Ok, time to talk about D&D again. Last night, I had the crazy idea to submit some ideas for adventures to Dungeon after noticing a dearth of published 4e adventures (though a lot of companies say that they have some “coming soon!!”). Over the course of the evening, I think I’ve come up with three interesting ideas.

  • The Poison Pawn–Receiving an unusual message addressed directly to them, the party travels deep into the Mirefens to confront a black dragon who has taken over a savage tribe of lizardfolk. Or is it a trap?
  • Carrion Chase–The party must race a pack of gnoll scavengers through the Burning Desert to find the corpse of an elder purple worm and retrieve the ancestral treasure from its gullet for a tribe of nomadic barbarians.
  • The Hall of the Frozen King–An avalanche uncovers the lost hall of King Grundel Ironbeard, and the party is hired to retrieve the king’s legendary hammer, Earthbreaker. But fighting through the ghosts and frozen zombies to get the weapon is only the beginning of their problems!

So what do you think? Sound interesting? Anything you think that would make these proposals sound even more awesome?

Spycraft 2.0–the crunchiest game I may never run

I thought we’d talk a little bit about some other games, since constantly talking about skill challenges is wearing a little thin (and yes, I know its partially my fault).

In an earlier comment, I mention Spycraft 2.0, a d20 offshoot that emulates the high-action espionage genre (and just about everything else, if you believe the rules). The book is textbook sized, though it encompasses everything you need to play the game. And I do mean everything. This is a game with charts and diagrams and pages upon pages of gun stats. Each individual skill details every possible specific use of said skill, with mechanical effects for blunders and overwhelming successes. Feats come in several flavors with the largest selection being about the same size as the D&D PHB feat chapter. This is a game with a lot of options. I tried making a 1st-level hacker character on Friday and got daunted pretty quickly.

But don’t get me wrong, I think the game has a lot to recommend it. It gives you a mechanical reason to have a well-rounded background for your character (if you indulge in an “interest,” such as going to see an opera, for a couple of hours, you get to erase stress damage). You can give your character a subplot to complicate the mission at hand. I basically bought the game because I was interested in dramatic conflict rules at the time. I think the problem is that all of this stuff has mechanical effects on the game, which because it is derived from d20, is complicated enough as it is.

One amusing note: the back cover of the book claims that “your license to improvise has arrived!” It makes me laugh, cause I can’t imagine improvising something in this ruleset for fear of breaking its clockwork-like precision.

So what’s the crunchiest, rulesiest game you’ve ever played and/or run?

How I Suspect Skill Challenges are Suppose to Work

Or rather, how I think we can make them work. I don’t know for sure what the designers had in mind, but this seems feasible to me.

What’s a Skill Challenge?

I think we need to hit on this first; because I think there are a lot of things in D&D which can look like they would make good skill challenges, but have sufficient mechanical resources to be fun without the addition of the skill challenge rules. Traps, hazards, combat encounters, and simple skill rolls (like jumping over a pool of acid or convincing a guard you aren’t who he thinks you are) all fall into this category. I think a skill challenge can incorporate these elements, but these elements on their own don’t necessarily need the skill challenge rules.

For my money, a skill challenge is an encounter where we’re stepping outside of the normal D&D rules to cover things in a more abstract way.

The skill challenge rules largely fall outside the general rules for D&D. The DCs are set more arbitrarily than most skill rolls and the rewards for them aren’t as clearly defined by the pre-existing rules. For example, a skill challenge chase may call for a DC 20 Athletics roll to leap from rooftop to rooftop, but not actually involve a long jump of exactly 10 feet. In fact, the roll in the skill challenge likely encompasses more than one jump, which by the normal rules would require more than roll.

A very significant way skill challenges seem to differ from regular rules is that they often don’t require every character to make a particular roll. Surviving the baking heat of the desert might call for an Endurance roll from all the PCs present, but in a skill challenge it might only be an Endurance or Nature roll from one or two PCs. This seems to be because the penalties for failing rolls in a skill challenge ,as well as the incentive for rolling the first place, are built into the skill challenge mechanics and are different from the penalties of a straight up skill roll.

Lastly, skill challenges offer XP, which makes them very much like a trap or combat encounter. As such, I think they should have consequences equivalent to that. Probably, as Herzy hints in his last post, closer to those of a trap or a hazard.


  • DM comes up with the overall concept of the challenge.
    • Example: descending into an arctic cave to reach the layer of the fabled alabaster worm.
  • DM chooses complexity and overall difficulty.
    • For our example, let’s say a complexity of 1 and moderate difficulty.
  • DM picks out appropriate skill and their DCs (based on the overall difficulty).
    • Athletics for climbing, Endurance for dealing with the cold, Dungeoneering for navigation, Dungeoneering again for avoiding hazards (or maybe just a Perception roll for this at a higher difficulty), Arcana for knowing enough about the alabaster worm to perhaps guide the group (this one might have a higher difficulty).
  • DM decides which, if any, skills might get to be used multiple times.
    • In addition to the two uses of Dungeoneering, there could be multiple opportunities for Athletics and Endurance rolls if more than one PC wants to make them.
  • To incorporate Emily’s idea, the DM should also come up with what successes grant the PCs as well as what an overall failure will cost them (making sure this failure doesn’t thwart the adventure entirely).
    • Let’s use healing surges here cause it’s simple. The trek is dangerous, so if the PCs don’t succeed at the skill challenge, they’ll each lose two healing surges, but each success reduces this lose by a fourth.
    • Perhaps, as icing, a fully successful challenge could also uncover a long lost magic weapon frozen in the ice at the cave floor.

In Game

When the PCs come across the cave entrance in game, the DM should tell them that the long descent into the frozen darkness is a skill challenge requiring 4 successes before 3 failures. The DM could even tell the players what’s on the line (though keeping something like the frozen magic item hidden could be fun).

Then, and here’s the tricky part, I don’t know if the DM is suppose to request rolls or if the players are suppose to offer rolls. I suspect the later. I suspect the DM should describe certain obstacles before them (such as the treacherously sheer and icy walls, the bitter cold, and the numerous dead ends throughout the cave). These descriptions should definitely hint at appropriate rolls, but I think it should be up to player to figure out which rolls they want to make.

Also, the DM should allow for creativity. Perhaps the bullshit elf wants to snowboard down a section of the cavern on his shield. As much as it hurts my soul, the DM should probably let that asshole do it (but perhaps at an increased difficulty) and count any success or failure on the elf’s roll towards the skill challenge.

In this creativity clause, the DM should also be on the look out for clever uses of powers or rituals. Tenser’s Floating Disk could work like a magical elevator and count as an automatic success on an Athletics roll. That sort of thing.

Also, it should probably be evident to the players if they succeeded or failed a roll. This kind of goes against the 3.5 + Action Points training we’ve had, but I think it’ll make things more interesting in the long run. Players who are aware of the situation will buy into it a bit more and when they know they have two successes and two failures, they’re going to scramble to figure out how to squeeze out two more successes.

Post Challenge

Since the players already know how many successes needed and how many they’ve got, they should know if they were successful in the challenge as a whole. If they were, dole out the XP and whatever else they have coming to them. If not, suffer! Suffer you bastards! In any case, I think a skill challenges end and the consequences that accompany it should be as clear and evident as any combat encounter.

What do you folks think?

P.S. So I was going to make this post as a comment to Herzy’s post, but the formating got away from me and it turned into a full-blown thing. Also, I don’t think I directly addressed his post, which makes me feel bad. Also, it’s awesome that we’re discussing this. I want to see this system work and it’ll need a lot of feedback.

Someone reorganized the 3.5 SRD! Nice!

SORD, a 3.5 OGL re-tooling of the SRD. Steve Muchow of Myth Merchant Press states, “The richness and complexity of the 3.5 system is hampered by a haphazard presentation. It is well designed for presenting a rules set, but horrible to facilitate play. If a hero is climbing a rope and being attacked, the game master has to look everywhere in the SRD to get all the details he needs. That bogs down play and reduces the enjoyment of the high action that is underway. SORD eliminates this by creating one-page themes that are easily found and contain everything the game master needs to run the action. Rules never cross pages and step-by-step instructions are prominently displayed for actions like grapple, disarm, trip and sunder.”

and a $5.00 download!

Skill Bits

One of the things that didn’t work for me in running the 4e game was the skill challenges. I didn’t have a problem with the “new” math, there was just something that didn’t click for me. Maybe I was running them wrong. I’m not sure.

I like the idea of a complex skill check, one where a single roll of the dice doesn’t determine failure or success. One where, perhaps, the group has to work together. Like in combat.

Which made me think: what if the skill challenges were like (somehow) statted up like monsters. With different defenses (physical, social, mental) and even ways to “attack” the players. The DM could buy them into encounters via an XP cost in the standard way and the players will know when they’ve defeated them.

As an example, let’s take a look at a complex trap that is set off in a room where there’s also a combat going on. Now, in general, traps would be immune to social skills (Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate), have normal defenses against mental skills (Perception, Thievery in this case), and high defenses against physical skills (Athletics, Endurance, etc). The first “monster” in this skill challenge would be the process of locating the mechanism for the trap, while the rest of the encounter would deal with disable those mechanisms (in essence, these “monsters” remain hidden until that first one is “defeated”).

Maybe that doesn’t make sense yet, maybe this is the way that skill challenges already work. Right now, they’re just some ideas rattling around in my head.

Eppy, Jimb, we should playstorm this to see if it would work…

Freedom and Creativity

I think a lot of what I don’t like about D&D 4 boils down to freedom and creativity for me. let me take you down gaming memory lane for a bit.

For a very long time I played the Hero System. I still do actually. I was introduced to it in the mid 80’s after playing D&D for a while. This system is totally open ended and free form. Using a point design system you can create any power, effect, skill, ability, etc. you can think of. Although highly math-laden and “crunchy” it allows complete and total command of how your character is made and how he or she interacts with the game world and develops as the game progresses. The only limits set are those decided upon by the GM and players; limits like “Fantasy setting, low magic, no trait above human maximum” or “Galactic high level super heroic setting, all characters have a standard technology equipment template” and also point limits on powers (so you can’t put all your character points into one huge mega blast).

This game opened up many many gaming possibilities for me and my gaming group. We played many genres and settings using this system since it was so versatile. It kind of ruined me for games that did not allow it. When D&D 3 came out I was at first skeptical since it was class based and allowed limited creativity (compared to infinite creativity for the Hero System) but I loved D&D since it was what I played when I first started gaming. So we gave it a shot again and was happy with it. it’s AD&D revamped with skills. That got its foot in my door. But when they started releasing all the “complete” books I really started to like it. It gave me tons of options to play with. Multiple directions to take a character in. I bought (buy) all the supplements so I could “Hero-ize” D&D. With that many prestige classes, new base classes, new feats, etc. I could make a somewhat limited game into one that was nearly unlimited (well, only limited to the genre and setting anyway).

Nowadays, any game that doesn’t allow me to build my own character and customize it gets a wary eye from me (initially at least). That is not to say I do not enjoy other games that “limit” you in character creation and growth, but I tend to play and enjoy the ones that let me build, customize and give me multiple options in character creation.

A game where you can tell someone “make a fighter” and they come back to you with characters with very different abilities, specializations and focus I am happy with.

There are other games out there . . . aren’t there?

Just a quick note to say that I updated a few links in the links section and we need more! You have a Campaign Wiki for one of your games, link it! Favorite publisher? Link it! Can’t make the linky link? Send me the address and I’ll link it!

Seriously I do want this blog to be a discussion about all of our games and gaming in general so let’s spread the love folks!