Evolution of the skill challenge

When Dungeons & Dragons fourth edition came out, I found a lot to like, and one thing I hated: the skill challenge mechanic—not the underlying idea of giving non-combat activities center stage, but the rules framework of the original skill challenge. As originally presented, the skill challenge seemed like an element from a story game awkwardly forced into D&D. I’m not saying that story game elements are wrong for another game, but they do not fit with the D&D game that I want to play.

Other fourth edition players may not have shared my dislike for the original skill challenge, but the mechanic certainly puzzled them. Less then three months after the 4E release, Mike Mearls began his Ruling Skill Challenges column. He writes, “In many ways, the R&D department at Wizards of the Coast has undergone the same growing pains and learning experiences with skill challenges, much as DMs all over the world have.” This column began a process of recasting the skill challenge into something that fit more comfortably into a classic D&D game. Aside from the underlying numbers, this process never changed the underlying rules for skill challenges—though it did ignore some.

Based on the new advice, I learned to run skill challenges that stayed true to the rules, but that felt more like classic D&D. I found that I could enjoy skill challenges and I think my players liked them more too. Nonetheless, the original skill challenge rules and the original format for describing skill challenges remained, and that foundation made running them well a bit harder.

In my upcoming series of posts, I will write about the original skill challenge, how the skill challenge evolved, and how something like a skill challenge might best appear in a future iteration of D&D.

This entry was posted in D&D fourth edition, Role-playing game design, Role-playing game history and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Evolution of the skill challenge

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