Critical Hit: A Major Spoilers D and D podcast
Four Against The Void

This episode: You asked for it, and we’re delivering – a series of episodes walking those who want to become a Game Master through the process.

This time out: Creating an encounter for your players.


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About Author

Stephen Schleicher began his career writing for the Digital Media Online community of sites, including Digital Producer and Creative Mac covering all aspects of the digital content creation industry. He then moved on to consumer technology, and began the Coolness Roundup podcast. A writing fool, Stephen has freelanced for Sci-Fi Channel's Technology Blog, and Gizmodo. Still longing for the good ol' days, Stephen launched Major Spoilers in July 2006, because he is a glutton for punishment. You can follow him on Twitter @MajorSpoilers and tell him your darkest secrets...


  1. A good continuation of the series. A few comments though. For skill challenges, I’ve found that if you don’t limit the type of skill checks necessary for counting success, you really need to make all checks fall under the ‘hard’ rating. For example, in Stephen’s skill challenge the ‘medium’ rating is a 12, with a ‘hard’ as a 15-17. Assuming a level 5 min/maxed character (+5 stat bonus, +2 half level bonus), with training, the character has a base bonus of 12. This ‘really’ limits the fun of an encounter, because it is just too easy (you must roll a 1 to even consider failure.) I assume that the suggested difficulty numbers assume a character with a +0 stat/no training, where the necessary roll becomes a more suspenseful 50% likelihood of success.

    As for preparing for an encounter, do you think that it is best to have an encounter planned before you know the classes the PCs are playing? Many classes have abilities that simply negate lower level ‘whammy’ abilities (Moment of Glory against auras/DPR monsters, a controller against a horde of minions, etc.) In the case of Stephen’s planned encounter, a level 5 wizard can Grasping Shadows/Action Point/Shock Beetle (or something AoEish) and wipe the board with minions. Should these ‘screw your strategy’ abilities be something to consider in the planning of an encounter?

    • You’re right, Which is why, if you listen to previous shows you’ll note that usually all my skill challenges have a difficult DC and a relatively high success requirement.

      As far as a player negating your awesome encounter? It honestly depends on how much you like the encounter and how much it would annoy you if the players breeze through it. Sometimes it’s amusing just to see players obliterate an encounter, at least for them.

      • Thanks for the reply Rodrigo. I’ve actually started using your house rule for skill challenges, and enjoy them far more for their narrative value.

        Now, if I can only find a way to give a challenge to my level 3 group’s Winter’s Hearld Warden and Healing cleric w/o a TPK, I’m set.

  2. The masked riddler on

    These podcasts are really giving people an insight into the mind of a dm/gm the idea of having the skill challenge giving the players a bonus is a great idea. Rodrigo’s house rule really adds depth into my gaming sessions. Hopefully I won’t go on a rampage waiting for the second arc to start. Keep up the good work guys

  3. I have one concern about stephen gamemastering. He seems like someone who wants to be in control and knows what he wants, and does everything in his power to get that. (that is why this site and the podcasts are so great). But I’m not sure if that is a good thing for a Dm. Upon listening I got the impression that stephen has the adventure written out in his head. And I’m unsure how much he will be prepared to go off the “rails” if the players do something unexpected (what they will do, off course, players are that way)

    So we will have to wait and see how it went,and if this is an issue at all.

    ps: I hope that my rambling makes sense. I had some difficulty trying to say what I meant in english on this subject.

    • I do know what I want in terms of traps, plot points, and the like, but when it comes to the game play, it is going to be up to the players to decide if they succeed or fail.

      I guess the only thing I can use in my defense at this point, without giving anything away, is that the players said they all had a good time and enjoyed themselves, which is really the point of the game. :D

      • One of the best things I’ve gotten from these workshop podcasts is just listening to Stephen and seeing how similar he is to the way I plan. (This is not bad, per se, I just didn’t realize I’d been doing which resulted in the results of my planning ending badly)

        Listening to his idea of how the skill challenge “should” go really helped me realize I’ve been doing the same thing. Trying to shoe horn my players into the game I want to run rather then letting them get there themselves.

        I need an inner Rodrigo to question my motives so I can realize this sooner.

  4. My wife is home on long-term temporary disability and has been showing signs of cabin fever. I personally play LFR weekly, but she really isn’t supposed to leave the house. She shows absolutely no interest in D&D, but has been intently reading the Percy Jackson series, which gave me an idea. I was thinking of homebrewing a short campaign set in the “Percy Jackson” world using the mythological Greek characters. With her input, I would roll up an original demigod character for her to use and use re-skinned (if neccessary) monsters to create an original single PC adventure. With my wife having absolutely no D&D experiance, I would also roll-up an NPC I would control, as the demigods have an individual protector, and would only actively use them in under certain conditons (i.e. her PC is bloodied; there’s a skill challenge her PC isn’t trained in). Otherwise, they would be used as a plot device. I feel I would able to successfully pull this off, but would welcome any advice I can get.

  5. I had a thought (and keep in mind that I’m a complete D&D newbie) for what, in this specific skill challenge might give your players a choice about smashing up the library. Couldn’t one of your NPCs, during the player’s investigation, mention that the artifact is fragile? You could even think of a consequence should they smash it instead of discovering it.

    • The important thing is that, as a plot point, the players finding the artifact is not just their objective, but also YOUR objective, if the ultimate goal is for them to have this artifact you would be GMing yourself into a corner here.

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