I know that I see everything through the prism of City of Heroes lately, but can you look at the new LotRO skirmishes and NOT see City of Heroes missions? City of Heroes was not the first to make the randomized, instanced content on a standard template, but I think they did it most whole-heartedly, and I am going with this because it is the one I know best.
Skirmishes are instanced quests that have a standard template with some randomized elements. They are a series of encounters that you could think of as fight units. One unit of combat for a solo character is two normal enemies or one normal and two swarm-class. Scale that up for larger groups as you add signatures, elites, and more of them. You select these enemies from a standard menu, say a dozen groups and a few enemy variations in each group, attaching a prefix to designate how tough each one is. So your first fight is against one hale wolf and two weak wolves, then two hale bandit captains, then one hale bandit captain and one hale bandit archer, etc. The skirmish sends random fight units against you until it reaches the appropriate number of them for that fight, then sends the boss.
They make good popcorn content. If you are playing these games for the gameplay, CoH missions and LotRO skirmishes deliver instantly and painlessly. This is an appropriate fight for your level, here is a series of them with just enough variation to keep it interesting. CoH usually aims for ~15 minutes, skirmishes are 30-40 minutes. There is a morsel of story included, but you may or may not care, and it will not affect anything.
LotRO has a few variations. It uses a standardized map, and usually a small one. Most of the skirmishes are defenses, where you stand in one place and the enemies come to you. Some are assaults, where you overcome a few enemies and then waves of counterattacks come to you. They probably have more ideas, but the initial launch of skirmishes has just two, with variations (allies with you, multiple directions, protect the Prancing Pony from torch-bearers). The locations are good, and meaningful because they can pick their favorites from an existing world, not really different from when City of Heroes puts a mission in an instanced piece of Atlas Park (destroyed or not), but better than Randomized Warehouse Layout C. You may or may not like the “standing in one place for thirty minutes” thing.
LotRO also has a table of random bosses that it uses, again scaled to group size. It tosses in little ones with many fight units. This next group is two hale enemies and a Stormcrow. They have different effects, again mixing it up to keep it interesting, but it is not enough to make it Explorer content or anything. Zombie Columbus says, “you will learn how to recognize and how to alter your gameplay to counter them,” but the answer is almost always “kill the lieutenant first,” with a backup plan of “CC it and kill it last.” There seems to be more variation on that plan when fighting in large groups, as the lieutenants get a LOT of hit points. There is also an optional encounter or two in each skirmish, some boss that you can pull from the side if you like.
These lieutenants and encounters add a bit more variation, although you will see through the surface to the template beneath before you first skirmish is over. For those of you who remember statistics class, “more variance” is a better description from that template view. Having lieutenants creates a wider swing in how big and bad the fights can be, since the standard fight units have more or less standard difficulty no matter what is in them. The lieutenants are less uniform, even if “kill the big guy first/last” is completely uniform.
There are other systems tied into skirmishes that we can discuss another time, notably the soldiers that are a separate, self-contained advancement system. I have some very strong thoughts on requiring us to keep alive allies that demonstrate just how poor the AI can be (“No, do not stand in the fire and try to heal yourself!”). As gameplay, though, they are those templated fights. If this becomes successful, I would hope for a lot of them, because having eight available (six if you are not through the last epic book) is not going to cut it once people get past the initial Achiever glee of getting skirmish marks. People get tired of City of Heroes missions that have dozens of variations, enemy groups, and objectives. Of course, in LotRO, these is something to do other than skirmishes, which should help avoid the CoH problem.