Our three heroes have fought the young Black Dragon to a standstill with both sides taking hefty damage. The Dragon has called Parley and stood back. It’s time for a Skill Challenge.
“You fight well for softskins,” the Dragon says, “and this farmhouse is not where I would choose to die. Do we continue to fight and I slay you all before my wounds force me to lay beside you, or………..”
The Dragon lets the words hang in the air.
I’ve set the Skill Challenge at 5 successes before 3 fails. That’s a very tough challenge for just 3 players – 3 against 2 would have been better with hindsight, but hey.
Rhuryn makes the first roll – a Nature check – which just confirms that the heroes know what the players know about Black Dragons: they’re usually evil and prefer swamps. Well, duh. But it’s a success, and it counts.
Berrn’s player asks for an Insight check and gets it at DC15. I tell him that this Dragon has been taking the baubles and trinkets off the pilgrims who travelled the temple, but not killing them – barely even injuring them, in fact. Hmmmmmmm.
Inspiration hits. His eyes narrow, and Berrn says “You’re looking for something, aren’t you?”
I hadn’t considered the session taking this direction at all, but a Lazy GM knows when to follow the players’ ideas and pretend they’re his own.
“That is correct, Dwarf of the Greataxe clan. A gold sceptre formed from the still living egg of a black dragon. I have sworn to find and destroy it, and that is why I have no wish to die this day.”
Lady Ramona flubs her Diplomacy check, and the Dragon takes her offer to help to imply that he’s not up to the task. I’m sure Berrn yelling “I won’t make a deal with no Dragon!” didn’t help matters either.
Rhuryn manages to calm things down, and Berrn makes a Perception check as he looks over the Dragon’s meagre treasure pile. 3 successes, 1 fail.
“There’s no sceptres here, laddie. What makes you think it’s on the way to the temple?”
The Dragon hesitates before answering.
“I tracked it as far as Solmner Coast where an accursed Cleric of Pelor told me he had seen it in the hands of one of his kind making their way here as part of a pilgrimage. There is much you do not know about the Temple of Pelor, little softskins.”
I ask Lady Ramona for an Arcana check, and she easily breaks DC25. That’s 4 successes.
I tell her “To forge an item and still have the egg living at the end of the process takes great skill and magical ability. You’re not sure, but that sounds like the way to make a Sceptre of Black Dragon Control…………”
No wonder this Dragon wants it destroyed!
The final (if it succeeds) roll is with Rhuryn, and he suggests a battle of wills. He, Berrn and the Dragon all roll d20 and add their Wisdom bonus. Rhuryn gets +2 because Lady Ramona lends her support (ie, Aid Another). Berrn gets +2 because he doesn’t want to help no steenking Dragon, and the Dragon gets +2 because of his inate Draconic pride.
…..and Rhuryn makes it, by just one point.
The Dragon agrees to leave and never return if our heroes find the Sceptre. In the meantime he will stop attacking pilgrims. Berrn grudgingly agrees to find the sceptre because it’ll get the Dragon gone, and a Sceptre of Black Dragon Control is a Very Bad Thing Indeed. Lady Ramona agrees to find the sceptre….. but I suspect she may just decide to keep it for herself.
Just to be clear – this is a summary of over an hour of solid role-playing with the skill checks forming the basis for how things turned out. Add in about 40 minutes of combat and setup, and the end result is about 2 hours of pure role-playing goodness. 4e rocks as a role-playing game, and anyone who tells you otherwise either hasn’t played it or is playing it wrong. There I said it.
Whether you like it, however, is entirely a matter of personal taste, and that’s cool.
And with that, I’ll end on another rant. Hope you don’t mind.
There’s a misconception developing that having a skill system is somehow “old”, and having one is “new”. This is, frankly, Just Plain Wrong.
The first RPG I played was First Edition Traveller, the year it was released. That had an (excellent) skill system. So does the Classic D&D Rules Cyclopedia which is, y’know, frickin’ Classic D&D. For the longest time we played Rolemaster, one of the most beautifully skill-heavy systems there is. Call of Cthulhu and Runequest both have skill systems. All of these systems are what I would call unashamedly “old school” in the best and most positive meaning of the words.
That’s not to say there aren’t games that don’t have a skill system (or that they’re necessarily weaker games for it), but they exist right across the history of RPGs. From the wonderful Tunnels & Trolls to Risus (in which Cliches entirely eliminate the need for a skill system at all) and beyond, skill-less system are an important part of the hobby.
Just don’t try to revise history and categorize them as “old school” because of that, ok?
Thanks for listening! I feel better now.