Debunking skill challenges

I said it before: I find that Skill Challenges are hard to understand as a concept… As described in the DMG they seem to be anti-role playing.

I like to think of them more as a draft of how to use skills in an encounter with an NPC or a situation.

Instead of following a stricter script (or winging it entirely in improv) you get to use skill challenges to help you determine which way each interactions in the encounter go.

You determine how many « successful » interactions gets the players on the « easy road » and how may « failures » gets them through « harder road ».

On paper, skill challenges seems rigid – but in fact, when played out they should feel rather organic.

I like to think of them as:

  • A rough structure to help you flesh out an encounter.
  • A tool to allow the PCs skills (and not the players’) determine how NPCs react to the PCs’ actions.



2 thoughts on “Debunking skill challenges

  1. I played several RPGA games and I don’t recall a single skill challenge that I liked. I don’t think it is the DM’s fault, I think I agree with you that they appear to be anti-role playing.

    Nothing kills it more for me than to hear you have x numbers of successes before y number of failures. Huh wah? How is that role playing?

    I really like the idea you propose that it is a rough structure to assist fleshing out an encounter. You ideas with finding the children where great and would lead to a better role-play.

    Thinking out in advance and allowing the players to use their skills to find information or whatever is much better. If they fail in one area, another should naturally be available…

  2. @jstgtpaid :

    When we played with ChattyDM last week (Kobold Love), he sneaked a skill challenge in a scene – it was so sneaky that I almost missed it…

    During a scene, we were debating the merits of the Oracle’s prophecy with other dungeon dwellers who challenged the fact that mere Kobolds were supposed to be champions.

    The room in which the debate happened was filled with various creatures who were listening to every one of our debate.

    For every « round » of arguments we role played, Chatty made the talking player do a skill check (bonus awarded for the quality of the arguments).  If we beat the other team, the crowd reacted favorably and would give us a hand somehow during the inevitable fight that would be the conclusion of the argument.

    I don’t know if his challenge considered the possibility of actually winning the argument without resorting to fists, but playing it was near spectacular.

    The crowd cheered and booed as we debated – giving us bonuses to roll during the fight , creatures throwing stuff at our opponents, etc.

    That was eye opening.

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