A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Skill Challenge: The Interview

POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING: If you are participating in my campaign, or intend to participate in it, you may not want to read the attached PDF.

Skill challenges have always been my heroic flaw. I don't think I've been able to run a skill challenge correctly yet, but I'm getting there. A boatload of online resources and posts on other blogs surely helped me get it together, and I suggest everyone to look those up if they're having as much trouble as I.

The first scene in my campaign isn't an encounter... It's an interview. The five players are brought before the rulers of the village of Solis and essentially interrogated for the job of "village protectors". Depending on how they respond, the nobles might like them (in which case they'll actually support their efforts) or despise them (in which case they don't really care if the players die painfully).

In concept this was perfect for a skill challenge, but the mechanic didn't quite fit as it was designed. There were a few concerns:

  1. The party wasn't doing this as a collective; each person was being interrogated one at a time. They may be able to assist each other, but they can't speak out of turn.
  2. There were two people asking the questions, and they were both radically different individuals: one was a soldier and war general, the other was a mystic. The DCs should definitely not be the same.
  3. It was an interview to gauge the ability of the players... Should the players' reactions be restricted to a handful of "primary" skills? Almost anything should be fair game (I had a hard time figuring a way that Stealth could be used, though).
  4. The two people asking the questions have a high degree of bias for certain races and classes; there are certain types of people that they will be more sympathetic to, and others that they will have a seething hatred for. For example, they're elves who worship Corellon... so God help you if you're a drow.

Here is "Chapter 1, Scene 1" from my upcoming campaign, edited slightly to remove the really major plot spoilers (no "Conclusion"). You'll note a few changes to the skill challenge mechanic:

  • Number of failures is irrelevant; only successes count. Furthermore, a PC has the option of not doing a skill check at all. If you're no good at being diplomatic or talkative, you don't have to force yourself to succeed. You simply don't do anything (you can speak, but it doesn't have to be a rolled skill check). In fact, if the players never fail they get bonus XP.
  • There are two sets of DCs, depending on who the players are responding to: Laris or Lia. The warrior reacts better to feats of strength and endurance, while the mystic reacts better to diplomacy and intelligence.
  • There are a whole boatload of modifiers depending on the player's class and race. You'll probably do great if you're a shardmind psion, but you're pretty much screwed if you're a drow rogue (you're lucky if they talk to you at all).

So here you go... The first scene in my upcoming campaign! Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 1, Scene 1: The Throne Room (PDF)

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