The Power of Shared Data

The Power of Shared Data

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How many times has this happened in your game:
Wizard: “I’m guessing there’s something more going on with that statue’s mouth- I use Arcana to try to feel out a magic aura. I get a 28.”
DM: “There’s definitely some kind of problem with it. You’re not sure you want to go in there.”
Swordmage: “I’m trained in Arcana too. I get a 35.”
DM: “Uhh, you also detect a problem.”
Psion: “We must not be rolling high enough. Lemme see… 38.”
DM: “It’s bad, OK? Seriously.”
Wizard: “Can I try again?”
Or how about this:
DM: “Everybody make a perception check.”
The players shout out numbers between 14 and 32.
DM: “Everbody who got 15 or higher sees this door.”
Ranger: “I tell the Barbarian where the door we all spotted is.”
Here are the issues I have with the 4e skill system, as it seems to be intended:
  • With multiple people rolling, the effectiveness of skill DCs drops. Higher DCs are much easier to accomplish with multiple rollers since the effect of variance is reduced.
  • The person with a good idea just tends to be the catalyst for other people rolling- and then them getting the credit for the result.
  • It dilutes the effect of training for characters.
  • Having a group roll and wasting time getting multiple results, when they’re likely to succeed and it not matter at all who rolls what (or whom assists whom.)

These are not issues with 4e specifically (3e’s skill points had the same issue, and I’m sure there are other skill systems that do too), but 4e gives us a good tool to deal with this.

Base Suggestion: Group Training

When calling for a group check (i.e. multiple characters rolling the same skill), simply give the party as a whole one piece of information about the situation per PC trained in the skill. It is assumed that PCs will share knowledge and work together to overcome obstacles, and thus come up with a set of conclusions that would be shared.

This rule does not apply in a situation where only one PC would be rolling at a time: either the PC is separated, or for most skill challenges. It also does not apply on opposed checks (say, stealth versus perception.)

In a published adventure, where the DCs for a room are listed, you can simply ignore those values and start at the bottom, giving one of the results for each trained PC in the party.

For example:

The party has come across a room filled with ancient tapestries. Instead of calling for everyone to roll history, the DM asks how many PCs are trained in History. It turns out the Warlord and Paladin are.

The DM informs the party that the tapestries are from ancient Bael Turath (piece of information #1) and depicts a massive victory at a location at the east of the Nentir Value (piece of information #2.)

OPTION #1: Untrained Characters

Because everyone wants to contribute and you can get more variance in results, you can have anyone not trained make a skill roll as normal, and if they beat the DC, you add an additional piece of information as if they were trained.

For example:

In the example listed above, the trained characters have determined the first two pieces of information that they can determine from ancient tapestries. The Wizard, untrained in History but intelligent and with added bonuses, rolls and gets high enough to get an additional result. The DM also informs the group that the battlefield in question is also likely to contain some leftover infernal energy around the site of the battle.

OPTION #2: Untrained Characters + Risk

You may want to introduce an element of risk to untrained characters attempting something they are not specifically skilled at. When working together on a problem, sometimes an attempt to contribute can lead the group down the wrong path.

Thus, like in the above two examples, the DM asks how many players are trained in the skill. Then any characters untrained in the skill MAY make a roll, with a hidden DC set by the DM. He totals up the number of trained PCs plus those who beat the DC (successes) and the number of those who tried to beat the DC but failed (failures.)

In a list, the DM gives a number of accurate pieces of information about the situation equal to successes, and a number of inaccurate pieces of information about the situation equal to failures, and delivers them in no particular order.

For example:

As before, the tapestries are there, with 2 trained characters in history, 1 untrained who rolled well, and 1 untrained that rolled poorly.

The DM tells everyone:

  • The tapestries are from ancient Bael Turath (true)
  • They depict an ancient battle somewhere to the east of the Nentir Value (true)
  • Bael Turath probably lost the battle (false)
  • There is probably some infernal energy leftover at the site (true)

There are probably a few more variations of this that could be carved up as well, but ultimately, the goal is to speed up group skill usage that seems to come up so often, and cut down on the “me too” effect where everyone should roll for everything.

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About the Author

Dave Chalker is a lifelong gamer, freelance game designer, Master of Arts, and son of Jack L. Chalker. Dave is the Editor-in-Chief of Critical Hits and so runs the place. He is the envy of geeks everywhere because he's dating e, the Geek's Dream Girl. (Email Dave or follow him on Twitter).