While attending GenCon this year I had a eureka moment. Or to be more precise, the sky parted, a brilliant ray of light shone down, I turned to Ameron and said, “We’re already doing that!” This was in response to almost every hand in the room going up in the air when Bill Slavicsek asked if people wanted more skill challenges during the Dungeons & Dragons preview seminar.
At Dungeon’s Master we love skill challenges. We enjoy writing them, dreaming them up and talking about them. Our archive has over 30 skill challenges and many related articles for the community to use and adapt for their own campaigns.
The challenge that comes with writing a skill challenge for a general audience is how do we make it specific enough to be important, yet general enough that anyone can adapt it and use it? It’s a conundrum.
As a DM, you know your own group of players. You know how to push their buttons to motivate or inspire them. Sitting on my side of the screen, I don’t know how to do that for your specific group. Of course I can imagine up a scenario that is engaging and has great meaning, but it is still up to individual DMs to take that and make it work with their own group.
In the past when creating skill challenges we’ve listed the primary and secondary skills. This is to aid the DM in knowing what our intentions are with the challenge and how to guide the players towards a resolution. However, it has the unintended side effect of making the skill challenge appear restrictive and not very organic. I’m a big believer that skill challenges should work towards moving the overall story forward, in other words there should be a point to the challenge. In my mind skill challenges that simply occur without an introduction are the best way to do this. Writing skill challenges for an unknown audience doesn’t always work this way.
What becomes more difficult is designing skill challenges for the paragon and epic tier. Simple negotiate or travelling skill challenges just don’t cut it anymore. The characters have advanced beyond this type of skill challenge being, well challenging. The characters participate in earth shattering, world defining, king making events by this point. As a result of the shift in character priorities it becomes more difficult to write generic skill challenges.
This leaves us writing more specific challenges. Less DMs may be able to use them, but hopefully those that do will be able to find a way to just drop them into their campaign. Our goal with the skill challenges we write is to have them be plug and play, as we look to write more specific challenges we hope to be able to maintain this type of flexibility.
Over the next month we aim to increase our library of skill challenges. You can still expect rough guidelines for what skills can accomplish what goals. Without this basic aid skill challenges would like the following:
Challenge: To convince the King to lend aid.
Success: You do it.
Failure: You didn’t do it.
Not very much fun. The goal of providing guides towards what skill will accomplish what is to make the DMs job easier.
Our aim over the next month is to broaden what skill challenges look like and how they can be accomplished. We’ll be releasing a skill challenge that features combat inside it. That’s right a skill challenge with combat, not combat with a skill challenge. In previous challenges we have also experimented with an alternate way to track success, and you can expect future challenges to have this mechanism in place, along with an article explaining the rationale.
A room full of D&D players told WotC they would like more skill challenges, I’d put good money down that you will see more content geared towards skill challenges in future Dragon & Dungeon magazines. We here at Dungeon’s Master have always felt that skill challenges have been under represented. What we would like to know are what kinds of skill challenges do you want to see?