Making Skill Challenges viable in Pathfinder


Homebrew and House Rules


Hey all,
I'm considering running a high level Pathfinder campaign and I'm interested in incorporating the success I had with skill challenges in 4E into that campaign.

I know many people don't like skill challenges, but I didn't run them as written in 4E and my players really enjoyed them. So much so that 2/3rds of the encounters we ran were skill challenges rather than combats. (If anyone is interested in how I ran them I'll be happy to discuss that as well).

But the main thing I want to discuss in this thread is how to do them in Pathfinder. Three methods have occurred to me (see below). Thanks in advance to any and all who choose to comment.

Method 1: Revert to the Pathfinder Alpha version of skills. Skill Selections are made rather than skill points spent. A trained class skill is level+3 plus ability and racial mod. A trained cross class skill is (1/2 level)+3 plus ability and racial mod. This has the advantage of putting all trained skills within a much tighter range of each other, but still leaves the problem of untrained skills having no appreciable modifier (and thus being far below trained skill users at higher levels).

Method 2: Participants in a skill challenge may use a bonus based on the highest skill bonus in the party.
Player has no ranks in skill: They may use the highest skill modifier in the party at a -10 penalty.
Player has some ranks in skill: They may use the highest skill modifier in the party at a -5 penalty.
Participants in a skill challenge may always use their own skill modifier if it is better than the teamwork bonus described here.
A player still cannot make checks with skills that cannot be used untrained unless they have ranks in the skill.
The person granting the bonus must have ranks in the skill to assist his fellow party members (a highly dexterous halfling with a cloak of elvenkind, but no ranks in Stealth, cannot grant his bonus to Stealth to the rest of the party).
Additionally the most skilled party member must be present and in contact for this to take place. If they depart, lose consciousness, or refuse to help, then the party’s scores are based on the player with the next highest modifier in that skill.
In a skill challenge cooperation is expected. As such the Aid Another action is not possible as it is already assumed.

Method 3: Individual skill checks contribute to a cumulative total needed to succeed at a difficult skill task. So climbing a treacherous mountain undetected might require Climb checks, Survival checks, and Stealth checks. A point total for each one is set to determine success. For this example let's say the total is 100 points.
Each day each party member makes a roll for each skill. Their total points are added together and compared to the needed total. If they exceed it they succeed in the challenge for that day. If they fail any of the skills then some appropriate pre-planned consequence occurs (they fall, get lost, or are detected).

Method 3 is the least invasive on the player side and may have the most flexibility. It also does not require that the players be informed that they are in a skill challenge (which method 2 almost assuredly does). It also has the advantage of allowing unskilled characters to contribute without completely derailing the attempt (which the success versus failure system of 4E does when mixed with a skill point based system).

What do you all think?


I don't understand whats wrong with the current skill system...why change?

Scarab Sages

I think that, of the 3, method 1 is probably the safest bet. It's more like 4th edition, which you've said is what you're basing this on, and the other two options seem a bit off to me. Method 2 seems like a glorified aid other, except that, at Skill Check -10 for untrained skills, you're basically rolling what you would be anyways unless you're at mid to high levels. I strongly discourage method 3, just because I don't like pooling, since one person can ruin it for everyone with one bad roll.

As a side note, I liked skills and skill challenges in 4th edition too. Really, Pathfinder and 4th edition are very similar in that regard, but I always liked how 4th edition tried to incorporate skills into the actual game more directly.


I've run skill challenges in PF with great success, though do so very infrequently - certainly not for every skill based encounter. I tend to use them to facilitate structured gameplay during exciting and climatic events. Here's how I use them:

Everyone rolls initiative as they would at the start of combat and takes initiative in rounds normally. I generally change the duration of a round for skill challenges from 6 seconds to 1 minute, representing the length of time many of the skills may take to accomplish. I inform the players of the setting via flavor and fluff text, and also let them know which skills their characters can see as readily helpful in the situation as well as the relative difficulty for the task (easy, moderate, or difficult). Generally this is done by laying out notecards on the table, color-coded by difficulty, with the skill involved and a brief description of how it can be used relating to the current challenge. At the start of every characters initiative they are entitled to a free perception check as well as any knowledge, craft, or profession that would pertain to the situation at hand; success indicating that they may have noticed a new skill or a skill at a different DC that can be used. If a player has an idea to use a skill that isn't listed and it makes since, I allow it, though I generally try to include as much as the skill list as possible to accomadate each classes strengths, including often times ability checks for the unskilled. Spells as well. Generally speaking players need to accumulate a certain number of successes before a predetermined number of rounds elapse. The players are aware there is a time limit, but aren't aware of its exact duration unless it is readily obvious to characters in game. A particularly bad skill failure, by say 5 or more, may cause the number of rounds they have to succeed to lessen, or cause other complications. Every so many rounds that pass may present new complications or challenges of their own. I generally have several outcomes listed ranging from what happens of PCs fail miserably, to if they made a few successes, to if they passed with flying colors. Quick and easy to run, just like the chase system from the GMG, with no modification needed to the existing rules system. Note I've never tried this with a social encounter - usually it is used for attempting to prevent shipwrecks, breaking and entering, et cetera.

I'd give an example but I don't really have the time to type it up now. Perhaps later if someone is interested.


Shifty,
Take my example skill challenge given in Method 3 above, climbing the mountain undetected.

With the current skill system they'd all be required to make individual checks if they're all going along. Let's say I want it to be a particularly difficult climb that takes place over several days. The climb DC is 25 (narrow handholds and footholds and slick with ice).

This DC 25 check is within the realm of the fighter and the rogue who are trained in climb, but the cleric and wizard haven't a snails chance of making this check even though they're experienced adventurers of 10th level or higher.

Only the fighter has much chance of making the survival checks necessary to endure the wind and cold or keep them from getting lost.

Only the rogue has much chance of making the stealth checks necessary to avoid the flying patrols which circle the mountains.

For the sake of argument assume that magic is not an option in this case (they can't teleport to the top due to a forbiddance effect or some such, the length of the climb makes spider climb impractical, the patrols make flight impossible, etc).

The standard skill system makes it very difficult for the party as a whole to undertake skill based encounters. It works great for individual achievement scenarios where a few experts are contributing to the success of an endeavor, but not well for something where everyone has to take part.

Silver Crusade

I like method 3. I am not sure why you use the example of rollingfor the day though.


I take your point, and am a big fan of having a lot of skill based action, I just haven't had much of a need for this system off hand...

I find that the party can do things like 'aid another' to help weaker members etc, and most players try have a decent skill array (or at least the people I know) because these things crop up so often. I leave the mess in the players hands with how they are going to overcome the obstacle - that way its on them if they come up short.

We had a masqued ball that they thought was going to be infiltrated by assassins, and they were undercover... made for some interesting tactics as they tried to keep the lunkhead fighters out of sight/out of mind as the 'face' players plied their trade. The party Rogue was running counter surveillance and also run occasional interference.

It was kinda funny watching the 'fish out of water' antics of the fighters, especially trying to stop the ladies at the ball taking too much of a shine on the well built 'mysterious guests'...

It was hours and hours of play before the inevitable hit the fan.


Karkon,
I use the example of rolling for the day because another failing of the existing skill system is that to actually climb a mountain, strictly by the rules, would take hundreds of rolls since most characters have to roll once for every 7.5 feet that they climb (1/4 speed for a speed of 30). That would require over 130 successful skill checks for 1 person to climb 1000 feet! Obviously this is easily abstracted, but you're still left with the problem of making it challenging for the skilled and possible for the unskilled.

By using method 3 I can tell the players that the fighter who gets a total roll of 30 is able to assist the wizard who gets a total roll of 10 without having the wizard fall every time he comes up with a 10.

By setting the scenario to be by the day I can establish different events on different days based on their success. If the wizard rolls a natural 20 when climbing on a given day, but they fail the climb challenge I can have the person who falls be the person who rolled the lowest (probably the cleric in this scenario).

The time component would change based on the nature of the task at hand. If it was a stealth challenge to sneak into a castle the rounds might be 1 minute long, or even the same as combat rounds. You can even make the challenges more or less difficult at the players request. If they wish to accomplish something more rapidly then increase the total needed. If they deliberately take more time make it easier and so on.

Shifty,
Thanks, that sounds like an awesome adventure! I'm hoping to provide myself with a framework for making it easier to determine success. I like method 3 because I don't give up any of the normal skill system along the way. Everything that works now in Pathfinder works exactly the same when I need it too, but I have an added tool to evaluate certain skill centric situations.


Finarin Panjoro wrote:

Karkon,

I use the example of rolling for the day because another failing of the existing skill system is that to actually climb a mountain, strictly by the rules, would take hundreds of rolls since most characters have to roll once for every 7.5 feet that they climb (1/4 speed for a speed of 30). That would require over 130 successful skill checks for 1 person to climb 1000 feet! Obviously this is easily abstracted, but you're still left with the problem of making it challenging for the skilled and possible for the unskilled.

Seems like a good time to make ample use of Take 10.

The good climbers should probably be able to take 10 over most of the mountain. They can set up pitons rigged with a rope. The rest of the party can use the rope and Take 10 on their climb checks. Once you hit an encounter on the side of the mountain, you'd probably start rolling again.

The difficult parts for the skilled climbers come from especially difficult terrain. The difficult parts for the unskilled climbers would come from creatures or just bad things happening.

Of course, that is specific to climbing a mountain...


I have been running skill challenges since 3.0. The one thing I don't do is define which skills are to be used or how. I let the PCs come up with how they over come the obstacle. That way they usualy come up with a way to help those who are not as skilled to over come it. It lead to creative solutions and team work.

For instance off the top of my head for the Mt climbing excerise the one who are skilled could climb ahead setting up ropes for those who are not as skilled...making their climb easier.

Of the methods you described I like method 3 the best. Though I am curious as to what your method of running skill challenges for 4th ed was.


Hi John,
There were a few things that I did in 4E differently than suggested by the rules. Nothing really revolutionary.

The first was I never announced a skill challenge. As far as I was concerned a player shouldn't be able to tell the difference between a skill challenge and a series of normal skill checks. As a result of this each skill check had a reason to be made and the results led logically to the next check. Sometimes I would describe the result of a check and then the next course of action, but frequently my description of the results led the PCs to state what they thought they should do next.

I also used incremental penalties for failed checks so there was a direct result to failing any given skill checks (which is how it usually is with a skill check outside of a challenge).

I also only loosely defined the skills applicable to a challenge (the obvious ones), but I allowed any skill, or power, or idea to contribute successes to the challenge if it made sense. This resulted in my players coming up with very creative solutions to problems. For example, they were trying to break into a very complicated vault at one point and the rogue failed the skill challenge to pick the vaults complex lock which caused acid to spill into the door mechanism making it unopenable. The rogue asked if she could divert some of the acid to create a small hole through the far side of the door. I had her make a thievery check and she succeeded. This small hole allowed the tiefling warlock in the party to see into and then teleport inside the vault. She then got what they were looking for, waited 5 minutes, and teleported back out. I awarded full experience for the skill challenge to pick the lock even though it had technically been failed because they succeeded at their goal.

The most important thing was that each skill check had to follow naturally from the situation they were in. If at any point a player felt like they were just rolling a check to reach an arbitrary number of successes than the skill challenge had bombed.

The Exchange Owner - D20 Hobbies

Finarin Panjoro wrote:
What do you all think?

Lets not, and say we did.

You will make your players happy if you just ignore the concept of skill challenges.

Skill Challenges were the worst part of a system that I ran over 100 games and my players specifically (I can't speak for others) mostly hated them.

Just set a DC to something and let the players do it via one skill check or a spell if they happen to have fly or some "fix it up" spell that solves the challenge as well.


I can sense you're kind of overwhelmed, maybe, by the skill system. Before starting to houserule you should kind of get into the crunch of it. A lot of things aren't explicitly stated in skills, like they should be, but are elsewhere like in Equipment or in Spells or in Environment just to annoy and confuse you. I put this into a spoiler since it's a lot of math just to kind of demonstrate that everything you said about the mountain challenge is entirely possible by the time the PCs get to ~8th level.

Spoiler:
For climbing:

The martial character goes first. Let's assume they're level 8.

8 ranks, 3 trained, 5 strength for +16. He decides to not be an idiot and takes off his armor for the climb, or maybe he's just got a mithral something or other on and it doesn't matter to him. They take a 10 for 26 every turn and climb at a reasonable pace. Oh, climbers kits. +2 to that. Everyone in the party can use these, even the gnome with 7 strength or the cleric with a hefty ACP. If this fighter was level 10, he'd have another strength mod maybe and 2 more ranks. That'd give him enough to have a +21. He could take a 10 and free-climb 1000 feet in a minute.

As they climb, they pound pitons into the wall and loop rope through them. Anyone who climbs after them does so at a DC 5.

If it was a knotted rope, they could do so at a DC 0. Take a ten and climb as fast as the fighter if you don't have any penalties. A gnome with 7 strength, in no armor, with a climber's kit, could take 10 and climb a knotted rope as fast as the fighter. Neato.

"Over 130 checks!" sounds impressive until you realize a level 10 fighter could free-climb a ten-thousand foot tall rock crag in a little more than ten minutes without breaking a sweat. Mount Everest? (29,000 feet) He could be up and down in an hour. Or a little more than half an hour if he decides to jump off Everest, soak the 20d6 and then walk away.
9d10 + 27 + 9 + 9 ⇒ (9, 5, 3, 10, 10, 5, 8, 3, 1) + 27 + 9 + 9 = 99
20d6 ⇒ (4, 6, 5, 6, 6, 1, 4, 6, 2, 1, 3, 6, 6, 1, 5, 4, 1, 4, 2, 1) = 74
Nice. My theoretical fighter could do that.

For stealth:

Assuming the flying patrol doesn't fly exactly up to the mountains, probably a good distance of 50-100 feet, that's only a DC10 to see someone who isn't stealthing. Let's assume the patrolman is distracted (-5) because he is flying around in the freezing wind and is two levels under the PCs and riding something higher CR, like an air elemental or a roc. I don't know what class he is, so I'm going to give him a +1.5 for trained. He's taking a 10.

Level = N

if (n)+Dex < ((n-2)+1.5+Wis)-5-10 then the PCs are discovered. (I mad failed calculus so please if this is incorrect spare my life)

So, if the PCs are 10, 10+Dex is likely greater than 9.5+Wis-15. Mod by itself is probably greater than 9.5+Wis-15.

A rogue of 10th level likely has close to a 20 stealth. A wizard of 10th level probably has a 3 or a 4 from Dexterity. This patrolman might have a Wis of 2.

10+20 = 30
10+4 = 14
10+11.5-15 = 6.5

So, again, no problem. Oh, and the fighter has to make "survival checks necessary to endure the wind and cold"? That's another -2 to -4 on this patrol's perception check. So his average result is a 3.5 and the wizard's minimum result is a 5.

The only real problem? The roc makes these checks at +0, so his minimum is a 1. The wizard takes a 10 and gets 14, the Roc takes a 10 and gets 10. If you had a really clumsy character in the party (7 Dex) the Roc could see you no problem. Well, until it's snowing hard. Then he gets a 6 and you take 10 for an 8 and barely eke by.

For survival:

No one else needs to make these checks. The fighter points and goes, "This way" and everyone follows him. The fighter goes "Make sure to stay warm" and everyone nods and does so. The fighter goes "Don't step on those loose rocks" and everyone listens.

I do actually like Method 3. If you kept it secret from the PCs, you could probably make it interesting enough. Though to be frank, I hate skill challenges. They're made of handwavium. You said "If at any point a player felt like they were just rolling a check to reach an arbitrary number of successes than the skill challenge had bombed" and I really feel like that's the main crux about skill challenges that makes me abhor them more than anything. In addition, the main point is to get to the other side of the skill challenge, not to really experience it, from what I've read and played through. It's like... taking a qualification test to get back to the game. "Do you have any previous work experience involving mountain climbing and dangerous ice locales? If so, list them here. Reason for not getting any treasure: Laid Off."


Ice Titan,
I'm not overwhelmed by the skill system by any means. I could do the crunch math on this with no problem (I DMed three campaigns in 3.0 or 3.5 totaling three years of weekly play using essentially this skill system). However my players could not and are not interested in delving into tons of scattered bonuses to accomplish something that should be able to be handled within the skill system alone.

Where this system really fails IMO is that in essence you've proved that the players don't need to do anything. They can do a math problem and declare success via take 10. This is worse than not being able to accomplish it at all in my opinion. Where is the sense of danger? Where is the sense of having overcome a tremendous environmental challenge? Where is the risk of failure? Just because the players can accomplish a task using the given system doesn't mean this is a fun way to do it. A system that requires removing the need to roll to guarantee success is an automatic failure in my opinion.

This is where skill challenges work exceptionally well (with the caveat that only if crafted and executed correctly). Because the players have to roll and know there is a chance of failure or at least negative consequences there is both an excitement to the skill related activity and a sense of accomplishment upon completing it.

My players love skill challenges because they enjoy feeling that their character's innate talents really matter. They would rather accomplish something through skill than through precise equipment choices and magic because then THEY are overcoming the challenge. Skills represent personal success and competence in a way gear and magic simply don't.


Finarin: Your above statements are downright und&d/pathfinder like. :)

I agree 100% skills should be used as a means to combat environmental dangers.


I can envision an entire game session that invokes the feeling of great victory by overcoming the dangers of environmental challanges without a single combat round.

That would be something to strive for.

Most games handwave travel as an inconvience to get to the fights.


Finarin Panjoro wrote:


My players love skill challenges because they enjoy feeling that their character's innate talents really matter. They would rather accomplish something through skill than through precise equipment choices and magic because then THEY are overcoming the challenge. Skills represent personal success and competence in a way gear and magic simply don't.

While I agree with you it is funner to over come challenges by thinking instead of turning them into a math problem...

I have to disagree wiuth you about equipment being valueless...or should not effect the out come. Part of being skilled is knowing the right tools. It is part of being skilled in it. Same hold for magic to a certain extent.

Also I just get a image of your character running around naked without any equipment....because they dont feel satfised about about winning a fight by using gear or magic to do so...a challenge is a challenge...using magic or gear to over come them does not lessen you.


Finarin Panjoro wrote:

Ice Titan,

I'm not overwhelmed by the skill system by any means. I could do the crunch math on this with no problem (I DMed three campaigns in 3.0 or 3.5 totaling three years of weekly play using essentially this skill system). However my players could not and are not interested in delving into tons of scattered bonuses to accomplish something that should be able to be handled within the skill system alone.

Where this system really fails IMO is that in essence you've proved that the players don't need to do anything. They can do a math problem and declare success via take 10. This is worse than not being able to accomplish it at all in my opinion. Where is the sense of danger? Where is the sense of having overcome a tremendous environmental challenge? Where is the risk of failure?

Drop them 4+ levels to level 4 and climbing a mountain is a pretty dangerous thing again. Fighter can't take 10 to free-climb the mountainside, no one can fly, the patrols can have skill focus perception bumping them up 3 (CR 3 = likely +10, so +5, not distracted and making checks to roll).

You're looking at a level 10 party and going "Why is climbing this mountain so lame?" Well, they're level 10. By level 10 the average Dex rogue can jump farther than the world record holding mens long jump by taking 10. With the right talents, he can jump that far from a standing start. A fighter can free climb a 30,000 foot tall rock wall in half an hour. A cleric or wizard with high Wisdom/Int or skill focus can answer extremely tough questions about magic and religion over morning coffee just by taking their time thinking about it. A ranger has a +27 to track his favored enemy through his favored terrain. If his favored enemy was vermin, a ranger could track a week old ladybug's trail through the forest at night EDIT: with the ladybug actively hiding his trail *after it snowed*.

I maybe should have begun my post with "the PCs can do this reasonably easily at 8th level." Just like identifying a goblin is trivial at 1st level, climbing this mountain is trivial at 10th. If you don't want it to be, climb it at a lower level.


I don't disagree with you on that John. And neither would my players. They would pick the right tools for the job within the context of the game world, but if they don't already have them and don't have time to collect them they wouldn't want success to be determined by their absence or presence. Or feel that they should spend significant game time pouring over the books to find a mechanical advantage that they had never needed before to kick them over the 'take 10 equals success' threshold.

The problem is this: The Pathfinder skill system as it stands is very focused on rounds (6 seconds). So climbing a mountain has been broken down into so many skill checks that without taking 10 it would be insane to attempt. But if one can succeed by taking 10 then success is automatic and thus no longer fun and challenging.

This is one of the reasons that stealth is so difficult to use for extended periods as well. According to the rules every enemy you attempt to bypass gets a Perception check. Well, you could be sneaking by dozens of them and sooner or later one of them will roll a 20. Even if the DM has them take 10 on Perception, sooner or later your opposed roll will come up a 1. If you can already succeed even on a natural 1 then where is the challenge? Why bother rolling? Why not simply declare success?

One of the strengths of 4E's skill system and skill challenges was that it broke out of standard round time tracking AND it broke out of set DCs for given tasks. Within a skill challenge, where multiple people are engaged in multiple activities over varying lengths of time, different levels of difficult could be applied than in a straight up skill check.

I could set the Stealth difficulty high enough that the rogue would need a decent check to make it and if he bungled it the rules of skill challenges didn't mandate that he was detected. Perhaps the next check got harder, or he had to take a longer route around (maybe now he needed to climb over a wall he hoped to sneak around, etc). Repeated failures might lead to detection, but success didn't hinge on a single roll like the current skill system typically does.

So I guess there's four major things that bother me about using the existing skill system to depict extended skill focused encounters.

1. Success or failure tends to hinge upon a single die roll.
2. DCs scale in such a way that a challenge for a skilled character is impossible for an unskilled character (particularly opposed skills at high levels).
3. The number of skill checks called for in extended skill encounters makes success without taking 10 impossible and taking 10 means there's no challenge at all.
4. The existing system seems over-specific on what can be accomplished using the skill. There's almost an 'if it isn't written there it can't be done' sort of attitude toward skill descriptions. I had assumed Survival would be crucial for everyone to use during my example mountain climb because I forgot that it doesn't affect their ability to endure weather and wind. Fortitude saves cover that in Pathfinder (which Survival can improve), but it really seems like this should fall under that skill directly.

I also find a more formalized system easier to judge in terms of awarding experience for overcoming the challenge. If I know I've set difficult goals I can award more experience and that becomes a bench mark for evaluating future challenges.

Does that make sense?

Xyll, I ran a 4E game that was heavily skill focused and it was very rewarding. The skill challenges also worked very well for doing arcane research in a library, gathering information in a city, stealthy infiltration of secured sites, and magical manipulations of all kinds (closing portals, bypassing magical barriers, proofing an area against scrying, etc). It really was great fun when done correctly.


Ice Titan wrote:

That'd give him enough to have a +21. He could take a 10 and free-climb 1000 feet in a minute.

As they climb, they pound pitons into the wall and loop rope through them. Anyone who climbs after them does so at a DC 5.

If it was a knotted rope, they could do so at a DC 0. Take a ten and climb as fast as the fighter if you don't have any penalties. A gnome with 7 strength, in no armor, with a climber's kit, could take 10 and climb a knotted rope as fast as the fighter. Neato.

Your numbers seem off. Half-speed climbing will equal 15 ft for most martials, 30 ft per round double moving. 1000 ft divided by 30 ft is 33.3 rounds, not 10 rounds.

If he's putting in pitons to help his friends, that takes a minute (10 rounds) per 5 ft. 33.3 rounds to free-climb the thousand foot slope (or 66.6 rounds if he's climbing a DC 25 natural wall rather than a foothold-heavy environment like a roughly cut dungeon wall, and can't take 10 accelerated) becomes 2,200 rounds. So they won't be climbing even close to as fast as the free climb, let alone actually as fast.


So far Method 3 is still sounding the most feasible. But chatting with you all has given me another idea which I'll call Method 4.

Method 4: During extended skill based encounters the aid another action may be inverted. The player with the highest skill check modifier may take a -2 penalty to his skill roll (made against the full DC) to aid those with lower modifiers (this character must possess ranks in the skill to aid others). Those with a lower skill modifier may then roll against DC 10 to succeed.

The party is still limited by the party member with the lowest modifier in terms of speed (so in a Stealth or Climbing situation where speed imposes a penalty they cannot go at an accelerated pace unless the person with the lowest modifier can beat the DC to do so). Party members still cannot make skill checks in skills that cannot be used untrained unless they themselves have ranks in the skill.

Success may depend on over half the party succeeding on their checks or on a certain number of successes being accumulated before a number of failures occur.

This seems even less invasive to character design and easier to adjudicate on the fly than Method 3.

Any thoughts?


Maybe the penalties to the assisting characters' skill checks would have to add up to the reduction in the DC for the assisted ones? I'm intrigued; however, I also really liked how you described Method 3, and I can see modeling teamwork either way.

Sczarni RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

Coriat wrote:
Ice Titan wrote:

He could take a 10 and free-climb 1000 feet in a minute.

If it was a knotted rope, they could do so at a DC 0. Take a ten and climb as fast as the fighter if you don't have any penalties. A gnome with 7 strength, in no armor, with a climber's kit, could take 10 and climb a knotted rope as fast as the fighter. Neato.

Your numbers seem off. Half-speed climbing will equal 15 ft for most martials, 30 ft per round double moving. 1000 ft divided by 30 ft is 33.3 rounds, not 10 rounds.

Umm, per the climb rules, base climb speed is 1/4 of your speed for a creature without a climb speed. -5 DC to climb at 1/2 base speed (accelerated climbing). And when using accelerated climbing, remember they are moving at a hustle since they are moving at 1/2 which is twice 1/4. So after 1 hour of accelerated climbing, you start taking non-lethal damage and are fatigued (Additional Rules > Movement > Overland Movement). I have a house rule limiting climbing time because it is not a natural form of movement for most creatures and the characters are more likely to tire quickly.

As for taking 10, I have limits when climbing. They must be going at 1/4 speed and the DC can not exceed 10. Beyond that I deem that they are moving at a dangerous speed (-5 DC penalty) or the climbing surface itself is dangerous.

Base move 30 = 7.5 ft/rd or 15 ft/rd at a hustle = 75 ft/minute or hustle 150 ft/min = 4500 ft/hr or hustle 9000 ft/hr
Base move 20 = 5 ft/rd or 10 ft/rd hustle = 50 ft/minute or hustle 100 ft/min = 3000 ft/hr or hustle at 6000 ft/hr

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I run skill challenges all the time, and it pretty much uses method three. I never announce that it's a skill challenge though.

For example at the moment I'm running Kingmaker (fear not there's no spoilers in the below example, since this was a homebrewed encounter).

My party has been attracting all sorts of different races into their kingdom. Unfortunately the mix has been causing some tensions. The PCs split up among the various factions, in an attempt to broker a peace between them.

To succeed all they had to do was make 3 successful Diplomacy, Bluff or Intimidate checks (players choice) before accruing two failures (the DC was equal to the Kingdom's Control DC). A failed check caused some Unrest, a natural 1 doubled that unrest. A natural 20 on a successful check gave a +2 bonus to the next PC as they were able to gain some concessions or erased one failure. These rolls were camouflaged between talking and role-playing. It was quite a lot of fun.

Another example: My PCs wanted to research a series of mystical tattoos which had shown up in the game. I offered the PCs the choice of Kn. (Arcana), Kn. (Religion), Kn. (The Planes) and Diplomacy (Gather Information). Again 3 successes needed to be accrued before 2 failures. PCs could assist each other (using the Aid Another action), but because the time represented was simultaneous it meant each PC had to choose to either make a primary check or Aid and could not do both. A natural 1 on a failure doubled the time on that bit of research, a natural 20 on a success halved the time or erased one failure.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

This is a long winded way of saying that Skill Challenges aren't new to 4E - Check it out from the pages of Unearthed Arcana: Complex Skill Checks Fun!

Complex skill checks aren't perfect for every situation, but here's my rules of thumb:

3 Successes before 2 failures takes the perfect amount of time in game.

ROLEPLAY the encounter - have some hand outs ready for a research encounter, or a quick bit of narrative for a stealth encounter, or some interesting NPCs and their desires/dislikes for the PCs to interact with.

Let the PCs choose between assisting a primary player, or attempting the check on their own. If the primary player succeeds the assistant succeeds too (even if they failed to assist. But it only counts as one success though - this is important for skills like Stealth, Climb, Swim or Acrobatics where failure has an immediate effect).

Make sure you and your players CLEARLY declare who was the primary check maker.

Don't be afraid to declare that a player can have a maximum number of assistants.

In any case I hope this all helps. :)

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

An Example I built:

Spoiler:

Lets use the example of stealthily climbing a frozen mountainside.

When a party travels overland they move only as fast as the slowest PC so in this case 20 ft. Which means that they can move a base 10 ft./round (since there are two move actions in a round). The mountain is 29,030 ft tall, and it is base DC 15 to climb, DC 20 to move at Half-Speed. )

That means each hour the PCs can travel 12,000 ft. (if they Hustle, but each hour they travel beyond the first deals non-lethal damage and causes the PC to become fatigued).

I have 6 PCs, so I rule the following - One PC is leading the Climb (one PC may assist), One PC is leading the Survival (one PC may assist), and One PC is leading the stealth (one PC may assist). This represents two PCs acting as trailbreakers, placing pitons and ropes for the other PCs to follow with, two PCs watching their fellows well-being, keeping up morale and finding shelter when the PCs take breaks between climbs, two PCs keep an eye and ear on their fellows and point out covered locations for the party to climb to. The PCs will make 5 checks (but you don't tell them that). Roll first for Climb (DC 15), roll next for Stealth (opposed vs. flying sentinels), third roll for Survival (DC 20 to cover the whole party).
Failure on the first check halves the speed travelled.
Failure on the second triggers a combat with the sentinels.
Failure on the third check triggers a Fortitude save on 1d6 PCs (DC 15) failure does 1d6 points of Non-Lethal damage.

If the players fail 2 checks before they succeed on 3 then the final failure triggers a greater complication (Crumbling rock face causes PCs to fall down the mountain side forcing them to start again./ Alerted sentinels arrive with reinforcements triggering an APL+3 encounter on a frozen mountainside./ The PCs failed to notice a snowstorm/hailstorm/sleetstorm or avalanche zone.)

If players succeed on the third check then trigger a success event:
(Climbers find a short cut, they manage to find a covered path to the top avoiding the sentinels the whole way, they track the villain's own secret path to the top or what-have-you) The encounter is over. The PCs gain experience points equal to a challenge of APL, and the party feels rewarded for their skills.

Again hope this seems useful to you.


@Finarin Panjoro: Method 4 is I like but I am still thinking I like method 3 better. Maybe a combination of the two?

I do hope you are having a similiar conversationbwith your players about this. Their opinion is probably more important then strangers over the internet.

Liberty's Edge

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None of the above.

You are re-inventing the wheel here. It does not need to be re-invented. The crunch in 4E's skill challenge system was initially broken, but it was fixed over time, through errata and improvement. The best implementation of Skill Challenges, ultimately ended up in SW:Saga Edition's Galaxy of Intrigue. That's the version I recommend for implementtion of Skill Challenges in Pathfinder.

There is an entire chapter on Skill challenges in GoI and no, I can't repost the whole chapter here. I urge you to beg, borrow or buy the book for that chapter. It is invaluable and evrerything it says about skill challenges and the proper design of same translates over to Pathfinder exceedingly well.

As for the crunch...

John "The Gneech" Robey has done the work on the crunch for you, re-working the Skill Challenges chart, as implemented in Star Wars: Saga Edition (which expands on the system in 4E) for Pathfinder RPG.

The link is here: Page 42 for Pathfinder

The thrust of the crunch is as follows:

Quote:

If you’re familiar with D&D 4E, then you’re probably familiar with the famous "page 42" of the 4E DMG, which contains your “go to” table for quickly figuring skill DCs, improvised hazard damage, and whatnot. This is a GM’s second best friend (after +2/-2), and I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t something similar for Pathfinder. So I put this together using the “Monster Stats by CR” as my starting point.

Traps/Hazards/Skill Challenges by CR

1 9 12 +1 +2 1d6+2 1d6+2 2d6
2 9 13 +3 +4 2d6+1 2d6+2 3d6
3 10 14 +4 +6 3d6 3d6 3d6+2
4 10 15 +6 +8 3d6+2 4d6 4d6+2
5 11 15 +7 +10 4d6+1 5d6 5d6+2
6 11 16 +9 +12 5d6+2 6d6 7d6
7 12 17 +9 +13 6d6+2 7d6+2 8d6+2
8 12 18 +11 +15 7d6+2 8d6+2 10d6
9 13 18 +12 +17 8d6+2 9d6+2 11d6+2
10 13 19 +13 +18 9d6+2 11d6 13d6
11 14 20 +14 +19 11d6 12d6+1 14d6+1
12 15 21 +15 +21 11d6+2 13d6+2 15d6+2
13 15 21 +16 +22 13d6 14d6+2 17d6
14 16 22 +17 +23 14d6 15d6+2 18d6+2
15 16 23 +18 +24 15d6 17d6 20d6
16 17 24 +19 +26 17d6 19d6+2 23d6
17 18 24 +20 +27 19d6+2 22d6 25d6+2
18 18 25 +21 +28 21d6+2 24d6+1 28d6+2
19 19 26 +21 +29 23d6+2 27d6 31d6+2
20 20 27 +22 +30 25d6+2 29d6 34d6+1

Skill Challenge DCs
Desired CR Ability Check/
Very Easy Easy Medium Moderate Hard Heroic
1 10 12 16 16 20 30
2 11 13 16 17 21 31
3 11 13 17 18 22 32
4 11 13 17 19 23 33
5 11 14 18 20 24 34
6 12 14 18 21 25 35
7 12 14 19 22 26 36
8 12 15 19 23 27 37
9 12 15 20 24 28 38
10 13 15 20 25 29 39
11 13 16 21 26 30 40
12 13 16 21 27 31 41
13 13 16 22 28 32 42
14 14 17 22 29 33 43
15 14 17 23 30 34 44
16 14 17 23 31 35 45
17 14 18 24 32 36 46
18 15 18 24 33 37 47
19 15 18 25 34 38 48
20 15 19 25 35 39 49

(larger, printable version)

The skill check values are based on the following assumptions:

Very Easy: No skill ranks, low or no ability score bonus, etc.
Easy: Minimal skill ranks, +2 in buffs/aid another help.
Medium: 1/2 level skill ranks (or high ability scores, buffs, aid another, etc.).
Moderate: 1/2 level skill ranks, +5 in training/buffs/aid another help.
Hard: Full skill ranks, +9 in training/buffs/aid another help.
Heroic: Full skill ranks, +14 in training/buffs/aid another help, roll 15+.

The attack rolls, damage, etc., are all taken from the monster stats by CR.


Thanks all for the continuing input.

DM_aka_Dudemeister,

DM_aka_Dudemeister wrote:
Let the PCs choose between assisting a primary player, or attempting the check on their own. If the primary player succeeds the assistant succeeds too (even if they failed to assist. But it only counts as one success though - this is important for skills like Stealth, Climb, Swim or Acrobatics where failure has an immediate effect).

This is very interesting. So you let a less skilled character who is aiding a more skilled character, essentially piggy-back on the high skill character's success. I see much potential in your system.

Also the Complex Skill check thing is a good framework for Skill Challenge construction (as well as some handy math for laying them out). My thanks!

John_Kretzer,
I haven't discussed it with my players yet because their eyes glaze over when I have a purely mechanical discussion with them :) But I'll definitely end up trying several variants of whatever I come up with on them and asking which they prefer.

Steel_Wind,
Thanks, I'll try to track down a copy of Galaxy of Intrigue.

I've seen The Gneech's work before and, while it is impressive, it doesn't address many of my specific concerns about skill challenges (very handy stuff for hazards and traps however). Most specifically I feel that scaling DCs are a problem in any extended skill contest in 3.5 or Pathfinder. For example, by his definition of a Very Easy Skill Check (no skill, no ability mod), a 20th level character has a 75% chance of failure. That doesn't sound Very Easy to me. Even at 20th level there could be skill checks that are untrained, no ability mod, no magic bonus checks. So this very easy check, perhaps climbing for a 20th level wizard in an anti-magic field, would be extremely difficult (and a moderate check at DC 25 simply impossible).

If I was going to take a crack at it the entire Very Easy column from level 1 through level 20 would have a DC of 5, otherwise it won't be a very easy check at any level.

Anyway I feel a more versatile, less rigid system, is needed.

Liberty's Edge

Finarin Panjoro wrote:


Steel_Wind,
Thanks, I'll try to track down a copy of Galaxy of Intrigue.

I've seen The Gneech's work before and, while it is impressive, it doesn't address many of my specific concerns about skill challenges (very handy stuff for hazards and traps however). Most specifically I feel that scaling DCs are a problem in any extended skill contest in 3.5 or Pathfinder. For example, by his definition of a Very Easy Skill Check (no skill, no ability mod), a 20th level character has a 75% chance of failure. That doesn't sound Very Easy to me. Even at 20th level there could be skill checks that are untrained, no ability mod, no magic bonus checks. So this very easy check, perhaps climbing for a 20th level wizard in an anti-magic field, would be extremely difficult (and a moderate check at DC 25 simply impossible).

If I was going to take a crack at it the entire Very Easy column from level 1 through level 20 would have a DC of 5, otherwise it won't be a very easy...

You are confusing a skill check with a skill challenge. They are not the same thing. Generally speaking, the character can choose from among a few appropriate skills he or she knows that can fit the challenge -- or at the least -- dish off and use aid another on the roll for the immediate next person designated to roll in the skill challenge.

So yes, if those are the rules of a skill challenge, at 20th level? 15 is an extremely easy roll. In fact, it is highly unlikely that failure is even possible. (Skills don't fail automatically on a 1).

You can play a bit with the Very Easy stuff, as the chart is based on GoI in SW:SE where the level of the character is added to the skill roll -- but there are few instances where people will be rolling untrained at high levels in a skill challenge.

The problem with designing proper skill challenges is the overall meta-rules of the challenge. A round robin of dice-rolling where someone tries to justify how, yet again, diplomacy is just what the situation calls for is tedious and highly unrealistic. But skill checks aren't skill challenges either -- and locking down the available skills rolls to one skill is not the idea behind a skill challenge.

Seriously: Read the Skill Challenge chapter in Galaxy of Intrigue. It should sell you completely on the concept in a manner that the 4E write-ups never did with me.

Exception: There were some excellent skill challenge articles written in 2010 by Mike Mearls. They are, unfortunately, on DDI/Dragon Magazine and are not available for reading without a DDI subscription. I had a DDI sub for all of one month in May 2010 (to see if the Character Builder could be made to work with SW:SE - and yes, it can) and those articles were easily the best articles on the whole website.


I dislike the term "Skill Challenges" because it brings with it the ideas and stigma of the 4e D&D term.

Really, this depends on the theme and feel of the game you want to play.

In 3e, the Unearthed Arcana book had a wide variety of rules for changing how skills worked, both in acquisition and in application.

If people weren't really heavy into skills and the nitty gritty behind them, you'd probably want to reduce the skills down to more along the lines of "ability score focus" with possible delineation for craft, knowledge and maybe a few others.

If your group was into the idea of having skills come to the forefront of the gameplay, there were Complex skill checks.

If I recall correctly, complex skill checks were designed to indicate a more difficult task, not by making the DC higher, but by needing additional checks over time. This can be further complicated by altering what a failing check does (it sets back time, but does it also increase the required successes? Or how about too many failures means critical failure or being unable to proceed with the checks).

Common complex checks are things like Opening a Lock. Harder locks require more checks, etc.

.

I took this idea a little further and did something that could be considered similar to a "Skill Challenge".

Instead of just using a single skill in a complex check, I felt it might spice things up to have multiple skills come into play.

Here's an example I had written up a for a low level game a while back, but never got to use (tweaked slightly for pathfinder rules)...

SAFE CRACKER
The players need to access something in a safe. It is located in a locked and potentially trapped room, and there are guards (standing guard and possibly walking the grounds).
Adventure Specific Modifiers
A bonus might be involved if there is no evidence left behind of who performed the theft (they never see you). Dead guards can still provide description through Speak with Dead spells, unless appropriate measures are taken (mouth/head destroyed or removed).
Possible further bonus if someone else is implicated (using a disguise to fool witnesses, or leaving behind specific evidence at the scene).

Potential Skill Checks

Casing the Joint
DC: 18
The players may spend a day using a Diplomacy (Gather Information) or Intimidate check to contact underground elements or former/current employed help to gain information. Alternatively, they may spend a day using a Disguise, Bluff or Stealth check to actually observe or find information at the site itself.
Bonus: Learn the guard's patterns, so they know how best to approach. This results in only one active guard who is tired and distracted, while the other guards just started walking the grounds giving maximum time before he returns (8 rounds).
Failure: A failed check means the party is walking in blind, and has a 50% chance of encounter all alert guards, and 50% chance of having one guard returning within 2d4 rounds). Failure by 5 or more will tip off the owner that there might be an attempt, resulting in twice as many guards, and they have favorable conditions for any Perception checks.
Spells: The situation is too complex for Augury to work. Commune would work within a couple well phrased questions (to narrow down the time at which to approach).

Neutralize the Guards
DC: DC 20
The players may attempt to distract any standing guards to cause him to start walking the grounds, using a Bluff or Sleight of Hand check. A player can also cause a guard already walking around to extend his search time in the same manner.
Alternatively, if any standing guards can be subdued quickly (before their initiative in combat), any remaining guards will continue as normal.
If normal combat occurs instead, any guards walking the grounds will arrive in 1 round.
Bonus: This grants the players 2d4 rounds of time where the guard will be away from the door, or granting an additional 2d4 rounds of time before he returns.
Failure: The guard becomes aware that something may be happening, and gains favorable conditions on any Perception checks. Failure by 5 or more will result in the guard noticing your location and starting combat.
Spells: Spells to aid in causing a distraction (ventriloquism, dancing lights, etc) can be used instead of a check, although any that creates loud noises will cause any wandering guards to return in 1 round. Sleep and similar spells can be used to subdue the guards quickly.

The Trapped Door
The door is sealed with an average complex lock, and a mechanical alarm trap if the door is opened improperly. Breaking down the door is an option, although difficult, and will cause any wandering guards to arrive in 1 round.
Disable Device DC: 25
# of checks: 3, succeed by 5 or more counts as two checks
Failed checks: 2 failed checks in a row requires starting over
Door stats: Strong Wooden door. Thickness of 2 inches. Hardness 5, hitpoints 20. Break DC 25.
Trap Info: Alarm (Mechanical)
Perception and Disable Device DC: 20 for both
Effect: Alarm goes off (similar to alarm spell description for audible alarm), until door is closed for 2 rounds.

Cracking the Safe
The safe is a very good lock, very strong, and has a dangerous trap if not properly opened.
Disable Device DC: 30
# of checks: 5, succeed by 5 or more counts as two checks
Failed checks: 2 failed checks in a row requires starting over
Safe stats: Iron Safe. Thickness of 3 inches. Hardness 10, hitpoints 90. Break DC 30. Weight (with contents), 330 lbs.
Trap Info: Electrical Burst (Mechanical)
Perception DC: 25
Disable Device DC: 20
Effect: Electrical damage (4d6, reflex save for half), in 15ft cone emanating from the safe.

.

This would be what I'd consider a "Skill Challenge". It's meant to be resolved with skills, although combat and spells are always an alternative.

And that's what I like about doing it the 3e way. You create an encounter that can be approached by many different angles.

A "skill challenge" the 4e way feels too "gamist" to me, in that it's expected that you make skill check.. any skill check.. to attempt to succeed. It takes too much reality bending to try and come up with reasons for doing this or that check, to the point that it breaks immersion for me.

I prefer the method of giving a whole bunch of skill options to the players, and then let them decide how best to approach the situation. If they fail or simply don't have a good enough score to make the checks coming up, they have alternatives that don't involve making up reasons for more skill checks or abandoning the whole thing.

If, in the example above, the party simply can't deal with the safe right then and there, they still have the option of trying to walk out with it, and all that entails (needing higher than 18 strength to walk with it at all, the noise and attention it would give, etc).


Steel Wind,
I've read all of Mike Mearl's articles on Skill Challenges and the improved implementation in the DMG 2. I've run over a dozen very successful skill challenges in 4E. I also tried to add them to my previous 3.5 campaign and it was a failure because of the skill disparity that I'm discussing. This was probably exacerbated by the fact that I only had two players and they had virtually no overlap in skills.

By the Gneech's own description a very easy check from his skill challenge DC chart assumes no ranks and little or no ability modifier. At 1st level a 10 is not a very easy roll to achieve with no bonus. There is a very good chance that at 20th level that particular skill will have the exact same modifier. I realize it's part of a challenge and that multiple skill can be applied, but in many cases there is no alternative. You can't use Knowledge (Arcana) to climb a mountain. You might be able to use Jump at some points, maybe Acrobatics, even Survival if the DM were willing. Most likely a wizard is still going to have zero ranks in all of these and at most a +4 modifier at very high levels. That being the case, the very easy column still gives a 50/50 chance of success at low levels and a 75% chance of failure at high levels.

I also realize there are far more non-skill alternatives in Pathfinder than there were in 4E. I'm trying to make skills viable for this sort of thing, so I'm deliberately not focusing on them. Not that they will be denied to the players, but so that the players will have options.

Kaisoku,
That is an excellent challenge indeed! But it still basically assumes that the experts in each area will be making the various skill checks. This is one of the assumptions of Pathfinder that is problematic for me. There are times when the entire party is engaged in a skill focused activity (travel, stealth, survival, chases, etc) and these situations are not modeled well by the existing rules, or by the Gneech's DC table (no offense to John Robey intended here).

This last point is what I'm trying to address. Pathfinder models individual expertise very well, but not group effort. The complex skill check system still has this same problem. It's basically a way of making the expert's job more challenging.

DM_aka_DudeMeister's idea to allow everyone aiding the expert to be carried by the expert's success does address this issue as does my idea (Method 4) to invert the aid another action so that the expert gives his expertise to the others. My Method 3 also addresses this (allowing a cumulative total scaled as appropriate for the party), but it's harder to use on the fly than Method 3 or DM_aka_DudeMeister's method.


I've been happy with Charles Ryan's system: http://charlesmryan.wordpress.com/2010/10/04/skill-challenges-again/

For the climbing a mountain with stealth, I'd probably break it down into 2 skill challenges, 1 for the climb (using Climb checks, Survival, spells) and then another one for the Stealthy part of it.


Finarin Panjoro wrote:


John_Kretzer,
I haven't discussed it with my players yet because their eyes glaze over when I have a purely mechanical discussion with them :) But I'll definitely end up trying several variants of whatever I come up with on them and asking which they prefer.

Understood....well lets us know the feedback you get from them. Ultimately they are the ones who have to 'live with it' so it would be helpful to include them some way into this conservation.

Two points I want to bring up.

1) The whole each roll represents 6 seconds. I never ran skill out of combat like that. Out of combat I declare each roll represents a certain distance...or require new rolls if the condition changes to make it harded. I have always felt the spirit of the rules were meant to be ran that way. For instnace the characters are climbing a mountain...I might have them make 4 rolls a day. The rules don't suddenly explode if you don't have every skill check be 6 seconds. So out of combat don't worry about it.

2) The disparity in skills...I said it previously this is why I like skill challenges in 3.5 than in 4th ed in general...because it allows for more creativity and teamwork. Depending on the plan I hand out the bonus I feel should be there. Using rule zero and the rules on circumstance bonus.

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