(Part 6 of a series, which begins with Evolution of the skill challenge.)
The first D&D Encounters season, Halaster’s Last Apprentice, included a skill challenge that works perfectly within the original conception of the skill challenge rules. “You make a perilous search through the upper levels of Undermountain, seeking the hidden chamber. Each of you contributes in some way….”
For that encounter season, I served as DM to a table full of players who were resampling D&D after many years away from the game. They wanted to return to the Undermountain crawls that they enjoyed in the past. I worried that playing an abstract challenge would convince them that 4E was no longer the game they had loved. “But some of us like dungeon stuff.” Unfortunately, the skill challenge posed some problems for the more vivid style that I wanted. The challenge’s description included a huge array of applicable skills, but only hinted at a few tangible obstacles that the players might face.
Drawing on the challenge’s description, I created a list of obstacles that suited the challenge. Each invited a number of solutions based on the different skills listed in the challenge.
|Locked door||Pick lock using thievery|
|Break door using athletics|
|Search, possibly locating a hidden key or secret catch|
|Huge, obviously unbeatable, carrion crawler in a chamber ahead||Sneak past (failure forces retreat)|
|Use nature to lure the giant rats from a nearby niche into the chamber, distracting the beast|
|Use bluff to create a distraction|
|Flooded tunnels block passage||Use endurance to swim frigid water and find an easy route or, in combination with dungeoneering, a way to drain the tunnels|
As I ran the skill challenge, I presented specific obstacles and unveiled new complications as needed. (Sometimes I feel like Grommet laying track as he rolls along.) I kept the complications coming until the characters reach the required number of successes.
The challenge’s description limits the number of available successes for skills like thievery, so once thievery is no longer an option, the players stop encountering doors with locks. Instead, the door is barred from the other side, or perhaps a collapsed stone block closes the passage. A strong character might wrench it out of the way, or you could brave that flooded passage you just passed…
In Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 remakes the skill challenge, I criticized this challenge for lacking any tangible, game-world reason that three failures results in a failed challenge. Because the adventure suggests that rival groups sought the chamber, when my players failed checks, I explained how the failures delayed the party, and then had them find signs that another group had recently passed this way.
If the players do amass three strikes, the challenge taxes everyone a healing surge due to the “constant fighting,” you know, dungeon stuff. Also, the players get penalized with a fight. Some penalty. I ran the fight anyway because some folks at my table clearly would have been disappointed without one.
Next: The next skill challenge