The past few hours I was tinkering with ideas about skills checks, and a thought occurred to me. If you leaf through most modules there are always instances where the GM will be told to ask players for a specific type of skill check, or a range of skills. There’s nothing wrong with a GM having an idea for a certain type of situation to call on a select range of skills, but it may deprive players of a chance to flex their roleplaying muscles. The example I thought up while I was wasting time at work today uses Dungeons & Dragons 5e, but the principle applies to any rpg with a skill system.
Imagine your players have entered a local pub looking for information, now let’s also pretend that this didn’t devolve into a ballroom brawl ( a certain monk and warlock I know could probably learn something from this come to think of it.) One of the patrons, a minotaur sailor known to have dealings with the black market, overhears them chatting up the crowd and takes an interest.
Maybe he’s been soured on smugglers after years of being cheated? Or perhaps he’s hoping to send some trouble towards his competitors? Whatever his reasoning he’s not inclined to impart information to anyone who he doesn’t trust. Stomping his way through the pub he proposes a challenge to test their mettle, in this case a pepper eating contest.
Now some GM’s would probably ask for a Constitution saving throw, but there’s plenty of opportunity for creative players to find a way to win out this encounter. A saving throw might favor the broad shouldered goliath barbarian, but the other members of the party could have a great deal more difficulty measuring up. Now there’s something be said for a comical failure and they certainly provide opportunity for roleplay, but let’s examine a few other possibilites.
The halfling bard might manage to deceive the minotaur, pretending that to him the pepper is no hotter than piece of bread. A dragonborn wizard skilled at sleight of hand might tuck the offending pepper into his sleeve. The elf druid might fallback on her knowledge of herb lore and attempt to make a nature check to see what she has on hand that might counter the burning sensation of the peppers.
Give your players an chance to get creative an approach the problem from a different angle. Now a GM also has to know when to say no, but saying yes present much more exciting results for the table more often than not.