Wednesday, February 04, 2009

4E Skill Challenges - Broadening the Band

I was listening to Episode 35 of Paul Tevis' excellent Have Games, Will Travel podcast and he mentioned the 'narrow band of success and failure' in RPGs. It strikes me that Skill Challenges are an excellent way to 'broaden this band' in 4E D&D. Mike Mearls has discussed creating better Skill Challenges in his excellent Ruling Skill Challenges series of articles in Dungeon magazine, but I think that we as DMs can take this even further.

We should be constructing our skill challenges (at least the more important ones) so that not only does success or failure have tangible consequences, but there is a broad band of consequences for that success or failure. I will try to create an example of this soon and post it for your comments...

5 comments:

Thasmodious said...

I love skill challenges and use them a lot. Some of my favorite challenges came from deviating from the structure of the challenge in the DMG. I've used a broad range of consequences several times, basing it on the ultimate number of successes. I've also broken down challenges into phases, such as a feast where the PCs engaged in conversation and mingled with locals, then danced, then were asked to entertain the guests with tales or displays of skill. They did well enough to impress the local ruler, get him to offer them a job hunting down an item he wanted, and offer them an ongoing mercenary contract with the town. The range of outcomes ran from being chased out of town to the above offer with less caveats and more gold.

fodigg said...

I think it's important also to design skill challenges so that failure never ends the story, but instead complicates the plot. The "bad stuff" is not death, but perhaps an unexpected detour or difficulty in achieving the current goal.

I think this is especially true when mixing skill challenges with combat encounters. The skill challenge component should complicate the combat encounter (and vice versa) but neither should render the other moot by ending the story abruptly.

For example, in the recent challenge/combat encounter we played through at Games Plus, I wonder if I had failed by thievery checks if we all would have drowned, rendering the combat with the ochre jelly moot.

AnthonyRoberson said...

Good observation fodigg. I probably would have had the water stop rising at 5' and the trap reset if you had failed to disarm the trap. That way the water would have served as just a complication to the battle with the ochre jelly.

fodigg said...

Are there any rules for fighting while swimming? I think that might have made for a good "ultimate failure" for that trap. To be lifted entirely off the ground and forced to swim and fight. The vaulted ceiling could have provided enough air for us to finish the encounter or die in the combat, but it would have certainly had changed the dynamic of the combat.

AnthonyRoberson said...

The DMG does have rules for fighting underwater. They basically boil down to a -2 to hit for weapons that you have to swing and a penalty (that I can't remember) for fire-based attacks.