Skill challenges


Prerelease Discussion


4E is much maligned (and for good reason), but I did rather like skill challenges. In that system, players would use their skills to accomplish a goal, hoping to achieve a certain number of successes before a certain number of failures.

I found it to be a really neat way to unify disparate rule systems (social challenges, mysteries, heists, etc.) and a way to draw ALL players into challenges that they might ordinarily feel left out of (even though I typically ran the challenge behind the screen). it was also a good way to ensure that major challenges didn't come down to a single skill roll. Are there any thoughts to important the mechanic or something similar into Pathfinder 2?


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On a related note, the chase mechanics in PF are really great, and under-utilized IMO. I would love to see some additional love given to that rules system (maybe even rename it, as "Chase" is just a subset of what the chase mechanics are good for!)

Dark Archive

One of the few things I am down for that came from 4e, skill challenges did make skills more interesting


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ulgulanoth wrote:
One of the few things I am down for that came from 4e, skill challenges did make skills more interesting

I introduced this during a plotline in my Kingmaker campaign.

Kingmaker spoilers:

My players were trying to make nice with a tribe of centaurs. In most campaigns I've run, the party face with do all the talking while the other players kind of sit around doing nothing. I used the Skill Challenge mechanic to open it up. We ended up with the party face powwowing with the leaders (Diplomacy skill), the wizard teaching magic to young centaurs (Spellcraft skill), the druid helping the centaur scouts find potable food and water sources in their land (Survival skill), and the barbarian sparring with centaur warriors to prove his mettle and the PC kingdom's martial prowess. (I was going to make it a straight BAB roll, but my group had fun cheering for him, so I ran it as a combat)

Dark Archive

pennywit wrote:
ulgulanoth wrote:
One of the few things I am down for that came from 4e, skill challenges did make skills more interesting

I introduced this during a plotline in my Kingmaker campaign.

** spoiler omitted **

That is a good use for them!


I hated the skill challenges as implemented in 4E. It might be possible to start over from scratch to make an interesting skill challenge system, but despite over a year of fiddling with it I could only come up with something mediocre.

I much prefer specialized, dedicated systems like the PF chase system. But even mini-games like that easily flop; the naval combat rules from Skull & Shackles were abysmal IMO.


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I'm not a huge fan of specialized, dedicated systems because it leads to rules bloat and "Which splatbook had those rules again?" Even if the 4E skill challenge system doesn't get implemented as-is, I like a framework that a) doesn't reduce a important skill tasks to a single roll, b) encourages all players to participate in a particular challenge, and c) establishes a solid failure condition and consequences.


I think Skill Challenges were one of the most unnecessary things 4E added. I never saw the point behind them. I could already achieve similar, if not better, results without them. The arbitrary "X amount of successes" just made the whole thing feel really weird. Granted, I haven't read the rules for that in years, so I don't remember them well (or fondly).


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Something like the Skill Challenge Handbook is something that I think would make a great element of the core rules - it's the kind of framework you can hang a lot of useful material on. PF2e probably wants something more crunchy and less abstract than the 4e version, though it probably doesn't need to be quite as elaborate as SCH version.

Dark Archive

Skill challenges are used in rather many of PFS scenarios though

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I use skill challenges all the time, players in my game highly value skills because of them.
The trick with skill challenges is to handle it fiction first rather than mechanics first. If the challenge is cross a ravine in a forest a player who wants to jump the gap could make an acrobatics check (fast) or cut down a tree for a makeshift bridge (slow) or cast fly (very fast). Whatever answer the players improvise determines the skill/ability the DC and the time taken.
Then afternoon crossing the ravine they are deep in wolf territory could avoid the wolves with survival and stealth, keel the wolves away with fire and loud noises (intimidate) or befriend the wolves (handle animal, wild empathy) with failed checks increasing the chance of a combat encounter with wolves.

The key to good skill challenges are clear stakes, and improvisational flexibility.

Liberty's Edge

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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

The basis for Skill Challenges in the Brand's version was flawed, scaling DC's for a thing according to level instead of having a set DC for it. Combined with the "Trained or Suck" Saga skill rules, it made for a miserable experience.

I do not want a Skill Challenge where the character has, always, a 50/50 chance at success no matter what, or no chance with an untrained skill.

No Thanks.


Thread resurrection!

I'm actually running a Skill Challenge at a game tonight, and I'm really curious to hear how you guys have adjudicated them in the past:

a) When a skill challenge begins, do you tell the players that this is a skill challenge?
b) If so, do you inform the players ahead of time, you need x number of successes before y number of failures, or are those victory conditions a secret?

In other words, should the players know their characters are in a sort-of mini-game or should the mechanics be kept secretly behind the screen, for the DM only?


pennywit wrote:
4E is much maligned (and for good reason), but I did rather like skill challenges. In that system, players would use their skills to accomplish a goal, hoping to achieve a certain number of successes before a certain number of failures.

Perhaps D&D 4e is the place where they put a label on it, but the practice extends into the 1970s with nearly any game that had a skill system and any GM who developed part of a plot without combat. For D&D, 2e would be your first chance with published rules since you had skill proficiencies, but actually many D&D 1e DMs had added skill systems via house rules so you would see things like skill challenges then.

Anyways, I guess my point is that since PF 2e has a skill system, you get skill challenges regardless of if they choose to specifically mention them in the rules.


But I think by Skill Challenges, the OP means specifically a system where you must have x successes before y failures, which wasn't that common before 4e.


Yolande d'Bar wrote:

Thread resurrection!

I'm actually running a Skill Challenge at a game tonight, and I'm really curious to hear how you guys have adjudicated them in the past:

a) When a skill challenge begins, do you tell the players that this is a skill challenge?
b) If so, do you inform the players ahead of time, you need x number of successes before y number of failures, or are those victory conditions a secret?

In other words, should the players know their characters are in a sort-of mini-game or should the mechanics be kept secretly behind the screen, for the DM only?

Personally I probably wouldn't reveal the meta details, I would probably try to come up with an in-game description of what is happening, that has a strong implication of what action should be taken and the potential consequences of failure. (If you want to give more details on what your skill challenge is going to be, I could try to help you brainstorm an immersive description.)


Yolande d'Bar wrote:

Thread resurrection!

I'm actually running a Skill Challenge at a game tonight, and I'm really curious to hear how you guys have adjudicated them in the past:

a) When a skill challenge begins, do you tell the players that this is a skill challenge?
b) If so, do you inform the players ahead of time, you need x number of successes before y number of failures, or are those victory conditions a secret?

In other words, should the players know their characters are in a sort-of mini-game or should the mechanics be kept secretly behind the screen, for the DM only?

When I use them, I don't tell the players in advance that it's explicitly a skill challenge, nor do I use treadmill scaling DCs, nor do I tell the players how many successes they need. I just try to move from event to event in a narratively flowing way, with complications for failed checks. Even if they "fail" the challenge, if they still got a good number of successes then there will usually be some kind of partial victory or a mitigation of the penalties of losing.


Thanks . . . That was my inclination too, but I wondered if knowing the mechanics might raise the stakes for the players.

For the record, I'll be running the Calm Down the Satyrs and Talking Bear Who are Trashing the Inn encounter from Kobold Games' Wrath of the River King.


Yolande d'Bar wrote:

I'm really curious to hear how you guys have adjudicated them in the past:

a) When a skill challenge begins, do you tell the players that this is a skill challenge?
b) If so, do you inform the players ahead of time, you need x number of successes before y number of failures, or are those victory conditions a secret?

In other words, should the players know their characters are in a sort-of mini-game or should the mechanics be kept secretly behind the screen, for the DM only?

I don't declare "this is a skill challenge" because to me it isn't a mini-game but just a natural extension of having a skill system.

If you've established that "loading the wagon and getting it to the next village on time" is really important, then the players are going to roleplay to accomplish that. If you've then devised a series of complications, then the roleplay is going to lead to characters and their skills trying to overcome those complications. There you go.

Now the 4e rules would have you construct some mini-game where folks would have to get X number of successes before there were Y number of failures, but that's really not needed. What you really want to happen is for the players to be entertained and for the plot to be advanced. If players botch up something with bad rolls then all they did was create their own complication which they will also work to overcome, and they will probably entertain themselves in the process...

(Fails Skill Check) "Crap! Joe just put his foot through the bucket. How do we fill the barrel with moleasses now?"

"I'll use carpentry to patch the hole in the bucket." (Fail)

"There's a bucket next door, I'll sneak over and 'borrow' it." (Success)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber

First of all, I really hated 4th edition, so you can take this in that context.

For me skill challenges in 4th edition worked really well in the written examples. They never seemed to work at all for me whether running or playing them. I always thought they were horribly meta and destroyed any flow that might be going on.

Maybe having had an extra 10 years to think, the Paizo team can do something better. Although I think probably not.


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Yolande d'Bar wrote:

Thread resurrection!

I'm actually running a Skill Challenge at a game tonight, and I'm really curious to hear how you guys have adjudicated them in the past:

a) When a skill challenge begins, do you tell the players that this is a skill challenge?
b) If so, do you inform the players ahead of time, you need x number of successes before y number of failures, or are those victory conditions a secret?

In other words, should the players know their characters are in a sort-of mini-game or should the mechanics be kept secretly behind the screen, for the DM only?

I always tell them when I’m using any “minigame” subsystem. My experience is that they (not just skill challenges, but any such system) bring a new level of abstraction. If you don’t warn players to shift gears in terms of how to interpret the narrative, they’re likely to try and respond tactically to what is really a strategic result/situation.

I don’t generally spell out the guts of the mechanics - they know successes>failures and more than that is not going to bring much benefit, imo. What they need to know is what choices they can make and the scope of their possible results (power, timeframe, potential targets and so forth).

By keeping it secret, I found the players’ narration of their skill rolls was often “out of scale” with the DM’s narration of the results.


I hope they put some sort of system in because many situations, especially ones that use the diplomacy skill shouldn't be decided through one roll


vorArchivist wrote:
I hope they put some sort of system in because many situations, especially ones that use the diplomacy skill shouldn't be decided through one roll

I would like personality traits listed. Some personalities are more prone to cause your target to get angry and embarrass themselves if you mock them. Others are more likely to take the bribe. Some can appreciate the poetry and others cannot. If the players just used cues (because it was part of the rules), I think it would make the game far more interesting. It is not the same if you incorporate house rules because it takes a lot of work and you have to educate players who already know the rules about your house rules. Each house rule you add is harmful to the game on some level (because of the time it takes to learn it as a player, because of the unintended consequences, because of the continuous translation of adventure paths to your house rules, etc.) Alignment-as-personality only goes so far.


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One of the paradoxes of the 4E skill challenge system is that social settings are one of the worst uses for them - yet it was often modelled (in 4E adventures) as being a typical place to use the skill challenge framework.


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Starfox wrote:
I hated the skill challenges as implemented in 4E. It might be possible to start over from scratch to make an interesting skill challenge system, but despite over a year of fiddling with it I could only come up with something mediocre.

Skill challenges done right exist in PF1e. Now it's been years since I ran a skill challenge, but I do remember maligning them and then when I eventually wrote my own adventure I eventually recreated the 4th ed skill challenge. Here's how you do them right (IMO):

Only allow skill checks that make sense in the given situation. In Pathfinder this often means investigation checks allow diplomacy and then a whole bunch of knowledge checks. Other skills (such as helping someone through a heal check) are also permitted in very specific situations to convince someone to give you the information (and a spent spell often is the same result as a success).

Have a clear in world reason for multiple skill checks. For gathering information typically a wide array of related subjects are being investigated.

Have a clearly defined and completely intuitive reason for how a failure causes a setback.

If there is a limit on how many failures the challenge can handle, make it be completely well defined and sensical for the limit to be in place. Make sure the setbacks are sensible ones. If a particular failure doesn't make sense to contribute to the limit, don't make it contribute.

If someone uses a skill in a way that should help the team but clearly doesn't significantly help towards the end goal, treat it as an aid check instead and give someone else a bonus.

If any of the above rules don't make sense for a specific skill challenge, don't use that specific rule for that specific skill challenge.

Liberty's Edge

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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

To be sure, a series of skill checks can be used to determine outcomes. The major detriment in 4th edition was that no DC was ever determined logically, it was set by level and scaled as the character typically could not improve the skill beyond average for that scale.

PF and 3.5 does not have that problem, and DC's are determined by the situation and how the writer or GM perceives the situation, not by a set table of scales by level independent of what the object is or how the situation presents the challenge.

4th edition wanted all skill checks to be done as a challenge instead of being one offs. You want to Disable Device to open a lock, you need three rolls, don't fail any or you will need to start over. It consumed time and didn't improve the game. Everything that changed from the previous edition worked to hamper the character's chances to succeed.

Grand Lodge

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I could not stand skill challenges in 4e. Every single GM that I played with would just make it a series of dice rolls without any role playing what so ever. I guess it would be better for the players that weren't into role playing but it was just one more thing that made 4e feel like more of a video game. I'm hit or miss on all the mini-games that appear in a lot of pfs scenarios. I did like the mass combat one from a Worldwound scenario, but I'm not a fan of the Chases. I've played in many games where the whole group cringes or moans when the GM says we are entering into a chase scene. I did not like the debate mini-games either. It was too complex and our 4 star GM had trouble figuring it out.


Yeah I don't have a ton of experience with 4E skill challenges, but I do know my players hate chases. I'm a little worried about modes even. My players tend to get very medagamey when the game elements are not kept under the hood. I think key to adding any type of skill challenge system is going to need some type of organic application so it seems less gamey and more natural. YMMV.

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