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Diverse Challenges

In my most recent release, Aethrjammr, I briefly mention that even in space-fantasy ship combat, 'challenge diversity' is essential to a rousing round of play. This is shorthand for saying "don't just call for DEX rolls over and over." In the ever-expanding art of room design, this area is often overlooked. So, if it's so important, what is the core tool that can be used to see and innovate diverse challenges that test players on all their abilities and stats in a given scene? Well, if you're playing D20/D&D derivatives with six core stats, the answer is right in your dice case. Here's the recipe:


Journal or piece of paper

Pen (pencils are for the weak)


Working knowledge of your tabletop game, its themes and style, and a few decades of fantasy osmosis for flavor


Place piece of paper or journal on a flat surface and have a drink of beer.

With your pen, write your room title, adding a bit of flavor. For this example, I write 'Graveyard Calamity.' It's ok if you have no idea where this is headed, just get some thematic elements cooking with the title.

Now take up your noble 4D6 and toss a vigorous roll onto the page. Let them clatter and scatter! If more than 2 dice come up with the same result, roll them again. They are traitors to our cause, and must be shamed.

What have you rolled? Where have they fallen? With your pen, circle each die and note its result. Remove dice and let cool.

For your roll results, use this chart. Calling it a chart is a bit theatrical, but here it is:

1: A STR check

2: A DEX challenge

3: Roll CON to survive

4: INT must be rolled here

5: A WIS check

6: CHA will be useful here

Now lean back from your little project and allow it it to rise for a few moments. Have another drink of beer while you wait. Look at that, the magic is happening.

Under each result, write a tiny note, maybe 2-4 words, on what these blobs could be in your encounter. In my case, my piece of paper looks like this:

Dice roll weird on a journal like mine.. the flatter the better, to avoid 'dice parkour'

To finish, use these blobs and notes, and draw a map to fit. Go as tasty or terrible as you like for a map only you will see. Now, apply the 3 T's (ICRPG Master Edition) and revel in your creative power!

This method is very useful because it reverses the creative process. Much like an artist flipping her work back and forth to 'kick her brain' into seeing new directions, applying the game design aesthetics BEFORE the thematic elements builds new path ways for the session-prepping GM. We know that encounters which test more than a few stats are a good thing. They encourage more player types, reward offbeat character specializations, and generally fight monotony. This method acknowledges that truth first, THEN asks "what's going here?"

Following this flow, I wound up here with my Graveyard Calamity.

My encounters ready to stat and play.

Of course, using this slightly randomized method does require the GM to approach planning with an open mind. If you know, beyond any flexibility, that the encounter in question has to be XYZ, this method may seem too sloppy. No matter what, every encounter should feature an offbeat stat challenge. Remember the immortal Gygaxian proverb: Want to kill players? Intellect Devourers. A group of heroes can demolish a dragon with nary a scratch, but call for an INT roll, they go pale with fear.

Stay thirsty my friends.


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