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Speeding up D&D 4E

Much digital ink has been spilled on the topic of speeding up combat in Dungeons &  Dragons 4th Edition. I think at this point we can all at least agree that combat can grow a bit sluggish at times. The interesting thing is, and it’s something that some people have touched upon at various points in the 4E lifecycle already, that there seems to be a paradigm shift away from the simple “4E is slow because of combat”, and I think that’s a very good thing.

The “new” (and it’s not new, just only discussed by a select few in the past) idea is that the problem lies more in adventure design than combat sluggishness. @glimmthegnome on Twitter planted the seed of this idea for me a couple of weeks ago, @gamefiend pushed it along, and @neogrognard put it into words in his Save My Game column on the Wizards website last week.

My spin is that we need to stop looking at 4E as a series of combat encounters whose sole purpose is to level up. Looking at it now, this is probably the biggest support of the “4E is WoW” argument. It doesn’t have to be though. Sadly, I think the great strides Wizards of the Coast took forward with 4E are the same things that give people ammunition to trash it.

XP is a great mechanic. It allows everyone at the table to track their character’s progression, and in 4E it really gives the DM a lot of flexible power to create. Using an XP budget makes it easy to scale combat encounters up or down even on-the-fly.

The problem with XP in 4E is that the way it has been presented in the books, it almost appears to imply that the only way to gather XP is via combats and Skill Challenges. This makes 4E feel very mechanical, where now I realize it doesn’t have to be.

I want to preface this by saying I’m not trying to bad mouth Wizards of the Coast. That said, I do blame their initial presentation of fourth edition for this “problem.” 4E is a very deep and comprehensive system. I’ve heard all of the talk that 3.x was even more detailed, but I didn’t play that edition and don’t concern myself with the past. The feeling that 4E gave me while reading the initial PHB, DMG, and MM books, a year into the edition’s lifecycle, was that the game focused on character progression via XP hoarding, which appeared to be the province of combats and mechanical Skill Challenges.

That is why I think this paradigm shift is both good and important and I hope others join the march. Often we see nerdrage from both ends of the spectrum from “4E is a video game. RAWR.” to “Oh, I guess you think 4E doesn’t allow role-playing. RAWR.” The key is to be able to show people how character progression can be made through role-playing, rather than just dungeon-delving, and put a system in place to do so.

I think this is a topic that Wizards needs to put more effort into clearly addressing. Perhaps giving more guidelines on XP value for various plot motion. Let’s remember, Wizards spent a lot of ink telling us that PCs were expected to run through 8 to 10 encounters of their current level before advancing. Why? A deliberate number of combats/skill challenges for every level is silly at best, robotic and immersion-breaking at worst. The idea of Points of Light being everything was a misstep as well. It was another implied statement that “In order to level up you have to go out and kill bad guys”, rather than introducing plot items such as diplomacy, betrayal, espionage, etc.; the topics you’d expect to see in most role-play focused campaigns. I don’t think it was intentional, but nonetheless, it’s how it has always felt to me, and I’m sure others as well.

Looking at the orignal 4E Dungeon Master’s Guide, the chapter on “Noncombat Encounters” contains 3 sections: Skill Challenges, Puzzles, and Traps and Hazards. Yes, I believe Skill Challenges were supposed to represent the situation where the party implores the help of a duke, or runs around town gathering clues to unravel the mysterious deaths going on in the town they’re in, however, with the 4E presentation, it appears that the role-playing was replaced with the mechanic of the Skill Challenge. Honestly, as a 4E DM I’ve been demanding skill checks far too often, and it breaks the playacting within the scene. I’m going to work on that going forward, but it’s a problem that needs addressing officially. There should be advice for running the above situations without ever rolling a die, yet still granting a specific number of XP when the scene is resolved.

Again, the recent Save My Game column talked about this, about figuring out your players’ personalities and adjusting the situations you present to them. There is a distinction between situations and encounters and we need Wizards to tell us how best to reward players for non-encounter play. It’s easy to determine the XP reward for a party who just defeated a level 6 trap, but how many XP does the level 6 party get if through great role-play they discover that the flirty and sprightly daughter of the town’s mayor is actually the assassin killing her father’s secret enemies without ever having picked up a d20?

The recent Stronghold article sort of pushed the topic of boundary-pushing as well, though saying that people aren’t interested in details about strongholds cut me a bit deep. I am! That’s another example of WotC missing out on what some people (and I can’t speak to how many) are looking for. Yes, sometimes we all like to march into a dungeon full of kobolds and lay waste to everything inside. However, some of us look back at our old Rules Cyclopedia or Companion rule book, turn to the section on strongholds and mass warfare rules, and want to play with those details. Wizards should be encouraging the expansion of D&D rather than ignoring those they feel are on the fringe. None of us knows if we are or aren’t, but I assure you, we do exist.

Again, I’m honestly not trying to take stabs at WotC, but I think there is a market for things they don’t seem to believe there is. I’m honestly looking forward to Conquest of Nerath specifically for mass battle rules. I plan on there being at least one epic Helm’s Deep style battle in my current campaign, and hopefully that board game will allow my group to play it out with some structure beyond “Run it as a Skill Challenge.” I’ve debated expanding on @greywulf‘s mass army idea adapted from the Rules Cyclopedia, but I haven’t yet had the time to work with it. I have seen others on the web express a desire for mass-combat rules in 4E who were told to run it as a Skill Challenge. That’s not nearly as fun as leading armies into battle and watching plans come to fruition or ruin.

Interestingly, while I’m a big fan of dead-trees, I think many of these things are perfect for the DDi magazines. An expansion on Strongholds, mass-battle rules, even a framework for awarding players for role-playing could be great articles for the magazines. I’m a big proponent of Wizards putting material in print, since that is always viewed as more “reliable” than anything we pundits on the internet have to say, but I encourage my fellow bloggers to get involved as well. Let’s start pushing the envelope on character progression beyond “fight 8 to 10 groups of kobolds to get to level 2. Fight 8 to 10 groups of goblins to get to level 3. Fight 8 to 10 groups of hobgoblins to get to level 4. Etc.”

As many have said before, combat should advance the story. The problem with the 8 to 10 paradigm is that it’s very difficult to run 8 to 10 encounters over the course of 30 levels (240 to 300 total encounters) and keep every single one, or even most, “on-topic.” We need to find ways to reduce level advancement to a handful of tense, resource depleting combats and skill challenges alongside an equal number of plot-advancing story interludes; or more properly, a storyline interceded by a significantly reduced number of plot-relevant encounters.

If level advancement comes more fluidly (and often), and all combats, no matter how slow, are relevant to the continuing advancement of the overarching plot, people will stop complaining that 4E plays too slow. Right now, it’s a relevant and legitimate gripe. It can be fixed though, and relatively easily.

Talk to me in the comments below but I encourage you to write about it on your own blogs as well. Let’s get the momentum going on proving that 4E doesn’t need to just be a series of slugfests meant only to gather XP, GP and magic items.

About

AlioTheFool has been "around" D&D for 25 years, going back to the old "Red Box." However, having no one to play with, he simply spent ridiculous amounts of time creating worlds, adventures, and stories. After a D&D "vacation" from high school until around 10 years ago, Neverwinter Nights brought AlioTheFool back to the game. A few years later he found his way to the tabletop via the D&D Miniatures game. As that game wound down from official support, he bought a 4e starter set and gave the game another shot. After being invited by a fellow Minis game player to join his home 4e game, he progressed from player to now DM.

27 Responses to “Speeding up D&D 4E”

  • It makes sense to have XP gained from combat when the benefits from leveling up are generally combat-related. There are plenty of non-combat utility powers and feats, but there’s also a lot of influences (Player’s Strategy Guide etc) saying not to pick something that won’t give you another +1.

    I think a full-on paradigm shift that sees levels as stages of a story would help. For example, in H3 Pyramid of Shadows, the PCs would normally advance from 7 to 8 by beating however many XP of monsters, traps and obstacles. Throw that out, and have them advance to level 8 by progressing to the second level of the pyramid, regardless of what it took to get there.

    I’m already there in my game, but that’s because I run it in two-hour blocks and we’re lucky to play every other week. I tried the XP budget, 8-10 encounters approach for a while, but wanted the party and story to reach 30th level and the BBEG before 5th Edition came out in 2018. But now I’m glad I’ve done that. One adventure = one level for my campaign. If I were running a heroic-only campaign, I’d tweak that; same if I were running something more sandbox.

    The OSR bloggers like to claim XP in older editions made that work better, by focusing on treasure. I think they’re deluded, but still think XP and levels should be based on quests and story, not beating up the bad guy.

    Unless you want that kind of campaign, because killing things and taking their stuff is fun too.

  • @James Yes, I agree with everything you wrote. The only thing I’m trying to say is that there should be some sort of standard for leveling up beyond either give this specific XP for the group defeating this enemy or “you’re the DM, give whatever you want!”

    Some simple guidelines for distributing XP when players “do something heroic” would go a long way to dispelling the myth that 4E is all about combat and nothing about role-playing. Unfortunately, as you point out, without throwing fight after fight at the players it will take them until 5E to get through one run from 1 to 30. My current campaign is 14 months old and they’re still at level 5. Granted we’ve missed sessions, and we only play once every other week, but still. Five levels in a year is far too slow to not be boring.

  • Good write up. I’d love to see more support for adventures with less of a focus on combat from either WotC or other bloggers. Guidelines for rewarding players for things other than combat and skill challenges would be great to see, and I think it would be interesting to see a published adventure or two with less of a focus on delve-style combat. I liked the format used in Hammerfast and Vor Rukoth since they focused on plot rather than encounters, but it doesn’t seem like we’ll see any more products like those.

    For strongholds and mass combat, I’d love to see articles in D&DI or on blogs covering the types of activities that paragon and epic heroes might pursue that aren’t really available to lower tier characters. I feel like giving those characters a way to have more impact outside of direct combat could open up a lot of possibilities.

  • What about Quests? Major and minor quests are worth experience points, and depending on the story you are telling, can easily be completed through role-playing. A better system would be one in which the Quests, when fulfilled, prevent a combat encounter from occurring at all, and XP would be awarded for the Quest and the prevented Combat Encounter. That would require some pretty good storytelling on the DMs part. Make ample use of storytelling, role-playing Quests, and you can start flying through levels with plenty of rewarded roleplaying.

  • This is a great post and it addresses the issue in a novel way. Rather than blaming WotC for making a bad product, it instead takes the strengths of the system and imagines them being employed in a new way. I also agree with Sully that a quest reward system would be far better than simply focusing on killing and employment of skills.

  • Like a lot of Dungeon Masters, I don’t bother tracking experience points any more. I tell the party that they’ve earned a level when I feel like they’ve earned a level. Most of my adventures span about a level, so the party levels up when they finish the adventure.

    I like this approach in part because I no longer have to worry about exactly how many experience points the party deserves for handing encounter X, but largely because it means that the PLAYERS aren’t so focused on gaining XP – they’re focused on completing quests and making progress toward their characters’ goals.

    I’ve also recently gained more clarity on my perspective toward combat: Every combat should matter for the story. No more combats that just fill up an XP budget to help the characters level. A good combat takes too much real-world time at the table to just throw meaningless fights in there, even if they’re fun.

    Now, if you have a party that just likes to beat up bad guys, throw that advice out the window and build lots of cool battles for the sake of having battles! But for an ongoing campaign that has a real story, only include a fight if the story needs a fight.

  • […] RPG Musings added to the discussion of slow combat in 4e with a great article on Speeding up D&D 4E. In the article AlioTheFool writes “the key is to be able to show people how character […]

  • @glimmthegnome I agree. Strongholds, mass combat, and things along those lines would be great for the Paragon tier. I too would also like to see more adventures using non-delve style structure.

    @Sully I agree. The question is, how do you reward that XP? Again, 4E is very tied to XP from encounter resolution. How do you determine the value of of a storytelling experience within the parameters built into the system? That’s the root of the issue I’m trying to get to.

    @Joseph Gambit Thanks. I’ve been guilty of knocking Wizards at times, but I’m tired of the grumbling. If I’m not part of the solution, I’m part of the problem. I’m just trying to take a positive route these days, especially since I’m actually quite fond of 4E.

    @OnlineDM We’re on the same page in terms of a battle’s place in the game. They should be reserved for advancement of the story, not simply for the sake of running battle after battle (unless of course the group likes that sort of thing). However, I’m not really big on the idea of just giving a level at a predetermined interval. Players like rewards, and XP is one such reward. It’s a yardstick of where they are and how far they have to go to the next goal. I’d really like to keep that in place without simply handwaving every couple of sessions.

  • This is a great post, IMO, because it focuses on fixes, rather than ranting about wrongs. I agree that the issues with 4e are mostly ones of emphasis. As originally presented, it does seem like a tactical minis wargame. The power system is perhaps too modular (no matter how many new flavors of those modules they release, you can still “taste” the paste underneath.) Oops, now I’ve started ranting!

    Changing your perspective as a GM and player can really make the game feel radically different. As a GM, I’m trying to present my players with situations, rather than obvious encounters. If they choose the combat strategy, then we can use the tools. But there are so many other options to resolving situations! Encourage those before you call for an initiative roll, and the game gets much richer.

  • Forgive me for being blunt, but this is a peeve of mine and so I must…

    “Yes, I believe Skill Challenges were supposed to represent the situation where the party implores the help of a duke, or runs around town gathering clues to unravel the mysterious deaths going on in the town they’re in, however, with the 4E presentation, it appears that the role-playing was replaced with the mechanic of the Skill Challenge. Honestly, as a 4E DM I’ve been demanding skill checks far too often, and it breaks the playacting within the scene. I’m going to work on that going forward, but it’s a problem that needs addressing officially. There should be advice for running the above situations without ever rolling a die, yet still granting a specific number of XP when the scene is resolved.”

    This is wrong.

    The skill challenge is a framework that is designed to provide some mechanical benefit to a roleplaying scenario. It does not, and has never replaced roleplaying in a noncombat environment. If this is true for your table, it’s a problem with your table, not with the functionality of the skill challenge.

    A skill challenge allows you to identify a given number of objectives that you want your players to achieve through roleplaying. You may have specific skills in mind, or you may just have an open-ended situation of “This is what you need to do. Go.”

    Regardless of how you flesh it out as a DM, it doesn’t matter. ALL YOU NEED is to identify the purpose of the scenario, and schedule out a number of steps to complete it (preferably using the n+1 model: Set the complexity of the challenge such that you need n+1 successes to win, where n is the # of players in the party; this encourages everyone to get involved).

    Once you’ve done that, set the scene. Convey to your players the situation they find themselves in, and then prompt them for input. Their input steers what skills are called for; it doesn’t matter what skills you assigned to it in your write up, or what skills are already written there in a premade module; if you feel like the players give you a compelling reason why a certain skill will work to their advantage, then allow it! Consider the checks involved and play accordingly.

    And before anyone says it, this can work just fine without rolling. I’ve had plenty of skill challenges that go to automatic success because the players decided to pass the barkeep a platinum piece. But the thing is, charismatic leaders occasionally make a slip of the tongue, and that inelegant barbarian may have a good idea that he might luck out and be able to pass off with perfect prose; in both of these cases, the die roll accurately reflects these concepts. Cutting out die rolls from roleplaying is not something I’m prepared to do, as that would cut some of the suspense from the interaction (though I do allow taking 10 in appropriate circumstances). The players don’t know how this NPC thinks and to simply wave off a die roll when they’re trying to interact with people they don’t know seems to cause a disconnect with a basic concept that the die roll represents: effort. Conversing with a stranger requires a certain amount of effort, particularly if you’re working at either gathering information while protecting your interests (among other things).

    When I run skill challenges, one thing I NEVER say is “This is a skill challenge”. The players need to consider their options independently of any mechanical knowledge, and cluing them in on that aspect provides no benefit to anyone. I ask them for their input of the situation, and gather appropriate checks to coincide. Pass or fail, it’s all roleplaying. I may help the players along a little with hints if they just seem completely stuck, but I never call for a skill until a player articulates the action(s) they want to take to resolve the situation I have presented them.

    To address the rest of your post, I’d love to see a siege battle as well; Encounters Season 3 actually seems to have represented this somewhat nicely, with routine incoming waves of enemies that support a larger foe. I don’t think any heavily aggressive situation like that would work well as a skill challenge anyway, though I might incorporate one or several to illustrate certain phases or components of the larger battle outside the individual skirmishes that the players involve themselves with (say perhaps that a catapult malfunctions, and if left unrepaired a much larger force will rush the gates); these would likely be run during combat with other foes to force the players to make tactical decisions while on the battlefield. At some point you have to be able to accurately reflect a change in scale though, for the players’ sakes; just porting combat scenarios won’t do that.

    As for awarding xp, I find the number contrived. There’s some expected growth rate with xp rewards and I’d just as soon provide arbitrary marks for when you level up and hand them out at the intervals set by that expected rate. Even if I used XP I wouldn’t allow players to level up during a session, as they’d inevitably be thumbing through books and making calculations updates, disrupting the table’s playtime. So to answer your question of how to award xp in “non-encounters”, my solution is don’t. Grant levels at set intervals and stop trying to track xp all the time.

  • @anarkeith I agree. We need to present options and situations to the players in order to expand what the game does. The only thing I want from Wizards, and it’s a bit ranty admittedly, is a system for rewarding the non-combat resolution of those situations.

    @Nullzone I’m not sure you haven’t contradicted yourself regarding Skill Challenges. As soon as you put a mechanic inside of the framework of a situation it becomes a Skill Challenge. By starting your concept with n+1 in this situation, you’ve already created a Skill Challenge, and that’s not the role-playing I’m discussing.

    When I speak of role-playing I mean diceless role-playing. I understand what you’re saying regarding dice rolls handling things such as a barbarian getting lucky and saying just the right thing, but that’s not how the world works. When I’m conversing with someone in the real world, I can use things such as visual cues or variations in a person’s tone to determine whether that person is sympathetic to my words or antagonized by them.

    Would it be fair for a player who has done a fantastic job of following my body language for 10 minutes to then roll a 1 on his diplomacy and send the duke into a blind fury? I would say not at all. Also, would it be fair if his argument was charismatic and persuading, yet I stick to some arbitrary number of “successes” I’ve determined they have to achieve? I understand you’ve had encounters that you’ve awarded auto-success to, but you’ve still created a situation where a certain number of “correct” outcomes needs to be met before you move on.

    I’m in favor of diceless role-play. If you’re not, that’s fine, but to dismiss me and point the finger at my table is a tad unbecoming.

    As for XP, it’s a reward-tracking system. Perhaps you and your group don’t need it or mind it its absense. Mine does and would. It’s an integral part of the game even back to its earliest days. To hand wave it away is not something I’m interested in doing. I don’t allow leveling within a session, but that’s irrelevant. I will not remove the reward that comes with Experience Points from my game.

  • My intention wasn’t to single out your table, or to dismiss your diceless roleplaying; it was to make a counter argument for why dice are still useful, and to say that the mechanic of the skill challenge already gives you a delivery method for xp in roleplay. The rest of it was me waxing about how skill challenges should be handled to attempt to illustrate that the typical interpretation of them is poor and they are inappropriately vilified for it.

    The “your table” comments were open comments to anyone who feels poorly of skill challenges, as I find too often they are singled out as if they are the cause for the “death” of the roleplaying scenario when they ARE the roleplaying scenario. I get annoyed by this mindset and try to challenge it, rather forcefully, because I’m trying to get the other person to stop and actually examine the topic objectively, because often the conversation tends to go “Yeah but it’s still a skill challenge” which tells me they haven’t even been listening. The sooner I can get them to stop and think, the better, so I bring the heat in my opening comments.

  • To further clarify my point as it relates to yours:

    You like diceless roleplaying, which is awesome. No problem there. Identify the goals you’re trying to promote with your roleplaying scenario. Set it up with a skill challenge framework (in terms of fleshing out the different ways they can achieve the needed goals…or just wing it, like I said these things should be fluid, if a player can give you a good reason why a particular action on their part helps them, then go with it) and then take away all the dice rolls and successes/failures. Presto, you have a delivery container for xp.

  • @Nullzone I never said I feel poorly about Skill Challenges. They have their place in the game as much as roles, or power sources, or anything else in 4E. However, Skill Challenges are a pre-determined and structured entity. Flowing narrative just “happens” and not necessarily because the DM planned it out last weekend.

    The biggest problem with what you’re saying is that by treating all role-playing situations as Skill Challenges, it completely ignores the original problem, which is that the sheer number of expected encounters slows down the progression of characters in 4E. Role-playing situations should be far more valuable in terms of XP reward than combat in order to pace the game at a reasonable rate. Otherwise, it’s still going to just be a long grind from 1 to 30, except there will be a lot more talking involved.

  • Thanks for the reply to my comment. To be clear, I’m not handing out a level at a predetermined interval – I’m handing out a level when the party has earned it by completing a meaningful adventure. The adventures I write for them tend to take around 3 sessions on average, but if they get through one in two sessions or it takes them 4 or 5, that’s fine. They still earn the level, they just don’t have to do the math to figure it out.

    And if I ran them through a truly epic adventure spanning many sessions, I would probably reward them for achieving a major milestone in the adventure with a level, plus another level upon completion of the entire adventure.

    It’s not for everyone, but doing away with XP has been very helpful in my games.

  • @OnlineDM I see. That’s cool. I’m still not big on the idea of giving up XP as a frequent reward, but if that style works for you and your group, great!

  • “However, Skill Challenges are a pre-determined and structured entity. Flowing narrative just “happens” and not necessarily because the DM planned it out last weekend.”

    I’m trying to tell you it isn’t. And whether you intended to or not, the entire paragraph I quoted in my first post reads to sound like skill challenges are what’s wrong with roleplaying. You specifically point at them, say you use them far too often, and that there needs to be some kind of official support for backing off of them; all of these statements cast the skill challenge in a negative light and/or as something to steer away from when possible.

    Given the free-flowing light that I’m trying to cast the skill challenge in I don’t understand the grind comment either; it sounds like you’re just trying to shortcut some of the level progression by arbitrarily awarding xp just for talking to someone. That doesn’t really fix the problem, just “cheats” it.

  • @Nullzone It seems you’re saying that I said I use Skill Challenges far too often, which is impossible since I’ve run I think two in the entire time I’ve been DMing 4E.

    Skill Challenges are in a negative light, and that’s not my fault. I’m not trying to knock them, but I just feel like the mechanics inherent to it are more than I’d like to interject into role-playing. I tried to make very clear that the primary problem with Skill Challenges has been their presentation leading to the perception that it replaces role-playing.

    I’m not sure how having a structure to award XP for “talking to someone” is “cheating” the system. That “talking to someone” is the core of role-playing, which existed long before there were skills in D&D.

    I think you’re taking far too much offense from a straw man here. You seem to be the only person who has a problem with how I’ve presented my case. I actually went out of my way to not bad mouth anything. How you interpret what I wrote seems to be a product of your personal crusade.

    I read Robert Schwalb’s post today, and he presents a good case for Skill Challenges. I still don’t like them, but it’s given me food for thought.

  • I wasn’t aware that conversational discourse was considered taking offense to the topic.

    It’s cool, you have your way and it’s convenient for you to just offhandedly dismiss a different opinion. It’s your blog, do what you like.

  • […] was some discussion about it during the Expert DM seminar.  AlioTheFool at RPG Musings recently discussed the subject, as did GameFiend at At Will.  Finally, @DaveTheGame, @SlyFlourish, and I had a lengthy […]

  • @Nullzone I don’t dismiss anyone on this blog. First off, it’s not my blog. I’m a contributor to a site run by a very classy guy. Second, I value all discourse, including that which disagrees with me.

    What I don’t stand idly for is someone who comes “bringing the heat” as you put it. You came into this conversation with an agenda, and you explicitly made that clear.

    Again, you’re creating straw men. You’re attacking points I never made. I’m not dismissing you, I’m simply telling you that if you’re going to have a conversation, at least respect the other party enough to not change their argument to make yourself right.

  • […] Finally, RPG Musings had an article on speeding up D&D 4e. I know, I know, everyone’s sick of the talk about “the speed of combat in 4e.”  […]

  • I’m jumping in here responding to Alio’s 2/2 2:48 p.m. comment.

    I side with Null Zone because I think that diceless roleplaying really amounts to a mix of player skill, not character skill, and DM determinations. The die roll doesn’t represent the character’s great turn of phrase or fantastic flourish, it represents the other side of the table. Maybe the duke had food poisoning last night, or saw a rainbow this morning on the way to the castle, or a certain word has connotations to him because of a story his tutor told him when he was 12. If you go diceless, it becomes the player convincing the DM, not the PC convincing the NPC. In my mind, that’s going from “game” to “improvisational theater.”

    “Would it be fair for a player who has done a fantastic job of following my body language for 10 minutes to then roll a 1 on his diplomacy and send the duke into a blind fury? I would say not at all. ”

    I agree, but I also think if a player is spending 10 minutes following body language, that’s a series of checks for diplomacy and insight (and perhaps bluff), not a single check. That’s exactly what skill challenges are for. And it takes the omnipresent 5% chance of a 1 blowing your preparations and turns it into a much smaller chance, because you have to get three 1s instead of just one.

  • Anyway, I think the solution to the problem your post actually brought up was addressed by Sully: Use the quest system. But make it more robust, either giving out more XP than the DMG recommends, or making “minor quests” and “major quests” smaller things so that they ding more often. You could go with (oh boy here I go with video games) the achievement system I find I like best in Xbox games — small awards periodically for finishing one part of the quest, and then a big award at the end for finishing the whole quest.

  • @James Yeah, I’ve been considering all of that lately. Checks do have a place, though I would still give success to a good role-player regardless of the dice, or perhaps at least a bonus to his/her rolls.

    Quest awards are an interesting option. Good point about XBox achievements. I’m a fan of those too.

  • A Thing to remember is that skill checks were introduced in V3 to facilitate the introduction of new players to the game. Neither of you are flawed in your opinions you just need to remember D&D is a roleplaying game that is almost impossible for some to master.

    I recently began DMing for a group that has virtually no experience in roleplay, so i have found that if you will label a non-combat encounter with a skill type they will associate that with how to actually pursue the objective in real life. Some of them are just flat out intimidated by the thought of acting.

    4E was introduced to bring the gamer into the D&D world. It blurs the margin between game and RPG. you now have a mechanical approach to a massive system of checks and balances that is utterly defeating for a new player.

    Also; this was, I believe, intended to make it easier for first generation DMs to begin the entire process. you have to admit, when you sat down to make your firs module it was a bit overwhelming!

    -S3V3N

  • I’m about to start DMing my first campaign, and after discussion with some of the players , I’ve structured my game this way:

    Each adventure contains 3-5 combat encounters, a Major Quest, and whatever Minor Quests pop up (obviously, this will change as the campaign rolls on and we all learn about the world and the characters). To make level-appropriate combat, I’m using the XP budget as per DDi’s Encounter Builder, but I’m not awarding XP. For our game we’re going to level up every other adventure. We’re going to try to focus more on storytelling than combat. If I was playing with a different group, I might do things differently, but this seems to be the direction that my group is heading.

    That’s what I love about Pen and Paper vs. video games: We can make it personal.