Skill Challenge: Olympic Games

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on February 18, 2010

The Dungeon’s Master team has used the basics of the skill challenge to create a unique form of athletic competition. Each skill check is scored as the PCs vie for top spot. PCs can compete against each other or against the world’s greatest NPC athletes. This is more than just opposing Athletics checks.

Since this is a test of individual ability, each PC must accomplish the required number of checks by himself. After all, outside help would be considered cheating.

The DM determines how many successful skill checks are required to complete the event. Typical events should only require 6-8 successes per PC (complexity 2 or 3). Once the number of successes is determined it’s time to delve into the specific details of the event.

Half of the successes needed are pre-determined by the DM. PC must use these specific skills at least the number of time set out by the DM. PC are encouraged to be creative when deciding what other skills to use.

Scoring

All checks are scored. It’s not just good enough to get a success or failure. After all you’re in this to win. When PCs are rolling a required check they can earn extra points for exceptional results. All other skill checks are only worth a maximum of 3 points each, regardless of how high the result is.

Required skill checks

Failed check = -1 point
Easy DC = 1 point
Moderate DC = 2 points
Hard DC = 3 points
Hard DC +5 = 4 points
Hard DC +10 = 5 points
Hard DC +15 = 6 points

Other skills

Failed check = -1 point
Easy DC = 1 point
Moderate DC = 2 points
Hard DC = 3 points

Healing Surges

Before the event begins each PC must expend 1 healing surge. They do not regain any hit points. Each PC makes a Heal or Endurance check. This counts as a required check (for scoring purposes) but does not count towards the 6 successes required to complete the event. Each PC can add the score from this check to any roll during the event. This bonus is added after the roll is made.

Assists

PCs can assist themselves once during competition. The bonus from the assist applies to the next check and is 2+ the score of the resulting check. Alternatively PCs can attempt to distract the other competitors. Each PC can attempt to distract each of the other competitors once during the event. The distraction penalty is applied to the targets next check and is 2+ the score of the resulting check.

Sample Event

I found that once I created an example of this type of competition the mechanics became a lot clearer. The skill challenge presented below is for level 12 PCs. This will make the scoring instructions clearer and easier to follow.

The DCs for level 10-12 are:

  • Easy = 11
  • Moderate = 16
  • Hard = 21

This event is a combination of speed, coordination and endurance. The athletes must run the length of the course as fast as possible, jumping over the obstacles set along the path.

Complexity

  • 2 (6 successes before 3 failures)

Required skill checks

  • Athletics (Required): Speed counts, get those legs moving.
  • Athletics (Required): You’ve got to clear all the obstacles.
  • Endurance (Required): Push yourself, but know your limits.

PCs must declare that they are making a required check before they roll.

Suggested optional skills

  • Athletics
  • Acrobatics
  • Bluff
  • Intimidate
  • Perception

PCs can only use the same skill to earn a maximum of 2 successes. Exception, PCs can always use Athletics to earn half the total required successes. In this case 3 since 6 total successes are required.

The four participants, in order of initiative are:

  • Andar, Drow Sorcerer
  • Ethan, Human Rogue
  • Merric, Dwarf Cleric
  • Dank, Half-Orc Barbarian
  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
Healing
Surge
Endurance
7+10=17
Endurance
2+7=9
Heal
15+16=31
Endurance
18+12=30
Bonus 2 0 5 4

Before the race begins each PC expends 1 healing surge. They do not
regain any hit points. Each PC makes a Heal or Endurance check. Merric makes a
Heal check, the others use Endurance. This counts as a required check (for
scoring purposes) but does not count towards the 6 successes required to
complete the event.

Each PC can add the score from this check to any roll during the event.
This bonus is added after the roll is made.

Round 1

  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
  Athletics

15+10+2=27
Stealth
(assist)
17+17=34
Athletics
18+10=28
Athletics
12+17=24
Points 4 0 4 3

Andar, Merric and Dank all declare that they’re making a required Athletics check and succeed. Andar decides to use his +2 healing surge bonus. Ethan opts to cheat. He uses Stealth and secretly drinks an Elixir of Speed before the race begins. The DM decides this a hard DC, which Ethan makes. The DM gives Ethan a +5 bonus on his next Athletics check.

Round 2

  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
  Endurance
3+10=13
Athletics
17+15+5=37
Endurance
2+10=12
Endurance
16+12=26
Points 2 6 1 4

Andar makes an Endurance check but does not count it as a required check. He succeeds. Ethan declares he’s making a required Athletics check and succeeds. Merric and Dank declare that they’re making a required Endurance check and succeed.

Round 3

  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
  Intimidate
(assist)
15+11=26
Athletics
15+15=30
Athletics
12+10=22
Athletics
9+17-5=21
Points 0
[2+3=5]
4 3 3

Andar sees Dank take an early lead and decides to talk some trash. He uses Intimidate in an attempt to break Dank’s focus. The DM treats this like an assist (for Andar). If Andar succeeds, Dank will suffer a penalty to his next check of 2+ the score of Andar’s check. Andar succeeds. A hard DC is worth 3 points so Dank suffers a penalty of -5 on his next check (2+3=5).

Ethan and Merric declare that they’re making a required Athletics check and succeed. Dank makes an Athletics check but does not count it as a required check. Even with the distraction from Andar, Dank makes the check

Round 4

  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
  Acrobatics
16+11=27
Acrobatics
1+17=18
Endurance
10+10=20
Acrobatics
13+9=22
Points 3 2 2 3

Andar, Ethan and Dank decide to use Acrobatics and all successfully make the check. Merric makes another Endurance check and succeeds.

Round 5

  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
  Intimidate
(assist)
10+11=21
Endurance
4+7-5=6
Athletics
18+10-5=23
Endurance
2+12=14
Points 0
[2+3=5]
-1 3 2

Andar figures that since his sharp tongue already worked to distract Dank, he’ll try it again but this time on Merric. Again Andar succeeds at a hard DC. Merric suffers -5 on his next check. Ethan declares that he’s making a required Endurance check and fails. Merric makes an Athletics check and despite the distraction still succeeds. Dank make Endurance check and succeeds.

Round 6

  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
  Acrobatics
13+11=24
Endurance
4+7=11
Perception
(assist)
20+11=31
Athletics
10+17+4=31
Points 3 1 0
[2+3=5]
5

Andar decides to stop worrying about everyone else and focuses on his own performance by making an Acrobatics check and succeeds. Ethan tries again to make his required Endurance check, and this time he makes it (barely).

Merric realizes that his next check has to be something other than Athletics or Endurance so he does what he can to help himself. He uses Perception to look for any opening or natural advantage. He rolls a natural 20 and realizes that the other competitors are creating an opening he’ll be able to squeeze through. The DM gives Merric a +5 bonus on his next Acrobatics check (2+3=5).

Dank pushes for the finish line and declares that he’s making a required Athletics check. He rolls 10 and declares he’s using his +4 healing surge bonus. He makes the check and sprints towards the finish line.

Round 7

  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
  Bluff
(assist)
11+12=23
Athletics
4+10-5=9
Acrobatics
7+6+5+5=23
 
Points 0
[2+3=5]
-1 3  

Andar uses Bluff to make it seem like he’s going to fall into Ethan. Andar succeeds at a hard DC. Ethan reacts on instinct and sidesteps to avoid a collation. He suffers -5 on his next check. Ethan makes an Athletics check but with the penalty, fails the check. Merric makes an Acrobatics check, using his +5 healing surge bonus on top of his self-assist. He succeeds and shuffles deftly between Andar and Ethan as he rushes towards the finish line.

Round 8

  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
  Endurance
12+10=22
Acrobatics
13+17=30
   
Points 3 3    

Andar declares he’s making a required Endurance check and succeeds. Ethan makes an Acrobatics check and succeeds.

Round 9

  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
  Athletics
10+10=20
Athletics
20+10=30
   
Points 2 3    

Andar and Ethan both sprint towards the finish line. Andar makes a required Athletics check and succeeds. Ethan makes and Athletics check and rolls a natural 20, putting him just ahead of the deceptive Andar. They pass Merric on their way to the finish line.

Final Results

  Andar Ethan Merric Dank
Total Points 17 17 16 20
Finish 3 2 4 1

I know that this might seem a bit complicated at first, but after just a couple of test runs my gaming group found it a good enhancement of the normal skill challenge mechanic. This model can easily be adapted for any Olympic style of competition. Swimming events might require Athletics for swimming and Nature checks to understand or predict current in a river. DMs may also choose to let PCs use powers or magical items during these competitions. Depending what the stakes are, it may be with the risk for the PCs to try something unexpected.

Do you think my competition model has merit or have I overcomplicated what should just be handled as a straight up skill challenge? How likely are you to use this kind of set-up at your game table? If you’ve got suggestions for improvement I welcome it.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Mike D. February 18, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I think this is very, very cool. Another fine example of how the skill challenge platform can be expanded upon. This has given me a great idea for my campaign, where a deity will set up an olympic-style competition and make the PC’s compete. I’ll thrown in an encounter in the middle to keep things interesting. This also reminds me of some of the Harry Potter books/movies, where a fight breaks out in the middle of an organized competition.

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