I think I’ve found my basic formula for a Challenge, with the opening, mid-game, and endgame concepts, seen here in audiences/negotiations and here, to do with setting up and protecting an inn or campsite. I think that with some effort, the formula can be applied to a variety of situations where narrative is best served by abstracting gameplay. I could be wrong, but let’s see what it can do.

Now, one particular complaint I’ve heard about Skill Challenges before is that success/failure is so binary the Challenge can’t really be used to represent anything, uh, I don’t know, meaningful. If you fail, what happens? If you succeed, it means what? The Skill Challenges I’ve run have been plagued by some problems with the players failing by a ridiculously narrow margin. Part of the problem is probably in the dice.

Here, I thought that a near-miss could well be turned into a partial success, or at the very least, an “Aid Another” attempt. No, you didn’t necessarily earn the party another success toward the Challenge, but you were close enough that the next person was able to springboard off your attempt and find the correct solution.

Take, for instance, one of the rules that crops up from time to time, where failing a check by less than five enables the player a “narrow miss” and a sometimes, a second chance. It shows up in checks for diseases and certain conditions, which you already know I’m quite fond of — let’s see how it might be applied to this situation.

Say you’re first level, and you’re trying to hit a DC 15 with no bonus whatsoever. Should you hit the 15, you succeed, easy. If you get a result from 11 to 14 though, it makes a certain amount of sense that you were reasonably close to the mark, you’re just missing some crucial piece of information, or maybe it’s on the tip of your tongue.

One of the things I love doing with Skill Challenges is giving the players the opportunity to spend healing surges and encounter powers to try again. I mean, those things have to be good for something when the characters aren’t in combat, why not allow them here? Let’s say a character fails the check by less than five, they can spend a healing surge to pass along a +2 to the next person to try.

It works even better if you’re trying to get across the point that hit points mean something more than just physical health. In this case, they can be considered an extension of the character’s will to succeed. They’re also a great daily resource to fritter away, and they don’t see much use outside of combat.