This question is inspired by Baker's discussion of "What's at Stake?" and "Skill Challenges: All in the Cards"

I run many of my 4e games as pregen adventures and the skill challenges tend to be extraordinarily flat. I would like a methodology using one or both of the above topics, narritivist or simulationist, to make the pre-generated skill challenges more meaningful.

What's at Stake? provides a narrative framework to make skill checks meaningful. All in the Cards provides a simulation of random events within the context of a skill challenge designed to simulate the inequities of hazards and other difficult transits. All in Cards simulates the What's at stake in an environmental challenge, it serves less well in more narrative challenges and is difficult to adapt to a pre-generated challenge in a scenario.

While All in the Cards presents excellent examples of how to instantiate environmental hazards, my intuition is that it could be combined with the "What's at stake?" theory to integrate into any skill challenge. How can I use What's at Stake to turn All in the cards into a narrative challenge framework? Specifically, how can I take pre-generated lists of primary and secondary skills, and create the All in the Cards style cards with ways of informing what's at stake in challenges that are more narrative than environmental?


2 Answers 2


There is a breakdown here, I think, between big skill challenges and small skill challenges. So for big skill challenges, follow Gamefiend's direction in his All In The Cards post. For each skill challenge do the following:

  1. Outline the major challenge, in the example this is crossing a desert"
  2. Give some failures. In his example this involved loosing surges and time and equipment.
  3. Come up with some situations that represent the crossing, these are your cards and have primary and secondary skills.

Really this is standard how to run skill challenge stuff.

Off the top of my head, here’s another example.

Objective: Find the ritual used in the 3rd epoch of the rising of the star Aderean to bind the “King of Sighs and Tears.” By the wizards of the 14th Potentate of Pussiance from the texts found in the Library of Incolsolate Mourning.

Failures: Summon a demon, take more time, earn the enmity of a librarian

Card 1: Navigate the Bureaucracy Primary Skill: Diplomacy Secondary Skills: Arcane, Insight

Card 2: The Library is its own, scary ecosystem Primary Skill: Nature Secondary Skill: Dungeoneering, Arcane, Perception

The second post is a little different, and can be used for all skill resolutions. It's basically a back and forth to force folks to be more narrative. I recommend a token of some sort (maybe a big crystal) that starts in a neutral spot. The gamemaster starts with a negative narrative and pushes the rock towards the player (that’s your negative 2) the player than narrates how cool they are and moves the rock back to the neutral spot. Because I’m a nice gm I might allow them to move it towards me (getting a +2) if the table all enjoys it or I really like the idea/roleplaying.

So if I continue the above example, if the card turned over is “Navigate the Bureaucracy” I might say “The assistant head librarian in charge of visitor services brings out the paperwork, a large stack that requires a poetic composition in the style of the 2nd dynasty.” I move the stone, that’s a -2.

One of the players grins, and points out that they passed their exams in style and takes the brush and in an elegant hand writes a formal poem that alludes to the story of a recalcitrant librarian (sort of like our assistant) and the terrible things that happened to them when the King of Sighs and Tears last rose. She then roleplays a little bit of back and forth with the librarian, rather scarily. The table is appreciative so not only do they get the +2, they get an additional +2.


They already overlap to a significant degree. The stakes in All In The Cards are pre-established: the secondary check gives you a bonus on the primary check; the primary check earns you a success toward fulfilling the main challenge, or offers you a challenge to overcome (note the list of failure possibilities). What parts of What's At Stake? do you think are absent from All In The Cards?


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