Tuesday 6 January 2009

Lessons Learned from 4e Part 1

The title is a little misleading. As part of a series talking about how I designed A Wanderer's Romance I had planned to stick to my own games. Then something like 4e comes along with a strongly focused design that casts its shadow over every gaming forum and blog. Even though I'm yet to play it I guess it was bound to have an effect on my design. 

I'm at the risk of repeating what Scott has said over at A Butterfly Dreaming with some of this, but Skill Challenges are an idea that looks fantastic on paper. However, plenty of people have reported problems with the system and it was one of the first to receive an official errata. Not having used the system in play I can't talk too much about it. However, I can talk about Tests in AWR and how Skill Challenges seem to have leaked over into them.

A Test could be a single roll, for jumping from one rooftop to another, using a certain skill. It could also be a series of rolls that are linked together. This could be a group of characters collaborating on a task or a single character going through a series of linked tasks. Examples of how this system can be used are given in the game document, as well as how to determine overall success or failure, but nothing as rigid as 4e's Skill Challenges. The suggested method is that a failure from one person makes the next person's job harder. Overall success could be totalled successes from all or it could come down to the last person to act.

With this in mind I was most impressed to see a first-time GM of this system throw the following Test at me and a group of players in a session for our campaign this week (keeping the numbers behind the screen, of course):

Task: Escape!

Get to port of the isle of Kincade, cannon shots having killing most of the ship's crew.  The characters will have to take over positions.

Operating the rudder requires the person to be quick-minded and have a firm control (Air + Water).

Those entwined with the rigging must be graceful of movement but driven to push themselves (Fire + Water).

The gunner must have a practical mind, be good with their hands and determined in causing destruction (Earth + Fire) .

He or she who undertakes the dangerous duty of keeping the ship afloat, sealing leaks, and fixing it under combat conditions must be both cool, logical and creative, intuitive (Fire + Water)

Rigging - TN 14 to swim to shore.
Helm - TN 12 to swim to shore.
Leaks - TN 10 to swim to shore.
Cannon - TN 10 swim to shore. Also, cannon explodes. Will allow a roll to dodge the damage if the player can convince me why.

For multiple failures ramp up the difficulty (TN)!

Needless to say, we sank the ship, but managed to pull ourselves ashore none the less. What I really enjoyed was that it felt like we were all chipping in to one goal but that failure on any part would sting the group as a whole. The more magical member of our group even managed to conjure a blast of wind to help us along, something the GM hadn't accounted for but slotted in without any trouble. If you scrub away the system-specific stuff you've got the same framework as a 4e Skill Challenge.

It's true. Skill Challenge-style Tests can work and are great fun! Just remember what they're not and remember, you don't have to be playing 4e to get in on the action. There's plenty to be learned even from games you don't enjoy, which brings my nicely onto how I intended to finish this post. In these turbulent times the least I can do is spread some cool and calm a little further through this Internet. Treat yourself to a peaceful day.


  1. Thanks for the link!

    I am looking forward to digging through this previously undiscovered blog :)

  2. No problem! I just link the blogs I enjoy so keep up the good work.

    Hope you find something you can try out with your own group.