I’m one of the people who think that skill challenges in 4e are ace. I love them, and slot them into published adventure sessions whenever I can. I do appreciate that they’re not for everyone, and it took me a while to get used to them myself. I love them so much I wondered what it would look like if the skill challenge were actually the core resolution mechanic in D&D rather than a single d20 roll (for a skill) or a whole mass of d20 rolls (for combat)? Let’s look at combat.
We’ve all had combats where it’s gone on too long, and there’s loads of advice about how to trim them down online. However, none of those methods is going to get a combat down to 15-20 minutes, while keeping the tactical thrills and tension. I think some of those combats could be replaced by skill challenge. Plenty of people have mooted SKs as a workaround for long combats, but I’ve never seen them statted out. That’s because, powers are not skills, and it’s powers that get used most often in fights. So how to make a fighter and a wizard contribute without just defaulting to athletics and arcana skill rolls?
Let’s use the basic SK structure as is. The complexity of the SK would default to 5 (12 successes before 3 failures) as that counts as a full encounter of 5 monsters for XP purposes. Lower complexity SKs would represent those random encounters you don’t really want to get all the kit out for.
DCs are what they are, the trouble is knowing what to roll against. Perhaps picking a skill does work after all: though what would a ranger pick? Nature doesn’t seem right for fighting. Why not go with your primary stat, plus half level as usual, and consider it trained (chuck in an inherent bonus and you’re golden). Easy. So now it’s about how to not just have a succession of dry rolls.
One thing is that we need to model the use of resources. At wills never run out (obviously) and encounter powers refresh enough so as to not be a resource between encounters. What players like to hoard is action points and dailies.
So, if a player uses an action point, they get +1 to their roll
If they blow a daily (any attack daily), they get +2 to their roll
Not bad, but the players still need to feel unique.
The answer lies in that utterly vacant piece of design space just waiting to be plundered, the roles. The combat roles don’t do anything mechanically in the game at present. They only exist to help with party building, but they obviously have an effect later in the game by flavouring the powers classes have access to. Given that I want to simplify the combat, it seems fair to forget about discreet class abilities and instead just use the four roles.
Leader – helps others in the party
Striker – deals big damage
Defender – can soak up the hits
Controller – changes the battlefield
Let’s take those into the realms of the skill challenge.
Leader – A success against a hard DC removes a failure already accumulated
Striker – A success means two successes for the purpose of this SK
Defender – A success means the defender takes the next healing surge loss in this SK
Controller – A success means that the next skill DC goes down one level of complexity
This almost maps to the Advantages rule presented in Essentials.
The last thing to add is that everyone in the party has to take a turn. There’s no need for initiative, just go round the table. Should a player fail their roll, the character loses a healing surge. Should the party fail the SK, everyone loses a healing surge.
Job done! Just add narration to taste.