Skill Challenges are something I think many GM’s have been using for years but was finally officially introduced to the D&D world in fourth edition (though notably things like this have been in other RPG’s long before this). They are a tool to help you award experience fittingly for out of combat action (or sometimes in combat skill checks).
For those who’ve not read about them yet they are for skill checks that would normally take an extended period of time and wouldn’t necessarily live or die based on one roll. So if you’re trying to climb a tall mountain maybe you need to succeed at four athletics skill checks before you miss two to successfully scale the entire thing. This way it looks more at your average aptitude, but still allows for a bad some bad luck occasionally. How many you have to make before how many you miss determines the complexity. Making four is complexity 1 and for generally for every two more successes after that you add one more complexity. Each number in complexity is worth about what killing a single monster your level is in experience. I love this because it allows me to reward my PC’s easily and fittingly without them having to enter combat or complete a quest.
All this you probably already know but this brings up a few more ideas beyond the basics. The first is using this on a larger scale and not necessarily with actual skill checks. For a while now I’ve just been setting up goals for my party and will treat each step towards that goal as a success whether or not it involves an actual skill check. All parties at some point or another end up taking the long way around a goal, this helps me reward them according to effort rather than just the end goal. It’s also a much more flexible way to do skill challenges, because your party always figures out a different way to solve a problem then you’ve planned.
The other cool thing you can do with this is combine it with a combat. Maybe there’s a trap releasing poisonous gas into the room and the rogue needs to complete a Thievery skill challenge while skeletons attack or some woman is about to give birth just as goblins burst in and needs help with heal checks. This can make an otherwise fairly normal combat a lot more difficult and a lot more interesting.
Skill challenges aren’t new to most people, but I have seen a lot of local DM’s end up just using them plainly when really I think they’re meant to help guide a DM in how to reward a party for completely (or partially) out of combat actions regularly. Obviously it should be used at your discretion and may not work for some campaigns, but I enjoy having a campaign session where there is no combat and the party still gains a normal amount of experience for their effort. I think it also encourages some of the players that are more achievement focused to not worry as much about killing as much as possible because they’ll get experience either way.
What are your ideas for how to use skill challenges? How have you uniquely used them before? Give us your feedback in the comment section below.
[tags]Role Playing Games, Dungeons and Dragons, Skill Challenges[/tags]