Contests

From carnival amusements to international competitions, many of life’s greatest events revolve around humanity’s need for competition, and few activities are more indicative of this desire than the myriad of contests that humanity indulges in. Contests often provide fun and interesting ways for characters to show off their skills outside of combat, but they just as easily can serve as major plot points that draw the PCs to certain locations.

Contests are a specific type of skill challenge in which one or more characters compete against one another in a structured game whose rules are predetermined and often standardized. Contests follow the same rules for running them as standard skill challenges but they have a different list of elements and special qualities, many of which are not found in standard skill challenges. In addition, there are some special actions that are only applicable to contests. Unless otherwise noted, assume that contests follow all of the standard rules associated with skill challenges, such as the sequence for which characters act during a cycle and how initiative is determined.

The Golden Rule of Contests

Of all the various rules and challenges presented within the Skill Challenge Handbook, contests are by and large the most difficult to run and create from scratch, if only because they focus more on the “feel” of gameplay then codified rules and processes. Whereas its relatively easy to cobble together a standard skill challenge or even a chase with the rules provided, with contests GMs need to also worry about creating gameplay and atmosphere that is conductive to the activity that the contest represents. For instance, if you’re going to run a skill challenge themed around soccer, then your skill challenge needs to be able to capture the feel of the ball being passed from player to player, avoiding defensive plays until the perfect moment to strike presents itself.

Because contests seek to emulate a specific activity, such as a sport or competition, as a general rule the GM should try to keep any rulings or decisions she makes in the spirit of whatever game or competition that she is running at the time. If she or other players at the table are familiar with the intricacies of the contest as it is experienced as a real activity, conflicts that arise should always be handled in a similar vein— how would the conflict be resolved if the sport or competition were actually happening in the real world? Be sure to use your best judgment and common sense should any such conflicts arise, and err towards the side of fun and consistency in your decision-making processes.

Running a Contest

Contests follow many of the same general rules as standard skill challenges and use similar terminology, but they possess a number of noteworthy differences that make them distinct. Characters participating in a contest act in turns on a regular cycle of actions, and the amount of time that each cycle of action tames is determined by the contest’s frequency.

Contests follow this sequence:

  • 1. When the contest begins, all characters roll initiative.
  • 2. During a standard skill challenge, all characters act in an order determined by their skill challenge’s initiative quality, which is listed under the contest’s initiative quality (see below).
  • 3. When every character eligible to act during the cycle has had a turn, or when the round forcibly ends, the next cycle begins as described by the contest’s initiative quality, until a side wins the skill challenge.

Unlike most skill challenges, contests do not have skill DCs that scale to match the abilities of its participants. Like chases, they feature opposition—rival characters who are also attempting to win the contest. As a result, most skill checks made to earn completion in a contest are opposed by skill checks made by the opposition, meaning that contests are more defined by the relationship between the contestants’ abilities than the arbitrary difficulty of the contest itself, as well as the unique array of rules that accompany each type of contest. In addition to the opposition, contests feature a unique completion method called points.

Although characters can participate in a contest indefinitely, too much exertion (either physical or mental) is tiring. Each hour that a character participates in a contest without resting for at least 8 hours, she must attempt a Constitution check (DC 10, +1 for each previous check attempted). Failing this check causes her to become fatigued. If she is already fatigued, she becomes exhausted instead.

The Contest Cycle

Each cycle during a contest represents a specific amount of time that varies from contest to contest—this is listed in the contest’s frequency. A cycle normally allows each character (or each team of characters) involved in the contest to act, but the order that characters act in during a cycle is determined by the contest’s initiative quality (see below).

During her turn, a character makes an initial play as a full-cycle action. This is typically a skill check to earn completion, but the initial play can differ based upon the rules of the contest being played. Once a character makes this initial play, all other characters react to the initial play by making one or more play reactions. Each character participating in a contest can make a number of play reactions during each contestant’s turn equal to the number of attacks of opportunity that they could normally make during a single round in combat. The reactions that can be made in response to the initial play of the contest vary from contest to contest. Actions that take half-cycle or cycle actions in one contest may be able to be performed as reactions during another contest, and reactions themselves can take as long as a cycle action or as little as a swift or immediate action to perform. They are an abstraction that represents other character’s abilities to quickly react to the dynamic conditions of the contest.

When relevant, cycle actions, full cycle actions, and halfcycle action function the same in contests as they do in standard skill challenges (see the Running a Skill Challenge section).

Initiative Qualities

A contest’s initiative quality determines how turns rotate during the skill challenge. Listed below are several common initiative qualities used by well-known contests.

Possession Initiative: Possession initiative is only used in contests where contestants are arranged in teams of 2 or more. In a contest with possession initiative, all characters on every team roll initiative normally, then determine which character on each team has the highest initiative result. These characters (those with the highest initiative results from each team) are then compared to determine the initiative order of the teams—the team of the character with the highest initiative is team 1, the team with the character with the second highest initiative is team 2, and so on.

During the contest, team 1 starts with possession over the initiative count. Characters on team 1 act in sequential order from highest initiative to lowest initiative. When all contestants on team 1 have acted, the cycle ends and the next cycle begins, starting with the character on team 1 with the highest initiative. Team 1 continues to act to the exclusion of all other teams for as long as they have possession of initiative. Each contest with this initiative quality notes how possession is transferred between teams. When possession transfers to a different team, that team acts to the exclusion of all others, starting with the contestant on the team with the highest initiative, as described above. Typically, the last player to act on each team is recorded when possession transfers, and the next time that team gains possession initiative begins with the next player in the sequence, then proceeds as normal.

Rotational Initiative: Rotational initiative is only used in contests where contestants are arranged in teams of 2 or more. In a contest with rotational initiative, all characters on every team roll initiative normally, then determine which character on each team has the highest initiative result. These characters (those with the highest initiative results from each team) are then compared to determine the initiative order of the teams—the team of the character with the highest initiative is team 1, the team with the character with the second highest initiative is team 2, and so on.

During each cycle, turns cycle first between teams, then between characters based on their initiative result on that team. For instance, the characters on each team act first by order of team (team 1 goes first, team 2 goes second, and so on). Next, the characters on each team with the second highest initiative acts by order of team, and so on. When all contestants have acted, the cycle ends and the next cycle begins.

Types of Contests

At their core, all contests are essentially structured forms of childhood games that any character can participate in. As a result, contests come in myriad types with intricate, unique rules. A contest’s type represents the general strategies needed to successfully win the game. This section summarizes ten of different contests. Rules discussing how to play different types of contests appear in the following sections.

Deterministic Strategy Contests

In a deterministic contest, individuals or teams of individuals use strategy to calculate plays. Deterministic strategy contests also possess one subtype: perfect or imperfect. In an imperfect deterministic strategy contest, one or more elements are left unobservable to each player, such as a contestant being disallowed from viewing her opponent’s position or cards.

In a perfect deterministic strategy contest, both players are permitted to observe all elements of the game. All deterministic contests lack random elements, such as dice rolls or shuffled cards. Deterministic strategy games rely on high-level planning skills, mastery of the game, and intelligence. Examples of imperfect deterministic strategy games include catapult and duplicate bridge, while examples of perfect deterministic strategy games include chess, go, and mancala.

Grapple Contests

In a grapple contest, individuals or teams of equal players take turns grappling one another with the intent of pinning their opponent to score points. Grapple contests are hands-on and focus on physical strength and strategy. Examples include all types of wrestling (such as arm wresting and thumb wrestling).

Invasion Contests

In an invasion contest, teams of equal players aim to attack an opponent’s territory in order to score points. Invasion contests are fast-paced and focus on teamwork, keeping possession, scoring, and defending. Examples include basketball, football, handball, hockey, and rugby.

Judgement Contests

In a judgement contest, individuals or teams of equal players attempt to present their best work, be it a craft or a performance routine, to a panel of one or more judges, who grade them based upon the quality of their performance. Each judgment contest focuses on a specific topic and includes a number of judges ranging from one to four. Judges award points based upon the quality of each contestant’s performance. Judgment contests are slowly paced and often stressful, and they emphasize quality over mere success. Examples include hide and seek, ice skating, pie making contests, singing competitions, and talent shows.

Momentum Contests

In a momentum skill contest, individuals or teams of equal players move their bodies to a specific pattern or rhythm determined by the contest to score points. Momentum games are fast-paced and focus on precise control of the contestant’s body. Examples include dance offs, hopscotch, and skip rope.

Net/Wall Contests

In a net/wall contest, individuals or teams of equal players send an object towards a target area that the opponent is defending with the goal of making the object land in the target area while making it difficult for the opponent to return the object. Net/wall contests always feature a structure (usually the titular net or wall) that divides the target area into scorable zones or that acts as a zone of transition between contestants. Examples include badminton, racquet ball, tennis, and volleyball.

Recollection Contests

In a recollection contest, individuals or teams of equal players attempt to remember or recall information to score points. Recollection contests also possess one subtype: memory or trivia. In a memory recollection contest, contestants are shown a specific image or given a specific sequence, wait several moments, then are asked to recall the information given to them to score points. In a trivia recollection contest, contestants are asked a question, then must provide the correct response to score points. When a contestant fails to answer correctly in a recollection contest, opponents are often able to “steal” those questions in order to score additional points. Recollection games emphasize learning, information recall, and memorization. Examples include memory and trivia.

Striking/Fielding Contests

In a striking/fielding contest, teams of equal players strike an object before running to a target area. Participants attempt to prevent their opponents from scoring by retrieving the object and returning it to stop the play. Striking/fielding games are fast-paced and focus on accuracy, speed, and teamwork. Examples include baseball, cricket, foursquare, and softball.

Stochastic Strategy Contests

In a stochastic strategy contest, individuals or teams of individuals create and adapt strategies to calculate plays based upon random elements, such as shuffled cards or rolled dice. Stochastic strategy contests also possess one subtype: perfect or imperfect. In an imperfect stochastic strategy contest, one or more elements are left unobservable to each player, such as a contestant being disallowed from viewing her opponent’s position or cards. In a perfect stochastic strategy contest, both players are permitted to observe all elements of the game. Stochastic strategy games rely heavily on chance and probability, but they also involve high-level planning skills, mastery of the game, and intelligence. Examples of imperfect stochastic strategy games include blackjack, mahjonh, and poker, while examples of perfect stochastic strategy games include backgammon and yahtzee.

Target Contests

In a target contest, individuals or teams of equal players throw, slide, or strike an object with the goal of having the object land closest to or within a designated target to score points. Target contests also possess one subtype: opposed or unopposed. In an opposed target contest, opponents attempt to block contestants from scoring points. In an unopposed target contest, opponents are unable to block contestants. Target games are methodical and precise, and focus on accuracy, execution, scoring, and sometimes blocking. Examples of opposed target games included curling and shuffleboard, while examples of unopposed target games include archery, bowling, horseshoes, and golf.

Completion Methods

As with all skill challenges, the goal of a contest is to clear it by performing a number of specific tasks relevant to the challenge. All contests use the same completion method, which is different from those used by standard skill challenges. This section summarizes how completion is earned during a contest, then details how to use it.

Points

Point-based skill challenges (henceforth called contests) award points to contestants when specific objectives are accomplished. Contests measure completion in points, an abstraction that compares one team’s success in the contest to that of their opposition. Point-based completion is divided into two subcategories—accumulation and casualties. These subcategories describe the bases for determining how points are managed during the contest (see below).

All contests list a scoring event (the conditions under which points are earned or lost, as appropriate), as well as which skills are used to earn completion during the contest and the base DC for those checks. Note that in a contest, the base DC usually represents the difficulty of attempting to score. This is usually fairly easy, and contests typically don’t have a base DC to score that is higher than DC 20 because the difficulty of a contest is derived not from the act of scoring, but the presence of the opposition. As a result, most skill checks to earn completion are opposed checks, but a skill check to earn completion that fails to beat the scoring event’s base DC does not earn any points, even if the result is higher than the opposition’s opposed roll.

Unlike most skill challenges, some contests require ability checks, melee attack rolls, or ranged attack rolls to score points instead of actual skill checks. For all purposes, ability checks and attack rolls count as skill checks when determining how they interact with all aspects of the contest, including any special qualities it has.

Automatic Successes and Failures: When a character makes a skill check to earn point and gets a natural 20 (the d20 shows 20), she succeeds regardless of the skill check’s DC. Unlike other skill challenges, characters who get a natural 20 on a skill check to earn completion do not score a “threat” unless the skill challenge has the critical success optional element.

Subcategories of Points-Based Completion

All skill challenges that use a points-based completion method are divided into one of the following subcategories, which determines how points are managed during the contest.

Accumulation: In a points-based accumulation contest, a team earns points when a scoring event occurs. Sample scoring events include landing an object into a specific target area (as in badminton), moving from one target area to another target area (as in baseball) or simply by beating an opponent at an opposed skill check (as in chess). Whenever a character succeeds on a skill check to earn completion, the number of points earned is listed in the skill challenge’s scoring events entry. The winner of a points-based accumulation contest is either the first team to reach a specific point total or the team with the most points after all scoring intervals have ended.

Casualties: In a point-based casualties contest, a team loses points when a scoring event occurs. Sample scoring events usually involving losing game pieces (as in catapult or chess). Teams start with a specific number of points, and whenever a character succeeds on a skill check to earn completion, the number of points that the opposition loses is listed in the skill challenge’s scoring events entry. The winner of a points-based casualty contest is the last team to have at least 1 point remaining.

Special Actions

In addition to the list of special actions that you can perform during a standard skill challenge, there are several special actions that you can take during a contest that are unique to this type of skill challenge. This section discusses all of the various actions that you can perform during a chase other than attempting to earn completion or using one of the special actions detailed in the standard skill challenge rules on (except create advantage, which cannot be used because it is exclusive to movement-based skill challenges).

Block

In contests with the block special quality (see SQ), characters can defend target areas and intercept catches, passes, and serves, defend positions, and prevent their opposition from completing contest objectives by physically blocking attempts at scoring. For example, in badminton, contestants block to protect their zones from being scored upon by the opposition’s strikes using the block special action.

Whenever the opposition attempts a skill check to earn completion that can be blocked, a character can attempt to block that attempt by rolling an opposed skill check to earn completion. The skill used to make the block is noted in the contest’s stat block under the block special quality. If the blocker’s skill check exceeds that of the character attempting to earn completion, the skill check is blocked and the opposition suffers some consequence, as noted in the contest’s description. Some contests include rules for a partial block, occurs when the blocker’s opposed skill check fails by less than 5. Rules for partial blocks are noted in a “partial block” entry, under the skill challenge’s special qualities.

Using the block special action is a play reaction that is made in response to an initial play or another play reaction. Multiple characters cannot attempt to block the same skill check unless the skill challenge also has the dogpile special quality. A character cannot attempt to block an opposed skill check if she is not within range of the creature, object, or location being targeted by the skill check to earn completion.

For example, in baseball, a batter is always considered “in range” of the baseball when she is at bat because the pitcher directly throws the ball to her location in an attempt to strike her out. If the batter successfully blocks the ball, however, a character playing 2nd base couldn’t attempt to block the ball if it spun towards outfield because that character isn’t within the location being targeted by the baseball.

Catch

In contests with the catch special quality (see SQ), characters can catch objects that are passed to them using the pass special action (see Pass, below). Catches only occur between members of the same team—if you are intercepting an opponent’s pass, you are using the block special action.

Whenever a character uses the catch special action, she attempts a skill check to earn completion at the same DC as the DC made to pass the object to her. If she succeeds, she catches the object and gains possession of it. If she fails, she misses the object and does not gain possession of it. In some skill challenges, failing to catch a pass has consequences for the contestants who failed to pass the ball, while in others the ball remains in its current zone, unpossessed. Any consequences incurred when a pass fails (either because of a failed skill check to pass or a failed skill check to catch) is noted in the skill challenge’s description under its play rules.

Using the catch special ability is a play reaction that is made in response to an initial play or another play reaction, usually the pass or serve actions.

Fake Out

In contests with the fake out special quality (see SQ), characters can attempt to deceive their opposition into believing they will act differently then they actually act, making it more difficult for the opposition to react to their plays.

Whenever a character uses the fake out special action, she declares which action she will actually take (such as to block, pass, or score), then attempts a skill check opposed by a Sense Motive check made by each member of the opposition who could normally react to her designated special action. Any member of the opposition whose Sense Motive equals or exceeds the character’s skill check is not affected by the fake out, while members of the opposition who fail the check take a –4 penalty on skill checks made to oppose the character’s stated action, such as with the block special action.

Using the fake out action is a play reaction that is made in response to an initial play or another play reaction. If a character uses Bluff to perform a fake out, then any applicable bonuses that character has on checks made to feint in combat also apply on checks made to fake out the opposition.

Unlike feinting, you don’t take penalties for trying to fake out a nonhumanoid opponent or an opponent with animal intelligence. Bluff is generally used to fake out the opposition in most contests, but contests that involve movement can also use Acrobatics, while contests that involving climbing, flying, or swimming can use Climb, Fly, or Swim, respectively. Additionally, contests that involve objects that are used to score points (such as baseball) can also use Sleight of Hand.

Pass

In contests with the pass special quality (see SQ), characters can pass an object from one contestant to another, transferring position of that object from themselves to the intended target. For example, in baseball, characters in the outfield can pass the baseball to one another in order to strike out a batting player who is running from base to base.

When a character attempts to pass an object to another contestant, she designates a target to pass the object to and rolls a skill check to earn completion. The skill used, as well as its DC, is indicated in the contest’s stat block. If her skill check is successful, the character passes that ball to the designated target, who becomes the catcher and must immediately attempt to catch the passed object (see Catch, above). If the character fails her skill check to earn completion, the pass fails, and if her check failed by 5 or more, the pass fails and she loses possession of the object (see Object Possession).

Using the pass special ability is either an initial play or a play reaction, based on the type of contest. If passing is a play reaction, it is made in response to an initial play or another play reaction, usually the serve or strike actions.

Push Self

During a contest, characters can attempt to push themselves beyond their limits using the push self special action. Using the push self special action doesn’t require an action, but each character can only push herself a number of times per turn equal to 1 + her Constitution bonus (minimum 1).

When a character attempts to push herself beyond her limits, she makes a Constitution check (DC 10, +1 for each previous time she has previously used the push self special action during the skill challenge). If her check is successful, she gains one of the following benefits of her choice from the list below. If she fails this check, she takes 1d6 points of nonlethal damage that cannot be healed until the character rests for at least 8 hours.

For every 5 by which she fails this check, she takes an additional 1d6 points of nonlethal damage. This damage cannot be reduced (such as by damage reduction) or redirected (such as by shield other) by any means. Creatures immune to nonlethal damage cannot use the push self special action during a contest.

Too much strain when pushing one’s self can cause extreme physical and mental trauma. Whenever a character fails a Constitution check to push herself, she must make a saving throw against a DC equal to 15 + the total amount of nonlethal damage that she has taken from pushing herself during the contest. The type of saving throw she makes depends upon which skills are used to earn completion during the skill challenge. If a Charisma-, Intelligence-, or Wisdom-based check or skill is used, she must make a Will save. If a Constitution-, Dexterity-, or Strength-based check or skill check is used, or an attack roll is used, she must make a Fortitude save. If she fails this saving throw, she takes 1 point of ability damage to the ability score that her skill check to earn completion is based on, plus 1 additional point of ability damage for every 5 by which her skill check fails.

For instance, if Kyr’shin plays baseball, a contest that uses a ranged attack to earn completion, and he attempts to push himself for a reaction and fails by 5, he would take 2d6 points of nonlethal damage. Assuming he takes average damage (7 points), he would then need to make a DC 22 Fortitude save or take 1 point of Dexterity damage, plus 1 point for every 5 that his saving throw failed by.

When a character successfully pushes herself during a contest, she gain one of the following benefits.

  • Add a +1d6 competence bonus to any one skill check made to earn completion during the contest.
  • Gain one additional play reaction during the turn.

Set

In contests with the set special quality (see SQ), characters can attempt to assist their teammates by setting up conditions for a more productive attempt at scoring. For example, in badminton, contestants can set the shuttlecock high into the air so their teammates can swiftly deliver the shuttlecock to one of the opposition’s zones before they can react.

When a character makes a set, she rolls a skill check to earn completion. The skill used, as well as its DC, is indicated in the contest’s stat block. If the character fails her skill check to earn completion, the set fails and she loses possession of the object (see Object Possession). If she succeeds, the next ally who attempts a strike as a play reaction to earn completion gains a +2 bonus on her skill check,

Using the set special ability is either an initial play or a play reaction, based on the type of contest. If setting is a play reaction, it is made in response to an initial play or another play reaction, usually the serve or pass actions.

Strike

In contests with the strike special quality (see SQ), characters can attempt to taking an object used to score points out of play by attempting to score. This is often done by hitting, throwing, or kicking an object. For example, in baseball, the batter strikes the ball into the outfield, while in badminton players strike the shuttlecock into each other’s target area to attempt to score points.

When a character is in position to make a strike, she rolls a skill check to earn completion. The skill used, as well as its DC, is indicated in the contest’s stat block. If her skill check is successful, the strike earns points, as noted in the contest’s completion. Most skill challenges with the strike special quality also have the block special quality, and as a result opponents often use their reactions to attempt to prevent a character from successfully striking and subsequently earning a point. If the character fails her skill check to earn completion, the strike fails and she loses possession of the object.

Using the strike special ability is either an initial play or a play reaction, based on the type of contest. If striking is a play reaction, it is made in response to an initial play or another play reaction, usually the serve or pass actions.

Fouls

A foul occurs whenever a character performs an inappropriate or unfair act during the course of the contest, as deemed by the contest’s referee of judge. Examples include making illegal contact with another contestant, spouting profanities at the referee, or casting an illegal spell or spell-like ability during the contest to garner an advantage. Earning fouls might cause an individual contestant to lose points, be removed for one or more cycles, or lose the contest outright. Because penalties are typically earned as a result of player choice and roleplaying, the GM decides the consequences of earning a penalty during a contest.

Most contests forbid all unsportsmanlike behavior, which usually includes using spells to gain an advantage. The GM is the arbiter of which actions warrant a penalty, however.

Object Possession

Many contests include an object that is used to score points, such as a shuttlecock in badminton or a baseball in baseball. Control of such objects are paramount, and contests that involve object possession often have one or more of the contest special qualities described. Most contests that involve object possession use possession initiative as their initiative quality, with the teams acting based upon which team has possession of the scoring object.

In a game with object possession, a team is considered to have possession of the object if at least one contestant on that team is in direct contact with it; in most contests, this requires the contestant to directly hold or wield the object. These objects often enter play using the serve special ability, and leave play using the strike special ability. When a possessed object successfully leaves play, points are accumulated or lost in favor of the person whose check caused the object to leave play. For instance, in badminton, a successful strike check causes the shuttlecock to leave play, which accumulates points for that contestant’s, while in chess, a successful strike check causes a piece to be captured, which results in casualties to that contestant’s opposition.

In some games, such as baseball, loosing possession of the scoring object doesn’t automatically cause a team to gain or lose points. In such games, possession of the scoring object can be reestablished as a reaction, provided that the character attempting to reestablished possession is in the same zone as the scoring object (see Zones, below).

Opposition

As with chases, one of the key features of a contest encounter is the opposition—NPCs who directly interfere with the PCs’ attempts to clear the skill challenge. The opposition competes with the PCs to be the winners of the contest.

The opposition is never referenced in a contest’s stat block, but nevertheless it is important for the GM to have stat blocks for the opposition to determine their skill check bonuses and special abilities. Unlike a chase, which have their own predetermined challenge ratings, contests determine their challenge rating based upon the opposition’s CR (or average CR, if the opposition consists of multiple NPCs).

Plays and Reactions

Contests don’t use the standard action economy, as seen in other types of skill challenges. Instead, they rely on a dynamic action system known as plays and reactions. In a contest, there are two general types of actions—initial plays and play reactions. Both types of actions are described below.

Initial Plays: An initial play sets up the scoring event for the contest—it establishes a team’s attempt at earning points. An initial play is always a full cycle action. How this action is used is determined by the contest in question, but usually, this is some type of skill check to earn completion, as described by the contest’s description. Likewise, initial plays vary in appearance from contest to contest. For example, in badminton and baseball, the initial play sends an object into play.

Play Reactions: Where initial plays are structured and well-defined, play reactions, the other type of contest action, are spurious and loosely-defined. Play reactions are similar to attacks of opportunity in combat—they occur as a direct response to another action (the initial play) and interrupt the normal flow of action during a turn. Each turn, a character can make one play reaction. Characters with the Combat Reflexes feat can make an additional number of play reactions per turn equal to their Dexterity modifier. In addition, characters can use the push self special action to make additional play reactions.

After the initial play is made, all characters capable of making a play reaction decide whether or not to act in response to that initial play. All characters who choose to react roll an initiative check and resolve their play reactions in initiative order. Once this first ‘round’ of play reactions concludes, a second round begins, and all characters can choose whether or not to react in response to the circumstantial changes that resulted from the previous round of play reactions. This process continues until all characters participating in the skill challenge are unable to make any more play reactions, or until all characters decide to make no more play reactions in response to that turn’s initial play.

Zones

Some contests, especially sports, are defined by how the contestant interacts with the physical space where the contest is being held. Rather than detail every square foot of the contest, important areas in a given contest are abstracted as zones. In contests that utilize zones, a zone represents a target location where play occurs during the contest. Contestants occupy positions within one or more zones, and can typically move from zone to zone as a play reaction. Depending upon the game being played, contestants occupy zones, target zones with strikes, and move from zone to zone to reach objectives. Each contest notes which zones it possesses and any specifics regarding those zones in its stat block.

Elements of a Contest

All contests, regardless of type, have the following elements: type, goal, scoring skills, scoring period, completion (points-only). Some contests might also include optional elements, such as demerits, zones, or special qualities. These characteristics are described below and are presented in the order in which they appear on a skill challenge’s stat block.

Unlike other skill challenges, contests don’t list their benefit or penalty because generally speaking, the benefit of clearing a contest is winning the activity while the penalty for failing to clear the contest is losing. Winning or losing may have additional benefits or consequences, at the GM’s decision. Likewise, contests don’t list CRs because the difficulty of the skill challenge is based on the competition that the contestants face. For all effects determined by CR, a contest’s CR is equal to the CR of the creature with the highest CR that is participating in the skill challenge, excluding PCs or their allies.

All of the elements listed above use slightly different rules then those of a standard skill challenge—when running a contest, refer to the rules listed below.

Type

Contest challenges are point-based skill challenges in which opposing characters attempt to beat one another in a specific activity. Contests come in ten varieties—deterministic strategy contests, grapple contests, invasion contests, judgment contests, momentum contests, net/wall contests, recollection contests, striking/fielding contests, stochastic strategy contests, and target contests. In a deterministic strategy contest, contestants use strategy to plan and predict their opponent’s moves. In grapple contests, contestants attempt to render one another immobile by pinning each other in grapples. In invasion contests, contestants attempt to score points by invading their opponents’ territory. In judgment contests, contestants compete to present their best work to one or more judges. In momentum contests, contestants move their bodies in accordance to a specific pattern or rhythm to score points. In net/wall contests, contestants attempt to strike objects into their opponent’s territory, which is marked using a wall or net. In recollection contests, contestants compete to be the first to remember or recall specific information. In striking/fielding contests, contestants strike objects before moving to a target area. In stochastic strategy contests, contestants create strategies while dealing with an element of probability or chance. In target contests, characters shoot, slide, strike, or throw an object towards a target.

Goal

Each contest has a goal that describes how its participants score points towards clearing the skill challenge. A contest’s goal has no mechanical effect on the skill challenges—it simply reflects the activity that the contestants are doing.

Teams

Contests can be played alone or with friends and comrades, and a contest’s teams element notes the different styles that the contest can be played in. If a contest lists “singles” as its team, it can be played one-against-one. If a contest lists “doubles” as its team, it can be played “two-against-two.” Otherwise, the entry notes the number of active players on each team. If multiple entries are listed, the contestants choose from among the listed options before they play. At the GM’s decision, different team numbers can be used, provided appropriate adjustments to the contest are made.

Initiative Quality

Not all contests determine contestant initiative in the same manner, and a contest’s initiative quality provides a brief documentation regarding how turns are sequenced during play.

Zones (Optional)

Skill challenges that include spatial terrain as a primary component use zones to abstract the area where the contest is held. Skill challenges with the zones element list the number of zones involved in the skill challenge and provide a general orientation regarding how they are used.

Scoring Skills

Contests each list one skill that best represents the tasks that contestants must accomplish in order to earn completion. This skill is known as the contest’s scoring skill.

Each scoring skill lists the skill DC that the character must roll in order to score a point. Unlike other skill challenges, a contest’s skill DCs don’t list a specific difficulty, and their DCs are not determined by Table: Skill Challenge DC by CR. Instead, the contest’s scoring skill DC is determined by each specific skill challenge, and is generally DC 20 or less. Instead, most contests involve opposed skill checks between contestants as the primary factor in determining how difficult it is to earn completion during the contest. For instance, in baseball, it only requires a DC 18 ranged attack roll to hit a baseball, but the contestant at bat must also equal or exceed the pitcher’s ranged attack roll in order to successfully hit the ball.

Frequency

The amount of time represented by one cycle varies from contest to contest based upon the contest’s rules, and a contest’s frequency notes the amount of time that each cycle represents. Cycles can be measured in one of 3 specific time intervals: 1 round, 1 minute, or 10 minutes.

A contest’s frequency limits which abilities and effects are applicable to the contest. Each cycle that passes reduces the duration by the amount of time indicated by its frequency. For instance, each effect active on a character who is participating in a contest with a frequency of 10 minutes would have its duration reduced every cycle by 10 minutes. As a general rule, an ability or effect cannot have a meaningful impact upon a contest if its duration is less than the contest’s frequency, for it is unable to last for the entire cycle.

Scoring Interval (Optional Element)

Skill challenges with a scoring interval element allow characters a limited amount of time to complete them. The number listed by the element is the number of cycles that contestants have to earn enough points before the contest ends. In contests with the scoring interval element, the winner is usually the contestant who has the most points at the end of the skill challenge. Each contest has its own, specific number of scoring rounds before the contest ends.

Completion

All contests list their completion method—points—as well as the contest’s subcategory for completion—accumulation or casualties. The amount of completion needed to clear a contest does not follow a standardized formula. Instead, it is determined by the nature of the activity that the contest represents. Some contests start the contestants with a specific number of points that they must whittle away from one another, while others offer constants the chance to score as many points as possible within a specific period of time. These intricacies are noted in the skill challenge’s completion method and explained in full in the skill challenge’s description entry.

Scoring Events

A skill challenge’s scoring event element lists the different ways that points are accumulated or lost during the skill challenge.

SQ (Optional Element)

Skill challenges can possess numerous special qualities—specific qualities that use standard rules that are referenced (but not repeated) in skill challenge stat blocks. These qualities are listed below.

Backlash: In a contest with the backlash special quality, a mishap occurs whenever a character fails a skill check to earn completion. This mishap causes the character’s team to lose a number of points, as noted in the special quality’s entry.

Block: In a contest with the block special quality, characters can use the block special action to attempt to prevent their opposition from scoring points.

Catch: In a contest with the catch special quality, characters can use the catch special action to attempt to catch an object that is being passed to them by another contestant.

Critical Fumble: Whenever a character rolls a natural 1 (the d20 shows 1), she fails regardless of her skill check’s result and has “fumbled,” meaning the failure might be a critical failure. To determine if its a critical failure, the character immediately makes an attempt to “confirm” the critical fumble—another skill check with all the same modifiers as the skill check she just made. If the confirmation roll also results in a failure against the skill check’s DC, the original failure is a critical failure. (The confirmation roll just needs to fail to equal or exceed the skill check’s DC to cause a critical fumble, it does not need to come up 1 again.) If the confirmation roll beats the skill check’s DC, then the failure is just a regular failure.

A critical failure means that the character loses completion towards clearing the skill challenge. The amount of completion lost depends upon the skill challenge’s completion method, as described below.

Points: A consequence occurs, as noted in the contest’s special quality entry. This can be severe as scoring points for the opposition or as simple as the character’s turn ending.

Critical Success: Whenever a character rolls a natural 20 (the d20 shows 20), she scores a “threat” in addition to automatically succeeding as normal. This means that the success might be a critical success (or a “crit”). To determine if its a critical success, the character immediately makes an attempt to “confirm” the critical success—another skill check with all the same modifiers as the skill check she just made.

If the confirmation roll also results in a success against the skill check’s DC, the original success is a critical success. (The confirmation roll just needs to beat the skill check’s DC to cause a critical success, it does not need to come up 20 again.) If the confirmation roll does not beat the skill check’s DC, then the success is just a regular success.

A critical success means that the character earns additional points, as noted in the contest’s special quality entry.

Dogpile: In a contest with the dogpile special quality, multiple characters can use the block special action to prevent their opposition from scoring points. When dogpiling in this manner, only the highest skill check to earn completion is used to determine if the attempt at scoring is blocked.

Fake Out: In a contest with the fake out special quality, characters can use the fake out special action to attempt to trick their opponents when attempting to score points.

Imbued: The area where the skill challenge takes place is imbued with one or more spells, whose effects linger for the duration of the skill challenge. The spells imbued in the area are listed in the entry along with their caster levels and save DCs (if any). Imbued spells have no duration; their effects are permanent, though a successful dispel magic attempt (or a similar effect) can suppress an imbued spell for 1d4 cycles. Most imbued spells use the minimum caster level and ability score required to cast the spell to determine their effects, but the GM can use more powerful magic if necessary.

Spells chosen for this special quality in a contest are often spells that prevent cheating, such as dimensional anchor, or that punish cheaters, such as baleful polymorph.

Match: In some contests, winning a single round is not enough to claim victory. Contests with the match special quality require multiple victories by accumulating or depleting the number of points listed in the skill challenge’s completion entry the requisite number of times. Most contests list an odd number for this special quality so that a winner is always decided, with three being the most common number.

Pass: In a contest with the pass special quality, characters can use the pass special action to attempt to pass an object to another contestant.

Set: In a contest with the set special quality, characters can use the set special action to attempt to provide an allied contestant with an increased chance at successfully passing or striking with an object.

Strike: In a contest with the strike special quality, characters can use the strike special action to attempt to send a possessed object out of play in order to score points.

Special: Some contests have miscellaneous qualities that produce special effects, such as drowning or ability damage. Saving throws are typically equal to 10 + the skill challenge’s CR.

Description

Each skill challenge describes how it is played at the end of its entry, as well as any special rules that contestants must follow. The description is divided into several subsections: basics, cycle, initial play, and play reactions.

Contest Stat Block

Contests are organized into stat blocks, almost identically to standard skill challenges. This is where all of the information needed to run a contest can be found. A contest stat block is organized as follows. Note that contests don’t have CRs of their own—a contest’s CR is determined by the PCs’ opposition. Additionally, in cases where a line in a contest stat block has no value, that line is omitted.

Name: The contest’s name is presented first.

Type: This line notes the type of contest that is being conducted, as described in the section on contest types.

Goal: This is a brief description of what the PCs and their opposition are trying to accomplish during the contest.

Teams: This lists the team composition of the contest, such as how many teams compete and how many contestants participate on each team.

Initiative Quality: The contest’s initiative quality is listed here.

Zones (Optional Element): If physical space is part of the contest, this section lists the number and shape of those zones, as well as their orientation in the contest environment.

Scoring Skills: This lists the skills that the PCs can use to gain an advantage during the contest, as well as the difficulty and skill check DC associated with each skill.

Frequency: This lists the amount of time that passes between each cycle during the contest.

Scoring Interval (Optional Element): This lists the number of cycles that the PCs have to finish the contest. Once all scoring intervals have ended, the contestants have no further chances to earn completion and the contest ends.

Completion: The ultimate goal of every contest is to complete it, and this outlines the contest’s completion method (points) and the amount of completion needed to successfully clear it.

Scoring Event: This entry notes the conditions under which contestants score points during the skill challenge.

Foul: This entry notes what happens when any contestant gains a foul for inappropriate conduct.

SQ (Optional Element): This entry notes any special qualities or rules that the contest has.

Description: This describes how the contest is played and any special rules that contestants must follow.


Sample Contests

The following contests were designing using the rules described above.

Badminton

Contest (target)
Goal Teams take turns serving a conical, feathered projectile called a shuttlecock. The first team to score 21 points wins the round,while the first team to win 3 rounds wins the contest.
Teams Two teams of singles or doubles
Initiative Quality rotational initiative
Zones Four rectangular zones (two per team) each boarding a net that divides the court in half (one half per side).

SKILLS
Scoring Skills ranged attack (DC 18)
Frequency 1 minute

COMPLETION
Points 21 accumulated; Scoring Event Whenever a team fails a skill check to block, set, or strike, that team loses 1 point.

Foul When a contestant commits a foul, their opposition scores 1 point.

SQ block (ranged attack DC 18), catch (ranged attack DC 18), critical fumble, fake out (Acrobatics, Bluff, Sleight of Hand, or ranged attack), match (3), pass (doubles only; ranged attack DC 18), set (ranged attack DC 18), strike (ranged attack DC 18)

DESCRIPTION
Basics In badminton, each team takes one side of a 20-foot by 44-foot court that is divided into two 20-foot by 22-foot sides by a net. In doubles, each team’s contestants occupies a single zone on their side, while in singles each contestant occupies both zones. Teams take turns serving a shuttlecock from side to side while attempting to strike the shuttlecock into one of their opposition’s zones to score points.

Cycle The player whose turn it is serves the initial play. If the serving player’s team scores, that player takes another turn, and continues making additional turns until the opposition scores. If the opposition scores, initiative rotates as described by the rotational initiative quality.

Initial Play On her turn, a contestant serves the shuttlecock by making a DC 18 ranged attack roll to serve the shuttlecock to one randomly determined zone on her opponent’s side of the court. If she succeeds, she scores 1 point. If she fails, her opponents score 1 point.

Play Reactions Whenever a contestant serves or strikes the shuttlecock, her team’s opposition can attempt to block the attempt to earn completion. If the block is successful, the contestant can choose to pass, set, or strike the shuttlecock as part of the same play reaction. If the contestant chooses to pass the shuttlecock, the target attempts to catch then strike it as part of a single play reaction. Any character can attempt the fake out special action as a play reaction before serving or striking the shuttlecock.

Baseball

Contest (striking/fielding)
Goal Teams take turns hitting a ball that the opposition pitches to them. If the ball is hit, batters runs from base to base while their opposition strikes to tag them with the baseball, striking them out. The team with the most points at the end of nine innings wins the contest.
Teams Two teams of 9 contestants
Initiative Quality possession initiative
Zones Eight zones, five “infield” and three “outfield.” The infield zones connect together to make a diamond, with the fifth zone located at its center. The outfield zones boarder this diamond on two of its four sides.

SKILLS
Scoring Skills ranged attack (DC 18
Frequency 1 minute
Scoring Interval 9 innings (1 cycle per team per inning)

COMPLETION
Points highest accumulated; Scoring Event Whenever a contestant manages to run from home plate to first plate, then from first plate to second plate, then second plate to third plate, and finally from third plate back to home plate, that contestant’s team scores 1 point. This doesn’t need to occur in a single cycle.

SQ block (ranged attack DC 18), catch (ranged attack DC 18), critical success (hit is an automatic home run; see initial play), dogpile, fake out (Acrobatics, Bluff, or Sleight of Hand), pass (ranged attack DC 18), strike (melee or ranged attack against the target player’s AC)

DESCRIPTION
Basics In baseball, teams rotate between being the batting team and the field team. The batting team is always the team that possesses the initiative count. The field is a 400- foot zone from nose to base, with the “nose” being the home plate zone and the “base” being the three outfield zones.

There is a 60-foot distance between each set of adjacent infield “base” zones, such as home to 1st and 3rd, 1st to home and 2nd, and so on. The field team must choose which zones each of their players occupy. Typically, one player occupies each zone (save home plate), while the remaining two players divide place themselves wherever they like.

The field team pitches the baseball to the batting team, who attempts to hit the ball out into the field. If she succeeds, the batter runs from home plate to first base, then from first to second base, then from second to third base, and finally from third base back to home plate. Any contestant that manages to do so without being struck out by the opposition scores a point for their team. Contestants are struck out either when they fail three times to make an initial play on their turn, or when the opposition manages to catch the ball as a play reaction to the initial play or tag a running batter before she reaches a base. Once a team accumulates three strikes, that team loses possession of the initiative count to their opposition. After 9 innings, the team with the most points wins.

Cycle The team with possession over the initiative count (the batting team) makes the initial play. If the opposition of this team manages to strike out one of the team’s contestants, the batting team gains an out. When the batting team gains three outs, they lose possession over the initiative count and their opposition gains possession over the initiative count.

Initial Play On her turn, the baseball is pitched to the contestant (the “batter”) by a member of the opposition (the “pitcher”) up to three times. The pitch is a DC 18 ranged attack roll. If the pitcher misses this ranged attack, the batter gets 1 ball. If the batter gets a total of 4 balls, she and every contestant on her team who is occupying a base gets to “walk” to the next base, with the batter herself walking to first base. If this allows a contestant to walk from third base to home plate, her team scores 1 point, as usual. If the pitcher’s ranged attack is successful, the batter must attempt her own ranged attack roll. If her result is less than the pitcher’s result, she misses and gains 1 strike.

If the batter accumulates 3 strikes, her turn ends and her team gains 1 out. If the batter’s attack roll is successful, she hits the ball to a randomly determined zone (roll 1d8; 1: pitcher’s mound; 2: first base; 3: third base; 4: second base; 5: right outfield; 6: left outfield; 7: center outfield; 8: home run). If the batter hits a home run, she immediately scores 1 point, and every contestant on her team that is occupying a base immediately walks to home, scoring 1 additional point per contestant that walks home in this manner. All contestants that score in this manner leave the field and return to the initiative at the bottom of the initiative count.

Play Reactions Before pitching the ball, the pitcher can attempt to use the fake out action against the batter as a play reaction. After the batter successfully hits the ball, the batter must spend three play reactions to advance to first base, and all other contestants on the batter’s team must spend a play reaction to advance to the next base (first base to second base, second base to third base, and third base to home plate). If a contestant doesn’t have enough play reactions to advance, she must use the push self special action to try and make additional play reactions. A contestant that fails the Constitution check to push herself is automatically struck out. A character that is struck out leaves the field and returns to initiative at the bottom of the initiative count, and her team gains 1 out.

When the batter hits the ball, any contestant positioned at the zone where the ball lands can attempt to block the ball as a play reaction. A contestant attempting to block the ball in this manner takes a –2 penalty if she is positioned at first base or third base, a –4 penalty if she is positioned at second base, left outfield, or right outfield, or a –6 penalty if she is positioned at center outfield. If her block is successful, the batter is struck out, as described above, and none of the other contestants on her team get to advance bases. If her block fails, she loses possession of the ball, and must spend a play reaction to regain possession (see below).

When a contestant attempts a play reaction to advance to a base, her opposition can attempt to gain possession of the baseball, pass the ball to another teammate, or move to an adjacent zone as a play reaction. A character can only gain possession of the baseball if it is in the same zone as her. If a character passes the baseball to a teammate, that teammate can attempt to catch it as a play reaction; if she fails, she must spend a second play reaction to gain possession of the baseball.

A contestant with possession of the baseball can attempt to use it to strike out a contestant that is in the process of advancing from one base to the next base. This is a melee attack roll against the target’s AC if both contestants are in the same zone, or a ranged attack roll if both contestants are in different zones. A contestant that is moving from one base to the next can spend a play reaction to make an Acrobatics check with a –10 penalty and use the result as her Armor Class against the next attack roll made to attempt to strike her out. If a contestant’s attack roll to strike out a contestant equals or exceeds her target’s AC, the target is struck out, as described above. If a contestant’s ranged attack roll to strike out a contestant fails, she loses possession of the baseball.

Catapult

Contest (imperfect deterministic strategy)
Goal Teams take turns attempting to locate the coordinates of model siege engines on the opposition’s grid in order to “wreck” their models, removing them from play. The first contestant to wreck all of her opponent’s siege engines wins.
Teams Two teams of singles
Initiative Quality standard initiative

SKILLS
Scoring Skills Intelligence (DC 0)
Frequency 1 minute

COMPLETION
Points 7 casualties; Scoring Event Whenever a team’s siege engine is wrecked, that team loses 1 point.

DESCRIPTION
Basic In catapult, each team takes one set of 12-inch by 12-inch game boards, a divider, 7 siege engine miniatures (2 canons, 2 ballistae, 2 light catapults, and 1 heavy catapult), grid paper, a pencil, and a small container of boulder tokens. One game board is placed on the table, with the dividers placed between both teams’ boards to prevent cheating. The other game board is held in a contestant’s hand and is used (along with the grid paper and pencil) to keep track of the contestant’s guesses.

Teams take turns guessing the location of their opposition’s siege engine miniatures on their game board; a successful guess is represented by a “hit,” which is marked by a “boulder token” being placed on that siege engine’s model. When a siege engine takes enough hits, it is “wrecked,” at which point its owner removes it from play, losing points in the process.

Cycle The contestant with the higher initiative result goes first, after which turns alternate normally between both contestants.

Initial Play On her turn, a contestant attempts to hit one of the opposition’s siege engines by attempting an Intelligence check to earn completion. After rolling her check, she then rolls d%. If the result of her d% is equal to or less than 5% times the result of her Intelligence check, she hits one randomly determined siege engine (roll a second d% to determine which siege engine is hit; 01–20: heavy catapult; 21–50: light catapult; 51–75: ballistae; 76–98: canon; 99–100: contestant’s choice). If the opposition has multiple siege engines of the rolled type, determine randomly which siege engine is hit.

Each siege engine can withstand one or more hits based the number of squares on the grid it occupies. Canons can take up to two hits, ballistae can take up to 3 hits, light catapults can take up to 4 hits, and heavy catapults can take up to 6 hits. When a siege engine has taken its maximum number of hits, it is wrecked and removed from play. Each time one of a contestant’s siege engines is wrecked, that contestant loses 1 point. In addition, if a contestant destroys all of her opposition’s siege engines of a specific kind, such as ballistae or heavy catapult, any further results of that siege engine when rolling to determine which siege engine she hits instead count as ‘contestant’s choice.’ The first contestant to reduce her opponent to 0 points by wrecking all of the opposition’s siege engines wins.

Play Reactions By default, there are no play reactions in catapult. Players simply take turns making initial plays against each other until a victor is decided.

Chess

Contest (perfect stochastic strategy)
Goal Teams take turns moving a set of 16 game pieces around a grid while trying to capture their opposition’s king, a condition known as “checkmate.” The first contestant to capture her opponent’s king wins.
Teams Two teams of singles
Initiative Quality standard initiative

SKILLS
Scoring Skills Intelligence (DC 0)
Scoring Period 1 minute

COMPLETION
Points 39 casualties; Scoring Event Whenever one of a team’s pieces is captured, the team loses points. The team loses 1 point when a pawn is captured, 3 points when a bishop or knight is captured, 5 points when a rook is captured, 9 points when the queen is captured, or 39 points when the king is captured.

DESCRIPTION
Basic In chess, each team takes one set of colored chess pieces consisting of 16 pawns, 2 bishops, 2 knights, 2 rooks, a queen, and a king. The pieces are lined up on opposing sides of the chess board, arranged with the bishops, knights, rooks, queen, and king on the backmost lines and two rows of pawns in front of them. Teams take turns moving their pieces across the chess board, capturing each other’s pieces as they go by placing their piece into the same square as their opponent’s piece, at which point the piece’s owner removes it from play, losing points in the process.

Cycle The contestant with the higher initiative result goes first, after which turns alternate normally between both players. The contestant with the higher initiative plays with the white pieces, while the other contestant plays with the black pieces.

Initial Play On her turn, contestants attempts to maneuver her pieces across the chess board to capture an enemy pieces by attempting an Intelligence check to earn completion. Immediately after making this check, the contestant’s turn ends. During the first cycle, the contestant playing the white pieces gets a +1 bonus to her Intelligence check. At the end of the cycle after both contestants have made their Intelligence checks, the contestants compare their results, as if they were making opposed checks. The contestant with the higher Intelligence check result wins the round, allowing her to capture one of her opponent’s pieces (roll d% to determine which piece is captured or placed into check; 01–50: pawn; 51–65: knight; 66–79: bishop; 80–89: rook; 90–99: queen; 100: king). Each time a contestant captures a pawn, reduce the chance for that contestant to capture a piece of that type again by 4% (minimum 0%), and increase the chance for that contestant to capture the king by 4% (maximum 100%).

Unlike other pieces, it takes three consecutive victories to capture a contestant’s king. The first time that a contestant succeeds on an Intelligence check and her d% roll results in a ‘king,’ that contestant king is placed in check. On the checked contestant’s turn, if she succeeds on her Intelligence check, her king is placed out of check instead of capturing her opponent’s pieces. If the checked contestant loses this Intelligence roll a second time and her opponent’s d% roll results in a ‘king’ a second time, the checked king is captured instead. The player who first reduces her opponent to 0 points by capturing her opponent’s king wins the contest.

Play Reactions By default, there are no play reactions in chess. Contestants simply take turns making initial plays against each other until a victor is decided.

Cooking Competition

Contest (judgment)
Goal Teams compete to impress one or more judges by creating the highest-quality meal possible. The team whose meal is judged as being the best wins.
Teams Any number of teams with an equal number of contestants
Initiative Quality standard initiative

SKILLS
Scoring Skills Diplomacy (DC 20), Knowledge (local) (DC 20), Perception (DC 5), Profession (cook) (DC 10), Sense Motive (DC 20), Survival (DC 10)
Frequency 10 minutes
Scoring Interval 4 phases (1 or more cycles per phase)

COMPLETION
Completion highest accumulated; Scoring Event Whenever a team attempts a skill check to earn completion, they score 1 point, plus 1 point for every 5 by which their skill check’s result exceeds its DC.
SQ mishap (4d6 points); if using ingredients that she has never cooked with before, a contestant adds +10 to the DCs of all Perception, Profession [cook], and Survival checks made to earn completion during the skill challenge

DESCRIPTION
Basics In a cooking competition, each team attempts to craft a meal across four phases to attempt to appease one or more judges. Teams attempt to discover their judge’s appetites, prepare their meal, and ultimately deliver the best culinary experience possible, scoring points based upon how successful they are in each phase.

Cycle The contestant with the higher initiative result goes first, after which turns alternate normally between both players. A cooking competition is broken into four phases: the selection phase, the preparation phase, the cooking phase, and the presentation phase. The selection phase lasts 1 cycle, the preparation phase lasts 2 cycles, the cooking phase lasts 3 cycles, and the presentation phase lasts 1 cycle. Each phase has a different initial play, as described below.

Initial Play On her turn, a contestant performs an action relevant to the creation of her team’s meal by making a skill check to earn completion. Which skill is used depends upon the current phase, as described below.

Selection Phase During this phase, contestants choose which ingredients to use in their meal, as well as make other choices and considerations. Contestants make a DC 5 Perception check to earn completion during this phase.

Preparation Phase During the preparation phase, contestants prepare their ingredients before cooking them. Contestants make a DC 10 Profession (cook) or Survival check to earn completion during this phase.

Cooking Phase During the cooking phase, contestants take prepared ingredients and construct their meal from them, cooking and arranging those ingredients as needed. Contestants make a DC 10 Profession (cook) or Survival check to earn completion during this phase.

Presentation Phase During the presentation phase, contestants arrange their meal and serve it to the judges. Contestants make a DC 20 Diplomacy, Knowledge (local), or Sense Motive check to earn completion during this phase.

Play Reactions During each phase, a contestant can attempt a number of special play reactions in order to improve her chances at winning the contest. Each phase has its own list of reactions that can be made, as described below.

  • Selection Phase A contestant can attempt a DC 20 Diplomacy, Knowledge (local), or Sense Motive check to earn completion as a play reaction by attempting to discover information about the judges and their biases. Unlike other skill checks to earn completion during the contest, failing this check does not cause a backlash to occur.
  • Preparation Phase There are no play reactions that contestants can attempt during the preparation phase.
  • Cooking Phase A contestant can attempt a DC 10 Profession (cook) or Survival check to earn completion as a play reaction by attempting to further spice up her team’s dish. Each contestant may only attempt one play reaction to spruce up her team’s dish each cycle.
  • Presentation Phase There are no play reactions that contestants can attempt during the preparation phase.

Horseshoes

Contest (target)
Goal Teams take turns throwing horseshoes at a peg that has been imbedded into the ground. The team that first scores 21 points wins.
Teams Two teams of singles or doubles
Initiative Quality rotational initiative
Zones One 5-foot by 5-foot zone with a peg located directly at its center.

SKILLS
Scoring Skills ranged attack (DC 14)
Frequency 1 minute

COMPLETION
Points 21 accumulated; Scoring Event At the end of each cycle, the team who managed to get a horseshoe closest to the peg scores 1 point, or 3 points if the closest horseshoe was a ringer.
SQ critical success (3 points)

DESCRIPTION
Basics In horseshoes, each team takes turns throwing horseshoes at a peg that has been thrust into the ground. The teams stand 40 feet from their peg when throwing horseshoes at their target. Teams attempt to score the most points possible while denying points from their opposition.

Cycle The contestant with the higher initiative result goes first, after which turns rotate between both teams.

Initial Play On her turn, a contestant makes a skill check to earn completion by throwing a horseshoe at a scorable zone. This is considered an attack made with an improvised thrown weapon with a range increment of 10 feet, and as a result a character takes a –4 nonproficiency penalty and a –6 range increment penalty on this attack roll. The contestant can reduce or ignore these penalties with applicable feats and effects (such as Throw Anything for the nonproficiency penalty or Far Shot for the range increment penalty).

If the contestant’s ranged attack is 5 or less than the peg’s AC, the horseshoe lands within 6 inches of the peg (roll 1d8– 2 to determine the horseshoe’s distance; a result of 0 means the horseshoe is touching the peg). If the contestant’s ranged attack equals or exceeds the peg’s AC, the horseshoe touches and leans against the peg (a “leaner”). If the contestant’s range attack roll is a natural 20 and she confirms the critical hit, the horseshoe rings the peg (a “ringer”). At the end of the cycle, the team that scored the most ringers scores 3 points. If both teams scored an equal number of rings, the team that scored the most leaners scores 2 points. If both teams scored an equal number of ringers and leaners, the team with the closest horseshoe to the peg scores 1 point. If both teams are tied in all three categories, no team scores any points. The first team to score 21 points wins.

Play Reactions By default, there are no play reactions in horseshoes. Contestants simply take turns making initial plays against each other until a victor is decided.

Pig Wrestling

Contest (grapple)
Goal Teams compete to chase down and pin a greased-up pig in a muddy pig pen as fast as possible. The team that manages to pin the pig in the least amount of time wins.
Teams Any number of teams with an equal number of contestants per team (up to 4 contestants per team)
Initiative Quality rotational initiative
Zones One 20-foot by 20-foot zone.

SKILLS
Scoring Skills grapple check (DC 10)
Frequency 1 round
Scoring Interval 10 cycles per contestant

COMPLETION
Points 1 accumulated; Scoring Event The team with the contestant who pins the pig in the fewest number of cycles scores 1 point.
SQ critical fumble (The pig escapes the contestant’s grasp, causing it to lose the grappled condition)

DESCRIPTION
Basics In pig wrestling, the teams take turns trying to catch and wrestle a pig in a muddy pig pen (use the statistics for a pig as presented in Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Bestiary 3; more dangerous versions of this contest might use boars or even dire boars instead). The pig is coated in grease, granting it a +10 bonus on checks to escape from a grapple, as well as to its CMD against grapple maneuvers. (A typical pig has a CMD of 20 and a +9 bonus on checks made to escape a grapple.)

During a contestant’s turn, she attempts to catch or pin the pig by making a skill check to earn completion. This action includes the contestant’s movements throughout the pigpen, and this added difficulty imposes a –4 penalty on her skill checks to earn completion unless she is able to ignore at least 10 feet of difficult terrain per round. If her check is successful, the contestant grapples the pig. At the end of any round that the pig is grappled, it immediately attempts to escape the grapple by making a combat maneuver check (most pigs have a +9 bonus on this check). If the pig succeeds, it escapes the grapple. If it fails, the contestant can attempt to pin the pig on her next turn. Pinning the pig requires a second successful grapple attempt, as outlined above (including the –4 penalty if the contestant is affected by the difficult terrain present in the pigpen). If she succeeds, the contestant pins the pig, and the pig gets one final attempt at escaping the pin. If the pig succeeds, it reduces the severity of the pinned condition to the grappled condition. If it fails, the contest ends and the number of rounds it took the contestant to pin the pig is recorded. After all contestants have either pinned the pig or have failed to pin the pig in 10 cycles, the contestant who was able to pin the pig the fastest scores 1 point, winning the contest.

Play Reactions Before making a skill check to earn completion, a contestant can attempt a DC 20 Acrobatics check to steady herself despite the pen’s slippery conditions. If she succeeds, she ignores the pig pen’s difficult terrain for 1 cycle. If she fails by 5 or more, she loses her next cycle as she falls prone and must spend the cycle clearing mud from her eyes and shakily standing from prone amidst the slippery conditions.

Poker

Contest (imperfect stochastic strategy)
Goal Teams compete to build the best five-card hand possible using two hidden cards and a set of five community cards. The contestant with the highest five-card hand wins the contest.
Teams Up to six of teams of singles
Initiative Quality standard initiative

SKILLS
Scoring Skills Bluff (DC 0), Sense Motive (DC 0), or Profession (gambler) (DC 0)
Frequency 1 minute
Scoring Interval 1 hand (5 betting cycles and 1 showdown cycle)

COMPLETION
Points highest accumulated; Scoring Event Contestants begin the game with a predetermined number of points, and earn points whenever they win a hand of poker.
SQ match (unlimited)

DESCRIPTION
Basics In poker, contestants begin by exchanging some form of wealth for an equivalent number of tokens, which act as the contestant’s starting number of points. Contestants generally begin with the same number of points, but in some games a newer player might be afforded extra points as a handicap. Typical wealth-to-points conversion rates include 1 cp per token (kiddie poker or penny poker), 1 sp per token (poor man’s poker), 1 gp per token (proper poker), or 1 pp per token (big money poker).

At the start of a new hand, each contestant must spend 1 or more points as an ante in order to participate in the contest. This “entrance fee” is determined by the players in advance and cannot be waived. Each participating contestant is dealt two cards from a 52 card deck, which is simulated by rolling a skill check to earn completion. The result of the skill check (as well as the result of the d20) is kept hidden, but the contestant makes public their total bonus on skill checks of the kind made. (Contestants are not, however, required to disclose any other information about this skill, such as which skill was rolled.) For instance, a contestant might roll a Sleight of Hand check to earn completion, roll a 4 on a d20 with a +10 bonus, and publicly announce, “I have a +10 bonus on my skill check to earn completion,” while keeping the d20 result and the ultimate result of the skill check secret. Over the course of five cycles (called “betting cycles”), five community cards are revealed to the contestants, and those contestants may place bets and rearrange the cards in their hand. After five cycles, players reveal their hand, and the team with the highest-scoring hand wins.

Cycle The contestant with the higher initiative result goes first, after which turns alternate normally between all contestants.

Initial Play On each betting cycle, a contestant rolls a skill check to earn completion. After rolling her skill check to earn completion, she rolls a d6, plus one additional d6 for every 10 by which the result of her skill check exceeds DC 0. After all d6s have been rolled, the contestant keeps the highest d6 and displays it publicly, discarding the rest.

Contestants don’t make initial plays during the showdown cycle—instead, they total all d6s they kept during the contest and add the sum of those d6s to the skill check to earn completion that they made at the start of the contest. The contestant with the highest result wins the match, as well as all points in the pot. Typically, a poker match continues until the players agree to end the contest or no one has any points left to pay the entrance fee (see basics). Ultimately, the contestant with the most points at the end of the match wins.

Play Reactions Whenever her opposition rolls a skill check to earn completion during a betting phase, a contestant can spend points in order to up the ante as a play reaction. The number of points spent must be equal to at least half the total number of points in the pot, and all points anted in this manner are likewise added to the pot. As a result, as more contestants up the ante, it becomes increasingly expensive to do so. Whenever a contestant ups the ante, she can make a skill check to earn completion. If the result of her skill check equals or exceeds that of her opposition’s, she chooses which of the rolled d6s the opposition keeps for that turn instead of her opposition getting to choose.

Whenever a member of the opposition attempts to raise the ante on a skill check to earn completion that you made, you can negate their attempt at raising the ante if you spend twice as many points as that contestant did raising the ante as a play reaction.

Skip Rope

Contest (momentum)
Goal Teams participate in multiple events that showcase their speed, power, and overall ability at skipping over a thin piece of rope or wire. The contestant with the most points at the end of a phase wins that phase, and the contestant with the most points overall wins the contest.
Teams Any number of teams of 4 contestants
Initiative Quality possession initiative

SKILLS
Scoring Skills Acrobatics (DC 10)
Frequency 1 minute
Scoring Intervals 4 events (10 cycles per event)

COMPLETION
Points highest accumulated; Scoring Event Whenever a team succeeds at a skill check to earn completion, that team scores 1 point, plus 1 point for every 5 by which the result of the check exceeded the check’s DC.
SQ backlash (1 point), critical success (1d6 points), critical fumble (1d6 points); Contestants gain one play reaction per event during the skill challenge. If a contestant has the Combat Reflexes feat, they gain an additional number of play reactions per event equal to their Dexterity modifier. Contestants may still use the push self special action to make additional play reactions during an event.

DESCRIPTION
Basic In skip rope, teams perform a number of tricks and acrobatic stunts that involve swinging a 10-foot long around their bodies so that it passes under their feet and over their heads. Contestants participate in four events—singles speed events, doubles speed events, singles freestyle events, and doubles freestyle events. The team with the most points after all four events have concluded wins the contest.

Cycles The team or contestant with possession over the initiative count makes the initial play. In singles events, one contestant at a time has possession over the initiative count, and they retain possession of the initiative count for 10 cycles, after which possession transfers to the contestant with the next-highest initiative.

In doubles events, one team at a time has possession over the initiative count, and they retain possession of the initiative count for 10 cycles, after which possession transfers to the contestant with the next-highest initiative.

Initial Play On her turn, a contestant attempts to skip over a rope without allowing it to touch her body by making a skill check to earn completion. She makes one skill check to earn completion each cycle. After all teams and contestants have completed their cycles in all four events, the teams total all points accumulated by each of their members. The team with the most points accumulated wins the contest.

Play Reactions During the contest, a contestant can attempt to push themselves in order to perform a special trick as a play reaction that enables them to score additional points during the contest. Each time she uses this play reaction, the contestant chooses one physical ability score (Dexterity, Constitution, or Strength) and makes an ability check with the chosen ability score. The DC for this check is 10 + 1 for each previous check that the contestant made with the chosen ability score as part of this play reaction during the current event. If she succeeds, the contestant earns twice as many points if her next Acrobatics check is successful. If her result is a 15 or higher, she instead earns three times as many points if her next Acrobatics check is successful. If her result is 20 or higher, she instead earns four times as many points, and so on. If her check fails, she takes a –10 penalty on her next Acrobatics check instead, or a –20 penalty if she rolled a result of a natural 1 on her ability check.

Trivia

Contest (recollection)
Goal Teams participate in multiple events that showcase their speed, power, and overall ability at skipping over a thin piece of rope or wire. The contestant with the most points at the end of a phase wins that phase, and the contestant with the most points overall wins the contest.
Teams Any number of teams of any number of contestants
Initiative Quality standard initiative

SKILLS
Scoring Skills Knowledge (any) (DC Varies), Profession (any) (DC Varies)
Frequency 1 minute
Scoring Intervals 25 questions (1 question per team)

COMPLETION
Points highest accumulated; Scoring Event Whenever a team succeeds at a skill check to earn completion, that team scores 1 point.

DESCRIPTION
Basic In trivia, teams take turns answering questions about a variety of topics ranging from historical events and local trivia to complex questions regarding science, philosophy, and magical studies. Contestants act as a team, with all contestants acting simultaneously in order to increase their team’s chances at success. Answering questions correctly causes teams to score points, and the team with the most points after all questions have been asked wins the contest.

Cycle The contestant with the highest initiative modifier on each team makes an initiative check. The team of the contestant with the highest initiative result goes first, after which turns alternate normally between all teams, as if those teams were individual characters.

Initial Play Each time a team is given a question, a contestant on that team attempts a skill check to earn completion. This skill check can always be attempted untrained. Each time a question is posed, determine randomly what skill is used to earn completion. (For most trivia contests, roll 1d8 on the following table; 1: Knowledge [engineering]; 2: Knowledge [geography]; 3: Knowledge [history]; 4: Knowledge [local]; 5: Knowledge [nature]; 6: Knowledge [religion]; 7: Profession [any]; 8: GM’s choice [any Knowledge or Profession skill.] After the skill is determined, randomly determine the difficulty of the question. (Roll 1d6 to determine the question’s difficulty; 1: easy [DC 5]; 2: average [DC 10]; 3: challenging [DC 15]; 4: difficult [DC 20]; 5: very difficult [DC 25]; 6: extremely difficult [DC 30].)

If the contestant answers the question correctly, her team scores 1 point. If she answers incorrectly, one of the other teams has an opportunity to steal the question (see below). Note that specific trivia contests can have alternate lists of topics and question difficulty then the ones provided here, at the GM’s decision.

Play Reactions Whenever a contestant attempts to answer a question, any number of allies on that contestant’s team can spend a play reaction to attempt to use the aid another action to assist that contestant. Because skill checks made to earn completion can be made untrained in a trivia contest, skill checks to aid another can likewise be made untrained. In addition, whenever a team fails to answer a question correctly, their opposition can attempt to steal the question if every member of that team spends a play reaction. All teams attempting to steal roll an initiative check (using only the initiative bonus of the contestants with the highest initiative modifiers on each team). The team with the highest initiative result can attempt to steal the question by rolling the appropriate skill check to earn completion. If they succeed, they score a point and the cycles resume as normal. If they fail, the team with the next highest initiative result attempts to steal the question. This continues until a team manages to successfully steal the question, or all teams eligible to steal try and fail to do so.

Designing a Contest

Unlike the other types of skill challenges presented in the Skill Challenge Handbook, contests do not have guidelines involving their creation. This is due to the fact that contests largely derive their difficulty from the relationship between opposed characters—the PCs should find difficulty in surmounting their adversaries, not in actually participating in the contest itself. As a result, designing a new contest is more about evoking the feel of a particular game or sport rather than picking skill DCs off of a table or assigning special qualities to a stat block.

The most important consideration when creating a new skill challenge is, “Does this feel like my players are participating in the game or sport described by the contest without having to actually be masters of that game or sport?” This is challenging to codify, as it requires the ability to distill a given activity to its essential components and translate that activity to the game’s quintessential medium—the d20. When considering how to best capture the “feel” of a contest by distilling it down to its most essential components, it is best to consider the dynamics of the game or sport itself—if you were watching real-life players participating in that activity, what would you see? What would be moving, who would be participating, what does the playing space look like and how does it change as conditions within the contest grow and evolve? A contest’s mechanics should generally reflect these emotions and observations. For example, in the baseball skill challenge, the game starts out slow, with the pitcher determining the DC that the batter must meet in order to hit the ball, giving the sense of a pitcher throwing a ball to a batter over and over again, trying to trick him into striking out. These considerations are what make contests into fun, memorable experiences.

Variant Contests

GMs can tweak the contests described in this section slightly in order to create entirely new contests. Listed below is a sample of a variant contest that tweaks the default rules for one of the contests listed to create a different play experience.

Scaled Trivia: This variant of the trivia contest uses 5 predetermined categories rather than randomly rolling a new category each round, and there are 25 questions total rather than 25 questions per team. Each category has one easy question, one average question, one challenging question, one hard question, and one very hard question, and this information is publicly available to contestants. Each round, teams choose one question category and difficulty to answer—a team cannot choose a category and difficulty combination that has already been answered. Answering a question correctly scores a number of points equal to the question’s DC divided by 5.

Strip Poker: This variant of the poker contest functions identically to poker, except strip poker lacks tokens as a betting mechanic. Instead of betting wealth, all contestants begin the game wearing a predetermined number of articles of clothing, with the most common number being six (examples include shoes, socks, pants, underwear, shirt, and undershirt).

Sometimes inexperienced players are allotted additional garments as a handicap. Instead of betting tokens, players bet articles of clothing when they play poker, declaring specific articles by name when they bet them. If the player “loses” that hand, they must remove any articles of clothing that are bet until the game ends. The last player wearing any clothing wins.

Typically, players cannot bet clothing that is being worn under another piece of clothing. For instance, a player can’t bet her undershirt until she’s bet (and lost) her shirt.

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