Take the 2-minute tour ×
Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Follow-up question to Where can I find actual play examples of skill challenges?

The Dungeon Master's Guide 2 on pages 80-81 has an example of play of a skill challenge. The DM just describes the situation, and the players without further prompting and one after another all either propose a skill to use or propose an action that is easily identifiable as a skill check. Furthermore they all propose skills that apparently were foreseen in the list of primary skills for that skill challenge.

Given that real players don't act like that, how do I actually run a skill challenge? Dividing that into sub-questions:

1) At the start of the skill challenge, if I don't tell the players that this is a skill challenge, they are likely to mostly propose role-played actions that are hard to translate into a skill check, e.g. shouting out "Hold the thief!" in a crowded market instead of using Acrobatics to run after him. So, what rules do I tell my players? (opinions on that seem divided, see Should I announce to the players they are in a skill challenge?)

2) In response to a general "what do you do?" prompt, some players are more likely to answer than others. Should I impose rules that ensure that every player gets a turn in the skill challenge and participates? (see Should I take turns during a skill challenge?). Related to that, how do I handle player input that uses "we" instead of "I", e.g. "We run after the thief"?

3) How do I handle ideas which I like from players, but which don't really correspond to a skill? Like in the example above, shouting "Hold the thief!" sounds like a good idea to stop a thief from running away in a city. But it would translate badly into let's say a Diplomacy check, especially if the character isn't skilled in that.

4) What if somebody proposes a good idea which corresponds to a skill that isn't listed in the primary or secondary skills for that skill challenge?

5) Already partially answered elsewhere (How do I work Powers into Skill Challenges?), what do I do if the players want to cast spells instead of using skills?

6) Once the initial spontaneous idea have gotten used up, how do I prevent the players from simply checking their character sheet for their best skills and just proposing those? Even the DMG2 example of play has players just proposing "Can I make an Arcana check to see if I know anything about it?".

In summary, I would like to know how I as the arbiter organize the typically somewhat chaotic responses of my players into the rules corset of the given skill challenge, especially if that skill challenge comes from a printed adventure module. Please note that I am asking how to run a skill challenge within the rules of 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons. I am aware of alternative systems like Obsidian

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

At the start of the skill challenge, if I don't tell the players that this is a skill challenge, they are likely to mostly propose role-played actions that are hard to translate into a skill check, e.g. shouting out "Hold the thief!"

The players can, but don't need to know which skill/ability to roll. Pure RP actions are just fine even if they don't match a skill. You tell them what they can roll when they describe what they're doing, or whether they need to roll at all. Shouting at a crowded marketplace doesn't take much skill, but is unlikely to stop a skilled thief either, so they'll have to follow up with something else. Eventually they figure out they'll need to do better and use their skills. Also, just announcing the beginning of a skill challenge isn't necessarily a bad idea either.

In response to a general "what do you do?" prompt, some players are more likely to answer than others. Should I impose rules that ensure that every player gets a turn in the skill challenge and participates?

If this is a problem in your particular group, limiting rolls per player somehow is appropriate. It doesn't have to be either "free rolls" or "turn by turn" - you can decide that the character who succeeded in the last roll is busy carrying out the successful action and can't help with the next roll.

Also don't forget to mix up challenges with different skills; having a Stealth/Thievery/Streetwise -heavy challenge can be done single-handedly by Ron the Rogue if no other rules are imposed.

How do I handle ideas which I like from players, but which don't really correspond to a skill? Like in the example above, shouting "Hold the thief!" sounds like a good idea to stop a thief from running away in a city. But it would translate badly into let's say a Diplomacy check, especially if the character isn't skilled in that.

If it translates badly, don't translate it. Not everything they do needs to be rolled. Just tell them the action is impossible, or doesn't achieve the desired effect. If the idea is particularly crafty and clever, you can give them a free success. If the idea is particularly bad (tickling the sleeping dragon) you can give them a free failure. It's always up to you.

What if somebody proposes a good idea which corresponds to a skill that isn't listed in the primary or secondary skills for that skill challenge?

Let them do it. The primary and secondary skills listed are just suggestions anyway.

what do I do if the players want to cast spells instead of using skills?

It's the GM's call. Some powers have little combat value and yet see use extensively in the RP segments (for example, the Wizard's Cantrip). You can choose to limit the powers your party can use, and it makes sense as it prevents everything from boiling down to combat, but if you do so make sure it's got a sensible reason, like the thief constantly disappearing from view where they're hard to target.

Once the initial spontaneous idea have gotten used up, how do I prevent the players from simply checking their character sheet for their best skills and just proposing those?

I don't consider this a huge problem myself. Skill challenges are supposed to be an opportunity for the players to use their best skills. As long as they describe what they're doing, let them go with it. The example in the guide isn't a misuse of the mechanic - for players who don't know the monster manuals and other guides inside-out it's often difficult to remember which knowledge skill (History, Arcana, Religion, Nature...) matches which topic.

share|improve this answer

2 & 5: Quite frankly if it's such a dynamic situation I almost always go around the table and ask all the players present how their characters respond to the situation at hand. If it allows them time to work together, they can have a little powwow but ultimately, any character that isn't spoken for gets to be by their player in the end. If needbe, it can be broken down into actual action turns if timing matters. You could even treat powers or unconventional actions as a secondary skill check (see next answer section) with the DC as per the skill challenge. Of course, it's entirely possible for a Warlord to command someone willing to listen in the audience to grapple a thief and cut down on chase time significantly. Any action, regardless of power source tends to work essentially the same. If it's Arcane it's mechanically the same as martial or primal but may invoke different synergies or resistances. It's the flavor text that really sells the effect in a lot of players' eyes.

1, 3, 4, &6: > DMG1, pg73

When a player’s turn comes up in a skill challenge, let that player’s character use any skill the player wants. As long as the player or you can come up with a way to let this secondary skill play a part in the challenge, go for it. If a player wants to use a skill you didn’t identify as a primary skill in the challenge, however, then the DC for using that secondary skill is hard. The use of the skill might win the day in unexpected ways, but the risk is greater as well. In addition, a secondary skill can never be used by a single character more than once in a challenge.

In essence, the rules anticipate the players acting outside of DM expectation. If it's not on your Primary list, treat it as secondary for one attempt and see where it takes you. This of course limits oddball suggestions and trying to ping min/maxes to one use if it's at least a feasible relation to the task at hand since it's one try per unforeseen solution. As the DM you can always choose to add anything to the Prime list if it really is that great of a solution. Some player steal a horse and turn this into Ride checks? Bring it. It just became extremely relevant.

All in all, while you can engineer skill challenges, it really is up to you as the DM how strictly you adhere to them. Too loose and why bother. Too strict and players start flipping tables. It's all about keeping the game fun for everyone.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.