Book of Challenges
Featuring Daniel Kaufman, Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel, and Skip Williams
Tuesday, June 11th 2002
The following text about the Book of Challenges was transcribed from a special Wizards of the Coast online community chat session. Take a look at what questions the fans asked designers Daniel Kaufman, Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel, and Skip Williams, and see what these guests answered!
wizo_hydragon: Game designers Daniel Kaufman, Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel, and Skip Williams are talking about the new Book of Challenges here in Wizards Presents. Before we open the queue, could you tell us a little about this new book?
Gwendolyn: Certainly. It contains 53 separate challenges, but much more than that, it has many DM-focused tips such as sidebars offering advice on handling familiars. It covers all sorts of encounters, giving advice to the DM on how to build her own encounters as well. There are traps, tricks, complicated combats, etc. Lots of puzzles, too.
Daniel: It has tips on how to make characters work for their supper. And the supper is trapped, of course.
Skip: It does not take pains to be kind to players, but it's always fair.
kvantum: What's the level range on the encounters?
Skip: There are challenges from level 1 to 20. But, there's a "bell curve" with more encounters in the middle of the range. Most encounters are 4th-12th level.
wizo_talisman: What are your favorite parts of the book?
Gwendolyn: The sidebars, most definitely. They offer explanations and advice. I'd say my second favorite is the "The Scaling the Encounter" sections that give you pre-done adaptations.
Skip: Well, there's the intro, where we tell prospective DMs this is the product to use when they feel like being a little mean. There are plenty of sidebars stuffed with useful information, such as how to deal with familiars. I also enjoyed "Playing Monsters Smarter Than You," and my favorite: "Making a Deceitful Sales Pitch."
Daniel: As above: sidebars and mechanical traps.
ahrta_shensethesu: I am curious about the puzzles. Are they more mental type puzzles or "pull this switch to make this do that?"
Daniel: A little of each. Sometimes they are even combined such as where a logic puzzle helps you pull the right lever.
wizo_hydragon: Do you also introduce interesting NPCs in the book?
Gwendolyn: Absolutely! There are a few great literary references, like Prufrock, and some nasty NPCs such as Falessel, a female elf vampire Rgr6/Blk1.
wizo_talisman: When Fantasy Flight Games was here, I asked them how Traps and Treachery II stood apart from Book of Challenges. Now it's your turn: Tell us what we can find in Book of Challenges that we won't get anywhere else.
Daniel: I never read Traps and Treachery, but I know ours benefit from better resources and longer playtesting. Book of Challenges also doesn't use traps as the focus. It's more encounters and tips.
kvantum: You mentioned a bit on handling familiars. Could you address that in a bit more detail?
Gwendolyn: Crunchy rules. Let me share a few of the most helpful sidebars: "Advancing Monsters," "Adventuring in Three Dimension," "Cover and Spread Effects," and "But I Know the Trap is There!"
Skip: You're getting a unique collection of encounters and advice. I don't know about you, but I can never have enough of either.
wizo_hydragon: Does the book have a system to generate encounters?
Gwendolyn: It showcases the system in the Dungeon Master's Guide, with lots of examples of scaling the combat. We did fabricate more traps based on the standard rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide. There are also some nasty spell combos.
wizo_talisman: Are the underwater rules the same that Skip wrote for Dragon Magazine?
Daniel: It was certainly in the works at about the same time. I did a couple of the water encounters and we needed to lock down some more specific rules for the book. The version in Dragon Magazineis probably more extensive, however.
hellgorgingstrossus: Are there any new species in the book?
Daniel: We intentionally used creatures from the Monster Manual so it had a better access to everyone. Plus, we didn't want to make stuff up.
wizo_hydragon: How long did it take you to finish the book?
Daniel: I worked on it first, for about three months while the others had other projects.
Skip: I had about a month to do my part, which is pretty standard for the page and word count I was assigned.
Gwendolyn: I had about a month, as well, and finished up the project, seeking to fill in any gaps in Encounter Levels. Here's a nasty trap example: forcecage and summon monster VII.
wizo_hydragon: How many encounters did you leave out in the end? Is there enough for a second book?
Gwendolyn: Well, we worked with a few restrictions, including the fact that we could work only in dungeonlike environments. We omitted any that took place outdoors.
Daniel: I want to do a Book of Outdoor Challenges, so buy early and often!
Gwendolyn: There are two web enhancements, however.
hellgorgingstrossus: Did they add any new spells to the wizard or sorcerer?
Skip: There are no new spells, creatures, or magic items. We kill your PC with what's in the core books. Bwahahahha!
wizo_talisman: I'm sure that in the playtests one trap or puzzle got a lot of talk about it. Which challenge became the most notorious?
Gwendolyn: Mike ran one for the other designers called "Watery Grave." It did serve as the base for a lot of conversation.
Daniel: I had to rework a gelatinous cube pit because it would squish large elephants.
wizo_hydragon: How would you use the challenges in the book? Would you just use encounters from the book in your normal adventure to "spice up the story" or would you use those encounters to create adventures around them?
Daniel: Either, but it would be easier to insert them into an adventure. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from using the NPC as a main villain. Then you could design an adventure leading up to the climatic encounter.
Gwendolyn: It feels like cheating to say both ways. If you're looking for a quick encounter to fill in the evening, because the PCs decided they didn't want to return to the city where you've set your next adventure, you could use this book. Or, you could take one of the encounters and make it the capstone for an adventure. If you're sadistic, you'll run multiple ones in a row from the book.
Skip: The book is pretty versatile. You could just pick up an encounter or two for a quick one-night adventure. Or, you could build a larger adventure around one or two encounters. Of course, the sidebars are useful anytime.
wizo_talisman: I was wondering which parts of the book each of you were responsible for designing? How did you divide the labor?
Daniel: I got to go first, so I wrote whatever I wanted.
Skip: We all grabbed the ELs we liked most and left poor Gwen with what was left. Not very gentlemanly. Essentially, we were all given a page count and worked up a plan to get it done.
Gwendolyn: I didn't mind. I got to fill in gaps and enjoyed it immensely. "Gosh, what can I do with EL 1 or 2?" I happily did fifteen of the entries -- not fifteen EL 1 or 2, but fifteen over all, going up into the high teens and 20s.
wizo_hydragon: Daniel, do you already have ideas for a Book of Challenges set in the outdoors?
Gwendolyn: I think we all do. I want to write steeplechase rules!
Daniel: I designed a meadow adventure where the movement rules versus archers become very important. I think it was meant to not only be a little more versatile, but a little nastier, as well.
louminator: Why does Wizards of the Coast feel such a collection of random plug-in features and examples is warranted or even in demand when their two primary monthly periodicals already provide plenty of these?
Skip: The book supports folks who write their own adventures and run their own campaigns. That's why we cover ELs 1 to 22 and why we took pains to explain why we did things they way we did. You could even use this book with your favorite Dungeon Magazine adventure should you need to fill some more game time.
Gwendolyn: It's also a bit of a DM toolkit. We show you a variety of things and give you the know-how to create your own.
wizo_hydragon: Maybe each of you could give us their favorite reason why we all should take a closer look at this book.
Daniel: I think there are a lot of tips and ways to combine monsters and spells. Players may have found a few, but the game is so diverse that there are endless possibilities. I'm hoping someone sees an encounter and is either impressed or annoyed that they hadn't thought of it.
Skip: I've already mentioned the big ones: good encounters, good advice, and ELs from 1 to 22.
Gwendolyn: Puzzles, traps, tricks, combat, negotiations, deceptions, and occasional honesty.
Daniel: Honesty used to disguise lying.
wizo_hydragon: That finishes it, folks. Thank you very much for coming here tonight and have fun designing the next books! We'll be waiting for you.
Don't forget to check out the web enhancement for the Book of Challenges!
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