Understanding skill challenges

I’m re-reading my previous attempt embryo at writing a skill challenge and comparing it with the skill challenge At-Will‘s author (mysteriously known as admin) sent me last week.

I think I’m starting to understand more about skill challenges…

See, part of what I do for a living is being an analyst and a software developer – I like to understand, I like rules and I’m used to sticking to rules.

As odd as it sounds, computers don’t work any differently – they follow their rules to the letter and our human understanding is usually the thing that fails.

My point – for, gasp, I have one – is that I believe that the « rules » aspect of skill challenges, as described in the DMG has blinded me.

I looking at skill challenges as a way to completely orchestrate a non-combat event as some sort of a dice ‘mini game’ based on skills.

That’s not exactly wrong, but even more so – not exactly right.

It pretty much had me sand-boxing and railroading players into a multiple answers gauntlet, in which the dice tell you if you had it right.

It felt odd because – to me – RPG is mostly about « thinking outside the box ». And I was trying to build a bigger box.

Building my skill challenge, I was trying to figure out what was the story line I was going for and what my players were allowed to do.

Here is a recap of what I learned:

  • A Skill challenge’s goal is not about letting you avoid improvisation – it helps you prepare for it.
  • Skill challenges are not just a ‘dice mini game’ – role play and creative thinking on the part of the player play a great role. The DM too!
  • Skill challenges force you to consider failure as well as success as an interesting outcome.
  • Planning cases for primary and secondary skills helps creating a more complete and fleshed out encounter.



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  1. I like your comment about not letting skill challenges railroad our players. I know I’ve ran a few skill challenges and that’s exactly what happened. I railroaded them into a predetermined result. I like your idea that the skill challenges should help us know what to do.

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