It’s not the world’s snappiest title, but challenge is at the heart of every gaming session. The PCs may have to crush the forces of the evil goblin king, root out a pernicious black cult or simply find their way out of a labyrinthine network of caverns.
Whatever their mission, it involves opponents and challenge. Of course, a campaign repeatedly pitting the PCs against a variety of goblins and their sinister master is probably going to get boring. It is common sense that it behoves a GM to vary the challenges with which he assails his PCs (without crushing the players’ suspension of disbelief).
So what did Gary say?
“It is a simple enough matter for the GM to arrange for the PCs to encounter new, more powerful foes, but it is often more desirable (although often more difficult) to introduce instead complexities in the task of overwhelming the old ones. Problems that have nothing to do with fighting or overcoming enemy creatures also need to be considered and placed into the campaign. These may take the form of labyrinths and mazes to be negotiated, mysteries to be solved, information or objects to be gathered, riddles to be interpreted, and who knows what else.”
Role-Playing Mastery, Gary Gygax (page 49-50)
As we do so often, we see Gary’s desire to inject a (reasonable) level of realism into his games, in an attempt to present his players with a variety of challenges not always linked to combat. As I’ve noticed in reading many of Gary’s adventures, he liked to provide varied challenges to foster creativity in his players. Frankly, I’m a big fan of that.
Additionally, to my mind, the greater the level of challenge (within reason) the greater the sense of achievement. I’m not purely speaking of CRs and ELs, here. To give an example, in Borderland of Adventure campaign one of the players had been looking for a lost dwarven citadel hidden somewhere in the nearby mountains. I’ve dropped many clues and hints over the last ten gaming sessions. In the last session before Christmas, he finally worked out where it was and was quite chuffed (that’s English for proud).
I suspect his sense of achievement would have been somewhat less if I’d simply given him a map. (Of course, the challenge is not yet over as other adventures presented themselves, meaning he didn’t get to the lost hold for quite some time…)
So don’t be afraid to challenge your players with non-combat problems that need resolving. How do they uncover the location of the evil villain’s lair? How do they scale the dangerously slick Cliffs of Doom or escape the clutches of the sinister tax collector? All add to the depth of the campaign and add to the PCs’ sense of achievement when they finally defeat their nemesis. And are far more diverse than simply fighting an orc with a few levels of fighter.
Was Gary Right?
Was Gary right? Was he wrong? Is the challenge of (say) getting bulky treasure out of the dungeon safely or dodging the sinister Collector of Taxes less fun than whacking more orcs? Let me know in the comments below.