Skill Challenges typically represent a progression of events. You start at point A and move to point Z while passing through points B, C, D, etc, along the way.
But sometimes the most sensible thing to have players do is to repeat their actions. Certain actions are iterative, and not just a flowing of actions from one thing to the next. In City Ablaze, PCs do just that while rescuing people from the burning wreckage of a city sector. Each cycle of the skill challenge (you’ll note the cycles are also sequenced and broken up into distinct phases) takes the group of players through one iteration of finding townsfolk and rescuing them.
What cycling offers from an encounter design scenario is consistency of feedback. Sometimes you want your players to hop from scene to scene. Other times you want them to run variations on a theme. In City Ablaze, it only took one iteration for PCs to understand how the challenge was going to flow. My job was then to add new wrinkles and complexities to each subsequent cycle. It keeps the challenge fresh, but also establishes a steady rhythm to the challenge.
When developing a cycle for your skill challenge, first keep in mind whether it is appropriate. Cycling will be appropriate when the players will be taking multiple actions that are fundamentally the same. If the players are traversing a set of gigantic, crumbling pillars for instance, each scene within the scenario is going to look basically the same as the others. So, cycling to the rescue.
But if the players are attempting to chase a villain through a crowded city, each scene will be fundamentally different. The villain attempts to lose himself in the throng of people, then tries to run across the rooftops, then disguises himself as a local at an inn. Each of these scenes is different, so if you use the same set of skills and actions for each, the challenge will feel more than a little flat.
Mechanically, cycling is quite simple. Each cycle can be part of the overall flow of the challenge, i.e., a success in the cycle is a success in the challenge and likewise for failures, or you can tuck them away into their own sub-challenges, with the result of the cycle counting as a success or failure. From there it’s just a matter of determining how many cycles you want to do, and how to provide variations on the cycle. For number of cycles, I think 3-5 is a fair number.
Providing variations on the theme is usually a matter of making yourself a chart. That will be your complications chart. You’ll assign or randomly determine complications from that chart for each cycle. Alternatively, you can base your complications on conditions that have/have not been met by the party in previous cycles.
Who knew repeating yourself could be so fruitful? Next up: strategies in skill challenges.
- How to Design a Skill Challenge Part 4: Sequencing
- How To Design a Skill Challenge Part 6: Strategies
- How To Design a Skill Challenge #3 Part 3: Nesting