It's hard to believe that this is already the seventh installment in the Ruling Skill Challenges series. It's been a lot of fun so far, and I hope that each month this article sheds some light on skill challenges. The last two installments talked about social skill challenges and gave a sample challenge. This month, it's time to cover a topic near and dear to many a D&D characters' heart: Warfare!
Huge battles have long been a component of fantasy fiction and gaming. The rules for D&D evolved from the Chainmail miniatures game. Swords & Spells performed a neat little trick and arose as the miniatures game designed to support the RPG that evolved from a miniatures game. Later, basic D&D added an abstract set of rules called the war machine in the Companion Set, while AD&D boasted the BattleSystem game for both its 1st and 2nd editions. Finally, in 2001 came another game under the Chainmail name, which gave way to the D&D Miniatures game.
Almost all of these rule sets struggled with one, important question: How do you drag a PC into the battle? After all, D&D is a game about individual adventurers. What effect does a 15th-level wizard have on battle? A 6th-level warden can chop through 1st-level goblin minions all day, but what happens when she leads 50 members of the local militia against 300 goblins?
The skill challenge mechanic is a good match for running the clash of armies, but on its own, it leaves huge swaths of information for the DM to fill in. What does the challenge represent? What's the cost of failure and the reward for victory? What exactly does each skill check cover during a big battle? Answering those questions is key to creating a skill challenge, but those answers might vary based on the battle's role in your campaign and the characters' roles in the battle.
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About the Author
Mike Mearls is the Lead Developer for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. His recent credits include H1: Keep on the Shadowfell and Player's Handbook II (v.3.5).