The 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.