Tuesday, July 1, 2008

DMG - Noncombat Encounters

The latest Design & Development article reminded me that I should really finish reading the Dungeon Master's Guide, now that I've finished the Player's Handbook (the last chapter of the PHB, Adventuring, wasn't worth commenting on).

Skill Challenges

I've mentioned my thoughts before on them, and this chapter starts off with a good description of them, both the steps on creating them as well as some good example skill encounters. If you're a DM, you must use these, and if you're the player, be sure to anticipate them! Ranks may be gone from the skill system, but I can see players taking extra training to be prepared for the skill challenges that are ahead; or at least planning these things as a party to make sure you have all of your bases covered.


The section on puzzles is a good start for those who don't find making them easy. The various common types are mentioned with a few examples, but I think that, for those who need this chapter, a book such as the 3e Book of Challenges is needed. It is good, however, that they mention that "[t]he basic nature of puzzles--that they rely on player ability--is the reason that some people love puzzles in the game and some people dislike them." This is something a DM needs to deduce about the players, to decide whether it's worthwhile even making puzzles with the intention of players to solve them, or to just turn them into a skill challenge and let the characters solve it. The sidebar about the Get A Clue check helps to bridge that gap for those players that like to try, but would like to rely a bit on their character's abilities too. This is the approach our group takes, when I decide to add a puzzle.

Traps and Hazards

I didn't expect much from this section, but wow have they done some work on turning traps and hazards into obstacles and encounters with a solid ruleset.

Not that there was anything wrong with the older system of traps - they had a DC, you might be able to disarm them, and you probably got a saving throw against them. Now they have a full statblock, with Perception check DCs (or alternate skills if applicable); the Trigger that sets the hazard or trap off; the Attack information, sometimes including both Hit and Miss effects for those that that would apply to. Countermeasures is a great block to help the DM know what the disable/disarm DCs are, the appropriate skill(s), and anything else that an enterprising player will think of. Finally, the Upgrade section is useful when the trap sounds perfectly suited, but just a bit too easy.

I'm not sure, however, about the idea of extending the roles to traps and hazards. Sure, different traps might be groupable in different ways, but a Lurker trap? A bit of a stretch. Square peg, round hole and all that. Still, the roles are only there to give you a feel for what kind of situation they belong in, and don't restrict you in any way, so they can be ignored. My favorite? The Treacherous Ice Sheet. Nothing fancy, but it's something that 3e would have just made tricky terrain to get across, with perhaps a Balance check or something. Now it has its own stat block! There are 23 sample traps/hazards in this chapter, which is a great number -- they could have been stingy here.

All in all, this has been my favorite Dungeon Master's Guide chapter so far - non-combat encounters are probably needed in all but the most strict role-playing groups.

1 comment:

theinternetisbig said...

I too am loving the new non-combat encounter section. This is one of the places that 4th ed has really taken a step up. I've already used a few of the tools in this chapter.

The players (after defeating a young white dragon) decided to take a short cut home, across the "GORGE OF PERIL" I made this a complexity 5 challenge and decided upon athelitcs, perception, and nature as the primary skills. A bit unfortunately, everyone just decided to help the rogue climb and they nailed roll after roll by large margins failing only once. Nonetheless it was quite successful and actually did a nice job of getting my newbish group a bit out of their shells roleplaying wise. I will make a strong effort to be even more narritive for upcoming skill challenges, this is where the cool can really kick in.

I haven't done much with the traps yet, as the current setting doesn't provide much there yet. But the adventurers are getting near a graveyard featuring a small group of goblins and a bunch of undead, so traps will abound!