December 16, 2008

The Skill Challenges of War - Part 3: Diplomatic Mission Reconnaissance

Welcome to Part 3 of the Skill Challenges of War series. Today's edition is brought to you by me, Mad Brew, from the Labs that bears my name. Currently I am running Jonathan through a series of experi... err, trial testing that he, uh, volunteered for over in the Labs. So since he is incapaci... err, indisposed, I wanted present one of several skill challenges I have created for The Core Mechanic.
Jonathan introduced the concept in Part 1, and then suggested a table of generalized modifiers for use with war skill challenges in Part 2. This time we actually present a simple skill challenge for use with D&D 4th Edition, though I think these skill challenges could be easily adapted to any d20 game system. For more information about running skill challenges, I recommend you read the "Skill Challenges" section of chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master's Guide (p 72) and the errata for the DMG to see the updated rules.

Diplomatic Mission Reconnaissance

You have been sent on a diplomatic mission to secure assurances against aid to your enemy and possibly forge a treaty in alliance between your nations [1]. However, your superiors do not trust this nation to keep its word and you have been given special instructions to gather “additional” information.

The PCs must discover the true intentions of the nation they are visiting under the guise of diplomats. This will include uncovering troop movements, assignments, and intercepting any communication between this nation and your enemy. This skill challenge is left fairly open so that the Dungeon Master can dictate where the nation’s interests lie.

Setup: You must uncover as much information about your host’s true intentions before you are discovered.

Level: Equal to the level of the party.

Complexity: 1 (requires 4 successes before 3 failures).

Primary Skills: Bluff, History, Stealth, Thievery.

Bluff (Moderate DCs): You use your charm and diplomat status to open up the lips of a few officials revealing recent visitors of state as well as current troop locations.

History (Easy DCs): You brushed up on this nation’s history before the mission and you are aware of that this nation needs to import several key natural resources. You can easily check the source of these materials at the market to see if your enemy is currently trading with this nation.

Stealth (Moderate DCs): You sneak into the courts at night to discover if anyone is having clandestine meetings with enemy officials and to eavesdrop on important members of state.

Thievery (Hard DCs): You break into the military headquarters to find documents that may inform you about training, movements, and future operations. Failing this approach ends the skill challenge and the nation becomes hostile if it was not already so.

Success: The PCs have uncovered enough information to ascertain the general intentions of the nation; they receive a major advantage in the next skill challenge that involves this nation and the war effort.

Failure: The PCs failed to gather enough information to determine the nation’s intentions.

[1] Modified Blackwall Map from Wizards' Map-a-Week


  1. One thing I have considered: Moving gameplay from combat oriented to skill-challenge oriented. Has anyone done this?

  2. I know of one other blogger - actually I think its "gamefiend" who is also going to be contributing to this series. (tommorrow) Whoever it was, they did say that they where such a fan of skill challenges that they had not had a combat in "several sessions" and everyone was still having a great time. I think it might take some getting used to, but it is an interesting idea. Of course, in terms of 4E - a game without combat essentially makes most of the character classes fairly identical since there are very few "non-combat" class powers anymore. This is one of my few complaints about 4E - but it will likely change as the powercreep/supplement cycle continues to move forward with the PHB2 and the additional splatbooks.

  3. Sry.. forgot to give a link. His blog is "At-will" and he has a whole series on skill challenges. Here's the Link

  4. Yes, but for a system like Star Wars it is actually pretty awesome because there is a lot of skill diversity/unique skills based on class.

    My thought was this (and this is what I proposed to my co-DM on our private forums):

    Typical example:
    Eg: Milee needs to disarm a complex trap in order for the party to proceed. She will need to make 6 DC 20 disarm checks before she fails 4 checks. that is the skill challenge.

    My vision: We can play around with this idea ot include the entire party, limited only by there imagination.

    Example: At the beginning of the next session, the characters will need to avoid Sith ships and get to the Polar region to meet up with Tumak. The players will need to make 6 DC 30 pilot checks before they fail 3 in order to complete this skill challenge, if they fail they will be dumped into combat with several Sith interceptors.

    Here is the rub: Other players can use complementary skills, based on the situation, to lower the DC of each of those rolls as long as:

    1. The skill in question is different from any other skill used in the challenge.

    2. The skill in question is being used by a different character.

    3. At least one of the skill checks the party needs to make is then based on that roll.

    For example: Melathys decides to use her mechanics skill to re-route secondary power systems into the engines so the group can outrun the enemy. Now skill challenge becomes 6 DC 28 checks before they fail 3, at least one of these checks must be a pilot check and at least one must be a Mechanics check, the group can decide which ones to favor (perhaps Mel is going all out to overheat the engines, or Kaldo wants to do some fancy piloting). Now let's say that Simeon wants to contrbute by using a Computer Use check to re-route the deflector shields to make a "ghost image" to avoid the incoming interceptors. The group will now need to make 6 DC 26 skill checks, one of the successful checks must be pilot, one must be mechanic, and one must be computer use.... you get the idea.

    This system could have applicaitons in practically every encounter, if the characters want to avoid combat, they need to propose an appropriate skill challenge, we set the difficutly, and the folks who can contribute will contribute, limited only be there imagination. This will also be useful for social situations, allowing multiple folks to contribute (in such case we may allow several different folks to use the same skill as long as it is used in a different way... for example Simeon uses persuasion to decieve, Umwaw to be diplomatic, and one of the Jedi's to intimidate).

  5. Jason, you've hit the nail on the head here. This is exactly how skill challenges are supposed to be used. Some can be combat free - some at transitions to combat or even part/during combat - and others completely combat free. The main thing I think many people miss (new 4E players and DM's) is that a skill challenge is not just a bunch of dice rolls - it should be ROLEplayed, not rollplayed. There are times, in my own game when my players don't even "know" they are in a skill challenge. I'm just keeping track of success and failures and then guiding the action accordingly.

  6. So much of D&D depends on the players and their expectations of the game. If I ran a game w/o combat I am positive there would be an outcry. I enjoy a mix.

    The point that these things are to be roleplayed is often missed, as Jonathan pointed out. I played a couple of RPGA games at GenCon where skill challenges ended up being a dice rolling grind. And it sucked. I would have rather had my character die on the claws of a ancient red dragon.

    And these skill challenges present a of list "primary" skills. Nothing stops a character from coming up with an ingenius implementation of an unlisted skill.


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