Monday, October 6, 2008

Skill Challenges as Tool for Putting Demogorgon on Dungeon Level 1

Here's a stray thought about skill challenges. Back in the 1e days, you'd hear all sorts of stories about dungeons where Orcus and Tiamat stomped around on level 1. Meeting those monsters is, obviously, instant death.

In 4e, you could do the same thing, but if you want to give the PCs a chance to live, use the encounter as a skill challenge. You could even make it a level 1 (or whatever is appropriate) challenge to give the PCs a chance and work the big bad guy into the story.

For instance, the PCs open a door to a summoning chamber in the abandoned wizard's lab, and out bursts Demogorgon. Before he returns to the Abyss, his two heads demand that the PCs do him a favor. Cue the skill challenge (success, you're in Demogorgon's debt; failure, he eats a few PCs).

There's no reason why the superstars of D&D's monster world can't show up early in a campaign, and the skill challenge system is a good way to use them in situations other than combat.

9 comments:

James M. said...

Could you be more specific? Skill challenges are the weakest point of 4e in terms of me understanding their import versus a simple role playing encounter.

thanuir said...

You meet a dragon. It has teeth the size of you. It asks, "What will you do for me, o pitiful ones?".

James: Think of skill challenge as a mechanic for inspiring interesting narration. How is the player using nature to negotiate with the dragon, again? Maybe she knows something about its mating cycle and makes use of that?

Mike Mearls said...

Yeah, what Thanuir said. I think a negotiation with a big, powerful monster could be interesting as a skill challenge because it has interesting potentials for both success and failure.

Simply roleplaying is fine, too, but I've found that skill challenges do a good job of getting people out of their shells and encouraging them to come up with creative ideas.

Mark said...

This reminds me a lot of what happened in the Cauldron moduals from Dungeon a while back. In the very first module before the final fight the party runs into a Beholder. I haven't seen such a dramatic bit of foreshadowing for a low level party in a long time.

This type of encounter can be very useful, especially if the DM uses it to foreshawdow things to come.

Dave The Game said...

I did something similar in a recent adventure. After getting out of a dungeon where they had beaten a large black dragon, the party was confronted by the dragon's gargantuan big brother. In that case, it was a skill challenge less about negotiating, and more about escaping (using Nature to find good places to hide in the woods, Bluff to throw it off course, etc.)

Thomas said...

Indeed, I wrapped up the first ever paragon-tier one-shot I ran with a surprise skill challenge negotiation with a black dragon who wanted her egg back and needed convincing to not incidentally kill the PCs.

On a semi-related note, Mr. Mearls, why is it that Intimidate is the skill that always seems to get picked on? By that, I mean that it always seems to be the one used as an example of a skill that Automatically Fails.

JD said...

Skill challenges have thus far struck me as this awful, cheesy mechanism that seems ganked out of a videogame.

Here, players, you've just entered a Skill Challenge. Appease my NPC proxy with specific rolls! Roll this, roll that.

Thomas said...

The extent to which skill challenges, particularly negotiation ones, are "cheesy" and "videogamey" depends on how you use them. If you boil it down to "Roll this, roll that," then yes, it's not that great. If you let the flow of the roleplaying drive skill checks (i.e., RP out the negotiation and pause every now and then to say "that sounds like Diplomacy, go ahead and make a check" or "I know you're lying, roll me a Bluff check to see if the king knows, too", and let people draw inspiration from other skills on their character sheet for additional arguments), then the skill challenge system works great "under-the-hood" to keep score on how well the PCs are doing.

Mike Mearls said...

A skill challenge is only as good as the DM running it.