Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition – Skill Challenges

Yes, it’s me, talking about D&D again. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of the game but this new edition really has me excited. I wanted to hate it. A friend mentioned that he had it pre-ordered and I scoffed at him. Then another friend mentioned how excited he was and I shook my head. Then I took a look for myself… and shook my head again. I had to admit, it sure looked cool.

There are plenty of sites out there that are talking about D&D and I suppose that there really doesn’t need to be another one. Still this site tends to talk about a little bit of everything (which I think is what makes it kind of cool, if I do say so myself) and let’s face it, a new version of D&D is a pretty big deal and is in fact part of the aforementioned “everything”.

I actually don’t want to write too much about D&D 4th right now, I figure that I can write more when it comes out but I did want to mention their idea of Skill Challenges.

A Skill Challenge is almost like an extended roll in the storyteller system but it allows you to use more than one skill to complete the challenge. I highly suggest people click on the link above and check out their example, did you do that? You all set now? So we can go on without me having to retype everything they wrote but you will understand what I am talking about? You sure? Do you need a bathroom break? I’m not stopping or turning around once I get going so you better go now. Good? Okay then let’s move on.

I once had a character in a Champions game (a super hero game for those that don’t know) that had an insane amount of skill points in Botany and Floral Arrangement. Yes, it never came up but it was really cool to be able to make jokes about. On the other hand I remember a player randomly having Plumbing as a skill in a Battlelords game and being able to gain some allies with it because they had been cut off from civilization and none of them knew how to fix their water system.

So now we all know what Skill Challenges are let’s talk about what they do for us. In a lot of games Skills end up feeling like a needed part of the game but are not really all that much fun. Sure, your social character needs his social skills, and that doesn’t feel too weird but taking things like History or Science or Religion most of the time is just a “Well, my character would have it, I guess I should take it” kind of thing. In D&D 4th they really want to reward people for having certain skills. And the DM gets to set up these kinds of Challenges ahead of time in the same way they would set up an encounter.

I really like this concept. It works for more than just social situations but I see it being most valuable in them. Often the social parts of my D&D game became rather bogged down as the players wanted to get on to the next adventure. However if the game allows for a system, so they know exactly how well they are doing, I think it will keep more people interested.

I can think of several times in the past (one involving a certain Lord of Shadow who will forever be Shadow Guy thanks to Scott) where this kind of system would have been incredibly useful. A lot of times I feel like I need to bring things down to one rather unexciting roll or just forgo rolling and have players talk their way through it. Yes, this can be good roleplaying but let’s face it, a social PC is probably far more charming than the person playing him.

Yes, this is just another piece of the D&D 4th puzzle and yes it is just another thing I am excited about. Still, I think it stands out as it is something that feels very new but still works well with the D&D game and quite frankly the D&D player. I have tried to run D&D games as something other than what they were intended to be and quite frankly the rules get in the way and the players are often less impressed. When people sign up for D&D they are expecting a certain kind of game, if you give them something else they might not be too happy. This system allows you to keep with their expectations but still fit in some situations that would have felt awkward and out of place in 3.0 or 3.5.

That’s about it. I just wanted to make a few remarks about Skill Challenges. I would love to hear what other people think of them so please feel free to comment.

  1.  
    avatar
    Scott Says:

    I feel obliged to point out that Shadowrun has something like this, or at least a partial analog… generally the skill(s) used don’t change during the challenge/test though.

    Kind of an interesting idea in itself. I do think it’s better than a one-off roll (unless speed is of the essence), though at the same time I think role playing could be encouraged and there have got to be ways to better incorporate it without mandating oscar performances from players.

    While I know that player expectations with D&D are not as often open to full role playing… this system strikes me as a bit choose your own adventure. Nothing wrong with those books (they, and others similar (GrailQuest!) were a significant part of my childhood and early reading experience), but for me it does serve to indicate D&D’s stance as some kind of RPG/board game hybrid rather than a straight RPG.

    Still, it all comes down to having fun, and I know for a sizable segment of gamers out there this could fit the bill. Just give me Shadowrun and White Wolf games (or board and card games!)

  2.  

    I meant to coment on this a while back but never did. I too felt that this could be a bit “choose your own adventure” like but in the end I guess its up tp the players and DM to set the mood properly.

    It’s the difference between saying “Can I use politics to get a Skill Chalenge Success?” as opposed to saying “I strike up a conversation with the Theif Lord about local politics, figuring he isn’t too keen toward Emporer Pipmagtop either.” Both wotk mechanically but one makes players feel the story more.

    A DM that wants to enforce better role playing in these situations can always make the DC one lower when the player describes things rather than just asking to make the roll or something similar.

  3.  

    […] keep the investigation moving I used a technique stolen from 4th Edition D&D, the skill challenge. Now in 4th ed D&D it is somewhat controversial, it can be played like a formula and I am told […]