View Full Version : [4e] Athistaur's Skill Challenge Toolbox [PEACH]

2008-07-29, 06:21 AM
Guidelines for Skill Challenges

These Tools are designed to be used as part of your skill challenge. You can use every chapter or just some of them. Most of those tools are just guidelines on how to run a skill challenge. Only a tiny amount of houserules or rule 0 is needed.

Your Tools

Primary Skills and Basics
Suggestions on how to handle those (no rule changes)
Suggestions when to choose which complexity (no rule changes)
Difficulty Class
Suggestions which DC's to apply (no rule changes)
Action Points
Houserule to allow Action Points in a Skill Challenge
Houserule to include critical rolls in a Skill Challenge
Compexity and Conditions
Core Tools, make your skill challenge challenging, involve players and encourage the use of multiple skills.
How to build a skill challenge
Suggestions which conditions you want to use for your need.
Time Challenges
A suggestion how to make the skill challenge a pure race against the time, using only the given conditions.

Now, why am I writing this? There are several problems with skill challenges, some of those are confirmed to be problems by the designers, some already have been erratad. A lot remain.
Given the concept for skill challenges it's mainly up to the DM to design a skill challenge worth an encounter. The skill challenge was errataed, but mainly by deleting whole paragraphs without replacing them. What's left is basicly a 'roll skill check' and succeed often enough before 3 failures. Some examples on how to spice it up are given, but I'm missing a guideline how many obstacles are appropriate or how to involve several players instead of just the one with the best skill doing the same check all over.
The chance of success is consider to be a problem as well. With any skill check the difficulty is jumping around if a player levels up. Either the checks gets harder or a lot easier. The chance to complete a skill challenge could get ridicilously low .. below 2%. Skill challenges of high complexity were harder then those of low complexity, but the other way round was possible as well.

These are some guidelines i would propose for skill challenges. Mostly they do not change any given rule, as the whole design of the skill challenge is up to the DM anyway.

What is a skill Challenge?
The answer isn't easy. In this case a skill challenge is a part of an adventure that requires skill to complete, and equals an encounter in difficulty, impact and playtime. A skill challenge for a single player is fair game, but keep in mind that's the same as a fight for a single player of the party (aka duell), and may be boring for the bystanders.
The skill challenge should not replace roleplaying, it is intended to offer a framework.

Primary Skills and Basics
Choose 3 primary skills for the skill challenge, these will have a moderate DC. The players will be informed or hinted at what the primary skills are. Usually a primary skill will always score a failure or a success.

Secondary Skills
All skills which are not listed as primary skills are secondary skills. Usually a secondary skill has a hard DC and can score a success only once during a skill challenge. The player has to come up with a way the skill contributes to the challenge.

Time and rounds
A skill challenge will be measured in rounds if necessary. The duration of a round depends on the nature of a skill challenge and the Actions taken by the players. A round kann have a duration of a combat round or several weeks.
During each round, each player may make exactly one skill check on his turn, which contributes to the skill challenge. No order/initiative is given for the players and a player may freely skip a round.

Choose the Complexity of the skill challenge. The skill challenges get considerably tougher with higher complexity. The complexity could equal roughly the appropriate number of players involved in the skill challenge. If your skill challenge should keep 4 players busy, choose a complexity of 4.
If you want to use the tools from the chapter about conditions, you're allowed to include more conditions with higher complexity.

Table used for complexity:





(This is the table from Dungeon Master's Guide, after Errata.)

Difficulty Class
Below is given a the table of the Difficulty Class by level, taken from the errata. To fix a further problem with the DC's, the difficulty of some levels is increased.
{table=head]Level|DC Easy|DC Moderate|DC Hard
(DC's from the errata)
These values seem too easy at first, and easy they are. Just keep in mind that a level appropriate skill check of moderate difficulty means a 50% chance of success for a untrained being with average abilitys. You can increase the level of a skill check or a skill challenge if you want a thouger check. After all, not every task a level 1 character considers doing is a level 1 task. I recommend to usually use the DC one or two lines below the player levels for skill challenges (and even skill checks), without raising the level of the skill challenge itself.

Action Points
A player may up to once during a skill challenge spend an action point to do one of the following:

Reroll a check. This reroll can not score a failure. It can score a success or nothing. Other penalitys for failed checks may apply.
Make an additional check during the same round. This allows a player to make 2 skill checks during a round and scoring up to 2 success or failures in a single round.

You would need to include this as house rule.

Rolling a 1 is always a failed check (not neccassary a faiure).
Rolling a 20 is always a passed check and usually a success.

Compexity and Conditions
A skill challenge is modified by certain conditions, making it more difficult or easier. The dm has a budget of negativ conditions equal to the complexity of the skill challenge. The dm can increase his Budget for negativ conditions by including positiv conditions. Increase the level of the skill challenge by one for each two negativ conditions over the budget or decrease the level of the skill challenge for each 2 negativ conditions under the budget. All conditions can be taken several times and some conditions cost douple, marked as douple negatives.

The negative Conditions
{table=head]Time pressure|
douple negative condition, rounds, involve player

{colsp=2}The party is chasing a target.

{colsp=2}Every round add an automatic 1/2 failure.[/table]

douple negative condition, rounds, involve player

{colsp=2}Only the strength of the fighter keeps the ceiling from collapsing.

{colsp=2}The DM choose a skill. Every round the players need to try a check in this skill or score an automatic failure.[/table]

negative condition, variety

{colsp=2}"All that's left now is to jump over this chasm."

{colsp=2}The DM choose a skill. At least one success in this skill is needed to solve the skill challenge. If only this last success remains all players with this skill trained will be hinted at it. [/table]

negative condition, scrape

{colsp=2}"You jump to short and were unable to reach the other side of the chasm."

{colsp=2}The DM choose a skill. A failure in this skill results in one or more bad consequenzes. closes off this approach
The player who failed the check lose a healing surge
increase the DC of other skill checks by +1

negative condition, scrape

{colsp=2}The fee for a scholar or a ritual.

{colsp=2}The DM choose a skill. Each attempt in this skill requires a fee of 50gp per level of the skill challenge. Or a similar cost.[/table]

negative condition, variety

{colsp=2}"You've read through all those books, they can't help you any further."

{colsp=2}The DM choose a skill. Only a given number of successes(about 1-4) can be scored in this skill. OR each success increases the DC for further checks in the same skill by an additional +2.[/table]

douple negative condition, rounds, involve player

{colsp=2}"Sailing doesn't happen on its own."

{colsp=2}Whenever a player choose to do nothing during a round of the skill challenge, he scores an automatic 1/2 failure. [/table]

negative condition, specialist

{colsp=2}"Stay back, you can't help me here."

{colsp=2}The DM reduce the number of primary skills for the skill challenge to one or two. OR the DM choose a primary skill. The DC of that skill increases to hard.[/table]

negative condition, specialist

{colsp=2}"The Duke refuses to be intimidated by anybody."

{colsp=2}The DM choose a secondary skill. The DC of that skill is hard and further increased by +10.[/table]

{table=head]Sudden End|
double negative condition

{colsp=2}One false move and your all going to drop.

{colsp=2}Decrease the number of failures needed by one.[/table]

The positive Conditions
{table=head]more failures|
positive condition, ease

{colsp=2}"Ok, lets try this once more"

{colsp=2}Increase the number of failures needed by one. You can't choose this condition and the 'Sudden End' condition.[/table]

{table=head]Follow up|
positive condition, variety

{colsp=2}"You learn that the ghost never received his last rites."

{colsp=2}The DM choose a skill. The first success opens up the additional single use of a secondary skill at easy or moderate DC.[/table]

positive condition, rounds, ease

{colsp=2}"As the rogue joined you you were able to keep the door shut."

{colsp=2}The DM choose a skill. During each round after any failure in this skill another charakter may try the same approach. The failure is discarded in favor of the new result.[/table]

positive condition, ease

{colsp=2}You may look for hours at the puzzle before you finaly solve it.

{colsp=2}The DM choose a skill. The players can't score failures in this skill. This is best used together with Time pressure. [/table]

positive condition, rounds

{colsp=2}"Your insight revealed important information."

{colsp=2}The DM choose a skill. The first success with the given skill provides a minor benefit. For example:
some Information about the nature of other conditions
some early treasure
reducing the DC of a primary skill to easy until the end of the round
an additional success

positive condition, variety

{colsp=2}"You spot a shortcut to aid your cause."

{colsp=2}The DM choose a secondary skill. The skill can be used throughout the skill challenge at a easy DC. Using this skill doesn't count as a success or failure for the challenge, but instead provides a +2 bonus or a -2 penalty to the next character's skill check. (Aiding with a moderate DC doesn't count as positive or negative condition) [/table]

positive condition

{colsp=2}"I think we'll find a job for everyone."

{colsp=2}Add a further primary skills at medium difficulty.[/table]

{table=head]Partial Victory|
douple positive condition, ease

{colsp=2}You were unable to convince the duke, but at least he's not going to hinder you in any way.

{colsp=2}If the players fail to complete the skill challenge, but they would have needed only one or two further successes they get a partial victory. They do not get the reward of a full victory. They basicly have succeeded in the given task, but they receive some penality. For example in an interrogation they receive only parts of the needed Information.[/table]

How to build a skill challenge
It is still possible to make impossible challenges or far to easy challenges. But it is a help which tools you've got and how to apply them. Build a skill challenge by thinking of the given challenge first, and how many players you want to have involved. Then choose the primary skills and add the obvious conditions for the skill challenge. If your above or below your budget you can either roll with it and tune the level of the skill challenge or add further conditions and think of reasons why they are in effect.

Following is an overview how the conditions can help you. Conditions in parentheses may help in the specified cases, but it's not for sure.
Certain conditions are useful to keep several players involved, they have the keyword 'involve player' :
Time pressure, Uphold, Compulsion
Basicly the same conditions require to keep track of rounds in a skill challenge. Those have the keyword 'rounds'.
Time pressure, Uphold, Compulsion, Repeatable, (Rewarding)
Certain conditions are useful to encourage the use of multiple skills, those have the keyword 'variety':
Required, Depleting, (Follow up, Aiding)
With partys of 4 or more people 3 failures can be dissatisfying. Some conditions are able to ease this problem, those have the keyword 'ease':
Partial Victory, Unpretentious, Repeatable, more failures
Certain conditions are useful to let the specialist shine. They have the keyword 'specialist':
Specialistic, (Impossible)
Certain negative conditions may bother the players but do not stop them from completing the challenge itself. You may use these conditions if you want the challenge itself easy or you may add those conditions even if you already used up your budget and simply raise the level of the challenge without making it too hard. Those conditions have the keyword 'scrape':
Expensive, Precarious

It's strongy recommended to include at least one 'involve player' condition and one 'variety' condition. For skill challenges for partys of 4 or more people it's recommended to include at least one 'ease' condition.

Time Challenges
A interesting variant is to include time pressure twice, for 1 failure every round and to apply unpretentious to every single skill. You can assume that applying unpretentious to all primary skills and a secondary skill is roughly the same as applying unpretentious to every skill. This means you would consider this 'only' 4 uses of unpretentious and 4 negative conditions through time pressure canceling each other out.
This variant of the challenge lasts for exactly 3 rounds and is a pure race against time, during which every player can do his best to help as they can't score failures only successes.
You can still apply a lot of the remaining conditions as normal to spice it up.

As the above hasn't been playtested too much the numbers could be off. I did some math to make the chance of succeding reasonable.
As an example on how to use these tools i apply them to some of the examples in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

The Negotiation
Complexity 3
Primary skills: Diplomacy, Bluff,Insight

Follow up - Diplomacy (followed by History)
Rewarding - Insight (gives Information about the Intimidate Condition)
Impossible - Intimidate

The remaining Budget is 4, the challenge could be too easy. To keep to the example in the book i would decrease the level of the challenge by 2 levels.
In the Errata the number of failures is set to 3 now, this would make the challenge sleigthly more difficult.

The Dead Witness
Complexity 2
Primary skills: Diplomacy, Bluff, Insight, History

Follow up - Insight (followed by Religion)
Precarious - Bluff (allows the Ghost to tell a lie)
General - (additional primary skill)

The remaining Budget is 3, the challenge could be too easy. I would propose to spice it up by adding Time Pressure once, as the spell is going to end soon, and the players still want to ask questions. Add depleting to history (with the +2 DC after every success) as it gets harder to find more and more relevant information of the ghosts past.

Urban Chase
Complexity 5
Primary skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Streetwise

Precarious - Acrobatics (lose one healing surge)
Precarious - Athletics (lose one healing surge)
Aiding - Perception
Specialistic - Streetwise

The remaining Budget is 3, the challenge could be too easy (for 5 people at least). I would propose to add Time pressure once or twice to the challenge and further add Uphold - Athletics. Every Round at least one member in the chase would have to check, because after all they a running most of the time.
In the Errata the number of failures is reduced to 3 now. This would balance the budget.

The Interrogation
Complexity 1
Primary skills: Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate

Precarious - Bluff (closes off this approach)
Precarious - Intimidate (closes off this approach)

The remaining Budget is -1, this challenge is harder then the previous challenges. Maybe up the needed failures by 1.
In the Errata the number of failures is increased to 3 now. This would perfectly balance the budget.

Lost in the Wild
Complexity 2
Primary skills: Endurance, Nature

Precarious - Endurance (party loses one healing surge)
Precarious - Nature (party loses one healing surge)
Uphold - Endurance
Uphold - Endurance
Uphold - Nature
Specialistic - (less than 3 primary skills)

The challenge exceeded its Budget by 7. Given 3 Uphold's alone this challenge needs at least 3 people to solve properly. Obviously the challenge is meant to involve the whole party, so the complexity should be higher. However the reduced number of primary skills hinder the whole party to participate.
Rebuild with the tools given here the challenge would be about 3 levels above the party level. It's would be a short but troubeling challenge and is likely to frustrate the party.

What do you think, does this 'feel right' ?
Would you propose other numbers?
Do you have questions to the reasoning behind some decisions?

Tadanori Oyama
2008-07-29, 11:35 AM
This is quite helpful. I've been trying to work out something of a system for my Skill Challenges. The conditions list is extremely helpful, I will be making use of many conditions. The "Uphold" condition especially.

I'm using alot of skill challenges with both my groups right now, I'll be more than happy to play test some of those numbers and give you feedback.

2008-07-31, 06:58 AM
Thank you, I'm glad it may be of help for somebody.
I'm interested in the system you had in mind, perhaps it's possible to mend the better parts together.

Further I'm thinking about using abilities like charisma in a skill challenge as primary skill, but i can't see them on par with the skills. The main difference is the +5 Bonus for a trained skill, you don't get those with abilities of course.
If the DC is the same as for a skill, you would consider every check on the skill 'hard' no matter what. If the DC is eased by 5 you would consider every skill check easier or as difficult as yout trained skills.
I tend towards "The abilities are always 'hard', favoring skills for the skill challenge."

2008-08-03, 06:18 PM
I've done further researching and looked deeper into the numbers.
WotC as openly admitted that the skill challenges aren't working like 'hoped'.

I included the changes from the errata, they looked too easy at first, but they do make some sense. I further add the part about critical success and expanded on using Action Points a bit. Those two ideas can be found as well in other approaches to fix or redesign the skill challenges and they seem pretty intuitiv.
I made a minor change to the Difficulty Class table. They changes off difficulty are smoother this way. Looking further into the numbers, the chance to complete a skill challenge is extremly easy to debalance. If yo increase the DC by 5 points for example (ex. hard) the chance to complete the skill challenge jumps from 50% to 2%.
I found another interesting approach of partial success. It means that besides total victory and total defeat there are further stages, for example the interrogation earns only a part of the information. I'll try to include it.

[edit]Further update: I included partial success and a "package" of conditions called Time challenge.
[edit]Update: Added a table of Contents