Does this sound familiar? The PCs begin a skill challenge. A couple of PCs have creative ideas and they go at it. They explain what they want to do, use a bit of role-playing and then make their rolls. Right off the bat you’ve got a couple of successes. But as you look around the table at the rest of the players you get blank stares. They either don’t know what to do or don’t want to risk getting a failure since their skill numbers are so awful. So they essentially repeat what the last PCs did.
I find this happens most often in social encounters. The first player has a great idea and uses Diplomacy. The next guy paraphrases what the first guy said and tries Diplomacy as well. Experienced PCs know that many skill challenges allow for multiple successes using the same skill. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but it doesn’t encourage creativity. In most skill challenges PCs can earn successes with seven or more skills (as recommended in the DMG). Relying on the ingenuity of another player to determine your course of action is just lazy.
If the skill challenge indicates that PCs can use the same skill I have no problem allowing it. But I’ve come up with a few suggestions for how to handle situations where PCs try to earn multiple successes using the same skill.
Each check must bring something new to the table.
Mistakes make things worse.
Make subsequent checks harder.
If you’re just repeating what the first player said then your Diplomacy check doesn’t get you any further ahead.
When a PC tries to use the same skill as someone else, caution them that if they roll really poorly there is a chance that they make cause more harm than good. I negate a success rather than incur a failure if they really fail the check.
Every time a PC tries to earn a success with the same skill each subsequent check becomes harder. So not only do you have to bring something new to the table, you have a harder time of it. This encourages the PCs with low skills to actually act first since the DC will be lower. Let the guy with the disgustingly high Diplomacy speak last.
If you’re going to take this approach to skill challenges then you have to be open and honest with your players. Give them an out-of-game heads up that this is you expectation. Once they realize that you’re going to tweak skill challenge in this way I suspect that they’ll put more thought into how they’re going to approach the next one. Throw a few small complexity 1 challenges at your players to let them see these adjustments in a real scenario.
How do you handle situations where multiple PCs try to earn successes with the same skills? Do you use any or all of the points I describe above? Now that you’ve read this article for you think you’ll be more likely to use my suggestions in the future? Or do you think that if the skill challenge states multiple successes are allowed that they should all be treated individually and have the exact same DC?