Sorry, I know, I know, yet another “hob-knobbing with the nobles in the city” skill challenge. This one came up because I’m involved in a homebrewed 4th edition “Birthright” game (you know, the easiest setting to conform to a wildly different edition of the game), so you’ll have that. You can use this challenge to clue the players into some broader conspiracies in the campaign, or simply as a for-hire job to occupy the PCs in a city or large castle.
–Challenge Complexity 4 – 8 Successes before 3 Failures. The level of the challenge is up to you, but a moderate challenge would be suitable
The players will be attempting to protect their VIP from harm, by either deterring any assassin’s direct attacks, or by revealing hidden assailants. A new, young duke has decided to take a tour of the city whose rule has just fallen into his hands. He wants to connect with the people directly and let them see and speak to their new liege. A noble goal, though it means exposing himself to a lot of danger. Hence why he’s hired the players to make sure his tour goes smoothly. Successes indicate that the players have discouraged any attacks from occurring, or that they have exposed and potentially apprehended would-be assailants. Failure indicates that an assassin slips by their defenses and somehow harms the duke – though the characters may then attempt to catch the fleeing attacker and interrogate him. After 3 failures, the duke is dead, and the PCs have failed completely.
This skill challenge should begin with a planning phase, where the players decide who will be doing what to protect the duke, and how they will coordinate tasks as the nobleman makes his way through the city. Once the challenge starts you can go around the table – initiative won’t matter much as this skill challenge happens more or less simultaneously. The duke is exposed to many dangers, and wants to get out there and meet his people, so having a protective ring of PC’s just won’t do – though they are welcome to be close to him. This is the reason why a PC could potentially be standing right next to the duke, but another PC’s failed skill check indicates he is harmed by an assailant that slipped by the nearby bodyguards – it’s just impossible for one person to cover all the angles – especially in a crowd.
Transparency in a skill challenge is always a tricky issue, but in this case I’d advise you take a more narrative approach, and not let the players know right away that they are in a skill challenge per se. Let them describe their character’s actions and intentions and then add an appropriate skill. Below are recommendations for how to apply skills in regards to the most likely actions players will take. Actions will fall into two major categories, with a third category of optional skills:
Deterrent: Any action taken to discourage assassin’s from ever even making an attempt on the duke’s life, or actions to mitigate attacks, fall into this category. If a character succeeds with one of these skills then the assassin’s do not attack – but remain hidden in the crowd. 1 Success is gained toward completing the challenge
Interception: Any action that seeks to reveal who among the crowds is an assassin, or to spot shady figures before they can strike, falls into this category. Because these are much harder to accomplish, they tend to be at a harder DC – but will grant two successes. Be sure to indicate to any player who wants to attempt an interception action that it will be harder to do. If a player succeeds with one of these skills an assassin is foiled, and also revealed for what he is. The character may then attempt to apprehend the assassin before he flees, using an appropriate “apprehending” skill (See below). The player then has a chance to interrogate the assassin and potentially gain useful campaign tidbits, or bonuses later in the skill challenge (Also below). Regardless, succeeding at one of these harder skill rolls nets 2 successes toward completing the challenge
Apprehending: Any action where the player tries to catch a revealed and fleeing assassin falls into this category. Allow any player who just succeeded at an interception skill or failed at any skill to attempt one of these skill roles if he/she so desires. The assassins that the characters are encountering are low-level thugs – desperate men hired to be disposable knives in the crowd – and if caught, will fold under pressure. They know very little but will easily spill their guts, desperate for a pardon or at least to keep their lives. Let the player threaten or cajole the assailant before he gives up his information, but it isn’t necessary to make another skill check – a little roleplaying will suffice. To make the assassin’s information a bit more of a surprise, consider using the random “Assassin Interrogation” table below.
The skills in this challenge are divided by category. Let the players know if a skill is easier or harder to accomplish – either with in game hints or just metagaming it.
Intimidate (Moderate) – You stand guard at the Duke’s side, hand on your weapon, shooting daggers figuratively (and if need be, literally) into the crowd. It’s clear that any attacker will have YOU to deal with.
Endurance (Moderate – may cost healing surges) – You are near the duke at all times, eyes on the crowd, ready to dive in the way and take a bolt in the chest for the nobleman, if that’s what it comes to.
A failure with this skill means that an assassin leaps from the crowd and attacks, hitting the PC instead. That character loses 2 healing surge and incurs a -2 to all skill checks until the end of the encounter from his/her untreated wound – but this is not counted as a failure towards the skill challenge. A Heal (Easy) check will negate the skill check penalty.
Diplomacy (Moderate) – It’s no easy task keeping a sometimes angry crowd under control, but your hard gaze, calm demeanor, and measured words hold the throng at a safe distance. With everyone behaving rationally, any disruption will be easy to notice, denying the assailants the advantage chaos affords.
Perception (Hard) – Keeping and eye on the crowd you manage to spot the attacker drawing his weapon, and call out an alarm. His attempt on the duke’s life bungled, he makes a break for it!
Insight (Hard) – You have an eye on the crowd; watching their expressions, reactions, looking for anything suspicious. That’s when you see a man pushing his way forward through the throng a bit too fast – his jaw set, his eyes twitching nervously around. You point him out, and he flees!
Bluff (Hard) – Out in the crowd you seem to be just another onlooker. You jeer and shake your head at the duke, goading any dissenting opinions to join your rude critique – hoping to expose the traitors by posing as a compatriot. “He won’t be in power long, friend.” Says a grim faced man as he passes by you. You sound the alarm.
Stealth (Hard) – You are just like the assailants: another face in the crowd that nobody notices. That puts the element of surprise on your side, making the hunter become the hunted. When you detect a disturbance in the crowd you shoulder your way calmly in that direction; ready to leap out of nowhere at the assassin moments before he can strike.
Streetwise (Hard) – You work backwards: patrolling the shadowy lanes and concealed overhangs, searching for assassins in the most likely locations – the spots you would choose if you were the one plotting the Duke’s demise.
Acrobatics (Hard) – The crowds will slow you down, and his lead will surely let him get away if you don’t close the gap. You quickly scale buildings, dive through shop stalls, and across clotheslines, getting ahead of the assassin and confronting him before he can flee.
Athletics (Moderate) – The assassin is fast; but not as fast as you. Shouldering your way through the bystanders that are slowing his flight, you dash forward, and are on him before he can flee.
Diplomacy (Moderate) – You call out after the fleeing assailant, trying to talk some sense into him. He slows as your words sink in: he has no chance to escape, but to cooperate could mean a pardon – and if not, prison is preferable to being drawn and quartered…
Intimidate (Moderate) – You draw near to the fleeing assassin, shouting promises of pain to come. Knowing that he cannot escape, he yields, begging for your mercy.
Streetwise (Easy) – It isn’t necessary to exhaust yourself closing the distance. Your chase through the closes and lanes directs him right where you want him. One last turn and he’s trapped at a dead end, with you, weapon in hand, mere feet behind him.
Successfully apprehending an assassin will give the character an opportunity to interrogate the thwarted foe. No additional skill check is necessary – once caught the assailant is cowed into compliance. Unfortunately these assassin’s aren’t well informed, well trained, or high ranking killers, and know very little about the plot at large. Roll randomly on the table below to see if any valuable information can be squeezed out of a captive:
- He attempts to fall on his sword – you’ll get nothing out of this one
- The fool stammers, trying to give you want you want but he knows nothing useful
- Its unlikely he knows anything of value, and simply keeps his mouth shut
- The assassin describes who hired him (Share with the PC a hint regarding a very dangerous opponent in a future combat encounter)
- The assassin discerned to some extent the nature of who hired him (Grant the PC a hint about reason for the assassination attempt)
- The assassin yields up a vial of poison he had hidden and intended to use on the duke (The poison can be applied to a weapon as a minor action. On a successful hit make a Level+3 attack against Fort. A hit causes the target to take ongoing 5 poison damage. This is a consumable)
- The assassin warns you where he thinks another ambush will occur (grant a +2 to the next use of either interception or deterrent skills)
- The assassin describes the other men hired with him (grant a +2 to all interception skills)
Success: If the PC’s succeed, the duke survives (if perhaps being a little worse for wear.) Provide them with a treasure parcel as reward in addition to the experience gain for the challenge. Grant the PC’s a bonus in gold, subtracting half the bonus if the duke was wounded once (one failure), and the entire bonus if he was harmed twice (two failures). Likewise, the players have likely pleased the duke, and may gain him as a future employer, patron, and/or contact.
Failure: If the duke dies, the city will be in an uproar. The court will promptly exile the PC’s, assuming they aren’t tempted to put them on trial as conspirators (simply for want of a better scapegoat for the duke’s murder). This will likely mean the PC’s can no longer enter the city, and may lose contact with current allies. I typically recommend giving half experience even for a failed skill challenge (after all, the PC’s have learned from their mistakes and managed some measure of success no doubt).
- If a player opts to instead execute an apprehended assassin, the PC’s gain 1 success towards the skill challenge. Such a flagrant display of brutality will make his fellow assassins think twice. This also however repulses the duke, who will not convey any bonus gold if the challenge succeeds. This bonus can only be gained once
- Consider granting PC’s using a tower or high elevation a +2 to Perception checks
- If the PC’s have made a name for themselves in this city, consider granting a +2 to social skill checks (Intimidate, Diplomacy, and Bluff)
- In the case of this skill challenge, two PC’s attempting to use the same skill should make separate rolls rather than considering it an “aid another” attempt. Likewise each skill can be rolled multiple times without limit.