Reference Book: Star Wars Saga Edition Galaxy of Intrigue
Main Article: 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.
Determining Participants Edit
The first step when running a Skill Challenge is to determine who the participants are- typically, all heroes who are present when the challenge begins participate in a Skill Challenge. If the heroes have been separated somehow, only a few may participate initially, but you can add more participants later if the scene evolves to allow for a logical place to include them. Likewise, depending on how the Skill Challenge progresses, you might rule that some heroes can no longer participate because they have moved too far away from the action, been knocked unconscious, or otherwise been prevented from interacting with the challenge.
When determining who the participants in a particular Skill Challenge are, keep in mind that a participant in a Skill Challenge must take actions that contribute to the challenge. A hero who is present but who does not contribute to the challenge is not really a participant. As a general rule, once a participant in a Skill Challenge takes an action, he or she cannot take another action until all other participants have taken actions. The participants do not necessarily need to keep acting in the same order, but one or two heroes should not contribute to the success of the challenge while three others stand idly by.
Participation is as important in a Skill Challenge as it is in a combat encounter. In combat, enemies present a challenge to the entire party. If several heroes take no actions, they and their allies will be wiped out; the balance of combat depends on all heroes making progress towards defeating their enemies. Similarly, a Skill Challenge requires all heroes to contribute toward reaching their goal.
For example, the heroes present during the Endor sequence are Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia. The Gamemaster determines that these four heroes can participate in the Skill Challenge when they come across the Scout Troopers.
Setting the Scene Edit
Once the participants in the challenge have been determined, you must set the scene for the heroes. This important step gives the players an idea of what actions they can take to contribute to the Skill Challenge. In a combat encounter, you provide basic descriptions of the terrain, the enemies, and other bystanders and objects so that your players are informed about the situation. In a Skill Challenge, you set the scene in such a way as to help the players recognize options for various actions. They need to have a clear picture of what is going on so they can take actions that are appropriate to the scene.
For example, the Gamemaster might describe the Scout Troopers on Endor as being somewhat distracted, standing idly in the forest. Parked Speeder Bikes sit nearby, indicating that the Scout Troopers have travelled ahead of some larger force. The terrain is thick and obscures the area surrounding the clearing, giving the heroes ample places to hide, and the ambient noise of the forest covers their whispered conversation. The Gamemaster's description presents several options to the heroes- sneaking up on the Scout Troopers, stealing their Speeder Bikes, and so on- that will be part of the challenge once the heroes begin taking actions.
Starting the Challenge Edit
After determining the participants and setting the scene, it is time to start the challenge. The players take turns describing their actions, making Skill Checks or using other abilities, and the Gamemaster adjudicates the results. You can choose the order in which the players will act, or you can let them decide if the order does not matter to the mechanics of the challenge. The players can act in the same order each time or in a different order. The main rule is that each participant must take an action before any given participant can take his or her next action. Thus, after hero 1 takes an action, all other heroes must take actions before hero 1 can act again. As the participants take actions, be sure to track how many successes and failures they accrue.
Skill Challenge Transparency Edit
How much should you tell your players during a Skill Challenge? In a combat encounter, the players know that they are engaged in combat and that they will act in a certain order, and they have a good idea of what they must do to succeed. A Skill Challenge, however, can be a bit more ambiguous. As a Gamemaster, it is up to you to decide how much to tell players about the challenge. Additionally, the right choice for one Skill Challenge might not be right for another, so do not be afraid to experiment with how much you reveal. There are three general categories of Skill Challenge Transparency.
Total Disclosure Edit
You hide nothing from your players. You tell them when they are in a Skill Challenge, what Skills are their best choices, how many successes they need, and any special rules that apply to the Skill Challenge. You might even reveal the DCs of the Skill Checks they must make. Because of the focus on game mechanics, this kind of transparency works best for Skill Challenges that have little dramatic tension, such as those without direct antagonists. For example, a Skill Challenge in which the heroes must work together to rebuild a broken-down Starship is not a particularly dramatic scene, so the mechanics would not disrupt the flow of the game.
Partial Disclosure Edit
You tell your players a few things, but keep other things secret. You reveal that they are in a Skill Challenge and perhaps explain any special rules for the challenge. Otherwise, it is up to the players to feel out the situation, using roleplaying and their own insight to determine what skills will help them achieve success. This kind of transparency works best for Skill Challenges that have some dramatic tension but that still require the players to focus on a specific goal. For example, a chase sequence through city streets provides an interesting narrative, but you should make the scene's game mechanics obvious so the players realize that their actions have immediate consequences.
Secret Challenge Edit
You hide everything from the players, including the fact that they are in a Skill Challenge. You keep track of the challenge behind the scenes as a means of directing the flow of the game or providing Experience Points for a noncombat encounter. This kind of transparency works best for scenes that rely heavily on roleplaying and dialogue (Such as negotiations) so that the game mechanics do not interfere with the drama. This degree of transparency also works for Skill Challenges that take place over long periods of time, since it allows the plot to develop naturally without the players worrying about the Skill Challenge.
Using Skills Edit
During a Skill Challenge, most of the heroes actions involve using Skills. When a hero takes an action, the player describes what action is being taken and how that action is intended to help the party achieve success in the challenge. If the Gamemaster determines that the action would indeed contribute to the challenge, the hero makes the relevant Skill Check. The Gamemaster compares the Skill Check result to predetermined skill DCs, which are set during the creation of the Skill Challenge. This comparison determines whether the action succeeds or fails, contributing to the total number of successes or failures for the overall challenge. Finally, the Gamemaster describes the results of the action and how the scene has changed, if at all.
Most Skill Challenges have varying difficulties for different actions. Actions that are more likely to be successful or that make more sense in the current situation have lower DCs than do actions that seem to be more of a stretch. When a player describes the action that his or her hero takes, you must determine whether it seems like a plausible way to contribute to the challenge's progress. If the action seems unlikely to work, you should give it a harder DC than you would give to an action that is a better match for the challenge. Of course, allowing the players to be creative with their actions is more likely to result in an exciting and cinematic scene, but in some cases, even creative actions have little chance of succeeding.
Typically, a player should describe a specific action, then associate the action with a particular Skill. For example, a player might say, "I try to convince the Bounty Hunter that we're not his quarry, and that the bounty is actually for another group of heroes who look like us. To do that I make a Deception check." On the other hand, a player who simply says "I make a Deception check" is not choosing an action- merely picking a Skill. Having the players describe their actions not only lets them contribute to the Skill Challenge narrative but also encourages them to think creatively about how their heroes behave.
Returning to the Endor example, Han Solo decides to sneak up on one of the Scout Troopers. Han's player describes the action as creeping up behind the scout trooper in an attempt to subdue him quietly. However, when Han rolls his Skill Check, he rolls too low, accruing a failure. The Gamemaster describes the result of the action (Han steps on a twig and alerts the Scout Troopers), and the challenge continues. Throughout the chase sequence, we see Leia using the Pilot skill to manoeuver a Speeder, Luke using Jump to leap to an adjacent Speeder Bike, and Leia using Deception to trick a Scout Trooper into believing that she crashed.
Ability Checks Edit
Sometimes an Action is not covered by a specific Skill, and you need to find another way to adjudicate that action. Ability Checks are one way of resolving this kind of action; simply choose the ability (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma) that most clearly relates to the action in question. The player rolls a d20 and adds his or her relevant ability score modifier to determine the result. Keep in mind that, in many cases, an Ability Check will be far lower than a Skill Check, whether Trained or Untrained, because the heroes do not gain the half-level bonus that applies to Skill Checks. Try to call for Ability Checks sparingly, and cast actions as Untrained Skill Checks whenever possible.
Aid Another Edit
The Aid Another action is typically used to grant bonuses to allies who make Skill Checks or Attack Rolls. In a Skill Challenge, the Aid Another action can be a powerful tool, especially when combined with Talents such as Coordinate or Skilled Advisor, which can drastically increase the bonuses provided. Since a Skill Challenge puts a large emphasis on making Skill Checks, it might seem that an easy way to earn successes would be to let the hero with the highest Skill modifier make the check while the other heroes use Aid Another. However, the Aid Another action works differently during Skill Challenges.
- Only characters Trained in a Skill can Aid Another with that Skill. Unlike normal Skill Checks, a hero must be Trained in a Skill to use the Aid Another action with that Skill. This rule helps to encourage skilled characters to make their own checks, while preventing everyone from taking the Aid Another action on every Skill Check.
- For a given Skill, the maximum bonus a character can receive from Aid Another is +10. A hero can gain only so much benefit from his or her allies during a Skill Challenge. In addition, if the heroes use Talents to increase the bonuses, the group will reach the cap of +10 more quickly, which means other heroes will be free to take their own actions.
- Choosing to Aid Another rather than take an action has consequences. When one hero Aids Another in combat, the first hero gives up the chance to take down an enemy in exchange for helping an ally succeed. Similarly, in a Skill Challenge, choosing to Aid Another should be a choice, not the default. If a hero decides to Aid Another rather than take his or her own action to contribute to the challenge, the situation might grow more dire. Perhaps it will become slightly tougher or change in some way that further hinders the heroes. Do not punish a hero for choosing to Aid Another, but do make to consequences clear.
Noncontributing Skill Checks Edit
Sometimes a player wants to make a Skill Check that does not necessarily contribute to the success or failure of a Skill Challenge, such as a Knowledge check to see what his or her hero knows. Gamemasters can allow such checks without worrying about accruing successes or failures. For example, while Luke and Leia are speeding through the forest on Endor, Luke might make an Intelligence check to see what he knows about the Speeder Bike they are piloting. The Gamemaster reveals that its communication systems can be used to jam transmissions, and Luke relays that information to Leia. Luke's check did not contribute to the overall success or failure of the Skill Challenge, but it allowed Leia to make a Use Computer check to jam the Scout Troopers' transmissions on her next action.
A good rule of thumb is that if a Skill Check would not directly cause positive or negative results in the challenge, it should not accrue successes or failures
Using Talents, Feats or Equipment Edit
For players, Skill Challenges present exciting opportunities to show off what they can do. Sometimes the most appropriate or most cinematic action that a hero can take involves not just a Skill but a Talent, Feat, piece of Equipment, or Class Feature. When a player wants to use one of these different options, it is almost certainly in your best interest to allow it, provided that the action is plausible and makes sense for the character. This alternative allows the player to make use of the character resources in which he or she has invested, and it opens up options that a raw Skill Check does not.
When a hero uses a Talent, a Feat, a piece of Equipment, or another special ability, you can still call for a Skill Check as part of that Action, although you do not have to- sometimes, you can simply grant an automatic success for a clever application of a nonskill resource. Typically, when a player makes creative use of such resources, you should set the Skill DC one step easier than normal. Consider it a reward for the player's good selection of handy Talents, Feats, or Equipment. However, if the use of that particular nonskill resource becomes habitual, feel free to treat it like any other Skill Check. For example, Vor'en the Soldier is participating in a Skill Challenge in which he must escort a Droid carrying sensitive information across a battlefield in the middle of a large-scale ground conflict. Vor'en has the Harm's Way Talent, which allows him to take damage instead of an adjacent ally. Vor'en wants to use this Talent to physically shield the Droid from incoming attacks, which the Gamemaster determines is a sufficiently creative use of a Talent to warrant a success. Since Harm's Way requires no Skill Check normally, the Gamemaster awards Vor'en an automatic success in the Skill Challenge.
Using Combat Actions Edit
Combat Actions can sometimes be used to accrue successes in a Skill Challenge, although they should occur infrequently. Typically, Combat Actions have the same DCs as Skill Checks, based on whether the action is likely to contribute positively to the challenge. Sometimes, taking a Combat Action (Such as shooting a blaster, setting off an explosive, or making a Bantha Rush against an enemy) can contribute just as well as any Skill. For example, a sniper might shoot out a lamp near the entrance to an abandoned warehouse, making it easier for the Scoundrel to sneak inside. However, Gamemasters should be aware that, if too many Combat Actions are allowed, the Skill Challenge might turn into a combat encounter. That's okay- in fact, combat encounters and Skill Challenges might flow seamlessly together- but if too many Combat Actions are taken, you should be ready to create a combat encounter on the fly.
For example, at the beginning of the Endor Speeder Bike chase sequence, Chewbacca sees that Scout Troopers on Speeder Bikes are about to get away. Knowing that he cannot reach the Speeder Bikes in time, he takes a shot with his bowcaster, hoping to destroy one of the Speeders before it can escape. He makes an attack roll and succeeds, which not only contributes a success in the Skill Challenge but also affects the shape of the challenge as the chase begins. Later, Luke uses his lightsaber to cause a Speeder to crash into a tree, earning the final success necessary to end the challenge.
Using Force Powers Edit
As with Combat Actions, sometimes Force Powers (Or other Force-related abilities) can contribute to a Skill Challenge. When a hero uses The Force as his or her action during a challenge, you can adjudicate the action in several ways. First, keep in mind that no matter what form the Action takes, you can use the same DCs that are used in other parts of the challenge as the minimum for success. When the hero describes the action, determine whether it is similar enough to an existing Force Power, Talent or application of the Use the Force Skill to adjudicate the action with those rules. For example, if a hero wants to use The Force to convince a warehouse guard to wander off, that is similar to the Mind Trick Force Power. To perform that action the hero must expend that Force Power and follow its normal rules. Generally, using the Force Power successfully is enough to warrant a success in the Skill Challenge.
For other Force-related exploits that do not fall clearly under the domain of a particular Force Power or Talent, you can simply have the hero make a Use the Force check, just as he or she would make any other Skill Check in the challenge. For example, if the character wants to use The Force to hold open a closing door, he or she would have to succeed on a Use the Force Check (With a DC equal to a relevant DC for that Skill Challenge) to earn a success. As with any other action, failing to meet the DC accrues a failure and has its own consequences.
Concluding the Challenge Edit
The Skill Challenge ends when one of three events takes place. First, the challenge ends if the heroes achieve the required number of successes before the accruing a set number of failures, earning success in the challenge overall. Second, the challenge ends if the heroes accrue a certain number of failures (Usually three) before gaining the required successes, meaning they fail the challenge overall. Third, the challenge can end prematurely as a result of the heroes' actions; for example, they might decide to break off the challenge and begin a combat encounter instead. When the challenge ends, the heroes still must deal with the consequences of their actions.