Skill Challenges

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Skill Challenges

When one of your players attempts something that has a chance of failure, ask them for an Attribute check to determine their level of success.

Ask for one of seven Attribute checks: STR, DEX, END, AWR, INT, CHA, or LUCK. These correspond to the seven Attributes of the same name (note that there are not COR checks).

To make a skill check, your player will roll 1d20 and add their Attribute points from the relevant Attribute.

Encourage players to mention if they have a relevant skill. This would allow them to make their check with an added bonus.

For example, assume that Marcus is level 1. If the MC asks Marcus to make a Charisma roll to convince a local official to offer aid, then Marcus would roll 1d20 + his CHA, or 1d20+2. However, Marcus also has +3 in the Persuading skill, so he could remind the MC of this and make the roll at +5 instead: +2 from his Charisma, and +3 from his Persuading bonus.

Players can use Attribute checks and skills to attempt all manner of actions, from spreading rumors in a tavern to sneaking through a dungeon to foraging for food in the woods.

Setting Difficulty

As an MC, when you consider how difficult an Attribute should be, use these guiding principles and adopt them to the specific circumstance in question.

Tiered Success

It is narratively rewarding to set up an Attribute Check with different tiers of success. Using the above example, if Marcus is attempting to persuade a local official to lend aid to the party, then perhaps there are four possible outcomes, depending on how high Marcus rolls:

1. The official might ignore Marcus and refuse even basic help (outright failure).

2. Perhaps, the official will listen to the heroes and then redirect them: “Not my problem; go talk to the sheriff.” This would be considered a failure in that the official did not lend aid, but not a complete failure; the official offered a lead for the party to pursue.

3. With a more positive outcome, the official might lend financial aid.

4. The official might even give the heroes a formal writ that lets them act with the official’s legal blessing, giving them more access throughout the city.

Failing Forward

When designing a skill check, it is important to keep in mind that even failure should lead to progression in the story. For example, if characters are trying to sneak into an enemy stronghold, then failure might lead to combat; this still moves the story forward in a meaningful way.

Conversely, if characters must find a secret room in an old manor, and they all fail on their AWR checks to do so, it could grind the story to a halt. In order to prevent this, make sure that every outright failure leads to another potential course of action. Failing their AWR checks might mean that the characters DO still find the secret room, but it takes them so long that the manor’s cultist inhabitants return home and confront them… or perhaps a rival explorer finds a different way into the secret room first and steals the artifact the heroes were looking for.

There will, of course, be the rare instance in which failure is just failure - provided that it does not lead to an outright dead end in the story’s progression. In the example of the manor’s hidden room, perhaps the heroes are investigating a larger mystery throughout the town. Just because they can’t find a hidden room in the manor does not mean that they can’t keep pursuing other leads.

Difficulty Rating

Here are some guidelines that you can use when determining the difficulty rating of a skill check. You can use these guidelines to set different tiers of success; for example, outright failure might be a roll of 5 or less; failure with some consolation might be a roll of 6-9; success, a roll of 10- 15; and fantastic success with a best-case-scenario outcome if you roll 16 or higher. These numbers should change dramatically based on the difficulty of the task undertaken

Remember that skill checks should only be made if there is a chance of failure. Finding food in an in-season orchard, for example, is a given and should not require a skill check.

Note that adventurers can gain up to a +12 in an Attribute (though they cannot get a +12 before level 21 due to the restrictions in how quickly you can gain Attribute points), and can get up to a +20 in a Skill if they focus on really becoming an expert in it.

This means that by level 21, a character might have a +32 in a Specialized Skill, meaning that a high-level expert could automatically succeed a very hard check, but would need to roll a 15 or higher on a near-impossible check.

Difficulty Rating Example
Very easy 5 Swimming across a narrow lake without much current.
easy 8 Sneaking past guards that have fallen asleep
Intermediate 12 Climing a vertical cliff with rough edges, offering resonable handholds
Difficult 17 Persuading a political enemy tol team up for a shared goal
Hard 23 Determing cause of death on a very mangled corpse
Very Hard 30 Spotting an invisible Enemy
Strenuous 38 Pushing a large boulder up a hill
NearImpossible 47 Outwitting an archfiend

Example Skill Challenges

Here are a couple situations where you might ask your party to make some skill checks. The Difficulties in these examples assume a party of four Adventurers that are all level 3 or lower.

Rumors of bandits

The heroes have heard that there is a roving pack of bandits in the area, so they take it upon themselves to investigate. In order to quickly find the bandit group, the adventurers need to ask traveling merchants and local farmers and hunters if they’ve gotten word of the bandits or seen anything suspicious of late.

The adventurers can make CHA or INT checks to gain more information on them. If the heroes have the relevant Skills, they might want to add their Eavesdropping, Gossipping, Intimidating, Persuading, or Savoir Faire bonuses.

Each PC can make a check. They gain Successes based on the table below

If the heroes collectively get fewer than 4 Successes, then when they find the group of bandits, the bandits have had time to recruit more members. Add 2 additional bandits to the encounter

Conversely, if the adventurers collectively get more than 6 successes, then when they find the bandit group, run the battle with one fewer bandit as the group has realized that they are being investigated and one of their less committed members decided to abandon them

Wilderness Survival

When the heroes try to camp, they can roll AWR checks to try to make camp. They might add Foraging or Sheltering bonuses.

Each PC can make a check, gaining “Successes” based on the table below.

If the adventurers collectively get fewer than 5 Successes, then they each start the following day by subtracting 1d4 from their current HP (representing a malnourished and uncomfortable night of sleep).

Skill Roll Successes
Less then 5 -1
5-8 0
9-13 +1
14-17 +2
18-20 +3
21 or more +4