, [rids the game of "diplomancy,"] and allows an unprecedented amount of control in both the hands of the players and DM at the same time.

What do you all think about it?
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Umm, for those that hated word problems in math, could you write up an example of how a situation might play out?

Player wants X to happen.
DM determines DC.
Player rolls d20, gets X, Y, Z, Z, N, M.

Result is: ?????

An example of success and failure would be cool.

It would help me to understand how it all plays out.

Cheers
This was not possible in 3.5 how?
Well, the way I understand it, this is an expansion of the idea of complex skill checks introduced in 3rd edition.

Let's imagine the party is in a prison cell and they want to escape, so they must use their skills to escape. The DM has decided that the party needs a cumulative 5 successes out of eight tries to get out before the 'questioners' come for them. One player has specialized in social skills, so he wanders over to the door and calls to the jail-keeper try to charm her into coming close enough to steal her keys. Unlike 3rd edition diplomacy, all these type of skills are opposed checks now. In addition, maybe the DM has decided 3 successes out of four are needed for that player to get the woman to betray her training. After each roll, the DM and player do some role-playing chit-chat incorporating the results of the last roll into their conversation and the player sets up the speech for the next roll.

Meanwhile, one of the characters has a history skill. They are attempting to gather ideas about what famous characters of history have done in these situations ... the DM has decided before hand that an old tunnel exists, but it requires such and such to succeed.

Together, the party requires 5 successes for events to turn far enough in their favour to escape.

The example in the play-tests, as I understand it involved escaping from a town without being caught by the guards and characters were able to use any of their skills to gain a success as long as they could explain how it would help and as long as the DM agreed it might. Story progressed between rolls reflecting the results and setting up for the next attempt.

Basically, they took out one roll successes for things like diplomacy and intimidate and they replaced them with a more dynamic system of opposed checks and partial successes leading to cumulative success.
This was not possible in 3.5 how?

Possible and supported are two different things.
Umm, for those that hated word problems in math, could you write up an example of how a situation might play out?

Absolutely, but mind, this is only with my understanding of the rule, and as a DM I am pretty lenient. I will use the situation my players and I ran through, though modified slightly to take the new rules I found into consideration.


The characters were in a dungeon, and had defeated all the kobolds but one minion. Naturally, the wanted it for their own, so I decided to show them their first Skill Challenge. I decided (but did not tell them) that they needed to succeed six times in meaningful actions before they failed 4 times. If they succeed, the kobold complies and becomes non-resistive, and if they fail, he tries his best to run away (or, should escape fail, decides to become a pain in the rear).

The Warlock steps up to bat and tries to convince the kobold with kind gestures and words in the common speech to convince the kobold to remain calm. She decided that Diplomacy would be appropriate, as would Moderate difficulty (DC 15). She succeeded, and the kobold entered a more relaxed pose. (Successes: 1 Failures: 0)

The Dwarf takes up her mug of beer and offers it to the kobold as a peace offering. She also used diplomacy, but chose Easy difficulty (DC 11), as Diplomacy was not a trained skill for her, and "everyone loves beer!" She failed, and the kobold, freaked out by the large lady waving around alcohol, became very nervous and started backing away toward the exit. (Success:1 Fail:2 A failed "easy" counts as two losses.)

The Ranger noticed that the situation was in peril, and came to the rescue. He wanted to use stealth to get behind the kobold and block his passage through the exit. He reckoned this would be a hard thing to do, so he chose for this to be a Difficult (DC 19) usage of this skill. He succeeded, and chose to try to grapple the kobold with athletics, choosing Moderate as the DC, because he imagined that that was probably his Reflex Defense (which is the target DC of a Athletics check used to grapple in battle). He got +2 to this skill because he just succeeded on a Difficult check, and succeeded, picking up the small, feisty kobold. (Success: 3 Fail: 2)

The warlock decided that the best plan of action from this point would be to tie up the kobold with her rope. She used thievery (as any decent burglar must be able to tie knots, and many great ones do more than just that) and set the difficulty to difficult, as the kobold was squirming and very much in physical contact with the ranger. She succeeded, catching the kobold by surprise around the middle with a most effective triple loop. She decided to use this moment of surprise to scare the kobold into submission with intimidate. She chose moderate difficulty, but even so, she failed, and the punch she had aimed at the squirming kobold smote instead the cheek of the ranger. (Successes: 4 Failures: 3)

The cleric speaks up. He calls out against the warlock for being so mean (and ineffectually so), hoping to gain the trust of the kobold. He choses diplomacy at moderate difficulty, and succeeds. (Success: 5 Failure: 3)

The cleric, looking around and noticing that none else in the party was in a hurry to do anything more, bid the ranger set the poor creature down so that he might have a look at him. [The player then asks if he might make an arcana check to see if he could learn more about the creature, but also if failure in this would count against the party. I inform him that he can, and that it would not, but in terms of RP, it was possible the lack of knowledge might render him indecisive as to what decision to make next. He understands, and makes an Arcana check, and finds out that kobolds are a coldblooded race that claims to be the descendants of dragons but there is no evidence for this, but in fact evidence to the contrary. Yes, he is a newbie player if anybody cared to know. (Successes: 5 Failures: 3 The Arcana check was a success, but it did not add to being any closer to meeting the goal of the challenge)] Identifying the creature as a kobold, and noticing several scratches, bruises, and cuts, the cleric decides to make a heal check in hopes of reinforcing the kobold's trust in the cleric by cleaning up his wounds. Not knowing how they differed anatomically from other races, (nor knowing how far they were from failure, and deciding to play it safe) the player decided that a moderate difficulty for the check was called for. He succeeded, and as soon as the kobold realized what the cleric was doing, he calmed down and became compliant. (Successes: 6 Failures: 3 The PC's win by a narrow margin!)



I know that was a bit long, but I hope that made sense and made things a bit clearer to whoever read it!
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Montage Sequence

I was thinking that a Skill Challenge could be used to reflect the classic Montage Sequence of the special training or preperation sequence that a player or group would go through to get ready for a big battle.

If an ancient teacher of Martial manuvers then the Montage could be a sequence of physical skill challenges (if you have watched a few martial arts movies or even a few James Bond crash course trainings then you likely have the idea).

If it is players getting ready to do an assault on an enemy strong hold or to repulse the hordes of the invaders then it is a sequence of building and preparing defences.

The key being to compress the time to do this 'prep work' by replacing it with a quick series of skill challenges aka the Montage sequence with players suggesting the types of skills and how they are using them to learn special technique training or prepare for a later battle.

Successful completion of a Montage Challenge sequence would earn experience like defeating a regular skill challenge.

It could also award the player or players a one use Montage Training. I see this as like a one use magical item but instead reflects the training and learning of the secret technique that is supposed to help win the big fight.

Players will not likely want to repeatedly invest the time in days and other resources to repeat a montage sequence to carry around excessive numbers of these types of 'virtual magic items' but they could lend some nice storyline that meeting the ancient master taught the character how to perform the 'Triple Heart Punch' that was used to great effect against the BBEG in the final fight.
I agree Smerg. It has so many possibilities though, and that kind of depth is something I really appriciate.

On the topic of the Montage Sequence though. It could also apply for a character creating his or own powers. We all know that "named" powers are very flavorful, especially for wizards. But martial and divine classes can do this as well, I feel. If a rogue wanted to invent a new move, he would go out and figure out how it could be done, then practice practice practice untill he could. A cleric might try to pull a Moses, and commune with his god regularly and eventually bring down wonders from the heavens that the world has never seen before or since. This could all be the reward of some sort of "Montage Sequence," specially designed for the character to make their own powers.
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im all for this idea. i tried to do stuff like this in 3.5, and had mixed results. having an actual supported system for it will be great
Just thought you should know. the countdown continues...
Running a Kingdom or a Business

Your saying that this could have other applications made me think that this would be a good way to handle the situation of a character that wants to be a ruler of a small kingdom or to run a business.

Instead of worrying on the day to day decisions. Set a number of challenges and goals that are required in a period of time.

This allows the player that wants this sort of thing to still have the 'feel' of being a ruler and progressing in building their kingdom or business but still allow it be resolved fairly quickly in a few descriptive challenges that makes room for the main adventure.

This is more of the way the game Pendragon works with a quick section of skill challenges with some choices by the player to represent being a knight for most of the year when they are not adventuring.


Missing Player

This would also be a good tool when you have a player that is away for a week or two to allow them to gain some experience quickly to keep up with the rest of the group but not feel like you are giving 'free xp' away without the player having to do something for the xp or having some risk of suffering a failure.


New Technique

I agree Wiz that you could do this as a larger training of a special technique that is more of a named move with more lasting qualities. I am more partial to the one use technique becasue that avoids future questions of balance.

On the other hand, you could do like Luke Skywalker's trip to see Yoda. The character could do the montage to get a major charcter overall and upgrade.

This would be good if you had a player that thought that playing the concept of a farmboy might be real nifty and then later decides that what they really want their character to be is a mighty wizard.

Insert the Montage Sequence and after a bit of rolling and gain of a bit of experience then you allow the player to do a retraining to rebuild the character in their new character class and role.
Thanks for the clarification. I understand how it's supposed to work. I'm going to have to go and noodle this one for a while and see what I think. It's certainly a lot different than anything else I've seen before.

Cheers
This was not possible in 3.5 how?

3.x doesn't give us rules that tells the DM:
  • How many checks at what DC replace a CR appropriate encounter for PCs of X level
  • How many successes are appropriate before declaring the PCs succeed at the task
  • How many failures are appropriate before saying the PCs have failed.


3.5's rules system also makes the sorcerer or paladin with an Int penalty almost entirely useless in a skills based situation, as they have one lousy skill point to spend (and if the sorcerer didn't spend it on Concentration, then he'll likely be in trouble later on).

In 3.5 you also have a problem where you either a) put max ranks in a skill and therefore are good to great in it or b) don't have ranks in it, and so are utterly useless in that skill after the very lowest levels (where stats outweigh skills, which is another problem with the 3.5 skills system). In 4th ed, everything goes up as you level, and the people trained in a skill are always 5 points ahead of those untrained in it. So you still can make easy DCs in skills you didn't invest in.


In short, 4th ed's skill system was designed with this in mind, and 3.x wasn't.
3.x doesn't give us rules that tells the DM:

* How many checks at what DC replace a CR appropriate encounter for PCs of X level
* How many successes are appropriate before declaring the PCs succeed at the task
* How many failures are appropriate before saying the PCs have failed.

Fair enough. I usually just made them up on the fly, so it would be nice to actually have a system for it which works, without me having to resort to trial and error.

3.5's rules system also makes the sorcerer or paladin with an Int penalty almost entirely useless in a skills based situation, as they have one lousy skill point to spend (and if the sorcerer didn't spend it on Concentration, then he'll likely be in trouble later on).

So is that the fault of the 3.5 system, or the player who opted to dump int on an already skill-point starved character build, knowing full well that he would have very little skill points to spend?

A human sorc with 12 int could still max out spellcraft, concentration, knowledge:arcana and bluff. A human paladin with 10int can still max out ride, diplomacy and 1 other skill. Looks doable if you were willing to devote the necessary resources, which only seems right (what you get out of your PC depends on what you sunk into it, nothing more, nothing less).

In 3.5 you also have a problem where you either a) put max ranks in a skill and therefore are good to great in it or b) don't have ranks in it, and so are utterly useless in that skill after the very lowest levels (where stats outweigh skills, which is another problem with the 3.5 skills system). In 4th ed, everything goes up as you level, and the people trained in a skill are always 5 points ahead of those untrained in it. So you still can make easy DCs in skills you didn't invest in.

This is the first time I have heard someone speak out in favour of automatically being trained in your classed skills and assuming they were maxed out. The few previous people I conversed with some time back disliked this change as they felt it made their PCs too generic, in that everyone ended up with pretty much the same skills, which in turn offered less room for customization.

What if I wanted a rogue who had maxed out move silently but poor hide? Will we assume that a wizard automatically maxes out all his knowledge skills? That a fighter is trained in jump, swim and climb, even if we do not necessarily want him to (what would a fighter raised in the desert know about swimming?)

But to each his own, I guess.
I really like the concept of players choosing which DC they want to risk on a challenge-- it puts me in mind of the "name the stakes" phase of games like The Shadows of Yesterday. I wonder if, beyond DM judgement, there will be some limitation on how often a character can invoke a particular skill. Maybe like crossing off aspects in the Fate system?
I really like the concept of players choosing which DC they want to risk on a challenge-- it puts me in mind of the "name the stakes" phase of games like The Shadows of Yesterday. I wonder if, beyond DM judgement, there will be some limitation on how often a character can invoke a particular skill. Maybe like crossing off aspects in the Fate system?

The situation that limits abusive usage of skills, IMO, should not be the DM but the situation in the story or encounter. For instance, no matter how great your diplomacy skill is, it only makes sense to suck up to someone so much at once.

Another "natural" way to limit this would be for the DM to decide what success or failure at a particular check means for the situation, which is something he should be doing anyway. For instance, I saw over in the C&C boards a situation where the writer mockingly has a PC decide to "climb up the tree very carefully so that I don’t disturb the body but so I can examine the body’s wound with a magnifying glass." Obviously, this makes no sense.

The difference, IMO, between this system and the 3.5 skill system is that there would be a DC that the PC could try to beat to successfully use the magnifying glass to examine a body from a tree, but in 4e, even if he makes the successful check, which is easier to obtain, the DM gets to decide what happens. In this situation, should the character have beat the DC 19 for the difficult challenge, I would say that he climbs up the tree, and gets the perception check for free, but with a negative 2 bonus for using the magnifying glass wrong. Should he still succeeded the check to examine the body, he notices something about the body on accident. When players decide to be silly and pestersom to the DM, the DM has the freedom to do whatever they want, but a good DM will enforce the guidelines of the game with a sudden burst of creativity.
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What if I wanted a rogue who had maxed out move silently but poor hide?

Then you would have a rogue that was pretty useless for doing stealth stuff on their own. I mean, who cares how little noise you make if everyone can see you?
The designers admitted that there would be the rare character like this, but just as you can make the claim that being maxed in all class skills makes you less unique, others can claim that not being maxed in all, or at least certain, class skills made you gimped.
Given that viewpoint, those players were arguing against uniqueness in favor of reliability. The rogue had to be able to open locks, disable traps, and sneak around, at least until magic could be used reliably to offer those.
While I agree that it does potentially take away from some of a character's uniqueness, they can always train a non-class skill, and there are still feats, paragon paths, and epic destinies to differentiate one character of a given class from another.
What if I wanted a rogue who had maxed out move silently but poor hide?

Then you would be a sparkly little snowflake without any ability to perform the tasks you were contracted for.
[QUOTE=runestar;15580744
So is that the fault of the 3.5 system, or the player who opted to dump int on an already skill-point starved character build, knowing full well that he would have very little skill points to spend?
I would say that it is the fault of the 3.5 system. Under 3.5 rules, it was assumed that the party would have a rogue with lots of skill points to burn, or magic-users who could use spells to bypass certain problems. As such, there was little motivation for Fighters, Paladins, and the like to worry about having lots of skills. So, Intelligence was seen as a dump stat for these classes, since it didn't do much to increase the survivability of the team as a whole.

However, while the rules encouraged the Fighter to use Int as a dump stat and ignore most skills, it meant that the player didn't get much opportunity to participate in skill-based challenges. So, in situations where the party had to engage in complex diplomacy, find some valuable information, or disable a trap, the Fighter could not participate, and the player could get bored.

I think this was a legitimate problem that directly arose from 3.5's skill system. Disconnecting skills from Int, making all characters have a base-line aptitude in skills, and focusing on skill challenges that involve the whole team are all means of counteracting that problem in 4E.
They somewhat remind me of Alternity's equivalent, which is, I'll wager, where they got the idea. I really like them, and they play very well, and this skill challenge system may actually be better than Alternity's was.
So skill challenges are things like:

Getting Mugged

Success: 2 Failures: 1
Results-
Success: Get Muggers wallet.
Failure: Roll Initiative.

Right?
So skill challenges are things like:

Getting Mugged

Success: 2 Failures: 1
Results-
Success: Get Muggers wallet.
Failure: Roll Initiative.

Right?

Kind of...

First off, I think skill challenges will generally at least have enough failures and successes required to give each player at least one turn. Second off, I don't think the DM is required to come up with a hard-coded reward if the players succeed. The benefits of success or penalties of failure may vary somewhat depending on how the players succeed or fail.
I get that but I wanted a simplistic answer that my overly analytical mind could understand.
I get that but I wanted a simplistic answer that my overly analytical mind could understand.

I think that would be more like

Mugging
Pass/Fail: 3/2
Success: prevent theft and apprehend subject.
Failure: Subject succeeds at theft or successfully escapes.
Suggested Checks: Perception (notice theft), streetwise (notice likely mugger/trail mugger), insight (identify mugger), athletics (overtake fleeing mugger/apprehend mugger)

Provide the amount of pass/fail for victory/defeat, indicate what could happen for a victory, and what could happen on a failure. The Suggested Checks is a good idea for novices; it will help guide DM's on how to use multiple checks to resolve the situation.
First of all, I just know what I've read on this thread.

Maybe I'm just a cynical bastard, but this seems like we're just adding a mini-game to "solve" relatively straightforward situations -- situations that otherwise could just be handled by normal roleplaying or carefully chosen actions by a smart player.

I can appreciate the "teamwork" aspect of multiple characters contributing to things, but why is rolling a die X number of times (mathematically there is bound to be an average number of rolls for any given task because everyone has about the same skills) better than rolling once or twice for relevant skills just to get a baseline mechanically on what the players are describing or trying?

Maybe I am not grasping the concept wholly, but with 3.5, you make maybe 1 skill check, and you pass or fail a particular thing. If you fail, you may be able to keep trying until you
"succeed," at least with certain skills. DM pretty much adjudicates what ends up happening.

With this new system, apparently you roll maybe 3 or 4 times, alternately succeeding and failing at I guess what must be discrete parts of the task you are attempting. DM pretty much decides in advance what it is you have to do to succeed.

I suppose you could say it gives you more chances to "succeed" at interesting things, but similarly it means there are more chances to fail doesn't it? Unless it is skewed so as to always give the players an advantage (by the numbers).


It also seems to be fairly restrictive, such as: "Opening this door is a skill challenge, everybody start 'gambling' and open this baby up!"

Player: Why can't I do it myself? Why can't I just kick it down? What if I set up some explosives by the door? What if we go find the key instead? How about I just sit here and do it until it's done and we just skip the rolling stuff?

DM: Uh... let's see whether you're capable of doing those sorts of things, shall we? Start rolling, and win like 4 times.

Opening a door is overly simplistic I imagine, but a similar concept appears to exist with this challenge system.

I agree with Runestar that any of this stuff was easily handled already. Less rolling to boot!

I just don't understand how they can take away rolling from some aspects of the game, and then add them to others.

EDIT: If we are just making this to help "newbie" players learn how things work, I think a paragraph or two showing examples of a party accomplishing a variety of things using skill checks would have worked fine if not better than a system for X successes to Y failures = complete.
http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/19670890/Keep_on_the_Shadowfell_Character_Errata
The skill challenge system is not designed to be used everytime a skill check is required. It's a tool for complex event involving some or all the party members.
If you try to use it beside logic or common sense it will not work, of course.
It will help DM designing some challenging event or trap outside of pure combat, and novice DM will have cool info how to rule/roleplay it.
Arkenos is correct. I thought Kouk was being difficult. It doesn't replace normal skill checks, it gives another element to the game. It is also how they are planning on handling many of the traps in the game.

The way I understand it, in 3.X, if your rogue muffed the search or disable device rolls, the whole team was royally scrued. Now, with the Skill Challenge method, there are several ways to figure out how a trap works and how to sabotage it and by the whole team making skill checks, you can overcome it.

But it doesn't replace simple checks. Just provides cool new ways to USE the skills that you have. Like a previous poster talked about with Fighter-types, outside of combat, they suxed. Big Time. Now with more skills and skill challenges, the Fighter's Athletics or Streetwise skill will come in handy.

And it is not too time consuming. If you were going to roleplay out the entire challenge it could take an entire session, but here it is 15 minutes to a half-hour and it is back to the action.

And it means no more "standing outside the door to Moria" type of sessions. I read the DM of the Rings webcomic where the writer used screenshots of the movie and then added his own dialogue to reflect what your average roleplayers would say in the same situation. Really Funny. But it brings to mind the scene in front of the door to Moria. Gandalf is standing there, trying to figure out how to open the friggin' door and everyone is just sitting around, waiting for him to do it they are there for hours in gametime. If it was a DnD session, the rest of the players would be like, "O.K. scrue this. It obviously is an impossible situation and so we better go around to Isengaard." Nobody is going wait for the one character to figure out the "right" solution. There have been many scenerios just like that one in 3.X. Everyone else waiting on the one character who has the skill needed to overcome the obstacle.

In 4E, this is now a Skill Challenge. There will be multiple ways to figure out how to open the door. Each player can contribute to the success and each one can help the team to fail. And think of the dice, man. Die-hard RPGers are always complaining that they don't get enought chances to roll dice outside of combat. This is another way to do so.

That's the way I see it. I look forward to seeing this in action.
Maybe I'm just a cynical bastard, but this seems like we're just adding a mini-game to "solve" relatively straightforward situations -- situations that otherwise could just be handled by normal roleplaying or carefully chosen actions by a smart player.

This is the real question, isn't it? But what about inexperienced or average players? Are they supposed to be jammed up because they don't know how to make it work? That is somewhat elitist. Coming up with something clever should be a bonus, not a necessity of playing the game. And if you can't figure it out, the game is stuck unless the DM "provides" a way to overcome the challenge. Which is kinda lame, really.

But again, it is not for every check, just for more difficult situations. You are right, it is somewhat of a mini-game, tho. But I don't see the problem with that. It gives the team something to do without having to always kill something.
Maybe I'm just a cynical bastard, but this seems like we're just adding a mini-game to "solve" relatively straightforward situations -- situations that otherwise could just be handled by normal roleplaying or carefully chosen actions by a smart player.

I agree with the "mini game" observation, but I think this is absolutely a good thing! Combat is basically a minigame to solve a specifc type of situation, and IMO, its the most fun part of the game. Now we might have some rules that will make skill encounters as much fun as combat.

I don't have a problem with "stop, skill challenge time" any more than I do saying "stop, initiative time."

Player: Why can't I do it myself?

Because it's a cooperative game. Just like even though the Wizard can kill all the orcs by himself, we still let the other guys roll initiative and declare actions too.

Why can't I just kick it down?

So you would like to start the skill challenge by using athletics?

What if I set up some explosives by the door?

So you would like to start the skill challenge by using Thievery or Arcana?
(depending if your explosives are magical in nature or not)

What if we go find the key instead?

So you would like to start the skill challenge by using Streetwise or Dungeoneering? (depending if the door is in a city or a dungeon)

How about I just sit here and do it until it's done and we just skip the rolling stuff?

Well, if don't want to participate you can just wait while the rest of the party resolves the encounter I guess. Sort of like that one guy who tried to play a pacifist and just stared out the window during our combat encounters.



I agree with most of your observations, Kouk, I just think my particular group will love the idea of having more rigidly defined "skill encounters" and guidance on some specific actions they can take. We play D&D mostly for the tactical combats, and anything that makes skill use more like combat and less of "one player makes one roll, then we're done." will be a great addition to my game.

On the other hand, if your group really hates it, simply drop the "mini-game" and use skills the way you always did in previous editions. Of course, you might want to break out the individual skills again. The change of skills from specific uses (disable device, open lock) into broad abilities (thievery) seems more suited to the skill challenge mini-game than 3.5's box of tools.
I kinda like the new system...
however, consider a party in dungeon and in skill check situation... what if a particularly dim player announces "I will use my Athletics" and then cannot provide a way to use said skill in that situation? Am I, as DM, just suppose to accept that he can do it somehow? or am I, as DM, suppose to tell him what his character does and then let the player make the rolls? or am I, as DM, suppose to announce that since he cannot come up with a way, he can no longer interact that round?

Overall, I do not really like 4E for a number of reasons... but the skill system is not one of them. It really looks to be fun and engaging for all.
I kinda like the new system...
however, consider a party in dungeon and in skill check situation... what if a particularly dim player announces "I will use my Athletics" and then cannot provide a way to use said skill in that situation? Am I, as DM, just suppose to accept that he can do it somehow? or am I, as DM, suppose to tell him what his character does and then let the player make the rolls? or am I, as DM, suppose to announce that since he cannot come up with a way, he can no longer interact that round?

Overall, I do not really like 4E for a number of reasons... but the skill system is not one of them. It really looks to be fun and engaging for all.

If the player can't think of anything, and the DM and other players don't want to offer him any suggestions, then he needs to think of a different skill to use. Alternately, he can think of something to do, and the DM will tell him what skill to use.
what if a particularly dim player announces "I will use my Athletics" and then cannot provide a way to use said skill in that situation? Am I, as DM, just suppose to accept that he can do it somehow? or am I, as DM, suppose to tell him what his character does and then let the player make the rolls? or am I, as DM, suppose to announce that since he cannot come up with a way, he can no longer interact that round?

As a DM you are supposed to manage such situation in a way that it makes for a more enjoyable experience for all the players involved including yourself.

That is to say if you as a DM think that the game benefits from the players thinking about how an intended application of a skill is supposed to look in the game world, then by all means demand that your players come up with more flavor than just 'I use skill X'. Depending on how good your players play along, you can impose penalties on checks that aren't backed up with fluff or outright deny the use of a skill if they can't imagine what they are going to do with it anyway.

However if you are fine with just moving the game along without bothering too much about flavour at that point, you probably won't be forbidden to just check if the skill is applicable and let them roll for it. How you describe the action, is entirely up to you.

Mind you however that players have a nasty habit of just looking at their character sheet, determining the skill they have the highest bonus in and insist on using that one before all others. While it's their right to try, I believe they should at least work their minds and make me as the DM believe that it could actually work in the situation given.
Maybe I'm just a cynical bastard, but this seems like we're just adding a mini-game to "solve" relatively straightforward situations -- situations that otherwise could just be handled by normal roleplaying or carefully chosen actions by a smart player.

You are taking what would have required a lot of RP and/or a single die roll and making it something that encourages everyone on the team to get, or to stay, involved in the game.
When the "party" tries to con the guard into letting them through the gate, why does no one ever participate outside of the rogue? Well, one reason is that they don't have a high enough bluff skill, and a bad bluff roll could be tantamount to telling the guard "Hah, we're only kidding. We aren't the entertainment, we are here to kill your employer!".
So if the encounter with the guard is going to be a mini-game anyway (bluff vs. sense motive), why not let it be a mini game that everyone can play?
Sounds like a D20 equivalent of World of Darkness 'Extended Roll'. Which is a simple but very effective system. Hell I'd even add a house rule for dramatic success and failure for making all rolls or failing all rolls hehe.
It really sounds like it works well. I was really hoping dnd4 was going to have a way for every class to contribute outside of combat, it seems to be happening.
One question I have though is does it work spontanteously? If the players for example decide to set an ambush for the orc king, would the dm be able to ad hoc it?

I also worry that wizard utility spells (invisability, fly, charm etc) will still solve these probs easier.
It really sounds like it works well. I was really hoping dnd4 was going to have a way for every class to contribute outside of combat, it seems to be happening.
One question I have though is does it work spontanteously? If the players for example decide to set an ambush for the orc king, would the dm be able to ad hoc it?

I also worry that wizard utility spells (invisability, fly, charm etc) will still solve these probs easier.

I don't really know, but it certainly sounds like you can wing it. Just set up the number of success/failures needed and have an idea of what "winning" and "losing" means and you're ready to go.

As for utility spells bypassing things, that's what's great about skill-challenge style conflicts. "Invisibility" or "Fly" would likely make a Stealth or Athletics roll "Easy", but it wouldn't automatically win the encounter. At most I could see a utility spell automatically passing a single skill roll, but even then I don't think that's how it will work.
You can do Skill Challenges in 3E just fine so they are not exactly new.
Also Skill Challenges have some disadvantages as they devalue planning as the PCs are now slaves of successes/failures. Making a plan which enables you to reach the goal before you get the required amount of successes? -> System fails. Making a plan which you can't screw up? -> System fails.
You can do Skill Challenges in 3E just fine so they are not exactly new.
Also Skill Challenges have some disadvantages as they devalue planning as the PCs are now slaves of successes/failures. Making a plan which enables you to reach the goal before you get the required amount of successes? -> System fails. Making a plan which you can't screw up? -> System fails.

True enough; if you redefine how skills work, then yes, you can most definately use this system for 3.5.

However, I don't really understand what you mean by "planning." You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men... Could you give me an example of what you mean?
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True enough; if you redefine how skills work, then yes, you can most definately use this system for 3.5.

However, I don't really understand what you mean by "planning." You know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men... Could you give me an example of what you mean?

Note that this are just quick examples. I don't know how these specific situation will work in the final game

Scenario 1.
Lets assume a Escape from Sembia like scenario. The PCs have to escape a city.
Successes to required to pass: 7
The Eladrin player avoids some guards once -> 1 Success
He is able to go to the city wall but still far away from the gate -> 1 Success
The the eladrin Feysteps over the wall and runs into the woods -> 1 Success(?) and the goal is reached

The skill challenge system fails because the player could reach the goal with clever planning and ability use.

Scenario 2.
The PCs must sneak into a castles dungeon to retrieve something.
Successes required to pass: 5
The rogue climbs the outer wall. -> 1 Success
He evades the patrolling guards -> 1 Success
He gets mistaken for a mercenary and bluffs them into leaving some areas unpatrolled ("I will do it") -> 1 Success
He picks some locks in order to find a map of the area -> 1 Success
He sneaks past a guard room -> 1 Success

That are 5 successes, yet the rogues is still very far away from the Dungeon. So is the rest of the way unproblematic? Thats very unrealistic.

The problem with skill challenges is that instead of goal driven (reach the dungeon, escape the city) they are success driven (succeed 5 times and you are in, no matter where in the fortress you actually are).
Note that this are just quick examples. I don't know how these specific situation will work in the final game

Scenario 1.
Lets assume a Escape from Sembia like scenario. The PCs have to escape a city.
Successes to required to pass: 7
The Eladrin player avoids some guards once -> 1 Success
He is able to go to the city wall but still far away from the gate -> 1 Success
The the eladrin Feysteps over the wall and runs into the woods -> 1 Success(?) and the goal is reached

The skill challenge system fails because the player could reach the goal with clever planning and ability use.

Or the eldarin player needs to make four more successful attempts between exiting the inn quietly and running off into the woods. Its not unreasonable to suggest that the party need to get a total of seven success. This I think is the key, a large number of success are required in total from a party of four, so the eldarin, the dwarf, the halfing and the human all succeed in sneaking past the guards (4), all of them but the dwarf succeed on a climb check (3) who has to be hauled by the human using athletics (1) for a total of 8 success in the same number of circumstances. For a single character three success seems perfectly reasonable. All that said your example only has a single successful skill check, the other two are just circumstances and not actual skills.

Scenario 2.
The PCs must sneak into a castles dungeon to retrieve something.
Successes required to pass: 5
The rogue climbs the outer wall. -> 1 Success
He evades the patrolling guards -> 1 Success
He gets mistaken for a mercenary and bluffs them into leaving some areas unpatrolled ("I will do it") -> 1 Success
He picks some locks in order to find a map of the area -> 1 Success
He sneaks past a guard room -> 1 Success

That are 5 successes, yet the rogues is still very far away from the Dungeon. So is the rest of the way unproblematic? Thats very unrealistic.

The problem with skill challenges is that instead of goal driven (reach the dungeon, escape the city) they are success driven (succeed 5 times and you are in, no matter where in the fortress you actually are).

The skill challenge is goal driven, but now you need to make sure that you are successful before you can reach that goal.

For your scenario of that dungeon I'd actually say each one of those is a skill challenge. The skill challenge seems to be a way to over come single encounter, not bypass a whole adventure. So instead of fighting the guards the characters can use a skill challenge to trick them, or sneak past them. So adventures are still goal driven, but now skills can be used by the whole party in place of a combat encounter if you're so inclined.
For your scenario of that dungeon I'd actually say each one of those is a skill challenge. The skill challenge seems to be a way to over come single encounter, not bypass a whole adventure. So instead of fighting the guards the characters can use a skill challenge to trick them, or sneak past them. So adventures are still goal driven, but now skills can be used by the whole party in place of a combat encounter if you're so inclined.

From what I have seen so far (Escape from Sembia and the Dev Block where the players talk instead of fight) skill challenges are not used for just one encounter.
From what I have seen so far (Escape from Sembia and the Dev Block where the players talk instead of fight) skill challenges are not used for just one encounter.

Sure enough, but the object of the adventure was to deliver a letter, not to "Escape," even though that is the chief skill challenge of the adventure. Just the same, I agree that a "break into a castle, steal blah, exit" is more suited for an adventure. As such, the individual encounters could either result in combat or skill challenges.

And as for your Eladrin scenario; I also must agree that skill challenges applying to the whole party must have skill checks made by the entire party. If this is the case, the eladrin would technically be breaking the rules, so the DM not giving the full allotment of benefits would be understandable, IE, if I were DMing and this were the case, the eladrin would escape, but all the other members of the party had to continue the challenge with all of the blunders, but none of the successes the character had made thus far. I would then proceed to make sure that all the failed checks resulted in a happening in the story that made the other party member's challenge more difficult (and tossing out failures that I cannot make relate.) The other players would, after the encounter, either chastise the high elf properly, or would give his player an ear-full outside of the game. Peer pressure is far better punishment than DM intervention.
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