Dungeon Master’s Guide 2: Skill Challenges

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on September 15, 2009

dmg2The Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 comes out today and I’m very excited to have my copy! As there have already been several sneak peaks and advanced reviews, I’m not going to spend time rewriting what’s already out there. Instead I want to talk about something that is important to the team here at Dungeon’s Master, skill challenges.

That there is an expanded section on skill challenges in the DMG 2 is no surprise. Wizards of the Coast knew that there was more work to be done on the subject.

The section on skill challenges in the DMG 2 is found in chapter 3 and encompasses about 20 pages of the book. Of that 20 pages just over half are dedicated to information about how to design and run skill challenges. The remaining pages feature several different examples of skill challenges.

The first thing to note is that the information on skill challenges is a welcome expansion from what was presented in the original 4e DMG. My largest criticism with the original DMG was that WotC introduced a new concept to D&D and then didn’t fully support it.

Clearly with the DMG 2 they are looking to rectify this previous omission. The chapter very neatly lays out the ground rules for designing a skill challenge. This is followed up with an in depth look at skill challenges. Here the design team breaks things down according to time frame. There are three major design elements here.

  1. In-combat challenges are fairly self-explanatory as it encompasses any skill challenge that can be concluded within one combat encounter. The designers note that the skill challenge “effectively replaces one or more monsters from the encounter.” Which only makes sense if you’re going to remove a PC or two from each round of combat to deal with a skill challenge.
  2. Encounter challenges are your typical social, trap and specific goal oriented challenges. The PCs are presented with an obstacle and they must proceed to overcome it.
  3. Structure Challenges take longer to complete than the previous two entries. They would encompass repairing an airship, and activity that might take weeks to accomplish and have many minute skill checks involved. Another example might be traveling in a caravan over the course of a week.

A lot of work was placed on helping DMs design skill challenges with much advice on being aware of what classes have access to what skills. Additionally, there is a section on what to do when the PCs fail a skill challenge.

There is a great sidebar about Transparency and Skill Challenges by Mike Mearls. It is well worth reading as it discusses the merits of announcing a skill challenge has begun versus just moving into a skill challenge. The sidebar doesn’t take sides, indicating that both methods have strengths and weaknesses.

The final section of the chapter features nine sample skill challenges, which are a bit of an expansion from the examples found in the DMG.

Overall I’m glad that WotC addressed skill challenges and gave them some much needed love. The unfortunate part is they missed the boat by a year. Remove the redundancies from the DMG vs DMG 2 and all the information in the DMG 2 could have been available to us a year ago with perhaps an extra 5 – 10 pages in the original DMG.

Unfortunately for WotC there isn’t any information in this chapter that isn’t already available through many of the blogs on the network that talk about skill challenges.

While the nine examples provided by WotC are great, I don’t feel that they surpass what you can find in our own Skill Challenge library. We also ran a two part series on Running Memorable Skill Challenges (Part One) and (Part Two). If you’d like even more examples visit the Critical Hits Skill Challenge page where you will find links to skill challenges and articles on running and designing skill challenges.

The DMG 2 spends some time advising DMs to ensure that there is a broad spectrum of skills presented in challenges as not all classes gain training in all skills. Again, something we’ve covered here at Dungeon’s Master with our Skill Matrix charts which you can download.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the team here at Dungeon’s Master have skill challenges down to a science. There is always something new to learn. In terms of content found in the DMG 2 section on skill challenges, it’s top notch and I look forward to digesting it fully over the next week. Based on this one chapter I would rate the DMG 2 a 10 on a d10 for the information provided. However, I give it a 1 on a d10 for timeliness. I really wish this information was published a year ago when 4e was released.

While I haven’t had the opportunity to dive into the other sections of the DMG 2, other reviewers are responding favourably. I don’t regret the purchase, but don’t be surprised if you’ve already read a great deal of the information contained in the Skill Challenges chapter.

1 Craig Willcutt September 15, 2009 at 10:52 am

Great writeup. I am on the fence with the purchase of the DMG 2. While I would appreciate reading more on Skill Challenges I just don’t have a great need as I currently only play LFR. Outside of My Realms, which I haven’t seen used yet, the canned skill challenges are fine.

I look forward to reading more about this book and will be scouring the internet for more reviews.

2 Drew Reutlinger September 15, 2009 at 11:57 am

Amazon has my DMG 2 on the way and I’m looking forward to delving into it. One thing that I’m looking forward to, is the use of alternate rewards other than treasure. From the previews, you can give rewards out to the players that have properties and powers, but don’t necessarily constitute gold or an item.

Great blog by the way. There are a lot of gaming blogs out there, and this is one that offers quality substance consistently. Now if we can do something about that header graphic… j/k.

3 Wyatt September 15, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I never entertained the thought of buying this for skill challenges. It’s the sections on roleplaying, new monster math, companion characters and templates that I look forward to. Skill Challenges, I assumed I would see a lot of the same, especially since Wootsie themselves confirmed a lot of the advice we give around the blogs about Skill Challenges.
.-= Wyatt´s last blog ..Creative Skill Use In 4e =-.

4 Chase_Dagger September 15, 2009 at 3:29 pm

Wow great article Ameron; but it’s not so much what you wrote here today but the year of addressing the problems Wizards initially overlooked.

I went to my local shop at lunch today and took a look at the DMG2 for the first time, and I though wow, lots of skill challenge stuff…..but hey I don’t need that now since DungeonsMaster.com.

The next part I looked at was Traps [which I am extremely found of]. The very first thing I noticed was that the example traps they used, were the exact same Traps they already printed in an issue of Dungeon or Dragon [one of the free ones at that.]

I shut the book at that point and decided it wasn’t an automatic buy like I first thought, and I’d have to start reading the reviews.

This repetition of information is a cardinal sin in my eyes, like how can that not be annoying to everyone! Pretend you have infinite money, still you don’t want to bother reading the same information twice in different sources made by the same people. It’s sloppy and weak in my mind.

5 Wimwick September 15, 2009 at 3:44 pm

@ Craig Willcutt
If you are just running LFR modules then much of what’s in the DMG 2 won’t be of much use. While I enjoyed the skill challenges section there is nothing in there that you can’t find on various blogs or from Mike Mearls coloumn in Dungeon Magazine a few months back.

@ Drew Reutlinger
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master, I’m glad you’ve found us and find the content useful! I haven’t made it to the section on alternate rewards yet, but I do like the idea. Finding ways to reward players beyond xp and treasure is always a great way to motivate and increase the enjoyment of a campaign. I wrote on article on the topic several months back that you might find useful Rewards Beyond Experience.

@ Wyatt
I did a quick surface read of the first two chapters at lunch today. I think you’ll find what you’re looking for. Some great information is in there. Regarding this skill challenge section, as I’ve already mentioned it’s solid, but you’ve read it.

@ Chase Dagger
I’m glad you liked the review. While there is some repetition, which annoys me and is subject of another article, there is also a lot of great new content in the DMG 2. It is a stronger book than the original 4e DMG and I do recommend picking it up. I regretted the original 4e DMG purchase, I’m not regretting this one.

6 New Zombie September 15, 2009 at 4:14 pm

to be fair not everyone reads dungeon, dragon, or the plethora of blogs, so excluding a good example from the DMG2 because it appeared elsewhere is not a good idea.

7 Wimwick September 15, 2009 at 10:03 pm

@ New Zombie
I certainly don’t have an issue with the DMG 2 containing information that you might find on various blogs. It’s not duplicate material and I’m certainly not accusing WotC of plagiarism. However, some of the challenges were published in Dungeon magazine which DDI subscribers pay for. As that content was not published as preview content to re-release it in the DMG 2 rubs me the wrong way.

All that being said the DMG 2 is, in my brief read of it, well worth picking up.

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