How I survived on (almost) only Skill Challenges…
Tonight was the first of my two sessions of the DM Revolution at Total Escape Games. I was pretty nervous since this was my first time filling the role of Dungeon Master for a new group since I moved out here to Colorado. I arrived at the game shop early, just as the current session of D&D Encounters was finishing. Most of my players arrived promptly, so we were quickly underway.
What I Planned
The progenitor of DM Revolution, Justin (of Wombat Cast) encouraged us to be creative and go outside the box to try new concepts. I decided that I wanted to try to run a roleplaying heavy set of sessions that included primarily Skill Challenges in lieu of combat. I primarily used the notion of branching skill challenges to set up my plotline for these short sessions. For tonight’s game, I had a three sets of branching skill challenges that would allow the players to pursue different avenues and two nested skill challenges. (You can find excellent examples of how to structure branching skill challenges and nested skill challenges can be found at At-Will.)
I have never run a session with a goal of using all Skill Challenges, nor did I know if the group would be receptive to this type of game.
The Way It Went Down
The group followed only two of the “hooks” to these skill challenges directly, however they ended up at two others in a roundabout fashion. Most of these Skill Challenges were designed to disseminate information, and one of our characters even came up with a creative “off-script” skill to use that resulted in success. The group readily dove into roleplay, and much of the session was them interacting with both my planned NPC characters and some impromptu NPCs that they chose to interact with.
That was the best part of this experience… the players helped to write the story. It happened that I used the revised Skill Challenge chart to allow the group to make their own encounters as they interacted with people of their choosing. In fact, they even went into a few encounters expecting to have to fight based on the information they received during partial successes. Thanks to not going in guns-blazing, they were able to roleplay their way to most of the rest of the available information.
The session ended up with an opportunity for a Skill Challenge that I suspected would turn to combat and it did (bandits running away from a smash/grab job are too tempting to chase). Just as the game shop was closing, the group defeated most of the bandits (leaving one alive for questioning). This led them to an unexpected ending for this session, but it sets up nicely for what I have planned next week.
Skill Challenges are great for encouraging roleplay. Using branching and nested skill challenges helps to outline a plot nicely, but still allows the players for enough deviation as not to feel extremely “on rails.” I suspect some of the players tired a little of all the roleplaying, which is why I strongly recommend having some Skill Challenges that can devolve into combat if the group wants that.
I feel like we had a session that was wildly successful with mostly Skill Challenges. The roleplaying was fun, people were laughing and creatively using their abilities and the players helped me to write the story. A man can’t ask for much more than that! I will be continuing down this avenue for next week’s session, but I plan to up the ante.