I've been playing in a D&D 4e campaign for almost a year now, and as a Bard for the last several months. At 15th level, my character's Perception is 28 (38 passive), with Insight coming in second at 20.

My problem is that when we get to skill challenges, I am often torn between using what I feel would fit roleplay-wise and what would be the "smart" choice. For example, my GM may set up a skill challenge along the lines of "You come to a wall 15 feet high and are being pursued by three giants. They are close behind you and you must find a way through or over it before they reach you". I could quickly say "I look for handholds with which to scale the wall" and roll a Perception check (undoubtedly passing). When my turn comes around the table again, I would want to do something other than Perception again, but at minimum I'm losing 8 points to the roll and increasing my chance of failure drastically.

We have tried only using each skill only once in a skill challenge; the GM has given bonuses for creative ideas using alternate skills, and we even tried a double-roll once (one to decide the skill we must use and the 2nd for the skill itself… meeting with great failure).

Has anyone come up with a creative way to get more than a handful of skills into the game?


3 Answers 3


What I have always done is create a core set of skills that I see is necessary to complete the skill challenge. Climbing a wall I usually think is a bad one, because you tend to only have one key skill for climbing. I would probably just make that an athletics skill check and players can aid each other to get over the wall.

For an actual skill challenge, I generally figure out what I would consider the primary and secondary skills of that challenge. Primary skills would actually result in a success or failure, while secondary skills either give a bonus to one skill roll (usually a +2) or give some significant information. If a player can tell me a creative way in which they would use a skill that isn't on either of those lists, I'll let them use that skill to aid another player.

I tend to make all skill rolls limited in some manner, either to the number of aids that can be given to a player or just the number of times a check can be done. This greatly encourages players to try out new skills, especially when things are going bad and they are "running out" of skills to use.

Example: Convincing the Merchant to give you information

Three successes before two failures

Primary Skills:

  • Diplomacy - you sweet talk your way around the merchant
  • Intimidate - you mention that you will get this information, one way or another
  • Bluff - you pretend the information isn't worth as much as it is

Secondary Skills (only two can be applied to a single primary roll):

  • Insight (can't be used for the first primary roll) - you use insight to determine the reaction of what you are doing (+2 to primary skill)
  • Perception (max two) - You peek around the shop, looking for clues (+2 to primary skill)
  • Streetwise - You use your knowledge of the streets to remember information about this merchant (+2 to primary skill)
  • Arcane (one use) - You determine that one of the items that the merchant is passing off as rare and magical only has a basic enchantment on it to make it look impressive (+5 to intimidate or bluff check)

From this I personally can think of a few ways that players could use other skills to help. Maybe religion to help convince the merchant that his patron deity would want him to help the party or History to remember that this merchant used to be a adventurer just like you.


I see two issues here:

One: You've built a specialized character who is only good at a couple of skills. That will narrow your choices as much as if you were role-playing Stephen Hawking.

So, the solution to that is to specialize less. :-)

Second: As @Xphile points out, the GM should restrict the appropriate skills in a situation. Some characters will be ineffective in some situations. That's okay; that's why RPGs encourage a well-rounded party.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Well as to building so specialized, I'm trained in a total of 8 skills as a multiclassed bard. The majority of my skills hover around 18, which is respectably high, but not to the degree of perception at 28. I think I'll being up to our GM your second suggestion though, restricting skills. I would enjoy using some of my lower stats to put a little risk into the check without the glare from around the table for possibly adding another failure. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 18, 2011 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, you've built a specialized character who is extremely good at one skill, and good at several others. My point stands, though. ;-) That is the tradeoff of specializing so much in Perception. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 18, 2011 at 20:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ One other thing: if the other players are glaring at you because you've introduced the possibility of failure, your group has larger issues. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 18, 2011 at 20:57

Turn the question around:

Why don't players feel comfortable using these skills?

First, look at the expected DCs. Most skill challenges at level 15 should feature moderate and easy checks. DC 15 for easy, DC 22 for moderate. Only the real stretches should feature hard checks.

Second, skill challenges should be presented when failure is interesting and there's more than one way to solve a problem such that players can present agency. (See also this.) If challenges are too hard, players will respond by trying to map their best skills to the challenge: reducing variety, enjoyment, and characterization.

The first thing to do in this is to rebuild trust. Trust can be rebuilt here by explicitly noting the skill DCs of the challenge. Players will then be able to choose whether or not to advance characterization at the expense of failure. Failure in a skill challenge should present complications or a "yes, but" rather than simple failure. If players see that failure in skill challenge can lead to more Fun* (partially in the dwarf fortress sense, of course), they will be less risk adverse.

The second thing to do is to make sure that skill challenges matter. By making them multi-tined forks in the plot, able to add complications proportionate the the characters' actions, characters will choose not only skills that auto-succeed, but skills that shape the end consequence to suit their personal requirements. Climbing a wall is boring. If it's a time thing, the group makes climb checks, and probably contrives some kind of rope sling to make sure the wizard doesn't die. Otherwise, who cares?

This way, most checks are moderate, there are real reasons to use multiple skills. For even more skill uses check out Serious Skills, and checks that don't really contribute are demoted to secondary, granting a bonus to a subsequent roll.


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