This encounter is intended for five players of any level in the heroic tier
It’s inevitable that the players will have to track down a criminal at some point. While I always advocate more granularity and role-playing throughout a skill challenge this depends on how much precision benefits the challenge’s concept (I don’t want players to describe every step in an overland travel encounter – that needs to stay abstract). But in this case, I say to stick with my preferred method of handling things – leave the challenge open-ended with no hard and fast primary skills. In fact, I’d advise not even describing this as a skill challenge but just letting your players roll with it.
Challenge Complexity and Format
This skill challenge is equal to the player’s level and is of complexity 3 – (8 successes before 3 Failures)
A criminal of some kind (henceforth known as “The Mark”) is on the run. The players are offered a monetary reward (something appropriate from one of their treasure parcels) for bringing the villain back (dead or alive is up to you – this can end very naturally in a combat encounter as either a solo fight or with the Mark’s accomplices and hired muscle). The nature of the Mark is up to you.
Hunting the Mark
Below are some suggested actions and the skills that might encompass them. The difficulty of the roll is largely up to you, based on the particular circumstances of the target and where the player’s are:
- Searching the scene of the Mark’s crimes for clues – Perception
- Interviewing witnesses of the Mark’s crimes/daily life – Insight
- Discover the Mark’s usual haunts – Insight or Streetwise
- Gathering local intelligence and rumors – Streetwise or Diplomacy or spend GP
- Seeking the aid of the authorities for clues/logistics – Diplomacy, spend GP
- Stakeout the Mark’s usual haunts (when known) – Stealth
- Lean on the Mark’s contacts – Intimidate
- Pose as a false ally/set up an ambush – Bluff
- Look through public records to discern patterns of behavior – Insight
- Using wanted posters or gathering grass-roots assistance – Diplomacy
- Minor Scrying – Arcana or Religion, an item of the Mark’s, a small monetary sum (5gp x Challenge Level)
- Searching for Tracks – Perception or Nature (Use either skill to aid another)
- Giving Chase – Athletics
- Setting mechanical traps in known haunts – Thievery
As you already know, this is just the tip of the iceberg in player’s crafty ideas to catch a fleeing criminal. Be sure to be fair with all attempted plans – even a long shot should offer a Hard skill check opportunity. Describe the characters finding clues, or “just barely catching a glimpse of a guy who looked like maybe at this distance he was possibly the Mark,” until they are near to completing the challenge. At the same time don’t be arbitrary, if the player’s plan manages to peg the Mark sooner than 8 successes, grant the deficit in free successes due to their cleverness. The game is about the player’s meeting challenges creatively and feeling cool about that, not sticking to the letter of a flexible but arbitrary and abstract mechanic.
“Going to Ground” Checks
The only additional mechanic I recommend is the addition of a check to reacquire the target after a failure. The purpose of this is to make the challenge more adversarial, and to add another element of risk: the Going to Ground check is a necessary skill roll that won’t grant a success but could incurs failure. It works like this:
Assign a skill (Streetwise, Nature, Religion, Arcana, Thievery, Dungeoneering) that will characterize the environment in which the Mark is hiding – this represents his ability to vanish into different locales – using contacts and bribes to find safehouses, navigating dangerous terrain to find secure hiding places, covering his tracks in the wilderness etc. The normal gameplay of the skill challenge presumes the Mark is on the run, just barely a step ahead of the players and leaving evidence of his flight. When he has gone to ground he is hidden and ceases leaving signs of his passage, increasing the chances he might get away for good.
One of the players must attempt a skill roll of the associated skill to flush the Mark out of hiding. The other players are all welcome to aid another.
Decide which of the relevant skills represents the Mark’s “home turf” (A politician might have ‘Streetwise’, a druid ‘Nature,’ etc.) The skill check DC to reveal a Mark that has gone to ground is Hard unless the Mark is in his home turf, in which case the DC increases by 5.
No other progress can be made in the challenge until the Mark has been flushed out. A success at this roll let’s the skill challenge continue as normal. A failure adds a failure to the total for the whole skill challenge, and another attempt to flush the target out must be made.
To determine what environment the Mark is hiding in roll randomly. With the players hot on his heels, he may not have a lot choice in where he goes. Naturally, certain circumstances may limit the total available environments. For example, a Mark fleeing among caravans in the desert might have Nature, Dungeoneering, and Thievery available, but no other environments. Likewise you might decide some simply don’t apply – a commoner assassin wouldn’t convince the mage’s college to hide him until things boil over. If this is the case, simply re-roll on an inappropriate result.
- Streetwise – The mark hides out in the shady parts of town, takes a job as a laborer in the well guarded castle, lingers in the sewers, or lurks in the upper stories of an abandoned tenement
- Thievery – Thieves guilds, smuggler companies, slaver bands, counterfeiters and corrupt officials; all of them will be willing to hide or cover the Mark’s tracks for a reasonable fee. But what fee will it take for them to turn him in?
- Religion – The Mark is preying on the kindness of a charitable religious order and seeking sanctuary within their temple. Or, perhaps a religious order hostile to the PCs is keeping the mark safe from their mutual enemies.
- Arcana – Mages colleges, esoteric orders, apothecaries, and lone hermits understand what it is to be persecuted. If they were convinced to use their powers, or merely a convenient cellar door, they might keep the Mark out of sight.
- Nature – There are many places to hide out in the wilderness for those with a knack for getting in (and then back out) of the trackless forests and plains
- Dungeoneering – With so many entrances and winding paths underground, it’s easy to get lost. And sometimes getting lost is the best way not to be found.
Success and Failure
–Success! The players catch up with the Mark and either directly apprehend him, or else force confrontation. Either way they gain the EXP for a successful skill challenge, and if the Mark is caught, they gain the monetary reward as well.
–Failure! The Mark escapes their clutches (though he may show up later in the campaign, the chance to capture him for a reward is passed). The players will miss out on the monetary reward, gain only half the EXP value of the encounter, and likely lose some measure of confidence their employer had in them.