Sep 9, 2008

Skill Challenges - As flexible as the rest of the system.

Greetings folks. I know I said I was taking some time off. I still am, but I had an hour to kill waiting for some plans. I have posted an abbreviated homerule version of the 4E skill challenge I have been using. In my limited experience (so far) it has proven to be a whole lot more fun than the boring old RAW. Consider me back on break now!

First thing, I REALLY like the idea of a contest of wits. Unfortunately, players are always either too smart for your tricks - or too dumb to see the clues right in fron tof their faces. As such, any "scripted" conversation or noncombat event rarely survives intact. This is a major pain when you have spent several hours getting everything just right. Queue the skill challenge.
A Sphinx's Riddle - Challenge to possibly ascertain clues to the answer.

A Hostage Exchange - Negotiate safe release of hostage

A Criminal Trial - convict criminal or defend innocent

A Sensitive Negotiation - Two warring dukes making peace, A contested trade agreement.

Just a couple of flavors, each with a hundred variations.

So the game is rolling along. You have just finished combat, and the BBEG of the moment sees his minions fallen about the room. He pulls a hostage out of an off-stage area. Putting a knife to her throat, he demands his freedom in exchange for the hostage.

At this point we will roleplay until the proverbial "brick wall" is hit. Eventually it will reach a point where nothing is happening. "We want this, I want that. You first, no You!" At this point, Either the players or the DM will call a skill challenge!

Players: Who's in/out? They declare participants, order, and relevant skills.

DM: Secretly determines D4 (or one per participating player) random skills that are auto-fails. This reflects the uniqueness of each individual challenge quite nicely.

After this phase, The DM allows the players to roleplay their skills. They make their rolls and if deserving, are awarded style points (a +1 to +3 to their roll.) The roleplaying always precedes the actual roll.

BAM! You have a satisfing encounter. In this particular situation, the warlord was particularly good with his diplomacy. The Ranger informed him that it was 5 days on foot to the nearest village, The rogue ninja'ed himself to cut off a quick "cut and run" (auto-fail: Athletics), and the fighter flexed and growled menacingly. Unfortunately, the fighters intimidation sets off the BBEG (auto-fail: Intimidate) 2 failures before 4 successes!

How does one recover from THAT particular pickle? It was...interesting. I now allow named NPC's to make skill challenges too, and guess what? IT works very well too! what a crazy night!

So there you go. IMHO a much more dynamic system for skill challenges. Now they are as important as combat! Anyone else altered 4E's mechanical underpinnings? Specifically, anyone figure out a slightly less abstract healing surge? There is gold in these here hills! 4E aint perfect yet, but with a little hard work, we can make it so!

Am I insane? Brilliant? Pathetically average with a decent idea? Let me know what you think of this. I've used it for 8 challenges so far, with two of those against the party. So far so good.


Ben Overmyer said...

Interesting. I'll try this on Thursday with my group.

Donny_the_Dm said...

Please! I would like to find any bugs I've missed before getting too smug :)

The first one was tough, had to lay down the rules and explain what was fair and such. Once the players found out that role-playing was going to be rewarded - instant game faces!

I forgot to mention, I also awarded XP for the challenges as well. I was using 50 per success to all involved. Might be too stingy. 100 will probably work.

Thanks for stopping by!

David said...

Interesting idea. I've been trying to figure a way of making diplomacy and bluffing less of a roll-to-win sort of situation, and something like this makes it a bit deeper and more interesting without also sacrificing the largely rules-based gameplay that my group tends towards.

Sounds fun to try at the least.

Brent P. Newhall said...

Pardon my lack of knowledge, but what's an auto-fail skill? Sounds to me like a skill that one has no training in, in which case, why would you choose it?

Donny_the_Dm said...

An auto-fail skill, is a skill chosen for use in a skill challenge that, regardless of roll result, are an auto-fail.

IMO, this seems to interject a little depth and danger to even random unfleshed NPC's. I am going to start using 1 auto-fail skill per participating PC. Works well in reverse too, with Party each picking an auto-fail skill (randomly) and bludgeoning an NPC with it.

Just a way to default to roleplaying with rules that leave a lot of that to the group anyway.

Anonymous said...

Anyone try it yet? Spounds like it will be a good way to do it.

No group to try it with, but the math seems pretty stable.

Donny_the_Dm said...

13 skill challenges, 4 of them enemy initiated. So far so good. Having the players describe their uses of the skills has been the high point so far.

How offended is the king that you used intimidate? Well, the fighter calling his honor guard Pretty, shiny things...resembling dew covered pansies gives you all the ammo you need to demand said knaves head!