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A single overcome action is sufficient to deal with a straightforward goal or obstacle—the hero needs to pick this lock, disarm this bomb, sift out a vital piece of information, and so on. It’s also useful when the details of how something gets done aren’t important or worth spending an intense amount of time on, when what you need to know is whether the character can get something done without any setbacks or costs.
Sometimes, however, things get complicated. It’s not enough to pick the lock, because you also have to hold off the hordes of attacking zombies and set up the magical ward that’s going to keep pursuers off your back. It’s not enough to disarm the bomb, because you also have to land the crashing blimp and keep the unconscious scientist you’re rescuing from getting hurt in said landing.
A challenge is a series of overcome actions that you use to resolve an especially complicated or dynamic situation. Each overcome action uses a different skill to deal with one task or part of the situation, and you take the individual results as a whole to figure out how the situation resolves.
When To Call For A Challenge
GMs, when you’re trying to figure out if it’s appropriate to call for a challenge, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is each separate task something that can generate tension and drama independently of the other tasks? If all the tasks are really part of the same overall goal, like “detaching the detonator,” “stopping the timer”, and “disposing of the explosive material” when you’re disarming a bomb, then that should be one overcome action, where you use those details to explain what happened if the roll goes wrong.
- Does the situation require different skills to deal with? Holding off the zombies (Fight) while pushing down a barricade (Physique) and fixing your broken wagon (Crafts) so that you can get away would be a good instance for a challenge.
Setting Up A Challenge
To set up a challenge, simply identify the individual tasks or goals that make up the situation, and treat each one as a separate overcome roll. (Sometimes, only a certain sequence for the rolls will make sense to you; that’s okay too.) Depending on the situation, one character may be required to make several rolls, or multiple characters may be able to participate.
Zird the Arcane is attempting to finish the consecration ritual of the Qirik in order to sanctify the ground of the roadside inn and grant it the protection of the Qirik gods. Normally, this wouldn’t be too interesting, except that he’s trying to get it done before a horde of slavering, flesh-hungry zombies he unwittingly set free earlier in the adventure overruns the inn.
Amanda sees several different components to this scene. First there’s the ritual itself, then there’s keeping the inn boarded up, and finally there’s keeping the panicking inhabitants of the inn calm. That calls for Lore, Crafts, and some kind of social skill—Ryan immediately chooses Rapport.
Thus, Ryan will be rolling all three of those skills separately, one for each component Amanda identified. She sets the opposition for each of these at Good (+3)—she wants him to have even chances, while leaving room for a variable outcome.
Now they’re ready to start.
Conducting A Challenge
To conduct a challenge, call for each overcome action in whichever order seems most interesting, but don’t decide anything about how the situation turns out until after you’ve collected all the results—you want to have the freedom to sequence the events of each roll in the order that makes the most sense and is the most entertaining. Players, if you get a boost on one of your rolls, feel free to use it on another roll in the challenge, provided you can justify it.
GMs, after the rolls have been made, you’ll consider the successes, failures, and costs of each action as you interpret how the scene proceeds. It could be that the results lead you into another challenge, a contest, or even a conflict.
Ryan takes a deep breath and says, “All right, let’s do this.” He takes up the dice.
He decides to tackle securing the inn first, so he rolls his Good (+3) Crafts skill and gets a 0 on the dice. That ties the roll, allowing him to achieve the goal at a minor cost. Amanda says, “I’m going to say that I get a boost calledHasty Work to use against you if I need it—you are working fast, after all.”
Ryan sighs and nods, and then goes for the second goal in the challenge, which is calming the locals with his Good (+3) Rapport. He makes his roll and gets a terrible –3 on the dice! Now he has the option to fail or to succeed with a major cost. He goes for success, leaving Amanda to think of a good major cost.
She thinks a moment. How to make calming the villagers costly? Then she grins. “So, this is a story thing more than a mechanics thing, but you know… you’re using Rapport, so you’re probably being pretty inspirational right now. I could see you inadvertently convincing some of these farmers and peasants that those zombies are no real threat, and that they totally can go out and fight with little consequence. Because your magic is keeping them safe, right?”
Ryan says, “But they have to be in the inn for that to work!” Amanda is just grinning. Ryan sighs again. “Okay, fine. Some people get totally the wrong idea and are potentially going to get themselves killed. I can just hear them now… Zird, why did you let my husband die? Augh.”
Amanda grins some more.
Ryan goes for the final part of the challenge—the ritual itself, cast with his Great (+4) Lore. Amanda invokes the boost she got earlier and says, “Yeah, you totally have very distracting zombies chipping apart your barricades. Very distracting.” That pushes the difficulty for the final roll up to Superb (+5).
He rolls a +2 and gets a Fantastic (+6), enough to succeed with no cost.
Amanda nods and together they finish describing the scene—Zird finishes the ritual just in time, and the holy power of the Qirik descends on the inn. Some zombies on the verge of breaking in get sizzled by the holy aura, and Zird breathes a sigh of relief… until he hears the panicked screams of villagers outside the inn…
But that’s the next scene.
If you have any boosts that went unused in the challenge, feel free to keep them for the rest of this scene or whatever scene you’re transitioning to, if the events of the challenge connect directly to the next scene.
Advantages in a Challenge
You can try to create an advantage during a challenge, for yourself or to help someone else out. Creating an advantage doesn’t count towards completing one of the challenge goals, but failing the roll could create a cost or problem that negatively impacts one of the other goals. Be careful using this tactic; advantages can help complete tasks more effectively and create momentum, but trying to create them is not without risk.
Attacks in a Challenge
Because you’re always up against passive opposition in a challenge, you’ll never use the attack action. If you’re in a situation where it seems reasonable to roll an attack, you should start setting up for a conflict.