WOTC reworking skill challenges?

Double post day (WOOT!), but I wanted to quickly get something out before this becomes old news.

Dungeon has a new article up on designing skill challenges. I’m glad they put stuff out like this. I like the concept of skill challenges, but it is clear that the system originally put out in the core 4E books needed a little refining. A lot of posts, blogs, and general buzzing on the internet covers this topic a lot.

The folks at WOTC have made some suggestions working skill challenges. I do like the general idea of breaking up epic tasks into small skill challenges. I also like the idea of the article that failures and successes can effect further checks. It gives the DM a lot of solid ideas for designing and running wilderness skill challenges themselves.

I’m a fan of variants on the 4E system, but a small part of the article threw me a bit:

‘Each time the characters make a check as part of the skill challenge, roll a d20. If the DM’s d20 result exceeds the player’s d20 roll for the skill check, the characters encounter something in the forest. Remember to compare only the die rolls; ignore all modifiers.

You can roll a d6 to determine the encounter, or you can pick one from the list below.’

Okay, again I can see putting this out there. It is a small tweak to how skill challenges run. What bothers me is how completely tacked on it seems. As put forth in the article, the players either succeed getting to their destination, or they end up outside the forest. So it becomes and binary result (successfully navigate the woods or lost outside).

What is then suggested, from the quote above, is throwing a wrench into the whole challenge by having other random encounters. What I don’t get is why not have these encounters part of the overall challenge? How about for every failure the players get during the challenge, a potential encounter can happen. Or if the players barely meet the conditions to win the challenge, they run into an encounter. If they exceeded the number of successes, they would have bypassed it.

I’m all for variants and suggestions for modifying skill challenges. But I really wish WOTC would make an effort to show us how skill challenges can work, without having to bring forth all these kinks and changes. By doing so I think it reinforces the notion that skill challenges, as written in the DMG, are clunky and need to be reworked. When I see stuff like this, it gives an indication the mechanics need a little more tweaking.

I guess with the release of the DMG2, we can expect a lot more on skill challenges. So if you have been trying to run skill challenges straight out of the DMG, and having some difficulty. If, by following suggestions in the DMG, you just can’t quite get a challenge designed to work the way you want. Or you receive a lackluster response from your players while running one. Don’t fret. It’s clear to me WOTC doesn’t seem happy with how skill challenges are presented either.

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