Skill challenges, at the base, describe a progression of action: X happens, which causes Y to happen, which results in Z. What do you do if your skill challenge really takes place in parts, or acts? The first part gets them to the mountain, the next part gets them up the mountain, etc. When you want one skill challenge to be broken up into multiple stages, you are thinking of the sequencing of the challenge.
Sequence your challenge when it makes the most sense for the overall action to be broken up into separate chunks. If you’ve moved on to another “act”, then you’re saying that there is no logical or desirable way to backtrack into the previous scene, and that there is a shift in setting or action.
“Kobolds Ate My Baby” uses the concept of sequencing, breaking the skill challenge into information gathering then actually finding the location. Each of these parts of the skill challenge remain embedded in the challenge, but separated from each other, with their own sets of useful skills. They share the failures, but when you reach a certain amount of successes you can move to the next phase.
“Kobolds Ate My Baby” represents what I call sequential sequencing. Each act or phase moves in logical order from the previous one, until the challenge is completed or failed.
You may also use what I call the conditional sequence. Here, there are still separate logical parts, but whether PCs see them or not depends on what active choices or strategies they choose to employ. You can think of conditional sequencing as a strategical nest. In Kobolds Ate My Baby, what if we expanded the challenge by allowing for the fact that the players may attempt to rally the townspeople to fight for the welfare of their children? This is another scene entirely that still relates to the skill challenge as a whole. Now, if it was me, I’d simply insert “Move the Crowd” for that scene, resolve that challenge, and continue with the ongoing challenge, but you could just as easily make another act –let’s title it “For the Children!” — and make the decision that using that act will end in a small war between the townsfolk and the kobold. Failure may mean that the townspeople don’t want the PCs there anymore. They’ll have to find the kobolds the hard way.
Some things to consider when you use sequencing in your skill challenges:
- Does one act influence another? You want to decide whether or not the amount of failures or the success of certain skills can give characters advantages/disadvantages in a following sequence.
- How many successes in each part? The easy way to sequence a challenge is to divide the number of successes by the number of acts, but consider splitting scenes by importance. you may say that the opening sequence in a 12 success challenge requires only two success, and the next two scenes use five a piece. If you view each roll as a chance to add a layer to the developing scene and story, it becomes clear that you give the most successes required to the most important or interesting scenes.
- Are the acts sufficiently different in skills used? If the characters are just robbing different parts of town in a challenge, the skills used remain the same, but how you narrate will make the difference.
Next up: Cycling. Repeating Yourself. Cycling. Repeating Yourself.
- Skill Challenges #5: Kobolds Ate My Baby!
- How To Design a Skill Challenge #3 Part 3: Nesting
- How to Design a Skill Challenge Part 5: Cycling.