Archive for the ‘Skill challenge’ Category

The following is a skill challenge that I ran for my players last session. It was our first skill challenge and, overall, it ran rather well. The session ran for four hours, with this section of the session taking up three quarters of that (that said, we’re a fairly easy going group. A more focussed posse could knock it off much quicker).

Feel free to use this encounter as it is, or more likely merely pilfer it for any ideas that you may be able to use. I’ve not included any of the stats for creatures they encountered or DCs they were supposed to meet, as I don’t want the challenge to be tied to a particular level range. Instead, the DM should use their discretion and imagination to come up with appropriate numbers. So, without further adieu:

Pursuing the Kobolds

In this challenge, the PC’s are tracking a group of kobolds through an ever-darkening forest. There are a number of ‘stages’, with two rolls being made at each stage. The PC’s move on to the next stage whether these rolls were successful or not. Of course, there are consequences if they fail their rolls (usually combat encounters). This encounter can be adapted for any location or quarry. 

When I ran this challenge, I had each player roll initiative. The player with the highest intiative went first, as per usual, but then I had the player on their left take their turn, and so on around the table. This was to try and keep the game moving as everyone knew when their turn was coming.

On their turns, players were read the scene descriptions (written below) and were asked to make a skill check (described below). If these skill checks met the required DC (as determined by the DM), the check was marked off as a success! If not, a failure was recorded. 12 successes must be accrued before 5 failures.

For the record, my players failed. This meant that, instead of being able to sneak up on the kobolds they were pursuing, they found themselves dropped right into the middle of their camp! To make matters worse, they were seperated. Likewise, you need to find a way to ensure that your players are penalised if they fail five checks, but the game still needs to move forward.

Primary skills

The following three skills may be used at any point in the chase. They represent the basic abilities required to follow the fleet footed kobolds and are freely explained to the players at the beginning of the challenge:

Nature (the PC asks the forest a question, and it answers in its own way)

Athletics (the PC pushes forward, aiding or inspiring the less able to follow)

Perception (a PC spots the kobolds up ahead, this can be used for only one success each section)

In order to avoid the trap of arbitrary rolling, there are examples inlcuded here of just how the PCs use each skill to further their objective; there are innumerable ways that these skills can be put into practice, besides the instances above.  Have the players give their own descriptions of their character’s actions before they roll. They say they’re going to use their nature skill because their druid has a great bonus is that skill? Sure! But how? Does he or she notice that the birds in a certain direction have stopped calling, meaning something is moving that way? Perhaps the fighter, ever athletic, attempts to scout ahead and report back to the slower members of the group? 

Try to facilitate the players as much as possible here. If they ask if there is a large three they can shimmy up to get a good perspective, say ‘Of course!’ Don’t slow the action down with a climb check, just have them describe their character’s spirited scramble up the ancient oak, then have them roll their skill challenge check. Good examples of roleplaying can (and should) be rewarded with a +2 bonus to the this roll.

Optional skills

Allow your players to use any skills they may have to pursure the kobolds, as long as it makes sense in the scene. Let them know that this is a possibility before the challenge begins. An example might be that the wizard wants to use arcana. If the player can justify using such the skill (For example: “My character recalls some lycanther dust that he has on his person. It’s a rare ingredient that’s said to be the toes of medusa victims ground into a powder. I’m not certain if that’s true, if you toss it in the air just so, it’s said to fall in the direction of whe’re you’re supposed to be headed.”), then by all means let them use it! Using elements of the scene described in the descriptions should also be encouraged.

If they can’t explain their use of the skill, have them use one of the set skills until they can. Each player can only earn one success throughout the challenge in this way, though they may attempt the roll numerous times if they fail.

Further to this, there are ‘hidden skills’ listed in each section which, if used, count as two successes if passed, and only one failure otherwise. The players should be made aware of this, but not what the skills are. This should encourage them to try out different skills and get their noggins workin’.


The consequences of failure should be two things: fitting and light. This requires the DM to think outside the box a little, and improvise a lot. If you’re expecting your players to do this throughout the challenge, then you should be able to provide examples! Have an encounter or two prepared for each section, just in case the need arises, and try to reflect the nature of the scene with the encounter (a water elemental at the dam, for a quick example). To make things more interesting and vivid though, try to have the actions of the PC’s determine the encounter!

To illustrate this point, the wizard decides that they have that powder above and you let them use their arcana check for their attempt. They fail to meet the DC – what’s the result? Well, you could just roll an arbitrary random encounter and be done with it, but where’s the fun there? How about, instead of the dust falling harmlessly to the ground, it forms into a couple of stone golems right amidst the party! Now, of course, you haven’t prepared for this happenstance, but if you have a few tools on hand (ie: the ‘Monster stats by level’ and ‘Damage by level’ tables on pages 184 and 185 of the DMG), then you can quickly create a duo of makeshift golems for them to battle!

Keep the encounters light. This is important because there may be a lot of them to get through. The battles should be there  to whittle away resources and make the final encounter with the kobolds more interesting. It’s better for the players to breeze through an encounter rather than be bogged down by it. If they ask, allow the players to take a short rest at the end of an encounter, but they’ll incur a failure if they do so.

Finally, if the players fail five times, it’s up to the DM to continue the challenge or not. If it looks like everyone is having fun, have the players continue! Now however, instead of catching up with the kobolds, they’re just trying to survive their environs! After they make it through the six sections, they may make it to the camp (as my players did) or they may just make it out of the forest.

If it makes more sense, or if you’d just like to move the game forward, have them abandon the challenge. Beaten and battered, the PCs limp back to the nearest town. They may engage in a combat encounter on the way, or they may not. The point is that they have lost the kobolds, and with them, whatever they were pursuing them for…

Stage descriptions

Below are the stage descriptions. Read each aloud to the players after they’ve reached that stage of the journey. Remember, two checks must be made in each section, but the PC’s move forward regardless of whether they pass or fail these checks.

Stage 1: Into the forest

The trees here are strong and thick, and birds chirp happily as dainty sunlight filters through the emerald canopy above. If you weren’t pursuing a group of murderous kobolds, it would be a nice place for a picnic.

Example encounters: mundane animals (bears, wolves etc), bandits, kobold decoys.

Stage 2: The path ends

Hidden skill: Dungeoneering (to tell which prints belong to the kobolds)

You come to a well-used waterhole. There are tracks leading to and from every direction. It’s obvious the kobolds came through here, but their trail becomes lost on.

 Example encounters: Water elemental, crocodile,  satyrs.

Note: If your PCs ever encounter intelligent opposition, such as the satyrs, always give them the opportunity to reason (or buy) their way out of combat. Not every meeting has to end in death. And who knows, they may even be able to garner some assistance from these scheming creatures of the forest…?

Stage 3: Cliff of insanity

Hidden skill: Acrobatics (to, obviously, climb the cliff)

You catch sight of the kobolds just as they disappear over the top of a steep cliff. A small trail runs up it; big enough for a kobold, perhaps, but the foot and handholds are far too small for anything larger. The cliff face is dotted here and there with halfling sized holes that the kobold path seems to deliberately avoid.

Example encounters: giant spiders, stirges, bats, harpies.

Note: Remember that, if climbing the face of the cliff, the PCs will need to make climb checks when taking damage in this encounter to avoid falling. Try to give lower level PCs a break by having them slide to the bottom of the cliff, taking half damage, rather that the usual falling damage – if not, the battle, and adventure, could be over quickly!

Stage 4: Battlescene

Hidden skill: Arcana (to read the residual energy)

It’s obvious you’re well away from soft meadows or sunny glades now. The forest is overgrown and wild; the bird calls have given away to strange growls and the tress, instead of sitting pristinely, now loom menacingly over you. There are a few slain spiders here, their forms twisted violently. Sprawled in the dust next to them what’s left of a bloodied kobold, obviously the point-guard, remains motionless as the last of his insides trickle out of his body.

Example encounters: the dead spiders’ living relatives, more exotic animals (owlbear, worgs, displacer beasts etc),  treant.

Note: Substitute the dead spiders with whatever creature you used in your cliff-face encounter (if any).

Stage 5: The ghosts who walk

Hidden skills: Diplomacy or Bluff (the ghosts will attack if intimidated)

You find yourself surrounded by a bleak landscape. The trees are gangly, thin and decaying; their black forms stand starkly against a wispy fog that has settled between them. More startling than all of this, however, are the ghostly spectres which drift lazily through the trees. They seem to be human soldiers, though if they bear you or each other any ill-will, they make no indication of the fact.

Example encounters: the ghosts (obviously), zombies or skeletons (not everyone there is spectral, or the ghosts need a vehicle), soul-spike devourer.

Note: The spectres give no indication that they even know the PCs are there. If the PCs want to engage with one, have them describe the spirit to you and, of course, roleplay the interaction.

Stage 6: Swamp of sorrows

Hidden skill: Stealth (the PC’s are nearing the kobold camp)

Your footfalls begin to squelch underfoot as the ground becomes marshy and sodden. Pretty soon your boots begin disappearing below the muck you trawl through, and you’re certain that slimy things grasp at them before slithering away. The air smells fetid and there are no animal sounds of any kind.

Possible encounters: Vine horror, vampire spawn, swampsunk choker (like a feygrove choker, only swampier)

Stage 6: Swamp of sorrows

At the end of the challenge, its the DMs job to guage how well they did. If they did very well, they may feel wronged to cheat them out of some advantage during the final confrontation with the kobolds, even if you’ve set it up to be the hardest thing they’ve ever faced. If they failed, well, again that’s up to the DM. you don’t want to scare the players away from any future skill challenges however, as you’d be missing out on what could be a great story development tool!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them.

Until next time!

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