The Challenge of Skill Challenges

Since the release of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition there has been a lot of talk about Skill Challenges. A lot of players find the idea to be quite intriguing, allowing more dramatic rules for situations that were once resolved by a single roll of a single die, but others have pointed out that the math for the Skill Challenges seems a bit broken and in some ways, they are unfortunately correct.

I don’t want to get too much into their argument but essentially the normal DC for a Skill Challenge at the beginning of the game is 20 and your average starting bonus is only 8 or 9 in a skill you’re good at. This gives you less than a 50% chance to succeed at any individual roll, and to succeed at the challenge you need to attain X successes before you attain 1/2 X failures. It’s not hard to see that this can be a bit of a problem.

Most DMs have found ways around this which do not upset their games. For example, they allow generous use of the “Aid Another” action. I have thus far tried to go along with this whenever it makes sense but obviously some actions simply cannot be aided and I feel that players really need to make it a role playing action and not simply an “I aid that person” kind of thing. I have up to this point been pretty easy going but I am thinking of starting to impose penalties for lack of description or at least rationalization in these situations, and bonuses when their reasoning or role-playing is good.

Keith Baker has an excellent post about Skill Challenges over at his blog and I think that anyone who likes them or is having trouble with them should pop over and check it out. He gives good ideas of how to run them dramatically as well as explaining why the math isn’t as bad as it sounds. I plan to implement several of his ideas for my game as well. For example, while rolling a 20 means nothing for skill rolls right now I am thinking of making such a role matter, at least as it pertains to Skill Challenges. While Mr. Baker has a 20 count as two successes he mentions others have suggested that it instead removes a failure and I think I like this idea better, it allows for a bit more drama in my opinion in that a player has found a way to undo previous damage.

At any rate, stop reading my prattle and go check him out!