(This concludes a series, which begins with Evolution of the skill challenge.)
How would a game activity like the skill challenge appear in D&D Next?
First of all, D&D Next no longer attempts to center game play around the encounter as a core activity of the game, so the rules no longer need to package a bunch of skill checks into something with the scale and formality of combat encounter. As ever, players may still need to infiltrate enemy camps or coax the duke into supporting their cause, and those challenges may require a series of skill rolls, but the checks can come as needed. Under the surface, do the tallies of successes and failures make the game more fun?
If D&D Next never includes anything like a skill challenge, I will be perfectly content. However, including rules for something like the skill challenge could yield two benefits:
- They give a formal mechanism for awarding experience points to characters who overcome non-combat obstacles in the game.
- They provide a tool for dungeon masters as they work to structure non-combat obstacles into exciting adventures, which involve every character and feature a sense of jeopardy that rises even as the characters near success.
As I have suggested throughout this series of posts, the design flaws of the skill challenge begin with the “skill” in the name. Putting the focus on skills creates the wrong approach. A good alternative would place the emphasis where it belongs, on the obstacles the players must overcome.
So I present my alternative to the skill challenge: the obstacle course. The name is memorable, puts the focus where it belongs, and yes, it’s silly. I admit it.
Combat encounters feature creatures to overcome. The obstacle course features obstacles to overcome. Combat encounters deliver experience based on the number and difficulty of enemies; obstacle courses deliver experience based on the number and difficulty of challenges. Obstacle courses can be overcome by player problem solving, skill successes, or a combination of both. Just as setbacks in a combat encounter threaten the characters, setbacks in a well-designed obstacle course bring the characters closer to some catastrophe. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
So let’s bury the skill challenge. Long live the obstacle course.