Reference Book: Star Wars Saga Edition Galaxy of Intrigue
The Star Wars saga is full of examples of heroes doing amazing things. Such remarkable exploits often take place during shootouts, Lightsaber duels, and Dogfights between X-Wings and TIE Fighters. But not every exciting scene in the films is about combat; many of them focus more on Skills and Talents that do not relate directly to fighting prowess. Chase sequences, stealthy investigations, tense negotiations, and other such scenes reflect the heroes' abilities to use their cunning, their creativity and their well-honed skills to achieve their goals.
This article introduces the concept of Skill Challenges to the Star Wars roleplaying game. A Skill Challenge is a mechanical framework that Gamemasters can use to create exciting and interesting scenes in which the heroes use their Skills, not their combat abilities, to accomplish a particular goal. In a Skill Challenge, the heroes make a series of related Skill Checks that combine to determine whether they face victory or defeat. A Skill Challenge can take the place of a combat encounter in an adventure or can augment a combat encounter by adding a skill-based element.
Many scenes from the Star Wars films could be represented in a roleplaying game as Skill Challenges. The asteroid chase in The Empire Strikes Back, the negotiation between Luke Skywalker and Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi, the Podrace in The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan's investigation of the Jango Fett mystery in Attack of the Clones- all these are examples of sequences in which heroes use multiple Skills to accomplish a task. Typically, a Skill Challenge represents a scene or a group of scenes that moves the plot forward through skill use rather than combat.
This article teaches Gamemasters how to create their own Skill Challenges and run them in adventures.
No Substitute For Roleplaying Edit
Skill Challenges are not intended to be a substitute for the standard roleplaying and noncombat scenes that probably already exist in your campaign. Rather, Skill Challenges are frameworks that let you track successes, failures, and consequences over a series of multiple Skill Checks. Skill Challenges give you an idea of how many Experience Points to award for a particular scene, and they help you create encounters that involve more than simply making a few Skill Checks, but they should not replace the dialogue and interactions that you already have. While participating in a Skill Challenge, players should describe their actions and get into their roles just as they would at any other time.
Playing Skill Challenges Edit
Main Article: Playing Skill Challenges
For players, Skill Challenges represent a chance not only to use your Skills in a meaningful way, but also to have your heroes contribute to an exciting scene. Skill Challenges are great for fleshing out your characters, letting their personalities come to life in the actions they take outside of combat encounters. A Skill Challenge offers an opportunity to roleplay your characters' strengths, and perhaps even weaknesses, in a dynamic way.
As a player, your responsibility in the Skill Challenge is to come up with creative actions that can help your allies achieve the goal of the challenge. When it is your turn, think of an action that is appropriate for your hero in that situation. If possible, the action should play to your hero's strengths and give you a chance to show off your character's areas of expertise. Describe the action to your Gamemaster, and, if the GM approves of the idea, make a Skill Check (Or another check that the GM calls for) to determine the result. Once each of your allies has had a chance to act, it will be your turn again, provided that the Skill Challenge has not ended.
Over the course of the Skill Challenge, the situation might evolve. You might receive new information, the backdrop could change, or the goals could shift as the challenge progresses. Be sure to think about how your hero would react to the changing circumstances of the Skill Challenge, and come up with new and interesting things to do. Below are some tips to help you choose actions that will contribute to an exciting, dynamic scene.
Running Skill Challenges Edit
Main Article: Running Skill Challenges
In many ways, a Skill Challenge is like any other encounter. It has opportunities for success and penalties for failure. It requires multiple heroes to participate and often has both obstacles and antagonists. However, whereas combat encounters require the heroes to use weapons or special attacks to achieve victory, a Skill Challenge requires them to use their Skills and creativity to succeed.
One of the most important points to remember is that a Skill Challenge, like a combat encounter, is meant to create and exciting scene or sequence of scenes in the tradition of the Star Wars films. A Skill Challenge should have the same tension and uncertainty as a combat encounter, with real consequences for success and failure. When running a Skill Challenge for players, you have many of the same responsibilities as when running a combat encounter: you must keep the game moving, ensure that the pace does not slow too much, encourage players to be creative and act cinematically, and adjudicate the rules of the challenge.
The basic Skill Challenge mechanics are relatively simple. Over the course of the challenge, the heroes take actions that either succeed or fail. If the heroes accrue a set number of successes before a set number of failures, they succeed in the challenge. If they accrue too many failures, they fail the challenge.
Of course, that description is a very simplified version of the mechanics; the rest of this section provides a step-by-step breakdown of the process used when the Gamemaster runs a Skill Challenge. Throughout this breakdown, examples walk you through a sample Skill Challenge based on the Endor Speeder Bike chase in Return of the Jedi. The examples do not detail the entire sequence, but instead they highlight how elements of the Skill Challenge combine to create and exciting and iconic scene from Star Wars lore. The premise of the Skill Challenge is that the heroes have arrived on Endor and encountered a Scout Trooper Patrol. Their goal is to make sure the scouts do not report back to their superiors and alert the Empire to the Rebel presence on Endor.
Designing Skill Challenges Edit
Main Article: Designing Skill Challenges
Designing a Skill Challenge is much like designing a combat encounter. As the Gamemaster, you determine the location of the Skill Challenge, the obstacles and antagonists that might play into the scene, several options for providing the heroes with variety, and the consequences of success or failure. Conceptually, Skill Challenges and combat encounters are similar, although they differ in execution.
This section walks you through the creation of a Skill Challenge, from the initial concept to challenge effects that can be added to spice things up. By following these steps, you can create Skill Challenges that contribute to exciting scenes in the Star Wars tradition.
Challenge Effects Edit
Main Article: Challenge Effects
The effects described in this section provide small alterations to the game mechanics of a Skill Challenge, changing the way it plays out. Each effect has a unique rule associated with it, and some of the effects might be incompatible with one another- or at least require some adjudication from the Gamemaster. The description of each effect includes examples of how it can be used, and suggestions for when it might be included in a Skill Challenge.
Skill Challenge Tips Edit
Now that you know how a Skill Challenge works, this section offers tips on creating more exciting challenges. Although each challenge is different, certain aspects of their creation and execution can make them more memorable. As the Gamemaster, it is your job to use the rules- and these suggestions- to create scenes that excite your players, tell an interesting story, and fit into the Star Wars saga.
Encourage Cinematic Play Edit
Part of your responsibility as a Gamemaster is to promote cinematic play. In Star Wars, taking risks is part of the fun and can lead to great thrills, and in a Skill Challenge, goals that otherwise would be incredibly difficult might be within the heroes' grasp. To encourage the players to take cinematic actions, present situations in which there are many opportunities to do so. Part of this is simply a function of choosing interesting terrain and locales for the Skill Challenge, but as the challenge evolves, you might need to present new situations in which the heroes can take audacious chances and still flourish. You can be a bit more lenient when the players want to take risks, especially if it will produce a more exciting scene. If a hero wants to attempt a daring action that has potential to make the scene more stirring, feel free to assign a Skill Check DC that is lower than might normally be expected.
Offer Suggestions Edit
As with combat encounters, sometimes a Skill Challenge can bog down. The players might have a hard time deciding on their next actions, or they might be paralyzed by the fear of doing something wrong. Sometimes, the players' interest might wane, or a failure can make the situation seem hopeless. In these cases, it is up to you as the Gamemaster to offer gentle nudges to keep the challenge moving. When the action slows down too much, feel free to suggest good Skill uses that the heroes can try, especially if you know that the tasks would be relatively easy for them to perform. Some players might feel lost because they did not follow your description of the situation, and giving them suggestions of what to try can help clarify the needs of the challenge and fire their imaginations.
Create Evolving Situations Edit
A Skill Challenge is supposed to be a dynamic, evolving scene. As the heroes gain Successes and Failures, the situation should change accordingly. The heroes' actions should have an impact on the scenario, and the characters should feel that they are making progress, not just taking futile actions. Even better, altering the situation as a result of the heroes' actions opens up fresh creative opportunities, especially if the new circumstances lend themselves to other Skills. For example, during a negotiation, the heroes should see some indication that their arguments are having an effect on the Hapan noble whom they are entreating for aid. After accruing a few Successes, perhaps they convince the noble to help them, only to discover that they must also convince the other members of her house to assist, meaning that the heroes now must deal with a whole council. On the other hand, accruing a Failure might cause the noble to become offended and summon her guards to take the heroes away; the characters then must convince the guards to wait long enough for them to make a second plea.
Evolving situations create more interesting opportunities and more engaging scenes. If a scenario develops beyond the place where it started, it is more likely to be seen as progress in the plot of the campaign. When a situation evolves, something about it should change- the locale, the person with whom the heroes must interact, the tone or sense of urgency, and so on. The new conditions should open up more possibilities for heroic actions and give players something new to do rather than repeat the same actions from their previous turns.
Impose Consequences Edit
As you create evolving situations, remember that the choices the players make should have consequences. They likely will use the Skills and abilities that grant them the best chances of success. However, keep in mind that using the same resources over and over again might have negative consequences, and encourage the heroes to choose from a variety of actions that are appropriate for each situation. For example, if you have a Jedi hero whose best Skill is Use the Force, he or she might try to use that Skill to solve every problem in the Skill Challenge. If that occurs, from time to time you should impose repercussions for relying on that Skill too much. In The Rebellion Era, for instance, someone who uses The Force repeatedly could draw the attention of the Empire, so the Jedi's recklessness could cause the heroes to be hounded by Imperials.
Additionally, each time a hero earns a Success or a Failure in a Skill Challenge, allow a larger consequence to alter the situation or come back into play down the line. Keep the challenge dynamic by having it reflect the heroes' actions. For example, in the Endor chase sequence, Luke makes a Jump check to knock a Scout Trooper off a Speeder Bike, and he succeeds. As a consequence of his action, Luke gains control of a Speeder Bike and can act independently from Leia (Whereas before, his options were more limited).
Add Skill Challenges to Combat Edit
Sometimes, a Skill Challenge can be used during combat to represent complex tasks. When you run a Skill Challenge as a part of a combat encounter, your players will almost certainly act on Initiative Order, and you should not require all heroes to contribute to the success of the challenge. The challenge should have enough transparency for the players to make informed decisions about what their heroes do.
Skill Challenges that occur during a combat encounter usually require the heroes to work together on a complex task while engaging in combat with enemies. Returning to the Endor example, think of the scene outside the entrance to the bunker, in which the heroes try to break in while fighting the forces of the Empire. As the combat progresses, the heroes (In this case, Han Solo and R2-D2) attempt a variety of Skill Checks to gain entry to the bunker, occasionally stopping (In Han's case) to make attack rolls.
As discussed in Determine CL and Complexity (Designing Skill Challenges), when you use a Skill Challenge in combat, consider it part of the encounter's design when determining encounter difficulty. Typically, given the peril of combat, you should include only Complexity 1 Skill Challenges in combat encounters. Additionally, when designing encounters, you can include a Complexity 1 Skill Challenge without adding the Skill Challenge's CL to the encounter's total CL. In essence, Complexity 1 Skill Challenges are "Free" when included in a combat encounter and do not affect the calculations you make to determine the difficulty of the Skill Challenge.
Break up the Challenge Edit
You need not run all parts of a Skill Challenge consecutively. After a round of Skill Checks, you can put the challenge on hold and engage the players in another scene before returning to the next round of checks. This is a great way to play out Skill Challenges that take place over a longer period of time. For example, if the heroes are members of New Republic Intelligence sent to root out Imperial agents who are inciting sedition among a planet's populace, the Skill Challenge goal might be to uncover the identities of the provocateurs. Finding the Imperials could be a complex Skill Challenge that unfolds over several days. After the heroes accrue a few Successes and Failures, the Gamemaster can put the Skill Challenge on hold so the characters can deal with other events (Such as a riot) that require their attention. Breaking up a Skill Challenge is also a good way to reinforce the dynamic nature of the scene. After the first Failure in a Skill Challenge, you might put it aside to run a short combat encounter, then return to the challenge after the encounter is resolved . When you pick the challenge back up again, the scene has changed, and the parameters of the challenge might have changed as well.
Any Gamemaster running a Skill Challenge must be prepared to Improvise. Thinking on your feet is key to creating an interesting challenge, and you should be ready to engage in both Active Improvisation and Reactive Improvisation.
Active Improvisation comes into play when you need to spice up the Skill Challenge for one reason or another. Perhaps your players have hit a dead end, run out of ideas, or simply lost interest in the challenge. Alternatively, you might run out of sensible responses to the heroes' actions before the Skill Challenge has been resolved. If this happens, you should improvise new situations, new locales, or new parameters for the challenge. For example, during a Skill Challenge that involves negotiation with a Hutt crime lord, the players might tire of the constant back-and-forth with the gangster and lose interest. Improvising, you decide that the Hutt has likewise grown bored with the heroes and throws a switch that opens a trap door, dropping the characters into a system of caverns filled with predatory beasts. The Skill Challenge changes from a negotiation to an escape sequence, requiring the heroes to make their way out of the caverns before being eaten by whatever creatures lurk in the dark.
Reactive Improvisation comes into play as a result of the heroes' actions. Sometimes, the players will take actions that you did not anticipate, or they will find loopholes in the scene that cause them to do something unexpected. That's okay- in fact, it can be a lot of fun for both you and the players if you let them be clever and creative. Rather than reject the actions because you did not prepare for them, improvise ways that the actions can succeed, and in turn transform the Skill Challenge. For example, the heroes are participating in an investigative Skill Challenge to find a fugitive. One of the characters, in a surprising turn, puts up a large sum of credits as a bounty on the target rather than continuing the investigation. Improvising, you allow the action, and some days later, a bounty hunter shows up with the quarry in tow. However, the Skill Challenge continues; the heroes must negotiate with the bounty hunter, then escape the bodyguards that the quarry summoned when taken into custody.