Skill Challenge Handbook (PFRPG) PDF

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Neverending Challenges Await!

Challenge your players like never before using the SKILL CHALLENGE HANDBOOK, by Everyman Gaming LLC. Building up decades of roleplaying game mechanics and history, the SKILL CHALLENGE HANDBOOK provides GMs with everything they need in order to design truly memorable skill-based challenges for their PCs. With the SKILL CHALLENGE HANDBOOK, skills in the Pathnder Roleplaying Game are no longer a one-roll-solves-all affair: success requires strategy, cooperation, and determination, transforming even the simplest scene into a full-fledged encounter with as much depth as any battle.

SKILL CHALLENGE HANDBOOK includes:

Rules for running skill challenges—multi-check scenarios that require PCs to think tactically and plan accordingly in order to win the day.
An in-depth analysis of how to construct skill challenges for use in your home games, as well as a step-by-step guide pertaining to the construction to whatever skill challenge you need to properly set the scene.
Four skill challenge subtypes: chases, contests, influence challenges, and verbal duels, each designed with their own mechanical quirks and special features, as well as rules describing how to properly run and construct skill challenges of each type.
Example skill challenges of each type presented within to provide GMs with adequate examples, as well as ready-to-play skill challenges for fast use.
And much more!
With Everyman Gaming, innovation is never more than a page away!

Page Count: 78

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***** (based on 4 ratings)

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How Have We Played Without This?

*****

Everyman Gaming does it again. If you like comprehensive, well-balanced, clean, easy to understand yet allowing for infinite complexity rules systems: BUY THIS NOW. You won't regret it.

This book has brought me out of review hiatus, which might give you something of an idea about how I feel about it overall, but on with the usual...

The Good

Simple statblock. A skill challenge is presented like a monster or trap statblock. It's so intuitive and easy to read - if you can read a monster statblock, you can run a skill challenge with almost no trouble. There are a few new rules terms which it's worth reading up on, and to be honest I'd recommend reading the whole thing through, but it's not hard to grasp, and that's one sign of a brilliant designer.

It covers everything. Seriously. Read Endzeitgeist's review for some ideas, but when the first general skill challenge example in the book is Babysitting, and the last is Against the Avalanche, you get an idea how ridiculously flexible this system is.

Specific Challenge Types. So, not only do we have a general system that covers everything, there are also the specific rules for Chases, Contests, Influence, and Verbal Duels. Just in case you wanted more specific detail on those extremely common types of challenges. Which you did.

The Bad

It's not been easy coming up with anything "bad" to say about this product. I'm into the realms of super-nitpicky, here.

Skill Challenge Type. Right after we get a breakdown of skill challenge statblocks, we get a series of example statblocks for General skill challenges (i.e. the ones that aren't chases, contests, influence, or verbal duels). We know that all skill challenges have a type. And that's the one thing missing from skill challenges with the General type. It's there for all the other types (right after XP, where the statblock breakdown tells you it's going to be), and I understand it being omitted, but it just rubs me wrong.

How badly can we suck without penalty? This stood out in the Babysitting skill challenge. I won't bore you with all the mechanics, but there is no difference in reward between succeeding with 2 demerits, succeeding with 3 demerits, or failing with no demerits on this challenge. They all "reward" you in exactly the same way. I don't know if this is intentional, but from the way it reads in the statblock I think it's meant to be different.

The Conclusion

In case you hadn't guessed, I'm 100% in agreement with Endzeitgeist on this one - this should be core. Even if the only other book you own is the Core Rulebook, get this one (well, maybe the Bestiary first). Less than 50% of the art has kitsune in (not counting advertising material), for those of you who find that bothersome (and in my opinion it shouldn't, it's part of Everyman Gaming's charm), and I found the art as beautiful as ever for one of Alex's books.

I can't stress enough, Alex is quite literally a genius when it comes to skill-based rules subsystems (see Ultimate Charisma for another example) that are coherently wrapped together in elegant unity. 5/5.


Most Important DM Book since DM's Guide

*****

Never written a review - got inspired by the sheer quality of this product - which as the introduction describes, truly fills a "hole" in our favorite tabletop hobby.

I am a DM who, wanting skills to "matter" more, has homebrewed tons of mechanics that nested themselves within the base PF skills system. This product codifies a universal language for doing exactly this! And as a result, will save me time prepping my game with scenarios that are both fun and exciting and reward a different approach to problem-solving. I hope this handbook ushers in a new era of DMing Pathfinder where skill encounters becomes as bread-and-butter as combat and role-playing encounters.

Suggestion: Combine with Pathfinder Unchained Background Skills option for maximal results!

Question: When do we get our hardcopy and DM Screen?


An Endzeitgeist.com review

*****

This handbook clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of advertisements, leaving us with 71 pages of content, so let's check this out!

This book was moved up in my reviewing-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

It is no secret that I never liked D&D 4th edition. I tried the game and I'm not trying to discredit it or its playstyle - it just wasn't what I considered to be enjoyable and in contrast to PFRPG and 5e, it didn't let me tell the stories I wanted to tell. That is not to say that I think it's a bad system. I get why people like it and it has its definite merits. One such merit outshines, at least for me, pretty much all others, and that would be the concept of the skill challenge. In short, this represents a cooperative, dangerous endeavor undertaken by the group, based mostly on skill use - preventing a raft from going down the waterfalls, stopping a trap-room slowly filling with sand, chases - there is a vast plethora of different applications of the original system. However, at the same time, its implementation wasn't always as smooth as it could have been...but that's a topic for another rant.

Ultimately, skill challenges addressed an issue with skills that has been with us for quite a while, namely that, for such an integral component of the game, skills tend to...not be as fun as they should be. When 101 New Skill Uses hit sites back in the day, I was ecstatic. Similarly, the idea of rank-based Skill Unlocks was one I cherished and thankfully, more and more modules differentiate between degrees of success and failure when it comes to skills. All of these, however, do not necessarily change the structure in which skill-use works. To take perhaps one of the most maligned and disliked components of the game, namely traps: Mechanically, they're usually 2 - 3 rolls: Perception to see them, Disable Device to disarm them. Or an attack roll by the trap. Or a saving throw. It took a while, and then publishers like Raging Swan Press etc. realized that this was not necessarily the most fun incarnation of such challenges and thus began crafting more interesting traps that involved the whole group. Similarly, whether via conversion (e.g. in the Zeitgeist AP) or even via the big dog Paizo, which has, by other names, used similar mechanics in chases and the like - a complex series of tasks that would be resolved, a series of tasks that does not hinge on just one roll, but multiples and that engages the whole group, as opposed to just one characters. You know, emphasizing the cooperative aspect that makes roleplaying awesome.

The downside and caveat that ultimately comes with these tasks would be that, at least right now, they have not had a proper engine to run on; their mechanics had to be clarified, which cost words...you get the idea. This is where this book comes in. The Skill Challenge Handbook's goal, hence, would be to codify rules that allow you to set up any type of cooperative, non-combat task as a group-based endeavor.

The mechanics for this are interesting, to say the least: We begin with the so-called "Skill Challenge Cycle", which behaves basically like a combat round: You roll initiative and retain it throughout; you get your turn and may even begin with a surprise cycle and you may be flat-footed until you act. Here's the thing that sets it apart: While you can easily assign a cycle of 1 round and run a skill challenge even during a combat encounter, there is no requirement for doing the like: You can run skill challenges in pretty much any temporal interval you'd like: Want to depict a grueling, weeks- or even months-spanning overland trek/escape from a hostile army? Well, you can simply define the cycle as hours, days, months...or conversely have two brilliant strategists try to outthink one another in a manner of seconds! While the default cycle-lengths, called frequency, are defined tighter, as a whole, there is nothing keeping you from expanding these - the system retains its modularity.

Similarly, the spatial factor can diverge wildly - squares of movement, from the local to the global, are covered - in theory, you could play skill challenges with kingdom or settlement stats with a minimum of fuss! More important for most groups, however, would be that both targeting, riding and vehicles, all those dicey types of movement, are covered within the frame of this modular base that sits at the heart of this book.

A skill challenge has, obviously, per definitionem, an inherent chance of failing it, but the completion of the challenge may be just as modular - in fact, multiple parties, characters or otherwise active participants may have wildly different success conditions! Beating a skill challenge is called "Completion" and is achieved, ultimately, by making "progress." Progress is made y using the applicable primary or secondary skills associated with the skill challenge - secondary skills decrease the die-size used to roll progress by one step. Wait, what? Yep, if you have a lot of ranks (based on hard ranks, thankfully!), Skill Focus or class skills used here, you'll roll a larger die than those who have less expertise in the field, allowing you to actually become better in the way you succeed. And before all those munchkins start complaining: Your carefully minmaxed skills still yield bonus progress if you beat the DC by 5 or more. Oh, and 20s may become crits when confirmed, while 1s are always failures - akin to combat.

Speaking of which: The book takes class abilities, ability checks, feats and spells into account, covering and codifying in concise terms the way in which such abilities are used in the context of the skill challenge system. So, how does it work? Actions are defined as pertaining the cycle, differentiating between cycle and half-cycle actions - this allows for the easy integration of all action types of PFRPG easily and yes, swift/immediate actions are codified properly as well. Beyond these, there are some special actions: Aiding others, creating an advantage in a movement-based skill challenge...oh, and an important aspect: How do players or PCs know what they can do in a given challenge? A concise system for actually realizing how such a challenge works has been included: Relevant Knowledge versus a DC that scales with the CR of the skill challenge at hand.

The skill challenges as a base system can easily be modified by optional elements - from languages to skill bonuses, time pressure, backlash for failures, demerits (deteriorating benefits the longer it lasts) to failure tolerance - the modifications are all concisely defined and present perfectly defined key elements to customize the base system. These are further expanded with optional SQs that allow for critical fumbles, individual completion, limited completion or perhaps the challenge takes place in a magically imbued area - all of these frameworks are defined in the clear and precise manner we have come to expect from Everyman Gaming. Beyond these, an engine for obstacle creation for movement-based challenges can be found - including unavoidable or magical obstacles! Oh, and I should mention thresholds - with this system, you could create multi-step rituals the PCs must complete, with escalating and different conditions and tasks in each of the steps, separated by thresholds.

All of this sounds highly theoretical, but if you prefer examples, from babysitting to powering up runestones, making a meal for a dragon, cracking encoded spellbooks to gaining an audience with the king or staying the course in a brutal storm - the system's applications are, without any hyperbole ENDLESS. But perhaps you're a GM who does not like to bother with the nit and grit of math and all that stuff? Well, in that case, you'll ADORE the massive, massive tables of sample skill DCs by CR, the progresses, obstacles etc. - basically, if you don't want to bother with a variety of customizations, you can simply take one of these rows from the table and run them as is.

Okay, so this would be the base engine - it is titanic in its vast potential...and it becomes more awesome from here on out. You see, from here on out, we move to the subchapter that take a look at specific implementations (and modifications) of the system: The first of these would be the chase challenge, which includes rules for forced marches, tracking quarries and obfuscating trails. You're the couriers, trying to warn the kingdom of the impending invasions, with killers and soldiers at your heels? There you go - here are the rules to depict your heart-pounding escape! Whether chased or chaser, the system works. The second system covers something I have been waiting for: Contests. From Poker to Chess to pretty much any athletic of other form of competition is covered: Grapple contests, momentum contests, those featuring nets/walls, competitive recollections and stochastic/strategy contests -all are concisely and precisely defined - subcategories and point-based completion...all included. The actions, from blocks to fake outs, catches, passes, pushing self etc. are provided. Want to play Fantasy Soccer or Football or Bloodbowl (yep, dogpiling rules...) or Quidditch in PFRPG? There you go - the rules are here! If you once again encounter the challenge of playing chess in-game, you won't have to whip out the board and bore your players or resolve it as a banal series of roles - you can actually make it INTERSTING and EXCITING. The sample challenges include, fyi, baseball, chess, horseshoes, poker, rope-skipping (!!!) or trivia contests...the options are as infinite as our tradition as a species to make games. Heck, you could go meta and have your PFRPG-characters play a simplified RPG in-game...

Now, all of this is cool, but personally, I gravitate to complex plots - as such, influence challenges of e.g. diplomatic tasks during banquets, backroom dealings, courtly intrigues, hashing out deals with merchant consortiums - all of these and infinitely more can be realized with the chapter focusing on them, adding a vast array of playability to any intrigue scenario - I certainly know I'll use the hell out of that in a certain, upcoming Taldan AP...and speaking of which: Verbal Duels tie in perfectly with the former, acting not only as a stand-alone chapter, but also as a kind of extension: From an influence to a verbal duel and back, you can stack these upon another in a variety of genius ways - since discovering a bias, seeding audiences and gaining edges are all provided, you can basically run a whole campaign focused on senates, hearings and the like if you so choose! Various strategies and the like can be found, with skills being assigned to tactics...and yes, before you're asking, countering a tactic with the same tactic, repeating one over and over and the like all come with repercussions! And yes, this retains, obviously, full compatibility with Ultimate Intrigue.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming's two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The full-color artworks throughout are full-color and well-made, provided by Brett Neufeld and Jacob Blackmon. The softcover print copy is nice, though it does not sport the name on the spine, which is a bit of a pity.

Alexander Augunas' Skill Challenge Handbook is an extremely versatile...oh who am I kidding? Let me spell it out clearly:

THIS IS PERHAPS THE MOST IMPORTANT RULEBOOK I HAVE READ IN YEARS. Perhaps, it is even the most important 3pp-PFRPG book - period.
Are you playing Pathfinder? Do you want to do more than killing things? Then this is a MUST-HAVE PURCHASE. Scratch that, even if you just want to kill things, this'll make the combats more exciting!

I am not kidding, nor engaging in the slightest kind of hyperbole when I'm saying that:

-This should have been Core. Seriously. If I had to choose one 3pp-book to add to PFRPG's core-rules, this would be it.

-This book makes EVERY single PFRPG campaign better for using it.

-This is a MILESTONE and vastly improves the game.

-I have NEVER seen a supplement, regardless of rules system, enhance the number of stories I can tell to this extent.

The skill challenge handbook is, even among Alexander Augunas' impressive cadre of amazing books, a shining example, a paragon of its kind. Didactically-concise, well-presented and easy to grasp, yet incredibly modular, the system presented herein unlocks innumerable, nay, infinite options to tell fantastic, engaging stories. Heck, I even used it for stuff it was never intended to do - like portraying conflicts between settlements! The system is so incredibly modular and versatile, it can literally depict anything in an exciting manner.

Nail-biting in-game chess-duels for the souls of fellow adventurers? Check! Backstabbing courtly intrigue? Check. Over the top fantasy bloodsports? Check. Venturing into the depths of the earth? Check. Scaling a giant beanstalk? Check. Flying a ship through the deathstar's/SIN's defenses? Check. Navigating the Eye of Abendengo? Check. Leading the Chain of Dogs through the desert? Check. Playing Quidditch? Check. Making traps that engage the whole group? Check. Diffusing a magical reactor? Check. Finishing a ritual to banish a demon lord while he tries to eat you? Check. Catching enemy spies? Check. Running down couriers? Check. Ben Hur-style chariot races/combats? Check. Doing the Cicero in Senate? Check. Going fantasy Ace Attorney? Check. Ride an Avalanche? Check. Scaling a Kaiju? Check. Riding the gigantic tsunami-wave of crystallized shards from the heavens? Check. Deciphering a grimoire before the THINGS get you and your comrades? Check. Negotiating with the cannibals about to eat you and yours? Check. Navigating the dragon's hoard sans waking the wyrm? Check. Depicting guild warfare? Check.

...I could literally go on all day long and just add to this list.
I am not kidding when I'm saying that this is the single most important 3pp PFRPG-rule-book I know and own. I cannot stress enough how incredibly, incredibly inspiring this book is. The base engine is deceptively simple-looking and elegant and can be tweaked by even the most novice of GMs to deliver pure, unadulterated awesomeness. All those situations that some players sat out, all those high tension scenes that deflated by being reduced to a single, bland roll now extend to the whole group - and by virtue of the structure of the system, they engage all players and deliver the high tension of comparable scenes from other forms of media.

There is no other book out there that delivers a similar increase in quality and versatility for the game. If you are a GM, BUY THIS ASAP and never look back. If you're a player, buy it as well. Keep a copy and gift one to your GM. No matter how good your GM is, chances are that your game will be better with this book in your life.

In fact, even if you do not play PFRPG and thus can't sue the math aspects of the game, as long as you have actions you take in combat and some sort of skill system, you can use a big portion of this system with some modifications!

If the sequence of superlatives was no clear indication: This belongs on the shelves and HDs of literally EVERY PFRPG GM. No exception. This book is fantastic, a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that is supreme, no matter the scale you apply: If I had 10 stars, this would be 10 out of 10 and I'd complain about not being able to award it 11. This book is an apex-level toolkit of raw potential and excitement, 5 stars + seal of approval, is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017 (who am I kidding - this has a very high chance of getting the number 1-spot!) and also gets my designation as an EZG Essential, as one of the books I'd consider to be absolutely required reading.

Do yourself a favor and get this dazzling, resplendent gem of a book today.

Endzeitgeist out.


Absolutely Worth It For GM's

*****

Disclaimer: I purchased this product at full price.

If you're running games and want to make better skill challenges, get this book.

...

What, you want to know more? Okay, okay. That first sentence is what it all comes down to, though.

As the name and description of this book note, this is a book all about making better skill challenges for the game - that is, no longer is it just "Roll X" and move on. Instead, players will have to make a series of rolls to proceed towards completion - and they'll usually be in initiative when they do it, which can have interesting effects.

This book addresses five main kinds of challenges - general skill challenges, chases, contests, influence, and verbal duels. Each comes with their own set of rules - and, helpfully, guidance is included so that spells and other abilities can't make these new situations too easy to win. The root of this is the "cycle", or how long each round takes. For example, if the cycle is 10 minutes, then a low-level invisibility spell could only give a benefit to Stealth for that one cycle... and a power generally has to last for the entire cycle in order to be useful. This allows for players to creatively apply their abilities to the task at hand, without too much fear of making it unfair.

(That said, it's clearly not meant for every skill check to become a lengthy challenge. If something CAN be resolved with one roll, it probably should be. This book is more about making genuinely complex challenges where the players need to work a bit harder in order to succeed.)

Optional elements for skill challenges include things like knowing the right language, adding time pressure, whether or not failures are allowed, and special qualities like critical fumbles (which normally aren't a thing for skills).

That said, Page 29 is probably the most useful in the whole book - there's a table here that has the DC's for easy, average, challenging, difficult, and very difficult skill challenges for every CR from 1-30. If you don't already have something like this for your GM screen, you should. Seriously, print that page out.

Plenty of examples are given for each type of challenge, too, to help you see how things should look by the time they're done. As I mentioned at the start, though, what it really comes down to is this: This book is useful for GM's. For that matter, it's also something that adventure writers should take a look at - reading through and implementing some of these types of challenges will almost certainly make your adventures better.

I do wish the book would've had a note on Taking 10 and Taking 20, though, both as a reminder and with suggestions for how those should work with this system. I'd also have liked to see a little more about ability checks, including a chart and some notes about properly integrating them either as parts of other challenges (such as options during a Chase) or as stand-alone challenges.

That aside, though, I'm happy to give this a full five stars, and I heartily recommend it to anyone running or writing a game.


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As for the other question there - which I probably should have answered earlier - I think it depends on the kinds of areas your party is going through. If it's all relatively similar terrain, one challenge will do. On the other hand, if the areas are distinctly different - forest area, caves area, lava chasm, goblin fortress, escape down a river, etc., one after the other - a sequence of challenges might be more appropriate. That lets you customize the full length of the journey to challenge the group in different ways.

Contributor

Randall Tupper wrote:

I picked this up and I love it for social encounters it's a game changer.

I'd like to us it for an extended wilderness travel encounter but I am struggling. Would you use progress or movement?

have several smaller skill challenges or one big one???

It's travel through the mountains to a hidden ruin that is a journey of several days.

Anyone have any thoughts?

For wilderness travel I would use movement-based with a long frequency—probably days or weeks. If you want several smaller skill challenges, you can do it. If you prefer longer ones, the events (like in the Avalanche sample under general skill challenges) works really well for making one big skill challenge feel like several smaller ones. It mostly depends on what works best for the story you want to tell. (I prefer one task, one challenge myself, but the system was designed to be modular so you can run it your way.)

Contributor

2 people marked this as a favorite.

I’m really digging the advice everyone is giving each other in this thread. Glad to see so many people like this system. Keep up the helpfulness (especially you, Rendal ;-) ) and happy gaming!


Ok general question.

Let's say a PC, instead of using a skill want's to cast a spell, which I want to translate to a die roll.

What are their modifiers? 1d20 + caster level + spell level? Against the same DC?

Cheers.


That depends on the spell being used and the context of the challenge, but this book does have a section on using spells and abilities. Generally, said power has to last the length of the cycle to count for it. For example, if Invisibility lasts the length of a Cycle, you can use it as a substitute for skill checks.

If an ability is appropriate but doesn't provide a specific numerical effect, the GM can assign it up to a +10 bonus, as they feel is appropriate - or "roll 1d20 + the character’s Hit Dice, base attack bonus, caster level, or class level (whichever is most applicable to the ability used) + the character’s ability score modifier in a relevant ability score. If the ability is exceptionally applicable to the situation, the character might also be allowed up to a +4 bonus to the result."

Either way, the system is VERY friendly to spells and class abilities being used.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

My rule of thumb is just using a spell adds Double the spell level to a particular skill check, or triple the spell level if it lasts a whole cycle.


Gotta get some kind of gladiatorial sport going! A ball with some kind of enhancement. An arena!A league made up of just about anything and anyone. Something that any build of appropriate level can compete.


Does anybody have some kind of drafting mechanic where characters can be generated and parceled amongst teams? All classes, races, and templates too.


I really like this book but I have one question. Do you all tell the players are in a skill challenge or not? Seems like the book is indicating they should be told...but when I read the numerous articles about Skill Challenges they almost unanimously discourage this practice.

What are your thoughts on this Alex, anyone, everyone?


A Skill Challenge is effectively like any other challenge in the game, and should probably be treated similarly to combat. For example, if they're looking up a cliff (and can't just fly up), they should be able to tell if it's going to be one quick climb check or if it'll be slower and more challenging to scale, much the same way they can look at a gang of foes and think "oh, let's plow through them" or "this looks like a dangerous fellow, be careful".

You may not want to specifically call them Skill Challenges, but if nothing else, players should know when they can apply their abilities and items to the task at hand.

Contributor

Randall Tupper wrote:

I really like this book but I have one question. Do you all tell the players are in a skill challenge or not? Seems like the book is indicating they should be told...but when I read the numerous articles about Skill Challenges they almost unanimously discourage this practice.

What are your thoughts on this Alex, anyone, everyone?

If you run them by the rules, it's impossible for your players to NOT realize they're in a skill challenge because skill challenges require the rolling of initiative checks. (Especially in things like chases or contests or influence challenges.)

After all, your players are made aware of when they enter a combat.


Alexander Augunas wrote:
If I did it right, everyone should have gotten an email from Paizo with the changes. If not; they were pretty small. A few of the sample skill challenges got the time pressure SQ, and some references to chases in the verbal duels section were corrected.

I bought the book on DriveTruRPG and the version there does not have the time pressure SQ's in the examples. Could you update the version there as well?

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