Even More Perilous Tribulations: Non-Combat Challenges Revisited

In the original post, I talked about skill challenges, and incorporating them into RPGs of all systems. In this post, I’m going to describe 4 more types of challenge, and give examples of how I’ve used them in my games recently.

The Group Check

This comes, believe it or not, from 5e D&D, although I think it is underused. In this, everyone in the party rolls a skill check (usually the same skill) and if at least half of the party succeed, the group check is successful. An interesting tweak of D&D is that this, like everything, is rounded down, so in a group of 3 PCs if one of them passes the check is passed.

The example I used this for was a group trying to navigate across the Mournland to a location – they all made Survival tests. It works where there is a clear, group-applicable success or failure – and there are consequences for failure. In the example, if they fail, they must spend another day wandering the wastes.

The Success per PC

In this challenge, everyone needs to pass, but there is a facility for very successful rolls to ‘donate’ successes to PCs that fail – as example might be use of Stealth to sneak into an enemy base. Everyone needs to make a check, but especially stealthy PCs can share some of their success to the less stealthy PCs – this avoids the paladin always triggering the guards.

This works well in a group success/failure situation where it doesn’t make sense for some players to fail and the group still to be successful – I’ve used it in the past for climbing a mountain, where the stronger climbers can support the weaker PCs. It does rely on your system having solid degrees of success though – in a d20 game where your skill result is more binary and pass/fail it won’t work.

One Roll with Help

Barely a sub-system, this just means one player makes the check and the others help in whatever way to system allows it. In a recent game of Genlab Alpha, the PCs had to impress the warlike rabbit general, so the group’s warrior rolled – we roleplayed how his allies all helped and gave him the extra dice. For extra flavour, in some systems you can track whether the help worked or not and work it into the narration.

This works when one player is clearly leading, with the others to back them up – often in social encounters with a single NPC or group one player will take the lead, and there is no individual success/failure impact.

The Engagement Roll

This is basically stolen from Blades in the Dark, where the planning and preparation for a job is folded into a single roll that shows how successful it has been. Each player makes a skill check in turn, and the number of successes or failures indicates how successful their engagement has been. Make the rolls in any logical order and with broad brush strokes, and you can get an idea of how well a plan has come off. I used this when running 13th Age Glorantha for a final assault on a Broo camp (the game was streamed; you can watch the skill challenge here, from the start of Part 3)

This is good when you need to montage into something bigger, and failure won’t be a problem – in the example above, if they had all failed we might have cut to them all captured by Broo and staging a daring escape – while if they had all been successful, I had another plan in mind (a Lunar betrayal!) to give the game a satisfying climax – but their raid on the Broo would have been successful.

So, four more kinds of skill challenges. I’ve been finding they really add to the game, particularly when we are playing online, where turn-taking needs to be strict and everyone should be hyper-focussed on plot. Are there any more I should add? What experiences have you had with them? (And make sure you follow JamesCORP on Twitch and YouTube for more streamed games – I’m playing Delta Green this Saturday and there are more one-shots lined up).


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