After helping Jay Little out with this year’s tournament adventure for XCrawl, I decided to check out a few other D&D/d20 modules. I was curious about the current state of the art, at least from major publishers, in adventure design. While D&D isn’t something that fits my style as a GM, some quality stuff is being published. I’m even a little tempted to tweak the modules in Paizo‘s new Pathfinder series and run them.
I have seen one disturbing practise repeated by numerous designers across all publishers. The DC 5 skill check sets a terrible example for new GMs, and it is a blight on the hobby.
The problem with them may not be immediately obvious. Consider the thought process that puts a DC 5 skill check into an adventure.
- “Hmmm…to get the players over here, they’ll have to know about this.”
- “I can’t just give it to them, though. That’s just not realistic. The noble/sage/ancient library/information source X wouldn’t just hand it to the characters without some persuasion. I better put a skill check on it.”
- “Ooooo…but if the players fail the skill check, the adventure will just grind to a halt.”
- “Aha! If I set the DC at 5, they can’t possibly fail!”
That seems reasonable enough on its surface.
Does it still seem so reasonable, though, when I point out that a roll of 1 is an automatic failure? To say nothing of the fact that many DMs make 1s critical failures? Roll a 1 and the adventure grinds to a horrible stop while the DM flails about for another plausible source. Or he makes the players re-roll the skill check until one of them succeeds, which points up just how ridiculous it was not to hand over the info in the first place, roll-free.
Why can’t the module designer just accept the fact that he wants—no, needs—the players to get this piece of information, and hand it to them without a roll? Step 2 above overlooks a key fact. RPGs are supposed to be fun, not another source of stress and frustration. This kind of adventure design creates fails this test.